If there is anything more enjoyable and at the same time more simple than shooting .22’s at tin cans, charcoal briquets, golf balls (there really is a reason for them to exist!),or any other suitable safe target, I do not know what it is; plinking is the grandest of single action sixgun activities If I could somehow capture the great enjoyment that we experienced as teenagers gathering together to shoot Marlin lever action .22s and the then new Ruger Single-Sixes in the 1950s, and spread it from one end of the country to the other it would certainly have a most positive effect on people's attitudes and actions. We might even get rid of the great divide in this country between the red and blue zones of the political map.
There are those who would have us believe times have changed to the point that kids and guns no longer go together. That is total nonsense. Kids and guns have always gone together, at least since the invention of the .22 and the advent of so many wonderful revolvers and semi- automatic pistols chambered in this most popular of all cartridges. That first .22, the S&W Model #1 of 1857, may have been originally designed as a hide-out gun but .22s are so much more today. There was a time when just about every father taught his sons weaponry beginning with a .22; that situation simply does not exist today and father’s who live up to their responsibility in this area are in a small minority.
Even in this high-tech, high-speed, high-stress beginning decade of the 21st century, we can still hold on to the basic fact that kids and guns do go together when tied to proper teaching and supervision. Time spent with a kid shooting is an almost absolute guarantee that child will not be a problem later on. Yes, kids and guns in general go together, and in particular kids and Rugers go together. Ruger has been making single actions .22s for a half-century now and I would hate to have to count the number of kids, who are now adults, that will not only admit their first handgun was a .22 Ruger but will also freely confess it is still one of their favorite sixguns.
My first revolver was a .22 Ruger Single-Six in the mid-1950s, and I have often spoken of the memories associated with it. By the time the 1970s arrived my son was 10 years old and ready for his very own first revolver; it had to be a .22, it had to be a single action, and it had to be a Ruger. The bargain we struck together was I would pay half if he would save up the other the other half. It took him quite a few odd jobs to come up with his $20, but on his 10th birthday we walked into The Gunhaus and put down $39.50 for a brand-new Ruger Bearcat. The shop owner threw in a box of .22s, I fashioned a belt and holster, a friend made custom grips, and another generation was ready to enter the satisfying world of sixgunning. He still has that Bearcat, however his son, my grandson, already has designs on it. I never realized how much that Bearcat meant to him and his own memories associated with his first .22 until recently when I received a special letter from him on my birthday:
“Dear Dad: Your birthday was today. I have a hard time reconciling your age with my mental image of you. I remember clearly the young man in his late 20s and early 30s who took us to the Kings Table three nights a week making me take salad each time but also allowing an extra pudding once in a while. I felt very special and proud when I accompanied you to Bob Rice Ford to buy a new pickup truck and then on top of the world every time I was able to ride in the bed sitting on a wheel well and hanging on for dear life.
I remember how excited I was, nearly trembling, when we went to the gun shop run by the short man with black horned-rim glasses and a noticeable limp to pick out my first handgun. I was ten years old, and as I invested my life savings, which was equally matched by you, probably pulled from that black leather wallet chained to your belt, to meet the price tag of the Ruger Bearcat I was in awe of my new purchase. Imagine how I felt then when the gun shop owner leaned over and with a wink dropped a 50 count box of .22 shells in my hand and lifted a finger to his lips in a gesture that I knew meant I wasn’t to tell anyone of his generosity. Later, when you made the belt and holster I voted myself the coolest kid in the world. And why wouldn’t I be? I had a dad that could shoot better than anyone I knew, let me carry my sidearm like a real cowboy, molded his own bullets, and reloaded his own ammo.
My friends couldn’t believe stories about shooting big bore handguns. They were playing with chrome-plated cap guns worn in plastic holsters. They would fire a few caps until their pistols jammed and usually ended up popping caps on the sidewalk with a rock since that was a more reliable way to ensure the caps were properly exploded. My gun was real, the bullets were real, and the holster was real leather stitched by hand. Having my name carved in my belt truly completed the ensemble.” Memories such as this are definitely priceless! Non-shooters may find all this hard to understand, however if you are reading this book I expect you understand perfectly.
Ruger's Bearcat entered upon the .22 scene in 1958; call it the largest of the Mini-guns. This little Kit Gun Single Action-style was definitely inspired by the old Remington 1858 Pocket Revolver. Unlike the Single-Six, the Bearcat features a one-piece grip frame/mainframe combination, originally cast from aluminum alloy, which later was replaced with steel. The Bearcat has especially been popular with those who must consider weight with every ounce being important; backpackers, hikers, fishermen, smokejumpers, anyone that wanted a lightweight .22 that would carry unobtrusively.
When Ruger switched to New Model production with a transfer bar safety in both the Single-Six and Blackhawk series, they elected to drop the Bearcat rather than adding a transfer bar. The Bearcat was resurrected in 1993 and is now available in a stainless-steel version complete with a transfer bar safety, however, unlike the Single-Six and the Blackhawk sixguns, the Bearcat features a half-cock notch on the hammer.
With the Bearcat being offered in stainless steel I decided to order another one with the idea of some of my grandkids being the testers as well as the “expert” panel that passed judgment upon this little sixgun. Elyse Panzella, age 17; Laura Seals, age 16; and Brian John Panzella, age 9, joined me to test the newest Ruger Single Actions.
The Bearcat has a very small grip frame that will fit the smallest of hands, and yet also works in my large, stubby fingered hands. The newest Bearcat came with ill-fitting grips, however this was easily solved when I remembered I still had the original grips from my son’s Bearcat of 30+ years ago. Could they possibly fit? Not only did they fit the newer grip frame, they also matched up better than the current factory stocks.
The Bearcat’s fixed sights are very close to being dead on for windage, while shooting low with most ammunition so it is an easy task to sight it in perfectly. There is quite a variation in the point in impact of various .22 Long Rifle loads, so it was necessary to make a choice before filing on the front sight. My unsolicited advice to Ruger, as it has been for over 40 years, is to give us a Bearcat with adjustable sights. This little .22 is too sweet not to have the advantage of being able to be sighted in perfectly for whatever ammunition is chosen.
The Bearcat is of a satin finished stainless-steel with a an aluminum alloy ejector rod housing, should be steel, and its non-fluted cylinder features engraving of both a bear and a cougar. No wonder his old Bearcat conjures up such images and pleasant memories for my son. With eight grandkids in the family, and several of them fast approaching a "gun of my own" category, I predict this little sixgun will be in the Taffin Family for quite a while; my youngest granddaughter, Hannah, already has her eye on it. The Bearcat will spend many years traveling in backpacks, fishing tackle boxes, pockets, anywhere a small space is encountered that will accept this diminutive .22, and the fact it is stainless steel thus requiring very little care, it will be a most valuable sixgun for years to come. Maybe someday one of my grandkids will take one of their grandkids shooting with this same .22 Bearcat.
The Bearcat may be small, however it is nowhere near the smallest of the .22 Mini-guns, and it may seem to be a strange admission coming from someone who has earned his living mostly from big bore sixguns however, I will admit I not only like .22s, I have also carried a Mini-gun everyday for many years. After all they are single actions! No, I do not consider them ideal defensive propositions but it certainly is comforting to have one in deep concealment on my person and a whole lot of peace officers in this country feel the same way. The mini-guns are weapons you definitely hope you never need to use but if you wind up in the trouble they could very well be the difference between life and death.
Freedom Arms, well known for their high-quality single action sixguns, both the Model 83 in such chamberings as .454 Casull and .475 Linebaugh, as well as the compact Packin’ Pistol Model 97 in .45 Colt and .44 Special, actually began life producing mini-Guns. In 1979, four years before the first Model 83 arrived, Freedom Arms was way at the other end of the spectrum offering very small four- and five-shot .22 pocket revolvers.
The beautifully made little Mini-Guns were originally offered in four versions, two four-shot .22 Magnums with 1” and 1 3/4” barrels, and the same barrel choice with shorter cylindered versions in .22 long Rifle. They also offered a longer barrel .22 Magnum Boot Gun to be carried just as the name implies, and also a solid brass belt buckle holding a short-barreled .22 long Rifle Mini-Gun. Pressing a button on the buckle between the grip frame and the back of spur trigger allowed the Mini-Gun to drop into the hand. For nearly two decades now I have carried one of the Mini-Guns in my shirt pocket, first a .22 Long Rifle version, and then a special .22 Magnum given to me by a special friend. Freedom Arms Mini-Guns are long out of production, however the Mini-Gun still exists.
North American Arms of Provo Utah has been producing exquisite .22 caliber mini-guns since the 1980s in several versions. All versions are five-shooters. As with the Ruger Old Army and the original Remington percussion revolvers, these little guns also have a slot between chambers to accept the hammer. They are safely carried fully loaded with five rounds when the hammer is resting in one of these slots.
The cylinder pin is spring loaded and when removed allows the cylinder to be taken out of frame, loaded, replaced, and then the cylinder pin also put back in place. This is not a fast operation to be sure but then again these are not designed as primary defensive weapons but as last-ditch, save-your-hide compact, extremely compact, little firearms. The .22 Short Mini-Gun weighs 4 ounces, the .22LR Mini-Gun, 4.5 ounces, while the .22 Mini Cap & Ball comes in at 5.1 ounces, and the .22 Super Cap & Ball is 7.2 ounces. All have 1 1/8” barrels except the latter which is one-half inch longer.
I’m not sure why these little guns have front sights since there are no rear sights and they point shoot extremely well anyway. Again if they ever have to be used seriously it will be up close and sights will not be necessary. The .22 Short version fired with CCI’s .22 Shorts giving a muzzle velocity of 642 fps while the Long Rifle version using standard velocity CCI Long Rifles with its heavier bullet comes in at 585 fps. At 10 feet both guns when point shot hit right to point of aim, or perhaps we should say to point of point. At this close range there would be no problem putting a bullet exactly where one wanted it to go. Aside from this serious nature these little single actions sixguns are fun for popping beverage cans at close range.
As we mentioned earlier, cylinders must be removed for loading. When switching to the Companion percussion models, as they are named, I am reminded of the operation of the first successful revolvers, Samuel Colt’s Paterson five-shooter, which also required that the cylinder be removed and a special tool used for loading. The Paterson soon received a built-in loading lever, however the mini-guns are too small for such an apparatus.
When the cylinder of the black power gun is removed a provided powder scoop that holds the proper amount of black powder, 2.5 grains for the Mini Companion and 4.0 grains for the Super Companion, is used to load each chamber; a 30 grain .22 bullet is then placed upon each chamber and seated with the special seating tool, a wooden dowel also works, and only then, after all chambers have been loaded with powder and bullet, are #11 percussion caps placed on each nipple, and the cylinder replaced in the frame.
Specifications call for use of FFFFg black powder or Pyrodex. Using the latter the Mini-Companion gave a muzzle velocity of 234 fps while the Super-Companion came in at a whopping 320 fps. Powerhouses they are not. However visualize a very pleasant afternoon, cold drinks, setting in the shade loading and shooting these little guns with friends and family. A pound of powder in the smaller gun will last for 3000 rounds while the larger gun only gets 1875 rounds from a pound of powder. With bullets at four dollars per hundred, cheaper at larger quantities, a little money makes for a whole lot of enjoyable flat out fun shooting.
The price of so-called progress in this country has been very high. The simpler times are long gone. Kids can’t take guns to school anymore to shoot on the way home, in fact if they even point their finger like a gun or even draw pictures of gun, as we did every day back in the late 1940s as we re-fought WWII, they will probably be suspended. May we never lose the connection between kids, guns, and dogs. To do so would doom us.