A little history
Single action revolvers are fun. The old cowboy actions were built to last, and, with the trigger being single action, they lend themselves to accuracy and ease of use. With some practice, shooters in the SASS (Single Action Shooters Society) have proven they can be fast. Another feature they tend to be is safe, especially with new shooters. Because it is a single action, you have to manually pull the hammer back to fire. Adding the necessity of manually manipulating the hammer before firing the gun gives another step in the firing sequence. It makes the process to fire more deliberate, and the chances of an AD (accidental discharge) or ND (negligent discharge) very low. The traditional way to carry the gun is with the hammer forward. The hammer isn’t pulled back until it is time to pull the trigger. This means if the trigger catches something while holstering, the gun will not go off. Modern-day versions of these guns do not have a pinned hammer, like the original design. They also have a firing pin transfer bar. This makes them much safer than their predecessors. Back in the 1800’s cowboys would ride the trail with the hammer down on an empty chamber. They did this because riding the trails on horseback is bumpy. A pinned hammer meant the firing pin would sit against the primer, and the right jostle would cause the firing pin to strike the primer, which could prove to be a fatal problem. This is where the ideology of carrying a gun with an empty chamber came from.
The modern designs have a flat-faced hammer with a firing pin integrated into the frame and transfer bar that moves up to bridge the gap. For the gun to be fired, the hammer has to be pulled back, and the trigger has to be squeezed. This causes the transfer bar to move up and transfer the hammer’s energy to the firing pin, causing it to strike the primer. It sounds more complicated, but it is all internal and proven reliable. All of this makes the gun safer to carry, fully loaded, and safer to use. Safety and reliability are the main goals in the design of these guns. They don’t disappoint. This is why I chose to buy one to teach my 9-year-old daughter to shoot.
Why this gun
I have a daddy’s girl, and I love it. She wants to be part of whatever I’m doing, which means she hunts, fishes, and shoots with me. At nine years old she’s 4’8″ and about 65 pounds. Tall and skinny. With her size, shooting larger calibers is hard. While she’s a bit of a tomboy, she is also mommy’s princess, so she doesn’t like the recoil of larger calibers. I want to keep her interested and learning by not forcing her outside of her comfort zone too fast. When it comes to handguns, .22 LR is the only real option. She has shot my Smith and Wesson .22 Compact, but her focus versus excitement level meant that she decided to turn and face me with the gun loaded and finger on the trigger. YES, she was corrected. I wanted to slow things down a bit to help her focus, so I decided on a single action revolver. She likes my other cowboy gun and was able to pull the hammer back, without issue. We talked about it and looked at different options. I wanted her to be as excited as I was, so I involved her in the purchase. I also looked at reviews, prices, and features before narrowing down the choices for her. While I wanted her involved, I also wanted to make sure that the gun was worth the money and last. She would pick the first pink revolver she saw, just because of the color. I was between a Heritage or the Ruger Wrangler. Because of Ruger’s reputation and the fact that the Wrangler was only $50 more, I decided on it. We had a color choice on the finish, and my daughter chose the all-black version as her first choice. As luck would have it the store, I purchased it from had just gotten a shipment in and I was able to make her first choice happen. When I brought it home, she was ecstatic. Now, when I go out to our range, no matter by myself or with friends, she always wants to tag along and shoot “Our gun.” I love that this gun has become a positive thing that we can share. A few days ago, she asked me, “How old do I have to be before you give this gun to me?” This gun helps me train her right on safe gun handling and taking her time to aim and shoot, all while being a bit more forgiving when her excitement gets the better of her. She is still learning and still makes mistakes, but the more we shoot together, the better she will shoot and be more confident. It has been an excellent purchase, and I would do it again, every single time.
The gun itself is what you’d expect from a Ruger. That is, as long as you don’t expect Ruger’s old Single Six. Fit and finish are “unpolished.” It is a solidly built pistol with some heft and has been Cerakoted to either bronze, grey, or black. The weight comes in at 30 ounces with an Aluminum alloy frame and cold hammer-forged barrel. It is a no-frills gun, but that is what brings the price down to fall in line with a competitive market price of $249.99 retail but can be found for around $200 with a little searching. The sights are a bladed front with integral rear. It also has a 4.62″ barrel with a 1:14 RH twist. If you are looking for a polished stainless-steel Single Six or the beautifully engraved Bearcat, this isn’t the gun for you. If you want something fun, functional, and reliable that you can take to the range for many years to come but cheap enough not to break the bank, I’d recommend it.
Reliable and well-built are the first things I’d say to describe this gun, straight out of the box. You can tell it is a Ruger revolver just by holding it, and they fit in hand works no matter if you are a full-grown 40-year-old or a skinny 9-year-old. It is that traditional single-action design and feel that brings back memories of your favorite cowboy movie. Ruger utilizes a loading gate that releases the cylinder for loading and unloading, eliminating the need to half-cock the hammer. This ease’s use and removes a need to learn yet another quirk of a new gun. When it comes to teaching a child or even an adult, that’s a brand-new shooter; less is more. Eventually, it is good to know as many manufacturers and their quirks as you can. This makes you a more well-rounded gun aficionado. However, too much information, in the beginning, can be overwhelming, and this helps.
Trigger discipline is the most important aspect of firearm safety. Manual safeties can fail, but guns don’t go off by themselves. The trigger must be pulled. Having a gun with a single action trigger can be much more forgiving to a new shooter. Without the hammer being engaged, the gun won’t go bang. My excited daughter may forget to take her finger off the trigger between shots and pull it a second time. However, without locking the hammer back, the gun becomes benign.
The trigger pull itself is a “Pro” and a “Con.” It is a single action, so the weight is on the lighter side. Easy enough to use and consistent in the pull weight through the entire short travel. However, as far as single action triggers go, this one could use some work. I’ll explain myself in a bit. For the price of the gun, it is solid and works. I don’t have a trigger pull gauge, so I’m making an educated guess, but I’d say it is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 to 6 pounds. The break is crisp and clean, and the pull is smooth with no grit (after some break-in).
The cold hammer-forged barrel is a six groove 1:14 RH twist and measures 4.62″. There are currently no other options in barrel length. I find the length to be the perfect size for a single-action .22 LR. It is well balanced, accurate at reasonable ranges, and will fit many holster options. “The longer the barrel, the further you can shoot accurately,” is a rule of thumb. However, an extra inch or two doesn’t add that much in velocity and distance. A single-action revolver, a barrel over 6,” becomes off-balanced, cumbersome, and hard to draw. If you plan on carrying the gun for dispatching snakes or wounded animals, you won’t need to shoot very far, and you want something more comfortable to carry and easy to draw. The length of a longer barrel can be more of a hindrance in this regard than you’ll gain in distance shooting. Realistic accuracy and distance out of this gun are 2″ to 3″ at 10 yards. Recent testing held a 2.5″ group of 6 with a 1″ grouping of 3 at 7 yards. (gun with targets) This is more than good enough to learn from and build confidence. It is also good enough for just a fun day at the range. All in all, you won’t be disappointed, neither will your kid or first-time shooter.
If you expect a Ruger Single Six or one of their other fine revolvers for $200, you will be disappointed. It’s a great training tool and solidly built, but it is still just a tool and will not come as refined as the other Ruger revolvers. One major issue that arose for me was how heavy the hammer spring is. My daughter has no problems pulling the hammer back on my Taurus single-action .45 Colt. However, the Wrangler was very heavy out of the box, and it did present an issue for her. Being a full-grown man, I never realized this until I put it in her hand. She has to lower the gun, brace it against her lower abdomen and use both thumbs to pull the hammer back. (cocking the hammer) It was also very gritty sounding and feeling at first; however, this did go away after some use.
The trigger is listed under both the “Pros” and the “Cons” because while it is dependable and clean, it is also heavier than expected for a single action. Another issue that arose with my daughter is that she wears out easily with this gun. Between fighting the hammer spring and pulling the trigger, she gets tired of shooting after about 12 shots. It shows in her accuracy as well. For a child, this limits the amount of fun he or she is having and turns it into more of a chore. I did quite a few dry fire exercises with her before ever taking her to the range. This helped tuned the gun and smooth the action out a bit, as well as give her a solid platform to use safely while we were shooting. I think that Ruger could lighten the spring a bit and maybe do a bit more polish on the action pieces before the Cerakote is applied, which would help alleviate this issue. However, I don’t work for Ruger, nor am I mechanical engineer, so there may be a valid reason I’m unaware of that constitutes these parts being in the specs that they are. This is just an opinion based on my experience with the gun.
In the shooting and hunting industry, numbers are dropping. The consensus is that we aren’t recruiting enough new blood into the business. There was a time, not that long ago when kids were required to learn firearm safety in school, and everyone knew how to shoot and use a gun. Whether your kid gets as into it as mine does will depend greatly on you and the firearm. The stories of how dads and granddads would give a 10-year-old a loaded double-barreled shotgun and tell them to pull both triggers, makes me cringe. If you want the child to enjoy and share in your experience, you need to make it an enjoyable experience. Babies don’t run 5K’s as soon as they can walk, and kids shouldn’t be given a 9mm or 30-06 as soon as they can hold it. It takes time to work with them and build up the strength and confidence needed to get to that point. For me, this time is quality bonding time with my daughter, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. A .22 is the perfect choice for teaching the basic techniques and safety rules. When they have fun, they’ll want to do it again and again. One of these days, I hope my daughter will graduate to using a .308 or bigger to shoot and hunt with. I know it is possible. However, today is not that day. I had tried several platforms and even had her shoot a 9mm AR once when she showed some interest, but the Wrangler has been the winner in her mind. It’s “her” gun and her favorite. For me, it is quality time and $200 well spent. That makes it a great buy, and I would highly recommend it. As far as my personal experience, I’d also say overall; it is an excellent .22 for a day of fun. I’ve heard some others say they weren’t impressed, but they compared it to other Ruger revolvers. If that’s the kind of gun you want, Ruger still makes the Single Six and the Bearcat. Both of which are well worth the investment. If you want something a little cheaper but again shoots well and is reliable, check out the Wrangler. You won’t be disappointed.
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All photos by: Jonathan Humphrey
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Prices accurate at time of writing