RUGER 10/22 CARBINE - 50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)

50 Famous Firearms You've Got to Own: Rick Hacker's Bucket List of Guns (2015)


Photo courtesy Sturm Ruger & Co.

Yes, this is a Ruger 10/22, only dressed up in a Scottwerx Thompson sub-machine gun drop-in kit. The author also installed a Volquartsen trigger assembly to speed up the trigger action, although it still is a semi-automatic rifle—but what fast-firing fun!

Ever since the advent of the .22 Long Rifle cartridge, in 1887, it has been a rite of passage for many good (and responsible) little boys to receive a .22 rifle for Christmas. In the past, those rifles have included the Stevens No. 1412 Little Scout single-shot, Winchester 1890 pump, and Remington 511 Scoremaster bolt-action. But, beginning in 1964, that enticingly long, brightly wrapped package under the tree was likely to contain a Ruger 10/22 Carbine, which has become one of the most popular .22 autoloaders in firearms history.

Although the concept of Ruger’s first .22 rifle began in the 1950s, the final design took its inspiration from the success of the Ruger .44 Magnum Carbine, which was introduced in 1960. An obvious hint can be found in this line from Ruger’s 1964 catalog describing the 10/22 as a rimfire rifle “built to high-power rifle standards … .” In fact, anyone comparing the two rifles will notice a not-so-coincidental similarity in design, including their carbine-style barrel bands, basic pistol grip stock configurations, and semi-curved, carbine-style buttplates.

The 10/22 was the result of a collaboration between Bill Ruger, Harry Sefried (a firearms engineer who worked on the M2 carbine at Winchester and then went on to revamp many of High Standard’s semi-automatic pistols), and Doug McClenahan (a gun designer who had previously worked at Colt’s and High Standard and, later, founded the original Charter Arms company). Like everything the meticulous Bill Ruger conceived, the 10/22 was over-engineered, yet, due to its well thought-out mechanics, was eminently affordable; it carried an initial price tag of just $54.50. As Bill Ruger wrote to Jack O’Connor a few months before the 10/22 was introduced, “From a technological point of view, the new 10/22 is one of the best things we have done.”

On March 24, 1964, Bill Ruger sent proofs from his upcoming catalog, announcing the new .22 rifle, to gun writers. At that time, though, only three pre-production prototypes existed. At the 1964 National Rifle Association Annual Meetings, attendees got to see and handle the actual rifle in Ruger’s booth, even though it wasn’t officially announced in the American Rifleman and other gun magazines until June of that year. “The New Ruger 10/22 .22 Caliber R.F. Self-Loader” that first advertising headline proclaimed, was “the ultimate in logical design.”

The 10/22’s push button safety. This early rifle features the aluminum trigger housing.

The 10/22’s rotary 10-shot magazine was inspired by the Savage 99’s rotary magazine.

This is an early pre-warning barrel.

No matter what type of wood and metal it’s wearing, the 10/22 is accurate, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular.

And indeed it was. The trigger housing group could be easily dropped out of the gun for cleaning, and disassembly was simple enough to require only a screwdriver and a punch. The barrel screwed in, making subsequent replacements and upgrades easy. The receiver was investment cast of aircraft grade aluminum, as were the trigger guard and buttplate. Metal parts were either blued or anodized blue/black, and the stocks were walnut. The 1812-inch barrel was topped with a simple but effective sporting, fold-down leaf rear sight and a gold bead front post. Lock time was fast and, combined with twin anchoring points for the six-grove 1:16 barrel twist, resulted in exceptional accuracy. But, perhaps most revolutionary—an apropos word in this case—was the 10/22’s 10-shot rotary magazine, a concept that took its inspiration from Bill Ruger’s admiration of the rotary magazine in the Savage 99 (another gun that made our bucket list).

As it was with so many others in this book, the 10/22 proved extremely popular, especially for shooters who already owned a Ruger .44 Magnum Carbine, for here was the perfect companion piece. With its easy to carry weight of only 514 pounds, the rifle also found immediate favor as an economical plinker and a fast-handling small-game rifle. A more sleekly styled Sporter—sans barrel band and with a rubber recoil pad—was introduced, in 1966, with a hand-checkered variant coming out a year later. There was also a version with a Monte Carlo comb, plus a fully stocked Mannlicher-style, which, unfortunately, did not have the staying power of some of the other stock configurations.

In 1980, with the cost of walnut escalating, Ruger switched to birch stocks. Still later, stocks were changed again, this time to maple. As a sign of the times, laminated stocks were introduced, in 1986, and a stainless steel barrel was offered, in 1992. Recently, the trigger housing has been changed from aluminum to polymer.

Today, the 10/22 exists in six basic configurations. The Carbine is still made in the same style of the original 1960s version, although with an improved extended magazine release (one of the few distractions—along with a sluggish trigger pull—of the earlier 10/22s), which has become standard on all models. Plus, in addition to hardwood stocks, there are options for synthetic stocks and a stainless steel barrel and receiver. The Sporter is also a continuation of the original 10/22 version, complete with a checkered American walnut stock outfitted with sling swivels.

Not-A-Thompson. No, it’s a Ruger 10/22 in Scottwerx disguise. There are numerous drop-in kits for the 10/22, but this is my favorite. The stick magazine is a dummy.

The Compact features an uncheckered hardwood stock, a fiber optic front sight, and a 1614-inch barrel. Capitalizing on the 10/22’s penchant for accuracy, the Target sports a crisply tuned trigger and a 20-inch bull barrel without sights, but drilled and tapped for a scope; its laminate stock sports sling swivels. Today there is a new, highly popular takedown model, and, finally, the Tactical is based on the Carbine configuration, but is actually a tricked-out Target model with a 1614-inch crowned bull barrel. This rifle comes without sights, but has a combination scope base adapter and offers a choice of either black Hogue Overmolded or black synthetic stocks, along with an adjustable bi-pod.

It is this latter version that has now extended the 10/22’s popularity far beyond the target ranges and hunting fields. A number of these rifles have been equipped with silencers and supplied to various law enforcement organizations, as well as military units, for use in covert operations. In its camo guise, it is a favorite for commando operatives and has been issued to such elite groups as the Navy S.E.A.L.S.

Along the way, a few commemorative 10/22s have been produced, including the Canadian Centennial commemorative, in 1976, and, more recently, the officially licensed Ruger Boy Scout 10/22 Rifle. The 10/22 has also spawned the SR-22, a .22 rimfire version of Ruger’s SR-556, which is built on an AR platform. Add to these the .22 Charger, with its 10/22 action, synthetic stock, and built-in bi-pod, which has put an entirely new spin on rimfire pistol target and varmint shooting. With all these, its’ small wonder the 10/22 is now one of the most accessorized and customized rimfires in the aftermarket world. Competition kits abound from firms such as Cabela’s, Midway USA, Power Custom, and Volquartsen, just to name a few. Completely tricked-out competition guns (often used for side matches at many of the major shoots) are available from firms such as Clark Custom Guns. Heck, just for fun plinking, I turned my standard 10/22 into a .22 rimfire semi-auto version of the Thompson sub-machine gun, with a drop-in kit from Scottwerx. (Please turn to pages 53 through 55 for the Thompson submachine gun story.)

To date, more than six million 10/22 rifles, in all its variations, have been sold, a number that no doubt would have pleased the late Bill Ruger. Indeed, the 10/22 has taken the traditional Christmas “boy’s rifle” to places where no .22 rimfire rifle has gone before. And that’s why it’s on our bucket list.