Throwback Thursday: Ruger Single Six .22 LR — A Cowboy Gun Classic

Sometimes we laugh at the fellow who buys a Walther PPK after watching a James Bond epic or the gent who was overawed by Dirty Harry and just had to have that magnum. Yet, it’s hands-off for comedy when it comes to cowboy guns, because we simply feel we must have them.

The Ruger Single Six .22 was introduced during the heyday of Western films and television shows, and remains a top choice today. These epics were not very realistic, but they were an art form. The sets, scripts, and horse opera were done just right, and the line between good and bad guys was written in stone.

Ruger single six stainless-steel revolver right profile
The stainless-steel Ruger Single Six is a rugged outdoors revolver.

History of the Single Six

Colt dropped the Single Action Army after World War II. In the beginning, sales were minimal. Then, cowboy shows became ever more popular. A huge number of the 1950s era extras were former soldiers. At times, the films were shot a half-dozen at a time with a few essential elements filmed to make each unique. Yep, these were B movies, and we loved them.

At about the same time, a curious thing happened. A sport called “fast draw” became popular. The Colt Single Action Army was a rugged revolver, but not intended for constant ‘fanning’ and other abuse. As a result, Ruger gave us the Blackhawk, which could not be easily broken.

Television played a big part the Ruger’s success. Quite a few ex-soldiers with good jobs, and a little cash to spread around, wanted some type of single-action revolver. There were plenty of cheap, junky guns that unfortunately made it to market.

The Ruger Single Six was, and is, the best of the breed — as far as rimfires go. This .22 caliber revolver offered a clean start with new manufacturing processes that made the revolver more reliable and accurate than any other .22 single-action. By 1954, thousands were being shipped each year.

Ruger single six revolver from a special run featuring fixed sights right profile black
Occasionally, Ruger makes a special run of fixed-sight revolvers.

Design Update

The Ruger uses coil springs instead of flat springs, which is a much stronger system than anything previously used in a revolver. While the old flat springs were fine for most uses, Americans were firing their guns a great deal more for recreational pursuits. The coil springs were a good design change that allowed the Ruger to fire thousands of rounds without needing a tune-up.

The original revolver was supplied with a fixed sight. The sight, fixed in a dovetail, was superior to the old-style ‘groove in the top receiver’ style of sights. While the fixed-sight revolvers looked nice and could be zeroed for a single load, the adjustable rear sight version quickly emerged as the most popular. The fixed-sight guns are, however, still seen in some special edition models. There simply isn’t a better sight picture on any .22 caliber revolver than the Ruger Single Six with the adjustable rear sight and post front sight.

Aluminum and stainless steel played a big part in Single Six manufacture over the years. Barrel lengths range from 4.625 to 9.5 inches. The 6.5-inch barrel length seems to have been most common. All the Ruger revolvers are good. I can’t tell you which to choose. If you like squirrel hunting or long-range pest shooting, the 6.5-inch model seems best. For tucking in the back pocket, the 4 5/8-inch barrel is a winner.

Ruger single six revolver in .22 magnum with adjustable sights right profile black
With the .22 Magnum cylinder in place, the Ruger Single Six is a formidable small game revolver.

Transfer Bars

A word about the transfer bar action. There is a wing of fans who collect old Ruger revolvers. It is a fertile field. If this excites your wallet, you better get one while they are still affordable. However, for actual use, I do not use the earlier guns.

It’s a surprise to modern shooters, but at one time, all single-action revolvers demanded the chamber under the hammer had to be kept empty to be safe. On older models, the firing pin would rest on the cartridge when the hammer was lowered. If the hammer was struck or accidentally reared back a bit and dropped, the revolver could fire. The proper firing sequence is to load a chamber, skip a chamber, load four chambers, then cock the hammer and lower the hammer over the empty chamber. Failure to do so could result in an accidental discharge if the firearm was dropped.

The geometry of the fall is such that if the revolver lands on its back and strikes the hammer, the barrel is pointed up, and would likely be toward the person who dropped the handgun. Bad news, death, or injury may result. The last such case I am aware of was perhaps 10 years ago, and I pray it will be the last.

Ruger has cured the problem of carrying a cartridge under the hammer. Around 1972, changes to the design ensured Ruger single-action revolvers were safe to carry fully loaded.

Updating Old Models

Ruger’s new transfer bar system may be easily installed in older revolvers. How you ask? Send the revolver to Ruger and installation is free.

special edition Ruger single six revolver in .22 LR with a fiber optic front sight right stainless steel
This special edition revolver features a fiber-optic front sight.

If you are planning to shoot the revolver and not just collecting guns, it should be installed by the factory. Remember, it won’t cost a dime. I am stressing this because this is an upgrade that cannot be ignored. The new system — if 50 years old is new — features a bar in the action that keeps the hammer pressed back and away from the firing pin.


When the revolver is cocked, the bar moves upward. As the trigger is pressed, the hammer falls and strikes the bar, which strikes the firing pin and the revolver fires. As soon as the trigger is released, the transfer bar retracts to the safe position.

To load a modern single-action with a transfer bar system, simply open the gate, and load the chambers as you rotate the cylinder. Next, close the loading gate. After that, you’ll cock the hammer fully to the rear. Press the trigger and fire.

Practical and Fun

For those who take the time to practice, the Ruger Single Six is a very accurate firearm. While I use mine primarily for recreation, the Single Six is a great hunting revolver. It will take small game cleanly, and it is an excellent choice for ridding the property of pests. In fact, I have dusted off several snakes around the house.

Ruger Single Six pistol with wood grip, right profile
The author’s personal Ruger Single Six is an accurate and reliable handgun.

Recently, my pet got into a fight with a copperhead. The Ruger Single Six finished the fight. Canine Lupus Dingo is immune to rotten meat, roadkill, and may swallow bees and fire ants at will, but I did not wish to test her system against snake venom.

The Ruger is fun to shoot, and .22 caliber ammunition is easy to handle. I have tested the revolver extensively with quite a few loads. Accuracy was good. With the aid of a shooting rest, careful trigger control, and the sights properly aligned, accuracy was good. A five-shot group of two inches was the average. Occasionally, a much smaller group was fired. Here are velocity results of some of my favorite loads in .22 Long Rifle.

Load Velocity (fps) Comment
CCI Quiet 45-grain Segmented 700 Oddly enough, this load functions in the Browning Buckmark.
CCI 29-grain CB Cap 555 This is a fun load!
Blazer 40-grain Round Nose 900 A good, accurate load that is well worth stocking up.
Federal Small Game Match Hollow Point 40-grain 998 Intended for long-range use, it’s an excellent all-around load.

Most Ruger Single Six revolvers sold today come with a .22 Magnum cylinder fitted at the factory. I don’t use my magnum cylinder nearly as much as the .22 Long Rifle. It is certainly a good option though. Here are a few results with the magnum cylinder. Accuracy was generally as good as the .22 Long Rifle. In fact, some revolvers may be more accurate with the .22 Magnum cylinder.

Load Velocity
CCI Magnum 40-grain FMJ     1,241 fps
CCI Maxi Mag 40-grain        1,249 fps


Caliber: .22 Long Rifle, .22 Magnum – .17 HMR, .32 H&R Magnum have been produced in the past
Capacity: 6 rounds, but some models were designed to hold 10 rounds
Overall length: 11 inches (5.5-inch barrel)
Weight: 33 ounces (5.5-inch barrel)

The Ruger Single Six is a favorite handgun that gets the job done!

Do you own a Ruger Single Six? Are you a fan of cowboy guns? Share your best single-action story in the Comment section.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in September of 2021. It has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and clarity.

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