Firearms

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

Single Action Army in Holster

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.

LoadVelocity (fps)Comment
CCI Quiet 45-grain Segmented700 Oddly enough, this load functions in the Browning Buckmark.
CCI 29-grain CB Cap555This is a fun load!
Blazer 40-grain Round Nose900A good, accurate load that is well worth stocking up.
Federal Small Game Match Hollow Point 40-grain998Intended 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.

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

Specifications         

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.

  • Ruger single six revolver in .22 magnum with adjustable sights right profile black
  • special edition Ruger single six revolver in .22 LR with a fiber optic front sight right stainless steel
  • Ruger single six revolver from a special run featuring fixed sights right profile black
  • Ruger Single Six pistol with wood grip, right profile
  • Ruger single six stainless-steel revolver right profile

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (35)

  1. back in the 70’s i had a 22 mag and i was damn good with it but what you show is nothing like i had chrome with pearl white grips best gun i ever had other than my m1911 give me a price on one [BENJAMIN]

  2. Even though I had been shooting since the age of 7 (.22’s mostly), I didn’t actually buy my first firearm until age 17 – a Winchester model 94 .30-30 lever-action rifle – which as it turned out later was the perfect companion to my favorite Ruger Single-Six .22/.22 magnum revolver. Didn’t graduate to the “big boys” until my military service (circa 1959), where I trained with and used the M1 Garand .30-06 (ya, I’m that old) and the iconic Colt 1911 .45 ACP pistol. Eventually I sold my .30-30 Winchester so I could afford to buy my beloved Browning P-35 Hi-Power 9mm pistol ($108 in 1967), which eventually became my off-duty piece when a Police Officer. And, of course I did eventually buy the two other iconic handguns you mentioned in your great article: the James Bond Walther PPKS .380 pistol and Dirty Harry’s S&W Model 29 .44 magnum revolver. I like the “Cowboy Guns” so much that I eventually replaced my .30-30 lever-action Winchester, and also bought a Mossberg lever-action .22 rifle and a Ruger Single-Six revolver that shoots .38-40 Winchester and 10mm Auto. Great guns all! To this day, my Ruger Single Six .22/.22 magnum revolver is still one of my all time favorites.

  3. R D

    Load only five!!!!

    Load one skip a chamber load four cock the hammer and lower the hammer on an empty cylinder.

    The only guns that have collector value are new in the box unfired. You gun is a shooter and a fine one at that!
    Bob

  4. I have a Ruger Single 6, 3 screw, 6 1/2 in Bbl. I load all 6 then pull the hammer back to first click to get the firing pin off the cartridge. I bought it in ’69. I have taken lots of game and a few snakes.
    I did not send it in for a transfer bar on account of I thought it might degrade the value.

  5. When my father in law passed away I inherited a colt frontier special. He never shot it much and it still had the box it came in. There on the box was the price written in pen back in the 60’s… $63,99. I shoot it often, what a nice gun.

  6. The first revolver I ever bought – back in 1968. It is the”convertible” model with both cylinders – .22 and .22 magnum – with a 61/2″ blued barrel and wood grips. Completely original (I opted not to have the factory-offered hammer block safety upgrade), except I installed a slightly wider trigger shoe on the narrow trigger. Is extremely accurate. It is as accurate as my S&W K38 6″ that I carried when I was a deputy with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. (circa 1972) – where I always qualified DX. Best shot ever with my Ruger .22 was hitting a small bird dead-center that was sitting on a fence post (in the desert) at 83 paces – wth a .22 Short – that had such little energy left there was no exit wound.

  7. I have 357 Blackhawk. With serial number is 13… Dad got back around the late 1950,s. Single action.looks like the 22.. love this… gun..

  8. Hi Bob,
    That’s a great article about a really cool sixgun. My wife bought me a stainless steel Ruger Single-Six with a 5-1/2″ barrel back in January of 2000. Actually, it was a birthday gift, and there was no gun at the time, just a picture of it in my birthday card…remember the whole Y2K thing? Our local gun store was pretty much out of everything! They had to order my Single-Six; but it was worth the wait. It’s a wonderful gun; with the .22LR cylinder, it shoots CCI Quiet rounds to point-of-aim at 16 feet; I’ve used it to shoot water moccasins on the farm, and other small pests. With the .22 Magnum cylinder in place (which is most of the time), it makes a great boat gun; the first two round up are shotshells…there’s lots of snakes here in Georgia, both on the water and in the trees around it. When I walk the farm at night, the gun (with six .22 Mag hollow points) is always on my hip. When I get back to the house, the Single-Six sits right next to me while we watch TV. I’ve shot through 4″x4″s with it, and I have a lot of confidence in it…although, with a 70-pound American bulldog sleeping on the front porch, the odds of an intruder even making it to the front door are mighty slim. =>
    Thanks again,
    Dave

  9. I traded a Ruger Blackhawk .357 Mag for my New Model Ruger Single Six 6.5″ with both cylinders (NIB) and some ammo back in the early 80’s because I figured I would use it more. I was RIGHT. I have carried it with me during hunts, hikes, checking cows and fences, and pretty much any time I’m in the woods. It is super accurate, extremely dependable and very “fun” to shoot. The only thing about that trade I regret is the loss of the .357 Blackhawk, but my S&W Model 65 4″ kinda makes up for it.

  10. I have had a single six for decades, but one of my daughters loved it so it went with her. But I wanted to share that I shot a partridge, in a tree, at 50 yards with it. Measured distance. I flushed it, and happened to see it land in a branch, and had to take the chance.

  11. Great review cousin,lol. I love my single 6 it’s in 22mag only, brought it at a pawnshop excellent condition but no spare 22lr cylinder probably why the price was so low. Called Ruger and they said it would be 175$ to fit a cylinder in 22lr. That was 10 years ago. And about the price I paid for it. I have gotten to like it as is. Shoots great and like all of my Ruger’s great quality!

  12. Colonel K

    Installing the new safe action in an old Single Six does change the loading sequence and it should be done.

    Bob

  13. My father recently gave me a Single Six that he got many years ago from Bill Ruger while visiting the Ruger Facility in CT.
    It’s a very early model with a four digit serial number, three screw, no transfer bar and an experimental SS cylender.
    The trigger is extremely crisp and breaks like a thin glass rod. When give to him by Bill was also accompanied by a western holster and cartridge belt both of which are still with the pistol.
    I’d loke to post pictures but can’t do tht here. If anyone is interested in photos let me know and I’ll post them on my FB page or something.

  14. While I used a MKII for matches, my Single Six is the “fun gun”. Mine came with the 22 mag cylinder beside the 22 LR one. The 22 Mag ammo is now expensive, but years ago it wasn’t almost as expensive as 9mm, but much closer to the cost of 22 LR ammo. Still, a Single Six using the 22 Mag cylinder is almost the ideal all around hiking/camping/knock about handgun currently available.

  15. Does installing a transfer bar system in an Old Model Ruger alter the loading process or does it still function like a Colt SAA?

  16. Great article, Bob! Thank you; I couldn’t agree with you more about how the Ruger Single-Six is such an excellent pistol. My wife got me one for my birthday back in 2000. Mine is the stainless steel version with a 5.5″ barrel, and I painted the back of the front sight blaze orange so I could see it better. I absolutely love this revolver! I mostly keep it loaded with the .22 magnum cylinder; it hits dead on at 25 yards with Winchester 40-grain jacketed hollow points; and the .22 Magnum shot cartridges are good for water moccasins out to 25 feet; that makes this a great boat gun for snakes, and also a great farm gun. With the .22LR cylinder in place, CCI Quiet rounds hit dead on at 16 feet, which is useful for small varmints and also just for some quiet fun shooting. To anyone who has been thinking that they might want to get one of these, but hasn’t actually gotten it yet, I say, “Go ahead and get one; you will be happy that you did!” Thanks again, and blessings to all. Dave

  17. Excellent piece on the Ruger Single-Six L.R./WMR. I would like to know the manufacturer of the holster/belt combination showcased in the article.

  18. I wish Ruger would make enough to supply the demand. Seems as though they now only make large caliber guns rather than fun guns that use cheap ammo.

  19. Like Jack, I have an old H&R .22 bought second hand for $100.
    It holds 9 rounds and is a hoot to shoot either in single or double action.
    It’s my Wife’s favorite shooter.

  20. Single Six was my first handgun purchased in 1980 and still a favorite. Trained many new shooters due to single action and no recoil which builds confidence to move on to larger calibers. Replaced grips with Hogue rubber to accommodate my large hands. Taken countless squirrels and rabbits while snow shoeing Recommend to anyone starting out as it versatile and runs good as new 30 + years later.

  21. I am a member of SASS (Single Action Shooters Society). We have monthly shooting matches where the shooters dress in Western Cowboy outfits and shoot two single action revolvers (period correct) as well as a lever action rifle and a pump or double barrel shotgun (also period correct) at metal targets. the seniors take place usually in façade faced structures that resemble old town buildings, general stores, sheriff office, saloons and other structures. Check us out on YouTube. And definitely get the bug to try it yourself. I think it is the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

  22. I have four single sixes and a Colt New Frontier Buntline, And a Uberti Stallion. I like single actions and have center fire single actions too.
    I thought I would buy a new wrangler but the Single Sixes are much better in fit and Finnish so I will pass on the Wrangler. There is a big price difference now though than when I bought mine, they were much cheaper then.

  23. My Dad still has the single six I learned to shoot on. My Brothers too, my daughter. We don’t shoot it much these days dad wants to keep it working. So we got Ruger Wrangler’s. We have a blast with them. I enjoy my time with dad this way, he’s in his 80’s now something to get him out now and then.
    I will one day teach my Grandchildren on them when they are old enough.

  24. Hey ROCK IT

    I guess you missed this part of the article

    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

  25. I got my first Single-Six when I was still a teen in the 70’s. It was 5″, and had the quarter-moon front sight. It was always strapped to my hip when hunting deer with my .30-30, in order to quit their suffering. Then I got married young, and money got tight, and I sold it. Still regret it. As soon as I was flush again, I went back to the gun shop where I sold it, but of course it was gone. Later I bought another, newer Single-Six with the interchangeable WMR cylinder, and adjustable sights. But again, the wife’s car broke down or some such thing and we needed money, and my toys always seemed to be expendable to her. Selling that one was my 2nd regret in about 3 years.
    I still like the Single-Six, but nowadays it’s about 3 times the price I paid back then. I’ve got a Wrangler to plink with now.

  26. Love my Single Six. Used a Mark II for small bore target shooting, (Yes – even won a trophy), but the Single Six was my version of a “KIT” gun. Being able to swap .22LR and .22 WMR cylinders was why it was such an ideal “KIT” gun. Modern .22 LR and .22 WMR ammo makes it even a better choice.

  27. What? No mention of the fact that these also come with the optional .22 WMR cylinder swap? Back in the early 70’s, I was looking for such a revolver, unfortunately, or fortunately, Colt also made the Colt New Frontier in .22/.22WMR at that time, and when comparing the two, the Colt had the familiar 4 clicks when cocking the hammer; C O L T. When I cocked the Ruger, being a novice at the time, I thought it was broken as it only had FULL COCK, and no clicks, so I ended up buying the Colt. While I do wish at times I had purchased the Ruger, to go with my Blackhawk, seems they only made the Colt New Frontier for only a few years at best, and so it is now more of a collector item, and having the familiar case hardened frame with everything else being black, it is a beauty. Surprising at the range, few people are old enough to have ever seen a REAL Colt Single Action in .22/.22WMR. I still hope to someday own a Single Six (or Eight, or Ten). LOL

  28. I own the 5 inch Single Six and love it. It came with the magnum cylinder also. I got huge brownie points when I tagged a cotton mouth that scared my wife half to death. The brownie points were sorely needed at the time, lol. It’s simple, rugged, dependable and, in my opinion, it’s just a good looking firearm.

  29. Don’t have the Ruger Single Six. As close as I get is an old H&R 949 in .22 bought at a pawnshop. It holds 9 rounds and is a hoot to shoot either in single or double action.

  30. Several things with “Liberty Model]1776-1976 to hundred years of American Liberty]”:rough chambers,cracked loading gate.
    I wish I had gotten the 9.5″vs the 6.5″version
    The noise/recoil of the 22 magnum is such that I’ll use a 38Spec chambered revolver instead,and only use 22LR in the Single Six
    CCI stingers burn dirty in theSingleSix.

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