Ruger Single Six Revolvers

By Chuck Hawks

Ruger Super Single Six
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

2003 marked the 50-year anniversary of the introduction of the Ruger Single Six revolver, the most popular single action (SA) .22 ever made. The Single Six is a traditional looking Western style revolver, but with a modernized mechanism. Bill Ruger built his company on good design, modern manufacturing techniques and quality products at a fair price, and the Single Six epitomizes all of those virtues.

Initially offered in .22 Long Rifle (which can also shoot .22 Short and .22 Long cartridges), the versatile Single Six has been adapted to fire the rimfire .22 Magnum (WMR) and centerfire .32 H&R Magnum cartridges as well. Later, cylinders were added to allow "Convertible" Single Sixes that could shoot .22 Short/Long/Long Rifle in one cylinder and .22 WMR/.22 WRF in another.

The 3-screw (or "Old Model," as they later came to be called) Ruger Single Six revolvers are based on a very simple design. They use music wire coil springs and their reliability has become legendary. This was, and still is, perhaps the best single action revolver ever designed. However, Old Model Rugers are traditional single action revolvers, as had been made and sold in the U.S. and the rest of the world for over 100 years. This means that they are loaded with the hammer in the half-cock notch and properly carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. There is also a quarter-cock "semi-safe" hammer position.

The typical 3-screw Single Six (so called because of the three screws in the side of the frame) was a blued steel .22 Magnum/.22 LR convertible revolver built on a flat top frame roughly 7/8 the size of a Ruger Blackhawk. The one piece Western-style grip frame was made of aluminum alloy, as was the ejector rod housing. It would have two piece walnut grips and a 6 1/2 inch barrel. The cylinder pin is retained by a simple, spring loaded cross pin. The hammer and trigger springs are coil springs, much easier to adjust and more durable than the flat springs used in earlier SA revolvers. The standard Single Six had a fixed rear sight dovetailed into the frame, and the Super Single Six model came with the same fully adjustable rear sight as a Blackhawk. The Super also came with a ramp front sight.

Over the years Ruger sold a great many Single Six, Bearcat, Blackhawk, and Super Blackhawk SA revolvers. Idiots who refused to read the owner's manual and also ignored over 100 years of established firearms protocol purchased a few of these guns. A small percentage of these fools managed to accidentally injure themselves by improper loading and handling of Ruger SA revolvers. Naturally, these clowns refused to accept responsibility for their actions. Rapacious tort lawyers sprang to the attack and by the beginning of the 1970's the successful Sturm, Ruger & Company suddenly found itself the target of unfair but expensive lawsuits. Remember that since 1953 Ruger had been building the strongest and safest single action revolvers ever made!

Never-the-less, Bill Ruger redesigned his single action revolvers in 1973 in an attempt to make them "idiot proof." The result was the "New Model" Single Six, Blackhawk, and Super Blackhawk. These revolvers incorporated a new transfer bar ignition system. The old coiled hammer spring remains, but the new trigger spring is a music wire spring in a sort of "U" shape. Opening the loading gate retracts the cylinder bolt, allowing the cylinder to turn for loading. The hammer is not involved. No more quarter-cock and half cock hammer positions, and no more necessity to leave the hammer down on an empty chamber.

The New Model Ruger SA revolvers are probably the safest revolvers ever made, and they can be carried fully loaded with six cartridges. New Model Ruger SA revolvers only have two screws in the side of their frames. Otherwise the Super Single Six is externally similar to the Old Model guns. The standard, fixed sight, Single Six no longer comes with a flat top frame with a dove-tailed rear sight. It is now based on a round top frame with the rear sight merely a groove machined into the top of the frame, similar to the Vaquero model.

Over the years there have been many models of Single Six revolvers. I counted 14 variations in the 2003 Ruger catalog. There are New Model Single Sixes with round top rather than flat top frames, fixed or adjustable sights, and "Bisley," "bird's head," and traditional Western grip shapes. The grip panels are usually rosewood, but some models feature black micarta or simulated ivory grips. Single Sixes are offered in blue, satin stainless steel, and gloss stainless steel finishes, and with barrels of 4 5/8, 5 1/2, 6 1/2, and 9 1/2 inches in length. New Model Single Six calibers are .17 HMR, .22 LR (also .22 Short and .22 Long), .22 WMR (also .22 WRF), and .32 H&R Magnum (also .32 Short and .32 Long). Convertible Models come with .22 LR and .22 Magnum cylinders.

The New Model that is probably the most common, and the most useful to the small game hunter and outdoorsman, is the Super Single Six Convertible model NR6. This blued steel .22 LR/.22 Magnum revolver comes with a fluted LR cylinder and a nonfluted .22 WMR cylinder. The barrel length is 6 1/2 inches. The two piece grips are smooth rosewood with sliver and black Ruger medallions. It comes with the same target style adjustable sights as the Blackhawk and Super Blackhawk. It is 11 13/16 inches in overall length, and weighs 35 ounces. The same basic gun is also available in satin stainless steel (KNR6). The MSRP in 2003 was $389 in blue finish and $469 in stainless steel.

There are plenty of good belts and holsters of various sorts for Single Six revolvers, from the very plain to the very fancy. Hunter (leather) and Uncle Mike's (nylon) are two brands that I have used for years. I prefer a cross draw carry in the field and, since I consider the Super Single Six a hunting pistol, that is how I have usually carried mine.

My all-time favorite .22 Single Six was a blued steel 3-screw Super Convertible with a 6 1/2 inch barrel, which is my favorite configuration. I did some work on the springs and engagement surfaces to smooth and lighten the action. And I polished the black anodizing off of the one-piece trigger guard/grip frame and buffed the bare aluminum to a soft silver glow. I put enough coats of Outers Stock Oil on the walnut grips to give them a rather glossy finish, which also brought out the grain of the wood. It was a very pretty gun, and probably the most accurate Single Six I have ever owned. The sights were the standard Ruger adjustable type and I had them zeroed to hit dead on at 25 yards. I have also owned and used a variety of Old Model standard Single Sixes with fixed sights, Supers with 5 1/2 inch barrels, and stainless steel New Models. All are good guns.

For those who want, and can safely control, a lighter than normal trigger it is a simple matter to slip one limb of the New Model trigger spring from its peg. This nearly cuts the pull weight in half. About 3 coils can be removed from the hammer spring of these guns to reduce the effort required to cock the hammer; this has no effect on reliability.

Ruger, of course, does not approve of modifying their revolvers, and liability wise you are on your own. Remember to always keep any revolver pointed in a safe direction and your finger off of the trigger until you are actually ready to shoot. Safety is the sole responsibility of the shooter! So don't blame me if you accidentally shoot yourself or someone else.

Ruger Super Single Six revolvers have earned a reputation for good accuracy, and mine have been typical of the breed. They have been used to shoot just about every kind of .22 LR and .22 Magnum ammunition available. My favorite 3-screw preferred CCI Mini-Mag Long Rifle hollow points, but shot pretty well with any copper-plated LR High Velocity ammunition. I used CCI Mini-Mag hollow points for small game hunting with that gun. A 6-1/2 inch Super Single Six makes a fine squirrel gun.

For tougher animals, such as ground hogs and jack rabbits, I used the .22 WMR cylinder. In .22 Magnum, that gun preferred Winchester Super-X 40 grain JHP's.

On the whole I cannot think of a better small game hunting revolver made today than a Ruger Single Six Convertible with a 6-1/2 inch barrel. Certainly my personal experience with the breed has been positive.

Note: A full length review of a New Model Ruger Single Six Convertible revolver can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.