A Tribute to William B. Ruger and Ruger Firearms

By Rick Ryals

Willliam B. Ruger, Sr.
Photo of William B. Ruger, Sr. sent to Lee Juras in 1975, from Lee's web site.

As gun enthusiasts, one of our favorite pastimes is griping about the gun companies. Some of our complaining is justified and some is just blowing off steam. Firearm manufacturers need to understand that putting our hard earned cash on the counter gives us a right to critique the product we receive. Especially since, in the case of firearms, we cannot return them for a refund.

Many of us who are Ruger owners complain about certain aspects of their firearms, because we recognize the quality of the basic design. The firearm we receive may have a deficiency that seems to overshadow the overall excellence of the design. Ruger's poor ("tort lawyer") triggers of recent decades are one example. (A problem the Company appears, at last, to be addressing. -Editor.)

However, in this article I would like to step back from these criticisms, however justified they may be, to recognize the contributions William B. Ruger and Sturm, Ruger & Company have made to the firearms industry and to us as consumers. Today, we enjoy such a wide selection of fine firearms that some may take them for granted. However, back in the 1960's, this was not necessarily the case.

Centerfire rifles were becoming glossier and gaudier by the year, replete with Monte Carlos and white line spacers in imitation of Weatherby's Deluxe rifles. Winchester had replaced the revered pre-64 Model 70 with a new (and much reviled) push feed version. Rimfire rifles were, for the most part, cheap things purchased from department or hardware stores. They were considered "boys' guns" and not a lot of attention was given them by most gun makers. Marlin's 39A lever action was a notable exception, of course, and if you were knowledgeable and well-heeled, you could buy an Anschutz bolt action.

Into this dearth of selection, quality and taste stepped William Ruger. Mr. Ruger was a genius at spotting holes in the market place and then supplying products to fill them. At a time when most other .22 autoloaders were cheap and low quality, he brought us the 10/22, an autoloader with a dependable rotary magazine styled after the M1 Carbine. (The M1 was the "in" style at the time, like the AR-15 is today.) Did it cost a little more than the others? Of course. At the time, the other gun companies probably thought that we would not pay the difference. They found that Bill Ruger was right and they were wrong.

Ruger also gave us the 77/22 bolt action rimfire rifle. A few years back I read a review in a gun magazine about a new bolt action rimfire rifle Weatherby had introduced. At first glance this may not seem to have anything to do with a tribute to William Batterman Ruger and the Company he and Alexander McCormick Sturm, Jr. founded. However, there was a time, not so long ago, when high quality, adult, bolt action rimfires were rare. It was Sturm, Ruger & Company that first made such a rifle available to the general public at a reasonable price. The Model 77/22 was conceived as an adult .22 rifle equal in style and quality to centerfire rifles. The marketers found out that many adults would pay a reasonable price for a high quality rimfire. Many companies now offer adult rimfire rifles, but we should remember who started this trend and be grateful.

Bill Ruger's first firearm was a .22 pistol, introduced in 1949. The Ruger Standard (Mark I) pistol's styling derived from the German Luger, with Japanese Nambu and Colt Woodsman influences, and it retained the comfortable grip angle of these pistols. The Ruger Standard .22 was inexpensive (it sold for about half the price of a Colt Woodsman), accurate and profitable to manufacture due to its innovative design. Sturm, Ruger sold thousands of them and the Company was on its way.

The Standard .22 became the Mark II and now the Mark III pistol. There is a mind boggling assortment of variations from which to choose. They are still one of the best .22 autoloaders you can buy.

What Bill Ruger did for .22 autoloaders, he also did for single action revolvers. Ruger saw an opening for a new single action revolver because Colt had discontinued their famous Single Action Army in 1941, at the beginning of the Second World War. Ruger filled the gap with his line of improved single actions. The 7/8 size, .22 caliber Single Six was introduced in 1953. It was available in .22 Long Rifle and .22 WMR. A "convertible" version was offered with two cylinders, which could digest either Long Rifle or Magnum cartridges with just a switch of the cylinder. The Super Single Six introduced a fully adjustable rear sight. Eventually, even Colt introduced a line of single action .22 revolvers to compete with the Single Six! Today, the popular Single Six remains one of the best rimfire revolvers on the market.

The Blackhawk is the full size, centerfire version of Ruger's single action revolver. It was introduced in 1955 in .38 Spec./.357 Magnum and has subsequently been offered in several other calibers. There were even convertible models designed to shoot .45 Colt/.45 ACP or .357 Magnum/9x19mm with a cylinder change. The Blackhawk is not an exact copy of the Colt SAA, but it was close enough to appeal to traditionalists. Its quality matched its appearance and its sales tell the rest of the story.

We can also thank Mr. Ruger for the modern, high quality, single shot rifle. Ruger introduced the No. 1, the Company's first high power hunting rifle, in 1966. Incidentally, the marketing department told Bill Ruger that it would never sell. More than 40 years later, it is still selling.

Because of the success of the Ruger No. 1, Browning introduced their B-78 single shot, which later became the Model 1885. Both High Wall and Low Wall versions were produced. These have been discontinued and reintroduced several times over the years, under both the Browning and Winchester names. Merkel now offers a deluxe single shot, as do Blaser, Dakota, Uberti and several others. The point of mentioning this is that we can thank Bill Ruger, not only for the many fine guns he introduced, but also for many guns of other brands that might never have been produced had he not led the way.

Then, there is the M77 bolt action centerfire rifle. It was introduced in 1968 into a world of high gloss stocks, impressed checkering and white line spacers. It was a nicely finished, traditionally styled rifle of the Mauser Model 98 pattern that featured a full length extractor. The shapely stock, which was designed by custom rifle maker Len Brownell, had a satin finish with hand checkering, grip cap, red rubber butt pad and no white line spacers. The fully adjustable trigger and sliding tang safety were features derived from custom built Mauser 98's.

The original M77, in spite of its long Mauser extractor, was technically a push feed action. The M77 Mark II introduced true controlled feeding and a bolt mounted safety of the Winchester Model 70 type. (Also a retrograde, lawyer instigated, trigger group.) Otherwise, the Mark II looked similar to the original. The current M77 Hawkeye is a slimmed down version of the Mark II with yet another revised trigger system. Current M77's with walnut stocks still retain the classic look of the original M77.

I would like to add a side note on the controlled feed M77 Mark II. Personally, I suspect that Winchester would never have reintroduced the controlled feed Model 70 had it not been for the popularity of Ruger's controlled feed M77. Thank you, Mr. Ruger, for that.

Bill Ruger, Sr. is no longer with us. However, those of us who love high quality, durable firearms at a reasonable price owe him a huge debt of gratitude. He became a rich man as a result of the company he built, but he also enriched us with a wealth of fine firearms we would not have enjoyed without him.

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