Heading out to the range for tactical and practical shooting is all well and good. It's important to hone game getting and potentially life-preserving skills. But it's also good to remember that the shooting sports are meant to be an enjoyable hobby shared with family and friends. Since 2019 Ruger has offered an affordably priced single-action rimfire revolver called the Wrangler, which is an ideal option for easy going range time and casual plinking in the field. For this conversation I'm going to hone in on the latest version which is a more compact model with a birdshead grip frame.
The Wrangler is a budget friendly .22 LR based on the Single-Six.
A Distinguished Pedigree
In 1953, four years after the company was established, William B. Ruger launched the company's second handgun model and its first revolver. Inspired by the popularity of the Old West TV shows of the time, he designed a .22-cal. rimfire wheelgun that closely resembled the Colt Single-Action Arm revolver. It was dubbed The Single-Six and it turned out to be a hit with the shooting public. It's been in production ever since.
Wrangler revolvers are available with silver, black or bronze Cerakote frame finishes. The cylinders are blued carbon steel and match the black polymer grips.
In 1973 the company incorporated a transfer bar safety to guard against unintentional discharges caused by bumping the hammer against a loaded chamber. The models with this upgrade are still referred to as the New Model Single-Six. Over the years this rimfire revolver has been available in blued and stainless-steel finishes with various barrel lengths, sight configurations and grip panels. The signature model ships with a pair of cylinders chambered for .22 LR and .22 Mag.
The birdshead version is more compact than the original.
This is a sturdy gun that can safely handle larger cartridges. From 1984 to 1997 the Single-Six was available chambered in .32 H&R Mag. During the 2010s, the company decided to shake things up with new configurations including the .22 LR 10-shot Single-Ten (2011) and the 9-shot .22 Mag. logically dubbed the Single-Nine (2012). Soon after the Single-Seven was launched (2014) chambered to fire seven rounds of .327 Fed. Mag. or .32 H&R Mag. But despite all of these options, the Single-Six was still not drawing much attention in a particular segment of the marketplace, namely, folks in the market for rimfire handguns in the $300 to $400 price range.
Cutting Costs, Not Corners
In 2019, Ruger addressed these price point concerns with a new revolver based on the Single-Six called the Wrangler. It's currently available with a suggested retail price of $269 for the standard 4.62" barrel “ploughshare” models, or $279 for the recently released 3.75" barrel birdshead grip version. How exactly did they go about shaving around $500 off of the price? It was through a process of simplification and changes in the materials used.
Substituting all-steel construction for various alloys reduces the Wrangler’s price tag significantly.
The simplifications include the adjustable sights being replaced with fixed Vaquero-style sights. This revolver omits the second .22 Mag. cylinder and ships with just one unfluted .22 LR cylinder. The cylinder is free-wheeling, which means it rotates right or left when loading, instead of locking when rotated during the loading process. The trigger and hammer are both MIM (Metal Injected Molding) stainless steel components which reduces machining costs.
The Wrangler features a transfer bar safety set into the frame in between the hammer and the firing pin.
Handguns with an all-steel construction cost more to make. To reduce the price, different alloys were used for those components that don't require steel to do the job. Aluminum is used for the ejector housing. The cylinder frame and loading gate are die cast from A380 aluminum alloy while the one-piece trigger guard and grip frame are diecast using a zinc alloy. In order to maintain a consistent appearance, all of these different metals are treated with a Cerakote finish available in matte black, silver and bronze colors.
Six rounds of .22 LR can be loaded through the open frame gate.
Ruger was careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater when making these changes. Sturdy carbon steel alloy is still used to make key components including the barrel, cylinder and frame pins. The safety features have been preserved, including the transfer bar safety and the loading gate interlock safety. The Wrangler's external dimensions remain the same as those of the Single-Six. This means they fit into the same holsters and accept the same grip panels.
Wringing Out the Wrangler Birdshead
I became a fan of the Wrangler series when I had the opportunity to test drive the original model in 2019. But one of my first thoughts after wrapping up the review was just how fun it would be to try out a birdshead configuration. This curved grip design is reminiscent of some Colt derringer and revolver models from the late 1800s. By rounding off the rear of the grip it makes the revolver more compact and easier to conceal under a vest or coat. For this reason it's not uncommon for this style of grip to be accompanied by a shorter barrel assembly.
The Wrangler’s are a real treat to take to the shooting range.
The Wranger Birdshead has a barrel 3.75" barrel, instead of 4.62", and weighs in at 27 oz. instead of 30 oz. It's available in the same three Cerakote finishes, black, silver and bronze, with a set of smooth black polymer grip panels. One of the thoughtful touches with these factory grips are the indentations on both sides that more comfortably couch the middle finger of the shooting hand for improved purchase.
The shorter barrel length and curved grip shape give this little revolver a handy, comfortable feel when shooting. It points and balances nicely. And the low recoil (and cost) of the .22 LR ammunition it shoots makes it just that much more fun to work with. It has an authoritative heft and smooth controls that belie its reduced cost. In other words, it does not feel or shoot like a “budget” gun.
At the range, this Wrangler fed, fired and ejected all of the test ammunition used. A faulty .22 LR primer will crop up from time to time, especially with bulk box loads. But in this case, all of the rounds touched off in the course of informal and formal testing fired properly. The 5-shot group accuracy testing was conducted at 15 yards using a bench rest and ammunition provided by Federal Premium, Remington and Winchester. The following table shows the results.
Relaxing Range Time
Ruger's Wrangler series fits nicely into the fun gun category. It's a reliable wheel gun that benefits from the low cost and recoil of .22 LR ammunition. While it has a sticker price that won't break the bank, it’s still a well made gun. Single-action revolvers like the Wrangler are all about slowing down a bit to savor each pull of the trigger. For more information, visit ruger.com.