Ruger Wrangler Review
October 22, 2019
Ruger brings modern machining and finishes to the single-action .22 revolver—and at a great price. Meet the Wrangler.
It’s hard to overstate just how important the introduction of Ruger’s Single-Six was—not only to the company, but also to the storied history of the single-action revolver itself. Since boyhood, Bill Ruger was enamored of the Colt Single Action Army, the famed Peacemaker, and when Colt announced soon after World War II it was halting production of single-action revolvers, he saw an opportunity.
Ruger introduced his Single-Six .22 in the early 1950s, and he quickly discovered he had tapped into a huge demand—and in so doing almost certainly rescued the single-action revolver from the dustbin. It was a big boost for the fledgling company.
The Single-Six and its later New Model update incorporating a transfer-bar safety have been in Ruger’s catalog for well over half a century, but they’re pretty dear—with suggested retail prices starting north of $600. So this year Ruger introduced the Wrangler, a six-shot single-action .22 revolver that costs about half what the Single-Six goes for.
“Our ultimate goal was to provide yet another rugged reliable firearm to our customers at an affordable rate,” said Graham Rockwell, product manager at Ruger’s Newport, New Hampshire, plant. “With the Single-Six as our starting point, we saw an opportunity not only to use different materials, but also to bring our single-action manufacturing process up to a modern level. Those two things combined are really what set the Wrangler apart from the rest of our single-action line as far as affordability.”
The frame is machined out of aluminum, and the grip frame is the same size as that of the Single-Six, meaning grips fitting the latter gun will fit the Wrangler. Depending on your tastes, this is a big deal.
I can’t say I’m in love with the stippled black synthetic grips that come on the Wrangler. Rockwell confirmed the grips were chosen based on cost. Luckily. there’s no shortage of aftermarket grips—wood, laminates, “exotic” materials and fancy engraved versions—so you can customize to your heart’s content.
Same goes for holsters. Any holster designed for the Single-Six will accommodate the Wrangler.
The grips are well-proportioned, as a single-action’s grips should be. The stippling provides a non-slip grip, and even though it’s a .22, that still matters at least a little. The Ruger logo is impressed on both sides at the top, just behind the frame.
The frame and barrel are Cerakoted, and you can have your choice of black, silver and burnt bronze. I was curious about the choice of Cerakote on an economy gun—on a traditional single action, no less—and Rockwell filled me in.
“Because the black oxide process cannot be used on aluminum, we evaluated other traditional coating methods, but they did not provide the uniform look that we desired,” he said. “Our in-house Cerakote capabilities were then brought into play and gave us not just a uniform finish but also an increased durability over the traditional black oxide process.”
The hammer and trigger are MIM stainless steel parts and are left in the white, providing a nice bit of contrast. The chrome-moly steel cylinder has a black oxide finish, which I imagine looks especially nice in the silver and burnt bronze Cerakote models.
I found the loading gate stiff to open. Part of it is tension, part of it is the relief cut where your thumb goes is necessarily smaller, so you’re afforded less purchase. Once open, the cylinder spins freely in either direction because when at rest the pawl doesn’t engage with the ratchet cuts at the back of the cylinder.
Having the cylinder spin freely in both directions is nice for loading and unloading. And you don’t have to fuss with what position the hammer is in; there’s no quarter- or half-cock position necessary to rotate the cylinder—just open the gate.
The hammer does require a bit more force to draw back than my other single actions, and there’s a fair amount of stacking at the rear of the travel. This particular Wrangler doesn’t have more than probably 300 rounds through it, so the cocking force might ease with use.
You know about Ruger’s groundbreaking transfer bar, right? It’s a piece of metal acting as an interface between hammer and firing pin. If the transfer bar is not fully raised into position by pressing the trigger, the hammer cannot contact the firing pin. This means the gun won’t fire if the hammer falls inadvertently—say, your thumb slips while cocking it—and you can carry the gun with a live round under the hammer because if the gun is dropped, the hammer cannot contact the firing pin.
Alas, when you draw back the hammer you won’t hear that cool “four click” sound like you would in a Colt or a Colt repro, just the two clicks you get with Ruger single actions. That doesn’t bother me one bit, although I do wish the transfer bar didn’t rattle when you shake the gun—especially when the hammer is back.
Trigger pull averaged four pounds even, with just a bit of creep. That’s slightly lighter than my Ruger Vaquero .45 Colt and a full pound heavier than my Heritage Rough Rider—a single-action .22 the Wrangler is competing with. While the Rough Rider’s trigger is lighter, I much prefer the shape and width of the Wrangler’s trigger.
Pushing the cylinder pin release allows the cylinder to be removed through the loading gate side, and the fitting of the cylinder and pin is excellent. No messing around with cylinder position to get the pin back in.
The ejector rod runs the full length of the 4.6-inch, cold-hammer-forged carbon steel barrel. Ejection of empties is easy, and it’s nice to be able to rotate the cylinder in reverse if you need to.
If you’ve been around a lot of single-action revolvers that mimic the Colt Single Action Army, you’re already familiar with the gutter-type sight found on the Wrangler. The rear sight is simply a notch that runs the length of the topstrap, and the front sight is a plain black blade.
Simple, yes, but here Ruger has done an excellent job. One, you can see the sight when the hammer is forward, which I really like. Two, the width of the cut provides the ideal amount of room around the front sight for aiming, plus the notch is sharply defined.
I have a hard time with gutter sights, but of all the ones I’ve tried, this one worked relatively well for me. Notice I said “relatively.” Sorry, folks, but trying to shoot groups with this sight arrangement at 25 yards as dictated by our testing SOP simply wasn’t in the cards. I tried, but I can’t see well enough to pull it off.
I tested it at 15 yards instead, and I think that’s legitimate because this is a plinking gun, after all. Results are shown in the accompanying table.
Aside from bench work, I spent a fair bit of time with the Wrangler, mostly plinking on steel just to see how it handled (really, really well), as well as shooting paper offhand. Eventually, I got tired of grapefruit-size groups and decided to see just how well I could shoot this thing.
I put up some two-inch target squares—the same size I used for accuracy testing because it matches up well with the narrow front sight at reasonable distance—and shot the Wrangler two-hand offhand slowly and carefully at 15 yards.
The first two six-shot groups were just okay. On the next go-round I really bore down—laser focus on the front sight, my very best trigger pull. After I shot those six rounds I could see the group looked decent, and since there were only four rounds left in the box of CCI standard velocity remaining, I loaded those and sent them downrange as well.
When I got to the target I found I had put 10 shots into less than three inches. Always go out on a high note, right? I packed up for the day and drove home happy. I know many of you can shoot better than I can, and I think if you are a fan of single actions the Wrangler will make you happy, too.
It’s not perfect, though, and here I’m going to throw out some comparisons to the Heritage Rough Rider. (If I had a Chiappa on hand for comparison, I would’ve included it here as well, because it’s another member of the economy single-action .22 class.)
I’m not crazy about this particular Wrangler’s looks. The black Cerakote finish and black plastic grips just don’t do it for me. I’ve not had the chance to examine a silver or burnt bronze Cerakote Wrangler, and I might like those better, but the blued metal and wood grips on the Rough Rider are more my speed. Granted, the metal finish on the Rough Rider frame isn’t great, but at least it’s blue, and the Rough Rider’s cocobolo grips are sharp-looking.
The machining work on the Ruger far surpasses the Heritage, though, and the sights are better—for what they are. I already spoke to the trigger pulls on both revolvers, and I’d call that a wash. The Wrangler has a transfer-bar safety; the Rough Rider has a decidedly non-traditional, manually operated hammer-block safety. Advantage Ruger.
Some shooters are crazy for the four-click hammer like that found on the Rough Rider. I don’t care about that, but I do fault the Wrangler for the force required to cock the hammer and especially to open the loading gate.
Since a few folks will look at this as a “beginner’s gun” (I don’t think it is, but that discussion’s too involved to go into here), if we’re talking youngsters I think these operations should be easier for hands that aren’t as strong as an adult’s.
The Ruger is more expensive than both the Heritage (almost $100 more, street price) and the Chiappa (about $30 more, street price). Ruger’s name has a cachet the other guns don’t, and for many shooters the name alone is enough to justify the higher cost. But there are other justifications.
While I don’t find Cerakote attractive on this type of gun, it’s a high-quality, corrosion-resistant finish that will last. And the fact you can choose from a huge selection of aftermarket grips—courtesy of the Wrangler’s Single-Six frame—is certainly a plus. Last but certainly not least, the Wrangler is accurate for the type and class of gun it is.
Many of you are probably wondering whether Ruger is going to offer a .22 WMR cylinder for the Wrangler. That’s a common option for single-action rimfires, but Rockwell was coy about the company’s plans. He said “future models” of the Wrangler “might” offer additional cylinders.
While it’s not going to please everyone, the Wrangler a fine example of the single-action revolver from a company that really knows how to build single-action revolvers. It’s a good shooter, it’s reasonably priced, and you can be sure it’s going to deliver a lifetime of soda can-ventilating fun.
Now don’t go emailing me if you can’t find one. When I looked up street prices in late August, on every site I visited the Wrangler was out of stock, and I assume that was the case at a lot of gunshops at the time as well. Rockwell told me Ruger is ramping up production to meet demand, and he advised folks who want a Wrangler to be patient if they can’t find one right away.
- TYPE: single-action rimfire revolver
- CALIBER: .22 Long Rifle
- CAPACITY: 6
- BARREL: 4.6 in. cold-hammer-forged carbon steel
- OAL: 10.25 in.
- WEIGHT: 30 oz.
- CONSTRUCTION: aluminum alloy frame, chrome-moly steel cylinder
- FINISH: black Cerakote barrel and frame (as tested), black oxide cylinder
- GRIPS: stippled black plastic
- SIGHTS: gutter rear, blade front
- TRIGGER: single action, 4 lb. pull (measured)
- SAFETY: transfer bar
- PRICE: $249
- MANUFACTURER: Ruger, ruger.com
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