August 13, 2021
At Christmas 1964, an enticingly long package resided under the tree. Inside was my first .22 repeater, a major graduation from the single-shot falling-block Ithaca I started with. You know where this is going, right? The Ruger 10/22 was introduced that year. So, I’ve got a first-year production 10/22, right? I wish! The box contained a semiauto .22 from another brand. It shot well and jammed only occasionally, but it wasn’t Ruger’s 10/22.
I don’t recall where that rifle went, but by 1968 my family did have a 10/22. That was the rifle I used to hunt tree squirrels with in the eastern Kansas woods when I was in high school. So, although not quite from the beginning, I have a long history with the 10/22. Who doesn’t? With more than 8 million sold, it is one of the best-selling .22 in any action type.
Bill Ruger was a brilliant gun designer, and also a serious gun guy, combining market savvy with a sense for history. He invented much, but had little interest in re-inventing the wheel. To him, there was no shame in borrowing (and usually improving upon) concepts that worked. The 10/22 uses the time-honored blowback action, which is perfect for the .22 LR rimfire cartridge. His unique rotary magazine harkens to the Mannlicher and Savage rotaries, and it works.
For looks, the first Ruger 10/22s went straight to Marsh Williams’ timeless and still loved M1 Carbine. My first 10/22 was that original Carbine in a walnut stock. After 57 years, the Carbine is still available, but since then there have been dozens of variations and stock configurations. Impressively, there have been almost no changes to the original action and rotary magazine. To my thinking, the most substantive and non-cosmetic change to date was 2012's addition of a take-down model. Even then, it was my honor and privilege to write the first story about the 10/22 Takedown.
For multiple reasons, it’s a very special pleasure to write about what must be the most radical modification to the Ruger 10/22 since 1964: A mirror-image left-hand 10/22. Note, please, that I chose the word “radical” with care. Initially, I used "substantive" and crossed it out. The thing is, the left-hand action represents no mechanical changes; it is simply reverse-engineered to accommodate left-side feeding and ejection. These are not simple changes, but, with computers and modern manufacturing, re-invention nor starting from scratch was required.
If you are not left-handed or don’t have a loved one who is, you probably don’t care, so you’d be unlikely to apply the word "substantive." After that thought, I agreed. However, a mirror-image 10/22 is radical — and historic.
I am, of course, left-handed. Studies vary as to how many of us there are, but we can start with 10 to 15 percent. We must add the right-handed but left-eye dominant, and people with right-side injuries driving them south(paw). However, we must subtract both opposites along with the many “turncoat” lefties who simply "make do" with right-hand actions.
Of these, there are many. But with 8 million happy right-hand 10/22 owners — and possibly 80 million American gun owners — I think we can conclude, as Ruger obviously concluded, that there is enough of a market for a left-hand 10/22. (Did I already use the word historic?) God knows how many makes and models of semiauto .22 rifles have been manufactured. Surely, most of us have had at least one! Although selection is never as generous as for the right-handed majority, there have long been left-hand and ambidextrous options in almost all rifle and shotguns actions. Except, until now, there has never been a true left-hand semiautomatic .22. Not one!
Probably the closest to ambidextrous are the bottom-eject rifles based on John M. Browning’s 1914 patent. The only barrier for ideal left-hand use on these rifles is the safety typically being a triggerguard push-button that goes, right-to-left, from safe to fire. Most safeties of this type can be reversed for left-hand use, so bottom-eject semiautos are almost "ambi," but not quite mirror image. So, Ruger’s left-hand 10/22 semiauto, with left-side ejection and left-to-right safety, is in a class by itself.
Bill Ruger’s 10-round rotary magazine must be one of the coolest features of the 10/22. It’s compact, fits flush, and works. Due to the huge popularity of the 10/22, there are all manner of high-capacity aftermarket magazines for this rifle. Most work pretty well, but, with any detachable and interchangeable, mag-fed self-loader, the magazine is one of the first points of failure. Here’s the point: With more than 50 years of experience shooting the Ruger 10/22, I have never seen a problem with a Ruger 10-shot rotary magazine.
I do not claim to be the senior southpaw in the gunwriting game; that most dubious honor goes to my old friend Dave Petzal, now mostly retired but for so long the mainstay of "Field & Stream." He is one of the most astute rifle guys I know. Perhaps Brother Petzal would have picked up on this instantly; I hope so, because, even with a half-century of familiarity with the Ruger 10/22, it went right over my head: No existing magazines will work in its left-eject action!
So, aside from left-hand eject and left-hand safety, what makes the left-hand 10/22 a left-hand rifle? Well, that goes back to Bill Ruger’s amazing rotary magazine. I know you have one, so take a look at yours. The cartridges rotate clockwise, and the next cartridge doesn’t feed straight up; it feeds up and slightly right. Reverse feeding, extraction, and ejection from right to left and this ain’t gonna work.
The little, square 10-round magazine for the left-hand 10/22 looks exactly the same, but it is not. On the back, it says "10 SHOT LH," and the follower is green; it’s red on the current right-hand magazines I already had. But here’s the big difference: In order to mate with left-hand eject, the left-hand 10/22 magazine feeds counter-clockwise, and the next cartridge on deck feeds to the left and up.
All left-hand 10/22s are, of course, supplied with proper magazines, and additional LH magazines are available from Ruger. I cannot predict if any of the aftermarket 10/22 magazines will be offered for left-hand feed. But, as a lefty, it’s a disconcerting fact that none of the tens of millions of 10/22 magazines are compatible with the new left-hand rifle.
This must be understood, but I hope it will not deter fellow southpaws from acquiring one of these. For safety, as well as convenience, left-handed people should shoot left-handed guns. We of the downtrodden minority should support companies that offer us left-hand guns. (Just don’t mix up the magazines!)
Production left-hand 10/22s will be available soon, perhaps in various configurations, but the initial run comes out of the Ruger Custom Shop. It is similar to the right-hand Model 31120 Competition Rifle ($899, ruger.com). I’ve long been meaning to “trick up” a 10/22, just hadn’t gotten around to it. So, out of the box pops a tricked-up 10/22, this one with left-hand ejection and safety.
I suppose it starts with a heavy-contour 16 1/8-inch fluted barrel, threaded with muzzlebrake. The laminate stock is textured and painted gray with black speckling. It isn’t a heavy target stock; I’d call it more of a compromise between target and sporting style. The pistol grip is slender and comfortable, and the butt is straight. It also features a height- and position-adjustable cheekrest, which I consider almost an essential feature — not just for personal fit, but to be compatible with the range of optics in use today. The forend features a semi-beavertail with finger grooves.
Unlike most of the 10/22 variants introduced through the years, no iron sights are present. Instead, the receiver has an integral 30-MOA Picatinny rail for mounting an optic. The bolt release is a round, match-style unit and the receiver has a rear cleaning port that allows for cleaning from the breech to protect the muzzle’s crown.
Out of the box, the gun is intended to be competitive in smallbore events, so it incorporates an enhanced chamber, bedding with a second bedding lug, and Ruger’s crisp, light BX-Trigger. A thin recoil pad also ensures non-slip shouldering.
If there’s one issue I’ve had with the Ruger 10/22 for 50 years, it can only be fumbling with the magazine release. The Competition Rifle incorporates an extended magazine release ahead of the triggerguard, which is so much easier to use. Detachable sling swivel studs are also included since a competition rifle must be sling compatible. For me, I’m decades past smallbore competition, but this rifle will probably become my Kansas squirrel-hunting buddy — and I’ll want to sling it!
For testing, I mounted Leupold’s VX-6HD 1-6x24mm scope ($1,400), which is enough scope to see how well the rifle really performs, and a good class of optic for the shooting I do with accurate .22 rimfires, including hunting small varmints and tree squirrels, and target shooting.
Let’s agree that my shooting of this first left-hand 10/22 had two limitations: First, although I’m very comfortable with my ability to shoot tight 50-yard groups with a high-quality 6X scope, it’s not impossible that 10X magnification might have tightened groups by a few thousandths. Second, and more important, this shooting was done at what I hope was the nadir of the pandemic ammunition shortages. In these times, we do the best we can with the ammo we have, and handloading .22 LR is not a practical option. At some point, I’m curious to see how this rifle shoots with a greater variety of match ammo, but that time isn’t now.
By doing a bit of begging and borrowing, I managed to shoot, and shoot groups, with five different .22 LR loads, but none were match grade. Between zeroing, grouping and plinking, I did put more than 400 rounds through the rifle, which helped to assess this rifle’s reliability. (It also put a dent in the neighborhood’s .22 stash — including mine!) I can report that there wasn’t a single jam, stoppage, or failure to feed, extract or eject. This isn’t so remarkable because it functioned just like a 10/22 is supposed to.
Loads I was able to buy, borrow or steal included Aguila’s 40-grain copper-plated solid; Federal Target Grade Performance in a bulk pack, with 40-grain solid; Norma Eco-Speed 24-grain zinc/copper (unleaded); Prime 40-grain lubricated round-nose; and Winchester Power Point, high-velocity 40-grain hollowpoint.
The best accuracy of the five loads, with this rifle, went to the Winchester Power Point, averaging 0.923 inch for five, five-shot, 50-yard groups. That’s serendipitous for me because this is a classic and my favorite small-game load. This load was also speedy, clocking 1,241 feet per second (fps) from the short barrel. The Winchester Power Point was the only load that averaged under 1 inch for five groups. As you can ascertain from the chart, the Aguila, Federal and Prime loads were pretty close. Aguila turned in the single best group, .530 inch, with the second-best average of 1.084 inches.
The unleaded Norma Eco-Speed with a light and very fast 24-grain bullet was not close. However, those of us who spend time in areas where unleaded ammo is mandated will generally agree that unleaded .22 rimfire ammo just isn’t there yet in the accuracy department, at least not in comparison to traditional .22 LR ammo. So, that said, the Norma Eco-Speed proved more accurate in this rifle than most of the unleaded .22 loads I’ve tried, and I’d consider it accurate enough for small varmints at close range.
Custom makers and do-it-yourselfers have been tricking up 10/22s for decades, so it’s no surprise that a 10/22 like this provides outstanding accuracy. The folks at the Ruger Custom Shop know what they’re doing. As a Custom Shop rifle, I expected it to shoot like gangbusters, and it did.
It felt good, too. All lefties can attest that it’s disconcerting to fire any right-ejecting semiauto long gun and have the empties flying across your face. With shotguns and centerfire rifles, sooner or later you’re going to catch powder residue in your face. (Shooting glasses are essential.) Some semiautos, like the AR-15, will consistently put hot brass down your collar. Shooting a wrong-handed semiauto .22 isn’t as big a deal. We lefties have used right-eject .22 autos all our lives and have given it no thought because there were no alternatives besides bottom-eject guns.
Shooting a true left-hand semiauto .22 was so much fun that it made me think: I wonder if, subconsciously, there is some distracting effect from having right-hand-ejected empties flying across your vision? I don’t know, but shooting Ruger’s new left-hand 10/22 was a fantastic experience. Smooth, simple, and trouble-free, it felt like it should. In fact, the whole rifle was great. The cheekrest is easily adjustable, and I was quickly able to get a good and consistent spot-weld. Most of my 10/22s have had sporter barrels. Although short, the added weight of the heavy barrel, plus the muzzle brake, changes the balance a bit, but to my thinking it’s for the better. I love this rifle, and not just because it’s left-handed.
Making the first LH .22 semiauto is a big investment for Ruger, and much appreciated. I hope my fellow lefties step to the plate and buy a bunch of these so the mirror-image 10/22 will stay in production and expand to include other variations. Because the receiver and the bolt are machined from billet metal, this is an exclusive offering from Ruger's Custom Shop.
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