July 22, 2019
By Keith Wood
Photos by Michael Anschuetz
Nostalgia can be an important factor in successful gun making and few firearm designs evoke as much sentimentality as the enduring Single Action Army (SAA). Ruger is a brand that has always paid homage to previous firearm designs.
Although seeming inspired by the German Luger and influenced by the Japanese Nambu, Bill Ruger gave us the Standard .22LR semiautomatic pistol, which has evolved into the Mark series we know today. Then there was the Farquharson-esque No. 1 single-shot rifle. The Blackhawk revolver improved on the Single Action Army (SAA), and other Ruger single-actions also offer fun twists on classic revolvers. We’ve enjoyed the Vaquero and the Single-Six rimfire revolver dating back to 1953.
Ruger distinguished itself in the firearm industry by collecting talented engineers and developing innovative methods to produce quality firearms at an affordable price. Most notably, Ruger first championed investment casting through its subsidiary Pine Tree Castings located in Newport, New Hampshire, which had been producing affordable products for other industries, along with a range of applications, including power tools and medical equipment. These traditions continue and are evident in the new single-action Ruger Wrangler.
Just $250? What will make the Ruger Wrangler a hit with lasting mass appeal goes beyond nostalgia as a fun single-action .22. It’ll be the price. At a very attractive $250, the Wrangler is less than half the price of Ruger’s Single-Six and Bearcat models.
The Wrangler looks like it could be a scaled-down Vaquero, Ruger’s popular fixed-sight sixgun, but it’s akin to the Single-Six, which starts at $630 and from which it borrows its internals from. What distinguishes the Wrangler are the unique materials that include zinc and aluminum alloy, used strategically to keep the gun’s weight and price to a minimum. (It feels so light.)
The Wrangler frame is machined from cast aluminum alloy, which is both lightweight and easy to manufacture. The barrel and cylinder are made from steel, of course, but the grip frame is cast from a zinc alloy. This combination of component materials almost goes unnoticed, beyond the light weight and handiness of the revolver. Further, unlike the machine marks we’ve observed on the Wrangler’s closest competitor, Heritage Manufacturing’s Rough Rider Revolver ($180), Ruger has elevated the Wrangler’s appearance with a skillfully applied Cerakote finish that is compatible with each of the metals used. The initial release featuring 45⁄8-inch barrels are available in either black, silver or burnt bronze colors.
As mentioned, the Wrangler was developed on the same scale as Ruger’s Single-Six so that it could share many of its internal components. The Wrangler uses the Single-Six’s hammer and trigger, as well as the small bits. This also means that holsters, grips and other accessories for the Single-Six are compatible with the Wrangler’s. Black plastic grips are standard on the Wrangler and help keep the price down, even featuring a molded version of Ruger’s phoenix-logo medallion. However, a set of rosewood ($38), black laminate ($53) and simulated ivory ($70) featuring the Ruger’s signature inlayed medallion are also available at shopruger.com.
I own and shoot many Ruger single-action revolvers. I’ve built custom guns on several, so I’m pretty familiar the nuances of each design. The Wrangler is faithful to the Bearcat, Blackhawk, Bisley, Single-Six, Vaquero in terms of style, it features and design elements that make it a Ruger. If you’ve ever used a Colt or Remington single-action revolver, operation of the Wrangler will be a familiar process. The Wrangler’s unfluted cylinder rotates clockwise on a removable base pin and is charged using the loading gate on the right side of the frame. Empties are ejected one at a time using the spring-loaded ejector rod. The hammer is cocked manually, making the handgun ready to fire. There is no manual safety lever as there is on the Heritage Rough Rider series.
Like the Single-Six, the Wrangler’s grip is a scaled-down clone of the SAA, which means that for shooters with large hands, the pinky finger will ride below the grip frame. The SAA grip is among the greatest ever created, particularly among handguns that have little recoil. The arrangement makes the Wrangler point very naturally and gives the impression that its sights want to find the target.
The Ruger Wrangler wears fixed sights in the style of a SAA. The .070-inch front blade is barrel mounted, and a .100-inch rear notch is cast into the topstrap frame above the cylinder. Not only are these sights economical to produce, they are extremely durable and provide a good sight picture.
Mechanically-speaking, this gun is a fixed-sight Single-Six without the steel frame. Like the classic SAA featuring a spur hammer, the front sight can be aligned with the topstrap notch when the hammer is cocked. It’s fair to note, there is no half-cock position on the Wrangler’s hammer and it must be loaded with the hammer forward.
Opening the loading gate on the right side of the frame not only provides access to load and unload the cylinder’s chambers, but it releases the cylinder so that it can be free wheeled in either direction. This means that if the cylinder is turned too far while loading or unloading, you don’t have to spin the cylinder a full revolution to make the necessary alignment. Free-wheeling cylinders on previous Rugers required the installation of a free-spin pawl to hold the bolt away from the cocking notches when the loading gate was open. This conversion usually required the work of a custom gunsmith or — at a minimum — a $55 aftermarket part. I consider this to be another value-add for the Wrangler.
The cylinder has a six-shot capacity and recessed chambers, which allows the cartridges to fit flush rather than having the cartridge rims headspacing on the back of the cylinder. The blued steel cylinder fills the frame window, and only a trace of light is visible at the rear. A .007-inch feeler gauge would just slip through the barrel to cylinder gap. The cylinder can be removed by depressing the base pin latch on the frame and sliding the base pin forward. The loading gate is then opened, and the cylinder comes free. This is as much disassembly as is recommended; any further takedown would require tools and know-how. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it is always best to leave things alone.
The metal-injection-molded (MIM), stainless steel hammer is cast with a built-in checkered pad that prevents a shooter’s thumb from slipping when the gun is being cocked. The transfer bar, a standard feature on Ruger single actions since 1973, allows the revolver to be safely loaded with six shots rather than the old practice of letting the hammer sit on an empty chamber to prevent accidental discharge. The trigger is also made from MIM stainless steel, and our test example measured consistently at 4¼ pounds after some subtle creep.
Ruger Wrangler Fit & Finish
I don’t mind inexpensive guns, but, as someone with a real appreciation for skilled gunmaking, I can’t stand guns that look and feel cheap. The Wrangler is utilitarian, sure, but it looks, feels and handles like a gun that should wear a higher price tag. The fit and finish on our test guns were good and the mechanical performance was flawless.
The Wrangler comes with a Cerakote finish. Cerakote is a polymer-ceramic-composite finish that has become a popular firearm coating. However, the metal must be prepped properly, the finish formulated by the applicator exactly, and must be sprayed and cured evenly for lasting adherence. Available in a many colors, metallics and sheens, Cerakote is resistant to chemical solvents, corrosion and wear when applied correctly, and can adhere to various substrates. It’s not cheap, so the fact that a $250 revolver includes a Cerakote finish increases the Wrangler’s value proposition.
At the Range
This gun was incredibly fun to shoot. The Wrangler will see plenty of use as a plinker, so I couldn’t help but to start by shooting offhand at an MGM Rimfire Know-Your-Limits Plate Rack ($130, mgmtargets.com). The smile couldn’t be wiped from my face as I shot until my thumb went numb from reloading. G&A Editor Eric Poole was among several evaluators who had already put over 1,000 rounds through the very gun I was testing. Hence, I cleaned the bore before testing accuracy.
The 25-yard accuracy results published with this article followed a torture test. I tried ammunition ranging from Norma’s Match 40-grain target velocity ammunition that averaged 854 feet per second (fps) to Remington’s high-velocity Golden Bullet plated round nose load that left the muzzle at 990 fps. Points of impact were similar with each load, and the slow-moving Norma bullets printed an inch lower than the high-velocity rounds at 25 yards. My standard target for evaluating handgun accuracy is a 2-inch black square and, with a 6 o’clock hold, the majority of the hits from all the loads tested were in the black. Norma’s ammunition provided the smallest groups by a significant margin.
“We wanted to bring single-action shooting to more shooters by making a gun that is more accessible,” Product Manager Graham Rockwell told G&A. “It’s all about having fun and not worrying about ballistics. Just draw the gun from the holster and enjoy it. It’s a great handgun for first-time shooters, too.”
After spending some time with the Wrangler doing just what Graham described, I couldn’t agree more. The Wrangler will no doubt become a popular and enduring choice.
Revolver, single actionCartridge:
6 rds.Overall Length:
1 lb., 14 oz.Barrel:
Aluminum (frame); steel (barrel, cylinder); zinc alloy (grip)Grip:
4 lbs., 4 oz. (tested)Safety:
Fixed blade (front); fixed notch (rear)MSRP:
Ruger, 336-949-5200, ruger.com
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