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Exclusive: Small Game With A Small Gun

Ruger’s SR 22 .22 LR

By Sam Fadala

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Takedown is accomplished simply and rapidly with the SR22. Assembly is also simple,
as outline in the owner’s manual.

An army marches on its stomach. How our boys won wars hiking on C- and K-rations remains one of the unsolved mysteries of the ages. As kids, my pards and I thought it was pretty cool living on surplus army grub on campouts. But maturity gently settled on our palates and we wised up. There was a wealth of superior protein in them thar hills — small stuff of all stripes: the live-everywhere cottontail rabbit; grouse and partridges; tree squirrels; and the exotics, such as bullfrogs and rattlers, both tasting something between California condor and spotted owl. Laws rule. My home state, Wyoming, allows a wide choice of tools for taking small edibles. Rabbits, squirrels, grouse and partridges are okay with a .22 pistol, as well as many other species.

My choice of choices for putting meat in the pot, especially on backcountry and survival hunts, is the .22 pistol. I have enjoyed success with big game squib loads and a particular short-barreled blackpowder shotgun. But the .22 pistol is ideal. Not just any pistol, however. it has to fit the duty. Cataloging specifics of the ideal sidearm is best attached to a single exemplar — a pistol, and pistol it is, that is simply perfect for “making meat,” especially on a big game or survival trek. I recently came across a pistol exhibiting each requirement for that “small gun for small game.” It’s the Ruger SR22PB .22 LR double-action blowback pistol with Picatinny Rail; hereafter simply the SR22.

The small game .22 pistol must be compact. The flat-sided SR22 with 6-groove 3.5″ barrel is 6.4″ in length, 1.29″ wide, and 4.9″ at its tallest point. These dimensions, especially narrowness, promise out-of-the-way carry. I housed mine (yes, I bought an SR22) in a Double Triple nylon holster.

The small game .22 pistol must be a lightweight. The SR22 runs 17-ounces. Perfection is when the hunter has no “felt” indication of a holstered gun until the decision to put it into action. Otherwise, it’s “just not there.” The aircraft-grade aluminum alloy slide and glass-filled nylon/polymer frame ensure a light package for the RS22.

The small game pistol must handle efficiently, smoothly, quickly, with — to overuse an overused term — ergonomic friendliness. The SR22 comes with interchangeable grips. For practical purposes, I’ll call one “standard” the other “full.” Although I have large hands, the standard felt perfect for me. The oversize trigger guard promises better function with gloved hands, another smart feature. The pistol escapes slick from the holster due to synthetic grips and spare dimensions.

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Overview of the SR22 pistol, a neat package with superior features.

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The spare magazine is not carried this way, but is retained for storage by slipping it
between retainer strap and holster body.

More Points

The small game pistol must be reliable. Since I owned the gun, I felt justified in firing it in somewhat abusive fashion. I let the slide rails dry out. The SR22 did not hiccup once with an eventual 500 test rounds of various .22 Long Rifle ammunition fired in rapid succession. This very day is its first cleaning. Continued firing without proper cleaning and lubrication pasted another bright gold star on the SR22.

The small game pistol must handle a wide range of ammo, particularly with regard to quieter match fodder. I had a fine .22 pistol of target quality (not a small game choice) that demanded a diet of specific ammunition. I want my small game pistol to handle high velocity hollow-points for smaller varmints (jackrabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels) with low velocity target ammo for edibles. I fed the SR22 everything in long rifle case dimension, from Winchester Super-X Super Speed HP with 37-gr. bullet rated at 1,330 feet per second (rifle) to Federal Gold Medal match. Even the no-powder Aguila ammo cycled from a fully loaded magazine by hand-racking the slide.

The small game pistol must field strip with ease. While unlikely, if I take a dunk crossing a stream and the SR22 goes under, I will strip it down, dry it off, and go on my way in a timely fashion. The SR22 is highly advanced in this department. Unload pistol. Put safety on. Maintain safe muzzle direction. Drop magazine. Bring slide to the rear and lock back in open position with slide stop. Close slide by gripping rear portion with thumb and index finger; pull rearward and release. Rotate the takedown lever downward (found forward within trigger guard) until it is fully disengaged. Grasp rearward part of the slide; rack the slide all the way back and lift it away from the barrel. Remove guide rod and recoil spring. Done. Although the barrel can be easily removed, full cleaning is possible without doing so.

The small game pistol must have an easy to use safety. The SR22 safety is ambidextrous, identical on either side of the frame and absolutely reliable through design. In battery, two bright red bars show beneath the safety levers. Every function from removal of magazine to flicking the safety on and off requires no more than slight movements. The SR22 slide stop, safety, magazine release, decock— everything — worked with ease and handiness.

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Showing the takedown lever situated within the trigger guard forward of the trigger.

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Using hiking staff plus trigger arm against a tree for a steady shot with the SR22.

Safe On The Trail

The small game pistol must be safe to carry as well as employ. This aspect cannot be too highly stressed. I have made backpack hunts that lasted weeks in duration. Anything short of a super safe design under such conditions is folly. Even a small injury in the back county can be serious. Here is how I carry this pistol: Although the SR22 is a decocker, I found it highly effective to carry it with empty chamber, hammer at full-cock. Although there is no cartridge in the chamber, in a couple seconds, and quite silently, the drawn-back and released slide transports a round from magazine into battery.

Carrying “locked and loaded” is permissible. Do we not carry shotguns and rifles locked and loaded? Certainly. We may not see a drawn-back striker of one sort or another ready to activate a firing pin. But that is exactly what happens in the field as I stand waiting for that dove to whip through the sky. I flip the safety off of that slide-action shotgun and fire. And not knowing that a cartridge is chambered should never happen with the SR22 with its wide fully visible port. A slight drawing-back of the slide shows a loaded round. A padlock supplied for storing the unloaded pistol makes it incapable of function until the lock is removed. The shackle of the lock runs through the empty magazine well and through the port.

The absolutely vital aspect of safety is further ensured when the ambidextrous safety is in the “safe” mode because the firing pin is blocked. It cannot make contact with the cartridge. Furthermore, if the hammer is de-cocked using the safety, it (the hammer) is held away from the firing pin. If the de-cock is not employed, the grooved exposed hammer can be slightly cocked so that it (the hammer) rests on the de-cock hammer blocker. With magazine removed, the trigger goes completely slack. The decoking mode makes it unnecessary to “thumb down” the hammer. I’ve never had a slip in thumbing down a hammer, but it remains a remote possibility. Another safety feature that might be overlooked is solidity of retention. Once in hand, this pistol is not going to escape from the shooter’s grasp.

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Short overall length of SR22 pistol makes it ideal as a “small gun for small game.”

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The SR22 goes 17 ounces. Settled in its holster on the hip,
it goes unnoticed until called into action.

Tough

The small game pistol must be rugged. Especially on long backpack and survival-exploration treks where procuring a little fresh meat can be a highly important addition to the carry food. We don’t want anything to “break” on our little meat provider. The SR22 is rugged, with its black anodized finish slide material, black polymer (polyurethane) grip frame, black 10-shot lightweight but tough magazines (comes with two), black synthetic stocks, with all internal parts of the finest modern materials.

The small game pistol must have good adjustable sights. I found the adjustable 3-Dot sight “plumb perfect.” The rear sight is capable of both windage and elevation. In deep woods, where my favorite camp fare the blue grouse lives, the 3-Dot white aim-points stand out when the canopy overhead denies access of strong ambient light.

The small game pistol must be accurate. Distance from boot toe to feast is close. I rate my average shot at 10 yards, 20 yards an outsider. I will shoot farther on varmints. I successfully plinked at 100 yards with the SR22 on half-gallon milk jugs. Deliberate still-hunting of small edibles, however, does not demand longer-range shooting. Still-hunting is a slow-moving process of spot-and-stalk. I employ binoculars to find game before it finds me, be it buck, bull, boar or cottontail rabbit. I’m a glass fiend and find dollars lavished on the finest optics money well spent, as in my Swarovki 12X binoculars that seem to reach out and separate game from habitat.

The small game pistol must have a decent trigger. Manufacturers today are forced to be cognizant of the lad or lassie who disregards that main rule of safety, tripping the trigger with muzzle pointed in an unsafe direction. The SR22 has a decent trigger. A pistol smith can make it better. The trigger on mine broke at 4.2 pounds. Since I was able to put bullets into a circle at 10 yards sufficiently stingy to make a clean shot on a blue grouse I will not have the trigger on my SR22 tuned. I’ll miss some shots. I always do. That will be because I am an imperfect marksman, and not due to the SR22 trigger.

The small game pistol must be fun to shoot. This may seem a superfluous criterion. But if a hunter does not enjoy shooting the small game pistol he or she won’t practice with it plinking those beverage cans, which practice translates into success in the field.

I’m privileged to live in Africa part-time. Rather than a three-week safari, it’s a three month stay. Many grand experiences include living with Cape buffalo, crocodiles, leopards, elephants — and best of all, the residents black and white. However, among my fondest outdoor memories are simple survival hunts the late Ted Walter and I frequently made. We’d pick a remote place, get turned loose, and then roam on our own exploring, to be collected again far from our drop-off point. We made it with what we could carry on our backs, which consisted of mainly homemade first aid and lifesaving gear at the time.

Today, these are professionally designed and packaged. On treks into the hinterlands with naught but the .22 pistol to add fresh protein to carried food, I’ll have along two nifty items from the Echo-Sigma company — Compact First Aid Kit and Compact Survival Kit. Back in camp or in vehicle, the same company’s full-size Emergency Get-Home-Bag (GHB) will be waiting should it be needed.

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One of the better groups fired at 10 yards in the woods but with a very solid rest created by crossing hiking staff with a low-to-the-ground branch to create a V-shaped support — for sitting position. Dispersed vertically as this group is, head/neck zeroes on small edibles is attainable.

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The SR22 magazine is easy to load, holding 10 .22 Long Rifle rounds.

Part Of The Outdoors

It’s getting colder as I write this. Snow has fallen. Conditions are just right for tracking late season deer, a brace of cottontail rabbits, or walking the woods in pursuit of tree squirrels. It’s a time of year when game remains longer in the light of day, feeding against late fall and winter harder-to-find vegetation. You know where to look. Deer in the thicket. Rabbits around that defunct homestead or abandoned woodpile. Squirrels scampering over the snow in search of that cache buried earlier. (Squirrels do not hibernate.)

My favorite, the blue grouse, odd as it may seem, goes up, not down, when winter sets in. In firs and pines and spruce at high elevation these meaty birds find enough food to even put on a few ounces of weight during the coldest time of the year. Meanwhile, their main enemies have fled the deepening snows for lower elevations.

This is a time of year when just being there is often enough, or maybe looking for a late season buck, or simply making tracks were few footprints have imprinted the earth before. Or going for small game edibles in their own right. Hiking entirely unencumbered now calls for that .22 pistol, the one “just right” for small game. I usually have my hiking staff along, the one I call the Moses Stick with the Rubber Bumper. Get me close enough with pistol secured along the side of that staff for a rest, perhaps a tree to brace on as well, and come evening I’ll unlimber that lightweight fry pan, leak-proof container of canola oil, packet of mixed spices, and with a little fire or my pack stove I’ll soon have a supper whipped up highlighted by fresh meat procured with the Pop! Pop! of a little .22 pistol.

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/product-index and click on the company name

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  1. Wow. What a great article and the editor had to be a genius to lay it out so fine. !!!! samfadala@yahoo.com

  2. Reloader7 says:

    I tried the trigger action on one of these pistols at the gun store when they first came out and was not impressed. I liked the size and weight of the gun though, so eventually bought one a few months later. I was amazed when I finally had a chance to shoot it! The sights were dead on for me and at 15 yards all the shots found the center of the target. My brother tried it at the same time and had the exact same results. A very impressive gun! I’m very glad that I bought one, it’s deffinately a keeper. Oh, and nice article Sam. For safety, You should mention that you should also carry something capable of killing a bear while stroling in the woods though.

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