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Playin’ Favorites: .22 Sixguns

Playin’ Favorites: .22 Sixguns

I am going to take advantage of my advancing years and look at my favorite sixguns — this will definitely not be objective, but rather entirely subjective. Choosing favorites is not always easy. Sometimes I can pick one favorite, while other times I’m not happy until I have several on the desk in front of me. With that in mind, let’s take a look at my Top .22 Sixguns.

The first firearm I ever fired was a double-action .22. The place was my uncle’s farm in the late 1940s, and the sixgun was a Harrington & Richardson Model 999 Sportsman top-break. Even at my young age, I could see what a great little .22 the H&R was. Its top-break action made it easy to load and unload and with its 9-shot cylinder it seemed to afford a long shooting time before having to reload.

One of my dreams over the past six decades has been to see someone bring out a really high quality, top-break, 9-shot .22 made to sell for about twice as much as the grand little H&R Model 999. No one ever did, so about 10 years ago, I found a like-new H&R Model 999 for $125 and grabbed it without any hesitation. It almost takes me back to my pre-teen years — almost.

Ruger’s .22 Single-Six Single Actions from the 1950s. A Flatgate, a regular-gated
version, and two adjustable-sighted Super Single-Sixes. The latter pair qualifiy
as .22-style Perfect Packin’ Pistols.

Single Actions

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, television was spreading rapidly across the country. We had very little expendable money in my family so it must’ve been at considerable sacrifice my folks bought a TV in 1950. It was not easy to fill up broadcast time in those days, so old movies, especially B-Westerns, filled a lot of airtime. They were not only entertaining, they created a demand for single-action sixguns.

Colt had dropped the Single Action Army in 1940 with no plans to ever resurrect it again. Bill Ruger, who had just started in the firearms business in 1949 with his .22 semi-auto, caught the mood of the shooting community and introduced his .22 Single-Six in 1953. Bill was pretty savvy in he patterned his .22 single action after the Colt, keeping the same grip frame while downsizing the cylinder and mainframe to fit the .22 rather than the .45 Colt.

In 1956, I bought my first handgun, a Ruger .22 Single-Six, while my cousin went for a Harrington & Richardson Model 999. I was so dedicated to single actions that I would be married, have three kids, and graduate from college before I owned a double-action .22. When I finally acquired that first S&W K-22, Diamond Dot confiscated it for her own and I had to find another one, which happened to be a Colt.

Ruger makes fine .22 Single Actions and Andy Horvath brings them to perfection.
Blued, stainless and Bisley Model .22s all feature 3 1/2″ barrels and tuned actions.

History

I free-lanced my first gun article in 1967, and over the last 40+ years I have been privileged to test just about every handgun ever produced, from the .17 HMR through the .500 S&W. I have been in on the ground floor of cartridge development in several instances, and have also been able to provide suggestions for improving some models. In all those hundreds upon hundreds of handguns experienced, none has ever been able to top the excitement of my very first sixgun, that Ruger .22 Single-Six.

It was a totally standard early model with a 51/2″ barrel and flat loading gate. I shot it every weekend, cleaned it several times during the week (I’ve since learned better!), and took it apart to learn how single-action revolvers worked. With a George Lawrence black belt and holster added I was totally in sixgun heaven. I’m sure many readers could testify to the same feeling. If there was only some way we could bottle that feeling and sell it to others, we could cure most of the world’s ills. Or at least it seems like it might.

The original Ruger Single-Sixes had fixed six sights, with the rear sight windage adjustable in a dovetail. The coming of the Super Single-Six added fully adjustable sights to Ruger’s .22 single action. I rank the 51/2″ Super Single-Six way up on the list of .22-style Perfect Packin’ Pistols. Ruger’s .22 has been a great seller for nearly 60 years now and I would guess it is the number one first .22 for most young shooters, or for that matter older folks deciding to get into shooting handguns.

All those I have ever tried have shot exceptionally well, and if they don’t, a change in ammunition usually corrects the problem. They are also virtually indestructible. Ruger made them even more appealing by offering an auxiliary .22 Magnum cylinder beginning in the 1960s. Like all Ruger single actions, the .22 Single-Six became a New Model in the early 1970s, complete with transfer bar actions making it safe to carry fully loaded with the hammer down.

Smith’s J-Frame .22 Kit Guns with 2″, 4″ and the latest 5″ barrel.

Two More

Two other favorite .22 single actions are definitely way out of the ordinary. There is the USFA 12/22, a traditional single action (USFA is now out of business, much to many’s surprise!) which uses all of the cylinder space to turn a sixgun into a 12-gun. This gives the .22 single action even higher capacity than most .22 semi-autos. The Freedom Arms 71/2″ Model 97 .22 with an auxiliary .22 Magnum cylinder is one of the most accurate sixguns I have ever encountered. It is quite expensive — but worth every penny. Both of these have become favorite single actions.

How many youngsters started out shooting with the top-break
Harrington & Richardson .22? John did.

Dream Time

Lucian Cary was the firearms editor for TRUE magazine in the late 1950s. I was still in high school when Cary did an article on holsters, one of which was a beautifully carved S.D. Myers Buscadero, carrying exhibition shooter Ernie Lind’s K-22. I had to have a K-22, in the worse possible way.

While Cary inspired me in the late 1950s, in fact it would be nearly 30 years before I finally found my K-22. As mentioned, after waiting that long I made the mistake of allowing Diamond Dot to shoot it. From then on it was basically her gun, with regular visiting privileges allowed. At the time we had a cabin up in the mountains, and required equipment for every trip were several .22s and plenty of ammunition.

I couldn’t find a second K-22 for me, but I did come up with a Colt Officer’s Model Special so I would have a target-quality revolver to shoot. Both of these fine .22 sixguns were made in the early 1950s, and if it hadn’t been for Diamond Dot latching onto the Smith, I would have not been looking when I found the Colt. There has to be something right about a situation resulting in two great double-action .22s!

Sometime in the late 1980s S&W changed their K-22 drastically. The slim barrel was changed to a full heavy underlug, while the cylinder was bored for 10 rounds. It certainly is not the classic my original K-22 or Colt Officer’s is, however, fitted with a now long out of production 3/4″ Burris pistol scope, it makes a favorite varmint pistol.

For target shooting, plinking or small-game shooting it is hard to beat the
Colt Officers Model or Smith & Wesson K-22. Both are classics.

Perfect Packin’?

For a Perfect Packin’ Pistol, double-action .22-style, it’s hard to beat the S&W Combat Masterpiece with a 4″ barrel. If I could only have one double-action .22 it would be this 4″ version of the S&W K-22.

The idea of a Kit Gun began with Smith & Wesson. Every soldier in WWI had a kitbag, so a Kit Gun is a small pistol which will fit easily into a kitbag, or tackle box, or backpack or pocket. Smith & Wesson’s Kit Guns are built on their small J-frame, normally with a 31/2″ to 4″ barrel.

Ruger’s single action kit gun is their little BearCat, which also finds its way into many a pocket, daypack or tackle box. I know of more than one smoke jumper who kept one in his pocket as a survival pistol — just in case.

It’s no secret I like big-bore sixguns, however, I also like pocket pistols, and when I wanted to come up with the best possible Perfect Pocket Pistol I started with Ruger’s Single-Six, turning it over to Andy Horvath. He cut the barrel back to 31/2″, slightly round-butted the grip frame, totally tuned the action, and refinished it in a high bright blue. I have been able to make some incredible long range shots with this beautiful little .22. Having three grandsons it seemed necessary to add two more Horvath Perfect Pocket Pistols to the Taffin family, so Andy performed the same magic on a Bisley .22 and then duplicated the original in a stainless steel version. Andy’s L’il Guns are definitely favorite .22s.
By John Taffin

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  1. joe wonoski says:

    A 9 shot six gun? I hope that you were simply being extraordinarily generic about that! Otherwise a nice article.

    Joe

  2. John,
    While I did not own an H&R my dad did when I was knee high to a small ant. I loved to shoot it and was intrigued by the break top and how quickly you could unload and load it compared to a single six. I don’t remember now what my dad di with that H&R, but I do know I would like to have it now.
    I enjoy your great work.

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