Innovation in design coupled with efficiency in manufacturing gave rise to the affordable, reliable, and all-around fun Ruger 10/22.
Strum Ruger and Company was founded in 1949 by William Ruger and Alexander Strum. If there was a “cradle” of American firearms development, one could argue that Connecticut was the center of it. It is no surprise, then, that Ruger is headquartered in Southport, Connecticut, though today they have facilities across the United States.
Ruger has dominated the firearms market in the U.S. and has been the number one producer over the last 30 or 40 years. Part of this success can be attributed to their iconic .22 autoloader, the 10/22 rifle.
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The 10/22 rifle was released in 1964, which was ironically a pivotal year in gun-making around the world. Its debut followed in the wake of the success of their auto-loading .44 magnum rifle. The 10/22 was said to be the companion gun to the larger caliber and that the two were supposed to be nearly identical. If you have ever seen them side by side, the two rifles do look like siblings, if not twins.
Borrowing aesthetic cues from its bigger .44 mag brother like a curved butt plate and carbine-looking stock with barrel band, the 10/22 has an undeniable curb appeal. If you’ve never held one, at first glance they look a bit wide at the tang, but in my opinion, so do the .44 and other Ruger semiautomatic rifles like the Mini 14 and Ranch Rifle variants. Once you feel the grip and shoulder the carbine, it feels natural.
The 10/22 carbine I am holding weighs 6.5 lbs with a Bushnell Sportview Scope. It has a weight that some other .22s lack, making them feel somewhat less significant. The aluminum receiver doesn’t have any ring to it so that when the bolt is cycled, it has a crisp snap and smooth action.
Three Firearms Patents of the 10/22 that Changed Gun-Making
There are three unique patents involved in design of the 10/22 rifle. These innovations set the gun apart from the competition and ultimately made it one of the most popular .22s on the market.
The Rotary Magazine
One of the most widely recognized of these patents is the 10-round rotary magazine that is standard-issue for the 10/22. It doesn’t look like a standard single-stack or double-stack mag utilized in many other rifles and handguns, nor does it load in the same way. When adding ammo to the Ruger box magazine, rounds are pushed in at an angle instead of straight down, since the rounds sit in a cylinder inside of the box magazine
This design does two major things for the rimmed .22 case. First, the rims of each case are stacked on top of each other so that they cannot interfere with the other cases. This is a major advancement because rimmed cases are always at risk of catching on one another and causing problems when cycling. Other companies like Savage have looked at these rotary-style magazines for other rimmed casings, such as with the Savage Model 99.
The second major advantage of the rotary magazine is that for each round that is presented to the bolt to be picked up when the rifle is cycling, the round lands in exactly the same spot. This is true whether it’s the first round or last round in the magazine. In contrast, you’ll notice that double-stack magazines present the rounds off to one side or the other, plus there is definitely some motion there.
These two simple things that are achieved by using a rotary magazine help to consistently and reliably feed ammunition into position to be picked up by the bolt. That means fewer jams, fewer stovepipes, and fewer cycling issues, all of which leads to better reliability in this rifle.
The Breechblock Decelerator
Cycling in an automatic or semi-automatic rifle can be problematic when the cycle rate is not well-controlled. The cycle rate is the amount of time it takes the bolt to move from locked closed, to open, to locked closed again. The problem is, the bolt also has to perform the function of extracting the spent casing and picking up the subsequent round during this cycle. Too fast of a cycle can cause ejection as well as feed issues. Enter the breechblock decelerator, a feature designed to slow the cycle of the 10/22 enough to allow proper feed and function of the rotary magazine.
I had to look at this patent since I did not fully understand the function. In simple terms, the rearward travel of the bolt is slowed by deflecting the bolt and causing it to cam down. As the bolt starts to move forward again, it again has to cam back up into place. Moving the bolt off of its direction of travel eliminates a “bounce back” that the bolt would otherwise have and slows the cycle rate enough that the rifle can function properly.
Innovative Barrel Threading
The last major innovation in the 10/22 rifle is a result of manufacturing processes rather than some design upgrade or advancement. Because the receiver and barrel were made of two different metals, the finishing process for each component was different. In recent years, new firearms coatings have been developed that allow a uniform finish to be applied to a variety of surfaces. In 1964, however, it was easier to blue the steel barrel and anodize the investment cast aluminum action separately, then assemble them together.
The problem with this approach is that you must hold the action and the barrel very tightly to perform the standard barrel threading for proper head spacing, which typically results in marring the finish. This is where the last of the three patents comes into play: a v-block and dovetail combination that allowed the barrel to be held to the action with two machine screws. This was a simple yet elegant arrangement to overcome the risk of marring the barrel and action during production.
In all, these three patents would help Ruger to produce a remarkably reliable semi-auto .22 rifle at a reasonable price point. The 10/22 took off in popularity shortly after release and has seen production in the neighborhood of 6 million units since 1964.
Customization of the Ruger 10/22
Today’s 10/22 rifle comes in a variety of configurations to satisfy what I like to call the “Lego set person” (in other words, people like me) who love to tinker and play. The simple barrel block makes it very easy to swap out barrels; the popularity of the platform has led to the development of endless aftermarket accessories. It is possible to buy or replace any part on your 10/22 to create the plinking platform you are looking for or to emulate a larger (more expensive-per-shot platform) for practice. With ammo prices on the rise, being able to practice shooting techniques with a .22LR gun has become a standard practice.
Ruger’s website shows eight current models of the 10/22, but if you dive into any model, the variations are endless with special-issue guns made for different distributors. From stainless and synthetic to Mannlicher full-length wood stock, blued, camo, takedown, carbine, and tactical models. . . there is a 10/22 variant out there for any shooter.
I certainly have a soft spot for my 10/22 and I am certainly not the only one out there who loves this little rifle.
As a footnote, I would like to mention Walt Kuleck’s book The Ruger 10/22 Complete Owner’s and Assembly Guide. This book is a valuable source of information on the 10/22 and was utilized as a reference for the material contained in this podcast episode.
Check out the next episode: Dan Rossiter and A.H. Fox Shotguns
Joel Penkala is an Upland Bird Hunter and outdoors enthusiast from New Jersey. His love of all things upland has led him to travel and hunt around the United States and fostered his affinity for double guns and bird dogs. He runs English Setters in his home covers chasing Woodcock, Grouse, and Pheasants.