My first .22 rimfire revolver was a Ruger Super Single-Six with a 9.5-inch barrel. My father indulged my interest in this six-shooter by buying it with the money I earned cutting grass and working part-time at an old country hardware store. I also used some of the money I earned to join the local gun club, the Cross Creek Long Rifles. I was the only dues-paying 16-year-old member they had, and my primary interest at the time was shooting in the club’s NRA silhouette matches. These “hunter class” matches used reduced-sized steel targets shaped like chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams at 25, 50, 75 and 100 meters. I took my new Ruger .22, with its rather long barrel, to the Bullseye Gun Shop in my hometown, Fayetteville, North Carolina, and asked the gunsmith what he could do about putting a vent rib on the barrel. Nothing existed in prefabricated form, so he milled a shotgun rib to fit the contour of the barrel and soldered it in place. When I shot in matches or practiced, I swapped to the .22 WMR cylinder and let fly. I didn’t have much problem toppling the targets, except for when I hit the rams low in the belly or in the legs. It was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed beating guys that were three times my age shooting their powerful .44 Magnums.
Ruger’s list of .22 revolvers has grown exponentially over the past 38 years since I got my first one. Like my first, the Single-Six Convertible is available in four barrel lengths: 4.63, 5.5, 6.5 and 9.5 inches. Stainless steel models are available with 5.5 and 6.5-inch barrels. These six-shot revolvers come with ramp-type front blades and adjustable rear sights. First-generation single-action Colt fans will like two Convertible models with similar grooved topstraps and simple blade front sights with either 5.5- or 6.5-inch barrels.
If you want to take the Single-Six to the extreme, step up to the stainless Hunter model. This sports a 7.5-inch barrel with an integral top rib that comes inletted for supplied Ruger scope rings.
The Ruger Bearcat, introduced in 1958, is based on early Remington percussion revolvers of the mid-1800s. Early advertising touted the Bearcat as being ideal for hikers or campers in need of a .22 LR revolver or “kit gun.” It wore a Patridge front sight and had an unfluted cylinder with roll engraving as well as a lightweight alloy frame. In 1993, Ruger reintroduced the Bearcat as the New Bearcat, which was re-engineered to include the transfer bar system. Somewhere along the way, a .22 WMR version surfaced but was recalled for safety reasons. A stainless steel variant was added in 2003, a 50th Anniversary version followed in 2008, and finally, Ruger added a version with an adjustable rear sight in 2015.
Moving over to Ruger’s double-actions, the LCR in .22 LR is a handy double- action-only (DAO) gun with a 1.87-inch barrel and a cylinder that holds eight rounds. If you want to step up in power, a .22 WMR version is available, too. The monolithic frame is made from aerospace-grade 7000 series aluminum. The LCR’s friction-reducing cam is a next-generation design in fire control systems that results in a smooth, non-stacking trigger pull. The polymer fire control housing holds all of the fire control components in their proper dimensional relationships, reduces weight significantly and helps reduce recoil. The high-strength stainless steel cylinder is also extensively fluted to reduce weight and features a PVD finish for excellent durability. The front sight is a replaceable, pinned ramp.
The LCRx is a little different because it has an external hammer, allowing you to fire in single action when double action isn’t your preference. The LCRx .22 has a 3-inch barrel with a 1-in-16-inch, right-hand twist. It has a matte black finish, weighs 17.3 ounces and holds eight rounds of .22 LR ammo.
Although the .22-caliber GP100 isn’t available with a .22 WMR conversion cylinder, this double-action, nine-shot .22 LR may just be the perfect camp gun. The 5.5-inch barrel provides for great balance, and the adjustable sights will help you fine-tune your accuracy downrange. Made from stainless steel, this revolver can withstand some seriously brutal environments.
With the same feel and weight of a larger-caliber revolver, the Pathfinder in .22 LR offers inexpensive training for anyone who carries a revolver for self-defense. It also gets the nod as a camping companion. The Pathfinder has a 2-inch barrel topped with a fixed ramp front sight. Made of stainless steel, these 19-ounce revolvers come with full-sized rubber grips to reduce recoil and enhance your control. Charter Arms also offers a Pathfinder chambered for .22 WMR. It is common to find these at retail for about $325.
The double-action Model 17 was introduced in .22 Long Rifle in 1947. The Model 17 features an adjustable rear sight and a fixed ramp front sight. It was designed as a target revolver and could be ordered from Smith & Wesson with “the three T’s”—a target trigger, target hammer and target grips. Standard barrel lengths were 4, 6 and 8.38 inches. Some of the rarer versions of the early Model 17s, such as the 4-inch-barreled Model 17-6, have become collectible in the higher grades. In 1990, Smith & Wesson also shipped the Model 17 with a 4-, 6- or 8.38-inch, full-underlug barrel. The underlug was cast as part of the barrel and ran under the barrel from the front of the cylinder yoke to the muzzle’s end. The underlug not only enclosed the ejector rod, but it also added considerable weight to the gun itself. The underlug model shipped with a special round-butt wood grip with finger grooves.
The Smith & Wesson Model 53, introduced in 1961, was chambered for the .22 Remington Jet. This six-shot K-Frame revolver was a collaborative effort between S&W and Remington, but it was short-lived. Remington claimed the .22 Remington Jet cartridge reached a muzzle velocity of 2,460 fps using a 40-grain bullet, but it was typically only capable of reaching 1,800 fps. The Model 53 came from the factory with chamber inserts to allow it to fire .22 Short, Long and Long rifle cartridges, which makes it a qualifier for a camp revolver. The hammer had a two-position firing pin to allow so it could be switched from rimfire to centerfire ammo as needed. The handgun came with target grips and sights, and barrels were available in 4-, 6- and 8.38-inch lengths. The Model 53 was manufactured from 1960 to 1974 but never really caught on with shooters.
Suitable for practice or carry, the Model 94 from Taurus is a very soft-shooting nine-shot revolver. Unlike some lightweight guns, this wheelgun is made of stainless steel and weighs in at 24 ounces with a 2-inch barrel. This additional weight helps absorb recoil, turning the relatively mild .22 LR into a true pleasure to shoot. A full-sized rubber grip further reduces felt recoil while providing plenty of traction. A full-length underlug protects the extended-length ejector rod. The Model 94 has been discontinued but can be readily found in local gun shops and online for about $250.
Day after day, chasing bull elk in rough terrain with bow in hand, the ever-present spruce grouse that held tight until you almost stepped on them begged to be put on a green stick and hung over a campfire. Launching a $10 arrow at them didn’t make sense, but quiet .22 rimfire revolvers were just the right medicine to cure my hunger pains.
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The versatility of .22-caliber ammo, from .22 BB caps to the .22 WMR, speaks volumes when it comes to the wide array of applications a revolver is capable of tackling. A semi-auto .22 LR pistol can make a great companion on camping trips, but the versatility of being able to shoot .22 BB and .22 CB caps as well as .22 Short, .22 Long and .22 LR rounds from the same cylinder means you can use the same gun for just about any shooting or small-game hunting application. Some wheelguns even allow you to swap out the cylinder and step up to .22 WMR.
For this foray into .22-caliber “camp guns,” we’ll delve into an array of handguns, both old and new, that fit a pretty broad definition of what it takes to qualify for inclusion. Whether it’s a single or double action, a camp gun is simply any .22 that you can carry easily. I’ve carried and shot several .22 rimfire revolvers over the past 38 years since I got my first one. They are truly year-round fun guns and utilitarian tools. During the fall and winter, they are constant companions on squirrel and rabbit hunts, pull their weight when dispatching bobcats and coyotes on the trapline, kill venomous snakes on post-season deer scouting trips, and fill the time between on the range.
- RELATED STORY: Jerry Miculek’s 8 Must-Know Tips for Carrying a Wheelgun
For more information about the rimfire revolvers featured in the gallery above, go to the following sites.
Smith & Wesson
This article was originally published in “The Complete Book of Revolvers” 2017 #199. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
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