January 2001

.22 Long Rifle/.22 WMR Combos: Single-Action Rimfire Showdown

Can .22-caliber LR/Magnum wheelguns offer twice the punch of single guns alone? We test Ruger’s New Model Single Six, the Heritage Rough Rider, and EAA’s Bounty Hunter to find out.

[IMGCAP(1)] We recently tested a trio of .22-caliber handguns, with names like Rough Rider and Bounty Hunter, that never existed as true cowboy-era firearms. Nonetheless, today’s gun-buying consumer could look at guns like the $149 Heritage Rough Rider, EAA’s $280 Bounty Hunter, and the less musically named Ruger New Model Single Six, $352, and find rimfires that evoke a spirit of shooting fun, despite the lack of any pure, Old West tie-in.

Being big fans of fun, we wanted to shoot these three models in two-cylinder configurations: one wheel for the .22 LR round, and the other for the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire (WMR) load. Adding the more powerful magnum round could conceivably put more versatility in our hands, or it could merely be a shortcut to wear. Only time at the range would tell, and we were eager to get at it.

Range Session
A plinking session to become familiar with each gun preceded our bench rest session. During this session we sought to determine not only how each gun liked to be shot but also the best way to swap cylinders, load and unload ammunition. Each gun was cleaned and lubricated before firing. This process was uneventful, except when we found two of the chambers in the EAA’s magnum cylinder were blocked by pieces of shell casings. More on this later.

Click here to view Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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For accuracy, we tested these 4.5-inch barrel single-action revolvers at 15 yards shooting long rifle cartridges by Federal and Remington and magnum rounds from CCI and Winchester. Here’s what we found.

European American Armory Bounty Hunter
The $280 Bounty Hunter from EAA most resembled an old single-action design. To load it, pull the hammer to half cock and open the loading gate. To index the individual chambers, rotate the cylinder until it clicks and insert a round. We liked the way the EAA’s cylinder indexes and wish other revolvers of this type would do the same. The Ruger, for example, requires far more hand-to-eye coordination, in our view. To eject rounds, simply repeat this process and push the ejector rod through each chamber. You can lock the ejector rod inside the cylinder by pushing up a tab, but we’re not sure if this is helpful. We do know it can lock when you do not want it to.

Click here to view the EAA Bounty Hunter features guide

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Firing the Bounty Hunter is simply a matter of pulling the hammer all the way back and pressing the trigger. To lower the hammer safely, you must press the trigger with the thumb on the hammer, gently allowing the hammer to ease down.

The walnut grip had been contoured to offer a rest for the thumb of the right handed shooter. The front sight was heavier and wider than we are accustomed to. The rear sight was a notch in the top strap that was revealed when the hammer was pulled back.

The frame was nicely blued, and the stainless-steel hammer was two-tone, blued on the top and back, polished on the sides. The cylinder was easily removed by pressing in the spring-loaded latch screw and pulling out the cylinder stud, which is much like an axle. With the gate open, the cylinder simply rolled out the right side of the frame.

Firing the EAA revolver resulted in very good accuracy at 15 yards using the .22 Long Rifle cartridges. On average, all groups fired at 15 yards with these rounds measured 1.5 inches or less. But when attempting to fire groups with the magnum rounds, we ran into a problem: two of the chambers were blocked.

We inspected the chambers and called EAA. The conclusion was that the heads of two cases in two adjoining cylinders had separated, leaving the body of each case behind. This raised several questions.

For one, was this truly a new gun? It was certainly sold to us as one. Gun Tests’ product coordination editor bought the gun through an EAA wholesaler, RSR Distributors. The gun arrived with the Long Rifle cylinder in place, and it wasn’t until we installed the WMR cylinder and tried to load ammunition that we noticed the blockage.

At first we theorized that a Long Rifle cartridge had been mistakenly placed in the WMR cylinder and fired. But after removing the body of one of the spent cases, we found it was indeed a magnum case.

With this information in hand, we shot groups with bullets in the other chambers (it didn’t seem smart to try the malfunctioning chambers any further) and found the EAA grouped very poorly with WMR ammunition. Also, we measured velocities and saw the lowest speeds in the test. This led us to theorize that the offending chambers were much too large, and the others were somewhat too large. This would explain all three problems. If the cases expanded in two chambers too much, then it would be possible for the base to separate from the case, leaving part of the brass adhered to the chamber wall. Too much chamber size in the other four chambers would lower pressure (thus velocity) and allow the bullet to align improperly with the forcing cone, diminishing accuracy.

We cannot imagine EAA or any other manufacturer test firing a gun, damaging it, and then letting it pass like this into the retail stream, but we suppose this is a possibility. In the meantime, we have contacted RSR and asked them to trace the life of this particular revolver to confirm it was indeed NIB (new in the box) as represented, and not a returned-and-repackaged gun.

Other problems we observed with the Bounty Hunter included debris surrounding the front sight, which we think is bluing residue. Additionally, the ejector tube that rides underneath the barrel and houses the ejector rod came loose after only 100 rounds.

One feature we would change is the contour of the trigger. Its face is convex at the tip, and this exerts undue pressure on the pad of the trigger finger, which soon becomes painful. We recommend this part be polished and contoured for comfort.

Heritage Rough Rider
The $149 Rough Rider did everything that was asked of it without complaint. Usually, a less expensive gun will shoot well but have a number of structural shortcomings. In terms of structural integrity, we think this gun is plenty strong, and the steel is of good quality.

Click here to view the Heritage Rough Rider features guide

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The Heritage Rough Rider used a traditional notch-and-post sight, in which the front sight was quite thin and the rear sight was no more than a channel in the top strap. Without the benefit of modern sights, five-shot groups averaged under 2 inches—within 0.5 inch of those fired by the accuracy champ of this group, Ruger’s New Model Single Six. The Rough Rider handled the magnum rounds with average groups of 3.0 and 2.6 inches, respectively, favoring the Winchester rounds. While the Ruger New Model revolver offers several updated features that separate it from the both this gun and the Bounty Hunter, what’s new about the Rough Rider is important. To our knowledge this is the only single-action revolver with a thumb-operated safety. Just left of the hammer is a lever that engages a hammer block. When the lever is up, the gun won’t fire. With the lever down, a red dot is exposed and the gun is ready to fire. We tested it extensively and it always worked. The hammer will fall but will not detonate a round. The Ruger’s loading gate, when swung open, also makes the gun safe, but the Heritage system does not interfere with the profile of the gun. In short, the gun can be holstered and appears normal while in a safe condition.

We enjoyed shooting this gun because it was handsome, simple to operate and everything works. The cylinder indexed easily when the gate was open, and the ejector rod returned smartly when you let it go. The trigger was smooth without being light, and the grip was made from boldly grained wood with a hand-filling fit.

Elsewhere, we’d like to see a heavier detent spring on the loading gate because we often bumped it closed without meaning to.

Ruger New Model Single Six
At $352, the most expensive gun in the test was also the best one. With its modern adjustable rear sight, stanchion front blade, and stout barrel, accuracy was enhanced. At this barrel length (4.5 inches), you may call it a handy camp gun for squirrels and whatnot. With longer barrels available (up to 9.5 inches), Single Six velocities would likely be much higher, making for a superior plinker or light varmint hunting revolver.

Click here to view the Ruger New Model Single Six features guide

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The Ruger single-action revolvers feature a simple loading gate–activated hammer block that deletes the need for pulling the hammer back and then having to touch the trigger to lower it. This makes the Single Six safer than other single actions, since the shooter does not touch the trigger until the gun is on the target.

Further, the revolvers in this test featured a block that prevented the hammer from striking a loaded round unless released by the trigger. This makes it safe to carry a loaded round in the chamber under the hammer. Still, we feel Ruger’s loading gate system is the safest way to operate a single-action revolver.

Also, we liked the gun’s trigger face. It was smooth, polished and properly radiused for comfort and control. Why other manufacturers seem to ignore this is a mystery.

One characteristic we would change is how the chambers are indexed during loading or extraction. While we were able to coordinate the arrival of each chamber mouth with the ejector rod or a fresh round, it is just too much of a juggling act. Ruger should assign a click to the introduction of each chamber.

The Ruger New Model Single Six produced the most velocity, muzzle energy, and accuracy with each choice of ammunition. Ruger has taken the construction of this gun seriously. It is not a toy or a conversation piece. Where the company saw fit to improve the basic “cowboy” design they did so without shame.

One oddity with the gun was that it arrived with a spent case registered for identification purposes. Ruger says in writing that the company is required to do so under law for sale in certain states. But, they also say that all this guarantees is that they diligently followed the law, ran the test and recorded the required information. How could anyone say more?

We commend Ruger for following the rules, but we do have to note the silliness of it all (which isn’t the company’s fault, of course). After all, if you can swap out cylinders between the ones supplied, why couldn’t you swap with your next door neighbor’s gun as well? Also, this cannot possibly take into account differences in ammunition brands and lots. And we suspect wear and tear could reconfigure the results as well. We wonder how much this sort of waste adds to the cost of the gun. Perhaps anti-gun legislators know our objections are all true and just want to raise the price of guns in the form of an “ignorance tax.”

Gun Tests Recommends
Heritage Rough Rider, $149. Best Buy. Inexpensive, well built overall, with a ground-breaking safety feature.

Ruger New Model Single Six, $352. Buy it. This gun doesn’t have the traditional Old West cues found in the Rough Rider, but it is a good single-action revolver. We’d love to get our hands on one with the 9.5-inch barrel.

EAA Bounty Hunter, $280. Don’t Buy. We have not yet sorted out the point at which quality control lapsed, but we were sold a damaged and likely unsafe gun. Was this the fault of the manufacturer or the distributor? We don’t know. Even had this problem not occurred, we still think the other guns are better products.