August 2011

Smith & Wesson Vs. Ruger: 22 LR Wheelguns and Pistols

Smith & Wessonís Model 41 ties Rugerís New Model Single Six Blackhawk Hunter. Rugerís Competition Mark III also had what it takes. The Smith & Wesson 617 was consistent, if not sterling.

The International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) recently instituted a new division aimed at attracting more shooters competing at a maximum distance of 100 yards or meters. As explained on the www. website, the rimfire arm of the Practical Hunter division is open to 22 LR handguns only with open sights, optical, or red-dot scopes. Competitors can shoot from any safe position they choose, including prone. New shooters may use a sandbag or mechanical rest to support the gun.

We decided to review some of the guns that would be a good choice for competing in IHMSA’s Practical Hunter rimfire division. For quick reference we opened up our DVD copy of the Firearms Guide 2011 database ($40 from and found almost 80 pistols and revolvers that would be eligible to compete, along with their specifications and schematics. Economy was the goal, but we didn’t want to buy the least expensive gun and risk outgrowing its capabilities. We were also split over choosing a revolver or a semi-automatic pistol. So we chose two of each.

Our revolvers were the Smith & Wesson 617 double-action revolver with single-action capability and Ruger’s New Model Single Six Hunter. The Smith & Wesson was a smallbore version of the L-frame 686 revolver, and the Ruger was the smallbore brother to the New Model Super Blackhawk Hunter single-action revolver. On the pistol side we decided to stay with the same manufacturers. The Smith & Wesson Model 41 has been in production since 1957. The Ruger Mark III Competition is the latest version of the popular pistol that often comes to mind when shooters talk about target shooting.

Since accuracy was the primary concern, our test procedure was simple. Firing from a bench we would shoot the best groups possible. For support we chose the Caldwell Matrix shooting rest with the rifle extension removed. Augmented with sandbags to support the shooter’s head as well as his arms, the only thing moving was the trigger finger. Most full-size pistols are tested from the 25-yard line, but the nearest steel silhouette was going to be 50 yards away. Even with the fine target sights found on each of our handguns, it was our opinion that 50-yard shots would require a scope. All four of our guns came with accommodation for mounting a scope, but with the extraordinary winds that were blowing, we were afraid that conditions might trump even the best optics. Finally, we decided to test from the 25-yard line with the supplied open sights.

The first gun we tested was the New Model Single Six Hunter, and here is why. The Hunter is a convertible model that comes with two cylinders, one for chambering 22 LR and the other for 22 Winchester Magnum Rifle. The WMR bullets are a little bit wider (.222 vs. .224). According to a Ruger representative, the bore would favor the wider magnum rounds, but we should be able to find a number of 22 LR rounds that shoot very well in the Hunter nonetheless. After trying several different rounds of 22 LR in the Ruger revolver, we chose the three most accurate rounds. They were CCI’s new high-velocity AR Tactical rounds, CCI Standard Velocity ammunition, and Lapua Midas Plus. All three were topped with 40-grain roundnosed bullets. Regarding velocity readings, the pistols were fired over the chronograph five times. The revolvers were chronographed according to their full cylinder capacity, six shots from the Ruger and 10 from the Smith & Wesson 617.

Shooting in the wind required us to wait for calm between gusts. Some of our hold periods took minutes, not seconds. Since both revolvers were shot single-action only, we lost time pulling back the hammer and reacquiring the sights between shots. The pistol tests didn’t take as long to complete because during the periods of calm, we were able to put more consecutive shots down range without interruption. This could pay off at a match when trying to beat a time limit. Beyond accuracy, we looked for reliability plus how well each gun lent itself to being shot standing offhand and from other IHMSA-legal shooting positions. Let’s start knocking them down.

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