CDNN Investments is like kryptonite for gun geeks. I was busy at work and glanced at my daily email blast from CDNN between medical tragedies. Amidst the sundry gun parts, rifle specials, trinkets, widgets and sundry ballistic baubles was an adorable Ruger Wrangler .22 pistol. I had been pondering one for a while. This copy was on sale NIB for $169.
Wow. $169 is really a pretty awesome deal for a brand new quality factory firearm. Ruger is a trusted brand, and the Wrangler is the spitting image of Colonel Sam Colt’s remarkably timeless Roscoe. I figured I couldn’t go wrong. I linked the order to my favorite local FFL and put it on the plastic. When the gun arrived it was like pouring kerosene onto a campfire.
Life Imitates Art
The man’s face was weathered and deeply lined from a lifetime spent exposed to the elements. He had been in town less than a day after punching a herd up from the border. Now he stood in a muddy street facing a professional gambler, his right hand twitching above the graceful curved butt of his powerful Peacemaker revolver.
The gambler had taken him for an easy mark, a trail-beaten simpleton with whiskey in his gut and cash in his pocket. However, it turned out that punching cows was not the limit of the hard man’s skills. When the game had not gone to the gambler’s liking words were exchanged and accusations unlimbered. Now the two men stood still as statues and comparably silent. The sundry townsfolk cleared the street in moments. They had a lot of experience with such as this.
The man had previously been buzzed on cheap whiskey and cheaper perfume from the fair tarts who plied their trade in the establishment he had just departed. However, the intensity of the moment cleared his head like a dip into a frigid feeding trough. The man was one with the moment and one with his gun.
The gambler made for his hogleg, or tried to scratch an itch or had a nervous twitch or was about to sneeze. In the end the details didn’t matter. The hard man’s gun jumped from its holster like a live jackrabbit from a stewpot. At a range of 15 yards his first round hit center of mass. The next three were a blur. Time stood still for a pregnant moment. The gambler moved not a whisker.
Let’s pause for a moment. Reality was seldom if ever like that. Wild Bill Hickock nailed Davis Tutt in Springfield, Missouri, back in the summer of 1865 with a single shot from his 1851 Colt Navy at 75 feet. When Luke Short killed Charlie Storms at contact range with his Colt Peacemaker in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1882 he actually set Storms’ coat ablaze. In 1881 in El Paso, Texas, Dallas Stoudenmire unlimbered his matching Smith & Wesson revolvers and shot his would-be assassin Bill Johnson eight times, blowing the unfortunate man’s testicles off in the process. Real life is seldom quite so tidy as the movies.
Regardless, in this particular case the gambler in question stood stock still because he wasn’t really a gambler at all. He was actually just the Big Rubber Man wearing a hat. The Big Rubber Man is what we call my realistic 3D target from Rubber Dummies. He’s made of recycled tires and shrugs off bullets better than Arnold Schwarzenegger in a cheesy 1980s action film. My wife stumbled into him in the dark in the house one time and scared herself to death, so now he lives on the back porch.
No matter, turns out I’m not a cool chiseled gunfighter, either. I’m just a middle-aged gunwriter with diagnosable maturity issues. However, pick a nice day when it’s not too hot, drop a .22-caliber Ruger Wrangler into my gunleather and give me plenty of inexpensive Winchester blasting bullets, and I could stay on the range till I starved. The Ruger Wrangler is the chemical formula for serious rimfire fun.
Oliver Winchester was an extroverted salesman without an excess of mechanical talent. Benjamin Tyler Henry was an introverted inventor and an easy mark for an opportunist tycoon like Oliver Winchester. By contrast, Samuel Colt was that rare combination of mechanical genius and master marketer. While Rollin White actually first contrived the bored-through cylinder on a revolver, it was Sam Colt who spread the wheelgun around the world.
Born in 1814, Sam’s first two ventures involved building firearms and underwater mines, both of which proved ultimately fruitless. However, beginning in 1847 his fortunes improved when the Texas Rangers ordered a cool 1,000 copies of his legendary handgun. By the time of his death in 1862 at the young age of 47 Sam Colt was one of the wealthiest men in America.
A busy youngster, Sam went away to boarding school but was expelled when he set the place alight. Determined to help him channel his prodigious energies toward something productive Sam’s father signed him up as an apprentice seaman on the brig Corvo. While on a voyage out of Calcutta/Kolkata, young Sam was enthralled by the operation of the ship’s ratcheting capstan. By the time his vessel got back to North American young Master Colt had carved a model of his proposed revolving handgun out of wood.
Of all of his several offerings it was the 1873 Colt Single-Action Army that made the biggest splash. The world came to know the graceful curving weapon as the Peacemaker. I have no idea what kind of secret sauce Colonel Colt sprinkled over his 19th century contrivance, but it fits the human form in a way that borders upon unnatural. Something about that wonderful curved grip accommodates my mitts better than any Information Age plastic pistol.
Untold hundreds of thousands of the guns rolled off the lines from 1873 until the present. Colt still produces them sporadically today, though most of the commercial Peacemakers these days come from Italy. Cowboy Action Shooting provides an unquenchable thirst for these timeless old pistols.
The Plinking Version
Colt launched the .22-caliber Frontier Scout in 1956. Westerns dominated screens both large and small across our great republic, and Ruger’s .22-caliber Single-Six® had been a reliable seller since 1953. The Frontier Scout was a seven eighths-scale version of the larger Single-Action Army chambered for .22 rimfire. Out of the chute those first copies had an MSRP of $49.50. That’s about $480 today.
The Frontier Scout went through a variety of frame materials, finishes and barrel lengths. Convertible versions with two cylinders for .22LR and .22 Win Mag debuted in 1964. The .22 Magnum barrels would stabilize .22LR bullets but not the other way around. At a glance you can tell the difference by looking at the crown. .22 Magnum barrels feature a recessed crown. .22LR tubes are cut flat.
The Scout uses a separate spring-loaded firing pin and black synthetic stocks came standard. Walnut grips were available as an upgrade. The standard removable retention pin for the cylinder pin on the larger SAA was now a simple screw on the Frontier Scout. The new guns included a screwdriver to assist in removal. A one-piece grip frame made the gun easier and cheaper to manufacture than the full-bore pistol.
By 1986 the world was consumed by noisy hair bands and Star Wars Blasters, so the classic Western guns fizzled and died a natural death. A fun fact is that the barrels of Frontier Scouts were finished out on the same machinery that produced high-end Python tubes, so the quality was impeccable. Original Frontier Scout pistols remain popular today.
My Frontier Scout was made in 1968 and holds a special place in my heart. Back when my boys were young we always enjoyed hitting the regional gun show together when we had a little cash to burn. I was a medical student and broke as a skunk but had a few guns I could trade. My second son was maybe eight years old and had some cash saved up between Christmas and birthdays. We pooled our resources and traded my old Ruger Single-Six and a little of his cash for this well-preserved Frontier Scout. We have burned a zillion rounds through that little gun over the years together, and the fact that we own it jointly now makes the gun extra special.
The Modern Treatment
Introduced in April of 2019, the Ruger Wrangler taps into a particularly rich vein. The Wrangler perfectly captures the timeless spirit of the Colt Single-Action Army at a simply breathtaking price point. Designed from the outset to be reliable and robust yet inexpensive, the Wrangler is the cowboy Western pistol for the Common Man.
The frame of the Wrangler is formed from inexpensive aluminum and zinc castings. The cylinder is left unfluted for ease of manufacture, and many of the internal components are formed used metal injection molding techniques. The end product is finished in Cerakote, so there are several color options. The synergistic result is a gun that is plenty durable for its intended mission. The cost savings are passed on to the user.
The Wrangler weighs 30 ounces and is 10.25 inches long. The standard barrel is 4.62 inches long. The gun carries six rounds in its unfluted cylinder. The cylinder pin retention catch is spring-loaded like that of the original SAA, so disassembly is a snap without tools. The Wrangler uses a transfer bar ignition system for safety.
How Do They Compare?
The manual of arms is the same for both weapons. They both load via a pivoting loading gate on the right. The ejector rod rides underneath the barrel and is used to punch out empty cases. Placing the hammer of the Frontier Scout in the half cock position allows the cylinder to ratchet freely in a clockwise direction for loading and unloading. The Wrangler, by contrast, has no half cock position. However, opening the Wrangler’s loading gate releases the cylinder to spin freely in either direction. There is a scant step-off between the grips and the frame on both guns.
My Frontier Scout has more than half a century on its trigger, so apples-to-apples comparisons are not really fair. The trigger and hammer on the Colt gun run like warm snot across glass. The deep blue finish is worn just enough to give the gun character.
The action on the Wrangler feels just a tiny bit tight and gritty. Additionally, with the hammer cocked the transfer bar rattles audibly when you shake the gun. However, the action will undoubtedly loosen up over time, and I likely would not have even noticed it had I not been comparing the gun side-by-side to my nicely aged Frontier Scout. Lockup and mechanicals on the Wrangler are perfect. Like most superlative Ruger guns, just because it is inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s cheap.
Both guns occupy the same general geometric footprint. As a result, they both ride comfortably in the same low-ride Western fast draw rig I use for my full bore SAA pistols. The shell loops are obviously worthless for packing rimfire rounds, but that’s kind of the reason God made pockets.
The barrel on the Scout is perhaps three eighths of an inch longer than that of the Wrangler, but the two guns handle exactly the same. If these were precision Olympic target pistols we could split hairs over accuracy, but they’re not precision Olympic target pistols. These are the guns that you tote for snakes or use to help keep the empty aluminum beverage can population in check.
Neither gun features sights that are adjustable in any way, but they both shot plenty straight and to point of aim without any ancillary molestation. Unlike their big-bore brethren, you can kill a couple hours behind either of these adorable little rimfire pistols without having to hock a kidney to cover the ammo. These two nifty little wheelguns are the perfect plinking pistols. Running them on an afternoon that’s not too hot and not too cold is pure recreational ballistic relaxation. Dual wielding them both at once will put hair on your chest no matter your gender.
Everybody needs one of these guns. Whether your proclivities sway toward long-range shooting, running a black rifle indoors as part of your day job, or IPSC pistolcraft, these beautiful little guns are pure unfiltered fun. They aren’t the first pistols you’ll grab when you hear glass breaking downstairs at two o’clock in the morning, but stocked with rat shot, they would certainly put paid to any venomous serpents with the poor grace to show up in your personal space unannounced.
Gunbroker.com lists vintage Frontier Scouts from $250 for a beater to $750 for a pristine example in the box. Special commemorative versions are more expensive. By contrast, as I mentioned earlier, my Wrangler set me back $169 on special to my dealer. At $169 I would feel comfortable storing the gun in the bottom my tackle box if need be.
I’ve spent way more on much stupider things. Chances are you have as well. As I peruse my gun collection the Ruger Wrangler might just be the best value in the safe. Accurate, reliable, inexpensive and cool, my trusty Wrangler and a brick of cheap Winchester blasting bullets will kill an afternoon at the range just as well as it might drop a nearby tree rat or send a venomous serpent straight to snake heaven (not a real thing). With an MSRP of just $250 and street price that’s lower, it’s a fistful of fun.
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|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N9 (November 2020)|