Ruger 50th Anniversary .22 Pistol



by Boge Quinn

photography by Boge Quinn & Jeff Quinn


In 1949, a young inventor named William B. Ruger (who would in time become known as the greatest firearms designer since John M. Browning) approached a young financier named Alex Sturm with a prototype of a new .22 rimfire semi-auto pistol. The pistol was a soundly designed piece that was inexpensive to produce, reliable, and had pleasing lines to boot. Ruger had the original design and the manufacturing knowledge to make it a reality, but he needed the venture capital required to start his company. Sturm, a young aristocrat with a love of sport shooting, invested $50,000, and Sturm, Ruger & Co. was born. A favorable review by Maj. Gen. Julian S. Hatcher, then Technical Director for the NRA, brought the innovative new .22 to the attention of the American gun buyer as a fine, reliable little .22 that could be had at a very economical price.

Thus, Sturm, Ruger & Co. began a journey that would lead to the company becoming the largest and most respected manufacturer of sporting firearms in the U.S. Almost unheard-of in the manufacturing industry was (and is) Ruger’s practice of corporate growth through reinvestment of earnings. Such common-sense business practices have allowed Ruger to operate “in the black” through its entire history, posting profits each and every year and never once borrowing a penny. This is a testimony not just of Sturm, Ruger & Co.’s financial savvy, but also of the consistently excellent design and manufacture of its products and the esteem for Ruger’s products held by sportsmen, military agencies and police departments worldwide.

The little gun that started it all was a simple, reliable and attractive .22 rimfire blowback-operated semi-automatic pistol with a tubular receiver and a cylindrical bolt, a distinctive slim-tapered barrel, and a profile that was somewhat reminiscent of the famed German Luger pistol. The Ruger .22 pistol was blued steel with the bolt “in the white” or unfinished so as to give an attractive contrast to the blued steel receiver.

Ruger’s .22 auto pistols have been in continuous production throughout the life of the company, and millions have been produced to date. It is available today in many different variants: standard or target models, fixed or adjustable sights, short or long barrels, tapered or bull barrels, stainless or blued steel, and even steel or polymer frames with different grip angles.

Our test gun for this article is one of the excellent 50th Anniversary models produced in 1999 and part of 2000 as a limited-run commemorative model. It is not an exact reproduction of the 1949 pistol, however, as some changes have been made to the pistol since its inception, both for safety and ease of use. Ruger began referring to their pistols as “Mark Series” pistols once the changes began, and current pistols are known (and roll-marked) as “Mark II” guns. Among the changes through the years is an improved safety system, and a device to hold the bolt open after the magazine is emptied (with an accompanying bolt drop lever). The current production Ruger .22 pistol should be very familiar to most, so I will not discuss the standard features at length, other than to describe the differences in the 50th Anniversary Model.

The 50th Anniversary Model is in essence a Standard Model .22 Auto with features reminiscent of very earliest models. Probably the most noticeable of these features are the grip medallions, which are set into each black plastic checkered grip panel. Alex Sturm himself, who was a student of heraldry, originally designed Ruger’s distinctive trademark “eagle” logo, and at the company’s inception the grip medallions featured a red eagle. Upon Sturm’s untimely death in 1950, Ruger ordered that henceforth the grip medallions would no longer feature a red eagle, in memory of his friend and business partner. The medallions were initially changed to feature a black eagle, and over the years a silver eagle on a black background became the standard. The 50th Anniversary Model invokes the spirit of the original medallions by featuring a silver eagle on a red background. This logo is also set into the bottom of the two magazines that are included with each gun (nice touch, Ruger!).

Another feature not seen on Ruger’s .22 pistols since the earliest production models is the contrasting color bolt. Originally, the pistols featured bolts that were unfinished, or “in the white”, to create an attractive contrast with the blued steel receiver. The 50th Anniversary Model features a similar concept, but given that Ruger was a pioneer in the use of stainless steel in firearms manufacture, the bolts are now unfinished stainless steel. This offers the same contrast in appearance without the corrosion problems inherent in unfinished carbon steel. Another difference relating to the bolt is that the Ruger logo is roll-marked on the flat end of the bolt, which is a very attractive touch not included on the current production model. Also, one of the changes Ruger made with the introduction of the “Mark Series” was to begin milling angled flats on the back of the receiver immediately ahead of the bolt’s cocking “ears” in order to make the bolt “ears” easier to grasp. These flats are omitted on the 50th Anniversary Model to give the gun an appearance more like the originals.

The 50th Anniversary Ruger logo is roll-marked on top of the receiver, between the barrel and the ejection port, further identifying the gun as a limited-edition model. The 50th Anniversary logo is also reproduced in color on the top of the special red plastic box.

Shooting the test gun was a real pleasure, especially considering that Jeff and I tested the gun on the same day that we were developing heavy cast bullet loads for the .44 Magnum (see Jeff's article at Cast Performance). The little .22 was a real change of pace! I have always greatly admired the handling qualities of these guns, and this one was certainly no exception. They point like a dream, and if you have ever handled an Olympic free pistol, the similarities in grip angle and girth are readily apparent. These are quality-built, extremely well designed guns, and the accuracy they exhibit is what one would expect from Ruger: in a word, excellent. Two inch groups at twenty-five yards from a bench rest was achieved with almost boring regularity with any ammunition tried, except Winchester’s Xpediter 29-grain loads, which grouped closer to four inches and failed to register on our Pact chronograph 90% of the time. With ammunition it “liked”, such as Winchester’s standard Super-X, group sizes of close to one inch were not uncommon. The excellent handling qualities of this gun, coupled with the light recoil of the .22 cartridge, assured that anything over three inch groups offhand were my fault, not Ruger’s.

Since the standard model of 1949-1950 was equipped with a “fixed” drift-adjustable sight, these guns are similarly equipped. Still, as with any fixed-sight gun, these pistols can be “sighted in” with different types of ammunition, or after-market sights are easily found for the Ruger Standard Model. I may install some adjustable sights just for fun, but I will be sure not to alter the pistol in any way so future value is not adversely affected, even though this gun (like all my guns) is a shooter, not a collector piece.

Although they are no longer in production, these guns are still readily available if you look in the right places. I have seen new examples at recent gun shows for as little as $250.00, which is about as cheap as you can get a gun of this quality. 

If you'd like more information on Ruger's line of guns, check Ruger's web site here.

For those of you who might want a fun little plinking or small-game pistol, along with your own little piece of firearms history, I highly recommend you find a Ruger 50th Anniversary Model while they are still out there.

Boge Quinn


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Ruger 50th Anniversary Model .22 Rimfire Semi-Auto Pistol



Ruger 50th Anniversary Model .22 comes complete with two limited-edition red-medallion magazines and a limited-edition red plastic case.



Stainless steel bolt contrasts nicely with the blued receiver, just as did the unfinished carbon steel bolt of the original Ruger .22. The Ruger logo roll-marked onto the back of the bolt adds an elegant touch.



Ruger 50th Anniversary logo roll-marked on the top of the frame adds distinction to this limited-edition commemorative.



Author shoots the Ruger 50th Anniversary .22. He found that it shoots like every other Ruger .22 he's tried - in other words, great!



Our buddy Bill Hamm, a longtime Ruger collector and expert on the history of Ruger firearms, provided an early production .22 Auto "Red Eagle" pistol for me to photograph and compare to the 50th Anniversary .22 Auto. 

Click the pictures below for a larger version:

Note lack of grip medallion on right-hand side.