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Ruger's newest magnum sixgun.

The need for a good centerfire trail gun is something that American handgun makers have ignored for many years. Think it over: On the one hand, we have scads of .22s of every description. The .22 LR is great for plinking and harvesting very small animals like squirrels and cottontails with head shots, but it ranges from marginal to downright inhumane on such larger, tougher creatures as jackrabbits, fox, possum, coon, porcupine and the like--especially when the Long Rifle's performance is attenuated by being fired from a short handgun barrel. The .22 Winchester Magnum is there, but its ballistic edge over the .22 LR is not nearly as great when the two rounds are fired from handgun barrels, compared to their respective performance from rifles. Besides .22 WMR ammo is costly and non-reloadable.

From the .22 LR/WMR group there is a sort of quantum jump up to the .38 Special/.357 Magnum tribe. Here we have plenty of power ofor our larger small game animals and most varmints, but we pay for it in recoil and muzzle blast if we want any kind of flat trajectory; ammo is bulky and heavy for the hiker or backpacker to tote in quantity, and the vast majority of targetsighted, precision revolvers in these calibers are also on the heavy and bulky side for packing all day on the trail. Moreover, a revolver stoked with .357s is going to be excessively powerful and wastefully destructive when used on squirrel, grouse, etc. Watcutter .38 loads are fine for such critters, but they have a looping trajectory.

What is needed, then, is a reloadable centerfire cartridge that offers considerably more wallop than the .22 LR without being needlessly destructive on small game, coupled with a reasonable trajectory. At the same time, such a cartridge should be noticeably smaller and lighter than the .38/.357 family for easy packing. With such a cartridge, we need a light, compact, yet accurate revolver to serve as a handy companion for the trail.

At one time--in the pre-World War II era--guns of this type were readily available and enjoyed widespread popularity among woods-wise old-timers. Both Colt and Smith & Wesson offered small and medium-frame target-sighted revolvers in calibers like .32 S&W Long and .32-20 that made ideal trail guns. After the war, such guns fell out of vogue and vanished from the scene. I suspect that the increasing urbanization of America had a lot to do with this. Buyers of centerfire handguns preferred to be influenced by romantic fantasies of warding off enraged grizzlies or ravening wolfpacks with their trusty magnums, rather than choose a realistic outdoorsman's handgun.

Now there is a new sixgun on the market that meets our list of criteria for a trail gun to perfection. This is the latest product of Bill Ruger's inventive and marketing genius and is designated the Ruger New Model Single Six SSM. Essentially, this is the familiar New Model Single Six, Ruger's small-frame rimfire single action, slightly re-engineered to take a centerfire cartridge and chambered for the new .32 H&R Magnum cartridge. This is an attractive little revolver (one could almost call it "cute") weighing only 32 ounces. Available barrel lengths are 4-5/8, 5-1/2, 6-1/2 and 9-1/2 inches. Our evaluation sample had a 5-1/2-inch barrel, which is an excellent compromise for a hunting/packing gun.

At this point a few words are in order about the .32 H&R Magnum cartridge, which was announced by Federal and Harrington & Richardson at the very end of 1983. This new cartridge is basically a lengthened version of the old .32 S&W Long that has been loaded to much higher pressures (about 20,00 c.u.p.). Thus .32 S&W Longs and the even older and shorter .32 S&W will chamber in a .32 H&R Magnum, but not vice-versa. (Although not mentioned in Ruger's literature, this revolver will also chamber and presumably fire the semi-rimmed .32 ACP cartridges as well.) The .32 H&R Magnum was introduced with a 90-grain lead semi-wadcutter bullet travelling at an advertised 1,030 fps from a 4-5/8-inch barrel for a muzzle energy of 230 foot-pounds. We, and most other investigators, found actual instrumental chronographed velocities to be somewhat lower--about 960 fps out of a 4-inch barrel. Shortly after the original load, Federal introduced a second load consisting of an 85-grain jacketed hollow point exiting the muzzle at 1,100 fps for 225 foot-pounds of energy. Cartridge weight is only about 59 percent that of a 158-grain .357 Magnum. It outclasses the .22s, yet shouldn't be overly destructive on small game. Blast is mild and recoil is scarcely more noticeable than a .22's with either loading.

When the .32 H&R Magnum first appeared, I had great hopes for it as the ideal trail gun cartridge. However, when I first tried it in other revolvers, I was somewhat disappointed by the accuracy displayed by both factory loads and the handloads I had assembled, and so I have been reserving judgement on the new round. As we shall see, the performance of this cartridge in the Ruger has restored my confidence in it, and again I have high hopes for it as an outdoorsman's caliber.

Unless one looks at the holes in the barrel and cylinder, the new Single-Six SSM closely resembles its well-know rimfire counterpart. Steel parts were nicely polished and blued, except for the sides of the hammer, which were left bright. The aluminum alloy grip frame and ejector rod housing are black anodized. A couple of minor criticisms are in order: The cylinder bolt is scoring drag marks around the cylinder, and the mating of the grip frame to the main frame is less than perfect. However, it is still a handsome, appealing little revolver, and any criticisms of its fitting must be viewed in light of the fact that, at a suggested retail of $205, it is a very reasonably priced revolver, and you get a lot of quality for your money, as indeed you do with all Ruger products.

As most readers know, Ruger single-action revolver lockworks underwent a major redesign in 1973, when a transfer bar safety was incorporated, which permitted the revolvers to be carried safely with all six chambers loaded--unlike traditional single actions, including old model Rugers, which should always be carried with the hammer resting on an empty chamber. Gone are the old-time quarter and half-cock notches; instead, swinging out the loading gate lowers the cylinder bolt and allows the cylinder to be rotated freely for loading and unloading. The new SSM, of course, uses this New Model action. It's a very good system, but shooters long habituated to Colts and old-style Rugers may find it a little disconcerting at first. On a number of occasions, I found myself trying to put the hammer on half-cock to load or unload the gun!

Ruger will, by the way, convert their "old model" single actions to the newer, safer lockwork system free of charge. Contact Sturm, Ruger & Co., Dept. GA, Lacey Place, Southport, CT 06490 for details.

Sights consist of a screwed-on ramp front and a fully adjustable rear sight. As on other Ruger revolvers, the rear sight is recessed into the frame for an extra measure of protection.

The trigger broke at 4-1/2 pounds and displayed a little creep. It was usable out of the box, but less than first-rate for a gun to be used for highly precise work like small game hunting. No doubt a little gunsmithing and/or a Bullseye Spring Kit would produce a top-notch trigger action on this revolver.

No functioning problems as such were encountered. However, some handloads that had chambered without difficulty in other revolvers would not fit all the way into the Ruger. Evidently Ruger is using tight chamber throats, and so handloaders planning on using bullets with large, full-caliber driving bands that extend beyond the case mouths had better check to make sure they do not encounter problems in this department.

As I said earlier, the Ruger dispelled any reservations I had about the accuracy potential of the .32 H&R Magnum. Accuracy with the Federal factory lead bullet was only so-so--2-1/2 to 3 inches at 25 yards, but the Federal 85-grain JHP printed them into 1-3/4 inches at the same range, which is more like it.

This new cartridge looks like it will be a fascinating one to handload, and it's still pretty much a virgin field for the reloader, and so I packed an assortment of handloads, old and fresh, to Angeles Shooting Ranges to try them out. After my initial disappointments with this cartridge, I had formulated a theory that a long, extra-heavy bullet might give best accuracy in this caliber because its greater inertia would permit more uniform powder combustion in this long, narrow case, and I tried the Saeco #322 cast bullet for the .32-20 in several loads; these bullets ran about 120 grains from the batch of allow I used. Sure enough, with 3.2 grains of W-231 these bullets gave top accuracy, with groups averaging 1.4 inches at 25 yards.

My theory about the long heavy bullets' being the key to accuracy was, however, rudely dashed when a light bullet handload left over from some previous experiments also printed 1.4-inch groups. This consisted of the little Lyman #313492 wadcutter (cast weight about 85 grains) ahead of 3.5 grains of W-231 powder. So much for my pretentions to being a handloading guru! Obviously, though, the .32 H&R Magnum has plenty of accuracy potential.

In conclusion, it looks as if Ruger has done a great job of filling the long-standing need for a good centerfire trail gun. This endearing little single action seems to be just begging for a chance to go with you to the woods, deserts or mountains. It's certainly a gun I'd be pleased to have riding on my hip when I'm on the trail.
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Author:Libourel, Jan
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Jun 1, 1985
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