The Ruger Mark II 22/45
An area at the Silver Island Mountains near Wendover, Utah is a place where local hunters occasionally do their thing. They are mainly after pronghorn antelope, and I’m told the odd mountain lion can be found on Pilot Peak. Naturally, fees must be paid and hunting tags have limited availability. Personally, I’ve never really related to hunting as a sport, but have admired the hardware since it’s precision-made, makes a loud bang, and launches a small pellet out its barrel at high speeds. (I’m currently near Columbus, Ohio but I’m writing about this spot about Utah. And lest you assume that this post is entirely for guys only, I suggest you go past the second photo.)
This desolate area also makes a safe spot for target practice, and I’ve had the opportunity to fire three different pistols, the first of which was a Ruger Mark II 22/45 semi-automatic from about 1992. There were several Mark II variants back then, most of which looked vaguely like a WWII Luger. The 22/45 more resembles their current Target model, with a thick and heavy barrel to limit recoil. For the uninitiated, recoil is the amount of rearward kick caused by the push of the chemical explosion against the closed (rear) end of the gun barrel. This pressure is equal front and back, but something has to give, and that’s hopefully the bullet. Once it starts accelerating down the barrel, inertial forces take over. At one end of the barrel, you’ve got a closed end and the weight of the gun itself resisting that pressure. At the opposite end, the same pressure is moving what amounts to a very lightweight pellet. So because of its much lighter weight, it gets up to very high speed very quickly, while the much heavier gun itself moves back only a little. It’s the action-reaction thing. Recoil gets worse whenever you increase the bullet weight, use more powder to increase the force of the explosion, or make the gun lighter. You can’t get less recoil than the .22-caliber Ruger 22/45 has without descending into .22 air gun territory. Even then, it’s not much of a decrease.
The 22/45’s grip design is unique in that it closely mimics a classic M1911 Colt .45, a sidearm quickly adopted by the U.S. Army in 1911, and used continuously as the standard issue until about 1985. It still has many, many devotees today. The reason for the existence of the 22/45 model of Ruger pistol is to more economically allow general practice for the M1911 owner, since the grip feel is intentionally similar, and I suspect that the general weight and balance are in the ballpark as well. Recoil is of course radically less, but you can’t have everything. The Ruger is far less expensive, but the main draw is the cost of ammunition. Put in terms that nearly anyone can relate to, replacement printer cartridges are to inkjet printers as ammunition is to firearms. You can buy an inkjet printer for $50, but the fresh factory cartridges for it will tend to range from $20-$35 each. Ow. So, instead of paying perhaps forty-eight or fifty cents each time you pull the trigger of a .45, you lose six or eight cents for doing the same on the Ruger, since it uses the most-used ammo in the world, the ubiquitous .22 Long Rifle cartridge. Considering the cost of large-bore ammo and the quantities needed for consistent practice, the cost of the Ruger 22/45 and its cartridges becomes chickenfeed, in the great scheme of things.
Then there is the considerable wear and tear put on a pistol from consistent practice. That kind of wear is best dumped onto the least expensive firearm available, as long as the basic handling is comparable. In this case, the M1911 has an MSRP of about $1,000 to start, versus the Ruger at $400. Each session of competent practice can involve a hundred rounds at the least, so overall costs can add up quickly.
Why practice a lot? Safety, of course. The whole point of a firearm is to serve as an available tool or weapon, be it against chicken-stealing or calf-killing critters, or home-invading meth-heads. Like decent kitchen knives, sidearms need to be treated with the same respect in handling them, because with careless handling they are potentially as dangerous to the user and any bystanders as they are to the intended target. This is one reason why some people are squeamish about guns in general. They are potentially dangerous, most especially when in the wrong hands, which is why a plethora of laws were long ago enacted about every aspect of safe storage, usage, and ownership qualifications.
Many people wish that firearms themselves were outlawed Prohibition-style, but this tends to be because they cannot imagine any circumstances outside their own relatively safe and comfortable suburban setup, and cannot accept that such laws affect only law-abiding citizens, not criminals, who are not such. Many people assume that firearms are strictly a silly guy/gun-nut thing, and fail to realize that criminals seek out the easy targets: women, the elderly, and those poor living in high-crime neighborhoods. Women who have not suffered violence sometimes fail to accept that such things as home invasions or parking lot assaults are seldom about just-grab-the-TV-and-run, or that law enforcement is not just moments away, waiting in the weeds to help. Violent criminals are not nice people, and go for those they perceive as defenseless to do whatever they like to them. As a result, many women (23% of all firearm owners as of 2011) prefer to not be defenseless rather than heed the well-meaning advice of those who advise them to accept that they are at a physical disadvantage and should limit themselves to passive resistance during violent attacks. In other words, just put up with it, wait for it to be over, and simply hope that the plan doesn’t include murder. These people (often women) have publicly argued that women are too weak and incompetent to hold and fire a one-pound pistol, so they have proposed blowing a whistle to get attention as a “safer” alternative. Safer for whom? I’m probably somewhere into the chauvinist pig end of the scale, but I find this advice to be pretty sexist and pro-victimization. I feel that any woman should have the right to use any means necessary to negate the physical odds and defend herself against violent attack as a whole person, not a subjugate. The goal is not to kill the attacker, but to stop the attack, which the production of a firearm to view often does on its own. I’m surprised that no one on college campuses, where one in five collegiate women are raped, are raising a stink about removing that choice from law-abiding women by campus policy and/or state law. Apparently, I’m in the minority view on this. Criminals love specified gun-free zones, so-called safe zones, and for good reason.
But, all that is worth three posts alone, so rather than get into the politics and rather surprising statistical effects of gun control on crime in this post, I’ll dwell more on the mechanical reality of the device. This is largely because my interest in sidearms, besides being technical, is in providing myself with a last-ditch option in the event of an encounter with an unfriendly critter out in the boonies. To be sure, it’s usually safe out there, but not always. They most often avoid humans, but not always. Your welfare is up to you, not the Park Service and not the police in the closest town. You never know what you may stumble upon as the odd event, and I don’t relish the thought of facing an unhappy surprise situation with zero options. I thought it notable when outside Parker AZ, I observed an electrical utility worker dutifully marching out from his truck toward a distant pole, toolbox in hand. His protective gear consisted of hard hat, tool belt, gloves, and a mid-sized revolver on that belt. Experience is often a good teacher. I expect that I will probably never have to actually deploy a repellent spray or fire any sidearm, but that’s not the same as assuming that I’ll never have any need to bother carrying one out there with me. I have found otherwise. Were I a solo female boondocker, I’d consider an ability to pack some defense against predatory threats a little more broadly. Locals on tour are the issue, and not all of them are exemplary citizens. Nobody’s going to hear a whistle out there.
But, apart from standing in front of criminals holding guns, the second most dangerous place to be is near someone who only sporadically shoots merely because of the emotional machismo of firearms, instead of carrying out diligent practice in their proper handling as a tool. Unlike people, where “familiarity breeds contempt”, the familiarity of deliberate repetition in handling, loading and firing breeds safe practices that greatly reduce the risk of error in handling such firearms. Sounds contradictory, but they become safe only when they are constantly treated as being unsafe, and training, required for concealed carry licenses in most states, is a good way to begin the process and drive this concept home. Many types of hands-on classes are available regardless of carry type.
The goal of practice is to acquire a level of competency with the firearm such that its bullet will reach its intended target and nothing else, and with little risk of harm to the shooter or anyone else for a mile around, each time the firearm is picked up or carried. It is consistent practice in handling and firing that builds in and maintains a safe routine that swings risk well away from the user and any bystanders. For example, police officers are required to head for the shooting range at frequent intervals in order to maintain such a practiced familiarity with their weapon that they will be able focus all of their thoughts on engineering their way through a high-risk situation, rather than have to be distracted by the mechanics of how their firearm is to be safely handled, accurately aimed, and fired under extreme pressure.
Apart from all that, the Ruger 22/45 reloads itself after every pull of the trigger, ready for the next shot. This is the common trait of all semi-automatic pistols and double-action revolvers, as well as some rifles and shotguns. They, along with single-shot variants, are the only types of firearms legally available to the public. Fully-automatic and “selective fire” (3-shot) weapons like the military’s M16 rifle are not, except for the few collectors wealthy and patient enough to satisfy the ATF’s stringent and expensive paper trail. The much-publicized AR-15 rifle, hyped in the media as a “military-grade” or “assault” rifle, is just another semi-auto rifle styled to look like the M16. That would normally be irrelevant to this post, except that it uses .223-caliber ammo instead of my Ruger’s .22, albeit with more powder behind it for greater velocity. But, the firing characteristics of the AR-15 are no different than my can-plinker. One pull, one shot, the same as anything else. Think about that next time you read someone wailing that these are machine guns and military slaughter weapons being put into civilian hands. They aren’t. AR-15s are the most popular rifle model sold today because they are effective for home defense use, due to their relatively light weight and maneuverability in close quarters, compared to long and heavy traditional hunting rifles.
The little Ruger is still best treated with the same respect due a more formidable pistol, even though its value as a defensive or varmint control weapon is very limited. As a field or ranch-use gun, such a .22 can be handy against snakes, and is reputed to be able to take down destructive varmints as large as raccoons or opossums. That latter use is really within the realm of .22 rifles however, with their superior aiming and pellet velocity. I’m not a big fan of using 22’s on such larger predators without the ability to follow up promptly, but then, I’m not the one having to defend the umpteenth raid on my chicken house in the middle of the night.
There isn’t much to say about firing the Ruger 22/45, other than that it’s fun to use, has very minimal recoil, and that eye and ear protection is just as necessary with it as with larger bore pistols. Ear protection explains itself over the long run, but eye protection is necessary because using the cheapie ammo I had, this pistol can spit back a little burned powder now and then during spent cartridge ejection. This may have more to do with the particular quality of cartridges used, more than the pistol itself. The Mark II 22/45 is best cleaned after every significant usage because, given the cheap rimfire ammo quality available, ignoring this makes it prone to eventually misfeed or fail to fire, as well as fail to lock its removable cartridge magazine firmly into place. Powder residue tends to gum up the works, so letting it stay there and build up is a bad idea. The current Mark III may be less touchy in this regard – I don’t know. Disassembly for cleaning can be done without tools and is a straightforward process. Reassembly is somewhat difficult, requiring the pistol to be flipped and tipped in order to get some internals into the proper positions before the next part can go into place. Considering the Mark II 22/45’s need for cleanliness, practice with breakdown and reassembly is a close second to familiarity with safe handling. Otherwise, keep the owner’s manual available.
Overall, the Ruger Mark II or updated Mark III models are a fun and inexpensive way to blow part of a day mortally wounding cans or plastic pop bottles. Comfortable to carry and holster, it’s not a small pistol, but has good handling ergonomics. The trigger action is quite light, with a pronounced stop after taking up the small amount of slack. Get too eager to take up the slack right after a shot, and you may get another shot off sooner than you intend to. That doesn’t change the results much when target shooting, but still, some deliberation is called for. The bolt action is very easily gripped and pulled back to chamber the first round. Reliability is good IF you keep the pistol clean. Sighting it accurately is easy, with the weight of that bull-barrel taking out any shakes during aiming. Accuracy is excellent even at 60 feet.
Ruger has done some nomenclature changes since the newer Mark III came out, breaking out the 22/45 to be its own separate model due to the big differences in frame materials and design. Unlike the standard Mark I, II & III models with their stamped steel frames, the Mark II 22/45 (and all base-level 22/45s since) use a polymer frame with molded-in grip panels, so swapping in your custom pink Hello Kitty pistol grip is not a possibility on the lesser variants. Like most semi-automatic pistols, the more decently you treat it, the more enjoyable and trouble-free the 22/45 is and stays. I wouldn’t say it’s cuddly, but when other options are available on the table, this remains the go-to choice when you just want to hear a bang and see a tin can jump.