Gun Review: Ruger 22/45 Lite

The Ruger 22/45 Lite for this review was provided by The Kentucky Gun Company

Fashion-forward gunnies who simply adored the Ruger 22/45 Lite with its gold lamé upper and chic black lower will be depressed to know that the gold model has been replaced, at least temporarily, by an all black, bling-free, high testosterone, manly model. Well, why not? It’ll go with anything, including pearls. Personally, I liked the golden-toned 22/45 Lite. It didn’t look like every other modern pistol, which was a refreshing change. It didn’t look “scary.” While hard men may abjure even a touch of flash, I thought that nontraditional shooters might be tempted into the fold by a brightly-decorated pistol in a nontraditional color . . .

By nontraditional gun owners, I mean women and young shooters who might wish to dip their ballistic toe into the shooting sports by procuring an easy-to-manage, easy-to-feed pistol. The golden gun seemed right for them and right for the times, but I guess it wasn’t. It was actually a throwback.

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The original golden gun was wielded by noted assassin, marksman and total fruitloops psychopath named Francisco Scaramanga, James Bond’s nemesis in “The Man with the Golden Gun.” Scaramanga’s single-shot 23k gold pistol was chambered in 4.2 mm – smaller than .17 caliber — making it the perfect mouse gun. Not for shooting at mice. For shooting by mice.

The modern Ruger 22/45 Lite isn’t made of gold, but in every other way it’s a winner. The Lite is chambered for a more realistic .22 LR. Its magazine holds ten to Scaramanga’s one. The barrel is threaded for a suppressor and the upper is drilled and tapped for the shooter’s choice of optics. These are huge improvements over the original golden popgun. To say nothing of the fact that the original was featured in the worst Bond movie of all time, bar none.

Born in the USA – in Bill Ruger’s Garage

The 22/45 Lite traces its lineage not to Francisco Scaramanga but to Japanese designer Kijirō Nambu, known far and wide as the John Moses Browning of Japan, and to noted American gun designer and inventor, Bill Ruger.

For reasons unknown to anyone but his family, friends and financial backers, Ruger fell in love with a GI bringback Type B “Baby” Nambu pistol. I guess he was fascinated with its bolt action, because his admiration could not possibly have been based on the appearance of the thing. The Nambu, with its protruding cocking piece and tapered barrel, looks more like an auto mechanic’s grease gun than a pistol. Maybe that’s why Ruger worked in his garage – for inspiration.

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The bolt action of the Nambu yields one immediate advantage over a traditional slide arrangement. The sights never move, so target reacquisition is no issue. While the pistol does have a little hop, it works like an old hound dog. Once pointed in the right direction, it will stay pointed in the right direction.

Regardless of the wellspring of his fancy, Ruger attempted to clone the Nambu action, and went to work getting financial backing from Alexander Sturm to market his creation. As history shows, Ruger succeeded at both.

The young Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc., made its ballistic bones in 1949 when it launched the Ruger Standard, a .22 target and plinker pistol derived from the bolt-action Nambu but styled to resemble the silhouette of the Pistole Parabellum 1908 – the famous German “Luger.” There was competition aplenty in the .22 target field from the likes of Colt, High Standard and other manufacturers of fine pistols, but the Ruger Standard became a major hit, and ultimately the most popular .22 target pistol ever made.

Since the introduction of the original Standard, Ruger’s designers and engineers continued to improve upon and expand its Nambu-ish line with the famous Marks I through III, with variations aplenty. The 22/45 pistol line, which was a more recent creation, owes much to the Marks, but the styling represents an important change in philosophy.

The original Ruger Standard was about as homely as its Japanese ancestor.  Later Marks were nicer looking but still smacked of the original Standard design. Although the 22/45 utilizes the same Nambu-type cylindrical bolt as its Mark cousins – look Ma, no slide — it looks to the M1911, not the Luger, for its stylistic inspiration. Completing the circle of life, the M1911 was designed by John Moses Browning, known far and wide as the Kijirō Nambu of America.

The thinking behind the style modification is clear. Today’s Mark III Standard is clearly the round-eyed stepchild of the original Nambu, right down to its almost-circular trigger guard and tapered barrel. The Mark is the Madonna of pistols — a former style icon in dire need of a major facelift. In a market soon to be driven by new shooters, the old Marks needed a dash of newness to maintain their edge in a competitive marketplace.

Second, utilizing 1911-ish geometry allows shooters of Browning-san’s .45 to transition naturally to a plinker that points similarly to the M1911 but cost a lot less to shoot.  The 22/45 line also incorporates polymer into its lower frame construction. Using polymer knocks off a few ounces of unnecessary weight. The Lite model does even better, reducing the basic 22/45’s weight from 32 ounces to a feathery 23 ounces empty and not much more than that loaded.

Checking Out the Black Lite

Hefting the Lite in its box, it was clear that this was no 40 oz. anchor of a target pistol. Even in its cardboard container with its included lock, scope base and two mags, it felt like a mere wisp.

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Unboxing the Lite, I got wood. Grip panels, that is. Anyway, I think they’re wood. They’re some kind of laminate, handsome, nicely checkered and adorned with diamonds and Ruger’s heraldic phoenix. I noticed other classy touches, like the fluted barrel, the unobtrusive but clearly visible loaded chamber indicator and the knurled barrel cap covering the threads. Unlike the Nambu or the old Standard, the 22/45 Lite has near-perfect lines and proportions.

So it’s pretty. Which means exactly squat if it doesn’t shoot well. So I shot it.

I had four kinds of test ammo – CCI Standard Velocity, AR Tactical copper-plated round nose also made by CCI, a brick o’ Blazers and some Remington Thunderbolts. I had enough of each to give the pistol a good workout, but unfortunately, all were 40 gr. I laughed when I noticed the original $19.95 price sticker on a box of 525 Blazers, and recalled that I bought the box on sale for $16.95. Those were the days, my friends. Last October.

I didn’t attempt to shoot the Lite with a suppressor because they’re illegal in the Commonwealth. For a variety of reasons, I prefer not to spend the next five years in a Level Six Massachusetts correctional facility. Can you imagine — Massachusetts is so backward that the prisons don’t even have basic cable! Besides, the only guns in prison are Hi-Points, although I hear that there’s no ammo shortage in the joint.

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I sighted in with the Blazers and immediately fell in deep hate with the Lite’s sights. The adjustable rear was fine and properly zeroed, but the front was hard to see. The sloped rear of the blade, the part facing me, was catching the light and reflecting it back in my direction, turning the black front blade an almost invisible gray. I could not duplicate this effect in direct or indirect sunlight, where the sights worked just fine, but I could replicate the problem with directional indoor lighting.

While the front sight was obscured, I could still intuit where the blade was supposed to be. So, I went at it from a measly 21 feet. Firing offhand, I was missing everything. Everything! It was the damn front sight. Again.

Much to my dismay, Ruger’s Vice President in Charge of Tightening Front Sights had forgotten to torque the single screw holding the sight in position, allowing the blade to slowly and imperceptibly wander with each shot. I didn’t notice that the pistol had a screw loose until a shot spun the sight completely sideways, turning the Lite into a half-assed made-in-the-USA Cornershot.

A screwdriver fixed the problem in seconds, so I went back to work, actually hitting paper. Despite my inability to see the front sight, I began to enjoy better and better accuracy. The five targets below are illustrative. The lower right target suffered five clean misses before the sight screw was tightened down. The next five, fired slowly and deliberately, were better. Shooting target #4, I was able to step up the pace as shooting the pistol became more instinctive. The last three targets were shot in descending numerical order. You can see the groups shrinking as I got better and the gun became broken-in.

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The Lite lives up to its name – even when fully-loaded, it’s light, so it responds well to a one-handed presentation. Even without blading-up, the pistol proved to be a natural pointer and, with so little recoil, follow-up shots were easy. Here are five rapid fire targets, two from the weak side, two from the strong and the center target from a Weaver. Since I was basically point shooting, I think the results are good.

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Outdoors in the frigid cold on a windy day, I was able to hit steel at 25 yards, tapping out a staccato tink, tink, tink with no problems. While it’s by no means an Olympic-class target pistol, the 22/45 Lite shoots straight.

Here’s a viddy of TTAG commentator Greg from Allston shooting the 22/45 Lite one-handed. Notice that there’s no recoil and little muzzle rise.

I fed the Lite about 700 rounds of my delicious ammo assortment. I shot more than the 500 that TTAG protocol requires simply because I was having a good time launching lead that cost pennies instead of dollars. Sometimes I loaded a magazine with a single flavor and sometimes I mixed and matched ammo like crazy. Sinatra-like, the pistol ate ‘em up and spit ‘em out. There were no failures of any kind, not even a misfire. What else is there to say about this pistol?

Likes and Dislikes

What didn’t I like about the Ruger 22/45 Lite was the front sight, which might have benefitted from a teeny dab of Loctite and a wee bit of texturizing to cut down on the reflection. Cocking the 22/45 requires very little force, but I disliked the small bolt ears that made the process as touchy as picking up a grain of rice with chopsticks. The cocking ears simply need a bit more flare to be handy or usable with gloves.

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The trigger is not bad at all, but if it was pound lighter it would be sublime.

Most of all, I disliked needing a degree from MIT to reassemble this pistol. It field strips in two minutes, but when it’s time to put it back together it turns into a Rubik’s Cube and the reassembly instructions read like the WW2 Japanese Naval Code. I’m sure that reassembly gets easier with time, but you’d better have plenty of it.

My “likes” more than balance out my dislikes. Way more. The Ruger 22/45 Lite is a good looking  straight shooter, flawlessly reliable, just plain fun and cheap to feed. As Rick Springfield once plaintively sang, “why can’t I find a woman like that?”

Conclusion

There are other sweet .22 plinkers out there, and the 22/45 Lite is more than competitive with all of them. The Lite can be suppressed where legal, fitted with optics, or tossed into a backpack just the way it is. It’s an all-around trail gun, plinker, trainer, sport shooter and reaper of small game and little pests. The Ruger 22/45 Lite would also do in a pinch as a viable self defense firearm for shooters who cannot manage the recoil of a more powerful handgun. Most of all, it’s just a gas. 

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: Roger 22/45 Lite
Caliber: .22 LR
Magazine capacity:  10 rounds
Materials: Zytel polymer grip frame, aluminum upper, laminate grip panels
Weight empty: 23 ounces
Barrel Length: 4.4″
Overall length: 8.5″
Sights: Fixed front, adjustable rear
Action: Semi-automatic, cylindrical bolt
Finish: Black anodyzed
Price: $499 MSRP

RATINGS (out of five stars):

Style * * * * *
With its sleek lines, faux bull-barrel and 1911-derived handle, the Ruger 22/45 Lite is a fine looking piece. The proportions are just right, the fluting adds a bit of visual appeal, and the laminate grip panels are nicely checkered and colored. Unlike some Ruger guns, the 22/45 Lite doesn’t look like a billboard stamped with a dozen warnings. The very visible Loaded Chamber Indicator blends into the lines of the pistol unobtrusively and the barrel stamp doesn’t nag you to read the manual.

Ergonomics (carry) * * * *
It’s a featherweight, and everyone who shot it commented on its unbearable lightness of being. It’s not a hideout gun, but with the proper holster it’s comfortable and easy to carry because it’s not too wide and not too heavy even when loaded.

Ergonomics (firing) * * * *
Grab a handful of stock and the pistol will practically point itself. The trigger is fine, if a touch heavy. It would benefit from a longer break-in or a gunsmith’s deft touch.

Reliability * * * * *
Flawless. It performed without a single hiccup.

Customize This * * *
Grip panels, sights and lasers are available, but the choices are somewhat limited.

OVERALL RATING * * * * 1/2
Bring the wife! Bring the kids! Bring the dog! Bring Grandma! The Ruger 22/45 Lite is an all-around pistol that’s fun for the whole family.