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By David P.

I’m convinced that the Ruger Model 96/22 was conceived roughly this way:

Ruger Executive: “Gentlemen, the 10/22 continues to be a massive cash cow. But how can we make more money?”

Marketing Guy: “We could, uh, make a lever-action version of it?”

Ruger Executive: “Brilliant! Get to work on it! I want it on my desk next week!”

That was back in 1996, and Sturm Ruger cranked out Model 96/22 rifles in .22LR before production ended in 2009 . . .

Versions were also available in .17 HMR, .22 magnum, and .44 magnum. Why would you be interested in a less-than-popular rifle that isn’t being produced anymore? Because it’s accurate, it’s fun to shoot, and it’s unique. Go to your local range and slap a 25 or 50-round magazine into a levergun and see if doesn’t raise a few eyebrows.

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Yes the 96/22 accepts all 10/22 magazines, but be careful when accessorizing beyond that. Want to add an extended magazine release? Sorry, the mechanism is different. Want to slap on a 10/22 scope mount? Nope, the holes are drilled just slightly closer together. How about a 10/22 stock or barrel? Better get out your Dremel, because the folks at Ruger changed those just enough too!

The fit and finish are roughly the same as the Ruger 10/22 – good, but not gorgeous. This isn’t a beautiful (gaudy?) gun like a Henry Golden Boy might be. The wood stock feels well-made and comfortable but mine wasn’t flush with the butt plate or the rear of the receiver. Some marks remain inside the receiver from the manufacturing process, but that’s forgivable.

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The short-throw action is comfortable, fast, and smooth enough. It’s quite easy to keep the rifle shouldered and on-target while cycling the action. You’ll be able to spit out rounds faster than a bolt action rifle, but won’t enjoy any “spray and pray” fun like the 10/22 can offer.

The trigger pull is heavy. Heavy enough that you can make “your trigger’s so heavy” jokes out of “your momma’s so fat” jokes. I don’t own a fancy scale meant for this purpose, but I attached a loop of string to a fishing scale and the trigger repeatedly came in at just over 7 pounds. (Before the riots start, please know that I had removed the action and caught the falling hammer with my hand, I was not dry-firing it.)

This seems like overkill for a rifle meant for the target range and popping rabbits in the woods, and Google tells me it’s double the weight of the Henry Golden Boy trigger. A gallon of milk weighs 8 pounds – doesn’t it seem a bit crazy that you could dangle a nearly-full gallon of milk from this trigger and not have it break?

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The Ruger 96/22 has a small brass cocking indicator on the rear of the receiver. It’s not a loaded chamber indicator, and I don’t find it very useful. Actually, it’s less than not useful – it actually gets in the way when re-assembling the gun after cleaning. If the bar that lifts the brass indicator happens to flop out of place during re-assembly, as shown in the picture below, the indicator won’t function and the action will feel rough. If ignored, like I did for a few hundred rounds, the bar will gouge the action near the hammer. Yes, I’m a goon.

indicator_lever

While we’re on the topic of disassembly, the 96/22 breaks down nearly identically to a 10/22 and is easy enough to clean. Two screws and two pins, and you’re ready to start cleaning out the gunk. Giddyup.

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Let’s move on to the strong points of this rifle – reliability and accuracy. The rifle has never failed to eject a spent case, unlike the 10/22s I’ve shot. The 96/22 has as second extractor, so don’t try to attach a 10/22 barrel. The fouling that comes from shooting cheap bulk 22 ammo will jam your magazines, not this gun. As long as you keep slapping magazines into it, it will keep emptying and ejecting them.

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The rifle is very accurate, although I can only wonder how much better it would be with a lighter trigger! The adjustable iron sights are nearly the same as the 10/22 sights, which means I don’t like them and slapped a scope on instead. On a lead sled with Remington Thunderbolt ammo, it spits 1” groups at 50 yards. The accuracy of this rifle, combined with 10/22 magazine compatibility, make it a winner in my book.

Is this gun worth buying? For some people, yes it certainly is. If the quirks and shortcomings don’t bother you, if you love the 10/22 ergonomics and maybe own a few magazines, and if you’re looking for an accurate and reliable lever-action .22, this is it! If you’re looking for a classy or flashy piece of western nostalgia, check out a Henry or Winchester instead.

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SPECIFICATIONS:

Weight: 5.25 lbs.
Length: 37.25 in.
Barrel length: 18.5 in.
Cartridge: .22 LR, .17 HMR, .22 Magnum, .44 Magnum
Action: Short-throw lever
Feed system: Rotary magazines: 10 rds (.22LR), 9 rds (.17 HRM & .22 Mag), 4 rds (.44 Mag); Box magazines: 25 rds (.22 LR)
Sights: Gold bead front, folding leaf rearRATINGS (out of five stars):

Appearance: * * *
The 96/22 isn’t an ugly rifle, but it can’t hold a candle to a Henry or Winchester. Some elements are well made, others feel rushed.

Ergonomics: * * *
This rifle is a pleasure to shoot, save for the heavy trigger. The lack of an extended magazine release is less of an annoyance when using high capacity mags that protrude.

Reliability: * * * * *
I would put this gun on par with a bolt-action for reliability. It feeds and ejects better than a 10/22, doesn’t care what kind of junky ammo I give it, and isn’t bothered by the gunk created by shooting a brick of dirty .22 ammo.

Customization: * *
Uh, you could put stickers on it? 10/22 magazine compatibility is fantastic, and you can find some parts/kits online, but nothing like you’ll find with the 10/22. Some folks have attached a threaded Ruger 77/22 barrel to get a suppressor on it, but you need a special adapter kit for that, too.

Overall: * * *
When I want to be accurate at the range or in the woods, this is the gun I grab. When it comes time to teach my daughter to shoot, this will likely be the first gun she fires (if she can pull the trigger). However, if I had to sell mine and was in the market for a replacement, I would consider getting a different rifle. When you weigh the strengths and quirks of this gun against its tube-fed competitors, it ultimately comes down to personal taste.

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46 Responses to P320 Entry: Gun Review: Ruger 96/22

  1. I’ve got a bunch of 22WMR I want to shoot but have no rifle after selling my Izhmash Biathon Basic. I ran to GB and see 99/22’s going for $750. *Smacks Head* – so much for inexpensive plinker (should have kept the BB)

    • Unless you desperately need the money, never sell a firearm. (except if broken, unreliable, not fun to shoot, etc.)

      • However it does get crazy if you follow this philosophy to a -T-

        There is no reason why I need 41 shotguns. Haven’t shot any of them in 5+ years.
        However…there they are. Sitting there waiting till I die and they are sold off for pennies for a dollar at my estate sale one day.

        • Hmmm sounds like they could use a loving home. Send them down to Texas and I’ll take good care of them, a steady diet of shot with a nice Hoppes bath afterwards.

        • If you buy high quality or collectable shotguns (eg, Parker, Fox, Winchester 21’s, 24’s, old Winchester 12’s, Lefever, LC Smiths, etc), there’s plenty of reason to own 41 shotguns. There’s even more reason to own 100 shotguns.

          They’re like owning good land. They’re not making any more, and the price for them keeps going up.

      • On a Facebook gun trading forum I just saw one of those pretty little Rugers. Dealer wants $329 plus tax for it. Hadn’t known about the special edition before I saw the post. How limited are they making them?

  2. Seems like an interesting rifle, though they did screw it up by not making most of the parts compatible with the 10/22.

    • It probably wasn’t possible to make it compatible with the 10/22 for anything other than the magazine due to the geometry differences in the two actions.

      Last I looked, I think that the magazine, a cross-pin in the receiver and maybe the screws on the barrel retention block are the same from the 10/22. Everything else is different, or at least looks different to me… I’ve not had a 10/22 and a 96/22 on the bench at the same time.

      • You could at least have the scope mounts and barrels interchangeable.

        Maybe write a comparison between the two?

  3. I scored a 96/22 mag last Friday for $500.00 With a BSA Catseye 4x12x50 scope. There is a little rust and the lens coating has these little spots, but is still clear. I’m happy with it. Threw in 200 rdns of ammo too.

  4. It’s amazing to me why folks would pay so much for this gun, rather than buying a Henry. Just what everybody needs, a seven pound trigger pull, and really sloppy wood to metal fit. It looks like Ruger accidently poured some metal shrinking solution into their bluing solution.

    • To be fair that detachable mag has to be pretty appealing compared to the front-loading tube mags most .22 lever rifles have. It’s about the one quibble I have with my two Henrys and what mostly relegates them to plinking duty, they’re a pain to reload in the field.

      • Yes, this is true.

        There’s a number of people who have, in their haste or because something went wrong in the field, have bent the inner tube in a tube magazine as they were trying to reload in a hurry. They usually have to buy a new one.

    • Not sure what you mean, except that there are different capacity mags available, and that they are easier to to change than loading a tube.
      I can’t see how this would be crucial! In a weapon designed and used for self defense, yes! My Henry holds 15+ rounds and if I carry pre-loaded tubes of 22 long rifles, I can reload in a few seconds, but I just don’t see the need.

  5. My first reaction was “Holy crap, this exists! Must…have.”

    But if it goes in the $700 range on the used market…yikes. As much as I love lever-action rifles, and as cool as it would be to have one of these, I can’t spend that much on a .22 caliber platypus. On my limited budget, I have to be practical. I already have a pretty (and practical) little Henry .22, plus the Marlin Model 60 I reviewed. And there’s still a gaping hole in my arsenal where a shotgun should be.

    Sigh. So many nifty guns, so little money…

  6. I remember back in the day when two regular posters on this board were giving me crap for saying the CZ 455 Varmint didn’t really shoot all that well. (Specifically, I said that I bet most 10/22s would shoot bulk ammo as well as the CZ did.) Gee, in that whole five days since the CZ review was posted we’ve had two tests of cheap (at least when purchased new) .22s that shoot bulk ammo as well or better than the CZ.

    • The only way I’ve ever been able to quantify one .22 rifle’s accuracy vs. another’s accuracy is:

      a) off a rest (which is done here, off a lead sled, bravo to the author for taking the first big variable out of the equation, the human). The CZ review didn’t specify a rest, and from the bipod on the CZ rifle, I’m assuming it was shot off the bipod, I’m guessing with no rear bag or support.

      Bipods are a poor substitute for a real rifle rest, or even good sandbags. Bipods wiggle and waggle around under the rifle.

      b) use several different makes and types of ammo. Saying “We used XYZ match” ammo isn’t sufficient. I’ve seen BSA MkIII’s, Annies, Wathers, and high-dollar custom bolt .22 rigs made for .22 benchrest and the like get picky about which Eley, Lapua, RWS, etc ammo they’re shooting. The same rifle that might shoot a 3/8ths group with one brand/load of high-dollar match ammo might open up to 1.0+ with another type/name of high-dollar match ammo by the same high-falutin’ manufacture.

      In testing many different makes/types of ammo, I invariably find one make/type that a rifle will like and it will reward you with a tighter group. Feed that ammo to another rifle, and you’ll find out that it doesn’t perform as well (and sometimes not even remotely as well).

      There’s an entire book written on nothing but testing .22LR ammo. It might not show you what will work well in your .22’s, but it will show you the range of variation possible with some high-dollar .22 ammo in high-dollar rifle. “A Rifleman’s Guide to Rimfire Ammunition” is the title, and I have it on my bookshelf.

      c) shoot 5-round groups. It is statistically possible to shoot a very tight 3-round group frequently enough in 100 rounds with a gun that can’t hold much better than 1.25+” 5-round groups the vast majority of the time that you can either cherry pick the 3-round group you like, or you get lucky early on in a shooting session and just think “hey, this shoots pretty well,” yet the rifle will show wider dispersion as the barrel heats up.

      All I see above there are three rounds. Leghorn shot a five-round group, and called his fly. I’d prefer if he had said “OK, I bungled that group, I’ll get a real rest, rear bag, come back tomorrow to shoot another group tomorrow after I’ve switched to decaf…”

      This is my biggest beef with TTAG. There isn’t a standard protocol for testing the accuracy of guns – ANY guns here. Rifles are tested with and without using a rest. Handguns groups are reported without using a Ransom rest. Ranges vary all over the place. Some rifles are tested with ball ammo, others with match ammo. I’ve yet to see any pistols or revolvers tested with match ammo here, or even using the same load by the same manufacture. There are no chrony measurements taken or results published to show differences in muzzle velocity of ammo out of one rifle vs. another. There are differences – you can see them with a chrony. You can see that some rifles ignite ammo in a very uniform manner, and others don’t.

      Shotguns: There’s no use of a patterning board for shotguns, bore gaging, choke measurements, etc.

      Without standards, everything here is a comparison of apples to peaches to kumquats to cherimoyas. You’re trying to compare a rifle fired off a front & rear rest (the Lead Sled) to a rifle (presumably) fired off a bipod without a rear bag, with two different makes/types of ammo, with one three round and one five-round group. This, rather than being an “apples to oranges” comparison, is actually a fruitless exercise.

      • DG, you are spot on. At the very least, TTAG ought to develop a test protocol for rifles. It doesn’t take that much effort.

  7. I thought that this gun was created to comply to hunting laws in certain states. You can’t hunt with a semi auto in some of them and if you like your 10/22 – here is something very close that you can take squirrel hunting with you.

    Can’t remember which states, but they are all rust belt ones

    • It could be. PA was one such state, last I knew.

      It could also be that Bill Ruger wanted to put out something derived off other gun designs. Bill Ruger was a very interesting firearms designer. He wasn’t constricted by prior designs, but where something worked and worked well, he wasn’t afraid to lift those ideas out of prior guns and put them into his.

      In this case, it helps to know the full history of the 10/22. The 10/22 was a riff off the Ruger “Deerstalker” .44 RemMag carbine that Ruger put out in 1960. The Ruger .44 Carbine was the first long gun that Ruger shipped, and they shipped it on the heels of shipping their .44 RemMag single action revolvers. In the late 50’s and early 60’s, the .44 Mag was the new hotness, and Ruger rode that all the way to the bank after his early success with the Mark I .22LR pistol.

      After the .44 Deerstalker, the next semi-auto rifle Ruger put out was the 10/22. The Deerstalker had a 4-round tube magazine, but in the 10/22, Ruger wanted to riff off one of his favorite rotary-box magazines, the one in the Savage 99.

      The 96/22 is a natural progression back to where Bill Ruger got the idea for the 10/22 box magazine in the first place, the lever-action Savage 99. From reading of Bill Ruger’s personality, he might have just considered the 96/22 to be unfinished business before he died. It might have been as simple as “Bill wants a rotary-box fed lever gun. Do it before he comes down here and does it himself.”

  8. I like the gun. If I could build a custom one from a Razor receiver, I probably would. Too many differences from the 10/22 and not enough parts available for that to happen though. The only reason I can see to prefer this one over a 10/22 is to use a suppressor and/or super low power ammo, which is not compelling enough to drop $500+. If you just want a .22 lever gun, or even .22 WMR or .17 HMR, there are so many better options.

  9. My dad has the 96/44. Its probably from the first year of production. He bought it off the guy who had been its previous (and possibly first) owner. It came with Reloading equipment and he showed him how to use it. Its got problems cycling (but not shooting), no gunsmith can figure out why so he’s trying a larger cleaning brush to sort it out. Before anyone says send it to Ruger, we’re in England. His other Ruger gun is the rare uk legal 12 inch barrel with the rod sticking out the back Super Redhawk and its the 357 model which makes it even rarer. I’d also like to add, that the 96/22 was and still is popular in Australia as an alternative to the 10/22 (remember the ban hammer there went down on all semi auto long guns, not just centrefires there). Another thing I might add and I was told this by a uk dealer in the know, the 96/44 were put out the door by Ruger’s uk distributer viking arms as a pistol alternative when the pistol ban here was coming. They rather dishonestly stated that 10 round mags might be coming to make up for the lack of capacity. Fast forward some months later to 1998 and all they had to say was they’d had words with Ruger and no 10 rounders were coming. I was a kid at the time and didnt get to see this but I did see last year what the buying spree in the US did to gun accessories supplies outside the US. They became like Hens teeth, the same dealer I mentioned I was there when she got a call from another dealer as he knew she had Ruger BX-25’s. She and her husband had to resort to Brownells to get them. In the end of that, she said he could have them but for retail and not wholesale price due to the shortage.
    Sorry for the rambling, this is my first time commenting on a gun blog. I hope you all liked my tale of desire and some of the worst gun laws in the world.

  10. I have the Winchester 9422 but still want the Ruger 96/22 in .22 Win. Mag as well, just looks like a fun gun to have. Anything that uses a 10/22 mag is a winner in my book. Sort of reminds me of the looks of a Winchester Model 88 lever gun, twin to the M. 100

  11. Three shots is not a group– except in gun rags.

    Five or ten is a group. Three could very well be a fluke, and tells you nothing.

  12. What I’d really love is if someone made a box magazine for the .44 Magnum version.

    What I’d really, really love is if they made this in .357 Mag, and someone made a box magazine for that.

    • The 96/44 does have a rotary box magazine, four round capacity.

      In .38/.357, it would probably have a five or six round capacity.

      • My understanding is that the rotary magazine for 96/44 is the same one as for the bolt-action 77/44 and the semi-auto 99/44. So the hypothetical 96/357 would use the same magazine as 77/357, which would put it at five rounds.

        But I was rather referring to non-rotary “stick” magazines. They could even be double-stacked if you put an internal divider to avoid rimlock (like Kel-Tec did with PMR magazines, letting them shove those 30 rounds in there). I’d be okay with a single-stacked 10 round one though.

        Such a magazine would be even more fun in a 99/44 though, and even more so in a hypothetical 99/357. That would actually make for an interesting alternative to M1 Carbine.

  13. I bought a Ruger American Rim fire bolt action .22 when it first came out, Went to a range and slapped in a BX25 Mag in it and it got some double takes.

  14. Honestly never saw one of these. Can’t say I’m impressed, either. Want a lever .22lr? Henry turns them out 6 days a week and I think they up production on Wednesdays, because it sux so bad.

  15. these guns were in response to the australian semi auto ban. but the market was too small to support them for long .

  16. Bought a Henry today. Shot a golden boy Sunday and decided I wanted one. Got the octagonal barrel, blued receiver version. Handled one at a LGS, bought it $45 cheaper at another that had to order it. The action didn’t feel as smooth as the golden boy but I’m hoping it’s just the difference between a broken in rifle and a brand new one.

    • Give that baby a nice breakin’ period, don’t rush it. Got a weapon there that should, easily, last a couple of lifetimes.

  17. Wow. I suppose it takes awhile to have a product to take off. 13 years later this little gem is starting to gain increasing popularity. I have two of these rifles, one in 17hmr and the other in 22lr. I can say this about these rifles, they are much more accurate than their semi-auto counter parts. I get 1″ groups at 50 yards with bulk ammo, .5″ for the hmr. I find it ridiculous that Ruger discontinued these. I’m willing to bet if there was better parts interchangeability with the 10/22’s, these would have had greater public interest. After shooting a brick of cheap Thunder bolts, the action remains very clean and cycles smooth.

    I requested a new firing pin for the 22lr and I received an email response that the FP is ‘hand fitted’ and I would need to send them the rifle. I assume ‘hand-fitting’ why they were discontinued.

    Thanks for doing an article about these, I hope there is a renewed interest in these.

  18. I have a Ruger 96/22 in .22 WMR.
    MODIFICATIONS:
    1. I filed down an internal part that prevented magazine withdrawal unless the lever was partially open. What a dumb legal department decision! Now my 96/22 functions as it SHOULD, lever closed and magazine pops out when I want. (Yes, I have a spare part in original condition for “collectors” should my estate sell it.)
    2. Replaced barrel with octagonal Green Mountain barrel originally chambered in .22 LR and re-claimbered in .22 WMR

    FUTURE MOD:
    Replace factory stock with brown Wenig laminated stock W/classic cheekpiece and mild Schnabel fore end. (This will match very closely the same mods to its “big brother” Savage 99C, after which the 96/22 was designed.)

  19. SORTING RIMFIRE AMMO:

    Neil Jones Precision Products, in western PA, makes a rim thickness gauge that can be used to sort rimfire ammo into rim thickness lots. (Rim thickness = headspace)

    Using this tool you can get “lots” of rimfire ammo to enhance accuracy. It works!

  20. Hey fellas, If you own one of these (I have the 96/ .22mag) do yourself a big favor and get a trigger job. I had mine done a few years ago and it pulls at around 2 1/2 crisp lbs. It makes all the difference in the world. I have shot close to 500 rounds through it in the last two years and have never had a misfire. It is by far the most reliable, accurate, and deadly small game rifle I own, and it’s a blast to shoot. I’m 6 out of 6 on foxes this year with it, with three taken at over 100 yards, including a pretty spectacular (lucky) running shot at close to 150 yds. Mine will shoot just about any good ammo accurately, but it really likes the 40 gr. Winchester hollow points and 33 grain Remingtons. Hell of a good shooter and they aren’t getting any cheaper!

  21. Production may have had something to do with the semi-auto ban in Australia. 96 is when it happened. The 10/22 was very popular here. Most shooters I know who had guns in 96 had a 10/22.
    In Australia if one is advertised online for less than $1000 it sells that day.
    Shame they are not still made. Might put the price back down.

  22. I’ve put more rounds through my 96/22 than any other firearm, well over 100,000. I’ve done many apple seeds with it, it’s my favorite gun, and I’ll never part with it. As stated, the trigger job is key and not hard. Mine’s a hair under 3lb. Tech-sights with new holes are awesome.

    Here’s the key, and no one else seems to mention this. I’ve had about 30 jams in this gun’s lifetime, and every one has been with the ruger BX-1 (10/22) mag. I’ve never, ever had a jam with the JX-1 (96/22) mag. I’d say that about 399/400 times, the BX-1 works perfectly. If you want te gun to function as intended, however; do yourself a favor and buy the JX-1 mags. They’re the same price.

    I believe that either the angle of feed is slightly different or the angle the mag meets the gun at is slightly different, effectively altering the angle of feed. I’ve called ruger a few times to ask, and they can’t confirm or deny, which annoys me; as they made the guns. Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Do with it what you will.

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