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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.