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Sunday, September 20, 2009

HOM: 77/22

I've mentioned being a fan of .22 rimfire rifles, I feel the same way about pretty wood and nice designs. It is rare to find all three in one gun. In July of 1984 Ruger announced a new rifle, the 77/22, a classic -- and classy -- looking rimfire. Like a lot of Ruger products, it was venturing into a new market, a high-end rimfire for adults. In the mid-eighties most .22 rifles were cheaply made, sized and designed for kids as beginner's guns. The 77/22 was designed from the ground up to be an understudy for Ruger's big game rifle, the Model 77. It was a rimfire for adults The ultimate rimfire for adults then was the old Winchester Model 52 Sporter, but it went out of production in 1959 and commanded a price tag close to ten times the introductory price of the little Ruger. It was too expensive to even daydream about. The 77/22 was designed for the same market at a very reasonable price. I read all the reviews I could find, and every one of them spoke highly of the 77/22 as a masterpiece of design, attractive and accurate and affordable, sized and priced for adults. I wanted one but couldn't afford one. It was a year or so later that I walked into the old Drug Fair at the Gateway West Mall to poke around in the sporting goods. I got there just as they brought out a 77/22 and put it up for display. Ruger has always used beautifully grained & colored walnut on their single-shot rifle, labeled the #1, since the number one was their "carriage-trade" rifle, but put plain walnut on their other rifles. Somehow this little 77/22 acquired a stock that would have looked appropriate on a number one. The photo above shows, inadequately, what the wood in the butt of the stock is like. I fell in love, instantly. I put the rifle on layaway, instantly. I got in trouble, instantly. Lyn wasn't happy. It was worth it, though. When I finally got the little jewel paid off I toted it out to Jim's place. We were going to sight in the big rifles for hunting season and I wanted to see how the little Ruger would shoot. Townsend Whelen once wrote that to be interesting a rifle must be accurate, and I wanted to see if the interesting would live up to the gorgeous in my new purchase. When we got done with the hunting rifles I loaded it up with some run of the mill CCI Minimag ammo and touched off three careful shots off of the sand bags. The three resulting holes in the target a hundred yards away made a nice group that measured just under an inch in diameter. I was more than pleased, I was ecstatic. Jim tried the rifle to see if the group I'd fired was a fluke, and duplicated what I had done. The rifle was accurate! A bit later I loaned the petite rifle to gunsmith Charlie Kuder to try, since I had been bragging to him about it. He returned it with one comment: "Vertical stringing," meaning the group it fired was not round as it should be but taller than it was wide. When I asked him how bad it was, he said he'd been shooting at ninety yards and getting groups that averaged a little over 1/4" wide, but around 3/4" high. Since that is accuracy that few rifles could match, I decided it wasn't broken badly enough to worry about fixing. I hung onto it through the divorce and the hard times following it. I am still hanging onto it. I will be hanging on to it when they take it out of my cold dead hands, to paraphrase Chuck Heston. It is my ultimate rimfire. ----- Here is a little information about the Model 52 Winchester Sporter: Around 1931 Major John W. Hessian, a friend of Winchester-Western president John M. Olin, had a private gunsmith remount his Model 52 target rifle in a custom lightweight "sporting" stock. Olin was so impressed that he ordered the development of a 52 Sporter as a production model; it made its debut in 1934. The Sporting Model had a lightweight 24-inch barrel and an elegant gloss-finished stock of figured walnut with a slender, tapering capped forearm, pronounced pistol grip, high comb and cheekpiece, and fancy checkering. The action was identical with contemporary target models, except that the receiver top was left round rather than milled flat. Weighing only 7-1/4 pounds, it came with Lyman 48-F aperture sights standard, and retailed for the substantial sum of $88.50 (the equivalent of nearly $1400 in 2008). The Sporter was in all respects a deluxe rifle. While Winchester already had a reputation as the Cadillac of American arms manufacturers in terms of quality, the 52 Sporter was produced with a degree of fit and finish appropriate to a custom gunsmith's shop. Esquire magazine called it "the piece de resistance of all sporting rifles. It's a diamond in a field of chipped glass-- the rifle for the connoisseur." Field & Stream named the 52 Sporter one of the "50 Best Guns Ever Made," calling it "unrivaled in beauty and accuracy." TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)