I’m almost hesitant to use the word Iconic in a discussion of just about anything these days. It’s become one of those vastly over used words that writers want to throw in to lend importance to their work, or to lend power to their opinions.
So, I searched my vocabulary in hopes of finding a better word to describe the Ruger Mark I Pistol .22 LR, and my efforts failed. Truly, this is a firearm that not only legitimately achieves that status, but really defines the term in its class.
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History of the Ruger Mark I Pistol .22 LR
Since its introduction in 1949, millions of copies have rolled out of the factory, and although it has morphed a bit through the MK II, III, and IV models, the basic design remains alive, well, in production, and extremely popular to this day.
The Ruger Standard, as it was originally known, had its origins in Bill Ruger’s garage. Bill wanted to design and market a new type of pistol, and in 1945 acquired a captured Nambu pistol from a returning marine. He was eventually able to create a pair of copies, and then moved on to build a prototype of his new design.
He kept the Nambu’s basic silhouette and bolt design and built a rimfire pistol around it. Unlike the vast majority of semiautomatic handguns the Nambu, and hence the Standard, MK I, and all subsequent iterations, lacked a slide. Instead, it incorporates a bolt inside a tubular receiver and utilizes a standard blow-back action.
This is a lot more reminiscent of semiautomatic rifles than it is of the majority of pistols. It is, however, a very rugged and reliable design.
Bill was quite satisfied with what he had created, but lacked the capitol to begin production and marketing. Enter Alex Strum.
Strum liked what he saw in the new design, being rather taken by its sleek appearance and its resemblance to the classic Lugers (When I bought mine in 1981, I had the exact same thought!). So he threw down 50K in venture capital, and Strum, Ruger, and Co. was born.
Their vision was to produce an affordable pistol with wide appeal, and with some manufacturing innovations (Coiled piano wire springs instead of flat springs, and a formed and welded two part receiver to name two) they produced a handgun that sold for a very competitive $37.50.
It was on for the duo, and their first creation would launch a major firearms company, and would eventually become (arguably) the most well loved rimfire pistol of all time.
I got my MK I target model in 1981, which was the last production year of the MK I. At the time there were several variations available, primarily distinguished by barrel length and contour. I opted for a 6.75 inch barrel with adjustable target sights.
The other option I considered was the shorter Bull Barrel target model, but I really liked the looks of the longer tapered version, and have never regretted the decision.
Here I should note that fixed sight variants are properly called “Standard Automatics”, but colloquially all pre MK IIs are often referred to as MK Is, although this designation is only properly applied to target models).
For the past 36 years, my MK I has served a variety of roles, has functioned flawlessly in a variety of field conditions, and remains my most used handgun.
I have used it for plinking, small game hunting, carried it while running trap lines, used it as my truck gun, my nightstand gun, and even as a carry piece on occasion. It has provided untold hours of great shooting; it is a very fun pistol at the range! It is by far the most versatile weapon in my handgun holdings.
As previously noted, the action consists of a bolt within a tubular receiver. This configuration is ridiculously reliable, tough as nails, and protects the inner workings from the environment. The overall balance of the weapon, despite the barrel length, is superb, and it is a very intuitive weapon to aim.
The sights are top notch, a large back cut blade at the front and a set of micro adjustable (windage and elevation) leafs on the back, it is a tack driver that has proven itself fully capable of 50 yard head shots on squirrels from California to Missouri.
On the left side of the grip is the combination safety/bolt release button. As a safety, it will only engage when the weapon is cocked. In order to use it as a bolt hold back, it is pushed to the up position while holding the bolt open.
Pushing it to the down position releases the bolt. This button is easily operated by the shooters thumb, and is large enough to be easily engaged or disengaged, but flush enough not to interfere with drawing from a holster.
There is no automatic bolt hold back on an empty magazine, in MK IIs and beyond, there is an automatic bolt hold back, which I must admit is an improvement. The magazine holds 9 rounds which was increased to10 beginning with the MK IIs, also a minor improvement.
In terms of reliability, I have had next to zero failures, either in firing or loading. Through the years I have gone through 10s of thousands of rounds from just about every available manufacturer without a hitch. In short, unlike a lot of more recent offerings to the rimfire handgun market, the Rugers are not picky eaters.
I guess the only ammo that hasn’t always reliably cycled has been some Aquilla Sniper Subsonic, which is pretty much to be expected and not at all surprising (Tend to use this stuff most often in my bolt gun or in a revolver where cycling isn’t an issuer).
Also, unlike more recent .22 pistols, this gun isn’t picky about how you hold it. Many newer models won’t cycle properly if your wrist isn’t locked up, you will get failure to feed with a sloppy wrist. While I don’t recommend shooting limp wristed, the MK I doesn’t care, making it great for beginners to learn on.
I know that most folks in the survivalist niche are looking at newer designs in bigger calibers, but I’m here to tell you that if I was limited to a single handgun in a SHTF situation, I would hands down without hesitation grab my MK I. Why? I’ve already mentioned most of the reasons, so let’s put them into context.
High on the list is that it is a rugged, reliable, and dependable weapon. Any firearm that can consume 10s of thousands of rounds over 36 years and still shoot like the first day it came out of the box is worthy of respect and consideration. That kind of longevity is unheard of, and is of paramount importance when the local gunsmith is no longer in business.
The biggest reason, however, is its versatility.
With my trusty old pistol, I can put food on the table. The .22 LR is capable of putting down a wide range of small game, from squirrels to groundhogs, raccoons, opossum, pretty much anything Granny would have cooked up for Jethro.
On one occasion, I actually shot a quail on the wing with this gun, if that isn’t accuracy and intuitive aiming I don’t know what is. I never tried that again, one of those deals where you definitely quit while you’re ahead. Point being, an accurate .22 pistol will feed you better than all the Glocks in the world.
Despite a less than enthusiastic reception as a defensive caliber, the .22 LR is an adequate if not optimum round. The fact that this is an incredibly accurate weapon makes it even more effective.
OK, so it puts small holes in bad guys, but a small hole directly between the eyes will kill bad guys dead. Even Navy Seals have found a place for .22 pistols, and the pistol of choice in this category was a MK I with an integral suppressor. You don’t argue with Seals about such things!
An Excellent Prepper’s Pistol
I often include my MK I in my get home kit. As we all know, you can’t always accommodate everything you want in your emergency gear. Choices have to be made, and often the choices are determined by the most utility for the least weight.
A .22 caliber handgun, particularly one as dependable and accurate as the MK I, packs a whole lot of utility in a small package. As an added bonus, you can easily carry a hundred rounds of ammo in a pants pocket without any difficulty, which is a lot of bang in a small package.
I think what a lot of us forget from time to time is that survival and preparedness are not about looking like the cover of Soldier of Fortune magazine, it’s about making the most out of the least and doing what it takes to get you out the other side.
The Ruger MK I is a testament to this philosophy, a defensive weapon, a deterrent, and a fine hunting tool rolled into a handy package that rides on your hip.
Obviously, I’m a pretty big fan of the Ruger Mark I Pistol .22 LR, and I don’t feel the least bit trite referring to it as iconic.
Subsequent models are all fine guns as well, and have held true to the principals of the original design. Any of the Ruger .22 Autos would be a fine choice and a great addition to your preparedness arsenal, and they are just plain fun to shoot!
I live on a 40 acre homestead in the Missouri Ozarks with my 5 kids. I do the whole homesteading thing, livestock, poultry, fruit trees, big vegetable gardens, and so on. I am also an avid prepper, as well as a Certified firearms instructorm range safety officer, and CCW instructor.