The Ruger Evolution: Firearms Your Customers Want

Ruger may not be the oldest firearm maker in the United States, but it is the largest and one of the most financially sound. The company’s product offerings are so diverse it likely has a gun to fit the needs of just about any shooter.

The Ruger Evolution: Firearms Your Customers Want

Ruger may not be the oldest firearm maker in the United States, but it is the largest and one of the most financially sound, and the company’s product offerings are so diverse that it likely has a gun to fit the needs of just about any shooter.

According to 2017 figures — the latest available — compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Ruger made more guns than any other American manufacturer. That’s about 1.6 million, or 22 percent of all American production.

Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. was formed by Alexander Sturm and William B. Ruger in 1949 with its first product being the Ruger-designed Standard Pistol, a semi-automatic chambered in .22 Long Rifle. It earned a reputation for strength and low cost while proving reliable and easy to shoot. It was so successful that the company still makes it, although several design changes and improvements have been made.

From that seemingly insignificant start, the company prospered, and according to its website has no debt. That puts Ruger in a much better position financially than companies that must pay part of their revenue to debt holders instead of using that money to develop and produce products.

Ruger Tradition

Davidson’s is a large wholesale firearms distributor and has a long history of distributing Ruger products to retailers nationwide. Davidson’s handles guns made by many manufacturers, and is the largest Ruger distributor.

Bryan Tucker, CEO and president of Davidson’s, knows the firearms business well and also knew Bill Ruger, Sr. When asked about the stability of firearms manufacturers, Tucker noted that many major U.S. gun makers with large product offerings have seen several shifts in management and ownership over the years, but not Ruger.

Even though Ruger concentrated more on traditional blued steel and wooden guns until the 2000s, the company introduced the P85, a semi-automatic handgun designed for law enforcement and personal defense, in 1985 under the leadership of Bill Ruger Sr. The 9mm gun had a standard-capacity magazine holding 15 rounds, which should lay to rest the misinformed notion that Ruger did not favor magazines holding more than several rounds. So while Bill Ruger may have had a preference for traditional guns, he still recognized the usefulness and need for more modern designs with higher-capacity magazines.

Bill Ruger Sr. died in 2002 and Bill Ruger Jr. took over until 2006 when he left and Mike Fifer assumed the leadership role. Fifer then began to transform the company. Fifer spent a great deal of time listening to customers and retailers, often visiting retail stores and listening to what customers wanted. 

Early Guns

Many great guns were produced prior to Fifer’s arrival. The Standard Auto mentioned earlier was suggestive of the Japanese Nambu in appearance and evolved into the 22/45 in 1992. The gun mimicked the grip angle and controls of the 1911 pistol and offered a less expensive-to-shoot alternative for practice. Then there was, and still is, the 10/22 Rifle with its distinctive rotary magazine. The gun, which was introduced in 1964, is still in production and has always been very popular with shooters of all ages.

In 1961, Ruger unveiled the 44 Carbine chambered in .44 Magnum. A semi-automatic carbine with a tubular magazine, it went out of production in 1985, but many shooters still ask the company to bring it back. The Deerfield Carbine, another carbine chambered in .44 Magnum, was a semi-automatic fed from a rotary magazine. Produced from 2000 to 2006, it was also a popular long gun.

And Ruger has not neglected the revolver market. The Blackhawk, a single-action revolver with a distinctly Old West appearance, has long been a staple in the line-up. The Blackhawk was introduced in 1955 and is still in production. It’s reputation for having a strong action is well earned. At a recent writer’s event hosted at Gunsite Academy, I used an old Ruger Blackhawk dating from about 1969 that had been refinished in ArmorLube to replace worn blueing. Using Aguila ammunition, the gun functioned flawlessly.

In 1986, another revolver was added to the line. The GP100 is still going strong and is available in .22 LR, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, 10mm and .44 Special. It’s a double-action with a swing-out cylinder and compliments the larger-framed Super Redhawk double-action revolver chambered in some very powerful cartridges.

Ruger also has its 77 series of bolt-action rifles for hunters and the Mini-14 rifle which, at least outwardly, resembles the government’s M14 but is chambered in .223 Remington. Different versions have been produced throughout the years with some being discontinued, but the Mini-14 continues on with the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle.

The Mini Thirty is similar to the Mini-14 but is chambered in the Soviet 7.62x39mm round. Ruger also made a lever-action rifle, the Model 96. It was made from 1996 to 2009 and was chambered in several calibers. Additionally, Ruger made the single-shot rifle popular in modern times with the No. 1 Single Shot Rifle that has been chambered in a variety of cartridges and is still very popular with shooters and hunters. It features an under-lever falling block action.

Changing Demand

Building on the solid product offerings in Ruger’s line-up, Fifer apparently recognized a change in the interests of American shooters and led Ruger in a different direction in order to meet new shooters’ demands while not abandoning the legacy products that brought Ruger through the 20th Century. Although Fifer is no longer the CEO, Ruger’s leaders have continued to introduce new products to meet changing demand.

The Ruger American Rifle has been a big hit with consumers. The gun is moderately priced but still of high quality. It’s a bolt-action with a reputation for accuracy and is chambered in various calibers from .223 Remington to .450 Bushmaster and .300 Winchester Magnum.

The Ruger Precision Rifle caused everyone in the shooting culture to take notice because of its precision accuracy at a moderate price. A bolt-action rifle designed for long-range precision shooting, it has a chassis configuration, adjustable stock, pistol grip and detachable box magazine. Chamberings include .223 Remington, .243 Winchester, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum. It is also available in a rimfire version. 

New Markets

Ruger has always had a reputation for building extremely strong, reliable and robust guns. That reputation has continued with the company making more guns for self defense while continuing to produce guns for general use like hunting.

The company caused a commotion among those who carry or were considering carrying a self-defense handgun when in 2008 it unveiled the LCP (Lightweight Compact Pistol) chambered in .380 ACP. While not the first of its kind, it features a polymer frame and was so light and small that it could be easily carried discreetly by almost anyone. Sales were so robust that the company had a hard time producing enough to meet demand. With the reputation and marketing power of Ruger, the little LCP spurred more competition in the small, lightweight handgun market. It is still produced, while an improved version, the LCP II, is also in production.

Then in 2010, Ruger introduced its version of the Scout Rifle — a bolt-action that was based on Gunsite founder Jeff Cooper’s concept of a lightweight, handy rifle that could be used for a variety of tasks including hunting and self defense. The gun is still in production.

Following the Scout Rifle, in 2011 Ruger produced its version of the Browning designed 1911 semi-automatic pistol. The SR1911 is chambered in .45 ACP, 10mm and 9mm. It comes in various styles including Commander, Officer, Target and Competition. Recently, the Ruger Custom Shop was created and offers an SR1911 with special features.

In a move that surprised many in the gun community, Ruger entered the modern sporting rifle arena with the SR-556. It was a major turning point in product lines for Ruger since the company had never before offered an AR. Although a piston system design, Ruger now makes a direct gas impingement AR, the AR-556.

Moving Forward

Every year it seems, Ruger comes up with new products. In 2015, the company began production of the Ruger American Pistol, available in 9mm and .45 ACP. A striker-fired gun, it is designed specifically for law enforcement and self defense, has adjustable grip sizes, an ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release, and is rated for +P ammunition. The magazine capacity in 9mm is 17 rounds. This is a fighting pistol and comes in compact or duty size.

There is not enough room here to list all the guns that Ruger produces or has ever produced. It would contain just about every type of gun including black powder cap-and-ball revolvers. And Ruger now offers sound suppressors. Yet even with the wide variety of guns produced, Ruger has remained a successful and stable company that backs its products.

Retailers looking for stability and a broad product line should at least take a look at Ruger.

A former Contributing and Field Editor for Guns & Ammo magazine, Doug Larson’s articles have appeared in many top firearm publications. He has completed hundreds of hours of firearm and self defense training provided by some of the finest world class gun fighting instructors and schools. He has experience with handguns, rifles, shotguns, submachine guns, machine guns and other crew served weapons.



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