Between 1956 and 1986, the U.S. military ordered some 23,000 rimfire semi-auto Mark I and Mark II pistols direct from the company for the use of service marksmanship teams. There is a lot of misinformation out there on these but here is what we know about these collectables.
The Mark I
Bill Ruger produced his Ruger Standard pistol in 1949, taking lessons from the Japanese Nambu and the Hi Standard .22. His neat little $37 pistol with its 9-shot magazine and 4.75-inch barrel turned out to be his first product and a great seller. So much so that by 1956, the U.S. military sought out a 6 7/8 inch heavy tapered barrel version for use by military shooting teams for practice and competition. The first order, for 4,600 of these guns in serial number range 75845 to 79945 was produced in that year. All were marked "U.S." on the top right hand side of the receiver.
Now that doesn't mean that all the guns in that range are GI pistols, as the factory made commercial guns right alongside those for the military. Over the next 15 years, at least another 1,500 guns were bought in a half dozen or more smaller contracts spread out from serial number 150036 to 331744 (about 1 percent of the production volume for that period).
The military put out several manuals covering the Ruger to include the U.S. Army's TM9-2316, dated December 1956 and the 1959 U.S. Air Force Training Manual TM-9-1005. According to the latter, the pistol was described officially as follows:
"Ruger pistol mark I (figs. 3 and 4) is a 9-shot magazine-loaded cal..22 weapon, chambered for the cal..22 long rifle cartridge only. The "micro" rear sight is attached to the receiver and does not move with the recoil action of the weapon. The sight has precision click adjustment for windage and elevation. The front sight is a partridge style with a 0.125-inch wide blade. The bolt assembly, which slides inside the receiver, has serrated lugs used in initially cocking the weapon. A positive lock safety lever is provided which locks the sear in the safe position. It also can be used to lock the bolt in the rear position for chamber inspection. Takedown is easily accomplished by removing the mainspring housing assembly and sliding the barrel and receiver from the frame group. The trigger of the serrated type for nonslip action. The rips are butaprene hard black gloss rubber with diamond checkering."
Secret MK Is
There was rumor of a some commercial 5.5-inch bull-barreled Mk I's purchased with unit funds that were fitted with suppressors for use by special ops type guys in Vietnam to silence enemy guard dogs. These guns would have been used alongside some specially modified Smith and Wesson Model 59 9mms and Hi Standard .22s and all termed "hush puppies" due to their role.
These rumors have been confirmed in recent years by legitimate gun mags such as Small Arms Review who found documentation and conducted interviews with service members who used these popguns on black ops type missions in South East Asia. These guns, modified with a 5.6-inch integral suppressor developed by CIA legend and Military Armament Corporation (MAC) founder Mitch WerBell alongside Gordon Ingram.
The Mark II Government
By the 1980s the stock of old Mk.I guns acquired by the military was played out. They needed a new gun and came a calling to old Bill Ruger. The new gun had a heavy tapered 6-7/8 inch barrel and was designed in 1983. By the next year, the Army accepted the proposed pistol and ordered nearly three times as many as the old Mk. I models.
5.5" bull barrel U.S. marked Mk II, S/N 210-71771 auctioned by Cowan's. Apparently the military bought some of these as well.
These guns after 1986 (when the contract ran out) became marketed on the civilian market as the Government Model. Military contract items fell inside serial number range 210-00001 and 210-18500 according to Fjestad who feels there are but 25 of these in civilian hands.
Last week Ruger auctioned off what they believe is a prototype of what became the Mk II Government Model on Gunbroker for charity. The gun, which went for $2800, was described as follows (repeated here for posterity, as the GB auction will disappear in 90 days)
We have for auction a "U.S." marked Mark II .22 LR caliber pistol with a rollmark date of November 3, 1983. The serial number of this pistol is 19-79740. It is likely a proto-type of the MK678G training pistols manufactured for the U.S. Army from 1984 1986. This pistol has a heavy tapered 6-7/8 inch barrel. The "U.S." stamp is larger than the contracted models, and the front sight is a higher Patridge-type fixed front sight. Additionally, the U.S. Army pistols' serial numbers began with prefix 210-.
In 1983, Ruger was awarded a contract from the U.S. Army, Rock Island Arsenal for a .22 caliber target and training pistol for the U.S. armed forces. A new model was established to meet the U.S. Army's requirements (catalog no. MK678G), and this was the first time Ruger Mark II pistols were equipped with 6 7/8" bull barrels. The MK678G pistols were rollmarked "U.S." on the right side of the barrel/receiver assembly, had finer sights, a roller-burnished chamber, and enhanced accuracy. Special targeting methods were developed using a (then) new laser sighting system, which was later granted a U.S. patent. The laser targeting system worked very well during production, and each pistol was packed with a target attesting to its compliance with the U.S. Government accuracy standards for such pistols. The duration of the contract lasted until 1986, and the Company ultimately shipped over 17,000 pistols to the U.S. Army. No "U.S." marked pistols were shipped commercially during the period of the government contract.
Getting your own
Ruger stopped production of the Mk I in 1982 and the Mk II in 2004 when they were replaced by the now-currently available Mk III line that was introduced ten years ago.
While you can luck into non-U.S. marked shootable Mk Is for as low as about $250, you won't be able to touch a nice one with the rollstamps for anything less than $500. Some very minty models go for up to twice that especially if you have a contract overrun that never made it into the Army's hot little hands but have all the proper marks. The neatest thing about these is they are usually C&R eligible.
(These guns have excellent sights)
All we can say is good luck on a legit "U.S." Mk II. Cowan's sold one in 2010 complete with box for $920 but others have gone higher.
Some sellers will advertise "Army" guns without the markings that fall inside the serial number ranges as mentioned in this article but do not have rollmarks. It is best to get with Ruger on these (you can email or call them) to run the serial number. Remember that thousands of commercial guns were sold at Army base Rod & Gun Club outlets but the fact that a serviceman obtained it during his term of service from a base store does not mean its a military contract gun.
In the end, if you are lucky enough to get one of these vets, cherish it and enjoy. It will likely shoot straight for generations to come.