Sure, the Model 10/22 is one of the best rimfire shooters in the world, and everyone loves its fast handling semi-automatic action, but there is just something interesting about a modern lever-action rifle. With that being said, Sturm Ruger nearly twenty years ago begat the Model 96.
Lever action or cowboy action carbines and rifles debuted in the mid-19th Century. A favorite of homesteaders, cavalrymen, and those law enforcement of the day, these guns were the fastest firing long arms around for more than fifty years. It was only in the early 1900s, when semi-autos started to come on the market, which the lever gun began to wane in popularity.
(Ruger had originally mentioned these guns as companion pieces with their .22LR and .44 Magnum single-action revolvers)
Still, they refuse to die with many manufacturers to include Marlin, Winchester, Henry, and Uberti churning out hundreds of cowboy guns every week. Even Browning (the BLR) make modern lever guns. Why? Well they are reliable, with the ability in many cases to ratchet out jams. In addition, they are a customary and traditional throwback to the days when men were made of leather and steel rather than polyester and plastic. Finally, in some jurisdictions that have regulated semi-automatic rifles almost out of existence, the lever action often tracks under the radar.
The Model 96 design
With the name drawn from its first year of production, the Ruger Model 96 has a very 10/22 look about it. This is because it uses the same barrel, hardwood stock, gold bead/leaf rear sights, 10-shot rotary magazine and many internals with that legacy classic rimfire carbine. The differences include a redesigned receiver that is modified to use a casehardened short-throw lever/trigger guard that is curved to match the slope of the pistol grip stock. The trigger system, again largely the same as on the 10/22, was only slightly modified.
The result was a 37.25-inch overall carbine with an 18.5-inch barrel weighing in at just 5.25-pounds all up.
GunsGearN Freedom stacks up a 96/22 and 10/22 side by side.
Getting your own
Retailing for $451 when it debuted in 1996, the standard 96/22 in .22LR remained in production for just 7 years. Replaced by a slightly stretched 9-shot rimfire magnum (.22WMR) as the 96/22M and the .17HMR chambered 96/17 in 2002, the gun was augmented by a more serious 4-shot .44 Magnum chambered 96/44M (what else would you call it?) for a few years.
The .44 has a 1 turn in 20" twist rate, which can allow larger grain (think 300+) rounds to stabilize better--, which is appreciated by those who would use it as a deer rifle in heavy brush. Picture from Castboolits.
Out of production since 2009, these guns are popular with collectors.
The 96/22 is perhaps the only rimfire lever action rifle that will take a 25-shot magazine (the BX-25) or longer, which is something fairly interesting.
Ruger maintains a serial number range information list that would appear to suggest some 57,000 of these .22LR/22WMR/.17HMR models and 23,000 of the .44 Mag versions came off the lines.
"Not a 77/44 but a Ruger 96/44 lever gun. Subsonic 310gr cast slugs at 780fps. Suppressor is alloy and PVC, works a treat and quiet compared to a gunworks suppressed 77/44 a mate has with the same load. No prize for guessing its my night kit!" From a New Zealand-based hunting website. Remember, they don't have the same NFA restrictions on suppressors there as we do here.
The 96/44 used a 4-shot detachable magazine of the same sort used by Ruger's earlier .44 carbines.
Today, prices on these run up to $500 or more, especially for the magnums, so if you can pick up any of the above for well under that in good condition, it may be worth your time to try to lever a deal out of someone.
Just saying, cowboy.