April 28, 2022
The morning was sunny, calm, and cool. Perfect. Just after sunrise I crept into what we call the “Pecan Grove,” figuring I’d snipe two or three squirrels with ease. I sat against a stout oak, watching and listening. Four gray squirrels quickly surrounded me, chattering and jumping back and forth from limb to limb and bouncing from tree to tree. Problem was, none of them stopped long enough for a clean shot. For a while it felt like “Whack-a-Mole.”
Finally, one made a mistake, stopping on a slender branch about 50 yards out, showing just an eye and ear. The little Ruger cracked and the squirrel came down. Time to move up to the Rimrock Stand.
If you really want a skillet full of fried squirrel, probably the best course of action is to take a shotgun to the woods, especially if the leaves are still on. I’m not particularly mad at our squirrels, so I use a .22 rifle. Come to think of it, I don’t push them hard at all. Our tree squirrel season opens July 15, when the woods are hot and buggy. In early fall, when it cools off a bit, I love to spend early mornings in the woods. It’s great practice for whitetail hunting, and I try to only take head shots. The Kansas tree squirrel limit is five. Fifty miles east, in Missouri, the limit is 10, but I have no idea what I’d do with 10 squirrels. Honestly, I haven’t taken a Kansas limit since I was a kid. Two or three is plenty, and picking shots carefully stretches out the hunt.
When I was in high school, I’d occasionally go squirrel hunting with Dave Bledsoe, the great Kansas trapshooter. Dave had a classic and well-worn Winchester Model 63; I had an early Ruger 10/22. Both of us used open sights, and Dave almost always came out of the woods with more squirrels. Not necessarily because he shot better, although that’s possible. More likely because he was more patient than teenage me.
A Lefty in a Righty World
It’s no secret that I bear the left-hand affliction. Like almost all of the 10 million or so 10/22s produced since 1964, the one I had back then was right-side eject with a right-to-left safety. We southpaws deal with such inconveniences—but we don’t have to like them.
Left-hand or ambidextrous centerfire rifles and shotguns are fairly available today, but left-hand .22 rifles are rare. An old Kimber of Oregon left-hand bolt action has been my “go-to” .22 since the ’80s.
Bill Ruger’s 10/22 is the world’s best-selling .22 rifle. In its 57-year history, it has been offered in innumerable configurations. Mated with an extra-good barrel, the 10/22 can be a real tack-driver, and it’s a popular platform in many rimfire competition events. I’ve had one or another 10/22 since I was in high school, and I’ve long intended to “trick” one up but have never got around to it. In part, I suppose, because left-handed me has trouble spending money on right-hand actions.
Now I don’t have to. The Ruger I was hunting with this morning is quite a different rifle, a true and brand-new mirror-image 10/22, left-side eject with left-to-right safety by my trigger finger. This 10/22 is a breakthrough and is, to my knowledge, the first-ever true left-hand semiautomatic .22 rimfire rifle.
A Competitive Custom
Ruger’s initial left-hand offering is the Competition Rifle Left-Handed Model (Model No. 31110) from the Ruger Custom Shop. It incorporates just about everything anyone might want to add to a 10/22: fluted 16.5-inch bull barrel, threaded with muzzle brake; match charging handle and extended magazine release; textured synthetic stock with semi-beavertail fore-end and adjustable cheekrest; integral Picatinny rail; and the light, crisp BX trigger. Right out of the box, it’s ready for competition, but is just as handy in the squirrel woods.
I knew about the left-hand 10/22 a few weeks before it was released, but there was one thing I hadn’t thought about until the rifle arrived. A favorite feature of the 10/22 is the reliable 10-shot rotary magazine. The left-hand version uses the same magazine, but with a twist. The magazines of right-hand-eject 10/22s rotate clockwise for left-to-right feeding. The left-hand magazine is reversed, rotating counter-clockwise for right-to-left feeding. So we lefties must remember that right-hand and left-hand magazines are not interchangeable. One left-hand magazine is supplied with the rifle. Additional 10-round left-hand magazines are $22, and a three-pack goes for $53. The rifle itself lists for $899, which I consider a deal with all those Custom Shop features.
From Range Ready to Field Proven
Right out of the box, accuracy was fantastic. Five-shot 50-yard groups averaged right at an inch with Aguila, CCI, Federal, Prime, and Winchester. All were 40-grain loads except the CCI, which was a 36-grain hollowpoint. Mind you, these loads were all just “shootin’ ammo.” With pandemic shortages, I haven’t been able to get my hands on any match ammo. I’m curious to see how she groups with extra-good stuff, but accuracy was plenty good enough for my purposes.
The load I had the most of was CCI’s Mini Mag 36-grain hollowpoint. This was the second-most accurate of the loads I tried, so that’s what I’ve been hunting with. In June I took the rifle on a prairie dog shoot, sort of an annual event in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with industry friends. Usually I shoot centerfires, and it had been years since I took a .22 rimfire to a prairie dog town. Wow! I had a ball, and I was amazed at the performance. Shooting from field positions, prairie dogs out to 80 yards—and even 90 yards—were in serious trouble.
Fast-forward to early fall, I’ve been having just as much fun with the 10/22 in my squirrel woods. Shooting prairie dogs is the best teacher I know for doping wind and adjusting for range. With a .22 Long Rifle, you need to start calling wind and holding over long before you get to 100 yards. Tree squirrels are also the best ways to learn woodsmanship. You have to be stealthy and still and pay attention.
I put a Leupold VX-7 1.5-6X scope on the rifle and adjusted the cheekpiece for a proper fit. As .22 rifles go, the six-pound 10/22 Competition isn’t light, but it comes up smoothly, and the heavy barrel holds wonderfully steady in field positions. I was hunting in early October; it was tough hunting and great practice for deer season. I didn’t punish my squirrels very hard, but I also didn’t miss and kept to my rule of “head shots only.” The 10/22 Competition Left-Handed Model made it easy, and it was a marvelous feeling to use a true left-handed semiauto.
Ruger 10/22 Competition Left-Handed Model
- Caliber: .22LR
- Capacity: 10 rounds
- Weight: 6 lbs.
- Receiver: Anodized black aluminum
- Barrel: Alloy steel
- Barrel Length: 16.1 in.
- Overall Length: 36 in.
- Stock: Gray laminate
- Sights: None; 30-MOA Picatinny rail
- MSRP: $899
- Website: ruger.com