For over 70 years, Ruger has been cranking out American rifles, shotguns, and handguns. But time – and production costs – take their toll on many firearms designs, even from a powerhouse like Ruger. Some of these are classics; others cult hits. Still more simply evolve over the years, yet shooters and collectors remain nostalgic for the originals. 

Some of our favorites remain in constant production – we’re looking at you 10/22 and No. 1 – while others slipped out of the catalog. Here are the five Ruger models we wish were still available but can be treasures when found in the used listings. 
 

Table of Contents

Lever Actions
Red Label
Flattop Blackhawk
Deerstalker and Deerfield Carbines

 

RELATED: King of Single Shots – Ruger No. 1 Rifle Review

Ruger Lever Actions

 

Ruger Ninety-Six
A Ruger Ninety-Six in .22 LR from the GDC vault. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)


The numerically named lever actions – mostly rimfires – were a direct reference to the year of their inception: 1996. The Ruger Ninety-Six, as the rifles are marked, was produced for 13 years, yet remains largely unknown and underappreciated. 

The rimfire versions were chambered for .22 LR, .22 WMR, and .17 HMR. The model designation changed slightly, with the 96/22 and 96/22M referring to the first two, and an expected moniker of 96/17 for the latter. It wasn’t all plinkers, either. In fact, some of Ruger’s most desirable discontinued rifles are .44 Magnum centerfires, including the 96/44 lever gun. 
 

Ruger Ninety-Six
The Ninety-SIx features a similar stock to Ruger's popular 10/22. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)
Ruger Ninety-Six
Ruger's recognizable rotary magazine platform keeps the Ninety-SIx fed with .22 LR. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)


In general terms, and with a 96/22 in our hands from the GDC vault, we can provide some hands-on specs. The rimfires wear an 18.5-inch barrel topped with iron sights. The design feeds from Ruger’s recognizable rotary magazine platform. The stock, with lines similar to the famed 10/22 semi-automatics, is built of rather basic hardwood with a semi-pistol grip design. There’s even the expected front barrel band. 

While the 96/44 was set up for Ruger’s proprietary rings, the rimfire 96s accept standard equipment. The guns are lightweight and compact. Depending on the selection, they are suitable for hunting all types of small game with the rimfires, while the .44 Magnums continue bagging bigger game to this day. Though these levers seldom come up for sale, they almost always move quickly.
 

RELATED: Model 96 Review – Ruger’s ‘Ninety-Six’ Lever-Action .22 Rifle
 

Ruger Red Label

 

Ruger Red Label shotgun
I found the 28-gauge Red Label shotgun to be a fine clay and birding companion as well as incredibly attractive. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)


The company known for its American-made handguns and rifles also put out a higher-class double shotgun. The famed Ruger Red Label seems to be even more appreciated now, years after its production demise, than in its heyday. Starting in the late 1970s, Ruger built these doubles in both blued and stainless models with attractive walnut furniture. 

When shooters bemoaned its discontinuation in 2011, Ruger caught the drift and re-upped production several years later, but not for long. For the last six years, the Red Label has been found only on used racks.

That’s not for lack of demand. In fact, collectors and shooters are now paying premium prices for these break actions, especially in sub-gauges. Several years back, we snagged a delightful Red Label in 28-gauge from the GDC vault. That straight English-style stock, walnut, and matte stainless made for not only an incredibly attractive double but a fine clay-busting and birding companion as well. 

The guns are svelte, with clean lines and practical features. Whether hunting, shooting clays, or collecting, Ruger’s Red Label O/Us remain a solid buy. 
 

Ruger Deerstalker and Deerfield Carbines

The .44 Magnum Deerstalker carbine was produced from 1961 to 1985. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)

Sturm, Ruger, and Co has put serious design work into .44 Magnum firearms over the years. And some of their cult-following handgun-chambered arms are not wheelguns, but carbines. Two of the most sought after – and long discontinued – are the semi-automatic .44 Magnum partners: Deerstalker and Deerfield. Of course, we’d be remiss not to throw in the lever-action 96/44 mentioned above when discussing Ruger’s carbine genius. 

The Deerstalker came first, introduced in 1961 to an American audience that was happy to partner the compact carbine with their .44 Mag sidearms. The guns proved handy and wieldy for closer quarters deer-sized game hunting. 
 

Ruger Deerstalker carbine
The Deerstalker featured a walnut stock that turned out to be less cost-effective for production than Ruger imagined, leading to the model's demise in 1985. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)
Ruger Deerstalker carbine
The Deerstalker's bottom loading gate was later upgraded to a detachable four-round magazine on the Deerfield model. (Photo: Kristin Alberts/Guns.com)


Due in large part to production costs, Ruger discontinued the Deerstalker and its lovely walnut stock in 1985, replacing it in 2000 with the Deerfield carbine. The latter, though built less expensively, was prized for its detachable four-round magazine, as opposed to the bottom loading gate of its predecessor. No matter the model you find, these 18.5-inch barreled darlings continue to be prized by hunters, shooters, and collectors seeking a low-recoiling, fast-shooting carbine. 
 

Ruger Flattop Blackhawk


This is a tricky one. In large part, only collectors and knowledgeable shooters will recognize the value of what has come to be known as a Ruger Flattop or original Blackhawk. That’s actually a designation for early Blackhawk single-action revolvers, so named for their obviously flat top strap. 
 

Ruger Flattop Blackhawk revolver
The original or Flattop Blackhawk shows a flat top above the cylinder, in contrast to the later model shown below. (Photo: Guns.com)
Ruger Blackhawk revolver
A Ruger Blackhawk with a raised hump near the rear sight. (Photo: Guns.com)


In contrast, all subsequent Blackhawks show a raised hump near the rear sight. The Flattop not only marked Bill Ruger’s first centerfire handgun design but was built with both adjustable sights and a frame strong enough to handle the heaviest .357 Magnum loads then on the market. The dates can be debated, but common numbers have Flattop production limited from roughly 1955 to 1963, before it was replaced by what has come to be known as the Three Screw Old Model Blackhawk. 

Now, that’s not to say any of the Blackhawks are not desirable guns. Not at all; in fact, the design has proven its longevity to this day. However, the Flattops are supremely sought after. The latter is sleeker with a grip frame both considerably thinner and shorter than later variants. 

Those early six-shooters command a serious premium today – often as much as twice the price. Keep an eye out for these oft-unrecognized gems and thank us later. As a caveat, Ruger does from time to time produce a limited run of special flat tops. These have previously included an anniversary model and occasional dealer exclusives. 

revolver barrel loading graphic

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