Sturm, Ruger & Company has done something remarkable. The country’s leading gun maker has taken its first and most iconic firearm, redesigned it to fix a problem that has been frustrating shooters for decades, and updated its internals and controls just enough for the modern shooting world, while retaining both the original pistol’s aesthetics and, more importantly, its accuracy.
Ruger’s new Mark IV semi-auto rimfire pistol is an elegant and modernized progression of the company’s signature pistol line that dates back to its inception in 1949. It reaffirms the company’s position in the target-pistol market in the face of some new competition from established gun makers, and some welcome design changes make the Mark IV easier to shoot and care for than its predecessors, and far less intimidating for newer shooters.
A Necessary Update
Since the late 1940s, Sturm Ruger & Co. has become one of the biggest gun makers in the United States. Recently, its compact, self-defense line of LCP pistols has proven extremely popular with concealed carriers. The company’s SR semi-auto line is robust. The newer, modestly priced Ruger American Pistol is carving out its own niche. And Ruger continues to produce an excellent line of 1911s, a revered lineup of double-action revolvers such as the Redhawk and Super Redhawk, and a full complement of rimfire and centerfire rifles such as the Mini-14, the Gunsite Scout Rifle, and the AR-556.
Ruger guns are dominant in the industry, but in the past decade or so, the company’s original flagship .22 LR rimfire pistol seemed to have been a bit ignored. It hadn’t been updated since the Mark III came out in 2002 with a bevy of changes—some of which were received favorably, and some that were not.
Last year, Smith & Wesson introduced its flexible and configurable Victory 22, a gun that looks like a Ruger Mark III had a baby with a Browning Buckmark. It has a ton of entry-level features and some serious aftermarket options, like purpose-specific (and easily changeable) barrels made by Volquartsen.
And with the Buckmark series still evolving, it was about time for the Mark series to get a new entry, and for some of the pistol’s most nagging problems to be solved.
The World War II Influence
The design of the Mark series of Ruger pistols doesn’t have to be proven. It has been around in configuration or another since the company started in 1949 when it made its first and signature pistol, the Ruger Standard model, a .22 LR semi-auto with the now-familiar silhouette.
Bill Ruger, who was a self-taught engineer and entrepreneur, designed the Standard. Its outward appearance and layout is reminiscent of the revered Luger P08 and even the other big rimfire pistols of the day, the Colt Woodsman (produced from 1915 to 1977) and the newly introduced Smith & Wesson Model 41.
In actuality, the Standard had far more in common with the Japanese Baby Nambu pistol, an example of which Ruger had acquired from a U.S. Marine who had brought it back from the Pacific Theatre of World War II.
Ruger duplicated two of the Japanese pistols in his garage before making the prototype of what would become the Standard, utilizing the Nambu’s silhouette and bolt system.
The biggest difference between the Mark series and most other semi-auto pistols is that the barrel is permanently affixed to the receiver. Also, instead of a slide that moves and a barrel that tilts, only the blowback-operated bolt moves on a Mark, much like that on a semi-auto rifle or carbine.
Once Ruger got the necessary financial backing from Alex Sturm, Sturm Ruger & Co. was born and the Standard pistols went into production, rapidly becoming a favorite of hunters and target shooters who were attracted to its good looks and affordable price tag.
Updates and Refinements
The Standard saw several updates and designation changes in the ensuing years.
In 1950 the Mark I Target version of the pistol was introduced with a longer barrel, an adjustable target trigger, an adjustable rear sight, and a blade front sight.
In 1963, Ruger introduced a 5.5-inch heavy bull-barrel version of the Mark I, which became the standard barrel length for the pistol family.
The Mark II came along in 1982 in various barrel lengths and weights, replacing the Standard as well as the Mark I Target with a new target model. The Mark II line also included the 22/45, which had a polymer frame with a grip angle of 45 degrees to match the 1911, instead of the 35-degree angle of the steel-framed Luger grip.
The new model added a slide stop that held the bolt open on the last round. The Mark II target model had polygonal rifling, whereas other models had traditional land and groove rifling.
While the Mark II represented relatively few changes from the 1949 Standard, the Mark III, introduced in 2004, made some drastic changes to the pistol series, some of which longtime fans were not too keen on.
If you talk to some target shooters or longtime Ruger owners—which I’ve done a lot in the past few weeks while hanging around gun shops talking about the Mark IV—you’ll learn the Mark II was kind of a pain to take apart, but it was manageable. The Mark III, however, was a nightmare to field strip. “It seems like everything just fit too darn tight and that’s when it’s clean,” one longtime Mark II and Mark III owner told me.
Changes from the Mark II included:
• The addition of a plastic loaded-chamber indicator on the left side of the gun (when jams occurred, this new part could make them notoriously difficult to clear, and since the gun isn’t easy to disassemble, this can become such a problem that some shooters elect to remove the indicator).
• The magazine release was relocated from the more European-style location at the bottom of the grip to behind the trigger guard.
• Models with adjustable sights came drilled and tapped for a Weaver-style rail, made by Ruger, for optics.
• The Mark III had a magazine disconnect, which prevents the pistol from being fired with the magazine removed.
• An internal safety lock was added. Using an included key, the gun can be rendered inoperable.
• A newly contoured ejection port profile.
The Mark III is also available in the 22/45 configuration with its own variants, including some with barrels pre-threaded for a suppressor. The 22/45 Lite was introduced in 2012 with a lightweight aluminum receiver.
The Disassembly Problem
But in all these models, there was one constant: you needed some tools: a rubber mallet, something to pry out the mainspring latch, another something to punch out the bolt stop pin, not to mention a bunch of patience to disassemble and clean the Mark pistols. And that’s not some backwoods gunsmith method—even the official how-to video from Ruger says you need a non-marring hammer, a non-marring dowel, a paper clip, and the internal lock key (Mark III). You can check out the whole process in the video below:
In fact, with a really dirty gun, the process could be arduous enough to turn buyers away from the Mark III, especially in the modern age where a simple search will yield many videos of frustrated Mark III owners showing you how they take apart their guns.
The Solution: One-Button Takedown
Taking down the Mark IV really couldn’t be easier, and shooters used to modern polymer pistols will find it extremely familiar.
First, make sure the pistol is unloaded. Then, remove the magazine and cock the hammer by working the bolt. If there is an empty magazine in the pistol, the bolt will lock back, if there isn’t, the bolt will simply cycle. The Mark IV can be taken apart with or without a mag inserted.
Next, engage the manual safety. Then, press the black takedown button located right below the bolt at the rear of the pistol. When the button is fully depressed, the tube-like upper receiver with the barrel attached will separate from the frame.
Now, you can simply remove the bolt carrier assembly. That’s it. The Mark IV is now in three pieces and ready for cleaning.
Putting it back together is just as simple. Reinsert the bolt into the receiver and then fit the indent on the underside of the receiver at the base of the barrel onto the small matching bar on the frame—it’s remarkably similar to reassembling a break-action shotgun.
Then just swing the receiver down, lining up the hole in the receiver and bolt so the bolt-stop pin passes through and press until it all clicks together.
But the takedown isn’t the only new thing about the Mark IV. In fact, in order to facilitate the new procedure, much of the gun’s internals had to be redesigned a bit.
Changes to the pistol’s controls include a new ergonomic bolt stop that’s easier to operate and an ambidextrous lever-style safety that replaces the button safety of the Mark III. Both the bull-barrel Target model and the fluted-barrel Hunter model of the Mark IV have a push-button magazine release on the left side of the frame—and when it releases a magazine, it really releases it.
A small spring at the base of the grip is put under tension when a magazine is inserted, which aids in kicking the mag out of the mag well when it’s ejected.
The relocation of the magazine release on the Mark III made it more compatible for competition shooters than the heel release on the Mark II, but an empty mag in a Mark III tends to not fall free from the gun, requiring an extra step and another hand to unload—unacceptable when fractions of a second count.
When operating the Mark IV, a shooter can hold the pistol upside down and the magazine will still pop free, making it a solid option for competition shooters.
Because of the new configuration, the grip frame is now one piece of CNC-machined stainless steel or aluminum on the Hunter version. The loaded-chamber indicator from the Mark III has been mercifully jettisoned along with the internal locking safety.
Internally, the magazine disconnect safety has been redesigned and changes have been made to the hammer, sear, bolt, and firing pin for smoother, more reliable feeding.
The one-piece barrel and receiver with its internal cylindrical bolt remain the same and provide a permanent sight-to-barrel alignment and greater accuracy potential than a pistol with a moving slide and tilting barrel.
When it comes to the aftermarket world, the Mark IV is compatible with most Mark III accessories, such as sights, scope bases, and most importantly, magazines. But because of the new controls, Mark III grips WILL NOT fit a Mark IV pistol, and at the moment, there don’t seem to be any companies producing grips for the Mark IV yet, though a representative from Hogue told me Mark IV grips will be coming soon.
Currently, Ruger is selling a set of laminate Mark IV oversized target grips for $69.95, but expect more options in the near future.
At The Range
The folks at Ruger were kind enough to send me a stainless Target version of the Mark IV to test. The Ruger IV performed as expected during three range sessions, with no misfires or failures to feed with a variety of ammo. To evaluate accuracy, I shot five-shot groups from an unweighted rest at 20 yards with iron sights and five types of .22 LR ammunition.
After the first day at the range, I decided the included all-black front blade sight was a bit too difficult for me to pick up, especially in the somewhat dim light of my indoor range, so I replaced it with a Mark III green fiber-optic front sight from TruGlo. The Hunter model of the Mark IV comes with a fiber-optic front sight standard.
My five-shot groups ranged from .5 inches to 1.5 inches, with one group spreading to 2 inches, but I won’t be counting that in the chart below, since it was composed of five random rimfire rounds I found rattling around in my ammo box. A few groups were extremely tight, one coming in at .25 inches with one flyer making it a .5 group.
Now, these groups may seem a bit large for a target pistol at that range, but remember, they were produced from a lightweight rest using iron sights with the factory trigger (more on that later) and they were shot at a range with an old-school cable target system, which often has a tiny bit of sway. Plus, none of the ammunition tested was premium-grade match ammunition and I’m no bullseye shooter.
The most important thing was that the five shot groups were consistent from set to set among all ammo types. A weighted rest and a magnified optic would tighten those individual groups up considerably.
While the Mark IV greedily ate everything I fed it, it produced the best groups with high-velocity CCI Stingers and Mini-Mags. Of the low-pressure ammo, the best groups came from Blazer 40-grain ammo and Federal Champion 40-grain solids, while the worst came from American Eagle high velocity loads.
|.22LR Ammo Type||5-Shot Group Size|
|CCI Velocitor small game||0.75″|
|CCI Mini-Mag copper-plated||0.75″|
|American Eagle high velocity||1.5″|
|CCI standard velocity||1.25″|
|Federal Target Gold Medal||0.90″|
When it comes to the feel of the gun, the angled grip may take some getting used to for many shooters. Some say it allows for more natural pointing, and while it does feel comfortable and natural, I vastly prefer the 45-degree angle of a 1911 simply because I feel I have more leverage and control over the pistol, but that’s just personal preference. With the Mark IV and similarly shaped handguns, I always feel I should be taking a bladed stance and shooting one handed like the target shooters of old. (Here’s hoping a Mark IV 22/45 is on the horizon.)
The biggest drawback of the Mark IV is the factory trigger. While I’ve certainly shot worse, the non-adjustable Mark IV trigger falls pretty short for a target pistol. It has some creep and is a bit heavy, though it breaks clean and crisp. It’s definitely not up to par for a serious target shooter and will likely be the first thing replaced by anyone thinking of using the Mark IV for more than plinking or casually making holes in paper.
Unfortunately, aftermarket Mark III triggers from companies such as Volquartsen aren’t compatible with the Mark IV. It seems the gun’s biggest problem right now is waiting for the aftermarket to catch up, but I have a feeling there will be a lot of Mark IV-specific products introduced at SHOT Show 2017 in January.
Additionally, the Mark IV doesn’t come with a rail (at least mine didn’t), though the receiver is drilled and tapped for one, so if you want to mount an optic, it’ll cost you an extra $25.
All in all, the Mark IV is a solid update to Ruger’s long-lived pistols series that will carry it into the next decade. It’s a stalwart competitor for Browning’s Buckmark line and for newcomers like the S&W Victory, and the easy takedown makes the pistol far more accessible to new shooters. Ruger didn’t say what the fate of the Mark III would be, but the line has been removed from the company’s website, so it’s a safe bet that it will now be exclusive to the used gun counter and that more options for its successor, the Mark IV, will be coming soon.
|Ruger Mark IV Target|
|Capacity:||10 (2 magazines included)|
|Front Sight:||Fixed blade|
|Finish:||Blued or satin stainless|
|Ruger Mark IV Hunter|
|Capacity:||10 (2 magazines included)|
|Front Sight:||Fiber optic|
|Barrel Style:||Fluted bull|
|Grip Frame:||Stainless steel|
video by Jeffrey Rife