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Ruger American Rifle
Amazing, Repeatable, Confidence-Building Performance
As seen in the GUNS Magazine Fall/Winter 2013 Special Edition
By Roy Huntington
Have you ever noticed, somewhere by the register in auto parts stores, there’s always a display with a sign touting “Socket Sets: $4.99!” And if you’re like me, you always look and think, “Well, for 5 bucks, even if I use it once, it’s worth it.” But there’s always that little voice inside saying, “Idiot! Moron! Don’t buy it! They’re junk! Chinese revenge!” And we invariably do buy at least one set, and invariably when you first use it the socket splits, or the wrench breaks and then you’re not only still stranded on the freeway, but you have a bleeding knuckle to keep you company too. Then why do we do it?
I’ll Tell You Why …
It’s because we’re hard-wired to look for things that are too good to be true. “Well, maybe this time it really will be that good!” Nope … never is.
But, yes, my Snap-On socket set cost me over $300 — 35 years ago. I still use it almost daily. Yes, my Plasma cutter was $750, and it actually works as advertised. The list could go on. The old adage, “Be prepared to pay more than you want to, but never less than you should” rings true. Well, at least most of the time.
But not this time.
At a full retail price of $449, Ruger’s hot new American Rifle is not only 100 percent American made (springs, screws … everything), but for sheer value for your money, it’s proof that yes Mildred, sometimes — even though it sounds too good to be true — it actually is true
How Can That Be?
In early 2011, Ruger locked three designers and one manufacturing engineer in a room and said, “You can’t come out until you’ve completely re-written the book on affordable bolt-action rifles.” Oh, that’s all? And, oddly enough, 10 months later, they had. And, according to Ruger’s Mark Gurney, “We didn’t set out to build a cheap rifle. We set out to build an accurate, good-quality rifle that was affordable.” This is no Model 77 or Hawkeye clone, but a completely new design. They even did away with the classic Ruger scope mounts, instead going with Weavers (supplied).
The new Ruger American Rifle, initially offered in .30-06 (our test caliber), .308, .270 and .243, is lightweight, amazingly accurate, comfortable, attractive, safe and won’t break your gun piggy-bank. Honest.
The Marksman trigger system offers safe, reliable but lightweight trigger pulls,
from 3 to 5 pounds, user-adjustable via the Allen screw on the front of the trigger housing.
With three locking lugs, the bolt allows a 70-degree throw, making running the bolt fast.
The extractor grips about an 1/8 of the cartridge rim and is secure and reliable.
Ejector is classic, spring-loaded version.
Okay, so I saw the rifle at the SHOT Show in early 2012 (it had only been out a couple of months) and yes, it looked nice, felt good, the price point seemed awfully fair, I liked the removable magazine and the bolt throw was short and it ran smoothly. But I’d also seen similar rifles that, once we had them in our sweaty hands, rendered patterns rather than groups. I was curious to see, since Ruger was saying we’d “be surprised” and stuff.
Time is always critical for me, but when Ruger asked if I could attend a demo shoot of the American at the FTW Ranch in Texas I cleared my calendar. Normally, I shy away from the “go to the factory and drink their wine and shoot their ammo” gigs since I simply don’t have the time, and those events often don’t accomplish much other than let us “oooh” and “ahhh” and pretend to be polite.
But the Ruger event was something different. Ken Jorgensen, head of Ruger’s media department, had assembled about a dozen very senior editors and writers and offered us the opportunity to spend 3 full days being trained in long-distance shooting, zeroing, doping and other such things — all using 12 Ruger American Rifles they supplied. It’s rare to be able to spend this much time with a new gun in this sort of environment, especially with the test guns in front of the critical eyes of, literally, hundreds of years of rifle-experienced gun-guys. If something was amiss, we’d figure it out.
Zeiss supplied their entry-level hunting scope, the 3-9×40 Conquest. At around $400, you get Zeiss optics without breaking the bank. For what we were doing (eventually shooting to 1,000 yards), it wasn’t really the right scope, but did probably represent the top-end optic someone might put on a rifle like this. But don’t fool yourself, because this rifle could have handled a fancier scope just fine.
Ruger opted to keep machine work simple to help keep costs down. The brawny receiver
houses the round bolt, making for a tank-tough arrangement. Note the tang safety.
The 12,000-acre ranch is unique. Tim Fallon, the owner, has developed a school where hunters can go to hone their safari skills and learn the finer details of longer-range shooting, in the real world, in real hills, from real field positions. They call it their SAAM (Sportsman’s All-Weather, All-Terrain Marksmanship) classes. But, as Tim told me, “The long-range training is not to encourage hunters to take long shots, but to teach them how to dope their rifles, learn to read wind and understand the dynamics of shooting at a distance. If they learn to connect on a 9″ metal gong at, say, 500 yards, then the 250-yard shot on a deer suddenly seems much easier.”
I equate it to the old trick of wearing ankle weights while you train. Then, just before the race, you take them off. Sure enough, you feel like you can run like the wind without that weight. Ditto for the “hard” 500-yard shot, suddenly turning the 250 one into a piece of cake. We did it over 3 days, and it works.
Just as amazing to me — indeed all of us — was that the Ruger American Rifle handled it all with aplomb.
Roy tried this unique set-up of using two tripods and found it offers a virtual standing
bench rest for field use. Tripods used were supplied by Bog-Pods and proved to be bulletproof.
At 6.5 pounds, the total package is made up of a hammer-forged barrel, barrel nut (securing the barrel to the action), 4140 chrome-moly receiver, some plastic bits (like the removable magazine), and their nicely-designed polymer stock. But that stock holds a secret.
Inside is what Ruger calls its Power Bedding system. Bedded into the stock are two “V” blocks of cast stainless steel, with carefully-machined upper surfaces. One of these critical surfaces has a slight radius built into it to make up for any variances in parts fit. On the underside of the receiver, just fore and aft of the ejection port, are matching sets of slots that nestle neatly into the V-block fingers. Two Allen head screws secure the action to the stock, and once everything is snugged-down, you have a metal-to-metal fit and nothing moves. If the weather changes, if things get knocked around, it really doesn’t matter. Consistency is the secret to accuracy, and this system is consistent.
This stock is nicely contoured and fitted with unique finger grooves in the forearm. The pistol grip is also enhanced with a molded-in gripping surface, and the plastic box magazine (holding four rounds) is easily detached or inserted. The rifle feels slim in my hands, and shoulders handily. The recoil pad is soft enough to do a good job, but not so soft as to catch on your shirt or coat.
The trigger is of note. At about 4 pounds on my test rifle, it’s user-adjustable from a low of about 3 pounds to a high of about 5. A small screw on the front of the trigger group lets it happen. But, the “trigger-within-a-trigger” system (think: Glock-like trigger), makes light pull weights perfectly safe. While it may look like the Savage AccuTrigger, it’s not the same at all. The middle lever on the Ruger blocks the trigger, not the sear, and is also very positive. This Marksman trigger, as Ruger calls it, is based on a 100-year-old patent, and frankly is good enough to be on a much more expensive rifle.
The safety is located on the tang area and falls naturally under your thumb. It allows you to load and unload the rifle with the safety engaged, but will not allow you to put the safety in the “on” position unless the rifle is cocked. There is also a cocking piece protruding slightly from the rear of the bolt when the action is cocked, so at a glance you can see what the status is.
The Ruger American Rifle has a safe trigger (called the Marksman) allowing light-weight
trigger pulls (adjustable by the owner), while still offering safety when the rifle is cocked.
The center lever blocks the trigger from moving until it’s depressed.
At one point, Roy and the others engaged 9″ steel plates at ranges out to 750 yards,
with a 1,000-yard plate (red arrow) being an elusive target. Roy was lucky to finally
hit it because of the rifle’s amazing accuracy and great wind-calling by Larry Weishen.
Other targets are scattered on the hillsides on both sides in front of the rifle’s barrel.
The action is smooth, and offers a very short bolt throw. To save money (but not compromise quality or performance), Ruger opted for a full-round bolt body, with three locking lugs. This offers a tight 70-degree bolt throw. Normally, that might make it a bit tougher to get the leverage needed to run the handle easily, but Ruger incorporated dual-cocking cams. I found it easy to manipulate the bolt, and it was virtually impossible to bind it, regardless of how fast I ran it. It ran so smoothly (using push feed, unlike the Model 77 and Hawkeye systems), that on a few occasions I opened the bolt after closing it to make sure a round had actually chambered. There was always one peeking out at me.
The hammer-forged barrel showed beautiful, shiny rifling and certainly proved its ability on the firing ranges. At 22″, it’s the right length for easy carry, and is fully free-floated.
If I had been handed this rifle while wearing a blindfold, I would have run the bolt, felt the trigger, shouldered it and then pronounced it some sort of custom rifle with a tuned action and trigger. I’m sure I would have been surprised to learn I was holding a $450 Ruger factory model.
Here, one of the writers engages two steel plates at the tree line — 750 yards away!
We all experienced regular hits on the targets, even at these distances. All done with
a $399 rifle and a $400 3×9 power scope! Simply amazing accuracy from the rifles
impressed us the 3 days we were testing them.
On day 1, initial sighting in was done in the morning, then ranges from 200 yards
(1), to 400 yards (2) and out to 750 yards (3) were hit regularly by everyone as we
stretched the Ruger American Rifle’s abilities. Remarkably, this $399 rifle never let us down.
During 3 days at FTW, I put about 160 rounds through the American Rifle, then about another 50 once I got it home. These rifles had been shipped from the production floor, scopes mounted and roughly zeroed 2 or 3 days prior to our arrival. They were not handpicked “review” guns, but exactly what you would buy over the counter. They came with slings (as we would be carrying them) and Ruger-supplied bi-pods and cheek pads. At the time, Ruger said you could buy a bi-pod directly from them at a very reasonable rate (which I can’t recall!), and if you went online to register your rifle, you could get a free cheek-pad like the one on our test rifle.
Hornady supplied their excellent 168-grain .30-06 Garand load for the FTW test and it performed perfectly over 2 full days. We were also all issued a PAST recoil pad since the vast majority of our shooting would be from prone. A 6.5-pound rifle shooting full-power .30-06 loads can really pound you over a short period, much less over 3 days.
I honestly assumed this was going to be a 2-minute rifle, meaning about 2″ at 100 yards. After a few dry-fires to get used to the excellent trigger, my first 5-shot group at 100 measured about .75″. Tim Fallon was spotting nearby and I asked to borrow his spotting scope. Sure enough, it was obvious the group was under an inch. This was in-field conditions, shooting prone from a bi-pod in a light, but consistent, crosswind. I was able to see the target up close later and verified that group. How could this be?
More doping out to 200 yards revealed sub-2″ groups for many of us. At 300, still on paper targets, many groups chased 3″, still shooting from prone, in a wind that was now not cooperating quite as much. As we learned to dope the rifle, making scope adjustments for elevation, we began to make consistent first-shot hits out to 500 yards, and even a few lucky first shots on-target at 750.
During breaks in shooting, we applauded the FTW staffers on their great work calling wind dope for us, and couldn’t help but be amazed by the performance of these rifles. With a dozen of us shooting, it wasn’t a fluke that every single rifle worked flawlessly, and they all shot like accurized custom rifles. We all agreed this was a powerful statement about Ruger’s engineering accomplishment with this design, and consistent, accurate manufacturing abilities.
Near the end of day 3, we shot out to 1,000 yards. Keep in mind the scopes we had mounted were hunting scopes, geared more toward 300-yard shots or so. Asking a 9-power hunting scope with ranging reticles and turrets that ran out of adjustment by 800 or so yards to hit a 16″ gong at 1,000 was foolish nonsense. Yet, we all banged the 750-yard gongs consistently, and anything within 500 yards (9″ steel) was usually hit on the first round.
With Larry Weishen spotting for me, and with a half-dozen ranging shots to get the range right, I was able to connect on the 1,000-yard gong. Remember, this was with a $450 dead-stock hunting rifle and a $400 scope, using over-the-shelf factory .30-06 ammo. And, this was after firing at least 150 rounds through it without any sort of cleaning. Simply amazing.
The Ruger American Rifle is handsome, unlike many “price point” models.
Sleek lines, a well-designed stock and excellent trigger and barrel combine
for a high-performance rifle. Note the bolt-removal button at the rear of the
receiver. Scope is a Zeiss 3-9×40 Conquest hunting model. At around $400
and assembled in the US, it was a perfect match-up for the rifle.
The 4140 chrome-moly receiver starts out as a 6-pound block of steel!
Bolt throw is only 70 degrees and is easy to manipulate thanks to dual
cocking cams. I sometimes checked again after running the bolt since
it didn’t feel like a cartridge had chambered — but they always had!
Ruger followed up by sending me the same rifle I had used at FTW so I could do more testing. I asked Zeiss if I could also borrow the same scope I had used. I was still curious to shoot this combo more to see what I could learn. I remounted the scope, re-attached the cheek piece, and gave the rifle a very fast cleaning by running a Hoppes Bore-Snake through the barrel two or three times. I could still see plenty of copper fouling visible at the muzzle, but it was that dirty at FTW and still performed, so I figured we’d see what happened.
What happened is what I had expected, but still doubted. I didn’t have any of the Hornady ammo on-hand, but did have some “Hunter” ammo from CorBon (180-grain DPX load my wife Suzi had used in Africa with great success), some Federal 165-grain Trophy Bonded loads and the always brilliantly accurate Black Hills 168-grain BT-HP match load. I thought this would give me a good idea of how the Ruger American Rifle would perform with two high-quality hunting loads and one dedicated match load.
The results? None of the loads went into anything larger than 1.55″ at 100 yards. And sure enough, the Black Hills Match load delivered the best, at .65″, with three shots looking more like one big hole than a group. Amazing, repeatable, confidence-building performance. I honestly don’t know what you could do to make it work any better. Buy the rifle, buy a decent scope, load it with decent ammo and hunt anywhere in the world you want.
It’s almost like being able to buy a $5,000 car that looks like a $20,000 car, gets 75 miles to the gallon, doesn’t ever break down and insurance only costs $50 a year. Maybe Ruger ought to make a car?
Ruger’s innovative Power Bedding System is shown. The V-Blocks (B)
are permanently bedded in the polymer stock. The fingers mate with
matching, machined cuts in the underside of the brawny receiver (A).
Once locked together with two Allen bolts, they form an immoveable
object, unaffected by weather, heat or the daily grind of hunting
bumps and knocks!
First off, the choice of the FTW Ranch for this event was perfect. The staff there, the facility and their good humor and attitude (not to mention the great food!) made the long days in the field more fun, especially knowing we had a good meal waiting back at the lodge. Their training impressed a group of not easily impressed senior gun-guys, and that means something. As a matter of fact, my own wife, Suzi (editor of our American COP magazine, veteran African hunter and all-around gun-gal), has recently returned from attending the full SAAM class at FTW and will be writing a feature on it for an upcoming Special Edition.
As far as the Ruger American Rifle goes? Like I said before, sometimes, but only sometimes, not only is something true, but it really is that good too. At $449 at full retail (let’s just say it, probably around $375 or so for real), the Ruger American Rifle delivers all the performance in a rifle the vast majority of us could ever need — or expect. Mount a decent scope on it (one of Leupold’s new $200 models, a Weaver, Burris, Bushnell, etc.), or splurge and spend a bit more, and you’d have a rifle/scope combination able to meet any hunting chore you can imagine, caliber-specific, out to as far as you should ever be shooting.
I told Tom Gresham of Gun Talk Radio and TV fame, who was attending the FTW event, “Tom, I’d take the Ruger American Rifle and hunt anywhere in the world with it — in confidence.” And I mean that.
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