It was early in the year when I heard the first rumor about a “new .375 cartridge.” It remained cloaked in secrecy for some time, but so what? Ho hum, yawn. Anything anybody needed in a .375-caliber cartridge was done in by Holland and Holland in 1912, right? Anything anybody thought they needed in a .375 cartridge was done by Roy Weatherby, not once but twice (.375 and .378 Weatherby Magnums)–and again by Remington in 2000 with the .375 RUM. Well, no hurry; this new wonder boy will come along in due time, and I’ll have to grit my teeth and write about it.
Such was my attitude in early June 2006 when Steve Hornady and I went to Zimbabwe. I must be a retro sort of guy; I was extremely excited about the first American rifle and load for the .450/.400-3 inch (.400 Jeffery) that I carried, and I wasn’t in the least jealous that Steve carried the first M77 Ruger in .375 Ruger.
I must say that Steve did some very good work with this rifle and cartridge. During the course of nearly three weeks he took more than a dozen animals from impala to Cape buffalo in size with the .375 Ruger, and he managed to use all three of Hornady’s loads for the new cartridge: 270-grain Interlock spirepoint, 300-grain InterBond roundnose and 300-grain FMJ roundnose.
OK, I was actually, grudgingly, impressed. Steve Hornady hadn’t been in Africa for a long, long time, but he’s done as much mountain hunting as anyone I know. He shot like a machine, making difficult shots look easy and easy shots look like child’s play.
But nobody makes taking that amount of game look easy with a poor rifle or an unsuitable cartridge, nor can it be done without consistently good bullet performance. In his hands the .375 Ruger performed at least as well as any .375 H&H I’ve ever seen.
A BRAND-NEW .375
This is not damning with faint praise, not at all. The .375 H&H provides one of the world’s greatest benchmarks for performance. Throughout most of Africa it is the accepted minimum for thick-skinned dangerous game, and it is also a world standard in terms of versatility. With a 95-year track record, it is also a benchmark for bullet performance.
Any .375 cartridge must first be judged against the H&H. It is my opinion that the primary reason the .376 Steyr failed is because it didn’t come close enough in performance. The .378 Weatherby, on the other hand, has never been popular because it is too much of a good thing: too much more recoil and too fast for most .375 bullets.
The .375 Ruger is not the .375 H&H, but it measures up well, and in all ways. In fact, as much as it truly galls me to say this, the .375 Ruger is probably a better cartridge. (Ouch, just typing that line hurt me.) The .375 Ruger is a joint project between Hornady and Ruger, and it is the first big-game rifle cartridge to bear the Ruger name.
It starts with a very clever case, a straight, unbelted case with exactly the same .532-inch rim as the .375 H&H. Since it is a rimless, unbelted case that doesn’t “step down” in front of the belt, it is thus a fatter case than the .375. The case ends at 21?2 inches–.30 inch shorter than the .375 H&H–but since it’s a bit fatter and has no taper before the shoulder, it slightly exceeds the .375 H&H in powder capacity.
The goal of the engineers was not to exceed .375 H&H performance but simply to equal it in a cartridge that would fit in a standard-length (.30-06-length) action and fit existing belted magnum bolt faces. Based purely on case capacity, a fairly straight .532-inch-diameter case with a fairly sharp shoulder should do this, and it does. Except that the engineers didn’t factor in the bonus delivered by the shorter, fatter case.
It turns out that the .375 Ruger easily exceeds standard .375 H&H velocities in all bullet weights, delivering a significant bonus of more than 100 fps with the 300-grain bullet and approaching 200 fps with a 270-grain bullet. The efficiency of the cartridge actually yields a dual bonus. The full velocity increase can be had from a slightly shorter barrel–as in 22 or 23 inches–and a short 20-inch barrel at least equals and will generally exceed .375 H&H velocity.
The velocity bonus is significant because it provides considerably more energy, slightly flattens trajectory and, from a pure marketing standpoint, places the .375 Ruger very close to the .375 Weatherby Magnum and .375 Remington Ultra Magnum in performance. Personally, I don’t give much of a hoot about the extra velocity. It’s OK, but, after all, the .375 H&H has been adequate since 1912, so I don’t think that is what is most important about the new cartridge.
Rather, I think the case design is extremely clever from a manufacturer’s standpoint because you have a bigger, fatter case that will not only fit existing bolt faces (as do rebated rims) but also feed well from existing magazine boxes. Is it significant that it fits in a .30-06-length action? As with most things in life, what you see depends on where you sit.
It is very significant for Ruger because its .375-length (actually, a full-size magnum that also accommodates the .416 Rigby) action is only built into its M77 Mk II “express” rifle, an excellent rifle that is more than twice as expensive as the standard Ruger M77 Mk II–which is only available in a .30-06-length action.
The .375 Ruger gives the company the opportunity, for the first time, to house this level of power, performance and versatility in the standard Ruger M77 Mk II. It happens to be significant for me personally because its only left-hand action is also .30-06 length. The company is introducing the .375 Ruger in two configurations under the M77 “Hawkeye” name: a wooden-stock, 23-inch-barrel model called the M77 Hawkeye “African” and a Jim Hogue synthetic-stock, 20-inch-barrel version, which will be known as the “Alaskan.”
Both are equipped with Ruger’s scope-mounting system. The only special feature–and it’s a good one–is that these rifles have a very good and sturdy fixed-blade rear sight with a 3/32-inch front bead on a barrelband ramp. Left-hand models–good news for me, of course–will be available by mid-2007.
In early September Hornady’s Wayne Holt and Ruger’s Ken Jorgensen joined me at outfitter J.P. Kleinhans’ camp in coastal Mozambique to film a segment for our Petersen’s Hunting Adventures TV show.
I had been in Africa for some time before they arrived, and unfortunately, a left-hand version of the .375 Ruger couldn’t be cobbled together before I departed. No matter–Wayne and Ken came in well heeled. Ken had a .375 Ruger in the classic M77 walnut stock, still a prototype but exactly the way this version will be marketed.
Wayne had one in the Jim Hogue synthetic, the only difference from the version that will hit the market being that his still wore a 23-inch barrel rather than the 20-inch tube that will appear on the production model. Both rifles had the new iron sights, and I like them very much; they are far superior to the “mostly for looks” folding leaves long supplied.
We checked zero on the runway–hardly a perfect range setup, but it had seemed to me that Steve Hornady’s .375 Ruger shot very well, and it seemed to me that both of these did also. Certainly, they were good enough to go hunting with, and that’s exactly what we did.
Once again, there should be no surprise in what a cartridge that slightly exceeds a .375 H&H should do on game, provided the bullets perform. The Hornady bullets–on this hunt, fast 270-grain Interlocks and deep-penetrating 300-grain FMJs–performed perfectly, and thus the cartridge did as well. Game taken ranged from warthog and bushbuck on up through sable and waterbuck, then up again to buffalo and crocodile.
Perhaps the most spectacular example was, at least to my eye, Ken Jorgensen’s buffalo. We got on that herd in late afternoon, with very little time for finesse. They quickly found a good bull in the middle of the herd, but other buffalo covered him up, and as the afternoon melted away he refused to come clear for a shot. Ken and J.P. maneuvered as long as they could, but when the sun was almost setting they used the standard last-light field-expedient tactic of charging into the herd, hoping the bull they’d selected would do the right thing.
He did. The herd spooked, of course, as they often do in the evening. They pulled up short, and, luckily, the bull they wanted turned and gave them a clear frontal shot. Ken and J.P. had already put on the brakes and put up the shooting sticks, so when the bull faced them Ken gave him a perfect frontal shot with a 270-grain Interlock.
Most of the time a bull hit in this manner will take three or four steps forward to regain his balance, then he’ll whirl and run the almost obligatory 50 or 60 yards of a buffalo hit perfectly in the chest. This bull took the bullet, tried to turn, fell over and didn’t get back up. Absent a spine shot, this truly is as good as it gets and is a very rare thing to observe.
On plains game the .375 Ruger continued its spectacular performance, but that should also not be a surprise. Since 1912 the .375 H&H has provided one of the finest one-rifle safari batteries available, and in a shorter, lighter, handier rifle with a .30-06-length action the .375 Ruger will do the same.
Wayne Holt shot a very fine sable, also at last light. Sable are extremely tough, and this bull was in a big herd. I wasn’t worried, but I was definitely concerned; if he didn’t get him down on the spot, we would have a hard time finding him before morning. No worries–Wayne shot him very well, and the .375 Ruger literally threw him to the ground.
On another afternoon I used Wayne’s rifle to take a lovely waterbuck. The bull had been bedded during the stalk, but just as we got in range and got set, he got up and faced me. This animal, too, folded to a frontal shot with the 270-grain Interlock.
A LEFTY AT LAST
I left Ken and Wayne in Mozambique to do a bit more hunting and headed home. As Ken had promised, when I got home there was a long Ruger box awaiting me, and in it was the very first left-hand Ruger M77 in .375 Ruger. This was a walnut-stocked rifle, 23-inch barrel, good iron sights. In another box was plenty of Hornady ammo. I wasted little time getting it to the range, and in a proper left-hand rifle I can offer more detailed shooting impressions.
Accuracy in this particular left-hand rifle is good, but in my opinion it’s not as good as Steve Hornady’s rifle was. This is no surprise; accuracy in any factory rifle is going to vary, and I saw the normal variance from good enough to very, very good. Too, none of the barrels have been shot enough to have been properly broken in, so at this stage good enough is definitely good enough.
Recoil is considerable. The .375 H&H is a pussycat for its power level, but when you go up from .375 H&H velocity you are going to go up fast in recoil. Ruger’s straight stock design helps considerably, but you must also take into account the fact that, with a shorter barrel and a lighter (smaller equals lighter) action, most .375 Ruger rifles will be lighter than most .375 H&H rifles.
They do produce a bit more recoil. I can handle it. Ken, Steve and Wayne could handle it. My girlfriend, Donna (who is also left-handed), tried it and wasn’t too sure about it. For almost anyone, however, the .375 Ruger kicks enough to take some getting used to, and I don’t recommend shooting it off the bench any more than is absolutely necessary.
Feeding is superb, not only in the left-hand rifle but in all the right-hand rifles I have seen. As most of you know by now, obtaining smooth feeding can be problematic with our new short, fat magnums, but this does not seem to be a problem with this cartridge, at least not in the Ruger M77 with .30-06-length action.
The reason I abandoned Wayne Holt and Ken Jorgensen in the wilds of Mozambique was because I had a short turnaround before a long-awaited safari in Tanzania. I’m leaving in just a few days, and that left-hand .375 Ruger is already in my gun case, with both solids and softs in my bulging duffel bag.
We’re going to a new area, and I have no idea exactly what we’ll find, but I’m certain the .375 Ruger will be up to the challenge–just as certain as I am that Hornady and Ruger have a winner of a .375 cartridge, a cartridge that may well redefine, for the first time since 1912, our concept of the world’s best all-around cartridge.