In 1995, Guns and Ammo ran a special interest magazine dedicated solely to big-bore rifles. Although it was only on newsstands for a few months, that publication contained a treasure trove of information about guns designed to take down the world’s largest, meanest game. Joe Coogan discussed his fondness for the .458 Win. Mag. and Craig Boddington wrote about the various .416s.
The late G. Sitton waxed eloquent about the beloved .375 H&H, and John Wootters, another fabulous outdoor writer who has left us, taught us how to shoot these guns without getting our teeth knocked out. The .338 Win. Mag. was covered, as was the then-new .700 H&H Nitro Express. Almost 20 years later, this issue still contains a great deal of pertinent, practical knowledge. After all, the game hasn’t changed, and except for a few new cartridges, what worked in 1995 works just as well today.
If you ever happen upon a copy of that publication, you will immediately notice that one thing has certainly changed since the mid-’90s. The pages of the original Big-Bore Rifles are awash with fine English walnut stocks, ebony fore-end caps, full-length actions and multi-leaf express sights. If this were the only magazine you read before going on a hunt, you might expect your professional hunter to be carrying a Bond Street rifle from one of the finest London makers.
I’m sure many of the rifles on those pages are still in use in some remote and dangerous corner of the world, and big bores are as beautiful today as they were in 1995—or 1915, for that matter. However, what you’ll find no discussion of in the pages of that publication are the effects leather rifle scabbards, overturned canoes, Alaskan mud, Namibian sand and long, bumpy rides in Toyota Hi-Lux trucks have on beautiful rifles. Hard hunting requires tough guns, and nobody hunts harder than the pros.
I was under the impression that guides all carried expensive guns, and I was wrong. Three weeks in the thorns of Africa or the alders of the great white north will make a beautiful stock look like it’s been used to hammer out the points on a mile of barbed-wire fence. The life of a guide’s gun is pretty rough, and these professionals need a rifle that can stand the abuse without falling apart. Practicality is king.
At the time the big-bore special issue came out, Bill Ruger was selling one of the most beautiful rifles on the market, the Mark II Magnum. With its Circassian walnut stock, barrel band swivel stud, express sights and magnum action, it was the prototypical safari rifle of its time.
The rifle earned quite a reputation among the professionals who staked their lives on their rifles, and it will always be remembered as one of the few beautiful off-the-shelf dangerous game rifles built in this country.
Fast-forward to today, and a lot has changed. Synthetic models are more common than wooden stocks. The modern crop of budget rifles such as Ruger’s own American rifle will shoot sub-m.o.a. groups and have better triggers than even the top production guns carried twenty years ago. These same improvements have carried over into the niche market, and Ruger’s Guide Gun is one example.
Bearing almost no resemblance to its ancestor, the Mark II Magnum, the Guide Gun is all business. It is a purpose-built gun, engineered to withstand the abuse that months in the field can dish out. There isn’t any pretty wood to get scuffed, no mirror-finish bluing to mar or corrode, and no long barrel to get hung in the trees.
The Guide Gun looks as though someone locked Jeff Cooper and John Rigby in a design room and told them to build a rifle. It is a tool, and it isn’t a chisel or a scalpel. It’s a hammer, and it is built to hit things. Hard.
Pretty wood doesn’t last very long in the elements, but laminated stocks are darn near indestructible. Ruger’s Guide Gun wears a Green Mountain laminate, giving it the look and feel of wood with the durability of a laminate. Hard-recoiling rifles are tough on wood, and I’ve seen more than one big-bore rifle sidelined with a cracked stock, but this laminate ensures you won’t have to worry about cracking or warping.
A single steel cross bolt is located almost directly below the chamber in an effort to minimize the rotational force produced during firing. Like Ruger’s Scout Rifle, the Guide Gun has stock spacers that can be removed or added as needed, allowing for length of pull adjustments from 12.75 inches to 14.25 inches. Since a gun such as this could be called on in extremely hairy situations, you need a rifle that fits, and stock spacers are the most economical way to ensure at least reasonably good fit.
All of the external metalwork on the Ruger is matte stainless, which makes the most sense for a rifle like this. The finish is durable and resistant to corrosion, but the dull gray finish prevents the rifle’s metalwork from reflecting in the midday sun and acting as a warning beacon to game. The floorplate metal bears the Ruger logo, as does the bottom of the pistol grip.
Mechanically, the rifle shares the same action as other Ruger rifles, with a claw extractor that assures controlled feeding and a blade ejector. The internal magazine has a hinged floorplate with the release blade integrated into the front of the trigger guard, minimizing the risk of an accidental cartridge dump at the most inopportune time. The safety is a three-position wing-type that will be instantly recognizable to all the Ruger fans out there.
The Guide Gun incorporates the LC6 trigger system, which breaks clean and crisp just a bit over four pounds. Integral scope bases are machined into the receiver, and Ruger includes a pair of one-inch scope rings with the purchase of the rifle. I’ve always been a fan of Ruger’s ring system because of its simplicity, and throughout the duration of the test the Leupold Ultra Light 3-9×40 scope I used remained locked in place.
There are a few features the Guide Gun has that set it apart from other members of the Hawkeye lineup. First, it has a threaded barrel and comes with a muzzle brake, a muzzle weight and a barrel cap. It’s a simple setup, and the idea behind it is sound.
Not too many people want to practice with a .375 Ruger or a .338 Win. Mag. (the Guide Gun is available in both calibers as well as .338 Ruger Compact Mag., .300 Win. Mag. and.30-06) very long from the bench because of the beating those big rifles dole out. The screw-on muzzle brake that comes with the Ruger rifle significantly reduces recoil, enabling shooters to practice longer and better. In addition, the rifle weighs about nine pounds fully scoped and loaded, and the hefty recoil pad does an effective job of soaking up recoil.
During the test I did the bulk of my bench shooting with the muzzle brake in place, and although I can’t quantify the amount of recoil reduction that took place, I can assure you that the kick was far less than standard .375 Ruger rifles. If I had to estimate I’d say the recoil level was at or slightly below the amount generated by my 7.5-pound .30-06, so the rifle was easily manageable from the bench.
The problem with muzzle brakes, however, is a dramatic increase in noise and muzzle blast. Many guides and outfitters specifically tell their clients not to bring rifles with muzzle brakes because of this because they often find themselves positioned close to a client’s muzzle.
With the Guide Gun, switching the muzzle brake for the barrel weight is simple, and since the two screw-on pieces weigh the same, there won’t be any change in balance. If you don’t believe in switching muzzle brakes and barrel weights or don’t want to add two inches to the carbine-length barrel of the Guide Gun you can screw on the barrel cap. This interchangeable muzzle brake system will come standard on Ruger’s Hawkeye African rifles this year, too.
It would have been simpler to add a rotating system like Savage has—where the brake can be turned on or off by hand—but Ruger opted to go with the interchangeable system instead. It works just as well, but the interchangeable parts are just one more thing to lose on a trip.
The Guide Gun is fitted with express-type sights designed for rapid target acquisition. The rear sight has a V notch that, at least to my mind, is relatively deep for an express sight. It is adjustable for windage and elevation and has a white stripe that runs down from the base of the notch to assist in aligning the sight picture.
The front sight is a large white bead that is easily visible in low light. According to the Ruger manual, the white bead of the front sight should rest atop the stripe on the rear sight, and the front bead should be placed directly beneath the center of the target. I shot the rifle a half-dozen times or so using the iron sights from a standing position at 15 yards and found the sights to be pretty close just as they came from the factory—with bullets clustering in a tight group just behind the large front bead. A bit of elevation adjustment would put them right where they belong.
Mechanically, the gun never had a hiccup. The large claw extractor moved the cartridges in and out of the chamber effectively, and there were never any problems with feeding. I fired the rifle with a loaded magazine as well as feeding single cartridges, and there were never any glitches throughout the course of the roughly 60-round test.
When the .375 Ruger hit the market seven years ago, there were detractors who said it wouldn’t feed as well as the slope-shouldered African queen, the .375 H&H. This test didn’t lend any credence to that assertion, as the Guide Gun had no problem feeding .375 Ruger cartridges.
At the range, the Guide Gun performed quite well, especially for a big gun. The LCR trigger helped, and the muzzle brake certainly made it more comfortable to shoot.
All three loads averaged less than 1.5 inches at 100 yards, and one group of Superior was less than .90 inch from center to center. There’s an old adage that .375s will place bullets of different weights at the same point of impact, which didn’t happen in this case, but accuracy was consistent across the board.
The Guide Gun is billed as a durable carbine that is impervious to the elements and perfect for those rapid, close-range shots in heavy cover. And while it fits that bill nicely, it would be a shame to pigeonhole this rifle. In reality, it’s a very nice carbine-length bolt gun that will do just about anything you need it to. When chambered in one of the .338s or the .375 Ruger, it makes sense as a gun for hunting the great bears, and in .375 Ruger it would certainly work for chasing Cape buffalo and lion in Africa.
But the rifle is available in .30-06 and .300 Win. Mag. as well, and so chambered it would make an excellent woods rifle. In addition, the muzzle brake on the smaller calibers would make them a joy to shoot from the bench, provided you’re wearing plenty of hearing protection. Overall, this is a very well-built rifle that is capable of far more than the name suggests.