Guiding Right: Ruger Guide Gun Review
April 30, 2013
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.
The rifle's express rear sight is a bit deeper than the author would prefer. Its white line indexes with the front sight's white bead.
The Guide Gun's threaded muzzle offers the option of a muzzle brake, a muzzle weight that matches the brake's weight or a thread cap for those who don't want the brake and prefer a shorter tube.
The stock features a spacer for a more or less custom fit and a cushy recoil pad to soak up the recoil from the hard-charging calibers for which the Guide Gun is chambered.