In recent years, many states that once prohibited the use of centerfire rifles for deer hunting have relaxed those laws. My home state of Ohio is one, and our neighbors in Michigan and Indiana are also allowed to use certain centerfire rifles for deer hunting as well. Suddenly lever-action rifles became a hot commodity in my home state, and rifle ranges around home echoed with the roar of .45-70s and .444 Marlins.
Ruger decided to offer up an affordable bolt-action for this new crop of freshly minted rifle hunters with the addition of the American Ranch rifle in .450 Bushmaster. Like the rest of the American line it features a three-lug "fat" bolt and a one-piece receiver with a narrowed ejection port for added stiffness to improve accuracy. A two-position tang safety is well-positioned for easy access and allows the rifle to be loaded and unloaded with the safety engaged.
Ruger's Marksman bladed trigger allows the shooter to easily adjust trigger pull from three to five pounds, and the rifle features Ruger's Power Bedding internal bedding block that free-floats. The injection-molded flat dark earth stock is light and has wide serrations on the thin pistol grip and the grooved fore-end. Each American comes with a pre-mounted aluminum top rail.
Where the American Ranch differs is its 16.12-inch heavy barrel with a Ruger muzzle brake with 11/16-24 threads. That stubby pipe keeps weight to an absolute minimum—5.5 pounds—making it one of the few big-bore bolt actions on the market that weighs less than many mountain rifles.
The other notable difference between the .450 American Ranch and the rest of the clan is the beefy box magazine that juts below the belly of the stock. The injection-molded single-stack mag holds three rounds of ammo. The magazine release is located at the front of the box and there are contoured, textured edges on the bottom of the magazine to aid in removing it from the rifle.
The .450 Bushmaster is a potent load that produces almost 2,700 ft.-lbs. of energy at the muzzle. That's roughly equivalent to a .308 Win., but the Bushmaster's heavy bullet and modest velocity (2,200 fps with Hornady loads) do not a long-range cartridge make. When sighted in 2.5 inches high at 100 this load drops almost 3.5 inches below zero at 300 yards. But 300 yards is a long shot at an eastern deer.
Ammo selection is limited. Remington offers an AccuTip 260-grain load, but it was back-ordered at the time of testing. Hornady offers .450 loads in its Custom and Black lines with both offerings using the same FTX bullet and offering up identical ballistics.
Generally, range testing is an exercise designed to determine accuracy potential from a single rifle/load combination, but the range test with the .450 was also about determining how brutal it would be to touch off a .45 caliber 250-grain rifle cartridge in a gun that weighs less than many sheep hunting rifles.
The Ruger .450 Bushmaster does produce substantial recoil, but the muzzle brake helps. It's not a gun that would be ideal for a brand-new shooter, but I can tell you for certain the Ruger's kick is less brutal than what a six-pound 12-gauge pump shotgun produces with three-inch magnum slug loads—because that's what I carried when hunting Ohio whitetails. The .450's setback is stout but manageable, and the soft rubber recoil pad does its job effectively. Muzzle blast is pretty fierce, though.
For this test I paired the rifle with a Leupold VX-2 3-9x33mm Ultralight scope, a compact variable. So equipped the gun averaged right above an inch with both loads and produced a couple groups that were less than an inch—impressive performance for a big bore. Accuracy potential was enhanced thanks to adjustable trigger, which came from the factory right at four pounds. The American Ranch's pistol grip and fore-end geometry offer a comfortable hold, and the dual cocking cams make it easier to reload this rifle from the shoulder for faster follow-up shots.
Is this the new face of Midwestern deer rifles? Maybe. The American Ranch in .450 makes an admirable whitetail gun. It's far more accurate than the average slug gun, and its light, compact design makes it ideal for hunting in thick cover or from a tree stand. Out to 200 yards this rifle is perfectly adept at killing game.
Plus it would be a superb hog hunting gun capable of dropping the biggest boar with authority, and black bear hunters would appreciate its power and the .45 caliber wound channel it would create. With a suggested retail price $599 and a street price below that, it's also reasonably priced. As long as .450 Bushmaster ammo is available, this gun will have a place in the game fields.