July 18, 2012
If there's been a silver lining in these tough economic times, it's the attention gun makers have paid to building guns that nearly anyone can afford. Certainly this is not a new phenomenon. Since the early days of the 20th century gun companies have developed low-cost models to round out their product lines.
Now, venerable U.S. gun company Ruger has jumped into the pool with the new American Rifle, a 100 percent made-in-the-USA centerfire bolt action. List price of the American is $449, which means you'll probably be able to find it for $100 less at many outlets.
So what's the big deal? If a company coming out with a low-end rifle model is nothing new, why is the Ruger American noteworthy? The difference is that, thanks to computer-aided design and cutting-edge production processes, economy guns are so much better now than they ever were — with great accuracy, good triggers and more features.
And it is the trigger, among other features, that sets the American apart from, one, many other low-end rifles and, two, from the Savage AccuTrigger that set the bar for the modern sporting-rifle trigger. Like the AccuTrigger — to which the Ruger's trigger was immediately compared when it was introduced — the Ruger Marksman Adjustable trigger employs a release lever in the shoe, but unlike similar designs, this release locks the trigger, not the sear, so no matter how low you set the spring, the sear cannot trip.
Adjustment is accomplished by screw in the front face of the trigger assembly. Adjustment range is a claimed three to five pounds; I was able to adjust the sample on mine to three pounds, three ounces, and as a test I turned the adjustment screw all the way out — and was able to verify Ruger's claim that the sear won't trip no matter how light the spring is adjusted.
The pull on the Marksman Adjustable is decent but not great because it's got a little bit of creep in it, but the pull weights are consistent. Average pull weight as delivered was three pounds, 12 ounces for 10 pulls on a Lyman digital scale, and the weight never varied by more than two ounces.
I was more impressed with the design of the bolt, a one-piece, full-body affair that features a three-lug head. Ruger went this route because the full-body design requires less milling. The cool thing about the bolt is it features two cocking cams that divide the cocking force — requiring just six pounds of upward pressure to move the bolt handle through its 70 degrees of travel.
This design accomplishes a couple of things. One, the easy uplift means the bolt works easily so you don't ever have to take the rifle off your shoulder to work the action (and you really shouldn't, you know). Two, the 70-degree travel leaves plenty of room between the handle and whatever scope you decide to mount — unlike some bolt-action designs.
The full-body bolt glides smoothly in the receiver tube, making it a pleasure to cycle the action at whatever speed you desire. The bolt handle is one piece and fits in a squarish hole in the bolt body. The bolt shroud is relatively easy to remove for cleaning, but mind the owner's manual caution not to move the cocking piece beyond what's recommended or you'll have a bit of a struggle to get it back into position. Guess how I know that?
Unlike Ruger's flagship Model 77, the American Rifle features a sliding, two-position tang safety instead of the Winchester 70-type three-position wing. The action can be cycled with the rifle on Safe.
As mentioned, the receiver is enclosed, with flats machined into it for both looks and weight savings. And in a departure for Ruger, it does not feature the milling that permits the use of the company's hallmark integral mount system. Instead, two single-slot Weaver bases (supplied, not installed) mate to matching holes in the receiver's top.
One other feature deserves mention here. The bolt release is an unobtrusive spring-loaded lever at the left rear of the receiver — dispensing with the sharp (and ugly, in my opinion) release found on the Model 77.
Borrowing once again from the Savage playbook, the 22-inch, cold-hammer-forged barrel attaches to the receiver via a barrel nut. Unlike the Savage, though, the nut is smooth and hardly noticeable.
The Ruger American employs what it calls the Power Bedding system. It utilizes two bedding blocks that become part of the stock during the injection molding process; the glass-filled polypropylene flows around the blocks, locking them in place. These mate up with cutouts milled into the receiver tube, a setup that creates a solid platform for the barreled action and also negates the need for a separate recoil lug.
The rifle feeds from a four-round rotary magazine with an integral release at the front that is spring-loaded and pivots on a pin.
As mentioned, the stock is glass-filled polypropylene. The fore-end sports a finger groove, the result of Ruger's "voice of the customer" initiative that pursues feedback from consumers — including, in this case, Ruger's gunny workers checking out the stock on their breaks and weighing in on the design.
The fore-end and the grip both feature stippled, impressed panels for a sure grip, and the grip sports the Ruger phoenix logo in red on the cap. It's finished off with a somewhat novel recoil pad. Whereas most recoil pads are hollow in the center with hard edges, the Ruger pad is "hollow" on the edges so it crushes more.
This is an important point. When I got invited to participate in the American's rollout event in Texas and learned that we would be going through an abbreviated version of FTW's Sportsman's All Weather All Terrain Marksmanship course, my shoulder hurt just thinking about it. I knew we would likely be shooting hundreds of rounds — and in this case from a .30-06 that weighs a mere 6.25 pounds.
My old friend Ken Jorgensen, Ruger's media relations man, assured me the American Rifle was really soft-shooting, in large part due to this recoil pad. Old friend or not, Ken certainly wasn't going to tell me, "Scott, this rifle's going to kick the crap out of you, and you're really going to be hurtin' by the time this event is over."
Turns out, Ken was right, and my fears were unfounded. To be sure, the SAAM instructors issued us PAST recoil shields to wear during the course, and not being idiots we wore them religiously.
What followed was one of the most intense workouts I've ever been able to give a test rifle. Sure, I've hunted with many of the guns I've written about, and I've certainly spent considerable time at the range — on the bench and off — with all of them. But I've never shot one for more than two days straight, launching hundreds of rounds at distant targets, point-blank targets and even moving targets. It was about the most fun I've ever had with a rifle.
At FTW, my American was fitted with a Zeiss Conquest 3-9X with the Z600 reticle and, notably, a strap-on cheekpad. The SAAM guys are adamant about the importance of having your eye centered behind the scope for utmost accuracy. If you buy a Ruger American Rifle, you'll get a warranty card in the box. If you return the card, Ruger will send you a free adjustable cheekpad. If you want, you can choose an optional Spec Ops pad for a few bucks more.
With guns ready to roll, we headed to FTW's ranges with cases and cases of Hornady 168-grain A-Max loads. A lot of the shooting was at distance, all the way out to 1,000 yards, but we also practiced close-in work — engaging buffalo and elephant targets at danger-close distance.
Much of this involved bringing the rifle to bear from a slung or low-ready position, sometimes involving footwork such as pivoting to fire, and always involving drills that called for fast, accurate follow-up shots. I also got the opportunity to fire multiple shots on a moving buffalo target that danced back and forth as I tried to get shots into the vitals.
I came away from these exercises duly impressed with the American's handling characteristics. Its light weight makes it lively, and it comes to the shoulder nicely and points really well. And the bolt work? Slick as slick could be. The handle is properly positioned and the right size for sure grasping, and the full-body, twin-cam, 70-degree bolt delivers lightning-fast follow-ups.
If you would've told me that I could hit seven-inch plates with shocking regularity out to 700 yards with a plain Jane '06 that costs less than $500, I would've snorted with disbelief. Well, I'm a believer now.
I hit plates all the way out to 1,000 yards, but I think what amazed me most was how easy it was to make hits on deer vital-size plates out to 500 yards. On our last drill of the trip, I got first-round hits on seven-inch plates out to 550 yards and second-round hits all the way out to 700 on the same-size target.
We were shooting from prone with bipods, sure, and we had the advantage of people who know the winds on their home ranges helping us out. But there is no way in hell you could make shots like that if you didn't have an accurate rifle.
A few weeks after the Texas shoot, the very same rifle I'd used on the trip was shipped to me, sans scope. I mounted a 3-9x40 Burris Signature on the American, a scope probably more appropriate for a sub-$500 rifle than the Zeiss was.
For my accuracy test, I didn't shoot the same A-Max load that we'd used in Texas but rather some loads more in keeping with a hunter's rifle. Two of the four loads averaged sub-inch, and the two that didn't were still well within the realm of what I'd consider accurate rifle/ammo combinations.
The groups making up these averages were very consistent, with two exceptions. One group with the Remington ammo exceeded the two-inch mark, and one group with the Hornady Custom load printed an incredible 0.35 inch. Full disclosure: That one had a flyer I discounted, because as I always do, if I call a shot bad, I reshoot it and don't include the bad one because I don't believe it's fair to penalize a rifle for something I did.
Criticisms? Just a couple. The first is actually a tribute to the design and not a flaw in any way — but still something you should be mindful of. Several times I wasn't sure I'd chambered a round. It just didn't feel like the bolt had picked the cartridge out of the mag and fed it. And it wasn't just me; several of the writers at the Texas event remarked on the same phenomenon. All guns should have such a "problem."
Two, it didn't like to feed the flat-point bullets found in Fusion's 170-grain Lite load. Can't explain it other than the entry angle doesn't care for such bullets, although this isn't a bullet design that's in wide use, so I wouldn't consider it a real issue.
Three, and this is pure personal preference, I hate enclosed receivers. I like to be able to single-load while at the bench, and if a round of ammo hangs up — whether at the bench or in the field — I want to be able to get my fingers in there.
But these are minor considerations, and I can't think of a reason why anyone in the market for a hunting rifle wouldn't consider the American, whether you're looking for an economical gun or not. It's accurate, has a good trigger, feeds reliably, handles well and is kind to the shoulder — both in the shooting and in the carrying. In short, it's a winner.
Gun services provided by Turner's Outdoorsman. Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges.
Fast Specs: Ruger American Rifle
- Type: three-lug bolt action centerfire; twin cams, 70-degree lift
- Caliber: .243, .270 Win., .308, .30-06 (tested)
- Capacity: 4; rotary synthetic magazine w/integral release
- Barrel: 22 in.; cold hammer forged alloy steel w/6-groove rifling; 1:10 twist (as tested)
- Overall length: 42.5 in.
- Weight: 6.25 lb.
- Finish: matte black
- Stock: black; glass filled polypropylene w/fore-end groove
- Trigger: single-stage Marksman Adjustable; 3 lb. 10 oz. pull (as tested); trigger-blocking release in finger lever
- Safety: two-position tang; bolt can be operated on Safe
- Sights: none; Weaver-style bases supplied
- Price $449
- Manufacturer: Ruger
- Smallest avg. group (tie): 170 gr. Fusion Lite, 180 gr. Hornady Interlock — 0.88 in.
- Largest avg. group: 180 gr. Remington Core-Lokt Ultra — 1.58 in.
- Avg. of all ammo tested (4 types) — 1.2 in.
- Notes: Accuracy results are averages of three three-shot groups at 100 yards off a Caldwell Fire Control rest.