March 11, 2022
By Joseph von Benedikt
Bill Ruger’s extraordinary No. 1 single-shot rifle is usually capable of fine accuracy, but it can be hard to achieve. Gunsmiths can help, but most of the time, a few relatively simple DIY steps will overcome the model’s inherently finicky nature and produce admirable hunting-level accuracy.
The No. 1 arrived on the scene in 1966, and it is complex and finicky because of its engineering. While it’s bull-strong, reliable as a sledgehammer and adaptable to nearly any shoulder-fired cartridge ever designed, it has a number of hurdles you may need to overcome.
Because extensive load testing in the skinny-barreled versions sometimes renders additional steps unnecessary, I’ll start there. Many serious Ruger No. 1 shooters will tell you that No. 1 barrels take some serious break-in. Some advise against doing any accuracy testing until you’ve fired at least 100 rounds through your barrel. Others use a fire-lapping routine like Tubb’s Final Finish or Wheeler’s fire-lapping kit, a process that can increase accuracy and result in much easier cleaning as well.
Once you’ve broken-in the barrel, in whichever way you’ve chosen, purchase a box of every factory load that meets your needs in terms of game you plan on hunting or what kind of target shooting you plan to do. Unlike quality bolt actions, many No. 1s shoot just one load out of many well. This testing can cost several hundred dollars, but if you persevere, you’ll likely find a load that your particular rifle really likes.
Sometimes it really is as simple as that. I have a lovely light sporter in .280 Ackley Improved that demonstrated a woeful amount of vertical stringing with load after load. That’s a sign of adverse fore-end influence (which I’ll get to in a bit) but also a function of the slim barrel.
Almost at the end of my rope because I wanted to shoot a tough, heavy-for-caliber projectile, and none of the usual candidates were working, I tried a box of Nosler’s 140-grain E-Tips. Voilà! Tidy groups of right at an inch—predictably and on demand. The bullets aren’t heavy, but they’re tough. And groups showed no fliers, no stringing. I was a happy man.
It’s worth noting here that the No. 1 heavy sporter and big-bore Tropical variations rarely exhibit the finicky nature of the lighter guns with slim barrels. Presumably, the hefty barrels overcome a plethora of bad influences and as a result are more likely to shoot well.
As you accuracy-test, employ a couple of No. 1-specific shooting techniques. Rest the fore-end on your front sandbag as close to the action as you can. Another approach, which I like because it approximates field positions while hunting, is to always grasp the fore-end in your support hand and rest the back of your hand on the sandbag.
Again, gripping close to the action is best, because it minimizes potential pressure variation in the fore-end/barrel relationship. This is particularly true with stock rifles that haven’t had the fore-end free-floated or shimmed (again, more on this later).
I’ve been unable to discover the reason why many No. 1s have deep chamber throats, but I can tell you that No. 1 rifles commonly benefit from handloading, and this applies to slim- and heavy-barreled versions alike. Seat your chosen projectile close to the rifling and you’ll likely see a dramatic increase in accuracy. As an aside, you may be obliged to shoot heavy-for-caliber or mono-metal bullets because they have long enough shanks to be held securely by the cartridge case and still reach out far enough to nearly contact the rifling.
In my opinion, this is not a detriment; rather, it’s the opposite. When hunting with a single-shot, I have no intention of shooting long on game, and I much prefer heavy-hitting bullets to ensure maximum effect on big, tough game such as elk.
A big issue with Ruger No. 1s is the fore-end, which is affixed via a hanger protruding forward from the action. The fore-ends are not free-floated, and they usually make contact in multiple spots along the barrel channel.
This is a problem. Whenever the rifle is rested on the fore-end, pressure applied up through it exerts influence on the barrel and changes its harmonics—and point of impact. Resting the rifle in different places on the fore-end causes different amounts of shift. Plus, when humidity changes, the amount of pressure exerted by those contact points changes and your zero shifts.
In the Ruger No. 1 collector’s world, free-floating a fore-end is mildly taboo because it diminishes value. So a pseudo free-float method has emerged. Shooters install a metal or nylon washer or an aluminum shim between the hanger and the stock. In essence, this nearly free-floats the fore-end, and in some cases it fully free-floats it. As a result, it reduces the negative influence of the fore-end without making any value-reducing change to the firearm’s collectability.
An alternate method is to install a pressure point at the fore-end tip. A pressure point can dampen barrel harmonics and increase accuracy by focusing the effect of fore-end contact to one specific point. However, changes in the way you hold and rest your rifle can still cause changes to the pressure point and thereby to your point of impact. Worse, varying humidity levels change stock dimensions and cause point of impact shifts.
In a similar vein, E. Arthur Brown (eabco.net) manufactures a device called the Hicks No. 1 Accurizer. It fits on the end of the fore-end hanger and features a harmonic tuning screw that applies a pressure point to the underside of the barrel. Some inletting must be done to fit it into the barrel channel. Shooters I know who have used it say it’s effective.
If you’re not a collector and would rather just maximize the potential of your hunting rifle, it’s better to properly free-float the fore-end. Work carefully because big gaps between fore-end and barrel are unsightly, but remove enough wood that the various differing pressures from shooting rests, sticks and so forth can’t cause contact with the barrel.
Ruger leaves a high spot in the wood right at the fore-end tip, which I suspect is both visual and a modest attempt to enhance accuracy. Go ahead and remove it, too, working until you can easily slide a strip of paper between the fore-end and barrel almost all the way back to the action. Last, seal the fresh wood you’ve exposed with a good wood finish to minimize potential swelling and warping if it’s exposed to moisture.
Don’t overtighten the fore-end screw. The contact point is small, and the wood will compress easily. If the wood compresses, it brings the fore-end back into contact with the barrel and reintroduces accuracy issues.
While many shooters stop after free-floating the fore-end, one more thing can make a big difference. Glass-bed the rear of the fore-end to the front of the action. If you don’t, the only thing holding the fore-end in place is a screw and a little 0.50x0.62-inch wood-to-metal-hanger contact. Rooting the fore-end to the multidimensional front face of the action really stabilizes it. While I’m at it, I bed the contact point at the hanger/fore-end screw, preventing it from compressing when the screw is snugged down.
I won’t go into the how-to details here; just be sure you apply release agent liberally. To position your fore-end so it stays perfectly centered around your barrel, apply a few layers of electrical tape around the barrel where the fore-end tip lies.
With the fore-end properly free-floated and bedded, changes in the way you hold and rest the fore-end should have minimal effect on point of impact, and hot-barrel stringing should be greatly reduced.
The last No. 1 I bedded exhibited extreme vertical stringing before free-floating and bedding. As in 100-yard groups an inch or less wide but up to four inches tall. After the fore-end accuracy work, vertical stringing was reduced by half. The right handload—a 7mm Berger 168-grain Classic Hunter bullet seated to kiss the rifling—resulted in sub-m.o.a. accuracy.
At this point in your accurizing work, you’ll likely find a fairly significant increase in accuracy when you repeat load testing. You may achieve wonderful results and not need to perform any additional work on your No. 1. However, if not, there are still a few steps you can take to ensure best-possible precision.
Assuming your No. 1 is fit with a quarter-rib-type scope base/rear sight, as most are, examine the fit between the rear end of the quarter-rib and the front of the action. There should be a visible gap when you hold it up to the light. If not, you’ll want to remove the quarter-rib and carefully machine or file the back end down until there’s no contact.
Why? Because when heated by a string of shots, the quarter-rib expands at a different rate than the barrel. If there’s contact with the front of the receiver, any heat-induced growth causes the end of the quarter-rib to bear firmly against the action, introducing torque to the top of the barrel and causing a progressive change in harmonics.
Some shooters encourage removing the quarter-rib and glass bedding its rear contact to the barrel and opening the front screw holes into an oval shape so the rib can grow forward without inducing stress and torque. That’s getting pretty obsessive, but if perfection is your jam and you like tinkering, have at it.
One of the best things you can do for your No. 1 is put a modest-size scope on that quarter-rib, particularly if the rifle is chambered for a heavy-recoiling cartridge. Consider the fact that unlike a bolt action, where the barrel is truly free-floated and not influenced by, well, anything, a No. 1 wears that quarter-rib and whatever amount of scope you want to hang atop it right on the barrel. The weightier your optic, the greater effect it will have on potential accuracy.
The No. 1 has a ponderous internal firing mechanism, resulting in a slow lock time, at least by modern standards. Therefore, it can be worth doing some trigger work. For several decades, Ruger used a well-built, easily adjustable trigger on the No. 1. Three screws enabled the owner to adjust pull weight, sear engagement and overtravel. Due to liability concerns, that trigger system was replaced by a non-user-adjustable version. Identified by its two-screw, factory-only adjustments, it is mildly disliked by many No. 1 enthusiasts.
I’ve had no trouble with the recently built No. 1s I’ve used, but if you really want a match-grade trigger, there are match-grade versions you can use to replace the current factory originals. Jard Triggers (jardinc.com) makes a $120 aftermarket version that can be ordered in your choice of pull weight, ranging from one pound to 4.5 pounds.
One final thing. If the through-bolt securing your rifle’s buttstock to the receiver gets a tad loose, accuracy can degrade. Keep a watchful eye out for this, because it can be hard to pick up on unless you’re looking for it.
So to recap. Break-in your Ruger No. 1’s barrel well, test a lot of ammo and tune handloads with bullets seated well out near the rifling leade. Shim the fore-end if you’re a collector; if you’re not, free-float it and glass bed it to the receiver. Ensure your rifle’s quarter-rib is positioned to minimize torque and mount a small scope. If you’re a trigger snob, install a quality aftermarket version.
By the time you’re done, you’ll have an intimate knowledge of your rifle, and in all likelihood, it will shoot sub-m.o.a. groups with its favorite load. That’s accuracy enough to ethically kill anything that a self-respecting single-shot hunter will ever shoot at.
Working with the RSI
One of the sexiest No. 1 variations is the RSI, with its sleek, full-length Mannlicher-type stock. It’s also undoubtedly the version most challenging to get to shoot well. Most enthusiasts claim that from a cold barrel an RSI will put the first two bullets close together and then all bets are off.
Why? Because it’s impossible to free-float its 20-inch fore-end. And the muzzle is captured by a lovely steel fore-end cap that keeps the end of the wood nice and snug around the barrel. As the barrel heats during a string of shots, contact with wood causes point-of-impact shifts.
Ruger has manufactured the No. 1 RSI off and on over the years, in some very intriguing cartridges. I’ve just started working with one in .257 Roberts. At first blush, it’s no varmint-accurate rifle. It’s adequate for use on deer to perhaps 200 yards, but I want more.
Once I’ve completed a full spectrum of accuracy testing with the few factory loads I can find as well as a few handloads, I intend to glass-bed the full length of that long, lovely Mannlicher fore-end. It’s the only way I can think of to reduce the unavoidable effect of wood warping and swelling or shrinking as I encounter varying levels of moisture while using the No. 1 RSI in the field.