February 25, 2016
Two burgeoning trends among shooters in America — long-range, tactical-type shooting and long-range hunting — share a common interest: precision at extreme range. Shooters want aerodynamic bullets that buck the wind better than ever, cutting-edge cartridges that shoot them faster and with more efficiency, and rifles that place those aerodynamic bullets with surgeon-like precision. Enter the Ruger Precision Rifle.
The market for such rifles is dominated by smallish custom makers who guarantee extraordinary accuracy, but prices are four to eight times what a nice high-end hunting rifle would cost. Several of the big-name manufacturers have made token efforts to provide long-range rifles capable of precision, particularly on the hunting side, but most — if not all — of those models are merely line extensions.
Ruger took a different approach when engineering the new Ruger Precision rifle. Geared more to tactical shooters than to hunters, it's a refinement of design elements and features emerging as "must-haves" in the competitive world of sniper competition, Precision Rifle Series competition and so forth. These must-haves include a configurable stock, vertical grip, threaded muzzle and high-capacity magazine capability.
The Ruger Precision Rifle is not a repurposed hunting rifle. It's a from-the-ground-up, dedicated effort to build a specialized precision rifle. One criterion (bless Ruger) was that the rifle must be blue-collar affordable. Suggested retail is $1,399, so it's likely you'll be able to find it for closer to $1,000.
Initial caliber/configurations for the Ruger Precision Rifle include 6.5 Creedmoor with a 24-inch barrel (which I tested for this article), .308 Win. with a 20-inch barrel and .243 Win. with a fast-twist 26-inch barrel. The first and last are meant for bona fide long-range shooting, while the .308 version is likely to be popular among shooters firing suppressed out to 600 yards or so.
When developing the action, Ruger worked from the inherent accuracy of its American model and went with a three-lug, full-diameter bolt. Many accuracy gurus believe the three-lug design offers advantages in consistency and a fast, short 70-degree bolt lift. The full-diameter body aids smooth functioning. A stout 0.20-inch-wide extractor is dovetailed into one of the lugs, and a plunger-type ejector flings empties out of the ejection port. A changeable, oversize bolt knob is threaded onto the shank of the bolt handle.
At first blush, the bolt for the Ruger Precision Rifle looks odd. A 3.96-inch polymer shroud is attached to the rear of it; its function is to ride inside the AR-type stock tube and keep operation smooth and to hold a bolt disassembly tool. Also, the bolt's full-diameter body sports some interesting-looking cuts, which, Ruger's Mark Gurney explained to me, are to enable the bolt to function with both Magpul and AICS-type magazines in a simple, robust manner.
Yep, that's correct. The Ruger Precision Rifle accepts and functions beautifully with both AR-10-type polymer magazines from Magpul and with steel Accuracy International and other AICS-type magazines such as the Accurate Mag versions supplied with Ruger's popular Gunsite Scout rifle.
To remove the bolt, first fold the stock on its unique hinge (more on this later). Press the bolt release button on the left side of the upper and draw the bolt rearward, out the back of the receivers.
Internals of the Ruger Precision Rifle action are the same as on the Ruger American from the magazine up. It features a cylindrical, full-diameter raceway. The outside of the action is machined in a different shape from the American, and the bottom is different as well because it interfaces with the magazines.
Machined of pre-hardened 4140 chrome/moly steel, the Ruger Precision Rifle action is unique in that the stock mounting tube attaches directly to its rear via an in-line hinge. At the front, the barrel threads in, and a barrel nut enables easy, close-tolerance headspacing. The locking lug recesses are part of the receiver rather than interfacing with a barrel extension.
According to Gurney, Ruger doesn't call the bottom portion of the action a lower receiver. Rather, it's basically a magazine well of 7075-T6 aircraft-grade aluminum and is attached to the action bottom in two nicely fit halves.
The 1913-type rail atop the receiver has 20 minutes of angle built in so your scope won't run out of elevation adjustment, and it's affixed to the receiver with four stout 8x40 screws.
The Ruger Precision Rifle uses Ruger's Marksman Adjustable trigger, although the version in the Precision is adjustable from 2.24 to five pounds; the standard model only goes down to three pounds. (Remember the funny-looking shroud on the bolt? The appropriate Allen wrench for adjusting the trigger is stored inside.)
Savage-esque in appearance, the trigger utilizes an internal lever that is naturally depressed when a shooter addresses the trigger but prevents accidental discharge if the firearm is dropped or otherwise slammed with force. From the factory, the sample on my test Ruger Precision Rifle averaged two pounds, three ounces with less than two ounces of variation over a series of five measurements with a Lyman digital trigger gauge. It proved exceptional during a several-hundred-round course at the SAAM shooting school in Texas.
Typical AR-15 grips attach to the "lower" or mag-well halves, and the safety is in the classic, under-the-thumb position familiar to AR shooters. However, it requires only 45 degrees of rotation to engage and disengage the safety, making it easier to manipulate than most AR safeties. Plus, it's reversible for southpaw shooters, and it may be replaced with an ambidextrous AR safety if desired.
As mentioned earlier, the magazine well of the Ruger Precision Rifle accepts both Magpul (and M110, SR25 and DPMS) and AICS-type magazines, and the latch at the rear engages both equally well — the steel magazine via its ledge at the rear, the Magpul via its slot in the side. Since AICS-type magazines are narrower, there is a slight amount of side-to-side play, but function was perfect. Magpul magazines fit beautifully and exhibit no play, but the release lever must be pressed farther to drop them free. Each rifle ships with two 10-round Magpul magazines.
As you can see by the photos, the AR-type stock tube is mounted on a hinge attached to the rear of the action, allowing the user to fold the stock against the action on the left side. A button at the left rear of the hinge releases the stock, which rotates smoothly but snugly and closes bank-vault solid when swung back into shooting position. When folded against the side of the action, a small steel tab can be rotated downward to lock it there.
The hinge itself provides unique accuracy advantages. Since it serves to attach the stock to the rear of the action in true in-line fashion, it transfers recoil straight back, eliminating the serpentine path that recoil must follow with most hinged stocks. Vibration is minimized and flexing eliminated, which aids consistency. As a bonus, muzzle jump is minimized by virtue of the straight-line recoil, making it easier to stay on target through the shot and spot one's hits.
Since the Ruger Precision Rifle stock itself mounts on an AR-type buffer tube, just about any stock for an AR-15 rifle will work just fine. The one provided by Ruger is a nice configurable version, offering the user a cheekpiece adjustable for height (critical when precision is the game) and a length-adjustable buttpad. Once set to the shooter's preference, adjustable-tension tabs on the right side of the stock lock both adjustments solidly in place.
The machined aluminum stock of the Ruger Precision Rifle has a QD swivel cup at the bottom, as well as a section of rail for mounting a monopod. An additional QD cup on the left side of the stock allows additional options for carrying the rifle in the field.
Forward of the receiver, a medium-diameter (0.75 inch at the muzzle) straight-taper, cold-hammer-forged 4140 chrome/moly Ruger barrel is shrouded by a free-floated 15-inch Samson Evolution KeyMod handguard. The long rail atop the handguard is nicely indexed with the one atop the action, and it offers plenty of mounting space for night vision and similar gear. And for shooters who obsess over customizing their rifles, any AR-type handguard works just fine on the Ruger Precision.
Frankly, I wondered at first whether Ruger could build barrels capable of consistently producing accuracy competitive with the fine custom barrels used by makers that specialize in long-range precision guns. I was wrong to wonder: Every Ruger Precision Rifle I saw tested during the SAAM long-range shooting course was consistently capable of shooting three-shot groups under 0.5 m.o.a. with Hornady's factory 140-grain A-Max load. If the shooter did his part, five-shot groups under half m.o.a. were possible. Impressive indeed. Plus, the Ruger Precision Rifle maintained this exceptional accuracy and held point of impact as the barrels heated over a string of 10 or more shots.
Featuring 5R rifling, the barrels are touted to be held to minimum bore and groove dimensions and to be headspaced at minimum spec. Whatever Ruger is doing, it works. Rifled with a 1:8 twist rate, the 6.5 Creedmoor barrel will stabilize the longest, heaviest 6.5mm projectiles on the market.
Muzzles are threaded 5/8x24, enabling owners to mount a flash suppressor, compensator/muzzle brake or suppressor with ease. As an additional advantage, any gunsmith worth his salt can easily replace a barrel with just AR-type wrenches and an appropriate headspace gauge.
As might be expected, the Ruger Precision Rifle is no lightweight. In the Creedmoor it weighs 10.6 pounds bare. With a capable long-range scope in decent rings — and a bipod and monopod attached — it's a solid 14 pounds. While you wouldn't want to tote that up a mountain in pursuit of mountain goats, all that weight actually helps you get the best out of the Precision. The mass dampens movement and minimizes human inconsistencies — and it reduces recoil, too, which helps the shooter spot his or her hits downrange.
Once set up to fit you, the Ruger Precision Rifle is a comfortable rifle to shoot from the prone position or from improvised supported positions. While it can be done, shooting the Ruger Precision Rifle offhand unsupported is not comfortable. However, the forward portion of the receiver incorporates an angle designed specifically for bracing the rifle on the edge of a flat surface, such as a barrier.
After getting the supplied 4-20x50mm Burris XTR-II scopes zeroed at 100 yards, the knowledgeable SAAM instructors (retired Navy SEAL snipers, for the most part) had us refine and tweak our points of impact to perfection. This is critical because dialing one's scope for extreme distance accentuates any discrepancy from a calculated zero. There's no substitution for field confirmation, and after we began reaching out to longer distances, the instructors noted any deviations from our preprinted range cards. These notes were input at the lunch break, and we headed out for the afternoon with fresh cards.
I've done a considerable amount of long-range shooting, but I've rarely had a system come together as quickly as the Ruger Precision Rifle, Burris XTR-II and Hornady match ammo did. Hitting targets out to 700 yards was laughably easy, and with good wind calls and careful shot execution, consistent hits on 900- and 1,000-yard steel targets were not hard.
Each day we rotated through different ranges, pouring the ammo through our Ruger Precision Rifle. As far as I'm aware of, not one shooter had a malfunction through the three days of heavy shooting. The last morning, in a soft drizzle, we were allowed to tackle a 20-target "walk-through" course usually reserved for military snipers. Before we began, we were told that no shooter had ever aced the course, and only one had ever scored 19 out of 20. When the morning was over, the course still stood unconquered, but Ruger President Mike Fifer and I had both shot 19, bumping the total number of shooters who'd accomplished that to three. Pretty impressive performance for the Ruger Precision Rifle on a course commonly tackled by top-notch shooters with the very best long-range rifles. How's that for an off-the-shelf production rifle retailing under $1,400?