I have not been a fan of Ruger centerfire rifles for many years, but recently I have been looking at their new lines of centerfires. There is definitely some new blood at Ruger these days and it’s evidenced by the “American” series of rifles in both rimfire and centerfire models. They are a decided departure from the “M-77 “ series of rim and center fire rifles and, I must admit, a good one at that. My first contact with the American’s beyond a glance at the gun counter at one of the City gun shops, was my shooting buddy Rob showing up at the range with an American .22LR he’d bought on sale. I gave it an instant “...meh!” but revamped that to some interest when he shot it. His groups were spectacular with several different types of non-premium ammo.
My next contact was seeing a rack of Ruger “Predator” center fire rifles in a City gun shop. These came in earthy camo and were cut for a suppressor. The real catcher was the price: $389 US and available in a small group of chamberings including the hotly popular 6.5 Creedmore target cartridge. I had enough interest in the Predator Creedmore that I told the shop to call me when one came in. That hasn’t happened yet and may not for a while as their popularity seems to exceed Ruger’s production.
While patiently waiting for the Predator, the shop got in a shipment of Ruger American Ranch Rifles. Similar to the Predator but in carbine length, pale OD green synthetic stock, and threaded for a suppressor. What really caught my attention was that they came in 300 AAC Blackout chambering with the correct 1-7 inch twist tube. Again, $389 US. I drove home to think on that one and hit the You-Tube reviews. The reviews were a disappointment.
I found two full reviews on this rifle in 300AAC; One by some Hill Billies, and the other by Mall Ninjas. Both reviews were trying to be kind when they praised 2 MOA groups at 50 yards. “...right out of the box!” They even went as far as to misguidedly claim that 1 inch at 50 yards was 1 MOA. Not exactly encouraging. I wondered if they got bad rifles or just couldn’t shoot the 300 Blackout. Having worked with it’s C.I.P. certified twin, the 300 Whisper, I know that it takes a great deal of concentration and follow through to shoot accurately -especially with sub sonic loads. The Hill Billies got a bad magazine that stove piped rounds. They got a replacement from Ruger which also didn’t work but the reviewer added an addendum saying that he’d pulled the rotary magazine apart and wound the spool a turn tighter which cured the problem... a fact he failed to prove when he tried to demonstrate the proof of his labors. It still jammed and they left the review at that. Magazine problems, I came to realize, were a large issue with the American centerfires. All of this should have had me ditching the idea of buying a 300AAC Ruger but it was so tempting that I drove the 60 miles to town to buy the one they had in the rack.
Alas! I was too late. A law officer from up north had bought it. I told the clerk to call me when they got another. Strangely, I didn’t have long to wait. Four days later I got a call saying they’d gotten one from their sister store across the state. I picked it up the next afternoon with an extra 5 round magazine. That evening I hit the loading bench and loaded 40 rounds consisting of Sierra 168grn Match Kings over Hodgdon Lil Gun and the next day I was at the range.
The trigger was 4.5 pounds of awful but I managed to shoot solid 3/8 to half inch at 50M while zeroing my 6-18X scope. The magazine supplied with the rifle functioned perfectly but the extra one I’d purchased stove piped like the one in the Hill Billy video. I exchanged it at the store when I was in the City next. Well, dammit, that one didn’t work either! I made up five dummy cartridges and studied the situation. The rifle fed fine with three in the magazine but the back end of the cartridge seemed to drag on the tapered feed lips when loaded with five. I didn’t want to drive the 60 miles in to exchange this one for another that probably wouldn’t function, either. I also didn’t want to disassemble it so I took a direct approach. A flat swiss jeweler’s file was stroked back and forth on the front third of the feed lips. About 6 strokes in each direction at the point where the cartridge seemed to hang up. I’m not sure what I did, but it did the trick: The magazine now fed perfectly and smoothly, to boot. My next trip to the City brought home another magazine which also stove-piped the rounds inside the action when the bolt was cycled. The same quick strokes of the file instantly cured that one as well. Magazine issue fixed.**
I mentioned that the repaired magazine fed smoothly. That leads me to bring up the action. It was shipped ‘dry’ and felt raspy at first. A light coat of Lucas Gun Oil turned it into baby’s bottom smooth. The full diameter bolt still slips back and forth nicely with no wobble or drag despite having not been re-oiled. A plus on the Ruger’s side after the annoyance of the magazine function.
Ruger says the trigger pull on this rifle is adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds. I adjusted it to the lightest setting I could and it was still too heavy for my liking; about 3 pounds with a bit of take up. Like many Ruger triggers, that may improve with use. I’d see what it’s like when I have the coins for a Timney Trigger in my piggy bank and decide then. While I had the rifle apart, I got to admire the bedding system. Two, steel V-blocks set into the molded stock that correspond with two cuts in the action -one to the front, and one to the rear. The action screws draw directly down onto these blocks and the bed is very solid. Ruger recommends 60-65 inch-pounds of torque but it was very easy to use the Allen wrench to draw the screws down evenly. Final take up was so solid that it left no doubt the blocks were completely set into their recesses in the receiver. This is far cry from the ‘angular’ bedding screw found on the Model 77 center fires that gave so many shooters such headaches. The V-block bedding is another plus for Ruger. While seated in these blocks the barrel is supposed to be free floated. Mine was not: about .010 inches of foreend tip was bearing against the barrel. I removed it by scraping with a sharp bit of steel. Easily done.
Back at the loading bench I decided to depart from my original quest of having a rifle to shoot heavy cast bullets sub-sonically. I bought a box of Nosler 125 grain Hunting Ballistic tip bullets and loaded them to the OAL specified by Hodgdon. I stuck with Hodgdon’s Lil Gun loaded to 17 grains for 2150 fps. At 100 yards prone groups were good. All at MOA and very consistent from reformed military brass. I was encouraged. I also managed to get my hands on some Remington 220 grain Sub Sonic ammo. Groups at 100 yards were about MOA. At the same range outing I shot some Remington 115 grain MATCH which shot bug holes. I wrote the relative inaccuracy of the Subs to poor follow through but I have since learned that the factory sub-sonic ammo is very inconsistent in velocity, which may have augmented shooter error.
A stint of work and losing an hour of shooting light due to the onset of daylight savings kept me away from the range for a while. In the interim period I ordered a Kaw Valley linear compensator for the Ruger. I wanted a compensator or flash hide to protect the crown from the harsh environment of the rack behind the seat of my Lilux. The linear compensator reduces muzzle flip by focusing all the expended gasses forward and unlike the traditional compensator with upward venting, it actually reduces the ‘noise’ heard by those behind the muzzle. In rifles chambered in 300 AAC it does one other thing: by enhancing the recoil and reducing muzzle flip it makes the rifle less ‘hold sensitive’ when shooting sub sonic loads. Practical accuracy with all all loads was increased by the decreased recoil sensitivity of this 6 pound rifle. As fate would have it, shortly after I installed the Kaw Valley comp I fell into a good deal on a Timney trigger. That made the rifle oh! So Sweet! to shoot. On my post-install trip to the range with the Noslers -this time loaded to 17.8 grains of Lil Gun, my bullets were screwing themselves into a single ragged hole a half inch or so across from a bipod with no rear bag. I still have plenty of room with that Lil Gun load, too.
The day after the aforementioned Timney trial, I went up to the Crazy Mountains with my girlfriend so that she could fill her deer tag. A rancher friend had invited us up. That hunt was fun, but the night before the hunt spent in a small town north of the ranch proved interesting. They have a gun shop there and while browsing bullets I met a fellow who was diasppointed that they didn’t have any Barnes TSX 110 grain 30 cal bullets. That bullet was designed specifically as a deer bullet for the 300 AAC/Whisper and it was no surprise when he said he was shooting a 300AAC. He related that he had killed six deer with the 300AAC so far, using 110 grain Barnes, 125 grain Speer TNT, and the 125 grain Nosler bullets over varying charges of Hodgdon’s H-110. One deer was a “big buck at just under 200 yards” which, he said, traveled about 30 yards before collapsing after being heart/lung hit with the Barnes 110 at a starting velocity of 2495 fps. That shot, he said, was the farthest he’d made. Other kills were 50 to 150 yards. When I asked how the bullets performed at those ranges, he said that the deer “Folded faster than a bad poker hand.” He said he was particularly fond of the Speer TNT HP which he claimed accounted for three of the deer he shot. “Not as accurate as the Barnes or Nosler, but a serious killer.” When I asked about accuracy, he said that the Barnes and Nosler shot around a half MOA. The Speer around five-eights MOA. “But the TNT acts like a Grand Slam when fired from the Black Out.”
This is a little hard for me to swallow but it falls into agreement with a 2008 article from the American Rifleman that claimed 30 caliber varmint bullets exhibited big game bullet tendencies when fired in the Whisper /Blackout. I may find out first hand. I ordered 500 of the TNT 125 grainers the other day and will spend the winter wringing the bullet out. I don’t know about deer... I guess we’ll see. The 6-18X will come off after load development is complete, and my old Leupold 2-7X will take it’s place. After that it will go to the truck to take up residency. I’m guessing it will see some use. Come warmer weather I’ll get back to some sub sonic load development with cast bullets.
In any event, I’m expecting the Ruger to hold up it’s end of the ‘truck gun’ duty. So far, I have spent $389 for the rifle and another $160 for the compensator and trigger. Still a bargain. It is not a pretty rifle, and has some correctable faults, but I can't help but give it two thumbs up as a utilitarian rifle that will shoot at a level far above it's price tag.~Muir
(** I have since learned that Ruger will replace defective magazines with “factory certified” magazines if you ask them to. I find that more annoying than getting the defective magazine in the first place. Such gall. Shows that some of the old Ruger is still hanging around...)