If you’re someone looking for a good bolt action rifle that doesn’t break the bank, you’re not alone. The budget bolt gun market is practically booming these days, with companies like Savage, Mossberg Weatherby and Remington all jockeying to get the best combination of price versus accuracy. This January Ruger introduced the American Rifle, their entry into the world of budget firearms. But is it actually any good? Or has Ruger compromised too much to get the rifle below that magical $500 price point? They handed me one of their rifles to find out . . .
There are a number of features that Ruger has built into this rifle (aluminum bedding, scope mounts from the factory, dual cam bolt…), but three are most important: the stock, the trigger and the magazine.
The stock on this gun is a rigid polymer (plastic) of some kind, which gives it a very slick feel in both senses of the word. It looks great, but there isn’t really a lot of “grippyness” to the stock. Where the Weatherby Series 2 comes with a very grippy stock, this one feels like ti is going to slip out of my hands. Not really an issue on the range, but in a tree stand or out on a hunt it might be an issue. Ruger tried to compensate with some roughed up patches on the forend and grip, but they aren’t all that aggressive.
There is a benefit from this hard stock that the Weatherby doesn’t get, which is a free floated barrel. The only place the metal bits contact the stock is at the aluminum mounting blocks that the receiver mounts to (shown above), which keeps the stock from pushing the barrel off target and lets the barrel shift around a little during the firing process. Free floating the barrel is generally one of the first improvements made when trying to make a rifle more accurate, so seeing one that comes that way from the factory was a pleasant surprise.
Something that was no surprise at all was that the comb on this stock, just like every other bolt action rifle I’ve fired this year, is nowhere near where it needs to be for a scope. The cheek piece puts the eye level with the barrel, but not the scope. So at best you’re getting an okay chin weld instead of the rock solid cheek weld I like.
Just like I suspected when I test fired the rifle at SHOT this year, I don’t like the trigger on this gun. Sure it’s adjustable and everything, but it just feels cheap. The small metal flap protruding from the middle of the trigger is something that a lot of budget rifle manufacturers are doing (Mossberg dubbed it their “LBA trigger), as it gives the shooter the feeling of a two stage trigger without the need to engineer the two stages into the trigger itself. It also acts as a safety, allowing the trigger to be set lighter than normal for a single stage trigger. But to me, it just feels… Cheap. Factor in the trigger itself which has a tendency to creep a little too far before finally hitting the break and you have a trigger that I wouldn’t accept even on my shotgun.
Speaking of cheap, the bolt is another small issue I have with the gun. Emphasis on the small, here. In general, the bolt is fine. It works. But despite the dual cams working inside the thing and the slick sides it still feels stiff and looks rather lackluster. I tried operating the bolt with just my wrist, but that wasn’t happening. Not easily, at least.
The magazine on this gun, however, is a masterpiece of engineering on a budget. Seemingly taking a note from the Krag-Jørgensen rifle of the late 1800s this gun uses a rotary style magazine not completely unlike their existing magazines for the 10/22 rifle. Using a single rotating flap Ruger has made a lightweight and reliable magazine capable of holding 4 rounds of ammunition, a design that I hope will phase out the older spring-and-follower magazines for low capacity firearms. It just seems like a really simple solution to a complicated problem, and it was executed perfectly in this rifle.
The reason they need such a removable magazine is that the top of the receiver on this gun is closed off. There’s enough room for an ejection port in the side of the receiver, but that’s about it. The added material not only strengthens the gun against the recoil of the ammunition but it also keeps everything precisely aligned.
The real question, as always, is how well it shoots. And to answer that I trucked it out to my favorite range in San Antonio.
This four round group was the best I could get all day, roughly 1 MoA. I say roughly because, like I mentioned before, I don’t get my targets back.
To be honest, I’m slightly impressed. I was expecting this gun to be far worse, but it exceeded most of my expectations for a $450 gun. There are some minor gripes I have about this gun, but all in all its a fine shooter.
Ruger American Rifle
Caliber: .30-06 Springfield (also .308, .270, .243)
Barrel: 22″, 1:10 twist
Size: 42.5″ overall length
Weight: 6.12 lbs.
Operation: Bolt action
Finish: Matte blue
Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
Remember: ratings are based on the merits of the firearm compared to other similarly priced and marketed firearms. So five stars here is nowhere near five stars on a Barrett 50 BMG rifle.
Accuracy: * * * * *
Using a bipod I was able to get a 1 MoA group at 100 yards. Good enough for deer slaying and just about anything else.
Ergonomics: * * *
The rifle feels okay in the hands, if a little slick. The bolt is tough to work, but it functions. The cheek piece is far too low, though.
Ergonomics Firing: * * *
The recoil pad, which Ruger specifically designed, is very nice. But that trigger is terrible.
Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a bolt action, and the magazine design makes this a really robust system.
Customization: * * *
There really isn’t an aftermarket for this gun yet. And even if there was, aftermarket parts wouldn’t help all that much. This gun is about as accurate as it can be without swapping some major components.
Overall Rating: * * * 1/2
I still like my Weatherby better, but there’s no denying that this gun will strike fear in the hearts of paper and deer alike. An accurate shooter, great for a first hunting rifle or bolt gun, but missing the refinement that makes for a lifelong companion and available for around $200 more. Better than the Mossberg 100 ATR, but a far cry from the Weatherby Vanguard.