Last year, I wrote about growing up with the single-shot rifle, hunting around the world, and the commissioning of The Last Rifle I’ll Ever Need. John Stewart at Kiote Rifles took on the project, and shipped it to me earlier this summer. Since then, I’ve gotten to pull it apart, wipe the drool from it, and shoot the heck out of it.
Folks, I’m sorry. They pay me to write, but I don’t have the words to express how incredible this gun is, or the surprise that it’s really real, and it’s really mine.
A whole lot of work went into this rifle to get the look, feel, and performance I ended up with.
The original Ruger No. 1 barrel was a 24″ heavy tube. Mr. Stewart fit a 26″ custom 4140CM .375H&H PACNOR barrel onto the Ruger receiver. Considering the extremely short length of the receiver, the longer barrel gives me an overall length equal to most 22″ barreled bolt action rifles. That extra length adds a little velocity to the belted magnum, but more importantly, it adds more sight radius, as I prefer to use the irons whenever possible.
Both the front and rear sights needed to be reinstalled. I went round and round with what to do with the sights, but in the end decided to keep the rear sight and had Midwest Gun Works install a BAR style front sight with a polished brass bead. The end result is highly functional, and just gorgeous.
The original trigger was OK, kinda, but not great. It was certainly one of the places for improvement. I was hoping to bring it down to 2.5lbs or so, but when Mr. Stewart asked me how low I wanted to go, I asked, “how low can you get?”
I ended up with a JARD trigger installed and tuned by Mr. Stewart and set to 1.5lbs. It is as fine as any trigger I have on any of my bolt guns, and that includes the very best of the Timneys or my Jewell triggers.
Midwest also re-blued and polished the barreled action. The photos of the rifle are high quality, but nothing does justice to the end result of the work done by Midwest Gun Works. The rifle is an obsidian mirror.
Rifles Refined, out of the frozen Canadian north, created a one-of-a-kind masterpiece with this walnut stock set. The quality of the wood is exceptional, with deep stripes and incredible depth. The finish has also been done perfectly, bringing a luster and shine that maximizes the colors and patterns in the wood.
Take a closer look at the fore end. The rear of the wood there gives homage to the “Ackley” style original with the slight rounded cut at the base. This isn’t just pretty, but helps lock the gun in place when employing a rest.
The wide and rounded fore end shape includes a raised lip on each side, allowing my thumb and fingers to get additional purchase on the wood. Plus, the underside is beautifully adorned with a brass ferrule installed instead of just leaving a hole in the wood for the fore end screw. The functional and beautiful stippling is contrasted with a smoothed carved interlocking V pattern.
The butt stock is a work of art. Beyond the quality of the wood, beyond the stippling and lines carved, the swells and curves of the grip melt into my hand. It is not only beautiful, but controllable. My palm slides over and simply melts into the shape of the wood.
Behind those swells, the stock is the ideal height for my face to achieve a cheek-stock weld with the iron sights of the gun. That ingenious built-in riser means that I can get just as good a weld when I decide to use a magnified optic.
The wood on the stock set fits into the metal tightly, but has been left “proud”. This is the style of Victorian era firearms, the rifles Bill Ruger patterned the original No. 1 after. I am more used to the modern flush-fit style, and I was hesitant on this decision at first. After seeing the end result, Mr. Stewart made the right call.
I decided to leave the tall safety as it is. Several people suggesting recessing the safety, or having a smaller one made. I chose to leave it tall because this isn’t a safe queen, but a hunting rifle. I need to be able to get the safety off quickly, with a slick, cold, or gloved thumb. It stayed stock.
Finally, Peak Case Company out of Salt Lake City created a one-of-a kind custom ultralight case for the rifle. The case is well-built and functional, but also really classes up the presentation of the gun. I’ve come to expect exclamations of surprise when I open it, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.
Lots of other small detailed work went into making this rifle, most of it done by Kiote Rifles. The end result is every bit the rifle I had hoped for.
After days of drooling, it was time to hit the range to see what the gun was capable of. I’ve now put a couple hundred rounds through the rifle, in various positions, with lots of different loads.
I expected that a better fitting stock and a high quality barrel would improve accuracy. The reality is that I will almost certainly never take a shot over 300 yards with this rifle.
The stock No. 1 shot 1 3/4″ five-round groups at 100 yards using an Atibal Nomad scope and the supplied Ruger rings, from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest. That means that at the maximum distance I expect to use the rifle, I should be able to get a round inside the vitals of any mammal I should choose to hunt.
Oh, but it was capable of so much more. Using the exact same set-up, this rifle now shoots 3/5″ five-round groups, or .6 MOA. That’s not using some little pet round either. That’s with a 300gr Hornady DGX bullet over 77.5gr of Win760 powder. There may be better recipes than that, but a round that delivers over 4,000 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle and can fit inside a buffalo’s eye at 250 yards is just fine as it is.
You’ll know when you pulled the trigger. I was hoping the additional wood and barrel length would add a good deal of weight, thereby reducing recoil. Those additions added not even half a pound onto the rifle, still keeping the total weight just under 9 1/2 lbs, without sling, rings, or an optic. With all those on it, the rifle will hit the 10 lb mark.
Kneeling or standing, recoil is very controllable. But locked in behind the gun at the bench with a good cheek-stock weld and working up a dangerous game load was punishing. I put sixty 300gr very near max pressure rounds through the gun over a weekend, and by Sunday night, my shoulder was feeling it. Hell, my teeth were feeling it.
Standing in front of a Cape Buffalo or a grizzly at 50 yards? I probably won’t remember the rifle going off at all.
One of the great charms of the .375 H&H is its incredible versatility. As an example, I also loaded some 235gr Speer soft point bullets with 41gr of Accurate 5744. This produces a little over 2,000 ft/lbs of muzzle energy and will be plenty for my local Hill Country white tail deer or pigs. A child could shoot that round without difficulty and without fear of developing bad habits from too much recoil. That round isn’t quite as accurate as the Tyrannosaur toppler listed above, but still prints sub MOA groups.
I still haven’t decided what glass to put on the rifle. I would prefer a fixed 2.5 or 3 power scope with generous eye relief and a large objective, like the ones that Leupold used to make for their Dangerous Game line. They’ve discontinued that line, but I’ll be looking around for something like it.
I have also not yet found the right sling. I may end up making that myself.
The cost for everything done on this rifle was much less than I had anticipated. Mr. Stewart’s final price for everything, including shooting the rifle in and testing, including the Peak case and shipping was $4250. With what I paid for the rifle new, that puts my total cost at under $5000. That’s right in line with what Mr. Stewart estimated, but I expected to spend at least couple grand more than that.
This will not be the Last Rifle I’ll ever buy. This is the Last Rifle I’ll ever need.
John Stewart at Kiote Rifles, as well as Rifles Refined, stepped outside of their usual bolt action rifle work to help make my dream gun come true. It’s better than I hoped for, and at a cost much less than I expected to pay. Thanks to all the people who worked on this to make it happen.
I’ve already booked a series of hunts over the next year, both in the US and Africa, and this is the rifle I’ll use for all of them. I can’t wait, and I hope you get to read all about them.