Whether or not to buy the Ruger American Rifle came down to a coin flip for me. A few months ago I was overcome with two distinct itches. One was to buy a new gun and the other was to CoinStar the change in my change jar, which was beginning to weigh more than my children. The two itches seemed to complement one another, and the two candidates for my splurge came down to a Chilean military Madsen rifle in .30-06 (I have an affinity for old military rifles) and the Ruger American Rifle in .270. In the end, the Ruger won by virtue of its price. I had exactly enough money to pay the $375 price tag with what was in the coin jar while the Madsen would have required a little extra.
One could say that this story makes Ruger's entire sales pitch when it comes to the American Rifle. It's inexpensive yet comes with the kind of bells and whistles one would expect from higher priced rifles. The fact that I was literally able to buy a modern hunting rifle with loose change is the kind of garbage I would expect to see in a Ruger commercial, but there you go. I guess you win this round, Ruger!
But "inexpensive" doesn't mean "quality," and although I was willing to give the American a shake based on its price point, it would still have to prove itself both on the range and in the field. I was finally able to to take it to the first today, and the results were rather striking.
First the features. The American comes in four calibers for now: .30-06, .308, .270 and .243, some of the most popular hunting rounds out there. Ruger's entire approach with this rifle has been to create an inexpensive but functional hunting rifle, so while some of the rifle's features are top-notch, a lot of it is made to be as basic as possible, hence the limited options in cartridges. It has a single thumb safety that can only be engaged when the rifle is cocked, and it's placed in a good spot to be disengaged when the shooter has a bead on the target. Mine came with a simple, lightweight synthetic stock with a rubber buttpad installed. The trigger pull is adjustable from three to five pounds and has no sign of grit. If you ever pulled a trigger on a Savage Mk II, as I did on this same range trip, the comparison is startling. It was just smooth. Some reviewers didn't like it, but I did, so take it for what it's worth. It comes with a single four-round plastic magazine. And, the coup-de-grace, the barrel is free floated.
Break-down and maintenance.
I get the feeling that along with being inexpensive, Ruger wanted this rifle to be easy to use and maintain for new shooters. There are two screws at the bottom of the stock. Remove these and the stock separates from the barrel and action. You have to do this in order to adjust the trigger. A hex screw at the front of the trigger assembly controls the pull weight. Turn one way to make it lighter, another to make it heavier. Put the two pieces back together and tighten the screws. To remove the bolt from the action, you pull the bolt back and push a button on the left side of the receiver. The bolt slides out. To put it back, just do the reverse.
A bolt-action rifle is generally easy to maintain, and the American is no different. You run a bore brush and patches through the barrel and wipe down the action with solvent and oil. Done.
Safety and Reliability
As mentioned before, the American has a safety switch at the rear of the receiver near the shooter's thumb. This is a good place for a safety on a hunting rifle because it lets the shooter keep the safety on until literally the second before the shot. Now, the click from the safety selector being moved is audible, and that's good or bad depending on your outlook. I've known guys who use rifles with loud safeties, and that's how they get the deer to stop before the shot rather than whistling. So, really, it's something to be mindful of in a hunting rifle.
Comfort and recoil
This is a lightweight rifle, about six pounds unloaded. That means you're going to feel more recoil. Ruger offsets this with a rubber buttpad in the stock, and it does a fair job absorbing the recoil from a .270. The thing I don't like about the buttpad, however, is that it grabs your clothes when you shoulder it. The stock is a light composite that's comfortable to hold, but feels slick. If they could take some of the friction from the buttpad and put it in the stock, it would be perfect.
The rifle comes with one magazine, but really, for this kind of rifle, it's not like you need many. I'll probably buy a second just in case the first one breaks (remember, plastic). They're going for $40 on Ruger's website. Now, one interesting little addition that comes with the rifle that's unusual to see is that it comes with Weaver scope bases already fitted to the rifle. Which means that all you need to buy are the rings and the scope. I thought that was a nice touch. After all, it's not like you can shoot it with iron sights, you're going to put a scope on it, so they just go one more step and help you along. Another interesting note, and this may not still be going on, but by registering the rifle with Ruger online, I got a free cheekpad for my rifle. So if you do get an American, look in the box for the advertisement.
Accessories and upgrades
This is still a fairly new rifle, and it's a basic budget rifle to boot, so I don't expect to see much in the way of upgrades or gadgets made specifically for this rifle. I would love to see an after-market wood stock for it as I like the look and feel of wood over composite.
Now it's time to talk about how it shoots. I fitted a Weaver Kaspa 3-9X40 scope with a Ballistic X reticle to it. (Quick note about this scope because I'm very happy with it. The reticle is marked on the lower half of the reticle for when you have to hold high to shoot for distance. You sight in the rifle at 200 yards, and the scope comes with a chart that will tell you based on your caliber and bullet weight at what range the other marks will come in at. So with 130 grain .270s, the x-ray is 200, the mark below that is 315, etc.)
I used three different types of ammunition for this test, all in 130 grain soft points as that's what I intend to hunt with and I'm not made of money: Remington Core Lokt, Hornady Interlock and the dark horse of the group, Prvi Partizan soft points. I included the PP because this is a budget rifle and it makes sense to see how it behaves with budget ammo since it stands to reason that inexpensive ammo may be all a person can afford.
After a quick sighting in at 50 yards just to get in the ballpark, I moved up to 100 yards and shot three targets, three rounds each, each with a different ammunition. My first target was hit with the Hornady, and got them all in the same ballpark, which is about what I was expecting as I wasn't using a Lead Sled but a leather sack filled with rice.
Then I shot with the Remington and got pissed because I assumed that two of my shots must have went wild. Turns out I was wrong and the American just really likes Core Lokts.
The third group was with the PP, and I got a similar group to the Hornady, which made me very suspicious of the Remington group. Maybe it was a fluke. So I loaded up with more Remington and just kept blasting at a fresh target until the range officer called a cold range. This was the result.
Now, just a couple of things to keep in mind. First, no lead sled. This was done with a good canvas sling three blocks of wood and a bag of rice. Second, I had only shot maybe ten rounds from this rifle before I got to that first Remington group and sixteen before the second. It's not like the rifle requires a lot of figuring out before you can start using it to hit something at range. Third, and this is more in compliment to the .270 cartridge, I had sighted in at 50 yards. Those targets are at 100 yards. The .270 is a flat-shooting round.
The Final Word
Ruger figured it out. Just like Fox News figured out that if you put hot blondes in front of the camera to read the news people would watch it, Ruger has figured out that if you make a decent, not exceptional, but decent rifle for a low price, people would buy it. They finally figured out that, especially in this economy, your average Joe Hunter doesn't want to pay $1,100 for a single-shot rifle (even though I want a Ruger No. 1 in .45-70 soooooooo bad!). They want to buy something that will get the job done without breaking the bank.
The Ruger American does that and a little bit more, and that's what makes it so attractive. If you're someone who wants to go hunting but isn't swimming in dough, you're Ruger's target customer, and boy are they trying to get your attention. It's accurate, it's comfortable, it's easy to use and maintain, and it's INEXPENSIVE.
Is it perfect? No! I have my dislikes for this rifle as mentioned above, but for $375 you don't expect perfect. No one expects perfect from a budget rifle. That's the beauty of what Ruger pulled off here. The American isn't perfect, but it's better than what you think you're going to get for that price. This is an entry-level hunting rifle. It doesn't have to offer anything else, but it does.
I paid $375 for this rifle, and I'm happy with it. I'll be happier after taking it hunting, I expect. All it needs now is a proper camo paint job and something to hold it during the drive to Missouri.
Until then, keep shooting.