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Hunting Lever Action Reviews Rifles

Past & Present: Ruger No. 1 Rifle Review

by Layne Simpson   |  September 27th, 2013 13

Several Ruger firearms are the result of Bill Ruger Sr.’s ideas on how designs that originated with other inventors could be improved. It is no secret that he intended his Blackhawk single-action revolver to be a stronger and more durable version of Colt’s Army revolver, and it has proven to be exactly that. Then there’s the Ruger Hawkeye single-shot pistol with its swing-out breechblock in .256 Winchester Magnum that is much like the Rollin White single-shot pistol of 1858 and bears some resemblance to Colt’s Camp Perry of 1926 to 1941. Ruger’s stylish No. 1 single-shot rifle, which is the subject of this report, is another example.

The No. 1 is not a copy of the English-built Farquharson, but the two rifles share levels of grace and beauty seen in few other firearms. During an early-1960s interview for a local newpaper, Ruger opined that a fair-sized group of American hunters would always relish the idea of practicing the art of stalking game and ending the hunt with a single, carefully placed shot at a reasonable distance. During a hunting trip in the Yukon with Jack O’Connor, Robert Chatfield-Taylor, and stockmaker Lenard Brownell, Ruger brought up his plan to design and build a single-shot rifle. His goal was to utilize investment casting along with other modern manufacturing technologies in bringing back to life the elegance of the Victorian era at an affordable price.

During that Yukon hunt, Brownell accepted an invitation from Ruger to work for Sturm, Ruger & Co., where he would be in charge of manufacturing the new rifle. One of the country’s top stockmakers at the time, Brownell was also responsible for designing the stock and forearm. He relocated his family to New Hampshire in 1965, and on September 15, 1966, the very first Ruger No. 1 departed the factory. Serial numbered 935, it had a 26-inch barrel in .308 Winchester and a semibeavertail forearm.

But before the first No. 1 could be built, it had to be designed, and that responsibility rested on the shoulders of engineers Larry Larson and Harry Sefried. One of the more challenging directives to come from Mr. Ruger was to make the action more compact than some of the single-shot actions of under-lever, falling-block design of the past. The No. 1 action is sometimes described as hammerless, but it has a rather massive hammer within its receiver. The receivers of some of the earlier European single shots had to be made large in order to make room for an internal hammer and its spring. Larson and Sefried avoided that by positioning the hammer low and centrally in the receiver and by moving the hammerspring to an integral steel hanger projecting forward from the front of the receiver. A steel strut connects the spring with the toe of the hammer. The hanger also serves as an anchor point for the ejector spring and forearm.

Ruger called his new rifle the “Victorian” during its design stages, but later introduced it to the shooting world as the “Number One.” From the beginning receivers were marked “No. 1,” and many years later that would become its official name. Production began at a snail’s pace, with only three variations offered in 1967. One was the S22L Lightweight with 22-inch barrel in .222 Remington, .22-250, .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .30-06, and .308 Winchester. The S26M with 26-inch, medium-heavy barrel was available in those same chamberings, and the S24H with its heavy, 24-inch barrel was offered only in .458 Winchester Magnum. The price of a rifle was $280 back then, and the barreled action was available for $200.

By 1971 the original model designations had been changed to the now-familiar Nos. 1-A, 1-B, 1-S, 1-V, and 1-H. Prices were reduced to $265 for the rifle and $140 for a barreled action. Other magnum chamberings, such as .264 Winchester, 7mm Remington, and .375 H&H, were added.

Every No. 1 fan has favorites, and I am no exception. For hunting I have always preferred the Alexander Henry-style forearms of the 1-A, 1-H, and 1-S. To my eyes those versions are the most handsome of all No. 1s. The wider and longer forearms of the 1-B and 1-V are more stable when resting on a sandbag, making them better for varmint shooting. And since the front sling-swivel stud is mounted on the forearm rather than out on the barrel, those two models can be used with a Harris bipod.

I bought my first No. 1 in 1967 and first used it on a hunt in Wyoming for mule deer and pronghorn antelope during that year. That first No. 1 has a nonprefix, four-digit serial number; an Alexander Henry forearm; and a 22-inch barrel in .30-06. The front sight ramp on early rifles was slotted for a hood, but according to Joe Clayton’s book Ruger No. 1, only three hoods were made and none was shipped. My rifle has the slot but no hood. The bottom of the breechblock of my rifle has a number matching the serial number on the receiver, indicating it was hand-fitted, as all early rifles were. Other variations exist, but I’ll close the subject with scope rings. Those that came with my early rifle are split vertically, whereas those made after late 1967 are split horizontally.

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