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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.

For a period of about six years I used that No. 1 for a great deal of my big-game hunting. It accounted for four elk, one moose, five pronghorn antelopes, and an assortment of mule deer and whitetails. I used only two loads: the Nosler 180-grain Partition at 2,800 fps for the big stuff and the Speer 150-grain spitzer at 3,000 fps for everything else. Not a single animal was wounded and lost, and not once did I find myself in need of greater firepower.

The safety of the No. 1 consists of a two-position slide on the upper receiver tang. The safeties of some rifles block only the trigger, but the safety of the No. 1 blocks both the hammer and the sear from movement. Through the years I have used quite a few different No. 1s and have never experienced a single problem with the operation of its safety.

Same goes for the ejection of fired cases. When the hammer is in its cocked position, it can be seen through a small window at the front of the under-lever. Operating the safety is a quick way to tell by feel whether or not the hammer is cocked. If the safety cannot be moved rearward to its disengaged position, the hammer is not cocked.

No. 1 Advantages
The Ruger No. 1 offers many advantages to the hunter. For starters, the thinness of its action makes it as comfortable in one-hand carry as the classic Winchester Model 94. The absence of a bolt handle protruding from its side makes it one of the best rifles available for carrying in a saddle scabbard while hunting from horseback. When it is slung over a shoulder, its barrel is not long enough to extend above the top of one’s head, making it ideal for carrying through thick, brushy country.

And while I am on the subject of barrels, making one longer is an easy way to gain velocity, and a long barrel on the No. 1 does not result in a long overall length. Due to its extremely short action, a No. 1 with a 26-inch barrel actually has the same length overall as a long-action Remington Model 700 with a 22-inch barrel. Moving to the other extreme for those who prefer compact rifles, a No. 1-A with a 22-inch barrel is only about a half-inch longer than a Remington Model Seven with an 18.5-inch barrel. Its ambidextrous design makes the No. 1 friendly to both right- and left-handed shooters.

Magazine length in other types of rifles can prevent seating a bullet to an overall cartridge length that puts it close to the rifling, which is sometimes required for best accuracy. The No. 1 has no magazine, so there is no restriction on cartridge length.

In the unlikely event of a blown primer or ruptured case during firing, the massive breechblock deflects propellant gas away from the shooter. Any firearm is only as safe as the person using it, but no other type of firearm is as safe to use as a single shot. It is either completely loaded or totally unloaded, with no place (such as a magazine) for a forgotten cartridge to lurk.

Last but certainly not least, I can think of no other action of any type being produced today that is stronger than the No. 1 action. If it and other types of actions were tested to destruction, it would likely still be in one piece long after the others are blown to bits.

On the negative side, accuracy can vary considerably. My early-production .30-06 is one of the most accurate rifles I have owned in its caliber and is quite capable of shooting inside an inch with several loads. An early No. 1 in .222 Remington I also have is the least accurate rifle of the caliber I have ever shot. I keep it only because the .222 was dropped in 1971, making it one of the rarest of No. 1 chamberings in early guns. Until I traded one of them away, I had two No. 1-Bs in .220 Swift. One averaged close to a half-inch; the other seldom shot a group smaller than 2 inches.
My No. 1-H in .45-70 left the factory during the 1970s as a barreled action and was later stocked by Bob Cassidy. I have to be having a really bad day for it to shoot a group larger than an inch. My 1-B in 6.5 Remington Magnum is also a tackdriver. Same goes for a 1-S that was rechambered from 7mm Remington Magnum to 7mm STW by Montana gunsmith Dennis Olson. My 1-A in 7x57mm Mauser is accurate enough for big-game hunting, but its group size is nothing to brag about.

Until preparing this report I did not realize No. 1 factory options had dwindled to an alarming few. According to the Ruger website, five are slated for production during 2013 and limited to only one chambering each. They are the Light Sporter (1-A) with 22-inch barrel in .222 Remington, Varminter (1-V) with 26-inch barrel in 6.5-284 Norma, Medium Sporter (1-S) with 22-inch barrel in .45-70, Tropical (1-H) with 24-inch barrel in .375 H&H, and International (1-RSI) with full-length forearm and 20-inch barrel in 7x57mm Mauser. For the foreseeable future, available models, configurations, and chamberings will continue to be limited each year.

  • Kennibear

    I have a #3 in 45/70 Bicentennial that keeps 20+ rounds inside 1″ all day long. The load is a Lee 450gr cast FN w/ 12.5 gr of Unique. I hunt with an older Weaver 1 1/2X and one of two handloads with either a 300gr Sierra @ 2350fps or a Speer 400gr FN Hot Core @ 2000+fps. Short, light and fast it has served me well in tight timber even though those two loads drive the steel butt plate back with considerable authority. Best gun ever made with maybe a Title II M1A Thompson I used to own. Love these Rugers and you deserve to try one if you never have. By the way, the inside of the barrel looks unfinished with alot of reamer marks and other machining leftovers never polished out. Shows that you can’t always judge a barrel by looks.

  • howler1968

    LS……i ordered my No.1B around May-June 1968 prior to entering the USN in Aug. I wanted one in the Swift but the choices were only the triple deuce and 22/250. I chose the Varminter because of my trusted elderly gunstore owner’s opinions and the fact i lived in the flatlands of NM.
    In May 1969 i sat on my cot going thru my mail after mail call. Opening the envelope from my dad i found Polaroid Insta-Matic photos of my four-digit No.1B with an outrageously beautiful burl swirled buttstock-along with the Unertl 10x Vulture scope with dot crosshair and the Penguin hardcase i had ordered.
    These photos were immediately thumbtacked on the plywood wall where the Playboy centerfolds had been……the gals were just scooted over a bit.
    I finally got to handle it in late 1971 when i returned to the World.
    Years later when i got back into hunting and shooting i discovered that the only bullet it prefers is the Speer 50 grain TNT.
    I now own sevenl No.1B’s……factory and two wildcat chamberings.
    Thanx for the article.


    I own three #1’s. A .458 Tropical, 45-70 Sporter, 30-06 International full stock. All works of art without flaws. I collect 45-70’s but the #1 is at the hea of my group.

  • Klondike

    I don’t own one yet but a Ruger #1 is on the bucket list. Just going to wait for the caliber rotation to get to something I don’t have. This is one cool / elegant / awesome rifle that I just have to get.

  • John J

    I have a vision for a Ruger no.1, it involves a tapered octagon bbl. and a .17 hornet. Is there anyone that could put this into Ruger’s design ideas? It would be great if Ruger would establish a custom shop.

  • mrbizjet

    I have 2 no1’s, a 22/250 that drives tacks and a 308 that would make a better canoe paddle than an accurate rifle. Using Federal Premier 150 gr bullets best 3 shot group was 1.5 inches at 100 yds. I am seeking any input on loads for the 308 or advice on making it more accurate. I like the rifle but would like to shoot 3 shot groups at 100 yds.

  • nam9506

    Great article.I have a #1 in 30-06 and have put a maximum of only 200 rounds through it.They are flying around a bit and 2 older boxes of Winchester factory cartridges I recently put over the bench left each neck with a fine split.My neighbouring “benchers” said it was loud company! A late friend had a .358 #1 which wasn’t too accurate until he inserted a neoprene washer on the action-retaining bolt.Sadly he has now gone and I am not sure of his trick.
    I have had mine for 38 years.A beautiful gun and certainly my favourite.
    I think it is a medium sporter but can’t verify as my son has my “Bibles” from the 70’s and the lists now are greatly reduced as you mention though they change annually.It has a barrel band and the rib.I intend trying your 150gr load.Thanks for your article.

  • jeff

    I have a #1 in 6mm. It has a fixed power 6x leupold. It shoots perfectly IMO.

    • discouraged

      I had a 6mm as well. I wish I still had it. I don’t know what got into me. I still have a stainless .45-70.

  • Grits.N.Jowls

    I bought two of them just before the anti-gunners made another grab in 2013. One’s an earlier model in 30’06 and a later model in 45-70. The 45-70 hits so hard within 100-150 yards that it may as well be a shotgun.

  • slobotnavich

    I’ve long owned several #1 Rugers in a variety of calibers from .220 Swift to .375 H&H. I’ve always thought the No. 1 the most elegant factory rifle ever made – all mine have shot well and couple of them sensationally. I particularly like and appreciate the roughly 5″ overall shorter length vs. repeating actions due to the lack of a receiver. As for having only one shot, I never take shots at game unless I get a clear shot at a stationary target at a reasonable range, and I say not all immodestly that I’m an expert rifleman, good range estimator, and good wind doper. I wouldn’t have had much use for a No.1 during my two tours in Vietnam, but then, hunting is not at all about firepower. Infantry combat is all about firepower, almost always at unseen or at best briefly seen targets. It bears no resemblance to sport hunting.

  • Galt

    I own a no.3 in .223 a 1b in 218bee and next week my 1v 6.5×284 should arrive.Also have a BSA martini 22lr match rifle.Big fan of single shots

  • Erik B

    It’s all done. They are quiet about it, but Ruger has stopped production of the No.1. The only model available is a Lipsey’s exclusive 1-S in 45-70, they made 10 of those and that’s the end of the line. Very, very sad.

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