October 23, 2020
When the monstrous coastal brown bear didn’t drop from the impact of a second .338 bullet, the guide’s .416 Ruger roared. The bear didn’t shudder from the impact or flip over dramatically, it just slumped to the ground and didn’t move, adrenaline and tenacity walloped clean out of it by the big projectile.
In 2007 and 2008, Ruger teamed up with Hornady to introduce two cartridges that may be the most underappreciated big-bore rounds currently available. First came the .375 Ruger. Built using an all-new cartridge design that fits into standard, .30-06-length actions, the .375 Ruger outperforms the legendary .375 H&H ballistically and provides hunters the additional advantages of shorter, lighter rifles and faster-functioning bolts.
Just a year later, the Ruger-Hornady team necked up the .375 Ruger case to .416 and created a cartridge that offers ballistics identical to the classic .416 Rigby and popular .416 Remington Magnum. While it doesn’t outperform either ballistically, it offers advantages over both. Unlike the .416 Rem. Mag., which requires a true magnum-length action, and the .416 Rigby, which requires an action that is both long and larger than normal in diameter, the .416 Ruger fits comfortably in a .30-06-size action.
While neither cartridge has caught on hugely among the African hunting cognoscenti, both have loyal followings in Alaska. Much of that is certainly due to how well Ruger has supported the cartridges with purpose-designed rifles for hunting the Far North.
According to one source, the .375 Ruger has about 4 percent more propellant capacity than the better-known .375 H&H. As a result, it provides a bit more velocity. Several years ago I was researching a cartridge for use in big bear country and asked master gunmaker Lex Webernick of Rifle’s Inc. whether an Ackley Improved version of the .375 H&H was worth the effort. He shrugged and said, “If you want more velocity, just use the .375 Ruger.”
To achieve that 4 percent greater capacity, Hornady designed a cartridge case that is beltless, with nearly no body taper and a steep 30-degree shoulder angle. Case head diameter is 0.532 inch—same as the .375 H&H and all its derivatives right down to the 7mm Remington Magnum and other popular deer and elk cartridges. Using that case head size was a savvy decision because it made all standard-length actions with a 0.532-inch-diameter magnum boltface compatible with the Ruger big-bore rounds.
Maximum average pressure rating is 62,000 psi. As spec’d when submitted to SAAMI, the .375 Ruger utilizes six rifling grooves with a twist rate of one turn in 12 inches.
Initially, Hornady offered three bullet weights typical to the .375 realm: a 270-grain flatnose Spirepoint, a 300-grain controlled-expansion roundnose, and a 300-grain full metal jacketed roundnose flatpoint. The heavy roundnose designs are classic for use on Cape buffalo in Africa, which are commonly shot inside 100 yards, and exit the muzzle at about 2,660 fps. The slightly lighter 270-grain Spirepoint is pushed by Hornady’s proprietary Superformance propellant blend, and at 2,840 fps, it offers a bit more range.
As of last year, the company rounded out the .375 Ruger options with a monometal 250-grain GMX in the Outfitter ammo line, which features nickel-plated cases sealed around the primer and case mouth against moisture. Offering best-in-class toughness and weight retention, a polymer tip, a boattail for enhanced aerodynamics, and excellent velocity (2,800 fps at the muzzle), the GMX is a superb bullet capable for use on the biggest bears and Cape buffalo, and it has downrange reach that surpasses its predecessors, making the .375 Ruger a legitimate 400-yard cartridge. That’s a massive benefit for mixed-bag hunting when a moose or a kudu might appear while glassing for bear or while tracking buffalo.
It generates an impressive 4,350 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Zeroed at 200 yards, it impacts about eight inches low at 300 yards and 23 inches low at 400 yards, where it is still cooking along at more than 2,000 fps with a healthy 2,250 ft-lbs of wallop.
Two additional companies produce outstanding .375 Ruger factory ammo. Swift offers its High Grade Dangerous Game ammo stoked with a 300-grain A-Frame bullet. It’s loaded fairly mild and is rated to produce about 2,550 fps at the muzzle. That’s about 50 fps faster than Swift’s .375 H&H load.
DoubleTap Ammunition offers four different .375 Ruger loads, including Barnes TSX bullets in 235-, 250-, and 270-grain weights as well as the Nosler 260-grain AccuBond. The latter is rated to generate 2,900 fps and has the highest ballistic coefficient (BC) of any .375 Ruger factory load, making it an excellent choice for all-around work on a variety of game in Alaska.
To showcase what the .375 Ruger can really do, this load produces 4,877 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle. Zeroed at 200 yards, it impacts about seven inches low at 300 yards and 21 inches low at 400 yards. There, it’s still traveling nearly 2,150 fps and carries 2,650 ft-lbs of energy.
Cartridges sometimes languish and die because they are not supported with a good variety of factory ammo. As you can see, that’s not a problem with the .375 Ruger. Another reason cartridges die is when shooters can’t obtain factory-chambered rifles. Fortunately, Ruger offers several different versions built on its excellent controlled-feed Hawkeye action, and none of them costs enough to break the bank.
The Guide Rifle features a 20-inch stainless-steel barrel and action, express-type sights, a barrel-band front swivel stud, a removable muzzle brake, and a robust laminate wood stock. Impervious to the elements, it rules in Alaska, particularly since cost is $1,279—a real bargain considering all the features and corrosion-resistant construction.
Dubbed the Alaskan, a similar rifle sports an identical stainless-steel barreled action fitted to a black Hogue OverMolded synthetic stock.
More aesthetic but less resistant to the elements is the Hawkeye African. It sports a longer 23-inch barrel, very nice express sights, and a barrel-band swivel stud. It’s finished in a highly polished, lustrous blue and fitted to a slender walnut stock sporting an ebony fore-end cap and lines reminiscent of fine British safari rifles.
This spring, my Alaska guide friend Jordan Voigt was in the market for a new backup rifle for guiding brown bear hunters in Alaska. The easy choice was the Hawkeye Guide Rifle because the laminate stock is undoubtedly the most robust of those available. More difficult was deciding between the .375 Ruger and the .416 Ruger. The latter offers considerably more authority, but the .375 is no pussycat itself and offers dramatically greater reach.
I related to him an experience in which an acquaintance of mine put a couple bullets into a monster Kodiak bear, but it got away over a ridge. The next time the bear came into view, it was 350 yards away and laboring up a second ridge. My acquaintance, who struggles with a degenerative disease that affects his ability to shoot accurately past 100 yards or so, failed to connect again. So did his guide, who was packing an iron-sighted rifle that was plenty powerful but impossible to shoot precisely at longer ranges.
Thankfully, the bear expired just over the far ridge and was recovered. However, the experience showcased the value of a bear rifle with reach—particularly for guides that may have to help a client put down a tenacious bear putting considerable distance between itself and the hunter.
Voigt opted for the .375 Ruger and installed a Leupold 1-6X VX-6HD scope in QD rings. With it, he can dependably shoot a bear anywhere between four feet off the muzzle and 400 yards.
Last year I had the opportunity to travel to Mozambique and hunt Cape buffalo with Zambeze Delta Safaris. My hunting partners were Neil Davies of Hornady, Matt Willson of Ruger, and Logan Killam of Trijicon. Craig Boddington put the trip together and hunted with us.
Because I’ve long admired the cartridge, I chose a Ruger Hawkeye African chambered in .416 Ruger. Not just any Hawkeye African, though. Currently, no bolt-action centerfire rifles are being built by Ruger’s Custom Shop, but Ruger’s Director of Product Management and marketing guru Mark Gurney offered to have the Custom Shop build me an upgraded Hawkeye African.
The primary enhancement was in the stock. The quality of wood is breathtaking! But before firing it much, I had action-bedding expert Roland Black reinforce the lovely wood through the stock’s wrist with a rod, pillar- and glass-bed the action, and free-float the fore-end.
Figuring I may have to depend on the rifle to save my bacon should events go awry, I worked the .416 out thoroughly. For a quite-light big bore (7.8 pounds), the rifle shoots amazingly. Hornady’s DGX Bonded factory ammo routinely groups at or less than 1.5 inches at 100 yards. Handloads tuned to the rifle edge below an inch.
Rated at 2,400 fps, the 400-grain DGX Bonded and Solid bullets produced nearly 2,440 fps in my rifle, and muzzle energy was awesome, producing 5,327 ft-lbs of authority. I zeroed at 100 yards, making drop at 200 yards about six inches, and although I could reliably hit eight-inch steel plates at 250 yards, I wasn’t going to shoot at a Cape buffalo that far away.
For comparison with the sleeker, faster .375 bullets, retained velocity at 400 yards is just 1,485 fps. Remaining energy, at 1,960 ft-lbs, is well below that of the .375s.
To my surprise, recoil wasn’t bad, particularly with the included muzzle brake installed. I deliberated whether to hunt with the brake on. Running speed and accuracy tests with and without it conclusively decided the issue for me. I can fire an aimed shot nearly once per second with the brake. Without it, I’m literally half as fast. Plus, I’d be wearing TETRA Hunt’s new electronic hearing protection/enhancing devices. As long as my PH stuck his fingers in his ears, the additional blast would be okay.
Just a few weeks later, I crawled on hands and knees across the sunbaked clay plains and waded through the startlingly cold chest-deep water of the Zambeze Delta swamps. Buffalo were in the offing, and swirling white egrets above the herd lured us deeper. Swamp-grass stubble wore holes through my canvas trousers, then through all seven layers of the skin on my kneecaps. I didn’t care.
Hours later, sunburnt, exhausted, shredded by the sawgrass and jagged-baked clay, but jubilant, we hunkered down 60 yards from the herd. Even I could see the monster of a bull bedded in its center. Boddington whispered, “It’s 45 inches for sure…maybe 46!”
Unfortunately, while on the edge of fully mature, the bull’s boss had slightly soft corners where it came together atop his forehead. I was hunting with America’s Dean of Cape buffalo, Mr. Boddington himself, and had come to greatly respect my PH Garth Robinson. Besides, I have my own set of ethics. No matter how magnificent the wide bull was, I couldn’t break the buffalo hunter’s hard-bossed creed and shoot the slightly immature bull.
We studied the herd of nearly 100 animals for three hours, looking for a suitable bull. Evening was coming, and we were many long hours from camp, through treacherous swamp terrain. I won’t call it infested, but buffalo, hippo, and crocodiles were aplenty.
Just when we thought we’d seen all the bulls in the herd, Robinson stiffened. “Big bull!” he whispered. “Massive…huge boss!” Guiding me in via three white egrets perched atop a nearby cow, he showed me the bull. His body and boss were so big that to me his horns themselves looked small. Doubting, I asked for Boddington’s input. “Shoot that bull now!” was his response.
Naturally, I’d waited too long. The bull merged with the herd, leaving no shot. I’d been instructed to load Hornady’s expanding DGX Bonded bullets because hunters often must shoot buffalo bulls with cows standing behind them—a disconcerting thought—and we couldn’t have bullets passing through. Safari owner Mark Haldane and the other PHs assured me that the DGX Bonded wouldn’t exit, and I decided to just do as I was told. That was enchanting but unfamiliar territory to me.
As evening drew close, the herd began to move about and stretch. Maneuvering to find the big-bossed bull again, we nearly blew the herd. Then their innate curiosity and aggressiveness took over and they advanced, coming back toward our position.
Finally, the heavy-bossed bull stood broadside and exposed. My .416 Ruger roared, and I poured it on, emptying the rifle, reloading, and firing again as the bull soaked up 400-grain bullets. Then he lay still in the short Zambeze swamp grass, the African evening sun bleeding beyond and his herd rallying in the dust behind him.
Half the night later, around the late fire back at camp, Boddington told me that although he’s shot over 100 buffalo, he’s never taken one with a boss that big. It measured 16.5 inches—truly an old warrior. His width, at 36 inches, is the only thing that’s average about that wonderful old buffalo.
There’s nothing at all average about the cartridge that took him down him, though. Although the .375 Ruger and .416 Ruger are barely over a decade old and may not achieve the notoriety of their big-bore predecessors, they are magnificent cartridges that provide sterling performance.