May 14, 2018
Ruger's Ranch Rifle
The Ruger American Rifle from Ruger features a lightweight synthetic stock with the patent-pending Power Bedding integral bedding block system; Ruger's Marksman Adjustable trigger; a one-piece, three-lug bolt with 70-degree throw; and a tang safety. The Ranch Model has a 16.12-inch, hammer-forged barrel with a threaded muzzle (5/8-24 pitch), and it is offered in 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, .300 Blackout, .450 Bushmaster, and 7.62x39mm chamberings. My 7.62x39mm rifle's barrel has a rifling twist rate of 1:10. It measures 1.150 inches in diameter at the chamber and tapers to 0.730 inch about an inch behind the muzzle and then increases to 0.755 inch to accommodate the threaded section. The muzzle is nicely crowned.
The short-barreled carbine does not have any sights. I am a bit surprised at that, but the receiver is drilled and tapped for an aluminum scope-mounting rail, which is included. It makes mounting a scope very simple.
Ruger promotional materials describe the Ranch Model as minute-of-angle accurate, and while the photos here show it mounted with a Nikon 1-4X 24mm Black Force1000 scope in Nightforce rings, for testing the carbine's accuracy potential I figured a crystal-clear Nikon 4-16X Monarch scope would sort out Ruger's claim. I used Warne scope rings to mount that scope. The rifle alone weighed exactly 6 pounds on my digital postal scale, and the high-magnification scope and mount added another 23 ounces.
Interestingly, the 7.62x39mm Ranch Model utilizes the detachable steel magazine of the semiautomatic Ruger Mini Thirty, and it holds five cartridges in staggered positions. (Magazines holding 10 and 20 rounds are available from Ruger.) The magazine follower is shaped to hold the bolt of the Mini Thirty open after the last round is fired, so it prevents the bolt of the Ranch Model from closing on an empty magazine. Skinny fingers may be able to reach through the narrow ejection port of the receiver to depress the follower for bolt closure, but mine could not squeeze in comfortably. I found it necessary to drop the magazine in order to close the bolt.
The magazine is removed by pushing forward on a latch located just forward of the trigger guard, and each shooter will decide how best to operate it. I settled on pushing the lever forward with the front of my trigger finger. Inserting the magazine into the rifle was easiest when I held the lever fully forward.
Cartridges loaded with various styles of bullets fed flawlessly, and that included the Sierra 125-grain Pro-Hunter with its flatnose profile. Fired cases extracted smoothly from a dirty chamber, but the plunger-style ejector was a bit lazy about sending them flying out through the port.
Everything else about the little carbine is like any other Ruger American Rifle. Both ends of the receiver rest in Ruger's excellent Power Bedding steel blocks, and the barrel is free-floated in the stock. The owner's manual does not address the amount of torque that should be applied to the two hex-head action bolts, but removing them on the test rifle required plenty of muscle behind a T-handle driver.
I can recall when the forearms of injection-molded stocks were too flexible, but molded-in girder reinforcing at the barrel channel of all American Rifle stocks makes them quite rigid. In addition to posts for detachable sling swivels, the stock has a cushiony recoil pad that does a great job of soaking up rearward push.
The safety slide on the upper tang operates smoothly and has positive stop indents at each end of its travel, and when engaged, it does not prevent the bolt from rotating. The Marksman Adjustable trigger has a pull weight adjustment range of 3 to 5 pounds. It's as good as triggers get on mass-produced rifles and better than some, and on my sample it broke crisply at 4 pounds, 3 ounces with no trace of creep or overtravel.
The barrels of Ruger rifles in 7.62x39mm have had two different groove diameters. The Mini Thirty autoloader I wrote up for Shooting Times back in 1994 measured a nominal 0.308 inch, but a forcing cone-shaped throat allowed the use of bullets as large as 0.311 inch. Ruger eventually changed groove diameter to a nominal 0.311 inch, and so it remains to this day. Military surplus and commercially loaded ammunition are loaded with 0.310/0.311-inch bullets, and several component expanding bullets of that diameter in the required weight range are available, including the Hornady 123-grain SST, the Sierra 125-grain Pro-Hunter, and the Speer 123-grain Hot-Cor.
Looking for Accuracy
Every rifle in 7.62x39mm I have shot in the past was a semiautomatic, some military surplus, others commercial. Average 100-yard accuracy was around 4 inches for five shots with an occasional 3.0-inch group being cause for celebration. But I had long suspected the little cartridge was capable of much better accuracy. It is, after all, the granddaddy of the 6mm PPC.
To deliver acceptable accuracy, bullet diameter should closely match barrel groove diameter, yet in the past, I had found 0.308-inch bullets loaded in the 7.62x39mm and pushed through 0.311-inch barrels to be as accurate as bullets measuring 0.310 inch and 0.311 inch. But that was from semiautomatic rifles capable of missing a small watermelon at 100 paces regardless of the bullets being shot. I figured the old rule about matching bullet diameter and barrel groove diameter would become important when the little cartridge is fired in an accurate rifle, and I am still convinced it holds true for a benchrest rifle that must consistently shoot five bullets inside the 0.250 inch at 100 yards necessary to win matches.
The Ruger American Ranch has proven to me that entirely acceptable "practical" accuracy is possible even when bullet diameter does not closely match barrel groove diameter. The 7.62x39mm operates at the same industry maximum average chamber pressure as the .30-06 Springfield, and I'm thinking the 50,000 CUP kick in the rump causes slightly undersized lead-core bullets to obturate enough to fill the grooves of the rifling.
Handloading the 7.62x39mm is a breeze. Accurate 1680 powder was developed specifically for it and is one of the more popular propellants among those who handload. Much of the published data is for semiautomatic rifles. For example, data in the Hornady manual was developed in an SKS carbine with 23.9 grains listed as maximum for 123- and 130-grain bullets. Maximum velocity for both is 2,400 fps. Data in the Speer manual was developed in a Ruger Model 77 Mark II bolt action. Start and maximum charges of 1680 for a 123-grain, 0.310-inch bullet are 26.0 grains and 28.0 grains respectively. Maximum velocity is 2,544 fps. The Western Powders website has a maximum of 27.7 grains for a 125-grain bullet at 2,475 fps.
In addition to having an extremely sturdy turnbolt action, the chamber throat of the Ruger American Ranch is fairly long. My caliper says 0.280 inch from the mouth of a chambered case to the point on the lands first contacted by a speeding bullet. When the base of a bullet is seated to the shoulder neck juncture of a case, it has to leap through a great deal of space prior to engaging the rifling. I kept that in mind while loading 123- and 125-grain bullets. Starting at 26.0 grains of Accurate 1680, I stopped at 28.0 grains with no sign of excessive pressure. Switching to 135-grain bullets, I considered 25.5 grains a good stopping point.
Muzzle flash from the 16.12-inch barrel was noticeable but not severe, and velocity spread varied considerably. The spread among five shots would be quite acceptable and then it might suddenly exceed 100 fps when firing the next five-shot group. Whereas the cases of Hornady ammunition are pocketed for Large Rifle primers, virgin brass from that company uses Small Rifle primers. Thinking the CCI 400 primer might be a bit timid about uniformly igniting Accurate 1680, I tried the CCI 450 Magnum, and velocity spread returned to normal. Muzzle flash was also reduced. I had already fired 40 rounds of Hornady ammo, so I resized those cases and seated CCI 200 Large Rifle primers, and velocity spread was about the same as with the CCI 450 primers. You can see the difference primer type makes by perusing my test results with the 0.311-inch Sierra 125-grain Pro Hunter Spitzer and the 0.310-inch Sierra 135-grain Tipped MatchKing. What they say about Accurate 1680 being an excellent choice for use in the 7.62x39mm is true so long as the right primer/case combination is used.
In contrast to my experience with Accurate 1680, velocity spread when igniting CFE BLK with the CCI 400 primer was quite acceptable, and there was no detectable muzzle flash. It has become my favorite powder for the 7.62x39mm, and if anything, it serves a better role there than in the .300 Whisper/Blackout for which it was developed.
Best accuracy was chalked up by the homely, little 0.308-inch Sierra 125-grain Pro-Hunter flatnose hollowpoint. It was designed for the .30-30 Winchester, and through the decades, an old friend of mine has used it in a Winchester 94 to take more whitetail deer than he will admit to (there is no limit on bucks in his county). That bullet should be an equally good choice for woods stalking with a rifle in 7.62x39mm.
I have not taken a deer with the 7.62x39mm, but I have taken several with the Nosler 125-grain Ballistic Tip and Hornady 125-grain SST loaded to 2,500 fps for my Winchester Model 54 in .30-30. If I were to hunt deer with a rifle in 7.62x39mm, it would be loaded with either the Nosler Ballistic Tip, the Sierra Pro-Hunter hollowpoint, or the Hornady 125-grain SST.
Considering the price and accuracy of the Ranch Model of the Ruger American in 7.62x39mm, it has to be considered one of the best things to happen to this popular little cartridge.