Numerous rifle models have appeared of late that are designed to hit a low price point. Many are of questionable design, deliver mediocre accuracy, have flimsy plastic stocks, and are downright ugly. But they are
One refreshing exception to that litany of budget-priced rifles is the Ruger American Rifle. Not only is it a marvel of efficient and thoughtful engineering, but also it is well made, very accurate, and, in my opinion, good looking. A new-for-2017 version is the American Predator, and I got my hands on one chambered for the new 6mm Creedmoor cartridge.
Ruger's American Rifle dates to about 2013, and it is the result of the engineers' goal of producing a rifle that embodies quality, innovative engineering, and value. Since its introduction, the Ruger American Rifle has evolved into several specialized versions, including Compact, long and short actions, and a rimfire model. Consequently, the rifle is chambered for a host of popular cartridges. In addition, several versions of the American Rifle chambered for five popular cartridges are available as packages with quality Vortex 3-9X 40mm Crossfire scopes.
As for the new Predator version, I say if this little gem doesn't get your pulse racing then you may need professional help. The Predator is chambered for seven cartridges that cover everything from prairie dogs to big deer.
The new Predator has all of the nice features of the original American Rifle plus a few new ones of its own. The Predator's receiver is a solid-topped steel affair and does not come with Ruger rings. Instead, it's drilled and tapped for scope bases. The Predator comes with a 5-inch-long aluminum base with 10 cross-slots that accept Weaver-style rings. If you prefer traditional mounts, you can remove the rail and install two Weaver Number 46 bases.
The rifle's Marksman Trigger is user adjustable from 3 to 5 pounds and has the now-familiar safety lever that helps prevent accidental discharges, as the trigger lever must be pressed into the trigger blade proper for the gun to fire. To adjust the trigger, you have to remove the stock, and Ruger recommends turning the adjustment screw only about a half-turn at a time and then checking the pull weight. Also, when replacing the stock screws, tighten them each a little at a time, not all of one, then the other. And make sure the receiver fits properly into the stainless-steel Power Bedding bedding-block system. This also free-floats the barrel.
The bolt is a fat 0.850 inch in diameter, and it has three full-diameter lugs up front. Here Ruger engineers addressed another vexing problem with three-lug bolts. While this provides a short 70-degree bolt lift, it also makes raising the bolt after firing inherently harder, so the American Predator has dual cocking cams to make bolt lift easier. It's a slick idea, and it makes raising the bolt with the rifle shouldered easy.
Bolt removal is a snap. Just press the release button at the left rear of the receiver and withdraw the bolt. The bolt has a healthy groove on its left side that guides over the bolt release lever for smooth operation.
The two-position safety is located on the tang, so it's easily available to right- and left-handed shooters. When in the "Safe" position, it doesn't lock the bolt, so the chamber can be unloaded with complete safety. When the rifle is cocked, the cocking piece sticks out of the rear of the bolt shroud, making it easy to see and feel if the rifle is cocked and ready to go.
The magazine is a sturdy polymer box that detaches from the receiver with the touch of the release button. It comes out and goes back in straight as a string and does not require any angled insertion or other contortions. It's a rotary design, for which Ruger is duly famous, holds four rounds, and feeds as slick as a bug's ear.
Like all Ruger American Rifles, the Predator's barrel is cold-hammer-forged, and this makes for a super-slick interior surface. I have witnessed this procedure, and it is pretty amazing. A short, fat cylinder of steel with a small hole in its center goes into one end of a huge machine. A lot of very loud pounding and hammering occurs, and presto, out the other end of the machine comes a long, slender barrel. The rifling is formed in reverse over a mandrel, which produces a superior surface. This hammering also compacts the steel grain structure and makes the bore a bit denser and stronger.
Ruger says that making the Predator barrel this way offers "minute-of-angle accuracy," a long life, and easy cleaning. Oh, here's a bonus: The barrel is threaded 5/8-24, so it is ready for a suppressor or other muzzle device, and a thread-protecting cap is provided.
I examined the bore of the test gun with my Hawkeye borescope, and the bore is as smooth as a, well, you know, and it is absolutely devoid of tool marks. After some shooting and a cursory cleaning, I examined the bore again with the borescope and found nary a trace of copper fouling, and that pattern continued throughout my testing. Remarkable! I say, "Hat's off to Ruger!"
The Predator's stock is a sturdy synthetic that feels solid, not flimsy, and has molded-in panels on the fore-end and pistol grip for a good handhold. The pistol grip has a cap with the familiar Ruger logo.
For testing, I equipped the Predator with a Burris Predator Quest 2-7X 35mm scope, and it was a perfect complement to the new 6mm cartridge, making testing the rifle easy. I used Weaver medium-height rings with the Ruger-supplied optics rail, and that placed the scope 1.61 inches above the bore, which allowed for a convenient cheekweld on the stock's comb.
When I tested the Predator, there was only one 6mm Creedmoor factory load available. Made by Hornady, it's topped with the 108-grain ELD Match bullet and rated at 2,960 fps. Shooting it through the Predator's 22-inch barrel produced an average velocity of 2,841 fps with a standard deviation of 19 fps. Three, five-shot groups at 100 yards fired from the benchrest inside my shooting building averaged 0.69 inch.
Luckily, as I was completing the test of the new Predator, I received some preproduction samples of Hornady's just-announced 6mm Creedmoor hunting ammo. It features a 103-grain version of Hornady's ELD-X bullet, and it averaged 2,859 fps and 0.89 inch from the Predator. This load should be on dealers' shelves as you read this report.
As is my custom, I just had to do a little handloading of the new 6mm Creedmoor for the Predator rifle, and I relied on Hornady's recipes listed on the company's website. Since the Predator's barrel has a steep 1:7.7-inch twist, I stuck primarily to longer and heavier bullets. Just about all shot well, and many shot really well. All the shooting results are shown in the chart on page 64. I admit that groups would have probably been somewhat smaller if I had used a higher-magnification scope, but the compact Burris 2-7X just seemed right for the hunting rifle.
While I mostly used Hornady 6mm Creedmoor cases, I also necked down some 6.5 Creedmoor brass just to see if it would work. The resulting cases were dimensionally the same as the 6mm cases, and they worked perfectly. I trimmed cases to 1.910 inches, or 0.010 inch less than maximum, and used Federal No. 210 primers for all handloads.
The efficient Creedmoor case works great with many powders, but a couple stood out in my tests. Hybrid 100V from Hodgdon and Reloder 17 from Alliant were top performers. Hunting loads with the Hornady ELD-X, Nosler Partition, or Speer Grand Slam should handle about any game for which a high-velocity .24-caliber cartridge is suitable. Pinpoint accuracy is available with the ELD Match bullet, or any of the Sierra MatchKing bullets tested. And the velocities of the hand-loads pretty much equaled the speed of the factory-loaded ammunition.
An important point in handloading the 6mm Creedmoor, at least for my test rifle, was seating depth. For my first loads, I seated the base of the bullet to the start of the neck. Accuracy was very good but not always great. I checked the bullet jump of the Hornady factory load and found that the 108-grain ELD Match bullet was almost touching the lands. Thereafter, I seated bullets no more than 0.010 inch from the lands, and accuracy was vastly improved. All of the handloads listed in the chart are seated "short." The Predator's rotary magazine length is 2.85 inches, so all of the loads shown worked through the magazine.
Having fired more than a few low-end, plastic-stocked rifles in the past, I must confess that I started this review thinking that a rifle that retails for only $529 couldn't be much of a gun. Boy, was I wrong! Not only does the American Predator have a host of innovative engineering and safety features that enhance its value, but also it is attractive enough so that you won't have to hide it from your dog. And it is also superbly accurate. In fact, it shot much better than a lot of rifles I've tested that cost a lot more.
Perhaps the Ruger American Predator is a harbinger that indicates maybe, just maybe, the "race to the bottom" for low-cost rifles has run its course, and the quality, features, and subsequent value of new offerings are on the upswing. If so, Ruger is surely leading the way.