Bolt-Action Varmint Rifles: We Would Buy Ruger’s MKII .204
Rugerís KM77VT MKII rifle chambered in 204 Ruger does it all, for less money. Also, Kimberís 84M is a beauty thatís easier to carry, but we would pass on Savageís malfunctioning Model 12.
In November 2003 Sturm, Ruger & Co. announced that it would introduce five different rifles chambered for a new cartridge, the 204 Ruger, which was developed in conjunction with Hornady Manufacturing. The 204 Ruger would share the same overall length of 223 Remington ammunition, but with greater case volume. The purpose was to deliver the same stopping power for varmint or small game with less recoil, muzzle report, and barrel wear than similar high-velocity rounds such as 22-250 Remington and 220 Swift. Ruger claimed higher velocity and flatter trajectory would be achieved while burning less propellant, a major source of barrel wear.
In this evaluation we will test three bolt-action rifles chambered for 204 Ruger, including Rugerís $935 KM77VT MKII, the $1224 Kimber 84M Varmint, and the $1208 Model 12 Long Range Precision Repeating rifle from Savage Arms.
Each of our test guns was designed with the varmint hunter in mind. Perhaps the most popular game in this category would be the prairie dog. Prairie dogs live in "towns," and they are likely to stick their heads up or run from one mound to another at any time. Opportunities to take a shot are oftentimes so plentiful that the rifles are challenged to maintain accuracy and function despite high operating temperatures. Some rifle tests only require a three-shot group, but in this case we felt justified to test for accuracy over the course of five five-shot groups.
In addition we looked for smooth bolt action operation and a magazine that was easy to load to full capacity. We also looked for smooth operation when chambering one round at a time.
Another attribute we checked for was flexibility in terms of mount. Many outfitters supply a shooting bench. But if the dogs start hiding in one field, the rifle should not be so heavy that slinging it over the shoulder and moving to a more active location is not an undue burden. In addition, each rifle was judged for its ability to be shot prone and from the seated position.
None of the rifles arrived with open sights. We chose to mount a scope that members of our staff had found to be a winner on a recent prairie dog hunt in North Dakota. This was the $337 Burris Timberline 4.5X-14X power scope with Ballistic Plex reticle No. 201344. In the field we used the lowest power to scan for our next target. Once a prairie dog was located, we zoomed in with full 14X power. If we came up short, we raised our sights to one of the three horizontal lines below the crosshairs of the Ballistic Plex reticle and tried again. Our accuracy tests were performed with our scopes set at 14X power from the 100-yard line at American Shooting Centers located on the western edge of Houston (amshootcenters.com). Each rifle was tested over a two-day period, one day for sighting in the scope and breaking in the barrel and another for shots of record. For support we used a Caldwell Tack Driver bag under the forend and a beanie bag under the buttstock. Seated at ASCís sturdy benches our operators clinched the beanie bag to set elevation while aligning the crosshairs for each shot. Weather conditions for each session were compared via readings from our Kestrel 4000NV Pocket Weather Meter, ($273 from sinclairintl.com).
The prototypical bullet weight for 204 Ruger weighed 32 grains. As such we tested with Federalís 32-grain Nosler V-Shok Ballistic Tip ammunition. We also tested with Winchesterís 34-grain Lubalox-coated Super X JHP rounds and 40-grain V-Max Varmint Express ammunition from Hornady. Would one round prove supremely accurate, or would we find one rifle that shot all three equally well? Letís find out.