February 2013

243 Win. Bolt-Action Rifles Under $500: Ruger Vs Mossberg

The Ruger American and Mossberg 4X4 rifles sell for less than $500 and deliver sub-MOA groups. What’s not to like?

In our test team’s initial discussions about evaluating production bolt-action rifles, an interesting sideline emerged. One member of our test team owns a bolt-action rifle built by Roger David of Sulphur, Louisiana (David’s Gunshop, 337-527-5089). Evaluated in our November 2004 issue, it turned out to be a super-accurate rifle. And why not, considering it was hand-built by a master gunsmith and utilized the finest components. But in the last year or two, we’ve been seeing accuracy results from inexpensive “assembly line” rifles that come close to the performance of our most prized custom guns. Which leads us to two questions. First, how is that possible? The answer is computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining and new methods of computer-aided design.

Our second question was, if we were to choose a couple of these new bolt-action rifles that sell for less than $500, would they really perform at a level of accuracy that just as few years ago would be much more costly in terms of time and money? To see if today’s rifle shooters really are being treated to superior accuracy at a bargain price, we decided to test two synthetic-stocked rifles from Ruger and Mossberg. Our choice of cartridge was 243 Winchester because of its reputation of delivering more than adequate power to take down deer while disturbing a minimum amount of meat. Plus, 243 Win. is an effective choice for hog and coyote hunting. Our rifles were the $449 Ruger American and the $471 Mossberg 4X4. Both rifles are lightweight hunting models fitted with black synthetic stocks, matching blued barrels with recessed crowns, pre-mounted two-piece scope bases, sling attachments front and rear, rubber buttpads, and removable box magazines. Barrel lengths for the Ruger and Mossberg rifles were 22 inches and 24 inches, respectively.

To give our budget rifles the opportunity to excel, we chose a little more scope than might be found on an everyday hunting rifle. The new Steiner Predator Xtreme model 5003 offered 4-16X variable power with a 50mm objective lens. Built on a 30mm tube, it measured 15 inches in length and weighed 22 ounces. Side parallax adjustment was calibrated from 50 yards to 500 yards to infinity. Click-adjustment value was ¼ MOA. We counted 240 total clicks of elevation and 200 clicks of windage from lock to lock. The Steiner Plex S1 is a second-focal-plane reticle that offers ballistic lines for holdover calibrated for most popular calibers and bullet weights. Stick-on reference charts are supplied. In addition, the hold-over lines were bordered by a series of cascading dots to the left and right to help compensate for wind. The dots are calibrated for a 10-mph wind value, according to the owner’s manual. We found the added visual reference to be useful and clear. The Steiner Predator Xtreme comes with a 30-year warranty.

After successfully mounting the Steiner on the Mossberg rifle, we couldn’t get the scope to stay seated atop the Ruger. Measuring the interior dimensions of the slots on the Mossberg’s scope mounts we found that rear notch on the Mossberg measured only 0.146 inches wide, but the two notches on the front base were larger, measuring only about 0.150 inches across. Whereas the mounts didn’t match, they still were able to provide a good enough fit for the thin, round cross bolts of our Leupold Rifleman rings. The Ruger’s cross-slots were uniform but wider, measuring about 0.156 inches across. Switching to a set of Warne Maxima rings (No. 215M), which utilize rectangular lugs for seating, solved the mounting problem.

To test, we chose ammunition topped with four bullet weights. They were Black Hills Gold 85-grain Barnes TSX, Winchester Super X 80-grain Pointed Soft Point, Black Hills Gold 62-grain Varmint Grenade, and 58-grain Hornady Varmint Express ammunition. Each rifle was tested for accuracy from a bench. We shot at targets located 100 yards away. Here’s how our rifles performed:

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