June 2014

Making the Ruger No. 1 Right

Senior Tech Editor Ray Ordorica goes through Ruger’s single-shot design in 400 Jeffery, finding — and fixing — areas that need significant change to make it a true biggest-game contender.

In the past we have remarked on these pages that the Ruger No. 1 has a few problems. In fact, it has had no further development since its introduction back in 1967. Bill Ruger copied the graceful Alexander Henry single-shot falling-block design of the 1870s and also the look of the opening lever, and internal hammer of the Farquharson. The Henry stock, of course, was the inspiration for the notch in the forend on Ruger’s Tropical No. 1. The new Ruger single shot was a huge success, yet for some reason neither Bill Ruger nor anyone in charge of the company has taken it upon himself to do anything more with the fine No. 1 except to continue producing it, flaws and all, ever since its introduction. There have most likely been production changes along the way to either improve the rifle’s strength or its manufacturing ease, but as to its finer points, there has been exactly no progress. Until now.

We decided to wring out a Ruger No. 1 Tropical in 400 Jeffery caliber (aka 450/400 3”), and make whatever improvements we could on it, things that long ago we think Ruger ought to have addressed. We were not able to do all the things we wanted, as you’ll see, but we did make some improvements. Here, then, is our report.

Ruger No. 1 Tropical Rifle No. 11324 400 Jeffery, $1400
First, we send our heartiest congratulations to Ruger for building a rifle in this grand old caliber. Our test rifle came with fabulous wood on the butt stock, but the forend did not match. Externally, the Ruger looked just fine. It has classic lines, pretty good workmanship inside and out (an exception noted below), and excellent wood and metal finish. The checkering panels on each side of the forend and pistol grip are well cut and fully functional. The rifle came with integral scope bases cut into the top rib, with scope rings, and with iron sights that included a folding and adjustable rear. There were QD sling mounts on the butt stock and on the barrel. The butt plate was Ruger’s current one in black, much too thin and hard.

The Problems
First, the Ruger on hand is too light for this caliber. Although the Ruger website lists the 400 Jeffery at 9.25 pounds, which would be ideal, the one we have on hand weighs exactly 8.0 pounds, which is at least a pound too light for comfortable use of its power. We’ve had our test rifle on hand for some time, having had the devil of a time getting various test bits for it. Did Ruger raise the weight on it recently? Our query to Ruger was instantly answered, and yes, Ruger did increase the barrel’s dimensions to provide more weight. We think that’s excellent. Also, owners of the 400 Jeffery single-shot rifles are fond of increasing the ballistics, which the large Jeffery case does with ease. But if you don’t have the rifle weight, you’re in for a good, strong kick. Of course you can’t increase the velocity for double rifles, which are set up for the original ballistics of a 400-grain bullet at about 2125 fps. The case has about the same volume as the 416 Rigby case, and a strong rifle will allow much higher velocity if you must have it.

We tested a 416 Rigby No. 1 some months back, and it had a weight of 9.3 pounds. That was nearly enough weight, though we would have preferred ten pounds. John Rigby & Co. make the company’s new bolt-action rifle in 416 Rigby to weigh 10.5 pounds, and that’s a more powerful cartridge. Sabatti makes its double rifle to weigh 9.5 pounds in 400 Jeffery. So how can one add a pound to our older rifle, if desired? Although it’s possible to put a plug of lead into the butt stock, the plug must be removable to gain access to the bolt that holds the stock to the action. There’s not much spare room inside the Ruger’s woodworks, and we suspect we’d be lucky to find room for a quarter pound of lead. Also, the weight belongs on the rear end of the barrel, so it can remain between the hands.

A heavy scope on this rifle would bring the weight up by about a pound, and those who want to use a scope on this rifle might be well advised to seek out one of the lighter ones, like our version. But for serious use in the tropics of Africa we — and, we suspect, most shooters — will prefer iron sights, not a scope. This cartridge is, after all, suitable for use against elephant. We would prefer not to use a scope for such work, though that might suit you just fine.

Hornady makes some outstanding 400 Jeffery ammunition, shown here with Hornady’s DGS solid and DGX expanding bullets, both of 400 grains. The Hornady loads ought to work well in double rifles made about 100 years ago. Kudos to Hornady and to Ruger for resurrecting this grand old cartridge.

So Ruger has taken care of the weight problem, and that’s great. What else is wrong? The iron sights are not very good. In fact, they’re lousy. Not only do they glare horribly in direct sunlight, they do not give a good sight picture. The rear sight is essentially useless with bright sun on it. We compared the Ruger’s sights in bright, sunny conditions (strong unshaded sun on the right rear quarter) to a British double rifle from the 1920s. We could easily get a razor-sharp sight picture with the English rifle. It had a slanted rear vee and a small black front bead, with no hood. By contrast, the Ruger’s sights, with its gold front bead, large white diamond, and tiny U-notch, were all full of glare.

We shaded the Ruger’s adjustable rear sight with our hand and lined up the sights perfectly, and then slid our hand out of the way to let the full glare of the sun bear on the rear sight. The glare made the white diamond appear to be way over to the right, which if corrected by the shooter would have caused the shots to strike far to the right. The Ruger’s rear sight was only useable when we put a cardboard box up next to it as a sunshade. One would expect the sun to shine brightly in the “tropics,” for which area the rifle is intended. We think the rear sight of our rifle needs drastic alteration.

Where is the front-sight hood? Forty-seven years with no improvement to, nor protection for, the front sight? The bead is gold colored, and has a flat back, but the first encounter with a random rock will change all that. The front sight would be far more functional in bright light with a hood providing both shade and protection. You can still see the gold under a shade, by the way. But of course the current sight is adjustable, which the “fix” will not be.

Then there’s the useless recoil pad. Yes, many are going to shorten the stock, but we suspect most owners are never going to alter the stock length whatsoever. Why not fit a good, soft, fully functional recoil pad on the rifle right from the start? With a suggested retail price of $1400 for the No. 1, a $20 recoil pad ought not to dig too deeply into Ruger’s profits.

Although the safely is not automatic, the rifle ejects every time the action is opened. If you don’t like having your fresh ammo zinged out when you open the rifle, you can alter the rifle to be a simple extractor, and that’s another great feature of this rifle. However, each and every time an empty case leaves the action, it hits the front end of the safety button and stops. That’s entirely contrary to original Alex Henry or Farquharson design, and we believe it’s a huge mistake. You cannot put the safety on before opening the just-fired Ruger No. 1, so the safety button always remains forward and always stops the ejected round. On a dangerous-game rifle, which this is, there should not be any impediment to the fired brass leaving the rifle. The round should be either ejected cleanly or allowed to fall free to make room for the next shot. We think the idea of tipping the rifle away from your face to let the empty brass fall free is an incredibly stupid idea. The ejector is there to zing the used brass over your shoulder, get rid of it completely, leaving a clean chute for your next round. With a setup like that, the single-shot rifle can be fired repeatedly very quickly. As the Ruger is set up, it doesn’t work that way.

Next, we confess we like the quarter rib, but hate the hole under it. A proper quarter rib does not have holes underneath it. First, it looks like the devil. Second, that hole can attract branches, dirt, leaves, weevils, and other bad stuff. Close the hole up, Ruger! It can’t be that hard to do. Here’s a suggestion. We’ve established the rifle needs more weight, so why not make up a sleeve with a proper quarter rib on it and fit that sleeve around the barrel? That would add weight to the hard-kicking rifles like this one that need it. A sleeve should be relatively easy to fit to the round barrel, and would put the added weight between the hands. John Rigby had a step on the barrels of his original 416 Rigby Mauser rifles. The rear portion was fat, and the forward portion a bit slimmer. It looked great, positioned the weight where it would not be detrimental to the balance, and got the rifle’s overall weight up where it belonged.

The Fixes
So, what did we do to fix all this? First, we installed a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, $20 from Amazon, leaving the stock uncut for a bit more pull length.

When we had the old pad off, we pulled out the stock bolt, took off the butt stock, and got at the innards of the action. This let us remove the safety button, which got a custom treatment of bobbing its front end. We removed about 0.4 inch from the forward end of the safety button, made the cut smooth, hit it with cold blue, and reassembled it into the rifle. We did some grinding and filing inside to make sure the safety could be put on smoothly. There was some binding, which we removed. Now it works perfectly. Now, with our altered safety button, the empty 400 Jeffery brass flies clear of the rifle when we open the action. That is how it’s supposed to work. You have plenty of time after your elephant or Cape buffalo is taken care of to pick up your brass. At the range, you can easily catch the empties off the ejector as the gun is opened, or if you prefer, disable the ejector for your visits to the range.

So now the safety on our rifle is no longer the cartridge stop. Our “fix” does leave a small uncovered slot on top of the rifle tang just in front of the safety when the safety is in the On position. In the field you can cover that with your thumb easily enough. If you want to get tricky, you can arrange to have a gunsmith add a plate inside the rifle to cover that hole. Or you can petition Ruger to come up with a better overall solution.

As to the rear sight, we turned the adjustable part of the rear blade upside down and filed a vee notch where the useless square notch had been, and that improved it vastly. However, we still could not get a decent nor accurate sight picture with strong light on the rear sight assembly. We’ve seen an express sight on some of the Ruger M77 rifles. This sight has a wide vee. It looks to be a better sight than the issue Ruger rear sight, so we called Ruger and have one coming for our rifle. We think it ought to be standard on the No. 1 in heavy calibers. Thing is, the express sight is not adjustable, so the owner will either have to do some filing or try different heights of the rear sight, of which there are many, or the front bead. It’s easier to replace the rear sight than the front, by the way.

We chose to leave the hole under the quarter rib alone, but one option is to fill it with Steel Bed (Brownells) and paint it black. Or to add weight, you could fit a chunk of lead in there and epoxy it into the gap. As to the front hood, we are looking for a common front hood that is the right width, but have not yet found it. It would be possible to have one bent up with a S shape to fit in the gouges and wrap over the top, and fix it in place with a cross pin or some small screws. We believe Ruger should put a properly notched or grooved front base under the front sight and provide a protective hood. That way the owner can use it or remove it as desired. Another item to consider would be to add a folding “night” sight, which is a large white bead useful in dim light on dangerous-game rifles.

We don’t like the idea of adding a lead plug into the stock-bolt hole. It would have to be loose, which is not good, and would put the weight at the back of the rifle, not between the hands. Because Ruger has addressed this problem, we did not look into adding weight any further.

Finally we took the rifle to the range with some Hornady DGX factory soft-nose ammo. We shot the rifle at 100 yards off our machine rest. Our best group was 2.4 inches for three shots, which we thought was entirely adequate for the iron sights that came with the rifle. Recoil was pronounced, and not for the faint of heart off the bench. Shooting from standing let us roll with the kick and let the rifle rise in recoil. Follow-up shots would be far quicker with a heavier rifle, and that’s the one we’d look for if we were buying a Ruger in 400 Jeffery.

We assembled a handload using Reloder 15 powder and Hornady 400-grain bullets and Hornady loading dies, which by the way were outstanding dies. Our results were similar to what we got with the factory ammo. The 400 Jeffery’s ballistics were standardized back in 1905 for single-shot and double rifles. Hornady has kept to that old velocity, and our hat’s off to them for that. Pressure must be quite low, and that’s all to the good, with all the older double rifles still out there. Hornady’s new bullets are also some of the best ever made for the cartridge, and they are available in either solid or expanding versions, called DGS and DGX respectively, 400 grains each. Of course, in the stout Ruger No. 1 (but not in double rifles) this big case can be loaded to give much higher velocity than standard. It should easily match the 416 Rigby, for example, but we had no desire to do that. If the rifle had more weight, we might have tried it. It would be fun to try 41-caliber pistol bullets in this rifle. Pistol bullets won’t be useful in the field if the velocity is too high for the bullet’s design, but they should be interesting. A cast bullet of about 300 to 350 grains ought to be another useful setup, and if kept to a reasonable velocity, ought not to need a gas check. There are many things you can do with this cartridge, and we’re only getting started.

Our Team Said
Our test rifle showed excellent accuracy and had a superb trigger. Of course, there were no problems with its overall function. Ruger does do a fine job of making fully functional rifles, and this one was no exception. We loved the wood of the butt stock, but the forend was about as pretty as a 2x4. Why doesn’t Ruger spend a few seconds matching the forend wood to the stock? Or cut the pieces from the same piece of wood and keep ‘em together? This can’t be all that hard for a huge, presumably automated company to accomplish, and the results would be stunning. We thought the rifle deserves an A for function, accuracy, looks, balance, and the choice of cartridge; but we give it a D for its too-light weight combined with a poor recoil pad and poor (though adjustable) rear sight and stupid safety. Ruger has fixed the weight, so with that new 9.25-pound weight on this rifle, we could only complain about the sights, the safety, and the recoil pad. In the new weight, we would give it a B. As tested, it’s an average rifle.

Written and photographed by Ray Ordorica.

Ruger No.1 400 Jeffery

Range Data