Ruger 77RSP Mark II 30-06, $574
The .30-06 is the most popular cartridge all over the world, and rightly so. The many varieties of bullet weights, types and velocities available, in both factory loads and as components for the handloader, are unmatched in any other cartridge. There are saboted lightweight bullets at varmint-getting velocities, heavyweights up to 220 grains with enough horsepower to cleanly take fairly heavy game, and lots of options in between. The cartridge is versatile and flexible, and an outstanding choice for anyone who doesnt want a closetful of rifles for different uses. The 06 fills many needs.
Stainless steel rifles are not maintenance free. The use of stainless means your rifle wont be damaged by occasional neglect, as sometimes happens on extended hunts or near the seashore. Itll still need cleaning after use, just like rifles made of ordinary steel. Essentially, the use of stainless steel means the firearm will never need refinishing. Unless it is seriously damaged along the way, fifty years from now your rifle will look exactly like it does today. Thats the good part.
The bad part is that stainless steel shines. Polish it enough and it almost glows in the dark. The shininess can be mitigated by surface roughening such as wire brushing or vapor blasting. However, unless you paint it (a viable option), the rifle will always be white metal, and thats probably more easily seen by wary game animals than blued steel. The shine is dealt with by the manufacturers with varied success, as well see.
There are good and not-so-good synthetic stocks. Cheap ones feel and sound cheesy. They are hollow black plastic handles, nothing more. The best ones are composites of fiberglass and Kevlar, some with carbon-fiber reinforcement. These stocks are tough enough to take to war, or to let your horse step on, without fear of breakage. Such a stock alone can cost several hundred dollars. Whether the price is worth it depends on the use to which you expect to put the rifle. You can always add such a stock later.
In this test we chose a Ruger Model 77RSP Mk II. The Ruger had a controlled-feed extractor, black synthetic stock with black rubber recoil pad, and checkering. The Ruger had a 22-inch barrel with six grooves/lands.
Controlled feed means the extractor grabs the round being fed from the magazine as soon as it pops up out of the magazine, thereby controlling the fore-and-aft position of the round. The round may be pushed all the way into the chamber or, before the bolt is fully forward, the round may be pulled back by the bolt against the ejector. The faster you withdraw the bolt, the farther the round is ejected. The advantage of this system is that it is impossible to bump one round out of the magazine with the bolt and, before closing the bolt to capture that round, withdrawing the bolt all the way and shoving another cartridge against the loose first round, causing a jammed rifle. This is why many professional hunters of dangerous game prefer controlled-feed rifles to any other type of bolt-action rifle.
The Rugers hinged-floorplate magazine held four rounds, and the Ruger had sling rings attached to its stock. Ruger provided rings and integral bases.
Looking at a stainless rifle with a composite stock is like looking at a black and white photograph. Contrasted to a blued rifle with a walnut stock, these rugged working tools look rather stark.
This starkness is relieved somewhat in the Ruger, which has serrated inserts where one would expect checkering. The Ruger stock is strange to some eyes with its relieved buttstock (sides) and the inserts. One quickly decides if he likes or dislikes the concept. We suggest you withhold your personal judgment until you handle and shoot the firearm. The Rugers synthetic stock is injection molded of Du Pont Zytel with glass-fiber reinforcement.
The Rugers serrated checkering panels work very well. They provided a positive grasp to the rifle, and the stock had a stout and hearty feel that inspired confidence. The only obvious potential problem was that the steel parts were quite shiny.
The Ruger action exhibited a small bit of surface waviness, which was a natural product of their investment casting process. The Ruger action, however, had that companys usual very sharp edges, which could cut the fingers. There is really no excuse for this. A few minutes deburring with a file fixes the problem, but their blued rifles look pretty bad after this is done.
We judged the stock-to-metal fit in the Ruger to be excellent, and the metal-to-metal fit was generally very good.reinstall the magazine. We found it loaded easily whether in or out of the rifle.
We have long wondered about the perceived need for detachable magazines on hunting rifles. Weve been told this makes it easier to unload the rifle for transport, but safe unloading is a snap with controlled-feed rifles such as the Ruger. The live rounds dont have to enter the chamber as theyre cycled from the magazine. With cold fingers, this is easier than removing a detachable magazine.
The Ruger bolt gave a bit of drag in feeding, and felt bumpy when extracting a cartridge. Like early Mauser 98s, the Ruger bolt is slightly loose in the action, and any significant sideways pressure on the bolt can cause it to bind.
Loading the magazine presented no problems or surprises, either by opening the hinged floorplate or by cycling the bolt.
Part of our testing included shooting and handling the rifles in the offhand position to simulate their probable use in the field. This resulted in a clear choice of one of the rifles as the most likely to succeed in such usage, and it was something of a surprise to our testers.
The Ruger was lightest at 7 pounds empty. The Ruger seemed to float because of its superior balance. The perfectly balanced Ruger felt very solid on-target in spite of the lightness of the rifle. It was extremely easy to hold it on the center of the target. Hits would have been easier if the Rugers 5 1/2-pound trigger pull were reduced to a riflemans weight of 3 pounds. That notwithstanding, the Ruger felt absolutely marvelous offhand, inspiring great confidence.
The Ruger featured a three-position safety. The middle position is intended to be utilized while unloading the rifle by cycling the rounds partly into the chamber, and then out into the hand. The extractor of this controlled-feed rifle grabs and controls the rounds as soon as they pop up from the magazine.
The Ruger bolt release was very sharp and dug into the releasing thumb painfully. The boltswent back into the action easily.
We found no significant difference in accuracy among the test rifles, and, perhaps more interesting, was that there was no measurable velocity drop with the two-inch-shorter Ruger barrel, compared to what we got with the other two rifles.
The lightest rifle gets the first nod because we carry hunting rifles lots more than we shoot em. However, because most hunting situations call for some form of unsupported shooting, as in offhand or with a poor rest, the rifle which is easiest to hold on target (best balance) gets the nod. The clear choice in both instances is the Ruger Model 77RSP Mark II. Its half a pound lighter than its closest competitor, and holds by far the best in our offhand evaluation. Youll just have to get accustomed to the stock, because this rifle is a winner.