A modern guide to guns and hunting

Ruger Number 1 Rifle in .204 Ruger

An old favorite rechambered for a hot new cartridge.

This is as much a review of a cartridge as it is of a rifle. The Ruger Number 1 rifle was developed in the 1960s and remains one of the most popular falling-block action rifles ever. The .204 Ruger cartridge, introduced in 2004, was a joint effort between Ruger and Hornady Manufacturing. Combined they make an excellent platform for target shooting or varmint hunting.

When I first became interested in the shooting sports, I was primarily interested in big game hunting. To this end, my first rifle was chambered in 7mm Remington magnum, which is a fairly sharp-kicking cartridge. After awhile, I became interested in “plinking,” or shooting for the sheer fun of it, and I wanted a rifle that had much less recoil. I considered several alternatives, and chose the .204 Ruger cartridge, primarily because of all the favorable press that it has received since its introduction. The .204 Ruger can propel a 32-grain bullet at well over 4000 fps. It has also earned a reputation for accuracy. And, since you can get bullets up to 45 grains (and possibly larger) it’s a viable option for hunting larger varmints as well. (I must also admit that I have a taste for the exotic, and the .204 seemed more exciting than a garden-variety .223 or .22-250, though either of those would serve well for these uses, too.)

Once I had decided on the .204 cartridge, it was an easy decision to go with the Ruger Number 1 rifle. The Number 1 is beautiful and well-proven — since its introduction in 1966, Ruger has offered the Number 1 in over 20 cartridges and several barrel configurations. The Number 1 features an action known as “falling block,” which means that the chamber is opened and closed by a large piece of metal known as a breechblock. The breechblock slides up and down immediately behind the chamber as a lever under the trigger is actuated. It is a very simple and strong design whose only drawback is that it produces a single-shot rifle, which can pose a problem for field hunters who anticipate the need for a very fast follow-up shot. This was not an issue for me, however, as I intend to use it only from a bench.

As stated above, Ruger offers this rifle in a variety of configurations. Since I intended to use this rifle for fairly heavy use, I decided it was best to go with a “bull barrel.” A bull barrel is considerably thicker than a hunting-profile barrel, and as such, can absorb much more heat before suffering damage. The drawback to a bull barrel is additional weight, which would again pose an issue for field use, but wasn’t a concern for me. At present, Ruger only offers the .204/bull barrel combination in stainless steel finish with a laminate stock. I would have preferred a walnut stock (since the Luddite in me believes that all guns must have walnut stocks) but I have to admit that the laminate stock that came with my gun is very understated and attractive.

This configuration of the Number 1 requires optics (no iron sights), so I topped it with a Leupold VX-III 6.5-20x40mm Long Range scope. I chose a silver finish for the scope to match the rifle’s stainless steel, and a varmint reticle for maximum flexibility in aiming. While I haven’t yet had a chance to for long-distance shooting, I expect that it should be good for out to 500 yards, which is more than I’ll ever need to use it for.

All in all, I am thrilled with my choices for this configuration. The rifle is comfortable to shoulder and imparts a sense of confidence; I’ve often felt as though it could almost shoot itself. The .204 Ruger cartridge is simply wonderful in this gun, too — it’s relatively quiet and the recoil is minimal. The Leopold scope is an ideal addition: it has outstanding optics and fits the rifle beautifully. I look forward to many, many days of fun and easy shooting with this combination.

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  • Richard

    I shoot several Ruger No.1 varmint calibers. My favorite is 220 Swift. I just purchased the same 204 varminter, but have not shot it yet. My range is set up for shots up to 800 yrds. How acurate were your shots at 500 yards with the 204? No. 1s are my passion.


  • mzimmers

    Hi, Richard –

    I am chagrined to admit that I still haven’t yet tested my .204 at any distances near 500 yards. Good snag on your #1 in .204; I believe the varminter is now discontinued in the .204.

    Thanks for visiting the site.

  • Richard

    Just came back from my range: I shot the 220 Swift at 800yrds. How about a 6″ group? 204 is next; I’ll keep in touch.


  • Mike

    Color me dumb, LOL from the 204 to the 223 are these rounds interchageble between each other, if I said this right can a 204 round be shot out of a 223 rifle?

    Thanks and thanks for not given me “Dang you’re stupid” stamp.

  • admin

    Mike –

    The .204 and the .223 are not interchangeable. You can’t fire either round from the wrong barrel.

  • Mike

    Thank you for your fast response.
    I thought so I had a friend that came across a .204 stainless steel barrel and he was saying it would work with my AR’s. So I had to ask to be sure.
    So now I sell or build a 204 LOL.

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