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.