Ruger No. K1-A Stainless Light Sporter, 1 of 250
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
When I found out that Sturm, Ruger was producing a special run of No. 1-A falling block rifles with stainless steel barreled actions for 2005, I was immediately interested. When I learned that these were to be in caliber .257 Roberts, an eminently sensible cartridge for CXP2 game, I knew that I had to have one.
Before we get to the meat of this review, here is a little background on this unusual rifle. It turns out that Ruger will build special runs of firearms for their distributors (Ruger Firearms are sold exclusively through distributors), as long as at least 100 pieces are ordered. In this case, Lipsey's Inc. of Baton Rouge, Louisiana requested a run of 250 Number K1-A single shot falling block rifles in caliber .257 Roberts.
What makes these rifles special are their stainless steel barreled actions. (The "K" designation signifies a stainless barreled action in the Ruger Model code.) Otherwise, they are like any other No. 1-A, with walnut stocks, open iron sights, a 22" barrel, and so forth. The ever gracious Margaret Sheldon, Writer Liaison at Ruger, put me in touch with Jason Cloessner, Sales Manager at Lipsey's, so that we could arrange for this review.
The 2005 limited edition No. K1-A has been very successful for Lipsey's, with most of the 250 rifles already sold to dealers. I saw one in the rack at Starvin' Marvin's gun shop in Eugene, Oregon. S-M's retail price is $825. There are a few remaining at Lipsey's as I write this, so if you want one, see your local dealer ASAP. He should be able to special order the rifle for you, while supplies last.
Lipsey's is already planning special runs of stainless Light Sporters for 2006 (in .35 Whelen) and 2007 (in 6.5x55 SE). So, while the total numbers of these K1-A rifles will remain quite small, they will continue to be available annually, at least for the short term, exclusively through Lipsey's.
My Lipsey's/Ruger K1-A arrived within a week. Inside the Ruger box was an owner's manual, product registration card, gun lock, Ruger scope rings (high), detachable sling swivels and, of course, the rifle.
A lovely rifle it is, a satin stainless steel and walnut beauty. I have long regarded the Light Sporter to be the best looking of the Ruger No. 1 series, which automatically means of the entire Ruger rifle line. Its proportions are just "right." The 22" barrel balances perfectly with the short Ruger falling block action. In fact, the test rifle's point of balance is right where the forearm joins the action. The classic walnut butt stock and Alexander Henry forearm nicely complement this traditional rifle's lines.
That forearm is carried on a forearm hanger that extends forward from the receiver. This is supposed to keep the barrel free floating for most of its length and the forearm from affecting the rifle's accuracy, but in the case of the test rifle the forearm was in contact with the barrel in several places along both sides. In fact, the fit is tight everywhere wood meets metal, a sign of good stock inletting; maybe too good in the case of the forearm.
Among the features that add to the rifle's aesthetic appeal is the satin polish on its stainless steel metal parts. This is a practical and pleasing compromise between the glare of brightly polished steel and the dull (economy) matte finish found on many stainless steel rifles these days.
The cut checkered walnut stock also received a satin finish, probably synthetic for water resistance. A couple more coats would have been nice to completely fill the pores of the wood.
The black rubber buttpad doesn't slip when shouldered and the heel has been rounded for sure gun mounting. The gracefully curved pistol grip is finished with a contoured stainless steel grip cap bearing an inlaid gold Ruger medallion. These are examples of the small touches that distinguish a deluxe rifle.
The detachable sling swivel bases are stainless steel and so are the supplied Ruger scope rings. The complementary sling swivels are the ordinary blued variety.
The instruction manual supplied with the rifle is not up to the high standards of the rifle itself. It is so larded with safety warnings that it is difficult to read and it doesn't cover things that you really would like to know, such as how to adjust the trigger. This is a terrific rifle, but only a lawyer could love the instruction manual.
I would have preferred a gloss finish on the stock to help bring out the grain of the wood, particularly since Ruger supplies No. 1 rifles with their best available walnut. However, I will let you in on a little secret: Johnson's paste wax. That's right, the same stuff you'd use on top quality wood furniture. As it says on the can, "Enriches, beautifies and protects wood." It does, and it works on practically all gun stock finishes. A couple coats of J-Wax definitely enhanced the appearance of the Ruger's stock.
The basic No. 1-A rifle weighs approximately 7.25 pounds, not too heavy and (thankfully) not too light. It is only 38.25" long, which is 3.75" shorter than a short action Ruger Model 77R Standard bolt rifle with a 22" barrel and even 1/4" shorter than a Marlin 336SS lever gun with a 20" barrel.
This short overall length coupled with a standard length barrel is why I have long considered the Ruger No. 1-A falling block rifle to be an outstanding "mountain" rifle. It is also a superb brush/woods rifle; another venue where a short, easy handling rifle can be a godsend. Either type of hunting is prone to inclement weather, so a stainless steel barreled action really makes sense on a No. 1-A rifle.
The .257 Roberts cartridge also makes a lot of sense for a 1-A rifle. The .257 was the most popular of the (so-called) combination varmint/big game cartridges prior to the introduction of the .243 Winchester and .244 (6mm) Remington. The .24s put the .257 on the skids, and understandably so. They are better combination cartridges, throwing generally lighter bullets at somewhat greater velocity.
Few avid varmint shooters are actually willing to put up with the muzzle blast and recoil of a .257 Roberts rifle. Medium weight .257 hunting rifles like the Ruger No. 1-A deliver about 10-11 ft. lbs. of recoil energy. That is about the same as .243 Winchester and 6mm Remington hunting rifles of average weight and modest compared to most big game cartridges. However, it is quite a bit more than the recoil of typical varmint cartridges.
For comparison, the average .30-30 rifle delivers about 11-12 ft. lbs. of recoil, and a typical .270 Winchester rifle about 16.5 ft. lbs. But a .222 rifle only comes back at the shooter with about 3 ft. lbs. of recoil, and a .22-250 with about 4 ft. lbs. That explains why the great majority of varmint shooters prefer the .22 centerfires.
I am convinced that the .257's fans have always used it primarily as a CXP2 game cartridge. For hunting game such as deer, antelope, sheep, and goats the .257 Roberts is superior to the standard .24/6mm caliber cartridges. It can handle heavier bullets of greater frontal area. In its modern +P incarnation it offers more killing power than the .243 Winchester or 6mm Remington.
If we compare the best loads for all three calibers, the "Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula" numbers illustrate this small, but clear, advantage: .243 Win. (95 grain at 3100 fps) = 18.3, 6mm Rem. (100 grain bullet at 3100 fps) = 20.0, .257 Roberts +P (115 grain bullet at 2800 fps) = 22.3. See the Tables, Charts and Lists Page for more information about the Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula.
Make the same comparison using the Optimum Game Weight Table (also on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page) and the results are similar. The maximum optimum ranges for the same three loads on 200 pound game animals are as follows: .243 Win. = 275 yards, 6mm Rem. = 295 yards, .257 Roberts +P = 340 yards. For more on the .257 Roberts, see the full length article devoted to the cartridge on the Rifle Cartridge Page.
Since I hunt deer on the slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, a state famous for its rainy weather, you can see how a stainless steel Light Sporter might appeal to me. It seems made to order for my purposes.
Other advantages of the rifle are inherent in its design. We here at Guns and Shooting Online live close enough to the local game populations to do a lot of day hunting. It is our habit to drive into the mountains in the morning and still hunt likely looking areas, returning home that same night. As it happens, rainy days are the most productive for this style of hunting.
This means that we are often getting in and out of vehicles with our hunting rifles. A short, handy rifle without a protruding bolt handle to increase its width is ideal for this style of hunting. Such rifles are handy to carry in the field and store more easily in a vehicle. And a single shot has no magazine to unload before entering the vehicle. Just operate the action to eject the chambered cartridge and slip it into your pocket, rendering the rifle harmless. Nothing could be easier, more convenient, or safer. Its just as handy as a stainless steel Marlin Model 336SS, which is probably the second best rifle for our style of hunting. (Until this No. K1-A came along I considered the Marlin the top choice.)
To properly complement such a short, handy rifle I felt that a reasonably compact, variable power scope with a wide field of view was appropriate. I prefer a minimum power of no more than 2.5x and a maximum power of at least 6x. The latter is for the occasional long shot and for use at the rifle range. I therefore investigated a variety of premium scopes in the 2-6x, 2-7x and 2.5-8x ranges. It seemed reasonable that an inclement weather rifle should wear an inclement weather scope, so I eventually decided that a Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x32mm scope with Bushnell's proprietary Rain Guard lens coatings would be a perfect match for the No. 1-A stainless rifle.
That meant a call to Bushnell, where Barbara Skinner was kind enough to expedite the delivery of a scope for this review. The good people in the shooting sports industry, like Barbara, Jason and Margaret, sure make my job a lot easier and more enjoyable!
The 2-7x32mm Elite 3200 is a compact, low profile, variable power scope with a Multi-X (Duplex type) reticle and a matte black finish. Features include a 25mm one-piece aluminum alloy main tube, multi-coated optics, 1/4 MOA fingertip windage and elevation adjustments, a fast focus eyepiece and the famous Rainguard coating on the external lens surfaces. Like the other scopes in its class, the Elite 3200 is sealed and dry nitrogen filled to render it waterproof and fogproof. Bushnell's Magnum recoil-proof construction renders it shockproof, and Elite 3200 scopes come with a Lifetime Limited Warrantee.
The Elite 2-7x32 weighs 12 ounces and is 11.6" long. The eye relief is 3", which is adequate for a .257 Roberts rifle, but might not be for a hard kicking magnum. It has proven to be a worthy mate for the K1-A rifle. For a complete review of the Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7x32mm riflescope, see the Product Review Page.
I used a pair of low Ruger rings that I happened to have on hand to mount the scope directly to the quarter rib of the No. 1-A rifle, instead of the high rings that came with the rifle. The 2-7x32mm Bushnell does not require the high rings, and a lower scope mount is always better. I did remove the rifle's rear open sight to create more clearance for the objective bell of the scope. (Punch it out of its dovetail from left to right.) I feel that Ruger's scope mounting system, which eliminates a separate scope base entirely, is the best in the industry. A few minutes with my Bushnell Magnetic Bore Sighter and the rifle/scope combination was ready for the range.
The following day I was anxious to shoot the new Ruger. We do our test shooting at the Izaak Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor facility offers covered bench rests and 25, 50, 100, and 200 yard target distances. Since the weather was about 60 degrees and cloudy with occasional rain (typical June weather in Western Oregon), the covered shooting positions were appreciated.
When testing rifles I normally use a Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest and this occasion was no exception. The Lead Sled was weighted with two 25 pound bags of lead shot.
Ammunition used in the No. 1-A included the Federal Premium +P factory load with a 120 grain Nosler Partition bullet at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 2780 fps and two +P handloads. The first of these used IMR 4831 powder to launch a 115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet at a MV of 2827 fps. The second reload used the same powder behind a 120 grain Hornady Interlock HP bullet for a MV of 2700 fps.
The handloads were loaded to the specified maximum overall length of the cartridge (2.780"), which meant that these relatively long bullets were seated pretty deep in the case. The single shot Ruger rifle, with no restrictive magazine length to consider, could have accommodated cartridges loaded with the bullets seated somewhat farther out. And seating the bullets to just miss the lands when chambered might have tightened the groups a little. But I wanted to test the little Ruger with ammo that could be fired in any .257 Roberts rifle.
We did our shooting for record at 100 yards using Outer's Score Keeper targets. All groups consisted of three shots to avoid overheating the barrel, which was allowed some cooling time between strings, although it never completely returned to the ambient air temperature.
Guns and Shooting Online staffers Dave Tong, Bob Fleck, Jim Fleck and Nathan Rauzon helped me with the shooting chores. The best individual groups were fired by Nathan and yours truly (a tie) with handloads using the Nosler 115 grain Ballistic Tip bullet.
Here are the shooting results:
Handload, 115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip + 42.5 grains IMR 4831 powder, MV 2827 fps - Smallest group 1 1/4", Largest group 3 1/4"; Mean average = 1.83"
Handload, 120 grain Hornady InterLock HP + 43.3 grains IMR 4831 powder, MV 2700 fps - Smallest group 1 1/2"; Largest group 2 7/8"; Mean average = 2.02"
Federal Premium factory load, 120 gain Nosler Partition, MV 2780 fps) - Smallest group 1 9/16"; Largest group 3"; Mean average = 2.35"
The average group size for all loads was an unimpressive 2.066". About 1/3 of the groups fired by all shooters resulted in two bullets within about an inch of each other, with the third anywhere from 2" to 5" above or below the group. This high number of groups with radical flyers, strung vertically, seems indicative of some sort of problem, and these groups were not included in the shooting results shown above.
As related previously in the text, the forearm of this rifle made contact along both sides of the barrel. I suspected that this, interacting with the barrel as it warmed and cooled, was the source of the erratic flyers.
Working on that assumption, the next day I gingerly removed enough wood from the forearm's barrel channel so that there was no longer any contact between the two except at the bottom tip of the forearm. The factory had intentionally left extra wood there, evidently with that in mind, and I can take a hint.
If you ever have occasion to relieve forearm pressure on a rifle's barrel, don't forget to seal the newly bared wood against moisture after you are finished filing and sanding. A synthetic varnish like Varathane works fine for this purpose. Just make sure that the pores of the wood are sealed. While you are at it, it's often a pious idea to remove the recoil pad and seal the end of the buttstock, as many manufacturers seem to miss this area when they finish rifle stocks.
The following day dawned sunny and clear and we were back at the range to see if my home gunsmithing had solved the flyer problem. This trip I added two more reloads to the mix (in addition to the two reloads we had tried on our first range session). The first of these new handloads used IMR 4350 powder and the 115 grain Ballistic Tip bullet at a MV of 2806 fps, and the second used IMR 4350 powder and the 120 grain Interlock HP bullet at a MV of 2700 fps.
This time Bob Fleck, Nathan Rauzon and I handled the shooting chores. Here are the shooting results from our second trip to the range:
Handload, 120 grain Hornady InterLock HP + 43.3 grains IMR 4831 powder, MV 2700 fps - Smallest group 9/16"; Largest group 1 9/16"; Mean average = 1.19"
Handload, 115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip + 42.5 grains IMR 4831 powder, MV 2827 fps - Smallest group 15/16"; Largest group 1 7/8"; Mean average = 1.31"
Handload, 115 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip + 40.0 grains IMR 4350 powder, MV 2806 fps - Smallest group 1 1/4"; Largest group 1 7/8"; Mean average = 1.54"
Handload, 120 grain Hornady InterLock HP + 40.6 grains IMR 4350 powder, MV 2700 fps - Smallest group 1 7/16"; Largest group 2"; Mean average = 1.66"
Federal Premium factory load, 120 gain Nosler Partition, MV 2780 fps) - Smallest group 1 1/2"; Largest group 1 15/16"; Mean average = 1.75"
Once again the handloads out performed the factory load, which was not a great surprise. The average group size for all reloads was a credible 1.425". As you can see from those numbers, the group size diminished significantly after my attentions to the forearm. Best of all, there were no more wild fliers.
It seems that there is little to choose between the Nosler 115 grain Ballistic Tip and Hornady 120 grain InterLock Hollow Point bullets in terms of accuracy. IMR 4831 seems to be somewhat preferable to IMR 4350 powder in this rifle with these bullets, but the difference is unlikely to make or break a hunt.
Those new to the shooting sports might think it odd that a brand new rifle required a little user attention before delivering the expected level of performance. In fact, this is fairly common. I have lost track of the number of rifles for which a little simple tuning was required. All rifles truly are individuals and must be treated as such. It is one of the quirky aspects of our sport that I actually find enjoyable.
I had previously suggested that Ruger offer a stainless steel 1-A, but it took Lipsey's to make it happen. I am very glad that they did! Two thumbs up for this classy yet practical rifle.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.