The Ruger Model 77 Mark II Target Rifle (KM77VT Mk. II)
By Chuck Hawks with Bob Fleck
This is Ruger's top of the line varmint rifle. It is primarily a varmint rifle, not a target rifle, despite its nomenclature. One only needs to look at the calibers available to realize that. In Ruger's words, the Mark II Target Rifle is "supremely accurate."
It is also a striking looking rifle, with a brown laminated hardwood stock and Ruger's Target Grey finish on the stainless steel barreled action. Ruger claims that their low glare grey finish is corrosion resistant (of course, so is the stainless steel under the finish) as well as attractive. Certainly it gives the KM77VT a unique look, which is probably the point.
Ruger's big varmint rifle is based on their excellent Model 77 Mk. II action. The M77 is itself based on the pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 and Mauser 98 sporters, incorporating the best features of these classic hunting rifle actions.
Key features include a one-piece bolt with a 90 degree lift and two massive front locking lugs, non-rotating full length extractor for positive extraction and controlled feed, fixed blade ejector, three position "wing" safety at the right rear of the action, hinged magazine floorplate with a release mounted in the trigger guard, integral bases machined into the top of the receiver, and Ruger's proprietary diagonal front-screw bedding system. The bolt is easily removed from a KM77VT Mk. II rifle by pulling outward on a release on the left rear side of the receiver.
The generous loading/ejection port provided by all M77 actions makes loading easy to accomplish. Due to the Ruger's full length extractor, single cartridges should be fed into the chamber from the magazine by operating the bolt, not manually slipped directly into the chamber. That is because it is difficult for the full length extractor to ride over the rim of a cartridge already in the chamber when the bolt is closed. This trait is typical of controlled feed actions. Magazine capacity is 4 rounds.
The free floating, heavy contour 26" barrel is precision hammer forged with a 1 in 14" twist in .220 Swift, the caliber of the test rifle. The muzzle is finished with a target crown. There are no iron sights.
The laminated stock has a very tight pistol grip placed close to the trigger--so tight that in use it tends to cramp my medium size hand. In a more positive vein, there is a wide and comfortable beavertail forearm, a straight comb designed for use with telescopic sights, and a rubber butt pad. It also has a little less pitch down than most other M77 stocks. Detachable sling swivel bases are supplied.
The trigger pull on the test rifle was better than I have come to expect from M77 Mk. II rifles. The trigger itself is steel, wide and smooth. It broke cleanly at a measured 2 7/8 pounds with very little take-up and practically no creep. This is a very good trigger, entirely satisfactory for a high quality varmint hunting rifle, so we left it alone.
This big rifle is 46" in overall length and weighs 9 3/4 pounds without a scope. With a 2004 suggested retail price of $845 it is the most expensive of all Ruger bolt actions save the deluxe M77RSM safari rifle.
The KM77VT Mk. II is available in a number accurate, long range varmint cartridges plus the .308 Winchester (the latter perhaps to help justify the "Target" moniker). These include the .204 Ruger, .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, .220 Swift, .243 Winchester, and .25-06 Remington. (How did Ruger overlook the 6mm Remington, which is offered in other M77 variants?) Perhaps the most legendary of all these cartridges is the .220 Swift.
The .220 Swift has been covered in some detail in my article "The .220 Swift," which can be found on the Rifle Cartridge Page. So I will hit only the high points here. Developed by Winchester in 1935, the .220 was the first factory loaded cartridge to boast a muzzle velocity (MV) in excess of 4000 fps. It was not challenged by another factory loaded cartridge offering a MV over 4000 fps until the .17 Remington was introduced in 1971, followed by the .243 WSSM in 2003 and the .204 Ruger in 2004. Whether either of these will attain the commercial popularity and longevity of the .220 Swift remains to be seen.
The .220 Swift uses standard .224" diameter bullets. Like the other 4000 fps plus varmint cartridges, this velocity can only be attained by the use of relatively light weight bullets. In the case of the .220, the original Winchester factory load used a 46 grain bullet at a MV of 4140 fps, and for some time 40-48 grain bullets were popular in the Swift.
The rifling twist of the .220 was originally established at 1 turn in 14" to accommodate those light bullets. For this reason many .220 rifles will not stabilize bullets weighing over 60 grains, and some 60 grain bullets (depending on shape) cannot be used. A fact worth remembering for owners of .220 rifles with 1-14" twist barrels.
As the first commercial ultra-high velocity cartridge, the Swift has come in for more than its share of both praise and condemnation in the firearms press, depending on the individual writer's point of view regarding ultra-high velocity. And barrel steels in 1935 were not as erosion resistant as they are today, so early on the .220 gained a reputation as a barrel burner.
Never the less, those ultra-high velocity loads made for a fantastically flat shooting varmint cartridge. Zeroed at about 250 yards, a factory load using a 48 grain bullet at a MV of 4140 fps had a midrange rise of about 2" and at 300 yards the bullet only hit about 2" low.
Today Norma offers a 50 grain factory loaded bullet at a MV of 4110 fps. Winchester loads a 40 grain bullet at 4050 fps and a 50 grain bullet at a MV of 3870 fps. Remington's popular .220 factory load drives a 50 grain bullet at the relatively modest velocity of 3780 fps, and Hornady offers a 60 grain HP at a MV of 3600 fps. Federal's factory load with a 55 grain varmint bullet has a catalog MV of 3800 fps. These are typical of .220 Swift factory loads.
In deference to longer barrel life, most knowledgeable varmint hunters and reloaders with Swift rifles load 52-55 grain bullets at velocities in the 3600-3800 fps range. This makes the .220 as good a .22 caliber varmint cartridge as has ever been devised.
It is no harder on barrels than, and as accurate as, any other cartridge of similar performance. In fact, in terms of accuracy, the .220 Swift has always had a sterling reputation. The cartridge, and the rifles made for it, have always been among the most accurate on the market. Even as introduced in the Model 54 Winchester rifle clear back in 1935, Swift rifles would routinely deliver 1 MOA groups.
The rifle reviewed for this article was recently purchased by Bob Fleck, who graciously volunteered both his time and his new rifle to Guns and Shooting Online. Like all Ruger M77 rifles, the M77VT was supplied with Ruger scope rings, which unfortunately were too low to allow the use of any of the variable power varmint scopes that we tried. The large adjustable objective bells of the various scopes in the 4-12x, 6-18x, and 8.5-25x ranges would not clear the barrel using the supplied rings. So Bob had to spend an additional $43 (discount price) for a set of high Ruger rings.
Any long range varmint rifle requires a powerful optical sight to be fully effective. In his Gun Book, Jack O'Connor recommended a scope of about 10 to 12 power for a .220 Swift varmint rifle. He went on to comment that with such a rig, "The varmint hunter with a Swift in his dukes is fresh out of alibis. If he doesn't make a hit on a still day it's because he didn't hold right or because he yanked the trigger."
The test rifle now wears a Bushnell Banner 6-18x50mm AO variable power scope. This relatively inexpensive varmint glass fills the bill. It provides clear views of the target and its multi-coated lens elements help to minimize flare. The Banners 1/4 MOA fingertip adjustments (which proved to be accurate and repeatable) and fast European style eyepiece focusing are nice touches. Eye relief is about 3", insufficient for a rifle of heavy recoil, but entirely adequate for a .220 rifle. At 18 ounces it is no lightweight, but neither is the rifle on which it is mounted. Its magnification range is just about ideal for a .220 Swift varmint rifle.
Winter days at an outdoor rifle range in Western Oregon tend to be cold and damp, and so it was when we finally got the Ruger KM77VT to the range. A Caldwell Lead Sled provided the solid support required for zeroing and bench testing the big varmint rifle. Remington Express 50 grain PSP factory loads and handloads using a 55 grain Hornady Spire Point bullet in front of 40.2 grains of IMR 4350 powder (MV 3600 fps) provided the fodder.
After preliminary bore sighting, the first step was to get the rifle hitting the center of a 25 yard target. That accomplished, we then moved back to 100 yards to refine the zero and shoot some groups. Final shooting was done at 200 yards, the maximum distance available at the Izaak Walton range outside of Eugene, Oregon.
The KM77VT passed our accuracy tests with flying colors. 3-shot groups at 100 yards ranged from an incredible 0.25" to 1", with the handloads consistently shooting smaller groups than the factory loads.
We tested only the handloads at 200 yards. 3-shot groups ranged from a neat 1" triangle (0.5 MOA) to 3.25" (the shooter admittedly blew the third shot in that group, ruining what would have been about a 1.5" group). The average 200 yard group measured about 2" (1 MOA).
This is excellent performance from any rifle, and fully justifies the Ruger KM77VT's premium price tag. I don't see how a serious varmint hunter could go wrong with one of these rifles. Jack O'Connor was perfectly correct: if you miss with this .220 on a windless day, you have no one to blame but yourself.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2004, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.