The Ruger M77R Mark II Standard Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
The Ruger M77R Mark II rifle in .350 Remington Magnum caliber was announced in January 2004, at the 2004 SHOT Show. However, it was not until February 2005, not long after the close of the 2005 SHOT SHOW, that we finally received the rifle special ordered for this review. Ruger is notorious for long waiting periods between product announcement and product availability, but it is usually worth the wait.
I can well remember when the original Ruger Model 77 rifle was introduced, back in 1968. The use of investment casting technology, of which Sturm, Ruger is an acknowledged master, allowed the company to introduce a traditional bolt action along the lines of the Mauser Model 98 and pre-1964 Winchester Model 70 not long after the other major arms makers (Remington, Savage and Winchester among them) had been forced by rising costs to simplify their bolt actions for cheaper manufacture.
The Model 77 featured a Mauser pattern action with a flat bottom receiver and an integral recoil lug, one piece bolt, full length Mauser type extractor, plunger ejector, hinged magazine floorplate, excellent user adjustable trigger, and a generous ejection port for fast loading from the top of the action. It also included new features such as a square bridge action with integral scope mount bases, and an innovative diagonal bedding screw. The bolt release was at the rear left of the receiver in Mauser 98 fashion and the simple two position safety was located on the top tang, as was often done on expensive custom built Mauser sporters.
The barreled action was finished in a polished blue. The bolt was left in the white for contrast. The walnut stock was designed in the "modern classic" style. It was supplied with a pistol grip cap, rubber butt pad, detachable sling swivel bases, and cut checkering at a time when most factory produced rifles came with less than classic stocks and impressed checkering. In general appearance, Ruger got their standard M77 rifle right the first time, and the M77R Mark II still looks basically the same today.
All in all, the standard Model 77 was a practical, attractive hunting rifle that delivered exactly what a great many shooters had found lacking in most other factory produced rifles of the era, and at an affordable price. Before long the Model 77 became the best selling bolt action, centerfire rifle in the U.S.
Jump forward to 2005, when our test rifle was built. The standard hunting rifle is known as the M77R Mark II. Most of the original's best features have been retained. A few improvements have even been incorporated. Among the most prominent of these is a fixed, blade type ejector; the Model 77 is now a true controlled-feed action. The bottom iron is now steel (instead of aluminum). Magazine capacity has been reduced by one (to 4 cartridges in standard calibers), to allow a more slender stock profile. All M77 barrels are now precision hammer forged. These are positive changes.
Less desirable is the replacement of the convenient two position top tang safety with a three position safety at the right rear of the action (a la Model 70). This new safety is more secure than the old safety, and allows opening the action with the safety on the middle ("on") position. On the other hand, it is slower and less convenient to operate when the time comes to shoot. The new safety has a long movement from fully rearward ("on" with bolt locked) to fully forward (off), and is easier to fumble in moments of stress.
Totally undesirable is the replacement of the previous fully adjustable trigger with a cheaper lawyer inspired non-adjustable version. The creepy trigger on my new Ruger M77R .350 Magnum rifle is not very consistent, averaging about 5.25 pounds, but letting off anywhere between 5 and 6 pounds as measured by a Premium RCBS Trigger Pull Scale. An erratic, creepy, heavy trigger pull on a rifle chambered for a cartridge that kicks as hard as the .350 Magnum is no fun. Why can't all M77 Mk. II rifles have Ruger's two-stage target trigger? The best solution at the moment is probably to replace the Mark II trigger assembly with a quality after market trigger. An alternative is to reduce the spring tension on the stock trigger, which is easy to do and produces a considerable improvement in trigger pull.
A minor complaint is that the bolt raceways are not polished. They appear to have been left "as cast," so the bolt travel is not as smooth as it should be. I understand that these types of omissions are designed to control costs and ultimately keep the price of the rifle affordable, but they also detract from the desirability of the rifle.
In 2008 the M77 Mark II was replaced by the M77 Hawkeye. The biggest changes in the Hawkeye are a slenderized stock (good) and another new trigger mechanism (bad). Overall, the Ruger M77 remains one of the best hunting rifles on the market. Its few shortcomings can be corrected. Accuracy buffs who do not understand the special requirements of big game hunting rifles are apt to point out that actions machined from bar stock, such as the Remington Model 700, Savage 110 and Tikka T3 are (theoretically) potentially a hair more accurate than actions like the Ruger M77, Mauser 98 and pre-1964 Winchester Model 70. However, in the field the traditional actions are superior, while a few tenths of a minute-of-angle are inconsequential.
The following specifications for the M77R Mark II Standard rifle are taken from the 2005 Ruger catalog:
The M77R Mark II is available in short (.308) and standard (.30-06) length actions. The .350 Mag. M77R Mk. II is built on the short action, for which the cartridge was designed. The rifle that is the subject of this review came with a 22" barrel. It measures 42" from the center of its butt plate to the tip of its barrel, and weighs about 8.5 pounds complete with a Weaver V3 (1-3x variable power) scope.
The .350 Rem. Mag. cartridge was originally introduced in 1965-66 and re-introduced in 2003. It was truly ahead of its time. There is an article about the .350 Magnum on the Reloading Page, and a full length article on the Rifle Cartridge Page, so I will hit only the high points here. The Remington factory load uses a 200 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at an advertised MV of 2775 fps with ME of 3419 ft. lbs. It is recommended for all North American big game and most African game, including the big predators on either continent. Since its introduction in the mid-1960's the .350 has been a favorite of Alaskan guides and backcountry explorers.
The reloader has a reasonable selection of bullets with which to work. The most common bullet weights for big game are 180, 200, 220-225, and 250 grains. Relatively inexpensive .357" revolver bullets weighing 150-200 grains can be also used for reduced power practice loads or for shooting small predators.
The 180-200 grain bullets are good choices for CXP2 class game. A 200 grain bullet is a good choice for mixed bag hunts. The 220-225 grain bullets are usually recommended for CXP3 class game, and are probably the most useful weight for the caliber. The 250 grain bullets are usually reserved for the heaviest or most dangerous game. It is a stretch to use the .350 Rem. Mag. on CXP4 game such as the wild bovines, but with controlled expansion 250 grain bullets it has proven up to the task as long as the hunter gets the bullet into the right place.
Having mounted a Weaver V3 scope in the supplied Ruger rings and bore sighted the combination using my Bushnell optical boresighter, the new M77R rifle was ready for a trip to the range. The Weaver V3, or any variable power scope in the 1-3x, 1-4x, or 1.5-6x range, or a fixed power scope of about 2x to 4x is sufficient for a .350 Magnum rifle. Or most other medium bore calibers, for that matter.
These powerful medium bores are not varmint rifles. They are intended to be used on large (CXP3) game at short to medium range. A 3x scope offers sufficient magnification for shots out to 250+ yards, which is about the typical MPBR of the .350 Rem. Mag. cartridge.
What is needed is a very generous field of view. That can literally be a lifesaver if you take a poke at a large predator who takes offense at your actions. If you need to stop a charging grizzly bear closing-in at 30 miles an hour, you will not have time to find him in the tiny field of view of a high magnification scope!
Test firing was done at the Izaak Walton rifle range in the hills south of Eugene, Oregon. This beautiful outdoor range has covered shooting positions and target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. It was a nice winter day, sunny with a predicted high temperature of 51 degrees F. The occasional breezes were light.
The shooting was done from a bench rest using a Caldwell Lead Sled weighted with 25 pounds of lead shot. The Lead Sled keeps the rifle steady and dramatically reduces recoil. Anyone who does a lot of shooting at the range should have one of these wonderful rifle rests.
Since I am inclined to prefer 220-225 grain bullets at moderate velocity in any .350 Mag. rifle and this bullet weight is not currently available in factory loads, I did my shooting with handloads that have proven satisfactory in previous .350 Rem. Mag. rifles. These reloads all used Remington brass and CCI 250 primers. I tested four different handloads (one box of each). They included:
The ME of these loads runs around 3000 ft. lbs. The .350 Rem. Mag. cartridge can be loaded considerably hotter (up to 2700 fps and 3640 ft. lbs. with a 225 grain bullet), but the loads tested kick less and have always been sufficient to my needs. They are moderate loads, but have plenty of killing power for CXP3 game.
As always with a new rifle, the initial shooting was done at 25 yards. For a change the very first shot was in the "10 ring" of a bullseye target, so no adjustments at that range were required.
I then switched to Outers Scorekeeper targets (my favorite for sighting-in scoped rifles) at 100 yards, reasonably certain that at least the bullets would hit the paper at that distance. In this case they did. A few minor scope adjustments and the groups were close enough to the center of the 100 yard target to allow shooting for effect. All 100 yard groups consisted of three shots, and I allowed the barrel to cool between strings.
Bear in mind that a heavy, creepy trigger does nothing for group size and, in any case, a 3x scope is not the best choice for shooting tiny groups at 100 yards. Never the less, the Ruger M77R rifle demonstrated good accuracy.
The average group size for the 220 grain Speer bullet with IMR 4320 powder was 2 3/8". The average group size for the 220 grain Speer bullet with IMR 4064 powder turned out to be somewhat smaller at 1 7/8". I figure that anything under 2 MOA is satisfactory performance from a powerful medium bore rifle.
The average group size for the 225 grain Sierra bullet with IMR 4064 powder was an excellent 1 3/8". The smallest group delivered by this load measured only 3/4".The 225 grain Sierra bullet in front of IMR 4320 powder turned out to be the most accurate combination in this test series, with an average group size just under 1 1/4". Again, the smallest group measured just 3/4".
The groups fired with the 225 grain Sierra bullet are really better than I expected, so perhaps I was lucky and my wiggles compensated for my wobbles. In any case, you can label this M77R Mark II an accurate rifle and get no argument from me.
In the course of testing I occasionally fed a cartridge directly into the chamber to see if the extractor would ride over the case rim, and every time it easily did so. A good thing to know if someday you need one more shot in a tight corner. Most of the time I fed cartridges from the magazine, as is generally recommended with controlled feed rifles. I had no malfunctions of any kind.
The action feels a little rough, as in fact it is. This was particularly noticeable as I was also shooting a very smooth, 15 year old Weatherby Vanguard VGX Deluxe rifle during the same range session. I am sure that polishing the bolt raceway would give the M77R a better feel. The M77R is built on a fundamentally better action design than the Remington 700 or Savage 110, but it is not as well turned-out as a 700 CDL or a Savage Classic, which is a pity.
Overall, I am pleased with the appearance and performance of the new Ruger M77R rifle in .350 Remington Magnum caliber. I would have no hesitation about taking this rifle on an elk, moose, or bear hunt tomorrow.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2005, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.