The Ruger M77RSM Mark II Magnum Rifle

By David Tong

Ruger M77RSM Mk. II
Illustration courtesy of Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc.

Sturm, Ruger and Company has been building rifles for dangerous game for many years. I once owned one of the "Mark I" rifles in .458 Winchester Magnum, and though extremely accurate, was also suited only for the target range in that it wouldn't reliably feed factory cartridges from its magazine. Rounds would impact the rear of the chamber at all points of the clock.

The older Mark I rifle featured a "push-feed" system, whereby the cartridge is merely pushed forward from the magazine. This stands in marked contrast to the current "controlled-feed" system with the same long, Mauser-type extractor which engages the cartridge rim and guides the round precisely into the chamber. It is for this reason that most authorities conclude that if one is going to carry a rifle for use against anything that can stomp, claw, or gore you that controlled-feed bolt-actions are a must.

I chose the .416 Rigby cartridge not only for its power, which is considerable, but also for the romantic history of the caliber. Introduced in 1911 by John Rigby and Sons of London, and pre-dating the far more famous and prevalent .375 Holland and Holland by a year, it was arguably the first repeating rifle cartridge capable of handling the most dangerous game, namely the Big Five of Africa.

One hunter from the era, a certain Commander David Blunt of England, chronicled his use of the .416 in his book, "Elephant," sadly long out of print. More modern-day hunters of some fame who have used the cartridge include the writer Robert Ruark, whose volume "Use Enough Gun" has long been a classic work, and professional hunter Harry Selby, who backed up clients with his .416 for nearly forty years.

Jack O'Connor, the Dean of American gun writers, helped to popularize the .416 Rigby among North American shooters. He acquired a .416 built on a magnum Mauser action, developed handloads for it using U.S. reloading powders, took it to Africa, and wrote about his experiences.

The cartridge has much to recommend it, as well as some drawbacks. It is astonishingly modern looking, having a parallel-sided case and a very sharp shoulder, and resembles several of the popular Weatherby cases that are derived from it. The neck is of sufficient length to accommodate the 325 grain to 410 grain bullets commonly loaded in it. Because the British were very familiar with the hot weather conditions in equatorial, sub-Saharan Africa the .416 Rigby was purposely designed as a large case operating at moderate pressure to avoid high pressure problems.

Note that the much newer, and shorter, .416 Remington Magnum case offers the same external ballistics, but operates at 10,000-15,000 c.u.p. higher pressure. Some hunters have noted erratic terminal ballistics and sticky extraction with the .416 Remington in the sweltering African heat.

However, the .416 Rigby cartridge is very fat and very long (.589" head diameter and 2.9" C.O.L.), even bigger than the aforementioned .375 Holland. It is thus limited to beefy actions of extra long length, which are physically heavier than normal magnum actions, and of necessity require a longer operating stroke.

The Ruger Mark II rifle differs from the Mark I in its bedding and safety systems. Much has been written about the Ruger Magnum's quarter-rib express sight being machined from the barrel steel. When I removed the rifle from its Circassian walnut stock I found that this rib has its counterpart under the forend wood, in firm contact with a steel liner about 0.75" wide, which in turn is held in place by a machine screw through the bottom of the forend and at the rear by the forward, angled Ruger magazine screw. The barreled action is held in place by the angled action screw, and the forend screw. This long "recoil lug" should pretty much obviate cracked stocks caused by improper bedding, at the cost of some extra weight due to the additional barrel and forend metal.

The safety system resembles the famous Winchester M70 three-position flag safety. It allows loading and unloading of the magazine (if one strokes the bolt to unload, not really necessary with a hinged floorplate) with the safety on. It differs, and I'm not sure positively, from the M70 in that it acts as a receiver-mounted trigger safety, not as a positive striker (firing pin) lock mounted on the bolt sleeve. Given my druthers, I'd prefer the striker locking safety as being perhaps "more safe," though of course the best safety is that one that rests between one's ears.

Here are the basic specifications of the .416 Ruger Mk. II Magnum Rifle:

  • Capacity - 3 rounds
  • Metal finish - Blued
  • Stock - Premium Circassian walnut
  • Barrel length - 23"
  • Groove - 6
  • Twist - 1:14 RH
  • Overall length - 44"
  • Weight - 9.5 pounds
  • Front sight - Blade
  • Rear sights - Three adjustable
  • 2005 MSRP - $1975

With its 23" barrel, pretty wood, barrel-mounted forward sling swivel, and express sight, the M77RSM Mark II is a modern iteration of a classic African safari rifle. For my 5'10" frame, I find the straight stock comb (no drop at heel), muzzle-heavy balance, and wide forend comfortable to shoot--for a rifle of this caliber--though it is better suited for use with a scope. It doesn't have the instinctual, shotgun-pointing ability of an classic British rifle, so in that respect the big Ruger falls short of something one would prefer when stalking dangerous game.

At 9.5 empty, bare, it is about as heavy as one would want a rifle that is to be carried by a hunter all day. With a scope, sling, cartridges, and those great, nearly recoil-proof Ruger rings, you're looking at nearly twelve pounds, which is a bit. (Now I understand why African hunters traditionally employed gun bearers to carry their rifles.) On the other hand, if it were lighter it would kick even more.

The stock terminates in a rubber buttplate, which has no recoil-attenuating properties whatsoever. It was plain punishing to shoot while zeroing-in my Burris 1.75-5X variable power scope. I later fitted a Limb Saver recoil pad, which has tamed the beast, though the felt recoil is far closer to that of a .458 than of a .375, to be sure. There is some 50-58 ft. lbs. of recoil, compared to 20 for your average .30-06 sporter and 36 for a .375.

But boy, it shoots. With my handloads that essentially duplicate factory ballistics, about 2350 fps with a 400 grain soft point bullet, I can put three shots into one ragged hole at 80 yards. The cartridge has some versatility, in that Barnes offers its famous X-Bullet in 300 grain weight, and it can be loaded to nearly 3000 fps; one could hunt elk with it here in Oregon. Ruger barrels are not as internally smooth as some others, so careful break-in is required to avoid cleaning headaches later, using JB Bore Compound and good copper solvent.

I haven't yet taken the rifle to the Dark Continent to bag my Cape buffalo, that remains a dream. What isn't a dream is that Ruger has built a very competent, well-finished modern rifle which can be proudly handed down across generations. And maybe, if we're lucky enough, we'll be able to add to the romantic history of Rigby's .416.

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Copyright 2005, 2012 by David Tong and/or All rights reserved.