The Ruger American Bolt Action Rifle

By Randy Wakeman

Photo by Randy Wakeman.

The entry level rifle category has gained tremendous traction over the last couple of years. As ammunition and fuel costs have soared, along with non-optional expenses like food, folks are looking for ways to compensate. It can be difficult for Dad to outfit his family with affordable, yet reliable rifles for hunting and target practice. For new shooters, economy rifles provide a way to get up and running without a large investment in a sport where they are not sure how much they are going to enjoy it, or how much time they might be able to devote to it. The disadvantages in long term enjoyment, pride of ownership and resale value are less apparent to the uninitiated.

There are only so many ways to take cost out of a rifle and still leaving a safe, reliable and useful firearm. One way is the amount of machining time required per rifle. Just like removing hand work from the process, the more you reduce the amount of machine time devoted to a rifle, the lower price point it can be brought to market at. Polish as few parts as possible, take away highly polished blue and extra metal finishing, you've lowered your per unit cost. Walnut stocks are expensive in terms of raw materials, machining and finishing costs. Having a plastic stock drop out of a mold that consumes a few dollars' worth of polypropylene takes a large percentage of cost out of the system. Though misnamed composite or “synthetic,” a blow-molded stock requires very little time and hand work to make. After it drops out of the mold, with color and checkering already embedded right in, it can be attached to a rifle in very short order, visible mold lines and all.

Some entry-level rifles have been a bit dismal, marred by safety recalls, poor function and lackluster accuracy. The Remington 710, made only from 2001-2006 is one example. The Thompson-Center “Venture,” by Smith & Wesson, is a more recent example. All Ventures made prior to October 28, 2011 have been recalled. It gets old in a hurry when a new rifle you bought as “technologically advanced” or other blather is something the manufacturer tells you not to use right after you buy it. The economy that was sought can vanish in a hurry, consumed by the headache of shipping charges and perhaps an excruciatingly long wait to get a rifle back. Once you finally get it back, it will probably have a resale value of next to nothing, thanks to its poor reputation and cheesy quality.

There are other ways to reduce the production cost of a rifle. One is to use a universal receiver, where essentially all offered chamberings are made on a long action, the detachable box magazine just being blocked off as needed for short action cartridges. Though viewed with disdain, because it means that there is no advantage in rifle length or weight to choosing a short action cartridge, it does cut down on the number of parts used and associated parts inventory.

The styling of the Ruger American is more than a bit reminiscent of the Savage Axis entry level rifle; it is impossible to miss. (The word "ugly" comes to mind. -Editor) Ruger is a bit late to this market, but let's see how they did. The Ruger American Rifle carries a MSRP of $449 compared to the MSRP of $859 for the standard Ruger M77 Hawkeye, so the American is indeed at a very low price point for a Ruger rifle. Street price at the time of this writing is about $360, but your local pricing may vary. The Ruger American is offered in four popular chamberings: 30-06, .270, .308, and .243 Winchester.


    ·        Model Number: 6904

    ·        Caliber: .243 Win.

    ·        Magazine Capacity: 4

    ·        Barreled Action: Alloy Steel

    ·        Barrel Length: 22"

    ·        Twist: 1:9" RH, 6 grooves

    ·        Sights: None; scope bases supplied

    ·        Stock: Black composite

    ·        Finish: Matte black

    ·        Length of Pull: 13.75"

    ·        Overall Length: 42.00"

    ·        Weight: 6.25 lbs.

    ·        2012 Suggested Retail: $449.00

The Ruger American has a couple of features not found on other entry level rifles. In particular, the American has a rotary magazine, molded-in bedding blocks called “Power Bedding” and an adjustable trigger designated the “Ruger Marksman Adjustable Trigger.” The American comes with Weaver style bases, but no rings. I decided to mount a Burris Fullfield E1 2-7x35mm scope with Warne Maxima “low” rings. It is appropriate for this rifle and looks great.

Ringed scoped, my American weighs right at 7.5 pounds. Out of the box, the trigger broke at an extremely crisp 4.5 lbs. On the heavy side, but remarkably glass-break crisp. It is adjustable from 3 – 5 pounds, as advertised by Ruger. The exact adjustment will of course vary in a mass-produced gun. My example went down to just under 3.5 pounds, a reasonable hunting trigger. Next order of business was heading off to the range for some preliminary shooting.

For starters, I used the ammo I had on hand, which happened to be Remington 80 grain R243W1 pointed soft point, with a published muzzle velocity of 3350 fps. As you might expect with a .243 Winchester, recoil was mild and it was effortless getting on the paper at 100 yards. What the American did with this ammo was print two shots within one half inch of each of other, then strung the third shot an inch or so away from the first two. This was eerily repeatable; it did the exact same thing four consecutive times. There is no such thing as truly ammunition-insensitive firearm, at least that I've experienced, so it will take a good deal more testing to find what load this particular American likes.

There is a lot to like about the Ruger American. In particular, I think Ruger did a very good job with the rotary magazine and the trigger. The trigger is actually far better than the M77 Hawkeyes I've evaluated. The Hawkeye's LC6 trigger was neither light nor crisp. Of course, the walnut Hawkeye is a far more attractive gun that offers much more resale value, but priced accordingly.

The American functioned with no feeding or ejection issues. As far as build quality, the matte finish of the American is more uniformly done than most and the only flaw on the test rifle was a little freckling on the plastic stock, where the black coloring was erratic in the pistol grip area. I'd characterize it as a minor cosmetic issue, perhaps no issue in an entry-level price point product. As this is written, you get a free cheek pad from Ruger when you register online and a 20% discount (up to twenty dollars) off a Ruger Sportswear and Accessories purchase.

The verdict, at least so far, is that Ruger has done very well with their initial foray into the entry-level bolt action rifle market. The 70-degree bolt lift is appreciated, the trigger is better than many, the rotary magazine is well-designed and the action is extremely smooth. Feeding, extraction and ejection are problem free. The Ruger American easily qualifies as both a dependable center-fire rifle and a lot of gun for your 2012 dollars, which is precisely what they sought to achieve. It is a high-value product at this price point, which is all that can reasonably be expected from a value-priced, budget-targeted firearm. If your budget says three hundred and sixty dollars, the Ruger American is clearly worthy of consideration.

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Copyright 2012, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.