I recently tested the Ruger American Ranch Rifle, chambered in 7.62×39. I found it to be suprisingly accurate while shooting inexpensive steel-cased ammo. The only major change I recommend for the design is to make it available with an AK-compatible magazine well.
The Ammo Backstory
In the early summer, I contacted Ruger to see if I could borrow one of their American Ranch Rifles chambered in 7.62×39 for testing and evaluation. I was interested in the rifle for several reasons.
Firstly, the 7.62×39 cartridge produces less recoil than many other calibers suitable for taking deer-sized game. That would make it attractive to smaller or older hunters who may prefer a little less recoil.
Secondly, during the various disruptions of the last year and a half, 7.62×39 ammo was often available when other calibers were out of stock. Having a rifle in a caliber with readily available ammo would be an advantage in difficult times.
Thirdly, 7.62×39 ammo was generally less expensive than other calibers suitable for taking deer-
sized game. In early August of 2021, 7.62×39 ammo could be readily purchased for as low as $.27 a round, while most other calibers were costing more than $1 a round.
All good things come to an end. About the time that I received notification that Ruger was sending me a rifle for testing, Mr. Biden banned the import of Russian firearms and ammunition. The availability of inexpensive Russian imports was one of the major factors contributing to the low price of 7.62×39 ammo. When I went out to buy ammo for my testing, it was sold out at one store, and cost twice as much as it would have cost a few weeks earlier at another store.
In the days that followed, the price continued to rise, and availability continued to decline even more. Eventually, the initial panic began to recede. Ammo became more available, and prices began to come back down. But at the time of this writing, 7.62×39 ammo still costs roughly twice as much as it did before the Biden import ban.
In spite of these caveats, 7.62×39 ammo is still available, and at this point it is still cheaper than other calibers suitable for taking deer-sized game.
Opening the Box
Eventually, I received word that the rifle had arrived at my FFL. I made my way there to pick it up. In the process, I managed to leave my driver’s license behind at the FFL. I had to return the next day to pick it up.
Upon opening the box, the first thing I noticed was a Ruger Mini Thirty magazine. I was already aware that the Ruger American Ranch Rifle in 7.62×39 used Mini Thirty magazines. I realize that there is some variation in the quality of AK magazines produced in different countries, and that Ruger may have wished to avoid the issue of customer complaints about some of these variants not functioning well in the rifle. But I wish Ruger offered the rifle with an AK-compatible magazine well anyway. They could have picked magazines made by a particular manufacturer, and recommended those magazines for use in the rifle. Ruger eventually came around to making the American Ranch Rifle in 5.56 to use AR-style magazines. I hope they eventually come around to making the American Ranch Rifle in 7.62×39 to use AK-style magazines. I believe that would be a significant improvement. This is particularly true since Mini Thirty magazines have a bolt-hold-open feature that I find useful on a semi-automatic rifle, but undesirable on a bolt action rifle.
In addition to the magazine, the box contained the rifle in a plastic bag, the manual, some advertising material, conversion kit information for the “old model” Ruger single-action revolvers, product registration information, and a smaller box holding the bolt, a tool for reinstalling the magazine latch after disassembly, and a locking device.
I removed the rifle from the bag. The heavy barrel has a threaded muzzle, with a thread protector cap over the threads. There are no iron sights. I am old-fashioned enough to miss them. I understand that iron sights would add to the cost of the rifle. But iron sights would be especially useful on a rifle chambered in 7.62×39, since the round is well suited for use at shorter ranges at which optics may be less helpful.
The synthetic stock feels much more substantial and durable than I expected. The robust sight rail was pre-mounted. The recoil pad was a little softer than I expected. I looked forward to seeing whether that would translate into more comfortable shooting. Sling swivels were pre-installed.
The trigger comes with a Glockish trigger-release-style-safety in the center of the trigger, in addition to a tang safety. The trigger was nice and smooth right out of the box, and is user adjustable from approximately three to five pounds. Like most contemporary bolt action rifles, the bolt cocks on opening rather than on closing.
It took a little bit of practice to get a feel for inserting and releasing the magazine. I would not like to attempt this process while in a hurry. I find releasing the magazine to be particularly awkward.
Next, I read the entire manual, including the state-by-state warnings for states where I do not reside. The Massachusetts Attorney General, for example, warns that “there are more than a thousand suicides each year by younger children and teenagers who get access to firearms.” The CDC, however, reports that approximately 1,300 people 17 and under die from gunshot wounds each year. Of these, approximately 38% are due to suicide. The last time I checked, 38% of 1,300 is not “more than a thousand.” So although far too many minors use firearms to commit suicide each year, the refusal of the Massachusetts Attorney General to use accurate numbers does not make me inclined to trust her.
With the exception of the state government-mandated legalese, the manual is exceptionally well written, with extremely clear wording, and well-chosen and executed illustrations. The team of technical writers at Ruger are to be commended for a job well done.
One recommendation that was new to me concerned the care of stainless steel rifle components. The manual recommended the use of paste wax as a protectorant for “non-functioning” parts (by which I believe they mean exterior, non-moving parts).
I was also interested to note that Ruger does not provide any warrantee beyond the minimum that is required by law.
One final item of note is the statement, “A COPY OF THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL FOR ANY RUGER FIREARM IS AVAILABLE FROM THE FACTORY FREE ON REQUEST . . . .” [capitalization original]. The manual for my 10/22 has been missing for about 40 years or so. Maybe I will request a new one.
Mounting the Scope
I mounted a Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9×40 scope on the rifle. This involved determining the proper eye relief, leveling the rifle and scope, tightening the rings evenly, and focusing the scope. This process is described in more detail in my November 10, 2020 review of the scope in SurvivalBlog.
An even more complete summary of this process can be found in a TheTruthAboutGuns web page.
A Cheek Rest
When I shouldered the rifle, I discovered that the comb was not quite the ideal height for a good cheek weld with the rings and scope that I was using. I slipped a neoprene sleeve cheek-rest-riser over the buttstock. The inserts provided for the riser were too thick, so I made a homemade insert by cutting pieces of cardboard to the appropriate size, and taping them together one layer at a time until I achieved the right height. The homemade insert fit into the sleeve too loosely, so I used duct tape around the sleeve to secure the insert more firmly in the insert-pocket. The end result was not pretty, but it was a pretty good fit. The cheek weld was just a smidgen too high because I failed to take into account the thickness of the duct tape around the sleeve, but it was many orders of magnitude better than the fit without the rest.
The First Range Session
I took the rifle to the range behind my barn and set up a table at the desired distance from the target. I placed the rifle on a Caldwell Lead Sled 3, sighted the bottom center target through the bore, checked the scope, and found it to be in the same ballpark as the bore.
I put three rounds of Wolf Military Classic 124 gr. FMJ ammo in the magazine, inserted the magazine into the rifle, and chambered a round. I aimed at the center of the target, and fired the first round. It hit about four inches high and 5 inches to the left of the center of the target.
I made a series of adjustments to the scope, and gradually walked the rounds toward the center of the target. Eventually, I started firing three-shot groups. I was amazed by how tight the groups were. I was shooting tighter groups than I had ever shot before.
For the last three-shot group, I switched from the Caldwell Lead Sled to using sandbags. I noted several things:
1. Shooting from the lead sled is a lot more comfortable than shooting from sandbags.
2. My group from the sandbags was just as tight as my groups from the lead sled.
3. Even though shooting from the sandbags was not as comfortable as shooting from the lead sled, it was not uncomfortable. The 7.62×39 cartridge really does produce significantly less recoil than many other chamberings appropriate for deer-sized game.
I was very impressed with the accuracy of the rifle. I was still not impressed with the magazine, which I continued to find somewhat awkward to insert and, especially, to remove.
The Group Consensus
About a week later, I had some friends over to get their impressions of the rifle.
“Gibbs” felt that the action was smooth, and that the gun was fun to shoot. He did have one round hang-up while chambering.
“Welly’s” verdict was that it is a very nice rifle. He said that it looks good and shoots good. He like Ruger guns in general, and finds this one to be another excellent example. If he was in the market for another bolt action rifle, this is the one he would buy.
“Midas” found the rifle to be extremely accurate.
“The Natural” found the rifle fun to shoot, and very accurate.
“New Guy” found the rifle to be very accurate, with a nice trigger. He found the magazine a little difficult to insert. Overall, he really enjoyed shooting the rifle.
My New Deer Rifle?
I was really impressed that the rifle could shoot so well using inexpensive steel-cased ammunition in a chambering that is not especially noted for accuracy. I was so impressed that I was strongly tempted to buy the rifle as my new deer rifle.
My wife and I have an agreement that I don’t need more guns. I have an adequate number of tools for the type of jobs that require firearms. But we remain open to the possibility of better guns even though we are closed to the possibility of more guns. So I can buy a new gun, but if I do so, I need to get rid of an old one.
In this case, I was considering replacing the Remington Model 742 chambered in .30-06 that I had inherited from my Dad. Before making a final decision, I thought that I should test the two guns side by side.
Ruger American Rifle versus Remington 742
I began by loading the magazine of the Ruger American Rifle (hereafter identified as “RAR”) with four rounds of Red Army Standard 122 grain FMJ ammo. I chose to shoot four shot groups from both rifles, because that is how many round the magazine of the Remington 742 (hereafter identified as “742″) holds. I turned my ball cap around backwards, put on my hearing protection, and heard some thunder in the distance as rain began to threaten. As I fired the first four-shot group from the RAR using the Caldwell Lead Sled 3, I noticed that the bolt was operating more smoothly now that the rifle was getting broken in. I was still struggling a bit with inserting and removing the magazine.
The group produced by the Red Army Standard ammo was not as good as the groups I had been getting with the Wolf Military Classic ammo. Unfortunately, we had shot up all of the Wolf ammo at the range session with my friends.
For the next group from the RAR, I switched to PPU Rifle Line 123 grain FMJ. The group was not quite as tight as the Wolf groups, but it was better than the Red Army Standard groups.
I then switched to the 742. I removed the slip-on recoil pad since I was shooting from a lead sled, and loaded four rounds into the magazine. I experienced a failure to feed on the second shot that took a minute to clear. As I fired the remaining rounds after clearing the jam, I was happy to note that the Lead Sled was doing a good job of absorbing the recoil of the .30-06.
As I picked up my empty casings, it was amazing to note the temperature difference between the 7.62×39 casings and the .30-06 casings. The 7.62×39 casings were barely warm, while the .30-06 casings were uncomfortably hot.
I switched back and forth between the RAR and 742 a number of times. The best group for the 742 was better than the worst group for the RAR, but the best group for the RAR was better than the best group for the 742, and the worst group for the RAR was better than the worst group for the 742. So the RAR came out quite clearly as more accurate than the 742. But the 742 was acceptably accurate for the purpose for which I intended to use it.
After due consideration, I drew the following conclusions:
1. If I had not inherited the Remington Model 742 from my father, I would sell it in a heartbeat and replace it with the RAR.
2. If the RAR had an AK-compatible magazine well, I would be much more inclined to purchase it to replace the 742.
3. If there was not a ban on the import of Russian ammunition, I would be much more inclined to purchase the RAR to replace the 742.
4. But since I inherited the 742 from my father, since the RAR does not have an AK-compatible magazine well, since there is currently an import ban on Russian ammunition, since the 742 shoots adequately for my purpose, and since the .30-06 chambering of the 742 is effective out to longer ranges than the 7.62×39 chambering of the RAR, I think that I will keep the 742 for now rather than purchasing the RAR.
If you are in the market for a durable and accurate little bolt-action rifle in 7.62×39, then I highly recommend the Ruger American Ranch Rifle.
Ruger was kind enough to loan me the Ruger American Ranch Rifle in 7.62×39 for testing and evaluation. Previously, I had received samples and written articles about the Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9×40 scope and the Caldwell Lead Sled 3. I tried not to let the kindness of any of these vendors influence my evaluation of their products. I did not receive any other financial or other inducements to mention any vendor, product, or service in this article.