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RUGER 350 LEGEND RANCH RIFLE: GUNS[R] MAGAZINE BRINGS A NEW HEAT TO TEXAS!

"Pigs!" we shouted in unison.

Our guide, Steve Jones, slammed the four-wheel-drive utility vehicle to a halt on the rocky Texas ranch trail. Wild pigs are hated around these parts, especially among ranchers, so we had already been granted "guns free" clearance if any were seen. Now, only a few hours after flying into San Antonio, driving two hours west to the Ivy Ranch and spending a half-hour sighting-in my rifle, the proverbial green light was glowing. It was time to put up or shut up.

PORK PANDEMONIUM

The two youngish boars had been minding their own business when our group of three gun writers rudely interrupted their evening. The pair split and flanked either side of our war wagon at a scalding pace. Jumping from the rear passenger seat, my lightweight Ruger American Ranch Rifle was instantly up and tracking one of the streaking porkers as he did his best impression of a startled greyhound. Time had already shifted into the classic one-heartbeat-per-minute mode

Upon Steve's shout of "Take 'em!", I fired. To my not-inconsiderable surprise, the first big black pig piled up 40 yards away in an NFL Highlight Reel-worthy tumble as the 180 grains of Winchester 350 Legend slammed home. He was still kicking and squealing when I ran the bolt to send another bit of persuasion in his direction. It settled his hash quite nicely.

I'm not sure why his bristly wingman was still in the same ZIP code but I looked up and saw the second pig moving away, only inches from cresting a rise where he would disappear for good. Unsure if anyone else had fired but not wanting the pig to escape, I lined up the scope a few feet ahead of the ugly black snout and touched off my third round. The pig seemed to stumble as he rolled over the ridge. Oh well. Turns out nobody else had fired.

Walking toward the first pig like it was a ticking time bomb, I held my unsafetied rifle toward his head in case of sudden resurrection. I've seen what angry hogs can do with too-eager nimrods so I thought it was worthwhile insurance. I was nearly on top of the boar when one of my partners shouted he'd found the second pig. It was deader than good manners just over the rise but at the sudden unexpected noise, I blurted out something that sounded much like "Shot!"

Fortunately, I had brought along extra undergarments on the trip. Unfortunately, they were back at camp.

Regardless of any hygiene concerns, I had just dropped the first two animals ever taken with the new Ruger American Ranch Rifle chambered in 350 Legend. In the twilight, as we fled an impending Texas thunderstorm, I quietly basked in the rarified afterglow of two successful, challenging shots and clean kills. Full of myself, I felt ready to defend the Alamo and take on a herd of charging rogue elephants with the diminutive rifle I had just blooded.

NEW CARTRIDGE, NEW GUN

This newest version of the Ruger American Ranch Rifle is a companion piece to the equally new Winchester 350 Legend cartridge introduced at the 2019 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas. The cartridge was primarily designed to fill the needs of rifle hunters in so-called "straight wall" Midwestern states where "regular" rifle cartridges such as the .270, .243 or .30-30 aren't legal. However, inane regional hunting laws aside, I fell in love with the gun/cartridge combo and currently consider it my go-to medium-range, mediumgame rifle.

The round is a great lesson in compromise. Billed as "the fastest SAAMI-approved straight-wall cartridge," the 350 Legend brings more energy and velocity than a .30-30, more penetration than a .243 Winchester but less recoil and significantly lesspunishing muzzle blast. The cartridge covers all the bases for a legal and highly effective round for deer-sized critters at common eastern hunting distances. It also loses energy very quickly past 250 yards so there is none of the usual (and unfounded) concerns of errant shots entering nearby school buses or nunneries in populous areas.

THE DETAILS

The Ranch rifle itself is very compact, almost reminding you of a kid's .22 rimfire. However, the gun is long on big-boy features, making it an invaluable tool for someone needing a rugged, lightweight, compact .35-caliber rifle to fit nicely in a utility vehicle, pickup truck, on a horse or carried on foot for miles. With an MSRP of $549, it's also very affordable.

Overall length is 36" with a total dry weight (minus scope) of around 6 lbs. Featuring a flat-dark-earth synthetic stock, 16.3" barrel with 1:16 RH twist optimized for the cartridge, a Ruger Marksman Adjustable Trigger and one-piece Picatinny scope base, accuracy is guaranteed to be sub-MOA. Truthfully, such groups are not a particularly tough chore in the useful range of the round.

The gun was mated to the purpose-built Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40 350 Legend scope. The telescope features pre-calibrated turrets for the 350's ballistics. For example, if you have a 200-yard shot, you simply dial up "2" and take the shot. Both gun and scope worked great on the range and were still accurate after four days of crashing and bumping through deepest Texas in vehicles and on foot.

NEXT DAY

After the wholly satisfying pig affair, I was back in the field early the next morning with ranch owner Mark Ivy. We headed to his mom's place a few miles west to check out the free-range axis deer herds.

A native of India, axis deer are larger than whitetail, sport a miniature elk rack and wear a beautiful spotted fawn-like coat. They are commonly raised on Texas hill country hunting ranches but escapees have formed large indigenous herds over the years. We chased uncounted numbers all morning across the open cattle range.

Don't mistake this for a complaint--my axis kill was almost anti-climactic. Having stalked a massive bull all morning, we eventually lost sight of him and finally assumed the morning hunt was finished when it neared 11 a.m. Suddenly, as we turned a corner on a ranch trail, there he was, standing like the proverbial magazine cover face-on at 70 yards. As soon as Mark confirmed this indeed was our target (they all looked huge to me), I fired.

The deer took a few steps and I hammered him again. He took a couple more steps, staggered drunkenly for a few seconds then went down hard. We found both shots went perfectly into the boiler room and either would have been fatal even if he were standing on the doorstep of a major veterinary hospital. Terminal performance was perfect--one mushroomed bullet was found under the hide on the opposite side while the second had exited and spun into the trees. I had my trophy.

I was awed--in fact, one of the outfitters said it was a "once-in-a-lifetime axis." Not being an expert, I don't know if it really is such a noteworthy trophy but in a few months his head will take up permanent residence in my home. My long-suffering wife is thrilled (mostly).

I came away with several lessons from the adventure. First off, axis deer are challenging and fun to hunt, spectacular to watch and the meat is even better than dry-aged beef. Second, and more importantly, the Ruger American Ranch Rifle in 350 Legend is arguably the perfect short-to-medium-range deer rifle regardless of what you could be legally toting on your hunting ground. I'm now a big fan--even when I'm wearing clean underwear!

www.ruger.com

www.winchester.com

Caption: The proof: Brent's trophy axis deer. He shot it twice but it wasn't necessary --the deer was already dead but hadn't gotten the memo yet!

Caption: The lightweight, short (36" LOA) rifle is a joy to carry on foot and easy to maneuver in the confines of a vehicle. It's also easy to shoot and wholly lethal on deer-sized game. rent's not that big the rifle is that small!

Caption: The recovered Winchester 180-gr. flat base .357 Power-Point bullet (left) was found under the hide on the opposite side while the second exited. Murderers Row (below): The 350 Legend (center) has more muzzle-energy than the .30-30 (left) but half the powder of the .308 (right), meaning significantly less recoil and muzzle blast.

Caption: The Ruger American Ranch Rifle is short and easy to maneuver when getting into and out of vehicles.

Caption: The Ruger American Ranch Rifle chambered in 350 Legend, a hot new deer combo for the Midwest--or anywhere else!

Caption: The matched Leupold VX-Freedom 3-9x40 350 Legend scope has calibrated turrets. Turn the dial to "2" and take a 200-yard shot. Easy-peasy!

Caption: Most 100-yard, three-shot groups were easily under one-MOA but apparently the stars aligned when Brent shot this 0.445" group!
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Author:Wheat, Brent T.
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Sep 28, 2019
Words:1473
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