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Ruger's Ultra Light.

* To infer that this is the age of the short, light bolt-action sporter may be carrying things just a bit far, but there can be no argument but that the trend is in this direction. Winchester, with their Featherweight Model 70, was the first commercial American manufacturer to make a play for the light sporter market. Even though the Featherweight was discontinued for a spell, it's now back in Winchester's line. Remington jumped on the bandwagon in 1983 with their Model Seven and now Ruger joins in with their new Model 77 Ultra Light rifle.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, or maybe I've finally absorbed some sense, but I'm all for the trend toward lightweight sporters. Cutting a pound or more from the total weight of a rifle you pack around the hills all day is skin to shedding logging boots for hiking shoes. Once you try the lightweights, you're hooked.

It's because of may particular interest in lightweight rifles that I welcomed the Ultra Light from Ruger. This one comes in two action lengths, short and magnum. Short-action rifles are chambered for the .22-250, .243 Winchester, .250-3000 Savage and .308 Winchester while the magnum action is available in .257 Roberts, .270 winchester and .30-06. The availability of both short and long actions in the Ultra Light is quite a departure from the norm--one I think will be a great help to Ultra Light sales. We now have an extremely Light rifle available in cartridges suitable for any situation from close-range brush hunting to open plains work, and game running in size from small varmints to moose and bear. When limited to a short-action only, you don't have this choice of cartridges.

My Ultra Light test rifle is the long, or magnum, action version chambered for the .270 Winchester. Ruger serves this model of their 77 up with no iron sights to detract from the sleek lines. It comes only with the integral base receiver and Ruger steel scope rings.

Styling of the Ultra Light is excellent with the stock pared to bare bones to cut weight, yet nicely proportioned to produce an eye pleasing effect. The American walnut stock on my rifle is straight-grained wood with a low-lustre finish. Of classic styling, the Ultra Light stock has 18 lines per inch cut checkering on the pistol grip and forearm, a red rubber butt pad, black fore-end tip and a black pistol grip cap bearing the Ruger logo. Sling swivel studs are standard equipment. The length of pull on my rifle is 13-1/2 inches, the same as I use on all of my custom rifles. All of the inletting on my Ultra Light appears to be excellent with good wood to metal fit.

Exterior steel on the rifle is finished in bright blue except for the bolt body which is left unblued. The hinged floor plate and triggerguard are constructed of a nylon or plastic material that's given a matte blue finish. I've found this material to be particularly tough and resistant to scratching. The steel trigger, which is also matte blued, has a smooth surface and is 1/2-inch wide.

The Model 77 action used on the Ultra Light is the same as that on all other Model 77 rifles. Machined from an investment steel casting, the receiver sports a flat bottom and its top is machined for the Ruger scope rings. The bolt is an oddity in this day and age because the bolt handle/bolt body is one piece, not two joined together by brazing, silver soldering or welding. This is particularly important on the Model 77 because the root of the bolt handle is intended to serve as the safety lug should the primary locking system fail under excessive breech pressure. Were the bolt to be driven rearward by such an unlikely failure, it would be stopped when the root of the bolt handle contacts the rear of the notch cut for it in the rear of the receiver. Being of one piece, the handle is much less likely to shear off under such pressure.

Two massive opposing lugs located on the front of the bolt engage corresponding recesses in the front of the receiver when the action is locked closed. The top lug is almost twice the size of the bottom one, measuring .663-inch long and .402-inch wide. By comparison, the bottom lug is .404-inch long and .402-inch wide. Ruger retains the famous Mauser-type nonrotating extractor, a favorite with hunters because of the healthy purchase it gets on the case rim. However, they've modernized the design, and strengthened the action, by placing a plunger-type ejector in the bolt face and recessing the face .125 inch.

There are many ways in which the action dissipates high pressure gas and particles that might rush rearward from a ruptured case or blown primer. First, there's a vent on the right side of the receiver that would vent a lot of gas. However, some would undoubtedly travel rearward into the bolt body via the firing pin hole. This would be vented downward into the magazine through two large oblong holes in the bottom of the bolt. Any gas traveling rearward in the left-hand bolt raceway is effectively blocked and vented by a shield on the bolt. If any gas gets past all of these vents and goes on rearward, it's deflected away from the shooter by the bolt shroud.

The staggered box magazine on the Model 77 Ultra Light holds four cartridges. While the long version is called a magnum action, the magazine is too short to accommodate such cartridges as the .300 H&H and .375 H&H Magnums. It will, however, handle the modern short magnums like the 7mm Remington and .300 Winchester. As of this writing the Ultra Light is not chambered for any of the magnum cartridges and I don't think it should be. The recoil of the magnums is punishing enough in a 9-pound rifle. In the 7-pound Ultra Light it would be downright brutal.

The barrel on the Ruger Ultra Light rifle is 20 inches long and very light. On my .270 the barrel diameter at the receiver ring in 1.16 inches while at the muzzle it's a slender 1/2 inch. If you immediately surmise that such a light barrel will heat up rapidly, thus adversely affecting the point of bullet impact on the target, you're correct. However, the thing to keep in mind is that the Ultra Light is a hunting rifle, not a bench gun. To the hunter the most important shot is the first one from a cold barrel. He may, if everything goes wrong, have to shoot a couple more shots rather quickly, but the first is the most important. Under such conditions the Ultra Light's slender barrel is no hindrance. In fact, it's one of the major places where Ruger drops weight from the rifle. Since they use the standard Model 77 action, no weight can be cut in this area. But, by shortening and slimming the barrel, previous ounces are pared from the overall weight of the rifle.

Ruger's trigger on the Ultra Light is identical to that used on all Model 77 rifles. Mine was set at the factory to break clean at the relatively heavy pull weight of 5-1/2 pounds. To my way of thinking, that's way too heavy. However, the tendency in the industry, brought on I'm certain by the rash of ridiculous liability suits, is toward triggers with factory setting around the 5-pound area.

The Ruger trigger is adjustable for weight of pull via a hex-head screw set in the top front of the trigger which is accessible without removing the stock. All this screw does is change the tension on the trigger spring. Turning it clockwise increases tension and makes the pull heavier while turning it counterclockwise reduces the tension and makes the trigger pull lighter. At very best such adjustment will produce a trigger pull of about 3-1/2 pounds. The Ruger Ultra Light trigger is actually fully adjustable in all aspects and can be made much lighter, but the company warns against making any adjustment other than the one they recommend. So do I. Any work on the trigger is a job for a gunsmith who knows his stuff, not for the shooter. And, making changes in the trigger mechanism other than the one adjustment Ruger recommends voids the warranty. If you want a better trigger pull on your Ultra Light than can be obtained with Ruger's approved method of adjustment, I suggest that you buy a replacement trigger from Timney, NOC Industries or other manufacturers of special trigger units.

As it came from the box, my Ultra Light .270 weighed 6 pounds even. To it I added a Burris 4X Fullfield scope which, with the Ruger rings, brought the total weight of the rifle to 7 pounds. Now that's a lightweight bolt-action rifle no matter how you slice it!

Once my Ultra Light was scoped, it was time to head for the range and see how it would shoot. There were three major questions I wanted answers to. First, how was the velocity of the .270 Winchester cartridge going to be affected by a 20-inch barrel? Most .270s are offered with 22 or 24-inch barrels and many shooters feel the cartridge's full potential can only be realized in 24 inches of barrel. Second, what could I expect in the way of accuracy? As I said earlier, it's that first shot that counts, but by firing three-shot groups at 100 yards, then allowing the barrel to cool completely before firing another group, I felt I would establish some criteria by which the Ultra Light can be compared with other rifles. Third, what would the recoil be like? Granted, the .270 Winchester can't be considered a heavy-recoiling cartridge, but I suspected that in a 7 pound rifle it would let you know you'd pulled the trigger.

My first tests involved factory ammunition--Norma 130-grain, Winchester 130-grain and two 150-grain Federal premium loads, one with a 150-grain spitzer boattail bullet, the other with a 150-grain Nosler spitzer Partition bullet. These were fired for accuracy at 100 yards and ten rounds of each were shot over my Oehler Model 33 chronograph to ascertain their velocity from the 20-inch barrel.

Where accuracy was concerned, all four of the factory loads were quite similar, producing three-shot groups running between 2 and 2-1/2 inches at 100 yards. This isn't great, but not too bad for factory ammo.

The results of the velocity tests of the factory ammo are shown in a chart. Here I've shown the velocities I recorded along with the velocity the manufacturers publish for their .270 loads. You'll notice that while there is a definite velocity loss attributable to the short barrel, the velocities realized are still respectable and certainly won't detract from the .270's performance at any but the most extreme ranges.

While time didn't allow me to do extensive testing of a great variety of bullets and powder in the Ultra Light, I was able to concoct a number of handloads that performed very well. As the second chart shows, the velocities of my best loads hung in there around 100 to 150 fps slower than what can be achieved in a 24-inch barreled .270. The only exception was one 130-grain load with Norma MRP power that reached the 3,100 fps mark.

All of the handloads shown will hold three shots inside 2 inches at 100 yards and most of them produce groups of 1-1/2 inches or slightly less. My best powders where accuracy is concerned are Hodgdon's 4831 and Winchester 785 ball powder. With the latter the muzzle blast is noticeably sharper than with H4831 and there's a noticeable muzzle flash, but the velocity is right up there and accuracy is good. Because 785, like all ball powders, can be hard to ignite consistently, I used only magnum primers with these loads.

I'm sure there are those among you who find it hard to accept a 1-1/2-inch, 100-yard group from a sporter. To you I can only say that you've been brainwashed into believing that minute of angle accuracy angle is essential. Sure, MOA accuracy is great, but it certainly isn't essential to hunting success. In the field factors such as wind, mirage, sighting error and a less than steady shooting position make it impossible to take advantage of MOA accuracy. Given perfect conditions I'll be able to put three shots from my Ultra Light in 3 inches at 200 yards, 4-1/2 inches at 300 yards and 6 inches at 400 yards. Double those figures and I'll still put my bullet in the vitals of any big-game animal I want to take with may .270, so as far as I'm concerned the rifle is plenty accurate enough for hunting big game.

How's the recoil of the Ultra Light .270? As I suspected, it lets you know you're shooting, but I don't consider it objectionable for a hunting rifle. However, to say that the increased recoil isn't noticeable would be wrong. Consider an 8-1/2-pound rifle and the seven-pound Ultra Light and let's say that each develops a muzzle velocity of 3,029 fps using 59 grains of powder behind a 130-grain bullet. The free recoil energy of the 8-1/2-pound rifle would be 16.34 foot pounds while for the Ultra Light Ruger it is 19.84 foot pounds--21.4 percent greater. But, this figure is a little misleading because in most longer-barreled .270s like one weighing 8-1/2 pounds, the velocity of that bullet would be 3,100 fps, thus the recoil of the heavier rifle at 3,100 fps would be 17.12 foot pounds. Still, even given these conditions it must be said that the Ultra Light develops about 16 percent more free recoil energy than does a full-size 8-1/2-pound .270.

Despite a little more recoil and accuracy that's not quite on a par with a heavier-barreled rifle, the hunter who does a lot of walking will find the Ruger Ultra Light to be just what the doctor ordered. I'm only sorry that the time of year precluded me from using my Ultra Light on big game before writing this article. However, I have enough confidence in the rifle that it's my choice for a caribou hunt in the Northwest Territories early this fall.
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Milek, Bob
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Oct 1, 1984
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