By Jon R. Sundra
Until I got my first glimpse of a Ruger No. 1, I had little interest in single-shot rifles. I mean, c'mon, the SS rifle had its 15 minutes of fame during the latter half of the 19th century, when the likes of Sharps, Marlin Ballards, Peabody Martinis, Remington Rolling Blocks and Winchester Hi and Low Walls not only dominated the accuracy scene, but were the only guns capable of handling the most potent blackpowder cartridges of the day.
Yep, I was a today kinda guy and assumed those guns for history, and for good reason. Back then, I was a strictly a bolt-action man because, though I really didn't give it much thought at the time, the bolt gun had long since replaced the single shot as the most accurate rifle type. It was also the only action capable of handling the most potent magnum cartridges.
Having said that, it's not like the manually operated bolt action represents what you'd call cutting-edge technology. Its roots can be traced back to the Dreyse needle gun of the 1830s, and there are those among us who believe that that basic concept reached its zenith in 1898, and we've been going in the wrong direction ever since!
That first glimpse mentioned earlier was courtesy of a story entitled "Ruger's Reactionary Rifle" in the 1967 edition of "Gun Digest." I was smitten by the gun's elegance. It was a prototype rifle that Ruger intended to call the "Victorian" because of the strong British influence evident in its styling. I was 27 at the time.
For some reason, and to my disappointment, the Victorian moniker was later scrapped in favor of "No. 1." I've since owned more than a dozen of these elegant rifles, mostly the No. 1-B Standard Rifle, in as many different calibers. Throughout most of the `70s, I used No. 1s for virtually all my hunting, including the taking of my first Cape buffalo and elephant. Those antics were with a customized No. 1-H fitted with a 1-B forearm and rechambered to my .375 JRS, a wildcat derived by simply necking up what at that time (1977) was the new 8mm Remington Magnum.
My goal back then was to take Africa's Big Four with a SS rifle, but after some close calls with a lion, a buffalo and an elephant, I thought it prudent to give up the idea of hunting dangerous game with one-shots. With the exception of shooting woodchucks, for which I used several examples of both Ruger No. 1s and Browning Model 78s (now designated as the Model 1885), all of my hunting had been done exclusively with No. 1s.
I've always thought that using a single-shot rifle rather than a repeater was a classier way to hunt. Unlike bow and blackpowder hunters, who by being limited to that one shot, make a similar statement that essentially says how and with what you take your game is as important as getting it at all, the SS rifleman can still avail himself of the latest magnum ballistics if he so chooses. Therefore, the only handicap imposed by using a one-shooter is the lack of a rapid follow-up shot. Knowing that, however, makes one a better marksman and a more efficient hunter.
There's also a boldness that goes with using a single shot. By so doing, you're saying that one shot is all you need. You're willing to stake the outcome of what might be a very expensive hunt, one that you might never have the chance or the money to repeat - on your ability to make the first shot count. I like that!
And it's not like you're giving up any chance at getting a timely follow-up shot off if needed. When I hunt with a single shot, I wear an elastic band around my left wrist with two spare rounds slipped beneath it, pointy ends forward. With the rifle shouldered, those spares are perfectly positioned so that I have only to reach 12 inches or so with my right hand to pluck a spare and shove it down my gun's gullet. With a little practice you can reload and get a follow-up shot off in less than three seconds.
Over the course of my career, I've hunted with Ruger No. 1s from the Namib Desert and Tanzania's Selous Reserve, to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, and I have never lost an animal for lack of a rapid follow-up shot.
I'd be less than truthful, however, if I didn't tell you that it's been a love/hate relationship with No. 1s and me. It was never so much a matter of accuracy, but of consistency. Most of my guns would routinely shoot little cloverleafs. Trouble was, I was shooting five-shot groups, and one or two out of every cluster would be 1 or 2 inches out of what otherwise would be a bragging-size group. And when I did get tight groups, more often than not the point of impact was not in the same place it was the month or a week before. Words like frustrating and exasperating come to mind, or maybe it was just the vicissitudes of unrequited love? Yep, it's been a bumpy road.
But again, to be perfectly honest, those days go back to a time when barrels were the only component that Ruger outsourced. That always drove me crazy. Here was Ruger, making virtually every component of the No. 1 themselves, yet the most critical one, the one that more than any other determined how the guns performed and how they were judged - the barrel - was left in the hands of others. That has long since changed. Ruger has been hammer-forging its own barrels for nearly a decade now, and quality is no longer an issue.
In all fairness, I should point out that the kind of erratic behavior I've described is rarely, if ever, the fault of the barrel. When you're constantly getting fliers, it's an ammo- or bedding-related problem.
After a hiatus of about 15 years, during which time I did most of my hunting with bolt-action rifles, I tested a No. 1-B in .22-250. I was impressed with the accuracy and the gun's ability to maintain its point of impact over the course of several range sessions. I was encouraged enough that I decided to build a new hunting rifle based on the No. 1 action, but modified based upon my experiences garnered from evaluating and hunting with many examples of the marque. I sent a No. 1-B to Anthony Ruggiero's Broad Creek Rifle Works (120 Horsey Ave., Laurel, DE 19956; /302/-875-5446), a gunsmith who specializes in Ruger No. 1s. To my action, he fitted a Pac-Nor barrel in what at the time was one of the new short-action magnums that John Lazzeroni introduced in 1997, three years before Winchester unveiled their .300 WSM. I chose the 7mm (naturally), which John calls his 7.21 Tomahawk. It's based on what is essentially a much-shortened .416 Rigby case, with a head diameter of .580 inch, or .025 inch fatter than the WSM.
To the 24-inch Pac-Nor barrel, Anthony fitted a custom quarter rib that, unlike the original, is longer in length and contacts the barrel over its entire length. Also, I had him widen the ring spacing. One of the things I've never liked about the No. 1 is that the ring spacing is too narrow, allowing too much scope to overhang at both ends, unsupported. So I had Anthony space the ring notches as far apart as possible yet still accommodate the body length of the Leupold 6x42 scope I intended to mount.
On factory guns, the nose of the safety's thumbpiece juts up enough to interfere with ejection, so I had the tang safety altered so that it slid within a mortise milled into the bottom of the receiver tang. Also incorporated was a tight hole for a nylon-tipped Allen-headed set screw that was tapped into the nose of an extended forearm tenon. By inserting an Allen key through the hole just in front of the forearm screw, the tension between the tenon and barrel could be regulated without removing the forearm. In effect, this system allows altering the barrel's vibrational characteristics in much the same way that Browning's BOSS system works. The forearm does not contact the barrel at any point; only the set screw puts pressure on the barrel to the degree determined by how much or how little you tighten or loosen the screw.
Lastly, Anthony replaced the OEM trigger with a custom job by Moyers, then Swiss-cheesed the internal hammer to achieve a faster lock time. All in all, it's a pretty tricked-up No. 1. Thus far, I've used that rifle on a safari in the Selous Reserve in Tanzania, and on an Arctic caribou hunt. I've come to have more faith in this particular rifle than any No. 1 I've owned.
One thing I particularly like about single-shots is that they can sport longer barrels and still be shorter than your typical bolt-action rifle. My 7.21, for example, measures 42 1/8 inches with its 26-inch barrel, whereas a Model 70 with a 24-inch barrel is 3 inches longer overall. Not only does that make for a better-handling rifle, but it also means an extra 50-60 feet per second on average in any given caliber.
More recently, I tested two No. 1s. Both were the eye-catching V-BBZ varmint version with its all-stainless barreled action and black laminated stock. Both were chambered in .204 Ruger, and both consistently produced five-shot groups well under an inch with Hornady factory ammo, with no tendency to produce fliers.
I don't think I'll ever go back to hunting with SS rifles exclusively, but we do seem to have patched up our differences to where I'm going to be hunting with one on a more regular basis. After all, they do say that love is better the second time around, don't they?
Reprinted from the October 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.