Updated: Oct 20
This will be a short series on preparing a proper backup rifle for guiding visiting hunters after Cape buffalo. "Preparing" is a somewhat understated term in this particular instance as substantial modifications will have to be embodied to make the Ruger a true "Africa" rifle. It generally is a good quality piece in the Ruger "African" stable from a time (1989) before the "African" designation was used by Ruger. At first sight it indeed appears to meet the image of an "African Express" rifle:
1. It has an attractive walnut stock with a black front-end tip and is not the typical characterless monochrome black or green synthetic material.
2. It has the front sling swivel on a barrel band and not on the front-end stock where the recoil associated with a DG rifle may drive it into the shooter's hand on firing.
3. It has a three leaf "Express" rear sight on a quarter rib on the barrel and a silver beaded front sight on an attractive ramp.
4. It is in the classic Africa calibre of .375 H&H.
However, that is where its suitability as a dangerous game rifle for Africa ends - it has some measure of an Africa DG rifle appearance but it lacks Africa required functionality on a number of important issues. By design it has been saddled with shortcomings that prevent it to be a daily carry weapon for the PH - or even the run of the mill local hunter after dangerous game:
1. At 11+ lbs it is way too heavy for a PH DG all-day carry rifle. Apart from having owned a SAKO Safari qnd a SAKO Hunter Model 85 in .375 H&H, my latest experience is with a CZ 550 in .416 Rigby which weighs 9 1/4 lbs with 4 cartridges. That is an ideal weight for a big bore, so the Ruger must be at this weight. The SAKO Safari was a 9 lb rifle, and the Musgraves are about there as well.
2. Some excess weight is in the unusually wide stock design forward of the pistol grip. There is more to this than just adding to the weight. The appearance of those broad slabs of squared-off timber next to the barreled action is not normal - and certainly not visually pleasing. The basic image of an Africa dangerous game bolt action rifle is in its understated neat, trim lines. Added to the bulkiness of the Ruger is the unusual flat under-surface design of the front end which, when held in the front palm is not suitable for a comfortable, controlled hold. Looking at that full flat bottom makes me wonder what thoughts the Ruger marketeers had when they decided THAT is what owners of an "Africa" Rifle would like to hold in his front hand - or behold in his eyes. (roll eyes...)
3. At just under 23" the barrel is three inches short of our standard barrel length of 660 mm for a DG rifle. Apart from losing about 75 ft/sec velocity the balance of the rifle is compromised. The instant pointability and balance of a 26" barrel is very important when an immediate steady hold is of the essence.
4. The obligatory recoil crossbar associated with rifles in the .375 H&H and larger calibres is not a crossbar at all in the Ruger but merely an embarrassingly thin bolt through the wood with no indication of its function as a recoil support for the action. It appears as if Ruger merely added this for appearance as it has no functionality.
5. The dog-leg shape of the bolt handle is totally un-African and is known to make contact with the shooter's trigger finger during recoil. A straight, slim bolt handle with a slightly raised knob is the Africa design for an easy, quick grip and raised just away from the shooter's trigger finger.
6. The Ruger's pistol grip is unusually short and not made for even normal size hands of most men. This is a critical issue for a firm instinctive grip and controlled trigger pressure.
7. Finally, despite the bulky front end the total surface area of the butt pad is small compared to the "classic" English Africa safari rifle. Felt recoil is a function of recoil impulse per square mm area of the butt against the shooter's shoulder and the small surface of the Ruger butt pad will make for a sharper recoil bite. The heavy rifle will more than overcome this, though.
It will be financially prohibitive to fix all the shortcomings mentioned above - just buying a new Musgrave would be cheaper and immediately 100% suitable. There however are other reasons I want this particular rifle - inter alia because its production was terminated not long after its introduction (maybe for the reasons in points 1-8 above). It belonged to a deceased, fine man and father who was a GIS pilot of vast experience, so I want it.
In keeping the present stock one will have to live with the weight, the 23" barrel, the zig-zag bolt handle and the small butt pad.
22 years old 1989 vintage Ruger Magnum in .375 H&H Magnum with a Leopold Vari-X 1.5 - 5x scope
Below are some photos indicating the "un-African" features:
That funny zig-zag bolt handle and huge gap in the wood certainly is not standard in Africa rifles.
The squared off wide slabs of wood next to the action and barrel sets it distinctly separate from the traditionally slim Africa bolt action rifles our eyes and tastes are used to.
Whatever inspired Ruger to give this rifle a flat bottom will elude most hunters who appreciate the aesthetics of fine English rifles in the traditional Holland & Holland style. Even my 1942 Savage built Lee Enfield No.4 Mk.1 has really neat wood to metal fit around the magazine well...
For comparison - the image at the top is the standard, tiny, narrow Ruger recoil lug on non-magnum length Ruger actions. Bottom image is the substantial full width recoil lug on European and Musgrave desiged and built rifles.
Photos of the actual rifle below will show the complicated recoil arrester system used by the Ruger magnum length action in order to prevent stock cracking due to the undersized recoil lug.
The thin Ruger crossbolt which is really just a pin and which has no functional interaction with the action but just sits all by itself in a hole through the stock. Just that thin bolt in a random hole doing nothing there.. There is an African colloquialism exclamation for such incomplete logic: "EISHH!"
The "crossbolt" screw is mainly just for show and is nowhere located where it can have any functionality regarding recoil arresting support. Ruger simply drilled a random hole through the stock and inserted the screw into it.
For comparison: a proper crossbar as used in serious European and African DG bolt action rifles.
A real Africa rifle feature out of Europe: Ruger elected to do away with a free-floating barrel and employed the Czechoslovakian BRNO ZKK series style of pulling the barrel onto a protrusion in the barrel channel in order to have an upward force on it. The barrel band is located by a screw under the fore-end. Experience has shown that there is zero difference in accuracy between free-floated barrels and those that have a firm upward pressure, provided the latter barrels had been stressed relieved at the factory after the hammer forged or other rifling process.
The too small standard recoil lug shown earlier was machined away completely for the Ruger Magnum with only the integrated main screw nut remaining. An unintended benefit of the angled screw was that it can serve as a hook to locate and hold something - as shown in the photos below:
A 9" long flat bar was adorned with an eccentric oval hole on the main scew side and a proper Mauser type large recoil lug was rivited onto the other end. The recoil lug was cast with a protrusion into which a locating screw is inserted from the bottom of the fore-end to pull it into the barrel channel.
The photo also shows the cavity for the floating barrel band and its little lug that accepts its own screw.
The integrated flatbar cum recoil lug cum main screw locator assembly. This surely added to the weight of the rifle and complicated the inletting but it does give a secure horisontal interface for the substantial recoil lug.
This complicated arrangement had me worried about accuracy but the Ruger gives the shooter a smile as a later photo shows.
Another view of the barrel channel and hold down locations.
Screw #1 keeps the flat plate / recoil lug assembly in place. Scew # 2 pulls the barrel band down and forces the barrel against a ridge in the channel to create the upward force on the barrel.