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Rifle Magazine
November - December 2002
Volume 34, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 204
On the cover...
The Ruger Model 77 Mark II Magnum is now chambered in .458 Lott and features a 1.5-4.5x20 Nikon scope. Rifle photo by Gerald Hudson. Alaskan grizzly photo by Michael S. Quinton.
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by Ken Waters

Knowing Bill Ruger for over three decades was a privilege; being his friend and hunting companion was an honor I treasure.

Quite possibly the greatest firearms designer of our time, he possessed a keen sense of what was wanted by shooters, whether it be rifles, handguns or shotguns.

Not limited to his particular field of interests, however, he was an avid reader with a profound knowledge of historical events. I recall a discussion with him on an evening as his guest at a Blue Mountain hunting lodge. Of all places to find him reading a book on Sir John Franklin’s lost Arctic expedition in search of a Northwest Passage! But that struck me as being so typical of the breadth of this man in his thinking.

Equally there was great depth, whether it involved the details of a complicated gun mechanism, a comparison of cartridges or the enterprise required to run a successful corporation.

Possessing a fine sense of humor and a rare conversational ability contributed both to his success in the business world and a unique faculty for making friends. History will no doubt praise William B. Ruger for his inventive genius, but will it accord his leadership equal recognition? It is his due.

Remembrance. When I think back of Bill and our diminishing circle of old friends over years gone by, I’m reminded of William Shakespeare’s memorable phrase: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”

 

by Ross Seyfried

It was fun and interesting to watch Mr. Ruger, a man who was easily the rarest, most exciting and most progressive man in the modern firearms industry. As a firearms manufacturer, he stood alone in America and the world. Perhaps only Beretta can claim such success in all three arms disciplines: rifles, handguns and shotguns; and they have had 400 years to work it out.

In my eyes he was many uncommon things: a great industrialist in the grand American tradition, a self-made man, an aristocrat, a collector of some of the finest works of man and an exceptionally knowledgeable firearms person. The combination of these rare qualities resulted in a man who could not only design but also successfully make and market all three kinds of arms. And there were not just “guns,” but arms of uncommon diversity and style ranging from single-action revolvers to O/U shotguns and the exceptional No. 1, a falling block in the Farquharson tradition.

What many may not realize is that a great foundation of the long-term success of Ruger firearms was not pure gunmaking but metal casting. The ability to pour steel, and many other metals, into moulds resulted in firearms of extraordinary strength and quality, at very modest prices. The same casting industry created financial diversity, no doubt a key to surviving some very tough times in the firearms industry.

With the passing of Mr. Ruger we are confronted with a very big question, “What happens now?” What happens now without the guiding hand of the great genius? Only time will tell.

I say farewell, with the hope we meet again where there are elephants to hunt and hammer double rifles to hunt them with.

 

by Stan Trzoniec

As a young boy, I enjoyed reading about the exploits of the famous gun inventors, names like Colt, Browning and Remington. Knowing Roy Weatherby was a real plus, and when I finally met Bill Ruger, well, that was one of the highlights of my writing career.

I met Mr. Ruger at one of the many SHOT Shows. At first sight, Bill was an impressive man with a glint in his eyes. You could tell as he talked, he had a lot on his mind and seemingly little time to do it all. Bill obviously had more responsibilities in life than keeping us shooters happy.

Looking back you have to give the man a lot of credit. As the story goes, until he was bedridden, he was active in all phases of his growing company. Stories I had heard from other gun writers and folks from the plant noted Bill as a real New England stand-by-your-conviction person. If he had something on his mind, by golly, he’d let you know. No mincing words, just a great straight-ahead attitude.

We all have a lot to be grateful for from Bill Ruger. While other companies would not venture forth and look into different firearms, Bill took the lead and introduced famous guns like the No. 1, the Mini-14 and his hot-selling Model 77. Handguns brought Sturm, Ruger & Co. to the forefront of popularity. The Single-Six is still one of my all-time favorites, and the big Super Blackhawk was one of my first handguns. Later the Redhawks placed the emphasis on safety with a radical design that beefed up the barrel and frame. If it was out there to design, Bill had his hand in it.

Bill Ruger’s taste for the finer things in life always seemed to show in his thinking about firearms. He seemed to cherish items that were classic in appearance, would never go out of style and would last a lifetime. For Bill Ruger, his life was full of innovations, great ideas - and a legacy that will last forever.

God bless you, Bill!

by Ron Spomer

I never hunted with Bill Ruger, never lunched with him - just met him. As a young Turk in the business I was too awed by the giant, this John Moses Browning of the twentieth century, to do much more than mumble a trite “Pleased to meet you, sir.” As that huge hand swallowed mine, I forgot my next lines. It was then I understood why my Ruger Model 77 stock was so big.

Despite this brief, inconsequential meeting, Bill Ruger had a significant impact on my life, as he has the lives of thousands of shooters and hunters. Where might American gun design have gone if not for Ruger’s brash introduction of the No. 1 single shot in 1966? An old-fashioned single-shot at the dawn of the space race? Then he followed in 1968 with a plain-jane Model 77 bolt action with no cheekpiece, no flared pistol grip, no white-line spacers, no basket weave pressed “checkering” and not even a high-gloss finish. Thank God.

A part of Bill Ruger hunted with me from Kansas to Washington, helping me to the satisfaction of numerous, confidence-building one-shot kills. He was with me when I went four for four in 1982, two near-record-book pronghorns and two fine whitetails. He was along in 1987 when we called 13 coyotes in a day and stretched seven prime pelts. He helped harvest lean protein that fueled us through several winters and introduced my daughter to her first squirrel hunt and Grandpa’s first squirrel stew.

Almost single-handedly Bill Ruger reintroduced sanity to gun design. Form follows function - reliability, performance and safety first. Hunters “got it” immediately. Other manufacturers followed eventually, not just with design but also dependability, stepping back from cheap materials and stamped parts. They still haven’t seen the wisdom of integral scope bases, but these things take time. Thank you, Mr. Ruger, for winding the clock.

 

by Brian Pearce

When news came of Bill Ruger’s passing, I respectfully reflected on his many, many accomplishments and tremendous impact on the firearms industry, which is beyond measure. His entry in this field was bumpy to say the least, but his great determination, hard work and designing and manufacturing talents paid off when he introduced his first production firearm, the .22 Automatic pistol, in 1949. The gun worked remarkably well, was accurate and appealed to a variety of shooters. What was really astonishing, however, was the low retail price of just $37.50. Although few knew it at the time, this was the beginning of significant changes in the firearms industry.

Bill brought to the firearms industry several new manufacturing methods, but the one he was best known for was the widespread use of investment castings. While he certainly didn’t invent the process, he was first to apply it in manufacturing major (and minor) firearm parts, which eliminated considerable machining and expense. Today, investment castings are in widespread use throughout the industry.

Even more significant than his efficient manufacturing processes were Ruger’s ingenious firearm designs. In short, they were simple, yet mechanically so innovative there is no question the mind of a genius engineered them. (Certainly Bill had assistance on many of the later models, but he was ultimately the one who gave his approval of the final design and was largely the designer behind most models.) Naturally they were reliable, strong, durable and featured many innovative safety features.

For more than half a century, Ruger designed, patented and produced a vast number of firearms, in excess of 20,000,000, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. He had a certain knack to sense what type of guns shooters wanted, and when a new model was introduced, it often took years before production could keep pace with the strong demand. When we consider the dozens of models Ruger developed, it is remarkable only a few have been discontinued, while the balance remain as current models.

What made Bill Ruger extraordinary were the era and circumstances under which he gave birth to a new company and turned it into the largest gunmaker in the United States. For example by the time he had reached young adulthood, many great gun designers had already saturated the market with some excellent designs, designs that were being produced by manufacturing giants such as Colt, Smith & Wesson, Winchester, Marlin and Remington. (Keep in mind that most inventors left the burden of manufacture to the factory!) These large factories had departments for R&D, advertising, finances, manufacturing, etc. Ruger did not; after inventing, he had to manage each of these areas personally (at least until the company growth allowed additions). In spite of wearing many hats, Ruger managed to design, patent and put into production a new firearm on average every 18 months. We can only wonder when he slept!

Bill Ruger was one of the few in history to become a living legend. We will miss him.

 

by Gil Sengel

I did not know William Batterman Ruger very well. We were introduced at some now-forgotten industry get-togethers at least 25 years ago. Since then it had been just a handshake and a few words at similar events, except for one instance.

That occasion was a rather lengthy conversation regarding the styling of firearms in general and Rugers in particular. Style and general appearance sell everything from toasters to cars. The same applies to sporting guns. Ruger had   a keen interest in the style of firearms but preferred it to be subdued and part of the overall design rather than a forced or add-on feature. Such a concept is difficult to describe, yet is easily seen in Ruger production guns (which many have called “plain”) when compared to competing models. He indicated there were styling options discussed during development of new models. The clean, subdued form seems to have always won out.

From that conversation it was obvious that here was a man who enjoyed his job - designing mechanical mechanisms and then solving the problems associated with making them. After all, designing and making things is what Americans have excelled at for 200 years. In this case it’s firearms, but with Ruger’s design talent, drive and interest in his company, he could have successfully manufactured most anything. Indeed, Ruger’s pioneering investment casting foundries do make most anything - including gun parts.

We might also mention that while some other firearms company executives were dropping certain models from their lines or signing agreements to please the Clinton White House, William B. Ruger said, “No thank you.” When CEOs from other industries lined up to ride around with former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown after making a donation to his political party, Ruger said, “No thank you.” More telling still, while others ran to Japan, Mexico and our new-found friends, the communist Chinese, to manufacture the products our citizens bought, Ruger again said, “No thank you” and continued to hire Americans to make his products in plants here at home. Yes, character matters. Yes, it always will. Yes, people notice.

Ruger’s intense interest in his business attracted others of equal commitment. After the formative years needed to get the company on a firm footing, it began to move through the firearms manufacturing establishment, as one marketing representative once told me, “Like a tornado through a trailer park.” Competitors whose management was living in the pre-World War II era simply disappeared. Others had to scramble hard to keep up.

Ironically, this shake-up undoubtedly helped the U.S. firearms industry far more than it hurt because Ruger designs often expanded the market rather than just taking market share. Had Ruger not continued to introduce one new model after another - and sell them at a price most anyone could afford - the industry would be far smaller than it is today. Ruger made guns and the shooting experience available to vast numbers of folks who had never tried such a thing before. These newcomers to the sport went on to buy ammunition, components, reloading tools and, yes, other makers’ firearms.

Today, over 50 years after the introduction of Bill Ruger’s little .22 semiautomatic pistol, development and introduction of new models is never-ending. The new Ruger Gold Label side-by-side shotgun is just the latest example.

Like the great gun designer John Browning, William B. Ruger lays down his tools after completing a new shotgun. Yet the company he leaves behind is strong and well managed. I am certain there will be many more Ruger firearms to delight gun folks in the years to come.

by Phil Shoemaker

The impact of the passing of William Batterman Ruger is deeply felt by a majority of Alaskans. I know of no other area of the globe more indebted to, or appreciative of, his design genius.

Ruger firearms have become a ubiquitous part of daily Alaskan life. Tens of thousands of Mini-14 and 10/22 carbines permanently reside in the snow machines, dog sleds, boats and aircraft of Alaska’s hunters, trappers, prospectors, fishermen and bush pilots. An equal number of reliable, blue-worn Blackhawk revolvers ride on the hips of Alaskans to protect their owners from the vagaries of wilderness life, and trappers adore both the Single-Six revolver as well as his original .22 semiautomatic pistol. Our big game hunters revere the accuracy and reliability of both the Model 77 bolt action and the No. 1 single shot.

It could be said that Bill Ruger’s firearms epitomize Alaskan life: tough and rugged yet with an unmistakable aesthetic beauty. Bill Ruger has reached the end of his allotted time, but his impact was great and will not be forgotten.

 

by John Barsness

Like most of us, I never met Bill Ruger, but I knew him. Unlike many of today’s hunting guns, which seem to be designed by committee, Bill Ruger’s guns had personality - his personality - imbedded deeply in both their function and aesthetics. My first Ruger was a Model 77 .30-06, purchased during the lowest depths of my personal finances to be my single big game rifle for the foreseeable future. It was purchased not because it was the cheapest rifle around, but because everything learned about centerfire rifles in the previous decade indicated it fit my needs and desires better than anything else available.

It weighed just about 8 pounds with a 4x scope. The stock did not appeal to hunters who’d been brainwashed by Roy Weatherby into believing monte carlo buttstocks, white-line spacers and skipline checkering were “style.” But it did appeal to hunters whose consciousness had been raised by more subtle tastes. Everything required on a bolt-action hunting rifle was there, and nothing more: a straightforwardly classic stock with hand-cut checkering, a rubber buttpad, a strong and easy-to-use bolt release, a broad Mauser extractor, a dovetailed action that came with its own foolproof scope mounts and a tang safety, which Elmer Keith always claimed was the proper safety for any hunting rifle or shotgun. It shot quite accurately, and I would still be perfectly happy to use it as my only Montana hunting rifle. It was designed by a hunter who knew how to manufacture an affordable, supremely functional, good-looking rifle.

In the two decades since then other Ruger firearms have come my way, each embodying those principles. Because Bill Ruger loved hunting and firearms, he knew many hunters would buy an old-fashioned, single-shot rifle. He knew hunters would buy a modern single-action revolver. He knew they’d buy an American-made over-under shotgun. Because he was a New Englander, he even knew they’d buy a tiny little semiautomatic .44 Magnum rifle to still-hunt whitetailed deer.

Bill Ruger was a hunter, a design genius, an innovative manufacturer and a firearms historian who knew not just what functioned but what appealed to lovers of fine hunting arms. Because he was all these things, he sold far more firearms than all the MBA’s who’ve shown up in the shooting business over the years, assuming that selling rifles is exactly like selling washing machines.

I do know some people who knew Bill Ruger personally. One says that while out in the field Bill generally stayed in the cheapest accommodations, yet had no hesitation about writing a check for several hundred thousand dollars to buy an antique automobile. That is not only the mark of the self-made man, but somebody who knows that while hunting all you need is some place to keep dry and warm at night.

That’s the reason the entire hunting world will miss him. He was one of us.

 

by Dave Scovill

It is somewhat ironic, I suppose, that I have worked for the last 12 years less than a mile from the Ruger P-Series manufacturing plant in Prescott and only spoken to Bill Ruger twice (other than simple greetings at trade shows or local restaurants). Both times were at his request.

The first time Mr. Ruger called to ask a favor. It was a simple enough request, so I agreed. The conversation didn’t last five minutes.

The second time was nearly 9 years later. A mutual friend told me Mr. Ruger would like to meet with me. I didn’t ask why. I couldn’t help wonder, however, what one wears when summoned by the “pope.”

A few days later, I drove over to Mr. Ruger’s home and we had what folks back home might call a rousing “sitdown,” a 4 1/2-hour exchange covering just about everything under the sun related to the firearms industry and Bill Ruger’s life and times.

Late that afternoon, with the bright Arizona sun streaming through the glass doors that opened onto the patio decorated with desert shrubs and cacti, we parted friends. His last words were to ask me back – we’d look over a few guns and tip a glass or two, like the old days with Elmer, Warren, Jack, Skeeter and the boys.

A few days later, shortly after his 86th birthday, Bill Ruger left us; but even in his passing, there is much to celebrate of the man and his dreams. I know that, because that’s what we shared.

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