|December - January 2004
Volume 39, Number
The Stainless Ruger No 1 .204 Ruger is topped off with a Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10x variable scope. Rifle photo by Stan Trzoniec.
For years weve had the .17- caliber
Remington, wildcats like the .19 Calhoon, but from there on up to the popular .22s, there
was a void. Hornady had the .20-caliber bullet on line for the last couple of years, but
no one seemed to take notice. It was there to serve the needs of specialized wildcat
cartridges, and since there was no press or informative articles on how it was used, it
remained in the shadows.
Now we all have a full-blown,
knock-your-socks-off .204 Ruger varmint cartridge capable of doing some extraordinary
things with modest recoil and plenty of rifle choices to boot. Until this time Id
only shot factory loads, but now there is plenty of data using Hodgdon and its newly
acquired IMR propellants. Out in Kansas in May, the good folks at Kimber had a prairie dog
shoot that featured its rifles in both the .22-250 Remington and a test rifle chambered
for the .204 Ruger.
Out in the field, the rifle shot true to its
mark. Even with the wind gusting across the Kansas plains, the .204 Ruger performed
admirably. With the ability to see shots through the scope without appreciable muzzle
jump, wind or no wind, it was possible to walk shots into the intended target. Naturally
with any varmint cartridge worth its salt, the farther the shot, the more fun it was to
shoot! We did have to be aware of the burrowing owls that are about the same size and
shape as a prairie dog, so a spotter with a good binocular was needed and much
The .204 Ruger follows in the footsteps of
many of the more popular .22 centerfires. It offers the same head diameter as the .222 or
.223 Remington cartridges and mimics the .222 Remington Magnum very closely when it comes
to overall length and other general specifications. To prevent the chambering of the .204
Ruger in rifles chambered for other than this proprietary cartridge, Hornady has moved the
shoulder forward, which also allows more space for powder. Armed with an eyedropper, I
filled the .204 Ruger with about 32.0 grains of water, while its parent, the .222
Remington Magnum, holds between 32.5 and 33.0 grains of water, depending on how steady I
am and if a new case or a once-fired case is used.
In looking at the introduction of the .204
Ruger, it amazed me how both companies got up to speed, with products out to the consumer
in such a short period of time. I was one of the first to see the .204 Ruger while on a
photo shoot for Ruger last fall. Naturally I was sworn to secrecy, and while the details
were sketchy at the time, the two-hour drive back to my office had my mind going in all
directions on how this .20-caliber cartridge might fit into the scheme of things within
the shooting sports and with hunters in the field.
It wasnt long after that when press
releases started to appear. Ruger, from the beginning, introduced five rifles to handle
the new cartridge, and by the time the SHOT Show came around, the .204 Ruger seemed almost
like history. Ruger bolt-action rifles include the Model 77 MKII Standard with a 24-inch
barrel, blued action and classic American walnut stock with a suggested retail price of
$695. The next one is the Target Grey Model 77 with a 26-inch barrel, brown laminated
stock, two-stage trigger and currently retails for $845.
The last bolt action is the Model 77
All-Weather Ultralight with a 20-inch barrel, stainless steel action and a synthetic
stock. Like the wood-stocked version, it too will retail for $695.
Rugers choice for the .204 Ruger is the
No. 1 Stainless Varminter complete with a heavy 26-inch barrel, black laminated stock,
target blocks and will retail at $950. Last, my all-time favorite, the Ruger No. 1
Standard is in blued steel, has an American walnut stock and retails for $920. When the
Ruger arrived, I mounted a Leupold 6.5-20x scope with a pair of Ruger offset rings for
more comfortable eye relief.
Anxious to get going on a reloading project, I
pestered the folks at Hornady for some brass. That was out of the question simply because
they had to fill the pipeline with factory loaded ammunition, and it was all they could do
to keep up with demand. They would, however, ship the factory ammunition as soon as they
could spare it. They kept their promise, and off to the range I went to fireform about 100
cases. Cleaning the barrel proved to be no problem as I simply used a .17-caliber cleaning
rod and, with one .22-caliber patch on a .20-caliber brush from Midway, was well on my way
to breaking in this new barrel.
The only stumbling block was a good set of
dies. At the SHOT Show, I talked to the folks at Redding and RCBS and while they wanted to
start cranking out die sets, the SAAMI standards were not set yet. There was a slight
delay for a matter of weeks, but finally Redding and RCBS came through.
Bullets were ordered at the show from Hornady
and Berger, and a check with some of the other major bullet makers showed that most
if not all that I queried had a wait-and-see attitude about it being worth their
time and effort to invest in .20-caliber bullet making operations. I received the 32- and
40-grain V-MAX bullets from Hornady, and Berger shipped its 35-, 40- and 50-grain
The .204 case uses the same Small Rifle primer
like others of its ilk, and I chose CCI BR-4 benchrest primers. The list of powders
included Hodgdons Benchmark, Varget, BL-C(2), H-4895 and H-335. From the IMR side of
the column, I used 4064, 4895 and 4198. A friend who is also working with the .204 Ruger
recommended Vihtavuori N135. Trim length on the .204 Ruger is 1.840 inches (the
same as the .222 Remington Magnum), and the overall loaded length is 2.250
inches. One interesting side note is that there is plenty of loading
information available from both Hornady and Hodgdon with starting loads and maximum loads
listed. Most of my data came from these sources and can be accessed online at: www.hornady.com or www.hodgdon.com. It is well worth the
time and effort to log onto these web sites, especially when working with a new cartridge
like the .204 Ruger.
Once-fired cases were neck-sized only. This is
my general practice, especially with a varmint cartridge, and I did not need to trim any
of the cases. The only minor glitch I ran into was with the Redding die set. When seating
the bullets, I could not seat them deeply enough into the case to maintain the overall
length specified by Hornady and Hodgdon. Even with the seater plug down as far as I could
turn it, cartridge overall length with the 32-grain bullet was still only 2.320 inches.
Using the RCBS product showed no problems, and I used this seating die throughout the
To load powder into each case, I had to use a
.17-caliber funnel. The universal funnel .22 caliber and up has
a neck that goes over the .204 Ruger, and powder is lost from around the sides of the
neck. Still another point: Because of the small .17 caliber diameter of the funnel, hold
the powder pan higher than normal to allow the powder to trickle and bounce around in the
funnel before entering the case, which makes for easier loading.
It was also interesting to note that with all
the powders used, only a small amount of tweaking of the powder measure was needed to go
from one powder to the next. Even with once-fired cases, I never experienced
any compressed charges, with most of the powders filling the case to either the top of the
shoulder or half-way up the neck. Shooters who may want to volume load for extended trips
in the field, Id suggest either BL-C(2) or H-335 as neither one needed any trickling
when loading from the measure.
Other than that, the .204 Ruger is a pleasure
to load and thrives on standard loading practices. Some may note that because of the
smaller bullet diameter, shooters with larger hands may have trouble. I did not find this
to be a problem, as the difference between the .204 and .224 caliber is hardly felt within
the confines of my fingers.
Naturally, there is nothing like shooting the
cartridge to fully understand it. For a few weeks I played around with this new entry and
got to know it better as time went on. Since I did not have new brass to work with,
Hornady factory ammunition proved its mettle at the bench. When talking to the folks at
Hornady, they had said, Dont be surprised if you do not reach the velocities
(4,225 fps) quoted on the box. Hornady tests were done with a special non-canister
powder that is not available to the public. The most I could muster out of the 26-inch
Ruger barrel was 3,972 fps, about 7 percent less than the velocity printed on the box.
Groups were no problem. Curt .75-inch groups were the average for most of the shooting
Handloading changed the attitude of the
cartridge in many ways. First, accuracy was improved and so was velocity, depending upon
bullet weight and powder. With the lighter 32-grain bullets, I could manage upwards of
4,028 fps with H-355. The smaller groups in the same bullet weight went to VV-N135 with
4,020 fps. If youre the type to work and work until the smallest groups pop into
view, this powder is well worth a try and offers a good balance between velocity and
Its interesting to note that if you tap
into the resources offered by Hodgdon on reloading data, youll be surprised by the
difference quoted on its spreadsheets and what you actually get on the range. For example,
while Varget gave 4,030 fps on its data sheets, I could only reach 3,956 fps at the
range. If the difference in velocity does not bother you, and you like groups around
.75 inch or possibly smaller, then this could be your favorite small game or varmint load.
Berger had sent some 35-grain bullets for
evaluation. All performed rather well, and once again the load with a slightly lower
velocity than the rest performed the best 28.0 grains of IMR-4895 for a
velocity of 3,669 fps and a three-shot group size of .440 inch. Moving up, the Hornady
40-grain V-MAX with 30.0 grains of BL-C(2) came in with a group of .880 inch at 3,802 fps.
Bergers 40-grain entry hit .800 inch at 100 yards but with a velocity that slackened
to only 3,472 fps.
The mystery of the day was the accuracy
problem with the Berger 50-grain hollowpoint boat-tail (HPBT). Most of the time, only two
out of the three bullets in a group reached the target! And when they did, they hit it
sideways or keyholed. We narrowed it down to the rate of twist, which was confirmed later
when I received an e-mail from Wayne Blackwell (W. Square Enterprises, Load from a
Disk). We were sharing some information on the .204 Ruger, and since he did not have
all the ballistic coefficient information on the Berger bullets, he contacted them
Berger returned his request for this
information with an interesting side note that read, The 50 grain 0.204"
caliber bullet is marginally stable in a 1-12 twist and should be shot in a 1-9 twist
barrel. We (Berger) DO NOT recommend this bullet being shot in a 1-12 twist
which the .204 Ruger has. In a nutshell Id suggest you use only bullets in the
32- to 40-grain class for the best in accuracy with Ruger rifles.
While on the subject of field duty, drop
tables are sure to be looked into, and except for the information printed on the Hornady
box, there is nothing else published. Wayne Blackwell was kind enough to help lay the
groundwork for the handloads I am working with now. If you have his program, you can now
download this key data from www.loadammo.com for future reference.
The first line in Table II (above) is from the
Hornady box with a 32-grain bullet traveling at a velocity of 4,225 fps. The rest of the
data goes along with the velocities I was able to run off using my handloads with the
bullets indicated and the ballistic coefficients supplied to Wayne from Hornady and
Berger. While the Hornady 40-grain bullet is slightly heavier than the Berger 35-grain
bullet, it shoots a slightly tighter trajectory simply because its ballistic coefficient
is higher. While shots taken at 300 yards might not make that much of a difference,
long-range shooting at 400 and 500 yards certainly is cause for concern and might require
a rezero of your rifle.
The Ruger .204 is certainly going to be a
staple in my varmint shooting collection. Within two weeks of finishing this report, Ed
Hall, another outdoor writer, and I went chuck hunting in eastern New York State. In my
neck of the woods, the chuck population has almost vanished simply because of the coyote
population exploding, so Ed invited me out to his collection of fields for some summertime
fun. Over the years chuck hunting has turned into a challenging sport, because the chucks
have become more wary of their wily predators. Now they build their dens along the
hedgerows in the tall grass the farmers never touch, because they dont want to
damage their cutting machines on the older stone walls and hidden rocks.
Wherein years past youd see dozens of
chucks in a day; today youre lucky if you count a half-dozen. Out of nearly two full
days afield, we glassed eight chucks and took three. Distances varied, but like the hunt
in Kansas, the rifle did its job if the shooter did his. Quantity of the chucks was not
the important thing here; it was the quality of the hunt that mattered to both of us.
The .204 Ruger is certainly an interesting
cartridge and will be given more attention in the upcoming months. I like the low recoil,
and being able to see the hits without them disappearing from the scope is yet another
benefit. For varmint shooting in all parts of the country, its sure to make its
mark. Its my prediction that eventually it will turn into a classic
small game cartridge like the .222 Remington or .22-250 Remington. The only problem I see
presently is that under most circumstances the cartridge does not deliver its advertised
velocity; yet another possibility surfaces that this may be a cartridge waiting in the
wings for that just-right, over-the-counter powder like weve seen in other
cartridges (e.g., .25-06) of the past.
Only time will tell, but for now, Im
happy with the .204 Ruger just as it is. For more information on the rifle, contact Sturm,
Ruger & Co., 200 Ruger Road, Prescott AZ 86301.