|November - December 2002
Volume 34, Number
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.
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
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
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
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
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 Alaskas
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 Rugers
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 todays hunting guns, which seem to be designed
by committee, Bill Rugers 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 whod 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 theyd buy an
American-made over-under shotgun. Because he was a New Englander, he even knew theyd
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 MBAs whove shown up in the
shooting business over the years, assuming that selling rifles is exactly like selling
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.
Thats 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 didnt
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 didnt ask
why. I couldnt help wonder, however, what one wears when summoned by the pope.
A few days later, I drove over to
Mr. Rugers 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 Rugers 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 wed
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 thats what we shared.