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Handloading Beyond The Basics
Rifle Magazine
January - February 2004
Volume 36, Number 1
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 211
On the cover...
The Hill Country Rifle Co. Winchester Model 70 .300 Winchester Magnum features a AAA Turkish fiddleback walnut stock with 23 lines per inch checkering. Metalwork includes Lilja stainless steel barrel. Williams one-piece bottom metal and Al Biesen steel tr
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Custom Ruger Model 77 MKII .375 H&H

Several years ago I had the opportunity to test fire three, .375 H&H rifles: a Ruger Model 77 MKII Magnum, a Remington Model 700 Classic and a Winchester Model 70 Super Grade. Of the three, the Remington was the lightest, although I didn't weigh it, and the Winchester produced the best overall accuracy, averaging around one inch for three shots at 100 yards with issue open sights.

The Ruger was a bit too heavy for the caliber, albeit I felt it would be fine when chambered for a heavy-kicking .458 Winchester Magnum or .416 Rigby. When the tests were over, I bought the Winchester, took the Remington on a brown bear hunt and sent the Ruger back.

When the magazine with my test results was published, Bill Ruger sent word that he wanted me to take a second look at their "new" magnum with the sling swivel mounted on the shorter 23-inch barrel. It was, in my opinion, a better rifle than the version tested previously, but it was still a little heavy for an extended hunt for elk, moose, brown bear or African game. Admittedly, the extra heft helped to dampen recoil somewhat, but like any rifle that is carried a lot, and fired only occasionally in the field, I envisioned something more like 7 to 7.5 pounds, or more in line with the standard MKII .300 or .338 Winchester Magnums. It makes no sense to leave the 8.5- to 9-pound rifle at home because it becomes a burden to carry in rough country. At 7 pounds or thereabouts, like the Remington Classic I packed nearly 20 miles in a bit less than 2 days in Alaska, I had the punch of a .375 H&H if needed but didn't have to pack a 9 pounder in addition to a full pack.

I've often wondered why Ruger didn't build a relatively lightweight "packing" rifle based on the standard Model 77 MKII. The idea would be to build a rifle like the Model 700 Classic, just over 7 pounds, but with a stock designed for use with open sights, like the Model 77 MKII .338 or .300 Winchester Magnum with sights. If the user wanted to mount a scope, that's fine, but the basic idea is to keep the weight of the rifle to a responsible minimum, so you can carry it around for days, weeks or even months, and have it on hand when it's needed.

As I thought about the idea of building a .375 H&H MKII, it occurred to me it could be done with my existing parts inventory: the longer magazine box and follower from the magnum rifle (available from Brownells), the same stock and barrel contour that fits the standard .338 and .300 Winchester Magnum actions and the same iron sights. The only alterations required to the action would be to move the bolt stop and ejector back and lengthen the cut in the stock for the longer magazine box. All that was required from the "outside" was a barrel.

That's the way it was until one day I was having lunch with Bill Atkinson (A&M Rifle Co., Atkinson Barrel Co. and Bill Ruger's right-hand man for nearly 20 years). The question was simple: Could the standard Ruger Model 77 MKII action be modified to accommodate the .375 H&H without a lot of busy work? Bill pondered the idea for a moment and said, in his usual thoughtful manner, "I see no reason that it can't."

We discussed the idea a bit further, and I asked if he might be willing to do the job, considering that he was still working for Ruger full-time. If he did the work on his own time, there wouldn't be any conflict, and he agreed to give it a whirl. (Before the rifle was finished, Bill Ruger Sr. died and Bill Atkinson retired from Ruger.)

Since I had a Ruger Model 77 MKII .338 Winchester Magnum gathering dust at home, it was donated to the project, and Ed Shilen agreed to supply a .375-inch barrel with a one-in-12-inch twist. All we needed was a long magazine box and follower to fit the magnum case, both of which Bill had stashed in his shop.

Bill removed the Ruger barrel and used it as a pattern for the Shilen tube and mounted the sights. The new barrel was threaded and the chamber was cut with a reamer borrowed from Dave Manson Precision Reamers. The magazine well was cut, fore and aft, to fit the longer box, and the ejector and bolt stop were faced off to let the bolt back to the rear of the magazine, about 3/8 inch. Presto - a 7 pound, 4 ounce .375 H&H that looked exactly like a standard MKII save for the lightly beaded blue/black finish on the barrel was the result.

I know, I know, folks probably think this rifle kicks like a mule. Yes, it does, but the idea at the outset was to make a rifle that carried and handled like a .30-06 but packed the power of the .375 H&H. This is not a benchrest rifle. It is exactly the kind of rifle an Alaskan guide or African PH would carry for days, weeks or months on end and never fire, until it was needed.

Sighting the rifle in with open sights, it put 300-grain factory loads right on point of aim at 100 yards and printed the 285- and 270-grain slugs slightly lower. I didn't even have to make any adjustments to the sights as they came right off the .338 Winchester Magnum barrel!

Overall, three-shot groups hovered around 1.5 inches at 100 yards with the open sights. Whether it will do better with a scope is moot, since I have no intention of using one. For anyone who is interested, a 1.5-6x variable would do nicely in the work this rifle is designed to do, close in and quick, but anyone who hunts more open country might like a plain vanilla 3-9x. As flat as the .375 H&H can shoot out to 200 yards or a bit beyond, the open sights suit me just fine, although I will open the rear notch just a bit and find a slightly larger front bead for visibility. With either scope, I would set it on 4x or 5x and leave it.

Since this rifle is designed to be a working rifle, in the thick of it, some folks might prefer to do the project with stainless and mount the new Ruger synthetic handle. For those who intend to do much shooting off the bench, a Decelerator buttpad from Brownells would probably be a worthwhile addition. Some might like to polish the trigger sears to reduce the pull to a consistent 4 pounds or thereabouts, but this rifle served me well on deer and elk as a .338 Winchester Magnum, and the trigger pull suits me as is. To each his own.

One other thing: I'm also reminded this conversion would work out well for the .300 Weatherby Magnum, which is based on the full-length magnum base. Because the big, fat, long Remington Ultra Mags won't stack up in the magazine box with proper geometry to feed reliably, a conversion to the Ultra Mags probably doesn't make much sense. Yes, a lot of bunk has been passed around in the last few years about the obsolete belt on the standard magnum cases, that they don't feed reliably, etc., but if you believe all that stuff, I have a bridge over at Lake Havasu for sale where the temperature rarely, if ever, strays above 90 degrees.

For anyone who cares, the .375 H&H was not the first belted case. It was preceded by the .375/400 Veloplex, which was preceded by the Winchester (Bennett) patent of 1893, which was preceded by a European patent prior to that - Ross, as I recall. What a great trivia question!

* * *

From the "dumb as a stump file" we find the NRA is selling magazines on the newsstand, in direct competition with the same publishing companies from which it has solicited financial donations and editorial support for decades. Yes, the NRA has its purpose, and over the years has championed gun owner's rights, but it appears it doesn't mind biting the hand that fed it for many years.

What's next, the NRA rifle, handgun, bullet or reloading press company? Maybe it can come up with an alternative black-powder substitute or even smokeless powder. That ought to irritate loyal advertisers and supporters like Alliant, Hodgdon, Ruger, Taurus, Kimber, etc. enough to jerk advertising dollars and donations. (Don't laugh. The equivalent of the NRA in Australia, the Sporting Shooter's Association of Australia [SSAA] is currently in a partnership with Winchester to sell ammunition, with the proceeds to promote firearms ownership in Australia. Hmmm.) I'll bet the folks over at Primedia (Shooting Times, Guns & Ammo, Petersen's Hunting and related gun/hunting publications) are celebrating with the knowledge the NRA is competiting for advertising dollars and newsstand sales with the very same folks who have contributed millions in terms of ad space and project support over the years.

Must sign off now, an NRA donation solicitation just came across my desk, and I have to make out a check . . .

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