by B. Gil Horman - Thursday, May 4, 2017
It's always interesting to see how changes in consumer demand, technology, regulations and politics mingle together to shape and influence the ever-shifting shooting-industry landscape. The results are sometimes confusing, occasionally frustrating but often surprising. The rifle tested for this review is a case in point. The new bolt-action Ruger American Rifle Ranch chambered in .450 Bushmaster was inspired in large part by new deer-hunting regulations in Michigan. The result is a handy, lightweight brush gun that packs plenty of punch.
Michigan expanded what was formerly known as the “shotgun zone” (in the lower peninsula) into the Limited Firearm Deer Zone in 2014, much to the delight of local hunters. In addition to shotguns, deer hunters can now use rifles chambered for straight-walled cartridges between 1.16" to 1.80" in length topped with .35-cal. or larger bullets. This definition allows for popular big-bore revolver cartridges including the .357 Mag., .44 Mag., .454 Casull and .500 S&W.
However, there is a straight-walled rifle cartridge designed for the AR-15 platform which also meets the Michigan requirements. The .450 Bushmaster thumper round launches .452-cal. bullets weighing 250 gr. or 260 gr. from a 1.70" long cartridge case at velocities over 2000 fps. The resulting round boasts performance on par with the .45-70 Gov't but in a more compact configuration. With Michigan hunters buying up straight-walled cartridge carbines and rifles like hotcakes, the folks at Ruger saw an opportunity to modify an existing platform to fill the niche.
The new Ruger .450 Bushmaster American Rifle Ranch is the third member of the American bolt-action line designed to fire AR-15 semi-automatic cartridges, including models chambered for the .223 Rem. and .300 Blackout. The 16.12" cold-hammer-forged barrel is free-floated and has a muzzle threaded at 11/16-24 TPI. The muzzle is then fitted at the factory with a specially designed muzzle brake secured by an adjustable barrel nut in place of a crush washer.
The steel receiver is topped with a factory-installed 5" aluminum optics rail compatible with Picatinny-type scope mounting systems. The single-piece, three-lug bolt cycles smoothly and features a full diameter bolt body, dual cocking cams and a round knob bolt handle. The bolt handle's 70-degree throw keeps it clear of the optic.
The tang-mounted sliding safety provides easy and intuitive operation. On the left side of the receiver is a bolt release which can be used to remove the bolt assembly without the need to touch the trigger.
The receiver is mounted to the lightweight Flat Dark Earth synthetic stock using Ruger's patent-pending Power Bedding integral bedding block system, which plays a key role in the rifle's top-notch accuracy. The exterior of the stock is nicely shaped with non-abrasive texturing and serrations along the fore-end and grip. Other stock features include a rounded integral trigger guard, an exceptionally soft recoil pad, front and rear sling swivel studs and a red Ruger eagle logo at the base of the grip.
The Ruger Marksman single-stage adjustable trigger provides the feel and performance of aftermarket upgrades, which are often fairly expensive to buy. An Allen screw mounted to the front of the assembly (which is exposed when the action is removed from the stock) can be used to shift the trigger pull weight from 3 lbs. to 5 lbs. This particular trigger was set to 4 lbs. 4 oz. when it arrived, and exhibited a clean, crisp break with almost no overtravel. The safety lever found in the center of the trigger, much like that of a Savage Accutrigger or Glock pistol, locks the trigger and prevents it from cycling until it's properly depressed by a finger tip.
The other versions of the Rifle Ranch ship with flush-fit 5-round rotary magazines. To accommodate the sausage-sized .450 Bushmaster, this rifle ships with one single-stack, 3-round magazine that extends about an inch below the magazine well. The magazine's polymer release lever is incorporated into the front of the magazine instead of the receiver.
I've had the opportunity to handle a few different models of the American bolt action and I have to say that overall I am impressed with the line. They're not fancy or pretty like some of the classic hardwood-stocked bolt guns. But the fit, finish and performance are a big step above the price tags these guns sport. My brother picked up a Standard model chambered in .243 Win. with a scope package on sale for under $400 a couple of years ago. He bought it for his daughter to use as a deer rifle. His handloaded hunting round for that gun shoots just under 0.75" at 100 yards from a benchrest. We were both impressed considering his much more expensive hunting rifle doesn't shoot any better than that. The Power Bedding and Marksman adjustable trigger allow the American to outperform other rifles in this same price range.
Some folks may see the addition of a muzzle brake as something of a nicety, but in truth it's more of a necessity for this gun. Experiencing the hearty recoil of this lightweight 5 lbs. 8 oz. rifle with the brake firmly installed quelled any curiosity I might have had to shoot a few rounds with the brake removed for comparison. In short, this is not a gun for beginners or the recoil sensitive. However, the combination of the muzzle brake and effective recoil pad keeps the rifle manageable for those who don't mind a little excitement when pulling the trigger.
At the shooting range the American Rifle Ranch ran like a champion. The bolt cycled smoothly and the trigger felt great. The rifle fed, fired and ejected without any malfunction of either the mechanical or ammunition type. All of the controls functioned properly and as advertised. It’s a compact rifle that swings nicely and will be comfortable to carry on those all-day hikes through the wilderness.
The primary limitation of choosing to buy a .450 Bushmaster these days is a severely limited selection of ammunition. At the time of this writing, the only two companies offering this cartridge are Hornady and Remington—with both companies providing just one option. Remington didn't have any of its Accutip loads in stock for testing.
So, the only load I had on hand to work with was Hornady's Black label 250-gr. FTX with a listed velocity of 2200 fps. (using a 20" barrel) for a muzzle energy of 2686 ft. lbs. To see how this load performed out of the shorter 16.12" barrel, 10 consecutive rounds were fired across a Lab Radar chronograph. The velocity average was 2184 fps. for a muzzle energy level of 2648 ft. lbs. That's just about a 1 percent drop in velocity with only a 38 ft. lb. loss of energy with a 3.88" shorter barrel. I see nothing to complain about here.
For accuracy testing, the rifle was couched in a benchrest and fired at 100 yards using a trusty but well-worn Bushnell Legend Ultra HD 3-9x40 mm riflescope. Of the five, 5-shot groups, the smallest group was 1.03" with an average of 1.10". The photo here shows the first shot of a 5-shot group punching out a 0.75” orange paster used as an aiming point on the target. Based on these results, if Hornady's Black load is the only one on the dealer's shelf, you're going to do just fine.
Ruger's new American Rifle Ranch chambered in .450 Bushmaster is another example of how the company is striving to meet their customers’ needs with quality products at a reasonable price. This brush gun and ammunition combination is well-suited to taking medium and large game at moderate distances. If you prefer a wood stock to synthetic, then take a look at the new Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle, which is now offered in .450 Bushmaster as well.
Manufacturer: Sturm, Ruger & Co.
Model: American Rifle Ranch
Caliber: .450 Bushmaster
Finish: Matte Black Steel
Stock: Flat Dark Earth Synthetic, Rubber Recoil Pad
Scope Mount: 5" One-Piece, Aluminum
Barrel Length: 16.12"
Muzzle: 11/16-24 TPI Threaded
Muzzle Device: Large Port Brake with Jam Nut
Overall Length: 36"
Length of Pull (LOP): 13.75"
Trigger: Ruger Marksman Single-Stage, 3-5 lbs. Adjustable
Trigger Pull: 4 lbs. 4 oz. (As Tested)
Weight: 5 lbs. 8 oz.
Capacity: 3-Round Removable Polymer Box Magazine
Twist: 1:16" RH
Rifle Grooves: 6
Accessories: One Magazine, Lock, Owner's Manual
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