Ruger came out with their low cost American line of rifles a few years ago and because they were all lighter sporter style rifles we initially had no real interest in them. It was about a year after their introduction that they announced a new model in their American Rifle lineup called the Predator, which featured a “heavier” weight barrel that was even threaded for a suppressor or muzzlebrake, all at a very low cost. These rifles were advertised as being made in the USA and so we had hope that perhaps a very low cost rifle might be available for long range shooting, or even a BOPR style rifle. So we waited for them to become available so we could do an evaluation. And we waited, and waited, and waited for over a year. Finally, earlier in 2016 they finally became widely available and we ordered one up for evaluation here. Unfortunately, when it arrived, we were immediately disappointed. The barrel may be “heavier” as advertised, but “heavier” does not mean heavy. The barrel is only slightly thicker than their sporter barrel profile, at least we are assuming it is since that is how they advertise it. We here would classify it as a sporter barrel. That was a let down, but we had the rifle here, so we figured we would run it through the tests anyway just to see how it did.
Right off the bat, the first thing that came to mind when we started looking at the rifle in detail was “cheap”. The stock is molded from plastic, which is considered synthetic, and you can hear the hollow sound of it when you tap on the buttstock. There is also a squishy rubber recoil pad that does absorb some of the recoil. The comb of the stock where your cheek rests is not elevated and has a sporter style shape to it. The rifle is not advertised as any sort of tactical rifle, but is billed as a predator rifle to be used for coyote hunting and the such. Typically predator rifles are similar to a varmint rifle with heavy barrel, but perhaps with a smaller profile stock for lighter weight. The Ruger Predator rifle seems to be more sporter and as such the stock is very sporter like. This theme continues up through the pistol grip as well as it is thin and swept back, doing away with a vertical style grip. The green colored plastic stock does have a semi-rough texture to it to help provide friction to hold your cheek in place when firing. The pistol grip also has some triangle like raised designs to it for added gripping surface.
In front of the pistol grip the stock is molded into a trigger guard, removing that separate part of the rifle and reducing manufacturing costs. Provided the plastic can hold up to the abuses of field use, it should work fine, though after-market stock makers will now have to deal with providing a trigger guard as well. At the bottom of the pistol grip there is a plastic cap with the rugger logo on it. This cap doesn’t provide any functional use and its not really noticeable, but we thought we would mention it anyway. The stock maintains its thin profile through the action area as well and located directly in front of the trigger guard is a detachable box magazine, which we would not expect to find on a lower priced rifle like this. The magazine is a rotary box magazine which should surprise no one as Ruger has been making rotary magazines on their 10/22 rifles for many decades. The magazine for the American Predator rifle reminds us of the 10/22 design but on a larger scale. The magazine only holds four rounds, and it detaches simply by pulling the lever at the front of the magazine back toward the rear and then removing the magazine from the rifle. It is a simple system and since all of the moving parts are contained on the magazine, it means the stock remains simple and more affordable to manufacture. The magazine well consists of nothing more than a smooth sided opening being molded into the stock. That is it, there are no other parts to manufacture. It was no surprise that the magazine is made of plastic as well.
There is a depression molded into the stock at the front of the magazine well to allow access to the magazine release lever and once you get used to where it is located, it becomes easy to operate, though a bit different than what most might be used to on a tactical rifle. Again, it is very much like a 10/22 magazine, so if you have experience with 10/22s, it’ll feel more natural. The forearm of the stock maintains the thin sporter profile with no widening of the forearm to allow a more stable shooting platform. The top of the forearm even pinches in, though we are not sure why beyond aesthetical reasons and maybe it saves a few grams of weight. Some more of the triangle style raised gripping texture is present there as well, but beyond that, the forearm is pretty standard fair. There is only a single sling stud, and one in the rear, so if you plan to use a bipod, then the sling would need to be attached to the bipod itself. It does need to be mentioned that while there is no aluminum bedding block, the stock is of sufficient stiffness to allow the barrel to be free floated all the way back to the lockring/action. The barrel remains free floating even when using a bipod or sandbag up front. The stock does have two V shaped small blocks in the stock that sit in two machined grooves at the bottom of the action to mate the stock to the action in a way that allows the action to be properly aligned in the stock. Ruger calls this the Power Bedding integral bedding block system, but beyond easily aligning the stock to the action, they probably act more like pillars than a bedding block. This system does allow for a free floated barrel and it can be considered similar to doing a two point bedding on a wood stock.
Protruding out past the rear tang of the action is a two position safety. When the bolt is cocked the safety can be pulled to the rear to cover the red “F”, placing the rifle in a safe position. When the safety is engaged the trigger can be depressed but the rear striker on the bolt is not released to engage the firing pin. While in this safe condition, the bolt can still be cycled in order to remove a round from the chamber while keeping the rifle safe. Move the safety forward, exposing the red “F” and the rifle is prepared to fire. The trigger itself is a blade style trigger, meaning there is a “safety” blade that protrude through the center of the trigger that must be pressed during the trigger squeeze in order for the trigger to allow the rifle to fire. We are not huge fans of this style of trigger, but a number of rifles use them now and they have become a part of the industry. The extra means of liability protection that this trigger system enables, allows manufacturers to ship their rifles with a lighter weight trigger pull, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, the trigger on this Ruger is not that light, breaking at 4.25 lbs. Fortunately the triggers are adjustable from 3-5 lbs, you just need to remove the stock and then use a small Allen wrench to adjust the weight of pull via a single set screw at the front of the trigger mechanism. Though we noted that when we lightened this trigger, it seemed to introduce some creep into it, which there are no adjustments to fix.
The action has a hex shape to the top profile with the sides cut flat. There is a bolt release button on the left hand side of the action that fits flush to the action until the bolt is pulled to the rear which causes the rear portion of the button to protrude up allowing the operator to depress it and then pull the bolt from the rear of the action. It works well, though it can be a bit hard to depress if wearing thick gloves. As was mentioned earlier, the action has groves machines into the bottom of it that mate up to the aluminum V blocks mounted in the bedding area of the stock. The action also has a few pressure release ports on the sides in the case of a catastrophic failure to help protect the shooter. The rifles also come with a single piece aluminum picatinny style rail, with zero cant, mounted at the factory.
The bolt is a three lug design which allows for a short rotation stroke giving plenty of clearance for the scope as well as allowing for quicker bolt manipulation. The bolt handle is turned down and slanted back toward the shooter as just about all modern rifles are today. The bolt knob is a small traditional shaped round knob finished in black. The rear shroud is made of plastic, though it is unlikely it would ever come under heavy abuse to where it might fail, but it is something to be aware of. The bolt body is actually a bit different than normal as it is a very thick body that steps down at the very front where the bolt lugs and face are located. There is one grove cut into the left hand side of the bolt where the bolt release lever slides and guides the bolt. As was mentioned, the bolt has three lugs, versus the normal two found on Remington, Mauser and Winchester actions, and located on front of one of those lugs is a M16 style clip extractor with a plunger located on the opposite side of the bolt face. This provides a good positive extraction and appears that it will hold up well over prolonged use. The entire bolt body is in the bare metal, where the plastic shroud and bolt handle are black.
We already expressed our disappointment at the beginning of this review in the fact that the barrel was a “heavier” sporter profile and not a true heavy barrel. According to our caliper, the diameter of the 18″ barrel at the muzzle is only .725″, where as a Remington heavy barrel is .820″ on a 26″ and .850 on the 20″. The barrel reminds us a little of the thinner profile Steyr SSG-69 PI barrel, so we decided to measure that barrel and it came in at the same .725″. But the Steyr barrel felt and looked heavier, and then we recalled that the Ruger barrel was only 18″ long, where as the Steyr was 24″. When we measured the Steyr barrel at 18″ of length it was .820″ diameter. So what makes the Ruger barrel appear thinner, which it is, is that it tapers down quicker, going to .725″ in only 18″ of length. If the same profile were to be used on a barrel that was 22″ or 24″ in length, then it would likely have a “heavier” look and feel to the barrel profile, being very similar to the Steyr. That heavier weight also would provide additional stiffness and would reduce the heating time of the barrel when firing multiple shots.
The barrel is mounted to the action using what appears to be a similar setup to the Savage and other lower cost rifles using a lock ring setup to easily establish the proper head spacing. This system saves machining labor which in turn saves cost. A surprising feature is the threaded barrel and it is not only surprising because its on a low price rifle, but more so because it is on such a thin profile barrel. If it is to be used for a muzzlebrake then its understandable, but to use it for a suppressor would be surprising. It is certainly doable, and has been done, but putting all that weight out front on a thin sporter barrel will cause dramatic point of impact shift, though it should be repeatable so it can be compensated for. The rifle comes with a thread protection cap as well. The entire barrel, and the action, are finished using a matte bluing that appears to be good quality.
The overall feel of the rifle is like a light weight hunting rifle. Without optics it only weighs 6.2 lbs, which is extremely light for a tactical rifle. The light weight is a result of the cheap plastic stock, and the short 18″ sporter weight barrel. The fit and finish of the rifle is crude when compared to higher end sniper rifles, but for the low price point of the rifle, it isn’t bad. The cheap stock is perhaps its biggest shortfall in terms of the cheap appearance of the rifle. It is short and handles fairly well, as you would expect from such a small and light hunting rifle. But we needed to find out how the rifle performed in order to draw any sort of overall conclusions.
For our tests we mounted one of our test mule scopes, a Leupold Vari-X III 6.5-20x50mm that had seen a good life mounted on a police sniper rifle for a number of years. We use this scope often on our test rifles and it mounted up quick using a pair of Leupold Mk4 steel 30mm rings on the provided Ruger one piece rail. For the shooting portion of the test we had very favorable weather conditions with 60 degrees F, overcast and very mild winds from 1-3 mph. If you are not familiar with the tests that we perform on our rifles, go ahead and read about them on the how we test page.
For our 100 yard accuracy tests, we brought out four different 308 loads: Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr, HSM M118LR (equiv) 175gr, Swiss-P Match 168gr, and some Sellier & Bellot M80 147gr. The results of these tests are listed below.
|Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr||1.749″ (1.670 MOA)||1.635″ (1.562 MOA)|
|RAUG Swiss-P 168gr Match||0.746″ (0.713 MOA)||0.548″ (0.523 MOA)|
|HSM M118LR (Equiv) 175gr||0.713″ (0.681 MOA)||0.400″ (0.382 MOA)|
|Sellier & Bellot M80 147gr||1.089″ (1.040 MOA)||0.688″ (0.657 MOA)|
The first obvious point that we will talk about is the fact that this Ruger hated the Federal Gold Medal Match ammo, which is very odd. The Federal GMM has long been the gold standard of match grade ammo that all others are compared against, but for this rifle, it was the dog of the group. Not a single group came close to going under 1 MOA which had us worried that the performance of the rifle was not going to be good at all. But then we switched to the Swiss-P ammo and it is as if it was a completely different rifle. It was the opposite with this ammo, there was not a single group over 1 MOA and it was a pillar of consistency. The Ruger has a 1:10″ rate of twist which means it should handle the heavy weight bullets, including heavy sub-sonic loads, with any problems. So we were curious to see how the HSM M118LR ammo would perform with the 175gr bullets, and it did not disappoint delivering the best group, and average, of the bunch. Though the M118LR was not as consistent as the Swiss-P with some wider groups offset by the tight ones. Finally, with the S&B M80 ball ammo, the rifle did not do too bad, averaging just over 1 MOA and out performing the Federal GMM by a wide margin. We are still baffled as to why the rifle will not shoot the GMM and we have to think it is this rifle only and should not be indicative of all the Ruger Predators. The accuracy performance of the rifle at 100 yards was not bad at all, especially for the price point and we would have to say it outperformed our expectations.
For our 300 yard rapid fire head shot test, we decided to go with the more consistent Swiss-P ammo over the HSM as we tend to favor good consistency when possible. Consistency Equals Accuracy. So we set the Figure 14 target up at 300 yards, adjusted our scope up 5 MOA and prepared for the engagement. The three shots took us 23 seconds to fire, which is a decent time, but we were slowed down bringing the rifle back on target. The light six pound rifle and short 18″ barrel lead to a rifle that bounced around with a good amount of muzzle flip when fired. Even when setup nicely behind the rifle to try and mitigate recoil, it still hopped around causing a delay locating and aligning with the next target. The thin forearm also contributed to this as it is not a stable platform even when on a sandbag and a bipod is likely a better option. The short bolt rotation did help with rapid bolt manipulation though. The accuracy at 300 yards in a rapid fire engagement opened up a little over the 100 yard results, which is to be expected. The group measured 3.818″ (1.216 MOA) and was nicely centered on the head.
|300y Head Target Test|
|Time Score (23 secs)||41.7|
|Accuracy Score (1.216 moa)||49.3|
The rifle is very light which contributes to a stiff recoil for a 308 rifle, though it does help when carrying the rifle in the field. The cheek weld is also right on bare plastic and the recoil, muzzleflip, and stiff plastic contributed to a sore cheek when the firing was done for the day. The trigger reach is long on the rifle which for those shooters with smaller hands it may be a bit more difficult to get a good trigger squeeze. The bolt feeds smooth from the magazine and we had no failures to feed or problems with the magazine. But we also noticed that you cannot single feed the rifle buy just dropping a single round into the magazine area and then pushing the bolt forward. You must feed from the magazine, or start the round into the chamber using your hand before closing the bolt. During our firing, we also noticed one of the shortcomings of a thin barrel profile, it heats up very fast and becomes very hot without a lot of rounds fired. As barrels heat up, the metal moves and it can negatively effect accuracy or cause a point of impact shift. We did not notice any of these traits, but the quickly heating barrel still caused us some concern.
So what are our thoughts on the rifle? Well, keeping it in perspective, we have to remind ourselves it is a LOW budget rifle. It feels low budget and we do not expect the plastic parts to wear particularly well over time. But the accuracy is there and we did not find any major faults that would prevent it from be used if needed. If Ruger were to ever put a true 18″ heavy barrel on the rifle, or keep the same “heavier” profile barrel and lengthen it out to 24″, then I think they would have a more enticing proposition for us. At that point we would consider it a modern version, and cheaper, of the Steyr SSG-69 PI, rotary magazine and all. But as it is now, even with the decent accuracy, we are not too excited about it. We really wanted to be as we have a new conceptual idea we are working on and we wanted to use this rifle for it. Maybe if they do the 24″ version we’ll give it a whirl.
Sniper Central 2016