375

Ruger

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That age-old question may have something to do with the development of the 375 Ruger,

Ruger already had a splendid safari rifle. The Model 77 RSM was nothing short of a masterpiece; Circassian walnut stocked and grossly underpriced, even at the end of production when they retailed for around $2400. They were worth an easy $4000. Just take a close look when you're watching DVDs about African hunting of dangerous game. Time after time you'll see professional hunters or their clients carrying one of the big Rugers. The oversized version of the 77 magnum action allowed plenty of room for Ruger to chamber the rifle in 416 Rigby, along with the 375 H&H Magnum and the 458 Lott. Chambering it for the Rigby likely had a lot to do with the renewed interest in that cartridge since the 1990s.

But, even at $2400, sales were pretty slow. Big manufacturers sometimes have to make decisions that customers may not like, and this was one of them for me. Ruger decided to discontinue the RSM, but needed something bigger than the 338 Winchester Magnum to handle the largest and toughest game. They could have simply gone with the 375 Taylor, which is the 338 Win Mag necked up; and the 416 Taylor, which is easiest to make (as a wildcat) by necking down 458 Winchester Magnum brass, but instead they started with a clean sheet of paper and a knock on Hornady's door.

The result was a brand new magnum cartridge that has no belt, but instead is full magnum bodied at a case diameter of 0.532 inches. That's the size of the rim and belt of the 375 H&H and other belted magnums, which means the Ruger has fatter internal case dimensions to hold more powder. Further, the Ruger case has little taper, while the H&H has a very noticeable amount. This allowed the Ruger case to be shortened enough for loaded rounds to be cycled through a standard-length action. Case length of the 375 H&H: 2.85 inches. The 375 (and 416) Ruger case measures 2.58 inches. While the final comparison has the two cartridges with similar powder capacity, the 375 Ruger is loaded to somewhat higher pressure, giving it a velocity advantage over standard loadings for the H&H. I say standard, because specialized high-energy loadings for the 375 H&H produce essentially the same level of performance as the 375 Ruger.

The development of the 375 Ruger cartridge allowed Ruger to develop a new version of the Hawkeye Rifle to handle it. Actually, there were initially two models; the Alaskan and the African. The Alaskan had a 20-inch barrel and grippy synthetic stock, which made for quick handling in often tough conditions. I have found that better performing handloads for this rifle tended to produce 2600-2650 fps with a 270-grain bullet, and 2400-2500 fps with 300-grain bullets. At this time, I am not sure if the Alaskan is still in production. The other version, the African, has a 23-inch barrel and just about the best feel and balance of any commercial rifle. The extra three inches of barrel helps increase the already adequate velocity by about another hundred feet per second (depending on individual rifle and load) over the 20 incher, making the 8-pound rifle very formidable. Even in the roughest conditions of Alaska, I would prefer to carry the African version. I still have one of the early versions without the current (removable) muzzle brake, and recoil is about as comfortable/uncomfortable as the even lighter but better cushioned Browning X-Bolt in 375 H&H.

When it comes to a direct comparison in the field, the slight advantage in velocity of the 375 Ruger over the 375 H&H (assuming standard rather than high-energy factory loads) quickly disappears when I am cycling the bolt. Too fast of a forward flick of the bolt handle has sometimes resulted in a hung-up round. The bullet jams against the top of the chamber, which requires at least a few seconds of fiddling to correct. This condition is even worse with the 416 Ruger in the Ruger African rifle. The problem seems not to occur with a normal closing of the bolt, but I have those lightning-fast hands. Can't help it.

Of the two cartridges, I wouldn't hesitate to take the Ruger anywhere in North America. The rifle is generally excellent, although I did take the time to reinforce the stock just behind the recoil lug cut and across through the web forward of the trigger housing. Outside of North America I wouldn't hesitate to take a 375 H&H.

Did Ruger go the right way by developing these new cartridges? Had I been sitting there during discussions, I would have been fired in short order. The 375 and 416 Taylor, at just a slight velocity disadvantage from the 375 H&H and 416 Rigby, would have made a lot more sense to me. Further, since they have a belt, the Ruger African could have also been built as a 458 Winchester Magnum. I know, I know... the 458 is a crappy round that almost cost Jack Lott his life. Well, Hornady loads both the 458 Win Mag and the 458 Lott. Only 160 fps with equal 500-grain bullets separate the two.

As a final word, the 375 Ruger appears to be very accurate. Without the use of a heavy, match-barreled rifle to wring it out to the nth degree, I can't say for sure. However, shot-to-shot velocity hangs right in there with selected handloads, which at least gives the impression that it could be as accurate as the legendary 375 H&H. Even from the trim Ruger Hawkeye African rifle, after a little bedding tweaking, one-inch three-shot groups were possible. Staying under one-and-a-half inches with several loads was a piece of cake.

JDC