CLASSIC SINGLE

The Ruger No. 1 has long held a reputation for…

The Ruger No. 1 has long held a reputation for elegance, but in recent years it’s also become an even more accurate rifle right out of the box. Bill Buckley Photo

When Bill Ruger introduced his single-shot rifle in the late 1960s, a lot of people thought he was crazy, despite Ruger’s previous success with his semi-auto .22 pistol and single-action cowboy revolvers. America was firmly in the Space Age, while the Ruger No. 1 was a semi-copy of the British Farquharson, an action patented in 1872 at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign. Who wanted a Victorian rifle when American astronauts were trying to win the Space Race by landing on the moon?

Well, it turned out quite a few shooters liked Ruger’s retro rifle. Part of the reason was a latent hunger for a quality single-shot centerfire. For years, other manufacturers had assumed that hunters who wanted a single-shot were too broke to afford a repeater. The only centerfire single-shots listed in the 1967 Gun Digest were the Harrington & Richardson Mustang (a .30-30 break-action retailing for $41.95), the Savage 219 (break-action, .22 Hornet and .30-30, $44.50), and the Navy Arms Magnum, built on “refurbished” Remington rolling-block actions (.357 and .44 Magnum handgun rounds, $39.95).

Early No. 1s
Initially, there were eight standard chamberings, ranging from the .222 Remington to the .458 Winchester Magnum, and others could be special-ordered. You could also choose between a light 22-inch barrel and a medium-weight 26-inch barrel, with open sights an optional extra. The forend could be either semi-beavertail or “sporting.” The sporting forend was what is now known today as the Alexander Henry, named after a well-known Scottish gunsmith of the 1800s who built quite a few rifles on the Farquharson action.

The first No. 1s were essentially semi-custom rifles, with Douglas barrels and very nice wood in the buttstocks. As the rifle’s popularity grew, the Douglas company couldn’t supply enough barrels, so Ruger started using barrels from another company. These were mostly good, but now and then one didn’t shoot very well, a problem exacerbated by extremely generous chamber throats in both length and diameter.

Consequently, within a decade or so of their introduction, Ruger No. 1s became known as beautiful rifles that too frequently refused to shoot accurately. In the 1980s, an older gun writer once told me, both firmly and sadly, “John, they will break your heart.”

Despite this warning, I’ve owned quite a few No. 1s in chamberings from .22 Hornet to .450/.400 Nitro-Express. One was an early Douglas-barreled rifle, a well-used .300 Winchester Magnum that would regularly group five (not three) shots into an inch at 100 yards, but some later rifles did not do so well.

The first was a 7×57 No. 1A, the model known as the Light Sporting Rifle, with a slim 22-inch barrel, open sights and Alex Henry forend. It would average no better than 2 inches for three shots, with some groups even larger. Luckily, by the time I traded for that rifle a thriving business had grown up around accurizing No. 1s. The addition of a gadget called a Hicks Accurizer calmed the forend vibrations, shrinking groups to under an inch. The chamber throat, however, was so long that no bullets lighter than 160 grains would shoot well, with the bullets seated out so far the rounds looked top-heavy.

This erratic reputation still follows the No. 1 around, though in my experience its justification ended in the early 1990s, when Ruger started using their own hammer-forged barrels and shortening the chamber throats. My first No. 1 with a Ruger barrel was a .300 Weatherby purchased in 1995. Straight from the factory box, it grouped just about as well as that Douglas-barreled .300 Winchester. Ever since then, the new No. 1s I’ve purchased (perhaps a dozen) have either shot very well or responded easily to minor tuning.

hs-ruger-1a-30-06-b
Ruger No. 1s made in the last 20 years usually shoot accurately right out of the box, but if not, minor modifications to the forend almost always cure the problem.

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