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Author Topic: Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things  (Read 16675 times)

Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« on: August 17, 2010, 07:12:53 PM »

Generally speaking, I have a hard time taking pistol caliber carbines all that serious.  Oh, I take them serious in that they can kill me dead, but I tend to skip right over them when reaching for a rifle to take for a walk.  If I'm going to mess with carrying a rifle, I'll either carry a .22 to goof around with, or carry one shooting a rifle caliber in order to get all I can from the effort.
I know they usually give more velocity, and therefore power, than a handgun firing the same cartridge, and most of these calibers and rifles are capable of taking game up to and including deer, so they aren't pipsqueaks.  It's just that if given the choice of carrying my 7 lb .41 Magnum lever or my 7.5 lb .308 bolt, I'll take the one that reaches farther.

I do have a few, though.  Most are lever actions, and I have them for the nostalgia and fun of shooting, well, just for fun.  

So I surprised myself to a degree when I bought a Ruger 77/44 (bolt action .44 Magnum) about 18 months ago.  
I did have a couple of reasons for getting it.   For starters, I knew it was priced right.  I just didn't know how right.  After I agreed to take it, I checked further and was shocked at what they were bringing.  They were not being made at the time, and it often seems that once Rugers drops a gun, everybody wants one whether they were ever popular or not.   Frankly, I thought the discontinued 77/44s were bringing way more than they should.  (They are back in production now, so should be much more reasonable on the used market.)
Reason two is that I have a suppressed Ruger 77/22 I use a lot.  Every now and then, I think a similar rifle with a bit more thump to it would be useful.  There are at least a couple of guys making integral suppressors for the 77/44, and when loaded with a heavy bullet at low speeds (or just 44 Spls) they hit hard with little noise.  I had halfway been keeping my eyes open for one to buy and send off for modification.
Reason three for buying it is also the reason why I didn't send it off for a muffler after all.  This rifle once belonged to Eric Ching, who was a disciple of Jeff Cooper and designed the "Ching Sling".   I never met Eric face to face, but communicated with him online and he was one good guy.  He passed away from brain cancer a few years ago.  When I had the chance to buy one of his rifles, I jumped at it.

I pulled a Leupold 1-4X variable off another rifle and mounted it on the 77/44.  It almost screams for a large diameter peep rear sight, but I had the scope on hand and the rifle came with rings so it was the cheapest and fastest way to go this time.   I've always liked the Ruger ring and base system, by the way.  Besides saving the expense and trouble of buying rings, they work well.  I wish everyone used a system similar to Ruger or Sako here.   It came to me with a no-name but good quality leather butt cuff with eight cartridge loops (two magazines' worth).  For a sling, I chose a web sling from an M-14 over leather, because it's a little lighter.  I could see this rifle was going to be on the light side and wanted to keep it there.

It is a little bitty thing.  Placed side by side with the 77/44, my Marlin 1894 .41 Mag with 20" barrel looks big.  The Marlin is slightly longer, but clearly heavier.  
This is when I first thought it might be a pistol-caliber carbine with promise.
Checking the scales, the 77/44 weighs 5.25 pounds.   That's over two pounds lighter than my lightest .308, which is enough difference to matter.  I won't go to a pistol caliber to trim a half pound, but to knock off 2.25 pounds, I might.   While trimming a couple of pounds when you start in the 12 pound range is noticeable and appreciated, reducing it off 7.5 pounds feels like a pretty big bite.
With the scope, rings, sling, and butt cuff, the 77/44 weighs about what the Marlin does bare.  

Five and a quarter pounds.
That cracks me up.

Other mechanical details...
This one is stainless with a black plastic (polymer or composite if you prefer) stock.  Ruger used to make them in blued/wood, but not now.  The plastic stocks have varied, some being flat/skeletonized with a big "Ruger" molded-in (aka the canoe paddle stock) and some having a conventional shape.   The ribbed rubber buttplate comes off (Phillips screws) showing the stock is hollow.  Some don't like hollow plastic stocks for the noise they make when limbs whack 'em, but I like having the storage space if I want it.  This one is roomy enough for a throwaway poncho, a little compass, matches, etc.  
The bolt is two-piece and rear-locking.  The front half does not rotate and only slides back and forth, it's "lugs" being only guides that ride in the rails.  The bolt face has two extractors, at 3:00 and 9:00, similar to the 77/22 only more robust.  The rear half has the bolt handle and turns/locks into the receiver.  The bolt comes apart in a couple of seconds.  
Bolt travel is pretty short.  The cartridge doesn't need a very long action to begin with, and the rear locking lugs make a shorter action and bolt throw than front lugs.  
It has a three position swinging lever safety.  I've always like that the safety of these swing around to hook into the striker itself, locking it from moving, when in the full safe position.  
The trigger was pretty crummy.  I'm guessing it was a five, maybe six pounds, but the big problem was a catch in it's travel right before it let go.  Looking at a rimfire forum, I found trigger tuning instructions for the 77/22, which worked to help it a lot.  Before then, I was getting groups with four holes together and a fifth slightly wide due to fighting the trigger, but five shot groups have five shots together now.

The magazine is like a big 10-22 magazine.  It holds four rounds.  I suppose more would be OK, but I'm not sure what for.  As it is, it's a handy size to fit in pockets and it doesn't stick out of the stock, which is a nice thing on a rifle whose prime asset is being easy to carry.
It is, however, a little tricky to install or remove, needing to be done just right or it can get bound or caught partially in place.  
I've seen at least a couple of variations in mags, but haven't seen any difference in function.  

This magazine is the target of complaints from a lot of people (often, as with a lot of things, from those who have never seen one).   The complaint is not about function, but about overall length limitations.  The feeling is that it's too short to accept cartridges loaded with heavy bullets.  I thought that might be the case, but after using it, I don't know what else I'd require of it.  Cartridges loaded with Hornady 300 grain XTPs fit.  Cast bullets from a Lee 310 grain mould fit.  LBT bullet designs have a long nose for their weight, but the heaviest design of theirs I've used- the 280 LFN- works fine.  Bullets from an old SSK mould weighing a whopping 340 grains will fit, not using the preferred crimp groove but if seated so the case will crimp over a crimp "ledge" slightly higher up.  
My opinion: If one needs a bullet heavier than 340 grains in a 44 Magnum rifle, they need a bigger rifle.

I have seen that if it fits in the mag, it feeds.  Aside from more conventional bullet shapes, I've used a Lee wadcutter, round balls seated to half their depth, bullets from an ancient Lyman mould that makes a stubby 134 grain bullet with a semi-rounded nose, and they've all fed.

And it shoots them all OK.  It's not one of those rifles that you can load just about anything in and shoot cloverleaves, but it doesn't need a bunch of fiddling either.   I'm also speaking within it's limits.  I'm happy with anything in the 1-1.5 inch range at 50 yards or 2-3 at 100.  The breed just doesn't do much better, and I'm not using a very powerful scope either.
While not record-breakers, I've found a decent load for every single bullet I've tried without much work.  I use a 280 grain cast flat nose at about 1720 fps as my universal load.  Some others are that same bullet at around 900 fps (quiet), 240 Nosler JHP at 1750, a 200 grain pointed bullet at 1850, a 134 RN at not much over walking speed, and the big old 340 SSK at 1370.  None of these are max.  
If I really felt I needed to, I might could throw 300 grainers around 1650 fps.  Since Rem and Win factory 45-70 300 JHP loads are only going about 150 fps faster, that is impressive.  I fully realize I am comparing low-end 45-70 loads and high-end of 44 Mag loads, but still- The idea of getting into 45-70 territory with a .22-sized rifle is appealing.    
What surprises me here is the recoil.  Although approaching 45-70 paper ballistics in a much lighter rifle, I don't think it recoils near as much.  It's burning well under half the powder to get there, too.

I've gone from disliking pistol-caliber carbines to liking at least one.  It's compact size and weight make all the difference to me.

And that has got me thinking about another use: a SHTF rifle.  No, it won't be the best thing for an across the room shootout with zombies coming down the chimney, but for a rifle to make your way from Point A to Point B traveling well off the beaten path with, it might not be bad.  
-It is so light it can be carried easy.  Besides the weight, the shape is good for grasping, the balance is nice, and so on, so when having to shift it around a lot, it should be OK.   It's not a takedown, but by separating the stock and action it might hide in a big backpack or stowed tent.
-It can handle about anything.  Aside from my usual deer-level loads, I have the ultra-quiet loads, the big cannon loads, some that should be decent penetrators, and have some multi-ball and shot loads ready for testing.  The only thing it lacks is range, and all you can do about that is stay in the brush, which would certainly add to the walking but not a bad thing to do anyway...if you can do it.
-It can be cheap to feed when reloaded.   This is the thing that got me started down this path.  Bullets are easy since I could get along just fine solely on cast bullets.  Lead wheelweights' days may be numbered, but as long as I can find a few I can have bullets.  If I need to really stretch it out, my lightest mould actually makes a slightly lighter bullet, and therefore one that uses less lead, than my favorite 9mm cast bullet.  
Powder is the thing, since I can't make smokeless powder.  Even the heaviest loads use half the powder a .308 load does.   They even use less than .223 loads.  My mild 44 Mag loads can get 1,000 rounds from a pound of powder and I have little doubt they could handle anything within a few states of here.  
And, that big case being only a little smaller than the 45 Colt, it should do OK with black powder too if I had to use it.  
If I'm careful with them and anneal every few reloadings to prevent case mouth cracks, the cases should last a long time.
Primers?  Large Pistol or Large Rifle both fit the case, although LR is not what you are supposed to use.  But they will work in a desperate situation, doubling my options.
-Forced to buy ammo?  I wasn't looking for this at first, but after a while I couldn't help but notice that even when ammo was at it's scarcest during the last two years, there was always at least one box of 44 Mag one the shelf, whether at a gunshop, WalMart, the local hardware store, or wherever.   I started watching, and sure enough, if a place had anything, they had 44 Mag.  I don't know why, and don't care.  And unlike some calibers, even if all I can get is the lowest level generic 240 grain softpoint, it will do just fine.
-Then there are other handy details like the hollow stock that can hold things, and the all-weather stainless and plastic construction.  I think it would stand up to the trip.

So there it is, the pistol caliber carbine I begrudgingly accept.  I bought it for no good reason, but I want to hang onto it now.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2010, 09:15:59 AM by Barry in IN »
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Kenny Solomon

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #1 on: August 17, 2010, 08:55:11 PM »

My only decent experience was with the H&K USC (.45 ACP).  Spacey looking thing, light and very balanced.  Only drawback was the 10-round mag max at the time I got to play with it - the model was less than a month on the market at that point - got lucky and showed up to a demo day at a local range.

I'm pretty sure there's larger mags for it now - and since I'm semi-happily unemployed for the near future, I don't want to know, because I'd go out and get the bugger..... which would also lead me to buying a 1911, simply because if I had something that shot .45ACP and DIDN'T have a 1911, y'all would be a-funnin' on me fer sure.
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2010, 10:02:52 AM »

I meant to get this in there somewhere:

Most 44 Mag carbines are hobbled by their slow 1-38 rifling twist, but this one is not.   The 1-38 doesn't do so well with heavier bullets sometimes.   This is a holdover from the 44-40 days (200 grain bullets) because "that's how it's always been done".  Back when the Hornady 265 JSP was considered a heavy .44 bullet, that was OK, but now with so many people going heavier in their 44 Mag bullet choices (often too heavy IMHO), 1-38 doesn't always cut it.   When deciding between a carbine in 44 Mag or 45 Colt, that twist can be the deciding factor, since some will go with the 45 Colt to get a faster twist to handle heavier bullets.

In spite of the above praise for this rifle, I am not exactly a Ruger fan.  But I will give them a bunch of credit here.  
They broke with tradition and made these 77/44s with 1-20 twist rates.   From what I can see, that works pretty well.  Like I posted, I've used bullets from 134 grains to 340, and they all shot fine.  I don't see a downside to a 1-20 twist in the 44 Mag, and wish everyone used it.

Now, if only Ruger would tighten up their bores a little.  From what I hear, most of these run .430-431, and mine fits right in, slugging at .431.   A jacketed bullet is more forgiving, but a cast bullet needs to fit the bore (more often than not, it's bullet fit, not hardness, that causes leading).   I can cast and size my own to fit so it's no big deal to me, but not everybody can do that.   If a guy has to buy his cast bullets from a commercial source, a bore a couple thousandths smaller than what the Rugers run could be a big help to him.
« Last Edit: August 18, 2010, 10:08:50 AM by Barry in IN »
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2010, 09:17:36 AM »

Quote from: Kenny Solomon;799
..... which would also lead me to buying a 1911, simply because if I had something that shot .45ACP and DIDN'T have a 1911, y'all would be a-funnin' on me fer sure.

Wait a minute.
You don't have a 1911?

Freak.
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Kenny Solomon

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2010, 09:22:02 AM »

That's me..... Freak..... Unrepentant non-user of 'God's round of choice'.

I'm not one of those 9mm or nothing people...... It's just the way things fell out...... First non-wheel gun I ever had my hands on was a 9mm (Sig).  Felt like it was custom made for me.  They got me sink, line and hooker.  Four Sig's later, it's still the same feeling of familiarity.
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Col. Craig

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2010, 02:25:24 PM »

I'm just getting caught up -

Very good review Barry.  That is some good info about the rate of twist.  Do you have any photos?
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2010, 04:21:59 PM »

I'll take some pictures tomorrow.

The only other .44 Mag carbine I've worked with nearly as much was one of the old Ruger 44 semiautos they made up until 1985.  I'm pretty sure it had the slow twist.  At least it acted like it.  Accuracy with anything up through 240 grain bullets was OK, but fell off after that.  Actually, it really preferred bullets in the 210 grain range so I guess I should say it fell off after about 210 grains.
   
I'm not so sure ALL the 77/44s had the faster twist, because at least one of those guys making suppressed versions offered two ways of doing the job.  One used the original barrel and the other was an option of using a Douglas barrel with a faster twist for using heavy bullets (to get more from the subsonic suppressor loads).   From what I can see, a twist faster than this one's wouldn't be necessary, so I wonder if maybe early 77/44s had a slower twist.  Maybe I'll poke around and see what I can see.
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soot shooter

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2010, 05:35:21 PM »

Kenny you are single you can get away with fondling different loveley's. Yet you dare squander the chance shame on you. Oh, 1911's come in more than 1 caliber also.
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #8 on: August 20, 2010, 09:08:26 PM »

Quote from: soot shooter;878
Oh, 1911's come in more than 1 caliber also.

Blasphemy!

(OK, I like the 1911 in 38 Super and 10mm too.)
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W.F. Brody III

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2010, 09:54:19 PM »

Barry, quick tip on mag removal, if you put your index finger on the front of the mag, then "pinch" with the thumb, it'll depress the release and give you a good grip on the mag to pull it free........ discovered that one before I changed the latch on my 10/22.
I got to fingerprint a 96/44 once, if I'd had the money I'dve gotten it, it would be a great SHTF/trunk/truck gun.  Don't recall anything about the twist though........ should look into it I guess.
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #10 on: August 20, 2010, 10:16:42 PM »

Yeah, it's like removing or installing a 10-22 mag only worse.  It's much more sensitive to doing it just right, and much deviation from that and it's wedged.
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2010, 01:39:09 PM »

Here are some pictures.  I need to take some more with some other rifles in the view for a  size comparison.

Yes, I know the scope turret covers are off.


Safety on.  This is the best angle I could get with the scope blocking the view, but what you can't see is the rear edge of the safety is angled and fits into a corresponding cut in the striker, so it actually hooks into it to prevent the striker/firing pin from moving.  I like that.


Magazine.  As you can see, it's more or less a big 10-22 mag.  Four rounds.


Bolt, showing the joint between the two pieces. The front half does not rotate.  See the hole in the bolt body near the joint, near the locking lugs?  Push a pin out via that hole and the bolt pulls apart and the firing pin can be removed.


Boltface.  Twin extractors.  The larger of the two is bigger than the extractor on most rifles in the same caliber.  The squared off cutaway in the lower right is to clear the ejector, which is pretty beefy.


You can maybe see the ejector sticking up inside the action, about in the center.  It's actually part of the trigger guard assembly.


Big hole.


View from the breech up the dirty bore.  This shows what might be another plus to this rifle and some other 44 Mag rifles if needing to make your way only with what's on your back.  If you get a bore obstruction or need to shove a piece of T-shirt down it for an expedient cleaning, a small green stick about two feet long will work.   Try finding a stick small enough yet strong enough to poke the dirt out of a .223 barrel or even a .30 caliber.  
« Last Edit: August 21, 2010, 01:43:29 PM by Barry in IN »
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Col. Craig

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2010, 04:43:46 PM »

I might have to keep this rifle in mind when I am left without adult supervision.
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soot shooter

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2010, 05:08:36 PM »

Better find than I first thought.
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Barry in IN

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Ruger 77/44: Impressing Me In Spite of Things
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2010, 07:44:37 PM »

Quote from: soot shooter;957
Better find than I first thought.
That pretty much sums up my feelings.  I bought it mostly because the price was right and thought I could do pretty well when I traded it off, but now I'd have a tough time letting it go.
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