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Ruger M77 .338 Winchester Magnum

The .338 Winchester Magnum is a .33 caliber cartridge that was developed in 1958 by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company using a .375 H&H cartridge that was shortened and blown out. It is intended for larger North American game and has also been used on thin-skinned African game. Muzzle velocities range from 2400 fps to 3100 fps with bullet weights from 180 to 275 grains and muzzle energy upwards of two tons.

Modern bullet designs allow you to hunt anything from deer to dangerous North American game with the confidence that this caliber will do the job.

A few months ago I was browsing an internet gun auction site and came upon a real pretty, older, Ruger bolt-action .338 rifle that caught my eye. This seller was one of the better ones that knew how to take and post quality pictures (and a bunch of them).

So many sellers take terrible pictures and then enlarge them to the point that the quality is worse than terrible and you really cannot get a good look at what they are selling. But this seller was on the mark with his pictures.

I saved the auction, and a few days later, after I’d had time to think about it, went back and saw the auction was ending in a few hours with the highest bid at only $250.

I thought about it some more and decided to place a maximum bid of $300. I had to go to work, but the first thing I did when arriving back home was to check the auction. Lo and behold, the auction had ended with me as high bidder. What a deal! I had just purchased a nice older Ruger for $325 ($300 for the rifle and $25 for shipping). I quickly sent the seller my information and began the hardest part – waiting.

While I was waiting, I dug through my scope box and found an old cherry Redfield scope that I had purchased a while back and not yet mounted on anything. The rifle came with Ruger rings, which was a good thing, as I did not have any Ruger rings in my scope ring box.

Now, I needed some ammo for this rifle, so I turned to my favorite ammo company – Hornady – for a selection of what they had to offer in this caliber. Hornady offers five flavors of .338 Win Mag, with bullet weights ranging from 185 to 225 grain and velocities from 3080 to 2840 fps at the muzzle.

I went ahead and ordered one box of each so I could find the one (or maybe two) flavors that this rifle would like.

As I have mentioned on previous occasions, there are very few rifles that will shoot all ammo with the same degree of accuracy, so I feel it is best to try several flavors to find the one that is best for your rifle.

A few days later the rifle showed up, and the first thing I did was drop it off at my buddy’s house for him to free-float the barrel. In case you can’t remember all of the trouble that he and I had with the other Ruger M77 before he free-floated the barrel, go online to the Woods ‘n Water website at: http://www.woodsnwater.net/articles/february-2010/fun-shooting.

He had a lot of experience with the other Ruger, so I wanted him to remove some wood on this one.

A few days later, he returned the rifle, with a free-floated barrel, and using my Caldwell professional scope-mounting equipment, I installed the vintage Redfield scope.

I had also handloaded a few loads using data from my internet research and several handloading manuals. And, I had a new box of Swift Scirocco II, 210-grain bullets that I hoped would work.

I am a big fan of Hodgon H-4350 Extreme powder, so I loaded four each from 64.0 grains to 70.0 grains. I loaded these with different OAL seating depths to give me an idea of a starting point for custom handloads for this rifle.

I knew this large, powerful caliber was going to thump pretty good, so I took my Lead Sled to prevent my shoulder from being useless the next day. This rifle has a real nice piece of wood that I did not want to damage from the recoil, so I added a slip-on recoil pad over the one on the rifle.

After sighting-in the rifle, I was ready for it to tell me which load (or loads) it favored as I sent four of each flavor down range.

Right away, I noticed this was not the usual Ruger trigger pull. Either this trigger was adjustable or someone had done some work on it, as it was set to about 3 to 3.5 pounds, and the pull was smooth and broke clean and crisp. A trigger like that made it easier for me to find the best load.

I still remember a match target rifle I was sent to write about some time back on which the trigger was so bad I could start pulling today and the next day it would fire. That experience made me really appreciate a nice, smooth trigger pull.

I started with the heaviest Hornady loads and worked my way to the lightest to find this rifle liked the Hornady 185-grain GMX the best – with groups of right at 1 inch at 100 yards.

The next best Hornady ammo for this rifle was the Superformance 200-grain SST with groups right at 1.3 inches. My handloads for all but one flavor were all over the target, with groups from the smallest at 0.95 inches to the largest at 3.6 inches. That told me I needed to do some work with the handloads.

On Day 2 at the range, I had handloaded more of the same bullet and powder, but with a longer OAL out to 3.350” with 69.0 grains of powder. On this day, I found a load that was better than any of the ones from the previous day, with 4 shots all ending up in one clover leaf hole measuring 0.39” at 100 yards! This load consisted of Hornady brass that had been fired the previous day. I neck-sized it only, used CCI large rifle magnum primers, 69.0 grains of Hodgon H-4350 Ext powder, OAL of 3.340” and no crimp.

I elected to only neck-size the already-fired-through-this-rifle brass because I believe, with bolt-action and single-shot rifles, the fire-formed brass will fit better, as it has been sized to the chamber.

I did not crimp the handloads because, on the first day, I loaded a full magazine, fired the rifle twice, then pulled the last bullet out of the magazine and checked it to see if the recoil had moved the bullet. I used the same caliper to measure the bullet at the range as I used to handload them, and the bullet had not moved.

On larger caliber rifles with magazines, you could have the bullet move in the brass with the big recoil, but this had no bullet movement, so I did not have to crimp the bullet.

The reason I am fond of the Hodgon EXT powder is because I hunt in temperatures from the high 80s to the teens, and I have found the velocity of some powders greatly changes in such a wide range of temperatures.

I have had several powders that shot one hole in 80 degrees, but shot several inches differently in really cold weather. The H-4350 Extreme shoots the same in a wide range of climate conditions. Hodgon makes about a half dozen different powders they classify as Extreme, so you should be able to find one that fits your shooting needs.

After two days at the range, I found this rifle to shoot extremely well with a smooth bolt and a very nice trigger. I shot it about 20 times from sand bags only, with only the recoil pad that is on it, and it was not that brutal.

The old Redfield scope is crystal clear and looks likes it belongs on the rifle. And, it is period specific to the 1969 Ruger. I was also very happy with the Hornady factory ammo. How knowing what it likes, I will be able to shoot both flavors of Hornady factory ammo or my handloads with confidence that the bullet will hit the target.

Bottom line on this rifle: It is a well-made quality rifle that operated flawlessly. It has visually appealing lines with nice wood and deep blue metal.

The bolt operated smoothly and locked up tight. The trigger is one of the nicest I have ever shot for a hunting rifle. I think anyone would be pleased with rifle, and I might just have to keep it – at least for a couple of years.

Shoot straight, shoot safe, and remember: If all firearms were treated as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings.

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Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”