Gun Review: Ruger Alaskan, .375 Ruger

ruger-alaskanIf you’re looking to hunt big game — really big game — you need to check out the Ruger Alaskan in .375 Ruger.

The .375 H&H Magnum has been around since 1912 when the London firm of Holland and Holland first introduced this trendsetting new cartridge. It has not only survived for well onto a century but has also taken countless game on nearly every continent on this globe. It is unquestionably, along with the .270 and .30-06, one of the most enduring hunting cartridges ever developed — no doubt reaching its crowning glory on African safaris. North American hunters have also found it to be a great cartridge for the bigger bears, moose and even elk. I have personally owned three different rifles chambered in a .375 H&H and have hunted with them in both Africa and Canada. I found that all three rifles not only shot reasonably flat and accurately but they were also very effective in delivering clean kills. So in 2007 when Ruger decided to introduce a new .375 with a claim that it could outperform the old standby H&H, I just had to get my hands on one.

The Rifle

Ruger, in consort with Hornady Manufacturing, co-developed this cartridge that is only slightly larger in diameter than a .30-06 case, but uniquely is of the same overall case length. This allows it to be chambered in any standard length action. Quite a feat, especially when its reported muzzle velocities with similar barrel lengths are said to outperform identical grain weights in the .375 H&H by at least 100 feet per second (fps). Ruger actually built two rifles for this cartridge, the M77 Hawkeye African and the M77 Hawkeye Alaskan. When you think about it, these two rifle designs cover most fields where this cartridge would be right at home. The African is built along the lines of a traditional safari rifle with a wood stock and 23-inch matte sighted barrel, whereas the Alaskan with its Hogue OverMoulded synthetic stock and 20-inch matte sighted barrel looks and feels like it could take about any punishment one could hand out. They also both feature a new LC6 trigger that is designed to be light and crisp.

My first impression of the Alaskan riflewhen I saw it at the 2007 Shot Show was that it was built like a tank.That impression did not change when I removed the test rifle from its shipping box.Despite its rugged design, the rifle came on point instantly and, for a short barrel, balanced very well. The Hogue rubber stock also provides a great textured feel that assures the hunter of a solid grip on all parts of the stock, despite extremely wet or cold conditions. It also has a very well designed recoil pad that proved itself during my range work. Despite this being a stout cartridge, the recoil was quite manageable. Now on to one of my pet issues on any new rifle: the trigger. The Ruger with its newly designed LC6 trigger came through with flying colours. It was crisp and consistently broke at three pounds 10 ounces with no real notable travel, a definite improvement. The action was solid with a well-designed, three-position safety. Once properly lubricated and broken in, I could not get it to bind despite applying considerable side torque. It certainly won’t let you down in a critical situation where a follow up shot at close quarters on a big bruin might be required. My only picky point is that I found the bolt release a bit difficult to open.

Scope & Iron Sights

This is where things got a bit interesting, as the rifle was supplied with one medium high ring and one high ring. I must admit that while I have mounted well over 100 scopes on rifles over the years, I have never encountered rings of unequal height before. So, despite looking in the Ruger manual to ascertain directions for what went where, I finally contacted FN Sports, the Canadian distributor for Ruger. I was  advised that the medium ring goes on the front of the receiver and the high on the rear. While I would have normally mounted a low-power variable on this rifle, such as 1¾ x-5x, on this occasion, I really wanted to fully test its accuracy. I mounted a Leupold 3.5x10x40mm scope. Once I had the proper ring placement figured out, mounting this scope was a snap.

Interestingly, sight alignment was excellent with both the scope and the rifle’s iron sights, which with its white beaded front sight and a shallow V rear sight were very user friendly. While the rear sight is fully adjustable for windage, it is fixed for about 50 yards in elevation, which on dangerous game, is almost ideal for iron sights. Now let’s see how the rifle performed.

Field Test

Before I get too far down the road, I want to provide you with the data supplied by Hornady. Bear in mind that said data was obtained using the 23-inch barrel of the African and not the 20-inch barrel of the Alaskan. So where does that leave us? Well, the standard deduction for most rifles is approx 30 fps for each inch removed. However, Hornady claims that the velocities out of the 20-inch Alaskan barrel will still supersede the .375 H&H.

Prior to getting into the specifics of my test results, I would like to take a moment to ponder the results (see sidebar), particularly the foot-pound energy delivered by this cartridge. At the muzzle, the 270-grain Spire Point Recoil-Proof bullet produces almost 2½ tons of knock down power; simply outstanding for a case that is only slightly larger in diameter than a .30-06 case, very similar muzzle energy in fact to that of the 500-grain .458 Winchester Magnum RN bullet that leaves the barrel at 2,100 fps. Now let’s see how the test rifle stacked up (see sidebar).

First and foremost, I was all but blown away by the inherent accuracy of this rifle with Hornady ammunition. As you will note, the numbers speak for themselves but this is undoubtedly the most accurate .375 I have ever encountered. I was so taken with its accuracy that I contacted Ruger to ascertain if this might be an anomaly and whether the African shot as well. Ken Jorgensen, the Ruger Media Representative, replied as follows,  “I suspect it is not an anomaly. My rifle [African] shot sub one-inch groups with both loads. They also shot to the same elevation, about two inches apart on the target at 100 yards.” The Alaskan actually had less separation by grain weight, as the their points of impacts were less that two inches apart.

This kind of accuracy approaches, if not equals, varmint rifle type accuracy. As advertised, velocities out of the short 20-inch barrel just about matched those of a 24-inch barreled .375 H&H.

When shooting steel plates at 100 yards, I additionally found that the action cycled rounds reliably and without a single jam despite my attempts to fire repetitive rounds as quickly as I could sight and shoot the rifle. Many of the steel plates had centred or near centred hits, another testament to the usability of the rifle under a duress, quick fire field situation.

Game Fit

No doubt the Alaskan was designed for the rigors of an Alaskan brown bear hunt where its rugged construction could handle the Alaskan climate and its muzzle energy would stop a big brownie right in its tracks. However, I believe it would also be right at home on grizzly, moose and bison, or on an elk hunt for that matter. And needless to say, the African would be an ideal safari rifle. I only wish it had been around for some of my earlier safaris. Undeniably, this is a contemporary rifle and cartridge combination that will be around for some time to come.

The Ruger Alaskan Specs

  • Action: Standard length bolt action controlled feed
  • Stock: Hogue OverMoulded synthetic with recoil pad
  • Construction: Heat-treated alloy receiver
  • Finish: Matte Alaskan Diamondblack
  • Magazine Capacity: 3 rounds
  • Barrel: 20-inch alloy barrel
  • Overall Length: 40¾ inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds

Hornady Reported Data, 23-inch barrel

Load Muzzle Velocity Energy
270 grain SP 2,840 fps 4,835 ft/lb
300 grain RN 2,660 fps 4,713 ft/lb

Range Test

Load Group Size Average Velocity
Hornady 270-grain Spire Point .540 inches 2,690 fps
Hornady 300-grain Round Nose .370 inches 2,530 fps

*Range test: 100 yard, three shot groups with each shot chronographed for velocity.

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