Ruger 77/44 44 Magnum

The rut has started, frost is on the pumpkin, and Deer Season for firearms is here in the Great Hoosier State.  For most Indiana hunters, that means it’s time to dust off their Mossberg 500 and switch their dove gun into a rifled slug thrower.  A few will carry their scoped in-line muzzleloader, hoping to stretch their long distance skills on that 200 yard buck in the next field.  The Hoosier Gun Guy will proudly be carrying a new issue Ruger 77/44 chambered in 44 magnum, composite stocked, stainless action and barrel, topped with a Millet DMS 1-4x 30mm illuminated reticle scope.  Ammunition will be 4 rounds of Hornady 225g FTX 44 magnum in the detachable rotary magazine, with a spare magazine in the day pack (in case of zombie deer herd attacks, and I need to lay down covering fire).

The choice of the 44 mag bolt action Ruger did not come easily, nor cheaply, to this cost conscious hunter.  Indiana had been limited to shotguns (slugs), Muzzleloader, and handguns only when HGG first hit the wood thickets 7 years ago.  A S&W .357 magnum was quickly determined to be insufficient for any shot over 20 yards by the landowner/guide.  A borrowed 12 gauge with slugs led to a red dot being mounted to my reliable Beretta 390 12 gauge with rifled choke tube.  This led to many miles of wounded deer tracking and lost game.  Next up was a homemade AR-15 pistol chambered in 6.8 SPC shooting Hornady TNT varmint bullets (only choice, besides FMJ).  This led to a stern recommendation from the landowner/guide to put away the machine gun and get a ‘44.  Indiana recently adopted a pistol caliber carbine amendment to the firearm season.  Several 44 magnum options were explored, including the lever action Marlin 1894ss (can mount scope), vintage Winchesters (too collectable = $$$), H&R Handi Rifle break action (single shot), vintage Ruger Carbine (semi-automatic), and vintage Remington 88 bolt action.  The original Ruger 77/44 and many of the vintage rifles were rejected because of the blued action and walnut stocks.  Indiana deer firearms seasons quickly switch between 65 degree Fall days to blizzards and rainstorms, all in one weekend.  Our deer camp now has 2 H&Rs, 2 Marlins, and my 77/44.

The author’s 77/44 was purchased new in mid 2011 for $577 plus tax at the Indy 1500 gun show from a licensed dealer, and it included a free set of 1” medium matching stainless rings.  Ruger specs out the rifle at 5.25 lbs, 38.5” overall length, and 18.5” barrel.  Those free proprietary rings have a great reputation in the firearm industry for their reliability and robustness.  I was able to contact Ruger and exchange the 1” rings for 30mm rings to match my new purchase of the Millet DMS 1-4x 30mm illuminated reticle rifle scope.  The DMR is an excellent scope for $199 (on sale); with a donut reticule and center aiming dot.  Starting at the lowest magnification, it works as a red dot scope with plenty of brightness in broad daylight.  This setting is perfect for stalking deer on foot and hitting a running target.  Leave it at 2.5x in the stand to be effective at anything within 50 yards; and crank it up to 4x when you have time to take an 80 yard shot at the buck who refuses to come closer.  A set of Butler Creek flip up scope caps help keep rain and snow off the glass while carrying it to the hunting field.  A camoflage Outdoor Connection Super Sling for $19.99 finishes off the hunting system, and easily attaches to the pre attached swivel studs.

Setting up the Ruger is a breeze, and can be started at home.  First ensure the gun is unloaded and move any ammunition out of the room.  Next, you install the scope.  I set the rifle in a cleaning vice at home and install the scope in the rings loosely.  You then mount the rifle and scope gently and slide the scope forward and aft until you get a full image through the scope with your head in a natural shooting position on the stock.  You then use a level on the gun and then the scope (I use the top of the turret as a flat surface).  You may need to mark the scope with a pencil mark where it meets the rings, remove the scope and top of rings, and use the bottom half of the installed rings as your flat surface to level the gun.  Reinstall the scope without jostling the gun in the cleaning cradle, and then level the scope on the gun.  Tighten everything down and move the setup to a part of the house with a long sight line.  You remove the bolt and place the gun in the cleaning cradle pointed at the farthest wall in the house.  Put a piece of tape on the wall and scoot the rifle around until the tape is center in the image when you look through the back of the gun through the barrel to the opposite wall.  Then adjust the scope until the crosshairs are centered on square of tape and you are boresighted.  Or buy your scope at a shop that will install the scope and bore sight it for you for free; your call.  The proprietary rings of the 77/44 simply setup by eliminating the need for bases.  Some users suggest that you can use the system like a quick release setup, leaving the rings on the scope and reinstalling without a loss of zero.  At the range,  you switched out the sling at the front with a Harris Bi-pod or set in a sandbag rest and shoot 3 shots at 25 yards.  Adjust the scope turrets and repeat your 3 shots until you are dead on at 25 yards.  Move out to 50 and 75 yards to confirm your trajectory if you can, or you can leave the gun setup to shoot 1” high at 50 yards.  This will give you point blank range of about 75 yards, where you don’t need to hold over or under to hit the 6” diameter circle of vitals of a deer within that range.  It is important to sight the rifle in with actual hunting ammunition that you plan to use in the field, as different makes and weights of bullets will vary in where they hit the target by up to 9” at 50 yards.  A good hunter should also sight in his scoped rifle without the scope, in case of optical failure or damage.  The 77/44 iron sights hit dead on at 50 yards as set up from the factory, and groups only increased to 4-5” at 50 yards off a rest with my favored Hornady FTX ammo.

Ammunition for hunting with the 44 magnum rifle takes some consideration.  While many may scoff at the thought of using a pistol cartridge to hunt big game, the 44 mag at less than 100 yards hits with the same energy as the revered 30-30 and 7.62×39!  Anything over 125 yards becomes more of an artillery round, with bullet drops of over 9” and kenetic energy dropping under the accepted 1000 ft/lbs considered humane for big Indiana whitetails.  My hunting partner/host/landowner/guide strongly recommended the Hornady 225 FTX rounds as the hunting round that everybody uses in Western part of Indiana.  I tested several different types of suitable hunting ammunition in the 77/44, including CCI Blazer 240g hollowpoints, Federal Fusion 240g hollowpoints, and PMC 180g exposed lead hollowpoints.  All were reasonably accurate, with 50 yard groups hovering around 2-3” off a rest.  But the Hornady FTX consistantly made touching 3 shot groups that looked like Mickey Mouse silhouettes at 25 yards, and barely increased to 1.5-2” at 50 yards.  I constantly second guess the choice of this round for the bolt action 77/44, since it was designed to give better aerodynamics and safety from slam fires in a lever action.  The 240g and 300g Hornady XTP hollowpoint bullets actually have aerodynamics better than the FTX, due to their longer length.  But, the FTX has brought down every deer I’ve shot, 4 shots, 4 kills.  One deer flopped over right there, 3 ran 50 yards and flopped over.  All were full grown adult whitetails, 130-175lbs before being field dressed.  The lack of blood trails still worry me, but it’s not like I’m needing to trail anything when I can watch it flop over in a few bounds (knock on wood).

Handling in the field with the Ruger 77/44 is excellent.  The light weight and sling make it easy to shoulder and negotiate my way to the stand, even with an overstuffed day pack.  Kitted out with scope, rings,  sling and ammo, the gun should weigh in just a bit over 7lbs.  Recoil during offhand shooting is pleasant and not punishing; more like shooting light birdshot from a 20 gauge, than the punch you get from a .308 Remington.  You can keep your 500 grain 12 gauge slugs with your pump action Mossberg’s, thank you!  I have had no problem twisting around to make off-center and off-hand shots from my narrow treestand.  You could even switch shoulders and shoot left handed without the fear of brass and gas flying in your face from a semi-auto.  Reliability has been 100% in the field, thanks in no small part to the bolt’s controlled round feeding and pointed spitzer tip of the FTX LeverRevolution bullets.  It was another story when testing out various homebrew revolver reloads at the range.  Sloppy resizing and generous overall loaded cartridge length will get you into chambering problems that you would not face in a revolver.  Of particular concern is matching the square shouldered 240 grain lead semi-wadcutter to the chamber of the 77/44.  But, shooting 44 special power ammo through the 77/44 is a real pleasure, recoiling like a 22 lr while spitting out 240 grains of lead.  Makes you dream about screwing a suppressor on the front like those SRT Custom jobs that sound like a BB gun, but can kill a buffalo.

There is always room for improvement, no matter how good a product is.  I would love to see a thumbhole laminate stock.  I have one on my Ruger 10/22 and it is a huge improvement in terms of ergonomics and shootability.    Also, chicks dig it.  I’ve heard the accuracy can be increased by free-floating the barrel, and I have definitely noticed several points of contact to the barrel with the standard composite stock.  I do like the new camouflage 77/44 stocks, but that stainless barrel still looks like a flashlight in the woods.  I immediately replaced the factory trigger with a Timney unit after my first range trip.  This helped dropped the trigger pull down from around 7lbs to 4.5lbs or so.  It eliminated some of the creep and made the overall feel a little smoother and crisper.  Good triggers don’t make gun’s more accurate, but they do make it easier for you to shoot them more accurately.

But at the end of the day, my hunting partners tell me don’t mess with what works – and the Ruger 77/44 works.

Happy Hunting.

Hoosier Gun Guy

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