A rifle for all seasons

As we continue our series of favourite rifle/cartridge/scope combination, Senior Correspondent John Dunn has chosen one influenced by his father

Rifle: Ruger No.1
Cartridge: 7x57 Mauser
Scope: Schmidt & Bender 1.5-6x24

For as long as I can remember, single-shot rifles in all their different forms have intrigued and fascinated me. I learned to shoot and hunt with a single-shot .22 rimfire, my father instilling in me the importance of making every shot count. He insisted the first shot was the best one you’d ever need, that if you hunted well and did your job properly one shot was all you’d worry about. Time and my own experience proved him right and I expect that’s why I’m still using single-shot rifles for all my hunting almost 60 years down the track - especially my much-loved Ruger No.1 rifles.

When the No.1 Ruger was introduced in 1967 I was a teenager long on dreams but critically short on resources. As a first-year apprentice on $17 a week before tax, buying a No.1 rifle at the time was several country miles beyond the realms of possibility. Even so, the seed had been planted and I knew that wouldn’t always be the case.

The first Ruger single-shot I owned was a No.3 Carbine, the not quite so fancy but highly practical little brother of the much-venerated No.1 in .22 Hornet. It served me well as a fox rifle for several years and at winter’s end in 1977 when my skins had been sold and some outstanding bills put to bed, I had enough money left over to finally buy my first No.1, a 1-B-Standard Rifle in .243.

Since that time a dozen or so No.1 rifles in a variety of calibres and configurations have come and gone through my gun safe. For years there was even a custom-built No.3 in .35 Whelen, made especially for the sambar deer hunting that was something of an obsession at the time. Some inevitably stayed longer than others, all of them contributing to my knowledge of the marque. In 2004 I bought a model 1-A, No.1 Light Sporter in 7x57 Mauser. From the outset I liked the way it handled and worked for me and some 16 years later it’s still the rifle I automatically reach for when there’s work to be done.

The rifle

Reams have been written on the Ruger single-shot action and I doubt there’s any need to go into a full description of how the action works yet again - suffice to say it’s a lever-action, falling block single-shot rifle, an upgraded adaptation of the classic Farquharson rifle patented in England in the early 1870s. To paraphrase some of the No.1 advertising presented over the years: “The massive receiver forms a rigid connection between barrel and buttstock . . . and readily handles any type of modern cartridge . . . linking designs of the past with modern metallurgy to withstand the pressures of today’s ammunition.”

Catalogue specifications for the Light Sporter were always cryptic, given as “Lightweight 22^ barrel, calibres .243 Win, .30-06, .270 Win and 7x75mm, weight approximately 7¼lb. Catalogue No.1-A.” My rifle has blued metalwork. Original factory sights consisted of a ramp-mounted, dovetail adjustable gold bead fore sight and adjustable folding leaf rear set-up on the front of the quarter rib on the barrel which was also machined to accept the Ruger rings supplied.

The two-piece stock is made from selected American walnut with a satin finish, fitted with a black rubber recoil pad, the 1-A rifle having an Alexander Henry forearm. Both pistol grip and forearm have panels of chequering cut at 20 lines to the old-fashioned inch. Sling swivels bases are fitted to the buttstock and on the barrel via a band forward of the forearm tip. The rifle normally wears an adjustable Safari Sling.

As functional as my Light Sporter was when it arrived, I’ve made a number of changes to it over the years to make it work just that bit better. Early in the piece I had the barrel and forearm hanger bedded into the forearm to eliminate any movement and ensure a consistent, reliable fit when the forearm screw was tightened. Though it’s a fiddly job to execute it did improve the accuracy, at the same time sealing the internal surfaces against moisture.

While the trigger on the No.1 is entirely functional and reliable, that doesn’t mean it can’t be enhanced and with that in mind, some 10 years ago I installed an aftermarket Kepplinger single-set trigger. In my opinion this trigger provides a better level of adjustment for everyday use and contributes significantly to the facility of an already useable rifle.

In general use there’s no noticeable take-up or overtravel when the rifle is fired. In more deliberate mode the set trigger function - activated by pushing the trigger forward - allows me to take more carefully considered and deliberate shots, knowing that when I stroke the trigger sight disturbance will be minimal, especially when the shot is taken from some sort of field rest as it should be.

The third change I made was to replace the original Ruger quarter rib with its rear sight and fixed ring spacing with a custom rib which was made in limited numbers some years ago by Steve Hurt of Outer Edge Projectiles. The back of the rib sits over the top of the receiver and with its dovetailed top allows the back ring to be shifted rearwards by a full 20mm, making correct eye relief much easier to acquire.

It was designed to use Talley rings. Accordingly, there are no lugs or slots to prevent the rings shifting under recoil so regularly checking the tightness of the base screws is essential to avoid problems in the field - something that should be done on a regular basis with every rifle anyway.

The cartridge

The 7mm Mauser or 7x57 was introduced in 1892. Originally developed as a military cartridge it was used by Spain, Mexico and a number of other South American countries. Though primarily in bolt-action rifles, it was also employed by Remington in some of their single-shot rolling block rifles.

Despite its military origins the cartridge is probably best known as a sporting round and is still chambered as such by numerous US and European manufacturers in single-shot, bolt-action and combination firearms. Many people, this writer included, regard it as a definitive cartridge and that had a great deal of influence on my decision to buy the rifle. A classic cartridge in a classic rifle was a combination I found hard to resist, quite apart from the fact I’d used the cartridge previously in a Brno bolt-action rifle and knew just what it was capable of.

I experimented with all the different brands of factory ammunition I could find, eventually settling on the RWS ID Classic, 162gr nickel plated jacketed soft-point factory loads the rifle shot so well. I’ve used this load to take all six species of deer in Australia as well as feral horses, pigs, goats, wild dogs, foxes, feral cats and the occasional rabbit.

Since 2017 I’ve been handloading Outer Edge 132gr HP projectiles ahead of 44gr of AR 2208 with Federal 215M primers in RWS cases which are some of the best available. This load has exceeded my expectations in terms of accuracy and performance on game including fallow, red and sambar deer out to around 180m, about as far as I like to shoot.

To date I’ve only recovered one projectile, perfectly expanded to 15mm in diameter and retaining 100 per cent of its original weight, all the others having completely penetrated the target animal which in every case dropped to the shot, proving the old man’s assertion a single shot is all you need if you hunt well.

The scope

The one my Light Sporter has worn for the past 15 years is a Schmidt & Bender 1.5-6x42 Zenith FlashDot that came my way for review about the same time I bought the rifle. They worked so well together I bought the scope, a decision I’ve never regretted. In terms of size it’s a perfect fit, not too long or bulky with a magnification range that might have been designed with the cartridge in mind.

On 1.5x the scope allows the rifle to be swung like a shotgun on moving game with both eyes open, a plus in heavy cover where a fast, close shot may well be the order of the day. In more open country 6x is all the power this hunter needs for more planned, deliberate shots out to that 200m mark I’ve the rifle sighted in for.

The scope has a simple FD7 reticule, essentially a variation of the Duplex reticule we’re all familiar with but minus the heavy vertical bar in the top hemisphere. The central crosshairs are finer with an illuminated dot in the centre, brightness adjustable via a rotating switch that looks like an additional turret on the left side of the scope. The light goes out between each numerical setting, allowing the required level of brightness to be set then turned off.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to review and test many different brands of scopes of all shapes and sizes and have to say I still regard the Schmidt & Bender Zenith as one of the best I’ve come across. It has proved itself across the full spectrum of hunting conditions from the bright sunlight of the Top End dry season to the gloomy, damp and sometimes snowy conditions of early evenings in the sambar country of NSW and Victoria where conventional crosshairs can become invisible against the dark background of the bush. If I can see an animal through the scope, I can generally take it.

Overview

Hunting with a single-shot rifle isn’t for everyone and I know there are many who’d never dream of doing so, some of them my friends. Personally, I like the idea. Choosing to do so has made me a better hunter, knowing I have to work more carefully to put myself in a position where my single-shot can be best applied to do what I expect of it. Such were the basics the old man drummed into me all those years ago. No matter how much firepower you carry, game has to be taken one animal at a time and I can do that with the Ruger, the main reason it became a permanent fixture in my gun cabinet.

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