Ruger American Compact .243 18" barrel review

Discussion in 'Rifles, Bullets, Barrels & Ballistics' started by top predator, Jul 31, 2015.

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  1. top predator

    top predator Well-Known Member

    Nov 17, 2008
    First off (disclaimer) - This review is not a paid endorsement or advertisement from or for any company, nor do I have any affiliation with any of the companies of the topic product(s) or any other product(s) shown or discussed, or have interests in their competitors if an unfavorable review – just my opinion - for what that is worth.

    I had the intention putting together a dedicated coyote hunting rig, and wanted to spend less than $500.00. Finally purchased the Ruger American Compact, in stainless “All weather” model. Depending on your source of supply, the All Weather Stainless ranges from $450.00 – $479.00, with the blued model about one hundred bucks less.

    My “wants and needs” were for a shorter barrel compact rifle that’s easily handled, and chambered in .243. I got the “all weather” stainless model for lower maintenance, as most of my coyote hunts are done in the Pennsylvania winters January through March, and is pretty nasty weather wise. Plus in the “looks” department, the stainless and black looks sharp, at least to me, with just enough of each color sprinkled about the rifle, including black inlay in the lettering in the receiver.

    After looking at other rifles “in it’s class” either in compact / youth models – Savage Youth / compact models, Remington 7, 700, 783, 770, Marlin X7Y, Mossberg Patriot, Thompson Center, Howa, Weatherby, and others, the Ruger Compact is the shortest bolt action rifle overall, has the fastest twist rate for .243 which is the caliber I chose, and is the lightest weight.

    Yes a longer barrel can be shortened and so on, but straight from the factory, the Ruger is truly the most compact, and with the twist rate of the American (1:9, confirmed), it should be able to handle the heavier longer bullets in .243 nicely. Taking any of the others and cutting them to 18” barrel (as the compact has), the Ruger is still the shortest.

    I also thought the bolt to be smoother and easier to operate than the Savage Axis, Rem 783, and to me felt and sounded more solid.

    As weather is usually nasty during our winters, the short LOP on the rifle is helpful when wearing layered insulated clothing.

    After running ballistics on several calibers, I chose .243 and reloading a 87 gr Vmax bullet as with a 200Y zero, there’s minimum hold under / over between 50 – 500 Yards, and liked the wind drift properties versus others. Also .243 factory ammo in general is pretty handily available.

    We all know of the features:

    Rotary magazine (polymer) – a few issues with it noted later in the review.

    The adjustable trigger (which really isn’t all that bad). I like the fact that the rifle can still be fired if the “blade” is squeezed side to side unlike the accutrigger. From the factory, the pull after 5 measurements was 3lb and 12oz, 10oz, 12oz, 14oz 12oz., calling it 3lbs 12oz. with published adjustability of 3-5 lbs. Mine was able to be adjusted down to 3lbs 6oz, without removing or cutting the spring, and with the adj screw totally out would not go any lighter. For me it felt less gritty and less creepy than any other factory adjustable trigger in this price range. The main blade also appears to be a bit wider and contoured than the other offerings which felt very comfortable to the trigger finger. 1 full turn of the adjustment screw equaled 8oz (or (1/2 lb) going in the other direction, and topped out at 5lb 8oz. More on “working “ the trigger later.

    Tang safety (which me being a lefty is really handy) is easy to operate while keeping a positive engaged / disengaged feel, and for me easier to get to than the Savage without contorting grip as much. The bolt can be worked with the safety “on”, perhaps a 3 position tang safety, or having the ability for the bolt to be locked when on safety would be a better choice so the rifle doesn’t have the potential of coming out of battery when carried, and able to remain in the safe position for reloading in that middle position.

    Integral bedding block positively engages the receiver to the stock – the only one that does this in this price range / category. The stainless (all weather model) action screws were factory torqued at 35lbs.

    3 lug bolt with 70 deg throw – really aids a lefty (or for that matter, a righty) that has to do what they have to do to rechamber a round. The handle also is swept backward slightly, and appears to be more outward and is “easier to find” than other offerings in this category. Also offers plenty of room between the handle and optic when cycling. Due to the configuration of the bolt and to make it easier to put into battery, there are dual cocking cams. One thing that I thought could be improved is the bolt shroud is plastic – would have been nice to see some sort of metal. The shroud is easily removed, exposing the cams for lubrication, polishing, etc. Though I have not ventured to disassemble the bolt, it appears from the exploded drawing in the owner’s manual, the bolt handle can be removed, which lends an opportunity for aftermarket oversized “tactical” knob to either be installed on the original handle, or swapped out with a “pre made” one. Gunsmiths take note of that, it’s a market that is pretty open for product!

    Synthetic stock – like most offerings in the “low dollar rifle” category, the flex in the fore end of the stock is it’s downfall. Although most are considered “free floated” from the factory and while paper flowed freely down the channel, a noticeable amount of flex was evident when loading a bipod. Additional opening of the barrel channel was conducted to ensure no contact with the barrel. To me it felt as if the grip angle is not so swept back as the Savage or Remington, and has semblance of palm swells. All in all for me a much more comfortable grip. There are the serrations in the fore stock and grip area, though some deeper stippling would offer more traction. But still the intent was there, along with indention along both sides of where the fore stock runs along the barrel, which may provide folks with smaller hands a place to grip of offhand hunting shots. The recoil pad is very squishy, and takes up recoil nicely. Overall for what it is, it is very comfortable and easy to shoulder and aim. The stock also comes with regular sling studs, though blued steel with the “All weather” model, it would have been nice to see “All weather” stainless studs.

    I also believe the stock could benefit from a metal insert where the magazine engages the stock – there is a little plastic lip that the magazine latch attaches to. I don’t know if prolonged use will wear this down rendering the magazine not able to be secured, would have like to seen some sort of metal in this area.

    The included scope bases are weaver type, black, with stainless #T-10 Torx screws torqued to a factory spec of 25lbs.

    Recessed crown on the 18” barrel is not as deep as Mossberg Patriot, but is present unlike the Savage Axis (which has none) and similar to the crowning on the Remington 783.

    Barrel nut – hardly noticeable, but it is there. Anyone whom has tinkered with rifles that has a barrel secured to an action with a nut can appreciate the advantages with this type of setup.


    I inquired Ruger of the torque specs for all the bolts and screws: “The weaver style bases should be tightened to 25 inch lbs, the two screws for action should be at 35 inch lbs and should alternate from screw to screw. The size of the Scope Base Screws on the American rifle is #6-48 and a T-10 Torx. The torque for the two action screw on each side of the trigger guard are 70”LBS. The Action screw is a 3/16 Allen . Thank you for your email”.

    The owner’s manual says to torque the action screws to 60-80lbs.

    The manual also shows an exploded view of the trigger assembly and bolt.

    Range report:

    I bought a box of factory Winchester 80gr BTSP “varmint” rounds, along with a box of PPU 90 gr and 100 gr softpoint bullets (just to get some chronograph readings and to “break in or season” the barrel. Usually I’ll chamber ammo in the garage to make sure everything is good to go, however being eager to send rounds downrange with the new rifle, off I went to the range.

    This was a mistake – oddly the PPU ammo would not chamber. The Winchesters chambered, but very tightly. Turns out this is a common issue – tight chambers. Not a head spacing issue, just tight specs in the chamber. I pulled apart the PPU ammo, ran the casings through a die, put back together using factory specs, no issue chambering afterward.

    From a reloading point of view the tight chamber is no big deal – and actually an advantage. But from a “Joe Blow” point of view, and the intent of the American line, this may be, excuse the pun, a “sticking” point. An average guy or gal that wants to buy a rifle on Thursday, sight in on Friday, and go whitetail hunting on Saturday may not be able to as the ammo may not be able to be chambered.

    At 100 Yards, the Winchester 80gr produced a center to center group .75” x .5”, and at 200 Yards was under 2”. Sub MOA within the first box of ammo.

    After the PPU ammo “redo”, at 100 Yards the 90’s and 100’s was just under 1.5”, and were pretty much junk at 200 Yards.

    I did not as of yet purchased other factory ammos to see if they will fit the chamber, as I figured the funds would be better served buying components.

    I tried the quicker burning rate IMR4198 and 3031 I had on hand in different charges through the shorter barrel with both Hornady 87 grain V-max and 100 gr BTSP. With both bullet weights 3031 seemed to be the better acting powder both through the chrony and on paper, with the Ruger apparently “liking bullet jump” with deeper seated bullets, as throughout all the charges and OAL’s tried, groups shrunk the shorter the cartridge length, at least with the .243.

    OAL to the lands (where it meets the bullet’s ogive) on the 87’s was 2.672” with the 100’s it was 2.667”.

    With the intent of running a 200 yard zero, the best results off a bipod and rear bag from a bench:

    87 V-max - I started at 36 gr of 3031, up to 37 grains with 37.5 being max, using a combination of seating depths from .005 to .320 off the lands. An OAL of 2.640” (.032 off the lands) produced 2 five round groups of .75” X 1” at 200 yards at 2900 FPS through an 18” barrel. I’ll take ½ MOA and 2900 FPS in a shorty anytime! A nice smooth reduced load on the 87’s was 29.5 gr of IMR4198, 2.662 OAL, with 1.75” at 200 Yards.

    Using the 100 BTSP, I started with 33.5 gr of IMR3031 at 2.672 OAL (.005 off lands) which was a nice reduced load and produced a 1.75” x 2.25” 5 shot group at 200 Yards at 2504 FPS. At 34.5 grains (35gr being max) and an OAL of 2.662” the 100’s produced a 5 shot group just under 1.25” CTC at 2612 FPS – different bullet, again sub MOA at 200 Yards.

    The best load of all using the 100 BTSP was a charge of 34.5 gr of IMR3031, with a 2.632 OAL, or deeper seating of -.045 off the lands that produced a CTC group of .75” wide” x 1.125” high, 2625 FPS at 200 Yards.

    The difference in POI between the 87’s and 100’s at 200 yards was that the 100’s impacted 4” lower.

    Another issue encountered at the range was the magazine. The one that came with the rifle had a bit of an issue feeding the second to last round. The spare that I had purchased had ammo sticking in the bottom of it, and all rounds afterward were loose and actually falling out.

    Using the Ruger online “contact us”, I described what was happening, they had sent 2 magazines to me within a week, cudos to Ruger customer service, it’s an A+, any inquiry I’ve had was answered within 48 hours, sometimes with 30 minutes. The 2 they had sent worked well with no issues, 2 out of 4 50/50 chance of getting a “bum” magazine.

    Looking at the magazine with the most issues, in my opinion / observation it’s the construction of the magazine itself – it’s body is 3 parts, all polymer, that is held together with little plastic tabs that have protrusions on the back piece that engage holes in the sides of the magazine. There is a bunch of flexing that I believe either restricts or binds the functioning of the “flapper” of the rotary magazine, or binds up the spring that forces the shells up and outward. Unlike the 10/22 and other Ruger rotary magazines, there is a lack of metal stiffness in the “lips” or frame lending to more flexing and misfeeds or stuck shells. I get it – creating an economical rifle – but I would pay more for a little more reliability in feeding ammo. Though a rotary magazine, it is a different animal than other Ruger rotaries. The DIY fix as far as I can see is epoxying the body together to reduce the amount of flexing. Don't know how it'll hold up to rough handling, or being mishandled and dropped.

    Another magazine issue notice after several rounds is that the pin that secures the latch on the magazine began to come out a little on each one of the magazines. Not too big of a deal, just something to keep notice of, and adjust as necessary, or basically fixing it up front by expanding the tension pin a little.

    Final thoughts – Bittersweet?

    I’m a little on the fence on the Ruger American as a whole....

    If I had to change a few things, it would be a better composition of material for the bolt shroud, a “for the masses” rifle probably shouldn’t have such a tight chamber, stainless swivel studs on a stainless action / barreled rifle, metal tab in mag well for magazine to latch to, more attention to magazine feeding issues (some metal reinforcements) and latch, removable bedding blocks (like in the Ruger American Rimfire) to allow more stock manufactures the opportunity to mold aftermarket stocks employing the factory blocks, add 25-06 to the caliber lineup. If the recoil of a centerfire will allow it, add stock height and length modules like the Ruger Rimfire has to the centerfire line, perhaps an “American Scout” model with open sights. Maybe reverse the magazine removal controls to the rear to add the possibility of usable aftermarket DBM systems.

    Wouldn’t change any of the other features – the trigger is decent for a factory one on an “economical” rifle, barrel twists are good throughout the caliber offerings, barrel nut is a nice feature, using “regular” scope bases is a plus, bolt throw is nice (after shooting 200 rounds, operates very smoothly), tang safety is great for left or right handed shooters, recessed crown is a plus. Some models offering the threaded barrel is nice for suppression ready from the factory.

    Both the “tight chamber” and the magazine feeding / failures are well reported in “shooting forum’s land” throughout the ranges of short or long action calibers offered – though rarely spoken of in reviews by the popular columnists in any article I’ve read so far.

    No doubt the Ruger American is an accurate platform – though if the intent of an “affordable rifle for the masses”, the tight chamber and magazine issues may be problematic for the masses / casual 1 box of ammo a year shooters. With a little tinkering, it is a nice hunting rifle, and at least with my experience with the .243, can be a decent little range rifle with a little more tinkering. A few tweaks here and there from the factory would take care of some of the known gripes, though I don’t know if those tweaks would put the American into a higher price range and into another price category of rifles, but would pay more for a tweaked out everything the way it should be & accurate rifle out of the box.

    As an economical "rifle for the masses" a guy that buys one on Thursday at Walmart, plans to site in on Friday to go hunting on Saturday may have his plans changed if he can't get a round in that tight chamber, or if the magazine doesn't feed right. - just sayin'.

    It appears they’ve used the same receiver in the “new at the time of this writing” Ruger Precision Rifle, allowing more upscale magazines to be used in the chassis.

    But the Compact is a handy accurate lightweight rifle, as I can assume the “Ranch” model in 16” barrel with either the full or compact stock would also be, and is a nice sized “truck or walkaround” rifle, capable of sub MOA performance and incorporating many features, though a new out of the box rifle, one should not be worried about is ammo is going to work or if it’ll feed. Feeding issues have also been reported with other rifles in this price range category, so not too surprised at this.

    Depending on what perspective you look at it from, it could be a 4 to 5 out of 5 star rifle or a 2 to 3 out of 5 star rifle.

    Ruger American Rifle Trigger job:
    Before you do anything with the action out of the stock, put a piece of tape over the pin that retains the bolt release – with the stock in place, it has something to keep it in, without the stock, it can fall freely, and had on me after a few dry fires. It’s also wise to work over a clean white sheet – the little parts are easier to find on the sheet if they get away from you.

    The adjustment spring seemed to sit inside a recess with a “lip” that held it in, which restricted it from being expanded any further or making the trigger any lighter. To do an at home “trigger job” (refer to owner’s manual exploded view of trigger assembly, part #39 is the adjustment spring) :

    1. After making 100% sure the firearm is unloaded, bolt is removed, and the action is removed from the stock, tape off the bolt release pin (part #6 bolt exploded view).

    2. Remove the E clip and pin that the trigger blade pivots on.

    3. Remove the adjustment screw if you wish, or back it off to the trigger’s lightest setting and leave in housing.

    4. With blade removed (careful not to loose the inner blade spring) you can see the adjustment spring. It is pretty beefy, and will be sticking out of the housing. Remove it.

    5. You can start by clipping off 1/4 coil at a time (though I didn’t see any reduction in pull weight until 1.5 coils were clipped), reinstall spring using a bent paperclip to be able to “make the angle”, install the pin and E clip, and adjustment screw. You can see where the trigger engages the sear through a cutout at the top of the housing.

    6. Tighten until you can read an increase in poundage. This is where the screw is starting to engage the spring, compressing it to the trigger, which causes the poundage to increase.

    7. Continue clipping to reduce the amount of poundage, making sure to take measurements along the way. Once you’ve found your “sweet spot” when the adjustment screw is in it’s lightest position, reassemble the trigger blade into the housing.

    8. Consider to reassemble the action into the stock along the way, and while making sure the firearm is unloaded and cocked sharply strike the butt with a rubber mallet with and without the saftey on to ensure as much as you can that the firearm is indeed operating properly. Test the inner blade by cocking the rifle, placing the safety in the firing position, pressing on either side of the inner blade. The trigger should not move, and the rifle should not go off.

    My progression on the clipping of coils:

    1 coil – no change
    1.5 coil -1/2 lb
    2 coils -1/2 lb or -1lb total
    2.5 coils -1/2 lb or -1.5lb total

    3 coils got me to a lightest setting of 1lb 14oz, with the trigger maxing out at 3.5lbs. The spring was just slightly visible from the hole looking flush down the housing, not too much more to remove. The spring was then sanded to take off any burrs, and to flatten the bearing surface with the trigger. My goal was to get it to 1.5lbs, chances are 1lb 14oz is as low as I’m going to get it using this method. Inner trigger still performs it’s job by not allowing the sear to disengage, no slam fires, the rubber mallet to the butt didn’t produce the firearm to go off, all with the safety in the fire position.
  2. top predator

    top predator Well-Known Member

    Nov 17, 2008
    sorry for no pictures, short on time, hope to insert them later
  3. Mike 338

    Mike 338 Well-Known Member

    Feb 4, 2012
    Very nice review.
  4. winmag

    winmag Well-Known Member

    Dec 23, 2009
    Thanks for the insight.
    I'm looking at one for my little ones for their "Youth Mentor" hunts.
  5. top predator

    top predator Well-Known Member

    Nov 17, 2008
    Just a Quick followup (sorry still no pics) I had the opportunity to shoot a bit further out yesterday.

    The 87 gr vmaxs (with the load in the OP) 5 round group at 337 yards printed 3.20" CTC, and a 4 shot group at 426 yards (1 round I knew I pulled and did not count it) printed 4" CTC.

    Shot from a bench bipod and rear bag.

    Shot count at 250 rounds through the rifle.
  6. mcseal2

    mcseal2 Well-Known Member

    Dec 16, 2009
    Thanks for the review, a good friend bought one he has yet to break out. It will also be used for coyote calling and as a truck gun once he gets it going.

    I have a Ruger American in 270 win that has proven to be very accurate also. It's kinda a back-up gun for me on hunts and rides in the feed truck a lot. It really likes the Winchester factory Power Bonded 130gr loads and my handload for my "good" 270 with a 140gr Accubond over 58gr of H4831SC. I picked up a Ruger American Compact 22 magnum also, one of my favorite guns for use around the ranch. I had an American Compact in 223 for a short time but got rid of it due to magazine issues with 3 different magazines. The 270 feeds perfect, the 223 was terrible.