Ruger No. 1 Varminter Rifle: Classic Style

Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing a Ruger No. 1 Varminter rifle chambered in .22-250. This particular rifle belongs to a friend who advises that it was made as a Bicentennial Model in 1976.

In 1966, Bill Ruger designed this rifle, patterning it after the Farquharson falling-block rifle. It received its name because Ruger considered this rifle his “Number One” favorite rifle, and so it was eventually designated the No. 1.

Technical Specifications

As mentioned, this particular rifle is chambered in .22-250, and it prefers very light bullets.

The 26-inch barrel has a heavy profile and adds considerable weight to the rifle. This is also one reason for the excellent accuracy. Another reason for the accuracy is undoubtedly the light, crisp trigger that makes this rifle a pleasure to shoot.

Ruger No. 1 on tree stumps.
Ruger’s No. 1 Varminter features a beautiful finish on both metal and wood. This special edition was made in 1976. Photo: Jim Davis.

The rifle’s overall weight is approximately eight pounds, and it has quite a solid feel. Naturally, the weight makes this lightly recoiling caliber have even less felt recoil.

To open the chamber, the trigger guard functions as a lever action. When the chamber is open, a round of ammunition is slipped into the chamber, and the lever is swung closed. Upon firing and opening the lever, the spent cartridge is ejected.

The safety is tang-mounted, so both right and left-handed shooters can operate it with equal ease.

These days, Ruger states that the No. 1 is available in “Select, Limited Edition Models each year.” That tells us that they’ll be tough to find, and prices will be on the higher end, as they are sought after. This rifle has been released in only one caliber each year.

Accuracy

Groups with factory ammunition hovered right around the one-inch mark at 175 yards, which is obviously great accuracy. We weren’t using handloads or match ammunition; considering this was factory ammo, the rifle’s accuracy potential is extraordinary. With some handloads, it could be stellar.

Caliber Extravaganza

Over the years, the No. 1 has been offered in a choice of calibers that is, to put it mildly, far-ranging. How far, exactly? Here’s a partial list of what Ruger has offered so far: .218 Bee, .22 Hornet, .22-250, .220 Swift, .223 Remington, 6mm PPC, .243 Winchester, 7×57 Mauser, 7mm-08, 7mm STW, .280 Remington, 7.62x39mm, .454 Casull, .458 Winchester Magnum, .460 S&W Magnum, .475 Linebaugh, .480 Ruger, and others. Quite a few others.

To put it bluntly, the chamberings cover everything from hunting chipmunks to Cape Buffalo or the odd Tyrannosaurus Rex that you might run across.

Over the years, the No. 1 has been offered in various configurations other than the Varminter that we’re reviewing today, including Light Sporter, Medium Sporter, Tropical, International, and Standard.

Impressions

Upon picking up the rifle, one notices that it’s somewhat muzzle-heavy, obviously attributing this to the very heavy varmint barrel. At the same time, the rifle balances well overall, as the stock is heavy enough to be a fair counterweight to the barrel. When the rifle is thrown to the shoulder, it comes up nicely, and the stock’s comb is high enough to give an instant, comfortable cheek weld. It just feels right and good, and the amount of time that it took to design the rifle becomes apparent when the shooter shoulders the rifle.

Shouldering the No. 1.
The No. 1 shoulders and handles well. The heavy barrel puts weight out front, but it’s not uncomfortable. Overall, the ergonomics indicate the effort that went into the design. Photo: Author’s collection.

Mind you, I’m not usually a “single shot” guy, and the falling block design isn’t something that I frequently play around with. As a point of fact, this was the first one I ever used. I have to say, though, that the design is intriguing. Upon opening the lever, I could feel that the action was buttery smooth, enough so that I couldn’t help myself from working the action several times just to enjoy the feel of the metal gliding effortlessly against the metal. In its own way, it’s really cool.

The lines of the trigger guard/lever are elegant as well as being easy to operate.

The next thing that struck me was how easy and fast it was to load. Yes, it’s a single shot, but the rifle’s action is such that when the lever is worked, the spent cartridge comes flying out quite readily. With a pocket full of spare rounds, it is an easy task to simply slide a fresh round into the chamber. If one were so inclined, he could keep up a respectable rate of fire with this type of action.

However, this particular rifle isn’t necessarily meant for rapid fire. Rather, it shines in the precision department. As mentioned, the accuracy is quite stellar. And the heavy barrel doesn’t heat up as quickly as a sporter weight barrel will. However, considering the screaming velocity of the .22-250, which can easily reach 4,000 feet per second, the barrel is going to heat up a lot faster than some of the lower-velocity rounds. For those who set up to snipe a prairie dog town that has plentiful targets, that heavy barrel will permit longer strings of fire because it can handle the heat longer than sporter weight barrels.

Optics

My pal had mounted a Redfield 3-9x Widefield scope on his Ruger No. 1. I chuckled as I looked through the scope because it had been many years since I’d seen one of these scopes. The objective and ocular lenses are actually oval-shaped, intended to make the field of view wider than circular scopes. Looking through the scope is an interesting treat, as the field of view certainly is wider.

The No. 1 with open action.
The Redfield Widefield 3-9x scope was another piece of nostalgia on this rifle. The low mount complemented the rifle’s sleek lines. Also note the lever, which doubles as the rifle’s trigger guard, is in the open position. The action is buttery smooth! The checkering on the stock and forend is nicely done as well. Photo: Jim Davis.

Considering that these scopes were discontinued in 1985, the optical clarity is not what we’d expect from today’s scopes in that it is not as sharp and clear. The reticle is a standard duplex. Overall, the nostalgia factor makes it a very cool piece.

Stocks

The Walnut stock and handguard of the No. 1 we reviewed were exceptional in appearance. They’re nicely polished with a beautiful grain, and they are really top-notch. Again, this rifle was made in 1976, and firearms from that era simply have a different feel and details than many guns made these days. When we pick up a firearm from decades ago, we can often perceive a different feel and appearance, and this one is no exception.

Beautiful walnut stock on the No. 1.
The walnut wood that is used in this rifle is exquisite, as is the finish! Wood like this is rarely seen on rifles these days. Of course, this one was manufactured in 1976, so it was quite a different era. Photo: Jim Davis.

The stock has a somewhat glossy appearance, but it’s not high gloss. Overall, it is done amazingly well.

There is checkering on the pistol grip as well as the forend, and it’s very nicely executed. A red and black recoil pad is found on the butt of the stock, and it helps tame what little recoil the .22-250 round has.

Finish

All metal on the No. 1 is beautifully blued and glossy. Again, the firearms from that era have that unique appearance, and this bluing lends itself well to that overall look. This particular rifle has been well maintained, and no signs of rust were present; it’s in great condition.

The No. 1 in nature.
Overall, the No.1’s appearance is quite fetching. The beautiful wood grain and finish, coupled with the bluing on the metal, delivers a handsome appearance that was once common in rifles. Photo: Jim Davis.

Final Thoughts

Ruger’s No. 1 rifle is still sought after, but it is very difficult to find these days, much less at an affordable price. This 1976 Bicentennial edition is a stellar example of the craftsmanship of years gone by that we just don’t see anymore. The heft of the heavy barrel, along with the walnut stock, is solid and pleasing.

These rifles are capable of excellent accuracy with a very strong action. The action works as smoothly as butter, making it a real pleasure and novelty to operate. Overall, it’s a unique and interesting rifle!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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