An at-home DIY rifle makeover that adds some class and capability to the Ruger American bolt-action.
I’m going to throw this out there right away so we can move on: I’ve got nothing against the Ruger American. In fact, just the opposite is true … which is exactly why I chose it specifically for this build.
With a street price of less than $500, the American offers a very utilitarian solution for a shooter who wants a rifle that’s uber-dependable, built around a barreled action that’s capable of producing accuracy that, in all honesty, is jaw-dropping when compared to the price tag accompanying it. I’m talking sub-MOA right out of the box, without too much effort.
Plus, the American lineup is complemented nicely by a couple options for the lefties, who all too often get nothing but short straws at which to grasp when it comes to rifle options.
But, with all that said, the Ruger American ain’t nothin’ to look at.
The good news, however, is that this superficial problem is easily solved—very easily, in fact.
The Blank Slate
In 2011, Ruger released the American rifle to the masses as a means of supplying a no-frills, budget-friendly solution for riflemen who wanted a reliable workhorse capable of producing acceptable-for-the-money accuracy. In addition to meeting those goals, the American spearheaded the development of an entire class of budget-friendly rifles, followed by the likes of the Savage Axis, the Remington 783, and a few others.
On more than one occasion, I’ve heard this trend dubbed as “the race to the bottom,” no doubt insinuating that these companies started an industry-wide space race of sorts … to see who could build the cheapest rifle possible.
But “cheap” and “inexpensive” are not synonyms, at least not when it comes to rifles. The American might be inexpensive, but it sure ain’t cheap.
The bolt is a no-frills tri-lugger, which resides in a bar-stock receiver to which the hammer-forge barrel also attaches, all wrapped in a blued black-oxide finish nestled into a polymer composite stock. As you might expect, the entire system is fed with a rotary magazine—yes, I’d prefer the beauty and function of a hinged floorplate—but when a box mag is done right, it’s not a problem.
Inexpensive or not, a good field rifle really oughta shoot MOA these days, and I’ve never met any variation of the American that didn’t reach that bar. In fact, I’ve got one chambered in .270 Winchester that will punish a quarter at 200 yards all day long from the bench with 150-grain Hornady InterLoks.
At present, the lineup consists of the Standard, Compact, Magnum, Predator, Ranch and Hunter models to suit a wide variety of needs and tastes … with a couple of left-handed models squeezed in there, as previously mentioned.
The entire rifle is the definition of “utilitarian.”
Beautifying The Bolt
Anyone who tells you that a bolt is fluted to reduce weight is a liar. Yes, the removal of material will obviously reduce weight … in an increment so minuscule that it’s a non-factor. A bolt is fluted because it adds substantial beauty to a rifle, and that’s exactly why I chose to flute the bolt on this build.
But bolt fluting isn’t something that can be accomplished with a Dremel tool and a steady hand.
When it comes to aftermarket parts, the Ruger American and the Chevrolet Camaro have a lot in common. There are some pre-fluted replacement bolts available, but because every American already comes with one, it’s made little sense to buy another.
Instead, I shipped my bolt to LongRifles Inc., a small shop out of Sturgis, South Dakota, who sent back a beautifully fluted bolt within a couple weeks, and did so with excellent communication and customer service from the time I shipped it to them, until it was returned to my doorstep.
The factory trigger on a stock American is what Ruger calls their Marksman Adjustable trigger, which features a user adjustability of 3 to 5 pounds and a pretty crisp break. Overall, it’s a good trigger, and what anyone should expect from a utilitarian budget rifle.
But it’s not a great trigger, and a trigger has just as much influence on overall accuracy as do any of the other parts of the system.
Timney Triggers offers a superb replacement for the American that can be swapped out with two roll pins and a bit of delicate spring work to replace the factory safety. The Timney is fully user adjustable, but the folks at Timney know triggers, and they offer factory presets in half-pound increments, from 1.5 to 4 pounds of pull.
I opted for the preset 3-pound factory setting, even though I generally like a hunting trigger to be set a bit lower—closer to 2.5 pounds. The Timney breaks so cleanly that it feels a good bit lighter than a 3-pound pull: But again, it’s completely user-adjustable at home anyway.
Do Not Skimp On Rings
In true utilitarian form, all members of the American lineup come standard with a one-piece Picatinny scope base. Sure, it would be easy enough (and that’s the point) to find a scope, strap up some rings and hit the range, but to my eye, that bulky Pic rail looks like a pimple on a supermodel. The action is already a bit bulky by design, and that rail doesn’t help the look of the rifle one bit.
To make sure the stock and the bolt fluting popped as much as possible, and to keep the gun looking as sleek as I could, removing that rail was my best option.
In its place, I affixed two Talley Ruger American Scope Mounts directly to the top of the receiver. Not only did this tremendously improve the look of rifle, but it allowed the rings to sit even lower to the gun. If there’s ever anything I can do—on any rifle—to get my line-of-sight closer to the bore’s centerline, I’m gonna do it.
The Eyes Have It
Sleek. Simple. Beautiful. Are you noticing a trend here? Well, those build-wide adjectives applied to the riflescope—and the reticle—as much as they did the rifle.
As mentioned before, I wanted to make a point with this build to prove that, with a little work, southpaws no longer need to scrape up the crumbs in regard to having a rifle that would allow them to have their cake and eat it, too. But because that buffet is still a bit sparse, this rifle needed to be diverse, hence the .308 chambering.
My all-time favorite configuration to fill those needs is a 2.5-10x, but I ultimately chose a 3.5-10x in Leupold’s VX-3HD for a couple reasons. This model is CDS compatible, with a very simple heavy duplex reticle. That means that the elevation dial can be replaced with a Custom Dial created by Leupold specifically for the load this rifle proves to like best. And when dialing for elevation, the reticle ought to be very, very clean.
Plus, the 50mm objective lens nestled perfectly into the rings with a minute distance between the bell and the rifle. And, if I might be so vain, I really like how the Gold Ring adds just a bit of bling to the build … and it really makes the wood pop.
Ah, yes: the wood. I chose everything else in this build based upon the look and feel created by the stock.
Known for their hardwood and laminate stocks, Boyds allows a consumer to select an overwhelming amount of options for their build via the company’s online stock builder. Wood, finish, length-of-pull, recoil pad, forend tip, grip cap, white line spacer, laser engraving, checkering design and styling, and pillar bedding are all in play.
The stock gracing this build is made of Claro XX walnut that’s 50 percent figured on Boyds’ “classic” profile. Because the wood is so highly figured, I wanted to avoid too much shine and opted for the standard finish. I also skipped the white line spacer options because I feared it would compete too much with the grain figuring. I chose the angled black forend tip design because the profile paralleled the front of the fleur-de-leis textured diamond accents.
Like the factory Ruger American, Boyds hangs their hat on the very practical, affordable and utilitarian designs of their Spike Camp and adjustable At-One designs. However, for a truly custom option sculpted from a highly figured piece of hardwood, they over-delivered on this one.
For many models, a Boyds stock can be replaced within 5 minutes by popping the action screws and swapping barreled actions. But if there’s one piece of the Ruger American puzzle that’s not user friendly, it’s the integral bedding blocks in which the action rides.
The ProBed 2000 bedding compound that comes with the Boyds stock really isn’t challenging to use, but it can be a mental hurdle. Luckily, a quick video search will provide you with numerous how-to-bed tutorials for the American.
The results? When paired with Federal Premium’s 165-grain Barnes TSX loads, the on-target groups were incredible. I didn’t measure the best group, because it really didn’t matter what the actual number was: Three shots well inside of a half-inch at 100 yards is good enough for me.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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