Ruger’s Handy 77/44 Rifle In .44 Magnum Is A Potent Midrange Game-Stopper.
I used to be convinced that whenever I had the ability to take a long gun along, it should be a powerful centerfire rifle that could really reach out accurately at great distances. Such a gun would be effective in a plethora of circumstances and environments. It’s still not a bad idea.
But then, I started thinking about the terrain in the Northeast, where I’ve spent most of my life. I typically camp and hunt in thick woods with rolling hills that limit my line of sight. Rocks and blowdowns make travel difficult. The weather is typically lousy.
I’ve shot many deer over the years. Looking back, the shots probably ranged from 15 to no more than 100 yards with the average, I figure, about 30 or 40 yards.
For close-action environments, a short, fast-handling and lightweight midrange carbine with heavy bullet punch might just be the best option. The sum of all those attributes perfectly describes the Ruger 77/44 bolt-action rifle chambered for .44 Magnum. Extend the reasoning from hunting into survival and bug-out situations, and this little Ruger makes even more sense.
Obviously, there’s a benefit if you have a companion handgun in .44 Magnum too. Room in your pack and the amount of weight you can carry are serious considerations when situations are fluid and you might have to move, and move fast. Ammo compatibility between/among your firearms is a key advantage.
“For close-action environments, a short, fast-handling and lightweight midrange carbine with heavy bullet punch might just be the best option.”
And, yes, I always have at least one handgun of some sort with me. In wilderness environments, it’s usually something that can do double duty for defense and procuring meat. The .44 Magnum, whether in a rifle or handgun, is a versatile cartridge that can be loaded light or heavy, depending on the specific mission. In my own inventory, I have .44 Magnum ammo with bullet weights ranging from 160 to 300 grains. Additionally, .44 Special ammo can also be fired through this Ruger.
In addition, the ammo advantage increases if you also reload your own ammunition. You can then tailor your ammo to your needs; and the .44 Magnum, being a straight-wall cartridge, is easier to reload than bottleneck rifle cartridges that require you to lube the cases during the reloading process. In fact, some areas allow the use of rifles that fire straight-wall cartridges for deer hunting when other rifles are not permitted.
WHY THE RUGER 77/44?
Having ammo compatibility with a powerful handgun isn’t the only plus with the Ruger 77/44. It’s short and lightweight, making it easy to carry—as well as easy to get in and around tight places without bashing it on trees or car door frames. The Ruger 77/44 weighs a scant 5.2 pounds. With its 18.5-inch barrel, this rifle is just 38.5 inches long overall.
“For those looking for a survival gun that takes the same ammo as their .44 Magnum handgun, the Ruger 77/44 is a good choice.”
Compare that to the longtime standard in short, handy rifles: the Winchester Model 94 lever action, which is 38 inches long, but it weighs 6.5 pounds. And, the Winchester has blued steel and a wood stock. While you can get the Ruger 77/44 with blued steel and a wood stock, the specific model I tested was made of stainless steel with a black synthetic stock. So, it’s going to stand up to foul weather much better.
A bolt action is one of the most simple and rugged actions you can get in a rifle. There’s just not as much that can go wrong. The bolt assembly can be removed quickly, giving you an open look from breech to muzzle for purposes of cleaning or checking for an obstruction. The bolt assembly, itself, can be disassembled easily too, but that’s usually not necessary.
The Ruger 77/44 is sized so that anyone in your family or survival group can handle it. And, like any bolt-action rifle, it’s easy to operate. Inexperienced shooters can learn to shoot it safely and effectively in short order. Recoil with a .44 Magnum, which can be a handful in a revolver, is not significant in a rifle.
Let’s take a closer look. The Ruger 77/44 features a cold hammer-forged barrel with precise rifling for accuracy and longevity. The newest model, introduced within the past year, features a threaded barrel for adding a muzzle brake or suppressor. A thread protector is provided if you want to run the gun with no muzzle accessory.
“Extend the reasoning from hunting into survival and bug-out situations, and this little Ruger makes even more sense.”
Like all rifles in the Model 77 line, this one features integral scope mounts machined directly into the solid steel receiver. That’s a strong system. I recently tested another manufacturer’s rifle, on which the receiver screw holes were stripped. I wasn’t able to fasten the scope base to the receiver. It wobbled considerably, and accuracy suffered. That can’t happen with Ruger’s integral scope mounts. The rifle comes with rings for scopes with 1-inch tubes to fit those mounts, so that’s one less thing you have to source in this day of many shooting supplies being out of stock.
The rifle’s stainless steel bolt features a 90-degree throw. Together with the short action—long enough only to cycle the short pistol cartridge—bolt travel is at a minimum compared to bolt-action rifles chambered for long rifle cartridges. That makes this rifle faster to cycle for quicker follow-up shots.
I really like the three-position safety lever on Ruger Model 77 rifles. At “full safe,” both the trigger and bolt are locked. In the second position, you can operate the bolt to chamber or eject a cartridge, but the trigger is still blocked. Push the safety to the third, fully forward position, and the gun is ready to fire.
The rifle is fed through a detachable rotary magazine that holds four cartridges. It’s very reliable, and the rounds are easy to load into the magazine. The magazine fits flush with the bottom of the receiver, so it doesn’t interfere with carrying the rifle one-handed at its balancing point. The push-type magazine release sits directly behind the magazine. It’s easy to reach and easy to operate—but not too easy: You’re not likely to hit it inadvertently and drop your magazine as you might with some guns that have extended magazine releases.
ON THE TARGET
Okay, so you can have a rifle with all the bells and whistles, but it really comes down to one thing, doesn’t it? How does it shoot?
Pretty good, I think.
“The .44 Magnum, whether in a rifle or handgun, is a versatile cartridge that can be loaded light or heavy, depending on the specific mission.”
I shot the Ruger 77/44 from the bench for accuracy at 100 yards. I shot five different loads, tallying the results from three three-shot groups. I could have gone on and on, but what was the point? The rifle shoots well and, after all, this is a rifle you’re going to put to your shoulder and fire in a hurry at something maybe 75 yards away. It’s not the gun to mount a bipod on and then wait for a deer to start climbing the far side of a canyon 500 yards away. (And remember: There’s an ongoing ammo shortage too.)
Groups ranged from 1.0 to 2.0 inches (my fault), with most around 1.25 inches. That’s pretty good for a rifle firing a fat, blunt pistol cartridge. It really didn’t show a preference for any brand or bullet weight, although the Hornady Handgun Hunter 200-grain Monoflex and Federal Fusion 240-grain JHP were probably the most consistent.
Velocities, as can be expected, were significantly higher from the rifle’s longer barrel, as compared to a handgun. Velocities of the ammo tested, compared to the same loads fired from my Ruger Super Blackhawk with a 7½-inch barrel (refer to the feet-per-second numbers in the parentheses that follow), ranged from a high of 2,006 (1,613) feet per second for the Black Hills 160-grain HoneyBadger to 1,620 (1,473) for the Hornady Handgun Hunter 20-grain load. The Hornady LEVERevolution 225-grain FTX load, which presented excellent 1,800 (1,484) fps velocity without sacrificing much in the way of bullet weight, was impressive.
For the test, I affixed an old Bushnell 3×9 variable scope that’s been mounted more times than a cowhand’s pony. It served well in this instance, but I’ll eventually mount a lower-power scope for the close-in shooting I’m likely to be doing with this gun. I have a 1×6 variable scope from Skinner Sights that’s waiting in the wings. It features crosshairs with bullet drop compensator (BDC) lines and a 1 MOA illuminated red-dot. I’ll have to pick up some Ruger 30mm rings first, however.
The trigger pull was relatively good. I measured it at 4.25 pounds—not as light as on some of my other rifles, but it broke cleanly and obviously wasn’t too detrimental to the accuracy. Firing standing/off-hand really gives you a feel for how handy this rifle will be in the woods. It’s light and nimble, and recoil is no problem.
A FIT FOR ME
A short carbine that shoots a pistol cartridge might not be the best option for those who live in wide-open country, where long shots are not only possible, but likely. In the thick woods of the Northeast in which I roam, this short, fast-handling rifle suits me perfectly.
“The Ruger 77/44 is sized so that anyone in your family or survival group can handle it. And, like any bolt-action rifle, it’s easy to operate.”
For those looking for a survival gun that takes the same ammo as their .44 Magnum handgun, the Ruger 77/44 is a good choice. After all, you can only carry so much. Having to source (or reload) and carry only one kind of ammo is a big plus; so is toting a rifle such as this Ruger, which weighs 1 or 2 pounds less than many hunting rifles. In addition, a stainless steel rifle with a synthetic stock and a simple, rugged and reliable bolt action is, pardon the expression, “practically bulletproof.”
In a critical situation, when things are already going drastically wrong, having a dependable rifle is one thing about which you should have no doubts.
- Type: Bolt-action rifle
- Caliber: .44 Magnum
- Capacity: 4+1 using detachable rotary magazine
- Barrel: 18.5 inches
- Overall length: 38.5 inches
- Finish: Brushed stainless steel
- Sights: Folding Buckhorn rear, blade front; scope base integral with receiver; Ruger scope rings included
- Stock: Black synthetic with rubber recoil pad and sling swivel studs
- Weight: 5.2 pounds
- Other: Also available with blued finish with wood stock
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the April, 2021 print issue of American Survival Guide.