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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[/caption]I’m not sure what happened to Summer. It was hot enough for air conditioning one day, the next,  leaves were turning and my wife was already into her fall season blanket stealing routine. As I write this, Geoff and Gary, the Foster brothers, have just finished putting our house back together, again, deer season is a couple of weeks away and I’ve been hearing shots fired by neighbors as they prep for opening day. This seemed a good time to cover a couple of solid hunting rifles and a popular hunting cartridge.A tale of two Rugers…

Ruger offers customers two bolt action models chambered for the .257 Roberts, the M77 Mark II  Ultra Light  and the M77 Hawkeye Standard . Functionally they are the same, quantifiably they are a bit different, aesthetically, each has it’s own subtle personality touches.

Rifle M77 Ultra Light M77 Standard
Caliber .257 Roberts .257 Roberts
Capacity 4 Rounds 4 Rounds
Finish Blued – Gloss Blued Matte
Stock Walnut Walnut
Pull 13⅝ 13⅝
Barrel Length 20″ 22″
Twist 1:10″ RH 1:10″ RH
Overall Length 40⅝ 42¾”
Weight Lbs. 6¾ (6½) 7½ (7¼)
Metallic Sights None None

In comparison to the Standard, the Ultra Light’s forearm is shorter and thinner and its truncated barrel has a more slender profile. These two differences combine to make the Ultra Light ¾ lb lighter than the Standard and a couple of inches shorter. Both rifles scaled ¼ lb less than the Ruger reference weight.  Shorter and lighter would seem a universal preference, however, some of the local guys felt the standard model had better balance and more naturally tracked moving targets. I guess that’s why Ruger offers both versions. To me, both were easy handling, just different.

Some common ground and some points of comparison…

One of Ruger’s distinct talents is quality casting, and this applies to the company’s sturdy flat bottom action. The stock’s action inletting is clean, the surfaces are well sealed and three fasteners are used to anchor metal to wood. The rifle’s bolt is a two lug configuration with a large controlled feed, non-rotating extractor. Vent holes are visible through the magazine well, the magazine box and follower are steel parts. A large recoil lug is located at the forward end of the action. The safety is three position; off, on and bolt free, on and bolt locked in place. The trigger is not consumer adjustable. The Ultra Light trigger pull checked out at 5¼ lbs, the Standard at 6½, both consistently so. The bolt handle finish on the Hawkeye is bead blast gray, the Ultra Light is satin stainless.

The picture above illustrates some of the aesthetic differences between models. The Ultra Light, top, has gloss hardware and a shorter tipped forearm. The standard has wrap around checkering and the Ruger logo on the gun’s floorplate. The barrel of each model is intended to rest on the aft recoil lug, float along the channel and receive approximately half an inch support at the end of the forearm. The capped Ultra Light contact is just aft of the cap. The Ultra Light example I shot had approximately half an inch contact at this point and clear along and under the cap, however, the right side contacted the barrel approximately an inch at the end of the forearm that continued through the length of the cap.  The standard model was clear through to the end on the left side, made proper half inch contact at the very end of forearm under the barrel, but made contact with the barrel on the right side for the past two inches of the forearm. I checked clearance with a 0.003″ shim. I realize it has become SOP to clean out barrel channels to assure proper contact and clearance area to improve accuracy, however, neither rifle demonstrated accuracy problems such as overly large groups sizes, stringing or shift in point of impact as barrels warmed.

Both rifles have a satin wood finish, the Ultra Light had some nicely figured grain. Wood and metal finishes were uniform, recoil pads were appropriate, sling hardware was present. The standard has a matte metal finish, the Ultra Light has gloss blued hardware. If I had one wish regarding aesthetics, it would be to see the Ultra Light bluing with a satin finish rather than a high gloss and I would like to see the Ruger floorplate crest carried over from the standard model to the Ultra Light. Picking nits, for sure. Ruger makes solid hunting rifles. They don’t have to be fancy, but little nifty touches help.

What’s bigger than a .243 Winchester, but smaller than….

Left to Right – .243 Winchester, .257 Roberts, .25-06 Remington, .257 Weatherby, 7mm-08 Remington.

The table below was constructed in order of relative cartridge power. There isn’t an appreciable difference in trajectory, at least not one that a person familiar with their firearm would find of consequence. However, kinetic energy differences are significant. Using the .243 Winchester as the baseline, the Roberts represents a 17% pick up, a 38% increase for the 7mm-08 Remington, a 33% bump for the .25-06 Remington, and a 43% gain for the .257 Weatherby. It would seem the .25-06 and the .257 Weatherby would be a natural choice, but to achieve this level of performance, a rifle should have a 26″ barrel and it would utilize up to 70% more powder. Trim the barrel back to 20″ or 22″, where the Roberts still functions well, and the big 25’s advantage dwindles to only a 100 fps.

I spent a lot of years deer hunting with a number of rifles chambered for the .243 Winchester. The cartridge is adequate out to 250+/- yards, it is light in recoil, light to carry and rewarding to handload. The .257 Roberts provides a decent increase in kinetic energy over the .243 Winchester, operates with the same level of efficiency and will perform with a 20″ or 22″ barrel. The Roberts also enjoys the same benefits of light recoil and responsiveness to careful handloading where the larger capacity cartridges tend to increase in bite, but also in bark and other bad manners.

Cartridge Bullet Weight Performance Yards
0 100 200 300
243 Winchester 100 Velocity – fps 2900 2675 2461 2257
    Kinetic Energy ft-lbs 1867 1589 1344 1131
    Best Zero – Trajectory -1.5 2.6 1.9 -4.5
257 Roberts 117 Velocity – fps 2900 2674 2459 2254
    Kinetic Energy ft-lbs 2184 1857 1570 1320
    Best Zero – Trajectory -1.5 2.6 1.9 -4.6
7mm-08 Remington 140 Velocity – fps 2900 2672 2456 2250
    Kinetic Energy ft-lbs 2595 2204 1861 1562
    Best Zero – Trajectory -1.5 2.6 1.0 -4.6
25-06 Remington 117 Velocity – fps 3100 2858 2627 2408
    Kinetic Energy ft-lbs 2496 2121 1793 1506
    Best Zero – Trajectory -1.5 2.5 2.3 -3.0
.257 Weatherby 117 Velocity – fps 3200 2952 2717 2493
    Kinetic Energy ft-lbs 2660 2264 1918 1615
    Best Zero – Trajectory -1.5 2.5 2.4 -2.3

Cartridge overview and handloading…

The .257 Roberts is, essentially, the 7x57mm Mauser necked down to accept a .257″ bullet. In case length, it is a quarter inch longer than the .308 Winchester and a quarter inch shorter than the .30-06 Springfield. However, because of the shorter length of the .257″ projectile, the Robert’s COL is slightly shorter than the .308 Winchester as an assembled cartridge.

I gauge checked both rifles with the longest bullets and found I could safely chamber a round loaded with Barnes 117 grain bullets with a 2.837″ COL and Nosler 120 grain Partition bullets out to 2.900″. With barrel throats as tight as they are these days, unless I am looking for powder capacity, I seat within COL spec for the cartridges, so none of the handloads appearing within this project exceed 2.780″. Of note is that none of the bullets could be crimped to their factory cannelure as required seating was deeper than what the cannelure supports. I did use the Lee Precision factory crimp die which gets a pretty good grip on even a plain shank bullets.

There may be some misunderstanding in regard to the .257 Roberts acceptable pressure levels. Manuals tend to show CUP, or copper crusher, standards. This expresses the Maximum Average Pressure at 45,000 CUP for the standard Roberts’ version and 50,000 CUP for the +P version.  SAAMI specs the same CUP standard but also provides a conformal transducer based value of 54,000 psi for the standard Roberts and 58,000 for the +P version. This is a great illustration of why CUP and PSI standards do not correlate and why they are not interchangeable in the real world. The effective pressure seen by the firearm is essentially the same in both cases, however, these are two different units of measurement, arrived at through two different processes. Attempting to use them interchangeably is like trying to use Fahrenheit and Celsius interchangeably. This is why no manufacturer of ammunition or firearms, and no component manufacturer would ever suggest they are the same. Yeah, there is a guy who claims they are the same and gets there by selectively averaging average pressures. Unfortunately, firearms fire and fail on an individual basis and don’t understand much about statistics and averaging pressures. All of the handloads indicated within this project assume a pressure ceiling equal to the Roberts +P psi standard.

Some notes without music…

I picked up a set of Lee Precision dies for the project. They are inexpensive, hold spec and the factory crimp die is a very useful tool. Plus they come with a shell holder so I am never left digging around looking for one. As illustrated in the table, brass dimensionally moves around in process and in use. The project  began with new Remington brass, the numbers represent and average of 50 pieces.

Dimensions

Spec
Nominal
New
Brass
Once
Fired
Sized
Case length 2.223 2.227 2.220 2.228
Case Head Dia. 0.471 0.466 0.467 0.466
Shoulder Dia. 0.429 0.428 0.433 0.428
Neck Dia. 0.290 0.284 0.291 0.282

The handloading process was uneventful with the exception of neck sizing. The Lee die set ran the 0.291″ fired neck down to 0.274, then a very rough expander pulled it back to 0.282″ with enough effort to stretch the case length to 2.228″. One of the reasons why trimming should be done after sizing; the fly in the ointment of progressive loaders. The Lee Precision’s sizer decapping rod has a smooth shank that is secured with a collet. The assembly should be degreased and cranked down to lessen the chance of the decapper’s shaft from getting pulled free of the die on the press up stroke. Personally, I prefer threaded rods. Collets are no faster and you never find yourself running a turret head around in circles with a Crescent wrench as is often the case when trying to tighten a collet. Nuance.

Yes, I know a lot of the equipment in this project is green. If I find something that works, I use it until it breaks and this old trimmer is no exception. All cases were trimmed and squared to 2.223″. The RCBS power trimmer is easy and very accurate, and I don’t feel like I am manually sharpening several hundred pencils. The quick clamp with #3 shell holder and piloted cutter make this task less boring than a coma. After cutting, I did a little inside/outside deburring before dumping the cases into a vibratory cleaner.

Bullets, lots and lots of bullets…

Because we load in the shop for a number of quarter inch cartridges, there were lots of bullets on hand for this project. I tried to select a several from that group that I felt would be the most useful for various types of hunting and perhaps recreational target shooting.

The 60 grain Hornady flat point is intended for the .25-20 Winchester, thin jacketed, it is intended to operate at a 2200-2300 fps MV level. I though a load at this level for a little close in recreational shooting and one at the upper end for fun. With the ballistic coefficient of a barn door, I suspect it has little potential as a long range scorcher. At the low end of the load spectrum it has a pop for report and virtually no recoil.

The 75 grain Varminter is right for this cartridge for thin skin varmints. The jacket upsets easily and expansion is explosive. It also happens to be very accurate in concert with either Ruger. While not documented within this project, I found the Speer TNT 75 grain and Hornady VMax 75 grain to be similar in performance.

The 115 grain Barnes Triple Shock should make sure an excellent deer and antelope load. Penetration is excellent as is accuracy and, since the Roberts isn’t a short cased cartridge, its length should not pose a problem with cartridge or rifle.

The 117 Grain Hornady is a very traditional single core tough jacketed bullet. In my experience, they are a very accurate product and very uniformly manufactured.

The 120 grain Nosler Partition is a good bullet. A the heavy end of the weight spectrum, the two compartment makes for a tough bullet on impact. Even if the nose is fragmented on close contact, the shank continues to penetrate.

Speer GrandSlam bullets have been around so long they have gone from extremely expensive to run of the mill in price by retaining close to their original price. Good construction, they hold up well on tough targets and they fly as straight as any other .257″ bullet.

So how did it go Joe? Glad you asked stranger….

I was curious to see what the 2″ barrel length differential was worth. I have a number of short barreled guns for cartridges with similar case capacity. Some are very sensitive to barrel length, other are not, the sensitive mostly driven by overbore geometry. So I tend to handload and chronograph for long barrel versions and avoid chronographs when I break out the short guns.

I made two of every handload so I would have companion loads for each of the two rifles, then I made four sets of these to provide some validation of the results and to smooth things out in the event an anomaly developed. I like to play anomaly, as long as I am the banker. Each load was scaled with a calibrated RCBS Charge Master 1500, each case was prepped the same and each cartridge received a CCI large rifle primer. In addition to the range of different loads, I assembled 50 rounds to a 75 grain bullet standard to see if there was any change in velocity produced by the shorter/longer barrels over a larger sample. Not exactly scientific, but better than a Fox News opinion poll.

Bullet Type  Bullet Weight Net Water Capacity COL Powder Type Powder Charge Actual 20″ MV FPS Actual 22″ MV FPS Variance 22″ to 20″ MV FPS
Hornady FP 60 53.2 2.535 2400 15.0 2163 2213 50
        BL-C2 51.0 3818 3851 33
Sierra Varminter 75 52.3 2.700 Re 15 47.0 3490 3528 38
        Varget 47.0 3494 3603 109
        Varget 46.0 3398 3467 69
        H414 51.0 3555 3565 10
Barnes TSXFB 115 47.3 2.780 H4350 43.5 2821 2852 31
        IMR7828 SSC 47.5 2793 2793 0
Hornady BTSP 117 48.7 2.780 Re 19 47.0 2845 2918 73
        H4350 44.5 2797 2871 74
        IMR4831 45.0 2771 2779 8
Nosler Partition 120 47.8 2.780 Re 19 46.0 2764 2779 15
        IMR7828 SSC 48.0 2781 2782 1
Speer Grand Slam 120 48.9 2.780 Re 19 46.5 2839 2860 21
        H4350 44.0 2760 2794 34
        IMR7828 SSC 48.5 2845 2897 52

The chronograph was set up 12 feet from the rifle’s muzzle and left in place throughout all data collection and the discovery of a really big wasp nest. What is the velocity difference between a 20″ gun and 22″ gun? On the average, with 128 control rounds fired, representing samples of 16 different handloads, there was an average of a 36 fps difference. The extreme ran from a high of +109 fps to a low of +10 fps.

There are no transposed data sets on the table, nor are there errant duplicates. These are the numbers as pulled off the chronographs. When anomalies developed, the group was reshot. No, not the anomalies, a clone of the ammo batch that produced them. I thought the results were interesting, just in the inconsistency of variance. Perhaps at another time it might be worthwhile to explore the cause and effect, just like it might also be worthwhile to pursue a pro quarterback career. I think there is equal chance of either or both happening. The velocity inconsistency could be caused by complete or incomplete burn. I don’t think it is bore friction. It could be that 2″ more barrel didn’t contribute significantly to improving pressure persistence. I don’t know. On two occasions, the minimum variance loads actually tipped to slower 22″ barrel performance, but averaged out to a net, but slight gain.

So what’s better, Ultra Light 20″ barrel or the Standard’s 22″?

My conclusion is that you buy the one you shoot the best, the most accurately, because there isn’t sufficient difference in barrel length performance to warrant the selection of one over the other. Looking at the widest velocity spread of 109 fps makes for a trajectory difference of 0.6″ and 51 ft-lbs of kinetic energy at 300 yards . In terms of accuracy, short or longer barrel, it was a toss up. The three shot group (top) was shot with 75 grain Varminter rounds and 46 grains of Varget from the Standard model. It measured 0.7″. The lower was the same load shot from the Ultra Light. It is also 0.7″. If there is a difference when shooting it is in barrel temp. The Ultra Light can get to the level of too hot to touch a few inches back from the muzzle after half a dozen shots fired in rapid succession. Cool down is almost as fast. Under hunting circumstance I believe this means little unless you like to use your gun’s barrel for a walking stick or varmint hunting.

Generally, these are both sub 1½” three shot guns with factory ammunition and sub MOA with reasonable handloads. Ruger has done an excellent job of stepping up with a traditional, reliable and accurate American made hunting rifles with lots of innovative manufacturing technology to keep cost in line. Pull one apart and it is obvious they accomplished this without resorting to cheap materials and substandard assemblies. Additionally, Ruger firearms have an excellent service organization ready to back up their products and assist customers.

A good friend of mine has an Ultra Light Ruger chambered for the .308 Winchester and he loves the gun; light weight, good handling, accurate and plenty of power. He uses his Ruger for everything from deer to moose and it has proven to be easy to carry in the field and reliable. It was endorsements of this type that got me into this project.

And what about Bob?

Well, first of all, it makes no sense to refer to the Roberts as “Bob” anywhere other than on the Internet, as “Roberts” is the creator’s last name. “Hi, my name is John Roberts”, “Duh, great. May I call you Bob?”. I hate that cutesy phraseology crap that permeates Internet message boards. Makes me want to say, stop wearing short pants, sit up straight and get a haircut, you damn forty year old adolescent! Fortunately, I would never say that.

The .257 Roberts is an interesting cartridge, especially because it gives up so little in a compact rifle. For handloaders, it is easy on brass, easy to load and components are relatively inexpensive. It is an accurate round that is easy to shoot, probably a little noise friendly in more populated parts of the hunting universe. It will do anything the .243 Winchester will do across the spectrum of bullet weights and it probably adds enough at the top end for a noticeable improvement. It isn’t the equivalent of the .25-06 Remington or .257 Weatherby, but then that could be a good thing with less muzzle blast, less recoil and fired from a much more compact firearm. If I were looking for a light rifle for deer and black bear, today, I would probably skip the .243 Winchester and opt for the .257 Roberts. If I were looking for a centerfire rifle for a young shooter, and I wanted to give them the best chance of hunting success while not beating them profusely about the head and ears with muzzle blast and recoil, the Roberts would be of prime consideration.