By Payton Miller, Guns & Ammo
The .357 Magnum has been used in rifles ever since guys started rechambering shot-out Model 92 Winchesters way back when. Up to now it’s been pretty much of a lever-action thing. But with the recent introduction of Ruger’s M77 .357, we now have an 18.5-inch barreled, stainless/synthetic-stocked bolt action that incorporates two of the company’s signature innovations.
Specifically, the integral base/ring scope mounting system and the bombproof detachable rotary magazine (a five-round unit in this case). All this comes in a very handy 5.5-pound package.
Ruger, of course, isn’t new to the pistol cartridge/bolt-action carbine concept. But in terms of versatility and potential ammo diet, this one’s something else. After all, we’re talking about a range of bullet weights in varying configurations from (roughly) 90 to 200 grains over a (more or less) 1,000 fps velocity span.
When you stop to consider that the increase in some of the more energetic .357 commercial loadings is on the order of several hundred fps, it isn’t a stretch to note that the M77 .357, for all practical purposes, boosts magnum loadings to approach the performance of the almost-defunct .357 Maximum (from a 14-inch pressure barrel, no less).
It actually pushed Winchester’s classic .38 Special 158-grain LHP Plus-P into low-end .357 Mag territory; it picked up 257 fps over its listed 890 fps from a four-inch vented barrel. As one of my shooting buddies told me, only half-facetiously, after checking some “high teens” .357 chrono numbers—”Jeez, this thing is almost a real rifle!”
I’m all for lever guns (heck, I’m a card-carrying Marlin fetishist), but I must admit, the super-crisp five-pound trigger pull of the M77 .357 beats any handgun-caliber lever action I’ve ever seen. Ejection with the magnum stuff was no problem, and most of the .38s cleared out briskly. But a couple of times the .38s required a bit of a shake to get the brass out. But if you don’t baby the bolt, with most stuff you shouldn’t have any problems—although I’d leave target wadcutters alone unless I was going to single-load them for rabbits.
I grouped most of the standard .357/.38 Special stuff at 50 yards. But the high-performance loadings, I figured, would be better served by a 100-yard trial. These included Federal Vital-Shok 180-grain Swift A-Frame, Barnes Vor-TX 140 grain and Hornady LeverEvolution 140 grain. Anyone serious about using the M77 .357 as a short-range whitetail gun (and, no doubt, many will be) should most likely be interested in the potential of these three.
To do my shooting, I hung a Weaver Grand Slam 1.5-5X on the rifle. Now, since most of my good 50-yard groups weren’t dramatically superior to my 100-yard efforts, I did have a nagging suspicion that perhaps something with an adjustable parallax for the 50-yard shots might have been a wiser choice. But, all second-guessing aside, what I got at 50 with the Weaver would have more than enough for predators, small game or whatever.
And the 100-yard results more than justified shooting at that distance. The Barnes Vor-TX was spectacular. My best effort was almost one-half MOA. The Hornady LeverEvolution came in at 1.5 inches and the Federal 180-grain Swift A-Frame (my choice if I was going to try to whack a deer with this rifle) came in at 2.0. All groups were three-shot ones. May as well treat this as a real rifle, was my line of reasoning. Overall, I found that the optimum accuracy —.38 and .357—came in the 140/158-grain weight range.
People have been successfully taking deer—and hogs and whatever—with the .357 Magnum since way before I was born. And the vast bulk of that work has been done with a revolver. Personally, I wouldn’t advocate the .357 Magnum—from any length barrel—as a primary deer gun. But for a general utility rifle that may be called upon to take a deer under the right circumstances, the M77 .357 is a pretty cool item. It puts a potent handgun cartridge in an easy to handle, very accurate rifle platform that allows you to re-zero for .38 Special in case you want to hunt small game and/or eliminate pests with more authority than any rimfire.
Editor’s note: thanks to our friends at Guns & Ammo for this review. You can find G&A online here http://www.gunsandammo.com/. Ruger also makes this gun in .44 Magnum. Suggested retail price is $829 (ouch). Mike P., Guns & Gear Editor