Monday, October 5, 2015

Featured Gun: The Ruger 44 Carbine

"The Ruger .44 Magnum Carbine is generally regarded as the World's finest firearm for hunting in thick cover" - Ruger advertisement


If you know the history of the .44 Magnum, you will know that Ruger was the 1st to market with a gun chambered in the Remington designed cartridge. It made sense that they would chamber their very first long gun in this caliber as well.
 
Some could say the story begins with Elmer Keith and the birth of the .44 Magnum. For the sake of time we will skip that chapter and move onto the design of this gun.

The story of the .44 carbine begins with Bill Ruger's 1958 safari to Africa in which he brought with him some .44 Magnum Blackhawk revolvers to see their effectiveness on dangerous African game. Mr. Ruger was more than pleased with the performance with the cartridge and wondered how much better it could be with a longer barrel and with it, the longer sight radius and additional power.


The advantage of having a pistol and carbine chambered in the same caliber had long been known. A benefit promoted in Ruger's ads from the 60's (see above).

In addition the .44 Magnum could gain some power from a longer barrel. The .44 Magnum is usually loaded with slow burning powder (which usually produces flames from a short barreled revolver), increasing the length of the barrel resulted in a huge increase in both velocity and energy, due to the powder having more time to burn and put more energy into the bullet.
According to Outdoor Life Magazine (among other experts) the increase in velocity was in the 30-40% range (from 1230fps to 1810fps) and energy was more than doubled (from 840 ft-lbs to 1818 ft-lbs). One could argue that there are two .44 Magnum cartridges, one a potent pistol cartridge and one a serious rifle cartridge.

While Bill Ruger was the architect behind the .44 Carbine, a man by the name of Harry Sefried was brought in to work out the details. Harry had come from High Standard (and Winchester before that) and joined the company just as they were moving into the Ruger production facility at Lacey Place in Southport.
Harry quickly learned what a perfectionist William B. Ruger was. One important design feature was the "elegant" look to the receiver that Bill had envisioned. Bill insisted that the entire mechanism fit within the wall of the enclosed receiver, unlike the M-1 Carbine or Garand rifle (this is more than a bit ironic as the gun eventually became a copy of the M-1). You may notice that this look was carried over to the 10-22 rifle a few years later.

After the gun's function and reliability had been proven (by Ruger & Sefried themselves), the guns were sent for test-proofing. The following is a quote from R.L Wilson's book Ruger & His Guns
"Two sample carbines were sent to Burt Munhall, of H.P. White Laboratory in Bel Air, Maryland (a few miles from the Aberdeen Proving Ground), for testing. I told Burt, 'we want you to see what it takes to blow them up'. He called and said, 'are you pulling my leg? I'm using a compressed case full charge of Bullseye powder (about the fastest burning powder available), and all I'm doing now is putting a ring in the chamber. We're already over 100,000 pounds per square inch pressure!'
Bill and I found that the only damage to the gun was in the threads on the barrel, as we had a recess cut there."


With all of the lab and field testing complete Ruger introduced their first rifle to the world in 1961, with the first batch being shipping the week of Sept 4th of that year.

Bill Ruger inspecting freshly assembled .44 Carbines
 

Originally the carbine was called the "Deerstalker".

The serial #7 below was one of those that shipped on Sept 4th 1961.
 
Two of the guns coming out of Southport that fall were sent to the NRA's American Rifleman staff for evaluation. The review of the carbine appeared in the January 1962 issue.


One of those guns evaluated by the NRA for this article was was sold in an auction in 2012 (held by Ruger on their website) with proceeds going to support the US Olympic Shooting Team (USA Shooting). The carbine netted an auction price of $7,025.


Unfortunatly the name "Deerstalker" was not to last as there was already a shotgun made by Ithaca called the "Deerslayer"

Ruger changed the name to "Ruger Carbine .44 Magnum Cal.". How and why are in dispute, some claim Bill Ruger did this voluntarily (to avoid "bad feelings") others claim it was the result of a lawsuit brought by Ithaca.


The Deerstalker/.44 Carbine specs:
37" overall length
18.5" barrel, 12 grooves, 1:38" twist
6 lbs
4-round tubular magazine
Milled Billet Receiver
Rotating bolt driven by a gas piston
folding leaf-type Buck horn rear, gold bead front sights
3/8" wide target trigger 
Drilled and tapped receiver cover

The cartridges were loaded in the bottom of the stock like a pump shotgun, the safety sat in front of the trigger guard.

From 1961 to 1971 Ruger offered 4 variants
The Standard with a semi-pistol grip walnut stock and standard sights

The RS with a walnut stock and sling mounts and a factory rear peep sight

The International with a full length Mannlicher style walnut stock

The Sporter with a Monte Carlo style walnut stock

The initial offering price was $108 for the Standard, RS and Sporter models, the International cost an additional $10

In 1971 Ruger quit offering the options and only produced the standard model.

Serial numbers started with #1 in 1961, in 1970 the 100 prefix was added (100-XXXXX), in 1972 the prefix changed to 102, then 103 in 1982. Production ended in 1985 after about 250,000 guns were produced. The reason cited was the high production costs. 
The .44 Carbine was unique among Ruger firearms in that the receiver was machined from a solid block of chome-molybdenum billet steel. 
Most Ruger firearms are made from precision castings. 
This of course made the .44 Carnine more costly to produce. Bill Ruger's philosophy had always been that if could not make the gun affordable, he wouldn't make it at all.

In the last year of production Ruger brought out a 25th Anniversary model featuring a gold medal inlaid into the butt stock


The only real complaint owners had regarding the .44 Carbine was the fouling of the gas system that occurred when using lead bullets. Something easily cured by using jacketed or semi-jacketed bullets.
The guns were known for their outstanding accuracy, squeezing every bit of velocity from the slow burning powder.

I can attest to the accuracy of the guns. After I purchased my .44 Carbine I had some buyers remorse as I was hoping to find a S&W model 29, but spent my money on the Ruger instead.
After shooting the gun I could not see myself ever selling it. The gun is a real straight shooter and the applications for home security, ranch/farm use and brush hunting makes it a worthwhile addition to any collection.
The gun was purchased for $390 at a gun show. Its 5 digit serial number (934xx) puts its birthday in 1963. The gun has the aluminum semi-crescent butt plate, trigger guard and barrel band. It also has sling mounts, although I am not sure if those are factory. The Williams peep sight was added by a previous owner.



There are some great step by step instructions for dis-assembly and re-assembly at about.com, see them here


Values for the carbine vary depending on the year. I have seen them as low as $350 and as high as $800 for the older 1st generation models.
The Deerfield usually fetches a bit higher than that. I saw one NIB at a gun show two years ago, the asking price was $1200.

There are a couple of things to watch out for on the .44 Carbine, most importantly is the stock. They had a tendency to crack either at the wrist or on the bottom under the magazine/gas port. The fix is to bed the stock with fiberglass/acraglass so as to spread out the stress.

Fifteen years after it was retired Ruger brought the gun back to life in the Deerfield Carbine. The new carbine was based on the Mini-14 platform and used an exposed bolt/open receiver, something Bill Ruger wanted to avoid when he designed the first version of the gun. This was no doubt cheaper to manufacture than the original version. 
Bill was forced to retire that year (2000) and I'm not sure what say he had in the development of the Deerfield. Maybe he wasn't involved or maybe he just didn't care anymore?

The new gun used a rotary 4-round magazine (similar to the 10-22's magazine), but otherwise shares most of the same specs with its older brother.

37" overall length
18.5" barrel, 6 grooves, 1:20 twist

6.25 lbs
4-round rotary box magazine
Cast alloy steel receiver
Rotating bolt driven by a gas piston
folding leaf-type peep rear, gold bead front sights
Ruger Scope mounts cut into receiver

The introductory MSRP was $649, although most retailed for a bit less than that



This gun only lasted six years and in 2006 the rifle was discontinued after some 17,000 units sold.



In the picture below you can see how much more elegant looking the original .44 Carbine is compared to the Deerfield:

The .44 Carbine and Deerfield were not the only rifles in .44 magnum produced by Ruger.
Ruger had a model 96/44 that they produced from 1996 (thus the model 96 designation) to 2007. The model 96 came in 4 calibers (3 rimfire, and the .44 Magnum), used the same style 4-round rotary magazine and a lever to operate the action. The lever is very reminiscent of the Savage model 99.

This gun was also retired and has become quite the collectors item.

Ruger offered their No.3 single shot rifle in .44 Mag as well (also a collectors item).
Ruger continues to offer their model 77/44 rifle, the bolt action uses the Mauser inspired model 77 action with the 4-round rotary magazine of the Deerfield and model 96/44.
I keep hoping that Ruger will bring back the Deerfield .44 carbine, and with it some higher capacity magazines (like an enlarged version of the 10-22s BX-25). 
Who knows? With the way Ruger has been resurrecting past models it could happen. 





References
Pladin85020 at Smith & Wesson Forum 
Six Guns
USA Shooting 
Sturm, Ruger  & Co
Outdoor Life  
Wikipedia 
icollector 
R.L Wilson: Ruger and his Guns

Jerry Lee: Standard Catalog of Ruger Firearms