Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ruger 77/357 Bolt Action Rifle Review, the Ultimate Survival Rifle

Ruger 77/357 Bolt Action Rifle Review, the Ultimate Survival Rifle

What makes an ultimate survival rifle?  From my perspective it is a light-weight bulletproof all-weather manual cycling Mauser actioned rifle chambered in a cartridge versatile enough to take everything from small to large game.  Personally, my survival cartridge of choice has been the .357 Magnum because it offers so many power options from light sub-sonic .38 Special loads all the way to high grain big power .357 Magnum loads.  This is a feat which simply cannot be accommodated in modern semi-auto rifles or many other cartridges. Shoot a rabbit with a .223 or .308 and you have a big mess on your hands, not to mention it will be significantly louder. Downing a dear with a 22 is doable, but much more effective and humane with the .357 Magnum.

The obvious versatility of being able to shoot either .357 Magnum or .38 Special rounds from the same gun are a huge plus in both everyday shooting and also in a survival situation where rounds may need to fabricated or scavanged.  For small game, cast semi-wadcutter rounds will pass though small game and not destroy meat and the same round is effective enough to pass through a deer shoulder for a kill shot.  Other options such as .357 Magnum bird shot work phenomenally for close range bird and snake hunting and rodent pest control. Not to mention the .357 Magnum round comparatively is cheap to 44 mag, .40 and other ballistically similar “Magnum” cartridges and is of course less expensive than semi-auto rifle calibers.  The .357 Magnum/.38 special caliber can be loaded so lightly they are slightly louder than a decent fart and is also very easy and forgiving to reload unlike semi-auto cartridges. Primers and powder can be scavenged from any cartridge from .380 to .40 to create a load. Even 158 Grain cast bullets are a little more lead frugal than the other obvious 44 Magnum rounds and unless you are loading them really hot, do not require a gas check which is another component you may not have available. In my mind pistols and rifles chambered 357 Magnum are very versatile guns that can fill many roles.  To say I was thrilled when Ruger introduced the lightweight 77/357 chambered in .357 Magnum, well ... my enthusiasm could not be measured.

The Ruger 77/357 is based on the rugged time tested and proven modified Mauser style Ruger 77 design currently offered in a number of calibers from .17 to .44 Magnum.  The design is infallibly simple and is the epitome of all- weather durability in all stainless with a synthetic stock.  The bolt design operation makes it a great rifle that can take huge amounts of abuse and continue functioning.  The Ruger 77/357 features the same three position safety found throughout the 77 line which allows for fire, safety with bolt manipulation and a third position which locks both the firing mechanism and bolt.  This third position is an important safety feature for those who like to carry a live round in the chamber at all times when hunting.

Finish & Fit
As with all Ruger firearms the 77/357 is well made, tightly fit and finished in a beautiful brushed stainless finish and the stock mats perfectly to the barrel and action. If you are familiar with any of the Ruger 77/44 or 77/22 rifles, you will see the same fit and finish in this rifle.

The 77/357 is a solid but feathery 5.5lbs and a short and handy feeling 38.5” long length.  These traits are what make the rifle very fast handling perfect for dense woods hunting. The 77/357 could be easily carried on an all-day fall hunt and could be used to fill limits on anything from squirrels to deer without the need for a second gun. I have to say this gun screams "I am ready for anything, toss me in the back of the truck and let's go hunting and/or shooting". Although being a fan of the 77 Series, this is the first I have had my hands on long-term and you realize this is truly a gun your great, great, great grandkids could still be shooting and with a scotch brite pad buff could look as good then as it does now. The trigger feel was fairly crisp with little take up, however it was a fairly heavy trigger pull which is what I would want in a rifle I may be pushing through brush with.

Obviously the 77/357 is based on the proven Mauser style Mark 77 Ruger action which locks up dependably like a bank vault, tightly, and functions quickly and smoothly.  The sights are the same durable and dependable brass bead front and flip down adjustable rear sights found on the 10/22 to 77 Series rifles.  The rugged sights are not fancy, but are durable and do a great job.  

The weatherproof cold hammer forged barrel is a 18.5” stainless 8 grooves with a versatile 1:16 RH twist that provides good accuracy through a variety of .38 special to .357 loads. Of note, most of the .38 Special and .357 Magnum rounds will pick up a little zip.  According to Ruger, they tested a Hornady 140 grain FTX loads and clocked them at over 1820 feet per second out of the 18.5" barrel which makes for a very hard hitting round.

Wood stocks can break and typically are heavier than synthetic stocks.  One thing I really liked about the Ruger 77 series synthetic stocks are their cavernous buttstocks.  The rifle’s buttstock can hold a huge volume of survival accessories including the 5” Fallkniven survival knife and UCO Stormproof Matches shown and still have loads of room left for other items and extra ammo. I only wish Ruger had made the buttpad and grip cap quick release for easy access to stored items, but that may be a future modification. 

The five-shot rotary magazine is the other great feature which proved itself by feeding magazine full mixtures of 38 Special and 357 Magnum loads.  I do wish someone would come out with high capacity magazines such as those found on the 10/22 and 77/22 which share the same rotary magazine design.  Out of the box the magazines did not drop free and required a little finger wiggle however I have noticed in the last month that with use, the magazine is beginning to be easier to release.  Some would argue they want a drop-free magazine and others would argue against.  I think the magazine will “break-in” and loosen up however I do not see it becoming a quick reloading rifle like the 10/22 without a few edge radius and contact point tweaks to the magazine and receiver.  Please someone... a 10 rounds drop free magazine, I beg you. An advantage over lever actions is that this gun can be quickly loaded and unloaded just by clearing the chamber and dropping the magazine.

Ruger is now including a set of "high" 1” stainless steel scope rings, a $80 value, with the 77/357 which mount to Ruger’s proprietary scope mounting system.  If you are mounting up a 1” scope you are ready to go, but if you will be using one of the popular 30MM tubed scopes, you will need to pick up a different set of rings.  The Ruger 77 series has been so prolific that there are a variety of mounts available for the Ruger 77 scope mounting points including bolt on Peep rear sights, Weaver Rails, and even bases for most popular red dot optics such as the Burris Fast Fire II.

Even in the midst of an abundance of crap and crud, this is one action which will continue to shoot regardless of the environment. The gun was never cleaned throughout testing and I never had a funcitoning bobble. When most of use think of a survival rifle design we think of bolt actions that can take the muck and still function.  Of course with any bolt action, the force and speed of the “action” is all up to the shooter so if you happen to want to shoot a handload 38 Special gallery round (minimally loaded sub-sonic pest round), you can load that in the magazine right before a full power .357 load. Also if you need to hammer in or out a sticky round you have that option with the bolt action.

Accuracy Testing
The Ruger 77/357 was tested both with the stock iron sights and with a Trijicon 1-4X optic. The proprietary mounts did require the purchase of 30mm new rings instead of being able to use the 1” rings included or the weaver/picatinny ring already mounted on the scope. I understand the Ruger mounts can take an incredible beating, however I have to ask if there a reason it is not drilled an tapped to accept a bolt on Weaver base?  

To be up front I did not spend a day drilling 100 yard targets, I spent about an hour total on it, because being a high precision 1 MOA rifle is not what this gun is about.. and frankly I was having more fun shooting 25-75 yard targets offhand. Also I will apologize for the lack of target and range shots, my media server went toes up and I lost all my pictures and had to do a re-shoot just as I was finishing the review. I will post new ones when I have time to recreate the testing setup.

For accuracy testing I used Winchester Super-X White box .357 Magnum 158gr JHP, Winchester .357 Magnum Partition Gold 180gr JHP,  and my own .38 Special 158gr FMJ and HP reloads.  The accuracy was no surprise to me and netted solid 2” or less 10-shot groups with all ammo off a rest with open sights at 50 yards. At 100 yards those groups opened up to 5” with iron sights which I still consider minute of deer accuracy with iron sights.   The Trijicon 1-4X scope setup is about the perfect optic solution for the 77/357 and allowed plenty of field of vision on the 1X setting for close shots and at 4X helped me dial most groups into the 2” range on the 100 yard range.  
This gun actually liked the inexpensive Super-X .357 Magnum rounds the best and I managed one 1.7” 3-shot group at 100 yards with the optic on 4X.  Not a precision sniper rifle however a good performing rifle for its design intent and cartridge limitations where most shots will likely occur off-hand in the 10-50 yard range.  Then I set up my favorite 25 and 50 yard critter sized targets.. golf balls and remembered why I love a good bolt action.  It makes you slow down and think about each shot.

If I were going to outfit this gun as a survival rifle (which I will), there are a couple features I wish the gun did have such as: An integral Weaver/Picatinny scope base, a true drop free magazine, adjustable peep rear sights, hooded/eared front sight, a 16.1” threaded barrel to allow for easy suppressor attachment, higher capacity (10-round) magazines, and of course a quick release buttpad to get to items stored in the buttstock.  With these changes of course you would be looking at more of a Mini-Gunsite Scout rifle, however for around a street price of $500 even in the current state the Ruger 77/357 is outstanding and both a tough gun to beat and once that will take a beating.

The Ruger 77/357 is an outstandingly durable rifle package which carries on the Ruger 77/44, 77/22, and 77/17 legacy.  Several years ago the 77/357’s bigger brother the 77/44 was suddenly discontinued and we all though that great line of Ruger guns was about to be retired.  Apparently the public outcry was big enough that Ruger not only re-introduced the 77/44 model, but also added the 77/357 as well and I for one could not be more happy.  

From a all purpose hunting, disaster preparedness gun, and extended survival rifle the gun is hard to beat. Pair this with a Stainless 4" GP100 in .357 Magnum and you have an outstanding survival combo.  Short handy light weight and with the stainless and synthetic stock the gun is literally impervious to the elements. With the bolt feed action is also provides the user problem free feeding of a limitless array of production and handload .38 special and .357 Magnum rounds.  Personally I love the gun and have had a great time shooting this gun Ruger provided the review. A check will definitely be going to Ruger shortly for the gun so I can add this to my permanent collection.  

Catalog Number: K77/357-RSP | Model Number: 7405 | Caliber: .357 Mag.
Stock:Black SyntheticFinish:Brushed Stainless
Front Sight:Gold BeadRear Sight:Adjustable
Barrel Length:18.50"Overall Length:38.50"
Material:Stainless SteelLength of Pull:13.50"
Capacity:5Weight:5.50 lbs.
Twist:1:16" RHGrooves:8
Suggested Retail:$793.00

See my Video Review Here


Monday, August 22, 2011

Insight Technology M3 Xenon Tactical Illuminator Weapon Light Review

Insight Technology M3 Xenon Tactical Illuminator Weapon Light Review
Unfortunately “bad things” happen more often after the sun goes down instead of during bright of day.  As a result we figured out fire to illuminate our nights and much later how to produce a brilliant battery powered light which we could attach to the end of our firearms. Even today tactical lights of today are better than even last year’s models, however this provides the buyers of last years’ technology today more value as they shop.  One example of this is the Insight Technology M3 Xenon Tactical Illuminator Weapon Light.
Since it’s first introduction all the way back in 1998, the Insight Technology M3 Tactical Illuminator Weaponlight has been the standard for weapon attached illumination for law enforcement and personal protection because of its durability and light output.  One of the biggest selling points of the Insight M3 has been that the light has undergone a number of upgrades since its introduction which as enabled it to remain a low effective high value tactical weapon light option and currently features a Xenon lamp. Sure there LED’s are all the rage, and Insight has a LED version for about $30 more, however for most situations the dual 123 Lithium battery powered M3’s Xenon bulb’s 90+ lumen output is more than enough for atypical urban settings and saves your about 20%-30% of the cost of an LED version in the process.

The body is made from a durable nylon formula that takes a heafty beating and keeps the unit light weight. Mounting and removal of the M3 is simple and easily without tools and utilizing Insight’s patented Slide-Lock interface. The result of that nifty patented interface is that it slides easily on your standard 1913 picatinny rail and locks solidly in place via a spring-loaded latch bar until you want to remove it. As shown mounted on my Black Rain Ordnance and Ruger 556C AR15s it looks great even on the highest end of custom rifles.

Once mounted the tactical light’s ambidextrous rocker switch ears can be pressed counterclockwise for for momentary light or clock-wise for constant on position... it all works instinctively once your fingers learn the drill.  As with all the Insight weapon lights the backplate is interchangeable with any other Insight backplate designed for either M3 or M6 models, and backplates with remote pressure switches.

Overall the light has performed admirably and I have been quite happy with the light output, runtime, and durability. I did run a few lights out drills at the house and scared the crap out of my wife and of course used it to illuminate a six point buck that happened to be standing in my driveway at 1AM when I let the dog out... which snorted before I could put a light on it and scared the crap out of me.  As confirmed the Insight M3 worked well as both a weapons light and a dusk to evening critter light for hunting. The Xenon lights are not as bright as LED however in the 20-25 yard range everything was well lit and certainly indoors it was more than bright enough.  A highly durable, quality, and versatile light at a great price.

  • Available in Black or Tan
  • Item# GLL-001-A1
  • $119.99 (About $100 Street Price)
  • Peak Output: 90+ Lumens
  • Run Time: 1 Hours
  • Interface Options: Slide-Lock®
  • Dimensions: 3.4”L x 1.6”W x 1.5”H
  • Weight: 3.3 oz. w/Batteries
  • Lithium Battery Power: 6V from Two (2) 123 Batteries
  • 1 - Spare bulb included
  • Warranty: Limited Lifetime Warranty

Insight Technologies (an L-3 Company)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Spike's Tactical ST-15 Mid-Length AR15/M4 LE Carbine Review

Spike's Tactical ST-15 Mid-Length AR15/M4 LE Carbine Review

Where do you go when you want a 100% American made AR/M4 rifle with quality that meets or exceeds military spec standard at a price far less than a brand name AR? Spikes Tactical or also known as STI... well yeah, OK I had the same reaction of "WTF brand is that?" when someone suggested a Spikes rifle. I had heard of lot of brands but as of a year or so ago that brand was new to me. Would I be buying from some dude named Spike who assembles rifles in his garage? As it turns out this is definitely NOT the case however as the company is owned by a guy named Tom, I am still not sure who Spike is, however they produce one heck of a lifetime warranted 100% American made rifle. It is rumored that Spike is the owner/founder and got his name from playing volley ball.

The reality is that among AR and firearm nerds and tactical folks, Spikes has been consistently highly regarded as a top premium brand for some time. Beyond the cool name and spider logo, Spikes goes out if its way to provide buyers competitively priced top end AR specs and a high attention to detail on every rifle they make from budget to all billet.

If you are building your own AR they have individual parts, complete lower and upper receivers ready to pin on and upgrade your current AR, movie inspiring "Biohazard" billet lowers and of course complete ready to shoot carbine and mid-length rifles such as the one I am reviewing here.  Options also include Lother stainless match target barrels and a variety of calibers options. If you have a dream AR, Spikes can build it for you. After my very positive impression of this rifle, I may “need” to build a match grade AR tack driver in a future project.

Spikes Tactical indeed has a stunning option list on their site and it was a test of my fortitude just order the standard Spikes Tactical Mid-Length ST15 rifle, but being a first time Spikes buyer I wanted to see the quality of their base model. In my mind, if a manufacturer can't make a kick ass budget product then chances are their high end product will just be more lipstick on the pig... and Spikes rifles are beauties that sell themselves and don’t require any glossy marketing hype.

Currently Spikes offers several basic packages and I choose their basic entry level mid-length rifle with 16" barrel configuration chambered in 5.56 which will also shoot .223 ammunition as well. Most would label my purchase a standard police patrol rifle which is atypical spec of most police department budgeted rifles...or at least is similar to what i have seen in my experience with a few agencies. The goal achieved for this purchase was simply to have a no-nonsense stone cold reliable standard AR which could take a beating and punch 1"-2" groups at 100 yards reliably all for well under $900.

Before I start running down my standard review points, I should note that Spikes Tactical is a different type of AR manufacturer.  Sure most AR parts are made by only a few part manufacturers and then assembled by other AR assembling manufacturers such as Spikes. There is however a distinct difference between simply buying and bolting together a bunch of parts and pride in craftsmanship.  Spikes is a AR gun produced by craftsman with details even in the base models you just will not find in most rifles. Spikes does something no other manufacturers does, it lists every single specification on the website of every part on the rifle.  Who tells you that their ejection port door is “Mil-Spec Ejection Port Door Assembly with MIL-STD-171 Phosphate Finish” and that the hand guard cap is “Triangle Hand Guard Cap with MIL-STD-171 Phosphate Coating”?  You are lucky if most manufacturers provide the basic length, weight, and barrel twist on a regular basis.  By publishing these specifications in detail, Spikes is letting everyone know they are no corners cut on any part regardless of how insignificant it may seem... This is what sold me on a Spikes Tactical STI rifle. As a result of this extensive list of specifications I will direct your the the website versus publishing all the specs as four pages of single spaced specs is simply ridiculous to include in an article.  
Spikes Tactical ST15 Mid-Length Rifle Detailed Specs (click the tabs for upper/lower specifications)

FIT - The Spikes Tactical Mid-length AR/M4 rifle has a tight tolerance fit with no rattle or play between the upper and lower receiver. All the parts fit well with nothing loose or floppy and the bolt fits how it should and moves smoothly. Solid would be a great term to use for the build quality and fit of each and every component on the rifle.

Finish - Throughout the gun, there were no uneven radiuses or sharp edges and the finish was consistent all the way from the reciever to the flash hider.  All the anodizing matched between the upper and lowers.  The only part which was obviously a little lighter (i.e. dark grey) was the mil-spec tube assembly.  Everything else was a deep flat black finish.

FUNCTIONS- Running dry fire and ammo driven range work drills proved Spikes makes a very reliable rifle.. Not that I am a wuss, but 1-2 hours long dry fire clearing/jam drill sessions make you want to swap out the functional but uncomfortable stock charging latch for a wider Badger style (they offer that upgrade). The supplied Magpul 30-round PMAG magazine included and other optional Magpul and steel magazines used during testing all dropped free as they should with the touch of the magazine release. I only ran one full load through the steel magazine and the rest of the testing was with PMAGs. No jams were experienced with over 2500 rounds of the dog's breakfast of random ammo stuffed into the magazines.
The trigger is a standard AR15/M4 quality and feel, meaning it is not a great target trigger feel, however plenty serviceable for a service/tactical rifle.  For those who anticipate the need for a finer trigger feel, Spikes offers an optional Enhanced Trigger Group.

FEATURES- The rifle does have a few extras beyond what most people would consider a standard AR15/M4 carbine with upgrades assuring the base gun is as high of quality as possible. The standard list of features and details on a very high quality M4 rifle are there from M4 feedramps milled before anodizing, to a F-marked front sight, "H" tungsten buffer, 6-position stock, 1:7 twist rifling, M16 bolt, to chrome lined heavy barrel, and more, but it’s the nice extra touches like full labeling of the barrel specs “ST MIL-B-11595E CMV 1/7 CL HP MP” which are laser etched into the top of the barrel under the forend and bullet pictograms on the receiver for the selector switch which show you how much care and attention to detail goes into each rifle. This is a superior quality basic rifle that is light because it doesn’t have all the extras tacked on, but if you feel the need to add ounces with a space age stock and enough picatinny rails to hang an expresso machine off the forend, you may want to take advantage of Spikes ability to customize a rifle exactly how you want it.

After several Mid-Length ARs I am sold on the Mid-Length gas system format. The Mid-Length system provide less recoil impulse, seem to be less finicky/more reliable and longer running between cleanings, and the longer forend provides more room to shoot from barricades and position the support hand further out for a higher degree of control.

ACCURACY - For a “standard AR” the Spikes ST15 delivered great accuracy for me.  I ran through the break in, cleaned it top to bottom and then sat down for some distance testing before the high round count reliability testing.  Although the three 5-shot average groups are listed below, I like to do full magazine groups of thirty rounds with a couple seconds between each round to see how the groups open up as the barrel heats up.  This is were barrel stress relief/cryo-treatment starts to show it’s value.  I have several stress-relieved barrels and all perform with the same consistency I saw front the Spikes Mid-Length Carbine.  The Federal Match and Winchester PDX1 all stayed solidly within a center to center 1” ragged hole. The Hornady opened up to around 1.5”, but even the remainder of the ammo assured groups under 2”.  Obviously the 1:7 twist liked the heavier bullets better, but overall I was thrilled with the accuracy of this basic mid-length rifle.

  WOLF FMJ 62GR = 1.5”

WHAT’S IN THE BOX - Spikes Tactical’s Mid-Lengh and Carbine AR15 rifles are shipped with an installed Magpul MBUS Rear Sight, one Magpul 30rd P-Mag, Hard Plastic Carry Case with three locking points, Standard US Military M-16 Service Operators Manual, decals, velcro patch, and info on the Spike's Tactical Lifetime Warranty.  Nice package overall and I like the fact that a Magpul magazine and back up sight were included... nice upgrades which enhance the rifle and make it ready to shoot out of the box.

In an interesting statement by the CEO on their site he states that they build rifles they would stake their life on and assure no corners are cut. He also goes on to say QC is everyone's job at Spikes from the receiving manager to the outbound shipping team and everyone in between. It's a good feeling that if the chips were down, the fat lady was singing, pigs were flying, and the crap was hitting the fan at a high rate, that everyone at Spikes would be shouldering the same quality guns they sell to the public.  Spikes Tactical will not use one piece or part that is not American made. I love this and also the fact I can support the American entrepreneur who builds a competitively priced quality USA made product.

As with any quality AR specialty builder these days, buying from Spikes Tactical will not be an immediate gratification purchase. Quality takes time and I would rather wait the extra week or two versus compromising quality. As popular as Spikes has become over the years, expect 2-5 week delivery times; mine took about 5 weeks. Your patience will be rewarded with one of the highest quality ARs available for your money.  Spikes may be running an average month long back log, however I think they need more media exposure. Hopefully my banter here will nudge other writers and media folks to take note and increase that backlog.

After inspection, dry fire drills, and some range time, I can say the gun I ordered would be the one I would grab if things went sideways. My Spikes mid-length seems to be just a little tighter, just a little more accurate, and due to some of the included features, which are extra most times on other rifles, a little more reliably confident than other "basic" ARs I have shot.

The quality matches and in many cases exceeds that of premium ARs nearly twice the price. In reality you can order the same rifle I ordered but with the fancy furniture kit, billet picatinny forend, charging latch, enhanced trigger, rear sight, and even optics upgrade/additions from Spikes and you would be near $2K, but the working base parts would all carry foreword without a needed upgrade. Again if the company cannot make the basics well then their dressed up versions will not be a any better functionally. With my Spikes rifle I can add all that stuff later, but I am starting with great guts of a rifle which has a very high grade of craftsmanship. My opinion is that this rifle would be perfect for my needs with only a Magpul MOE furniture upgrade and of course a wider charging latch, but that is an easy and inexpensive upgrade.  Highly recommended.

  • Spike's Tactical 16", 1:7 Twist, Mil-spec Barrel
  • Government Barrel Profile, Mid Length Gas System
  • F-marked A2 Front Sight Base, .750" Diameter Gas Seat
  • Spike's Tactical Mil-spec M16 Bolt Carrier Group
  • Mid Length Handguards
  • A2 Flash Hider
  • Mil-spec Lower Parts
  • ST-T2 Tungsten Buffer
  • ST M4 Stock
  • Overall Length - 32.25” collapsed stock - 35.5” extended stock
  • Weight - 6.45lbs, 6.8lbs, w/empty PMAG
  • Spikes Tactical ST15 Mid-Length Rifle Detailed Specs (click the tabs for upper/lower specifications)


Spikes Tactical
Phone 407.928.2666

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