Review: Ruger American Predator

With the Ruger American Predator, hunters can have a sturdy and accurate rifle without being overly invested.

Review: Ruger American Predator

At a suggested retail price of $529, the American Predator is ideal for hunters who do not want to be overly invested and still have an accurate and reliable rifle. (Photo: Scott Mayer)

Ruger’s American Predator is one of those rifles you can just be mean to and it will keep on loyally performing at its very best.

Ruger Product Manager Matt Willson calls it a “tank of a gun.” But that refers to how sturdy it is, as it’s a lightweight and nimble predator hunting rifle that balances nicely and points quickly. “There’s not much you can do to break this gun,” Willson says. “It’s rugged, it’s accurate. There’s nothing you’re going to do to hurt this when you’re out in the field. There’s nothing that’s going to break. It’s a big, one-piece bolt. Its solid.”

That speaks not only to Ruger’s workmanship, but also its target market for the American Predator. As Willson explains, the American Predator is for someone who always wants to have a rifle handy but doesn’t want to be “overly invested” in a gun that might spend a lot of time behind the seat of the truck or in a scabbard on a tractor. “This isn’t a highly polished blue and glossy wood gun,” admits Willson of the utilitarian grade of the American Predator. 

This is not the first version of Ruger’s American Predator, and I have to hand it to Ruger for its responsiveness to customers regarding the recent improvements. While there was nothing wrong with the original version, hunters called foul on the non-standard scope base and also wondered why Ruger couldn’t make the 5.56-chambered gun take commonly available AR-15 magazines instead of Ruger’s proprietary rotary ones. 

“So at the very end of 2017, beginning of 2018, obviously the AR mag is new, but one of the big changes is that … and our customers have been asking for it, was just updating from our Ruger scope base that we had since the gun had launched," Willson said. [That base] "would accept Picatinny rings, but if you tried to use a one-piece Picatinny base, the slot spacing along its length wasn’t appropriate, so we’ve updated the entire American family to be full correct Picatinny."

As for the AR mag compatibility, customer demand fortunately corresponded with some equipment wearing out, so Ruger used the opportunity to effect the upgrade.

“If we were smarter seven years ago when we designed the gun and looked into the future, we would have seen AR mags coming and it would have been a very easy thing to do,” Willson said. The challenge Ruger faced was that AR magazines are wider at the top than the company’s flush-fit rotary mags. They couldn’t be seated high enough in the then-current design for the bolt head to strip a cartridge from the magazine and into the chamber.

“We just apparently told ourselves ‘well, that can’t be done because you can’t get the magazine up toward the bore high enough’ and that was just kind of the answer. Everyone said that, and everyone nodded their heads,” Willson said. Then, about a year and a half ago, Ruger’s injection molding tool that made its short action stocks began wearing out. “We were basically welding it back up and respotting it to keep it in size and the texture correct. We knew we needed a new tool, and that’s when we finally entertained the idea of ‘well, what would it take to put an AR magazine into this gun?’ ”

Willson said the biggest challenge was the bottom metal because the bottom of the receiver had to be opened more to let the magazine go up higher.

“Just knowing that we could do it, and [that] we had to make a new stock tool anyway, that was kind of our chance," he said. "We have a couple of very sharp, very enterprising engineers here who really took the ball with that and made it happen and made it happen very quickly."

You can see a lot of thought went into designing the Predator to feed smoothly and reliably from an AR magazine. It wasn’t simply a matter of removing some bottom metal from the receiver. For one thing, the entire magazine well is a unit that has, for lack of a better description, the mag release cross section from an AR-15 lower incorporated in it to hold the AR mag in place. The mag release on the Predator is even interchangeable with the mag release on my AR-556. Clever. 

Another thing is the bolt has a bunch of unusual geometry to it compared with the non-AR mag bolt. “That is all necessary to be able to open and close the bolt whether there is a cartridge on the left or right side of a staggered magazine,” Willson said, adding that the clearance lets cartridges come up high enough and still lets the shooter open and close the bolt successfully. 

Finally, being a three-lug bolt design is a huge advantage verses other guns with a two-lug bolt because that third lug hangs straight down ready to take up cartridges. “It was just a matter of getting the cartridges up to it,” Willson said.

But About the Rest?

The remainder of the Predator remains unchanged. Instead of a conventional bedding block and recoil lug, the American Predator has a system Ruger calls “Power-Bedding” that uses V-blocks molded and mechanically locked into the stock that mate with corresponding flat notches on the receiver. “If you’re machining and setting up on a round piece in like a machinist vice,” said  Willson, “you’d usually be flat on one jaw and [have] a ‘V’ on the opposite. We’re basically trying to get that same set up, but without a flat jaw. Instead, we’re just pulling the receiver down into the Vs.” 

In addition to the bedding function, Willson said that Power-Bedding helps better control where the center of the receiver is and that it puts less stress on the receiver. “[O]ur goal is…to not try to bend the receiver; just to keep it in the same spot every single shot. So, it ends up being a very, very repeatable bedding system that has proven to be very robust. We never rip the blocks out of the stock. They never shift. The gun always comes back to the same point and that’s really the goal of bedding — being repeatable every single shot." 

Likewise, the new Predator still has the Marksman trigger that is user adjustable between three and five pounds pull. On the sample gun, I was able to adjust it between 5.5 and 3.2 pounds. Adjustment is all but idiot-proof — tighten the adjustment screw to increase pull weight, loosen the screw to decrease pull weight. Approximately six full turns of the screw represent the entire range of trigger pull weight adjustability. Turning the screw beyond that amount will not further increase or decrease trigger pull weight, and turning the screw too far in may cause the trigger to bind and not function. Turning the screw too far out may prevent the barreled action from reassembling to the stock. 

At the Range

I was eager to get the Predator on the range to see how well it would perform. I contacted Silencer Shop for a CMMG DEFCAN 2Ti suppressor because I also wanted to take full advantage of the Predator’s pre-threaded barrel to investigate claims I had read of extreme impact shifts with and without the suppressor. While I was waiting for the suppressor, I adjusted the trigger pull down to 3.2 pounds and topped the Predator with one of Trijicon’s 2.5-12.5x42mm AccuPoint scopes. Willson noted that the Predator is chambered in 5.56 so if I wanted to, I could plink or initially sight in with inexpensive military surplus ammo. But he recommended a good match load for accuracy and tipped loads for predator hunting. 

Shooting was at 100 yards using Black Hills’ 50-grain V-Max, Federal Premium 69-grain Sierra MatrchKing load and Hornady’s 53-grain V-Max Superformance load. Accuracy was a mixed bag.  The American Predator positively hated the Superformance load, but really liked the lighter Hornady V-Max as Black Hills loaded it, averaging 0.75-inch. The Federal load averaged a slightly larger 0.84-inch. The real surprise came when I shot the American Predator with the CMMG suppressor. Group average shrank to an impressive 0.35-inch.

There were no malfunctions, and feeding was easy considering the short, 70-degree bolt lift and left- right- nature of the AR mags. I even tried feeding from 30-round metal STANAG mags, Hexmags, P-Mags and some metal 10-rounders from the “ban” days with no feeding problems.

Some American Predator shooters noted a significant impact shift between using the suppressor or not. Willson said those incidents are likely “onesies” or “twosies” and his conjecture was that perhaps those guns had marginal freefloat, and adding the weight of the can wass bringing the barrel into contact with the forend and causing a “bounce.” The impact shift I experienced was four inches to 7:30, which is comparable to what I’ve experienced with other rifle/can combinations. 

Willson summed up this accurate “tank of a gun” by pointing out some of its unique characteristics that set it apart from others in its class.

“This is a one-piece bolt with three bolt lugs," he said. "There’s no floating bolt head. We have a good strong ejector and the extractor’s captive within the bolt so everything’s this one piece. We just have a really robust push-feed that is native to this bolt head even when we’re now feeding from AR mags.” 

Overall, Ruger has done what it once thought was impossible, and in doing so, offers the predator hunter a bolt-action alternative to an AR that is accurate, affordable and rugged. 

Spec Sheet

Manufacturer: Ruger
Model: American Predator
Calibers: Several ranging from .204 Ruger to .308 Win. (5.56 tested)
Action: Bolt-action repeating
Magazine: AR-style (10-round included)
Barrel: Cold hammer forged, 22 inches
Trigger:  Marksman Adjustable 3 to 5 pounds pull
Sights: None. Picatinny rail installed
Stock: Moss Green synthetic
Overall Length:  42 inches
Weight: 6.6 pounds
Other: Muzzle threaded 1/2-28
MSRP: $529
For more information visit www.ruger.com

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