The Diminutive .204 Ruger
By Ron Spomer
To sell rifles and ammunition in the U.S. you’re advised to go light and fast. That’s what Ruger and Hornady decided in 2004 when they released that smoking hot little pipsqueak surprise, the .204 Ruger.
A near ballistic twin of the .22-250 Rem., this .20 caliber shoots long and flat with less noise, less recoil and less pelt damage than its .22 caliber predecessor. Not that the .22-250 is going extinct or anything, but varmint shooters and coyote pelt hunters by the droves have added the .204 to their batteries.
Like most cartridges, this one sprang from the case of another, in this circumstance the nearly forgotten .222 Remington Magnum. Yup, they overlooked the more popular .223 Rem. on this deal. Why? Because the older .222 Rem. Mag. case, itself a slightly elongated version of the .222 Rem., is a smidgeon longer than the .223 Rem. More powder capacity, yet still fitting .223-length actions like the AR-15s. This is why you can order a Remington R-15 in .204 Ruger as well as .223 Rem.
But why mess with such a tiny bore in the first place? Novelty, perhaps. Efficiency, for sure. With just 29 grains of TAC powder the .204 can spit a 32-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip 4,150 fps from a 26-inch barrel. Despite the relatively low B.C. rating of .206, that poison pill will hit dead-on at 200 yards, 4.3 inches low at 300 yards and just 14 inches beneath point-of-aim at 400 yards. Aim for the center of El Coyote’s chest and you’ll save a few pronghorn fawns at any distance from the muzzle to 330 yards without worry about hold-over or -under.
Of course there is the issue of punch, Judy, and no feathery 32-grain bullet is going to pack much of a wallop. In fact, there are just 1,220 foot pounds energy in that sliver of gilding metal and lead when it departs the muzzle. By 300 yards it has shed all but 450 f.p. By 400 yards just 320 f.p. remain. Yet this has proven sufficient to tumble prairie dogs and crush coyotes quite satisfactorily, thank you. Moving up to 40-grain bullet (B.C. 239) slows things down a mite (3,750 fps), but boosts retained energy levels, a fair trade for many, especially when you gain wind drift resistance as well. Gravity is constant, so memorizing trajectory tables works everywhere, all the time. Wind is a shifty, inconsistent thing, so in open country where it blows frequently, it pays to use a bullet with the highest B.C. to insure minimal wind deflection.
The best reasons for owning a .204 are seeing the hits and saving pelts. Because recoil is so light, in a 10-pound varmint rifle a 32-gr. .204 Ruger load generates – get this – 1.96 f.p. of free recoil energy. That compares to 15 f.p. from a .30-06, 3.71 f.p. from a .22-250 Rem. It’s so slight that you should be able to keep the scope on target and see your hit or miss, obviously a great value when targeting long-range varmints. You no longer need a spotter! Cool.
For fur collectors, the light, frangible .204 bullets generally punch inside foxes and coyotes and stay there, destroying vital organs for quick, if not instant, kills. No exit holes, no torn hides to stitch up. Not with every shot, but most shots. Man, I wish I’d had this advantage back when I was fur hunting in the 1970s. Fur is one of our greatest natural, abundant, renewable, biodegradable “fabrics.”
Of course the .204 Ruger isn’t suitable for any big game hunting, but can be pressed into service for some small game if you limit yourself to head-shots. In most rifles this caliber is extremely accurate, in no small measure due to the thick barrel steel that remains after drilling such a tiny bore. The stiffer the tube, the less those barrel vibrations (oscillations) disrupt accuracy.
Whether you hunt fox, coyotes, bobcats, jackrabbits, chucks or small ground squirrels, the .204 Ruger will work and work beautifully out to 400 yards or so. Its bark is mild, its recoil negligible and its performance outstanding. And it’s inexpensive to operate. Aside from wind deflection, what’s not to like?