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Three Years Later!
The beloved little .204 Ruger was introduced in 2004. Now in 2008, it has been about three years since I wrote my original article (which can be found below). In that time, we have seen the nearly complete demise of the Remington Short Action Ultra Mags (SAUM) and Winchester's Super Short Mags. The waning popularity of the 7mm WSM and some of Remington's Ultra Mags (RUM) all but spell their dooming fate.
It appears, however, that there are a couple of the short mags that are hanging on, and rightfully so. I have a .270 WSM and it is a good caliber. I hope it stays around. The .300 WSM and .300 RUM appear to also be holding their own. Good for them!
But how is the little .204 Ruger doing? When I wrote this article nearly three years ago, I guess you could say that I was, in a small way, trying to champion the little caliber. Defending it, possibly? But now in 2008, the big picture is much clearer. Where I once would argue why a person should buy the .204 over a .22-250, I will no longer do so. Why? Because I don't have to. In the words of Chuck Hawks, "The .204 Ruger is a carefully designed and well balanced cartridge into which a lot of thought was put ... Its longevity is assured."
I will no longer argue about which caliber is better. The .17s have their place. The .22-250 has been around for a long time and it will continue to live on far longer than I will. My point is this; if a person wants to buy a .22-250, then buy one. If a person wants to buy a .204, then buy one. If a person wants one gun to hunt varmints, predators and the occasional deer (in states where allowed), the choice is obvious. Get a .22-250 or larger rifle. I never have nor ever will condone hunting any big game animal with a .204 Ruger. However, if you want a gun that is fun to shoot, can double as a varmint and predator rifle, is among a very small crowd of laser-like flat shooters and you don't want a lot of recoil, then you can't make a better choice than the little .204 Ruger.
Having used my little .204 over a three year period and heard the numberless testimonies of others, the praises for this little caliber are many. Every accolade in my original article has been verified time and again by many shooters and hunters. The muzzle blast and recoil is less than that of the other larger varmint and predator calibers. One of the things that I love most about my gun is the ability to see my hits in the scope. I have a friend that has used his .22-250 for many years. After he shot a coyote with my .204, he vowed to get himself one. Is he getting rid of his ole .22-250? No! He will have one of each!
The .204 seems to be inherently accurate, consistent and forgiving. Very few people complain of poor accuracy. There have been some reports of rifles from certain manufactures not being able to stabilize some of the heavier bullets. My gun is a Ruger MKII Ultralight and it shoots the 40 grain V-Maxes just fine. However, some rifles don't. Concerns about the .204 being a barrel burner have been dispelled. Sure, every gun made will erode the throat and barrel. Some faster than the .204, some slower. But because of the small powder charge, a barrel burner the .204 is not. Many people have reported shooting thousands of rounds through their pipes with little affect on accuracy.
As stated three years ago, "The bottom line is this. The .204 Ruger gives all the favorable characteristics of the .22-250 in a low recoil, quieter, fun-to-shoot package."
What about the .204 Ruger?
The arguments for having a .204 Ruger are many. This is not meant to put down in any way the .22-250, .220 Swift or .223 Rem. They are all fine calibers and each excels in their own element. However, the .204 Ruger also has its advantages.
For example, let’s take the little .17 calibers, which have gained much popularity recently. The first advantage is low recoil. The little .204 shares this characteristic. The recoil is tame enough for all shooters, from kids and ladies to men. Does this mean it is a ladies gun? Not at all! I own a little ruger 10/22 and it is a riot to shoot. But I miss the wow factor of my larger center-fire rifles. With the .204, I get the best of both worlds. Due to the low recoil, .204 owners are enjoying the ability of seeing the bullet do its work through the scope. You can’t do this with the bigger flat shooters, the .22-250 or the Swift. Truth be told, with my light gun, the Ruger MKII Ultralight, there is enough recoil that I can not keep the scope on target when I shoot the heavier 40 grain loads. However, with the heavier guns, you can. Also, with the lower recoil of the .204, the tendency to flinch or jerk is minimized. On those 300 plus yard shots, this becomes a huge factor. The reduced muzzle blast also help calm the nerves.
The .17 calibers have had a great following among furbearer hunters. Although the .204 will not be as fur-friendly as the .17 calibers, it will be much better than the larger .22 calibers.
Ballistics is where things start to get interesting. When comparing the .204 to the larger .22 calibers, the little Ruger will be flatter shooting than the .223 and on par with the .22-250 and Swift. Using Hodgdon’s published data, the following table illustrates this point. I have not used the published data for the over-the-counter loads because I feel the reloading data better represents what we see in real life. Note that this does not give any unfair advantage to the .204 since the published velocity for the .204 Ruger is 4,225 fps! Using this velocity would clearly give the Ruger the advantage but since most people are having difficulty attaining this velocity, we will use Hodgdon’s data.
Once more visiting recoil as compared to the 22-250 and assuming an 8.5 pound rifle, the 22-250 will kick with 56% more energy than the .204! While on the subject of energy, how does the .204 fare in knock-down power? At the muzzle, the .22-250 claims 34% more energy than the .204. However, due to the higher ballistics coefficient of the smaller bullet, it gains on the larger caliber and is only down 12% at 500 yards. This could be interpreted as good and bad. On larger game than coyotes, the lower energy will reflect negatively on the .204. But on fur bearing animals, the lower energy at close range will result in less damage to fur while retaining respectable energy on long shots.
I have heard many arguments against the .204 in the wind-drift department. Although I am still testing this in the field, paper science tells us a different story. My ballistics program computes 27.34” of drift at 500 yards in a 10 mph wind for the .22-250 compared to 24.21” for the Ruger. These calculations are based on the best loads for each caliber from the data listed above.
The bottom line is this. The .204 Ruger gives all the favorable characteristics of the .22-250 in a low recoil, quieter, fun-to-shoot package. The .204 Ruger will not have the raw energy of either the .22-250 or the Swift. So if a person is not concerned with fur damage and needs the extra energy of the larger calibers, the .22-250 or Swift would be the better choice.