The New .204 Ruger

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

May 2nd, 2004




One of the more interesting announcements at the Ruger press conference at the beginning of the 2004 SHOT Show in Las Vegas was the introduction of the new .204 Ruger cartridge. The .204 was developed together with Hornady Ammunition, and it fires a thirty-two grain twenty caliber V-Max bullet at an advertised muzzle velocity of 4225 feet per second.

After the press conference, we were loaded onto a bus and driven to a firing range where Ruger had set up the new rifles for us to try out. The conditions were cold and very windy, but shooting the new rifle was exceedingly enjoyable. We were able to shoot the new ammo from both a Model 77 and from a Number One. Both had heavy barrels and were fitted with Leupold Varmint/Target scopes.  Hitting small targets of opportunity on the berms at the range was easy, once I learned how much windage to allow for wind drift on the tiny bullets. The wind did not effect the bullets as much as I had anticipated. Even out at 400 yards, holding several inches into the wind made hitting a small steel plate rather easy.

While shooting the gun in Vegas was fun, it only made me want to further investigate this new cartridge. I immediately put in an order for a rifle and ammunition.

The rifle sent to me for testing is the stainless Ruger Number One Varmint. It has a twenty-six inch heavy barrel that tapers from 1.159 inches diameter at the front of the receiver to .735 inch diameter at the muzzle, which is finished with a recessed target crown. The stock is a laminated hardwood that has a mostly gray color to it. The result is a very good looking rifle. The stock has a straight comb and a wide fore-end, and is extremely comfortable to shoot from a bench or a supported field position, such as from a bipod. The stock is fitted with a stainless grip cap, stainless sling swivels, and a black rubber butt pad. This Number One weighs nine pounds and one ounce, without scope or rings. The trigger pull measured a crisp four and one-quarter pounds as delivered. I prefer a lighter trigger pull on a varmint rifle, as I can shoot better with a pull in the one and one-half pound range. The Number One trigger is somewhat adjustable, but since this was not my rifle, I left it alone.

For testing I mounted a new Mueller four to sixteen power Sport Dot scope, using the excellent rings provided by Ruger. Ruger ships all of their centerfire rifles with scope mounts and rings, which adds to an already good value. Other rifle manufacturers should do likewise. The Mueller scope has a German number four type reticle with a one-eighth minute dot in the center. The dot is centered in the crosshair, and appears to "float", without contacting the crosshairs. The dot is also electronically lighted for use in low light conditions, with eleven different levels of illumination. This scope has a fifty millimeter parallax adjustable objective lens and a fast-focus European type ocular lens. Throughout the testing of this rifle, I was very impressed with the Mueller scope. The optical clarity was excellent, as were the fit and finish, and they are also very affordable. The target style one-eighth inch click turrets were easy to use and very precise.  Mueller is a relatively new optics source, and I look forward to trying out their other available products.

As of this writing, Hornady is the only manufacturer of factory ammunition in .204 Ruger. The 32-grain V-Max load was the only load available to me at the time, and proved to be plenty accurate in the Number One, grouping under one-half inch at one hundred yards. Hornady also has available a load using a 40-grain V-Max bullet. The 40-grain load is advertised at a muzzle velocity of 3900 feet per second (fps).  While the 32- grain load is advertised as having a muzzle velocity of 4225 fps, the lot of ammunition that I tested had an average instrumental velocity of 4030 fps, recorded  ten feet from the muzzle. The cases extracted very easily, exhibiting no signs of excessive pressure. In fact, Hornady advertises this ammo as being loaded to normal pressures, to promote long barrel life and good performance.

It has been rumored that the .204 Ruger is based on a .223 Remington (5.56mm) case. As can be seen in the photos, this is not true. The .204 has a longer overall case length, and has more powder capacity than does the .223 case. The .204 case is closer to the .222 Remington Magnum case specifications.

I tried several handloads using Hornady dies, with both the thirty-two and forty grain Hornady V-Max bullets.  The best powders for the .204 Ruger that I tried proved to be Hodgdon Varget and Accurate Arms 2460. Both provided good accuracy and excellent velocity, without excessive pressure. I had very little load data to go on for the thirty-two grain V-Max bullet, and none at all for the forty grain bullet. My smallest powder funnel was made to accommodate .22 caliber cartridges, and would not work with the twenty caliber case mouth opening without spilling powder. To solve this problem, I cut off a .17 HMR case, slightly flared the case at the cut, and pressed it into the mouth of the twenty-two caliber funnel. It worked perfectly to pour the powder from the scale pan into the .204 Ruger cases. I assembled the loads very carefully, measuring case head expansion, observing ease of extraction, and checking primer pocket dimensions. I was able to safely achieve average velocities of 4317 fps with the thirty-two grain bullet, and 4050 with the forty grain bullet, measured with my PACT chronograph at ten feet from the muzzle. This is amazing performance from such a small case, and no, I will not publish the load data here, as none of it has been laboratory tested.  When I tried to get more than 4050 fps out of the forty grain bullet, pressures were excessive. It might be possible, but further testing is necessary, using different powders. However, I was very satisfied with the velocity and accuracy achieved.

One other nice thing about the .204 Ruger is the lack of felt recoil.  It recoils much less than a .22-250, but achieves faster velocity by using a very efficient case and a lighter bullet. Firing the .204 you get the sense that the bullet is instantly on target. It is hard to explain the feeling, but there is just instant impact, and the mild recoil allows the hit to be seen through the scope, without being jarred off target.

With the .204, I think that Ruger and Hornady has a success on their hands. It is a dandy little cartridge, and should be ideal for vermin and small predators out to and beyond 400 yards. I look forward to more testing of the cartridge in the Number One and in other guns as they become available.

Check out the full line of Ruger products here.

For ammunition, dies, and bullets, go to:

For more information on the Mueller scopes, go to:

Jeff Quinn


For a list of dealers where you can buy this gun, go to:


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Click pictures for a larger version.


The .204 Ruger is a joint development between Ruger and Hornady.



Loaded and empty cases show the difference between the .204 Ruger's case (left) and the .223 Remington (right).



The strong and accurate Ruger Number One Varmint rifle proved to be the perfect test gun for the new cartridge.



Ruger's Number One Varmint rifle features a recessed muzzle crown for increased accuracy.



Ruger ships all of their centerfire rifles with scope mounts and rings, a much-appreciated practice that increases their already-excellent value.



Author was very favorably impressed with the Mueller 4x-16x Sport Dot scope. The test scope features finger-adjustable target-style turrets, precise and repeatable 1/8-minute click adjustments and bright, clear optics. Jeff looks forward to trying more of Mueller Optics' products in the future.



The Mueller Sport Dot scope has a German number four type reticle with a 1/8-minute dot in the center. Top picture shows the utility of this design, while the bottom picture illustrates the adjustable lighted reticle for low-light conditions.



Jeff's testing and load development proved that gun and cartridge are capable of excellent accuracy and velocity.



Modified powder funnel Jeff used in loading for the .204 Ruger.



While the factory loads tested by the author came up a bit short of advertised velocities, Jeff found it easy to achieve excellent velocities using handloads.



100-yard three-shot groups show the outstanding accuracy of the Ruger Number One Varmint rifle and .204 Ruger factory ammo and handloads.