The .204 Ruger is an interesting, quirky calibre that would be a joy to own, but has limited practical application.
Recent years have seen rising popularity in smaller, faster calibres, with the .17 HMR being the champion of rimfire innovation since the inception of the versatile .22LR. Foxers have gladly latched onto this super-fast rimmy, which packs a punch well beyond what its on-paper ballistics would suggest. I still have reservations regarding its use for larger quarry; that, on top of its sensitivity to wind drift and limited long-range capability compared to centrefires, means dedicated foxers will probably hold on to their .22-250s and .220 Swifts.
But there has been a new kid on the block for the past 10 years, waiting in the wings to knock the classic foxing calibres from the top of the pile. The .204 Ruger may just be the varmint shooter’s dream cartridge. It shoots flatter than a .22-250 Rem, comes very close to the trajectory of the .220 Swift (the 39-grain in .204 Ruger is not shown but almost identical to the 32-grain), and resists wind drift better than either of its rivals in its 39-grain offering – some 1.5in and 7.2in less drift over 300 yards than the .220 Swift and .22-250 Rem respectively in a 10mph crosswind.
One of the big considerations for trigger-happy hunters has been how much powder is burned in larger-cased .22 centrefires. For the regular range user, this consideration often leads to more economical alternatives such as the .222 Remington; but as with anything, there is a compromise in ballistic capability. The .204 Ruger, on the other hand, seems to deliver pretty much everything the larger-cased calibres offer while requiring far less powder. Combine this with a milder report, softer recoil and longer barrel life than a .223, and it becomes a tasty alternative.
The new cartridge received the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence award in 2004, not long after its introduction by Hornady and Ruger. At that time, Ruger claimed that the factory-loaded 32-grain round was the fastest commercially available cartridge in any calibre (Ruger may still maintain this, although I am not certain). This sweet little design is based on the .222 Remington Magnum case necked down to .20 calibre, bucking the trend in modern bullet design of ‘short and fat’. Hornady, Remington, and Winchester currently produce brass for this calibre, although .222 Rem Mag brass is easily resized to accommodate it. Currently in the US, the .204 Ruger is the most popular of all of the .20-cal cartridges on offer, despite being the newest.
While low-profile cartridges like the .20 BR are normally more efficient than a tall and thin case, the .204 Ruger more than holds its own in the velocity department compared with any of the popular .20-calibre cartridges. Moreover, the .204 enjoys one huge advantage over all the other popular twenties: the availability of factory ammunition. We reloaders may scoff at the idea of buying factory fodder, but it’s nice to know that the option is available for those who are still to have their eyes opened to the wonder of reloading.
So it’s fast (very fast, at over 4,000fps) and has an impressive trajectory – but can it shoot? Everything mentioned to this point is of little use if you can’t knock a beer can over at 100 yards. Well it doesn’t disappoint here either. Factory ammo regularly produces groups just over 0.5MOA, with handloads pulling this into 0.25MOA with efficient repetition.
It is, however, a very light bullet, and this shows when it comes to crunching downrange energy. Whereas the .220 Swift is still punching over 1,000ft/lb at 150 yards (40-grain), the .204 is already well bellow that with around 870ft/lb for the 39-grain bullet, and 740ft/lb for the 32-grain bullet. Compare this to the underused 55-grain .243 Winchester, whose 1,300ft/lb delivered at 150 yards makes the .204 look like a mild irritation. Granted, this is for a heavier bullet, but when it has a superior trajectory to the 39-grain .204 (not shown in graph) and equal wind drift, it does make one wonder whether the .204 is redundant.
The .204 Ruger is an interesting, quirky calibre that would be a joy to own, but has limited practical application. It is too expensive to use on vermin other than foxes, and a .243 will do the job more efficiently with considerably more versatility. On the other hand, it is very sweet to shoot, and easy on the powder stocks. Would I buy one? If there is room in the cabinet, then maybe I will. BP