While at SHOT Show 2016, I had a chance to meet J.C. Henkel, of Taylor’s & Co., Inc. As he was showing me around his booth, I spotted an 1886 Ridge Runner takedown rifle in .45-70. I don’t generally believe in love at first sight, so I’ll call this “lust with potential.” Gun folks are always on the hunt for that perfect gun, the one that has all the features and advantages without making any compromises.
This gun is a modern version of John Browning’s 1886 lever action rifle. Its design is known for its inherent strength and reliability. Taylor’s & Co. has taken this solid foundation and added modern features to improve the rifle. They have integrated a Skinner peep site into the Weaver rail on the rear, matched with a fiber optic front sight. Standard fare includes sling swivels for attaching your favorite sling. The “D”-shaped lever is both comfortable and fast to manipulate. Just in case this wasn’t enough, they have threaded the barrel and included a thread protector and muzzle brake. I know what some of you are thinking right now … . Yes, I am now looking for a suppressor that is rated for a .45-70!
BARREL: 18.5 inches, half-octagonal
OA LENGTH: 37.5 inches
WEIGHT: 7.8 pounds
STOCK: Wood, with plastic overlay
SIGHTS: Skinner rear sight, fiber optic front
FINISH: Matte chrome
All in the Finish
The finish on the gun is what they describe as matte chrome; I have referred to this finish as a hard chrome. This finish provides great durability, easy cleanup,and resistance to the elements without the glare of a shiny finish. The wooden stocks have a black, soft-touch plastic overlay. This gives it the synthetic look of plastic, but the meaningful feel of wood. The barrel is a half-octagon with a round nose, and underneath that is a four-round tubular magazine. The whole package weighs in at 7.8 pounds and measures 37½ inches.
The Dinosaur Gun
I have no desire to be shot with a gun of any caliber. That being said, I have yet to speak to a survivor of a gunfight who said, “I wish I had a smaller caliber and less ammunition.” The Ridge Runner shoots a round that is sufficient to take down any animal in North America. Hell, I’m pretty sure this gun could take down a Velociraptor, which will come in handy if they ever figure out a way to truly bring those back.
The .45-70 has been around since 1873, and was known originality as the .45-70-405. The three numbers represented the .45 diameter of bullet, 70 weight (in grains) of black powder, and 405 weight (grains) of lead bullet. The commercial market referred to the round as the .45 Government. Today, you will find smokeless powder ammunition from 250- 500-grain projectiles, with bullet designs ranging from ballistic tips to hard cast.
Hornady produces the “LEVERevolution” ammunition, which is designed specifically for lever guns. This round has a pointed, flexible, polymer tip that improves the ballistic coefficient, rather than the normal flat-tipped bullets required in a lever gun (due to the danger of having a hard, pointed bullet tip pressed against the primer of the round in front of it in a tubular magazine). The LEVERevolution 325-gr. bullet has an advertised muzzle velocity of 2,050 feet per second (fps), and a muzzle energy of 3,032 foot pounds from a 24-inch barrel. Out of the 18.5-inch-barreled Ridge Runner, it came in just under 2,000 fps. Buffalo Bore produces a hot .45-70 that launches a 405-gr. jacketed flat point bullet, propelled at 2,000 fps, delivering 3,597 foot pounds of muzzle energy!
Even with the improved ballistics offered by the LEVERevolution, you must be prepared to deal with the rainbow trajectory of the .45-70. With the purpose I have in mind for this rifle, 100 yards is my primary zone of impact. Thus, the rapid drop will not be overly concerning. I have friends who shoot this round out to 500 yards with iron sights and land rounds consistently on target. I can’t even see that far!
Calculated Need, Filled
For some time now, I have been searching for a rifle to fill a particular need. This gun must be easy to store in a small package, which will facilitate the ability to carry it in various forms of private transportation (vehicle, boat, helicopter or airplane). I also want a rifle that does not scream tactical, police or military; I actually want the gun to look as traditional and innocuous as possible. Finally, I want a rifle that hits hard, while still being fast and accurate.
How did I come up with this list of requirements? The same way most people learn most things—failures survived throughout the years. It has been my experience that when trouble finds us, even through no fault of our own, we have to make do with what we have on hand. If the tools that we need are not easily transportable, they tend to stay at home. If our gear draws too much attention to us, we lose the element of “stealth in plain view.” I am truly a fan of the AR-15, but if I’m going to have to rely on a single rifle in an emergency, especially in the woods, I have to be able to know that the caliber will dispatch the largest predator I could encounter. In many of the places I roam, this predator could easily be a black bear. I’ve had a few encounters over the years, and I feel confident that the .45-70 will be adequate should I find myself in such a situation again. When you look at the Ridge Runner next to this list, it’s almost as if they made it just for me.
Amidst all of the adjectives and terms that have been concocted and dreamt up to describe guns, sometimes we lose sight of the simple words, like “fun.” Fun is the best word to describe every trip to the range with the Ridge Runner. This gun is easy to enjoy; the sights are simple and non-ambiguous, the lever action is smooth and inviting. It’s a blast to see just how fast this thing can throw brass from the top of the receiver. The trigger is short and sweet—just exactly what you’d expect from a lever gun. And the effects of a 325-gr. bullet are awesome downrange. The padded buttstock aids tremendously in the shoot-ability of this gun, and its recoil is not painful or sharp. It’s less like getting kicked by horse, and more like being pushed. The 18-inch barrel and short receiver allow this gun to swing quickly into action, whether carried at low ready or slung over your shoulder on a fine leather sling.
On the Range
I have taken this gun to the range on several occasions. My first trip to the range was to get data with a chronograph. This would be valuable data to have available as I increased the distance, as I would need to calculate the holdover needed to ensure accuracy. I was pleasantly surprised to measure very consistent velocities, all around 1,950 fps from the 325-gr. projectile. This allowed me to calculate zero and bullet drop.
My next trip to the range was by far the most fun outing I’ve had in a long time. To commemorate shooting this dinosaur slayer, I decided to sacrifice several gallons of bottled water and numerous plastic bottles of red and orange soda pop. I was amazed at how hard-hitting this round really was, and had endless fun discovering so. When I dropped a round into a one-gallon jug of water, the energy was so powerful that it was transferred down to the table that was supporting the jug, and blew a great big chunk out of it!
I eventually lined up nine of the one-gallon water jugs and fired a round into them. The explosion of spray was magnificent! All of the containers were knocked off the table, and the bullet jacket came to rest in the seventh gallon of water. The eighth gallon was split on the seam from the energy transmitted to it from the impact. The effect when shooting the two-liter bottle of soda pop was incredible, as the explosion was amplified by the carbonation. I would encourage all of you to watch the video on YouTube; the slow-motion effects are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
My final trip to the range was to determine what level of accuracy I could expect from the 100-yard line. I had installed a Burris FastFire red dot optic on the Weaver rail, which is part of the sighting system. The Burris FastFire red dot is a three MOA dot; I was a little concerned since this optic can frequently be found on handguns and small caliber rifles. I wasn’t sure that it would have the durability to stand up to some fairly significant pounding. My fears were unfounded—once zeroed, this optic performed flawlessly. While shooting three-round groups, I found that the gun would consistently deliver two hits that were almost touching, with the third round approximately half an inch away from the next-closest impact. Overall, the Ridge Runner’s groups were slightly more than 1 inch for three rounds at one hundred yards. Considering that these rounds are nearly half an inch in diameter, these were impressive groups to be consistently firing.
Each time I took the rifle down and stowed it, its zero returned without fail. I attribute this to the sights and optic being attached to the barrel’s half of the rifle when disassembled. Disassembly is a relatively straightforward process,using the captive lever attached to the magazine tube. You simply flip the lever and then turn counterclockwise. Once the tension is off the threaded magazine tube, flip the lever so it is parallel with the tube and then finish unscrewing the magazine tube. With the magazine tube removed, use the D-ring lever to open the action. Then, while holding the receiver and buttstock in one hand, twist the forearm in a counterclockwise motion one half of a turn. This deactivates the interrupted threads on the barrel and receiver, allowing the gun to be stowed in its two component pieces. I was fortunate enough to obtain a case that allows the disassembled gun to be easily stowed. I would recommend such a case as a must-have accessory.
I have heard it said that there are only have three reasons to get something: We want it, we need it, or we have to have it. The 1886 Ridge Runner rifle falls into two of those three categories for me. I can clearly say that I want this rifle; it’s a solid workhorse that will fit a definite niche in my gun strategy. Along with the utilitarian appeal, I want this rifle because it has provided one of the most fun experiences I’ve had reviewing a rifle in a long time. I think the last time I had this much fun simply shooting a lever action rifle, I was eight years old and taking down empty cans with a BB gun!
This rifle is not a cheap date, with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $1,799 and ammunition coming in at $30-$40 a box. With such serious costs, it had better be a serious rifle that provides serious fun, and I can tell you that it seriously, seriously is.
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