As Dick Williams points out in his column this issue, handgun hunting has evolved from using whatever belt gun one had on hand at targets of opportunity to a sport of considerable sophistication. And while big-game hunting is almost always an exciting venture, a lot of fun can be had afield with a rimfire pistol. So when Ruger debuted its Mark III Hunter pistol last year, Dick and I both thought it would be a winner. We were right.
Dick clamped an Aimpoint Comp C3 aboard the Mark III Hunter, and we set about wreaking havoc on California ground squirrels on the Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles. The little vermin were in deep doo-doo. For one thing the Mark III Hunter is a very accurate pistol with a bull barrel that allows it to hang quite steady, and the Aimpoint is remarkable in its ability to help the shooter acquire a sight picture. I ain't that good, but I was able to drill about four of the rodents at ranges of 60 to 70 yards. Anything closer was toast, whether Dick or I was behind the trigger. Misses occurred but were infrequent. "I'm going to have to get one of those," I said.
My "To Do" list is quite long, so it took me about a year to get around to acquiring a Mark III. As Dick did last year, I put an Aimpont Comp C3 red-dot sight atop the Ruger. The result is a rather heavy rimfire pistol—3 1⁄4 pounds with a magazine full of hollow points—that would be pretty ungainly if I tried to stuff it into a holster, but this isn't what is normally thought of as a packin' handgun. Like its name says, it's for hunting, and as I prepare for another ground squirrel safari in California, there isn't much else to consider for a handgun.
The Mark III Hunter is the latest version of the Ruger Standard Model pistol introduced in 1949. This rugged, reliable and accurate semi-auto launched a firearms dynasty with more than 3 million copies of this basic design sold and set the foundation for Ruger to become one of the world's largest manufacturers of firearms. A number of upgrades on the Mark III Hunter enable the pistol to take its ruggedness, reliability and accuracy to the next level.
Most visible is its 6 7⁄8-inch, fluted bull barrel. At 7⁄8 inch in diameter, its weight is significant to that ability of the pistol to hang so steadily. Too, it soaks up recoil, perhaps not the bone-crushing kind Dick alludes to in his column, but shot-to-shot recovery is markedly quicker—the reason bull barrels are de rigueur on target pistols. Other external refinements include a contoured ejection port; a tactile as well as visual loaded chamber indicator; tapered ears on the bolt; and a beautiful set of half-checkered, Cocobolo grip panels. At first glance the half-checkering looks as if it might have been a mistake—perhaps the grip panels didn't get the full treatment. But once you hold the pistol in your hand, the design makes perfect sense. The checkering is where it's needed, right where the pistol is grasped. Those areas where hand movement occur—near the safety and where the trigger finger passes over the grip—are slick so motion is unimpeded.
Ruger has followed the lead of other manufacturers and installed a fiber-optic front sight mated to an adjustable rear sight. Though quite popular—especially for those of us whose eyes aren't what they once were—I just can't help thinking how fragile that piece of plastic spaghetti is. It's no matter to me since I knew ahead of time I'd equip this Hunter with the Aimpoint. Ruger thoughtfully includes an aluminum Weaver-style scope base rail, and drills and taps holes in the receiver to accept it.
The trigger pull was surprisingly good for a factory trigger, breaking at 3 pounds, 8 ounces with only a slight amount of creep. Another improvement is relocating the magazine release to the left side of the frame behind the trigger guard, a la the 1911. Now it will be much easier to drop a magazine and replace it quickly during one of those frenetic squirrel assaults. The manual safety is located at the familiar "left-thumb" position and is very positive. One more change to the Mark III: It now has a magazine-disconnect to prevent the pistol from firing when the magazine is removed. I'll be honest and say I don't care for this feature, but since this isn't a fighting gun, it's of little importance.
At the range this Mark III was everything its predecessor was and then some. I expected good groups, but this sweetheart was something else. Again, I ain't that good, but after the shootin' was done this pistol averaged right at 1 inch—amazingly with a hunting load, instead of a target load. Admittedly, some of the credit goes to the Aimpoint, which allowed me to see the target and point of aim on the same plane, but this is one hell of an accurate pistol. Ruger isn't getting this one back.
To be honest, I did have a couple of issues at the range. The Mark III has a slide-lock feature after the last round is fired from the magazine. It failed once with the target ammo I tried, but 100 percent of the time with the hunting load that produced the spectacular accuracy—Winchester Super-X Power-Points. I suspect it had to do with slide velocity vis-à-vis the spring tension in the magazine. Here again, this isn't a self-defense pistol and considering its accuracy, I'll tolerate a glitch like this. I've ordered several extra magazines to deal with those aforementioned banzai squirrel assaults. Perhaps another magazine will not have this problem. The other "issue" is probably more operator error than a design or execution matter. I ran home a full magazine and released the slide by grasping the ears of the bolt between my index- and middle-digit knuckles. Unfortunately, I didn't get my fat digits out of the way quick enough when the bolt released and caught one of them between the ears and the receiver, and spent the remainder of the range session with my left index cocooned in a paper towel to keep it from dripping blood all over the place. Solution: Use the thumb and index finger, and get it out of the way in time.
I've said this before in these pages, and I'll say it again. My job requires me to shoot a lot of different guns over the year. Most are pretty good, but I actually buy very few. This is one of them.