A tribute to the Ruger M77 Mark II Boat-Paddle

I used to think everyone but me hated Ruger boating. The M77 Mark II all-weather bolt with the “Zytel” stock was supposedly inaccurate, hit too hard and looked sticky. There were interchangeable panels on the pistol grip and forend (most were plain black, but some were green and others were wood grain). The Ruger logo, molded into the face of the butt along with the eagle crest, was like a precursor to today’s barrel stickers, but more permanent than an old-fashioned butt stamp. No amount of laser removal therapy is going to fix the appearance of that stuff if you decide you’re tired of seeing it.

The M77 Mark II had a three-position safety and hinged floorplate. It was a rifle from the 90s, before smartphones, vape pens and AccuTriggers were a thing. Back then, factory triggers often broke like rusty trailer hitches. Gun writers complained about heavy “lawyer-protected” triggers, and the M77 Mark II had a reputation as one of the worst. Synthetic stocks were also relatively new and unpopular, and rowing boat stock seemed particularly averse to traditional styling.

Take a close look at the barrel markings on a Ruger M77 Mark II.
The author’s Ruger boat is set in 0.30/06. Will Brantley

My Boat-Paddle Ruger

Not that I cared about any of that. I got my boat paddle, .30/06 Ruger on Christmas morning in 1996 or ’97, and I thought it was the coolest rifle I had ever seen. I couldn’t find room for it that morning – dad was going to buy it for my birthday a few months later. But I slipped three 180-grain Powerpoints out of his gun cabinet and set a coffee can in the snow maybe 20 feet away. I looked down the barrel like it was a shotgun (it didn’t have open sights) and blasted a massive hole in the snow and mud under the coffee can, sending it spinning through the air. I was able to make the next two shots and punch holes in the coffee can.

My Ruger wore a Tasco 3-9×40 scope for the next decade, and I used it to hunt whitetails, as well as a herd of grouse, possums, raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and other Kentucky fauna. I’ve always had a “guns are tools” mentality, and my .30/06 was one of four center rifles I ever owned when I became a hunting editor. Field & Flow at 32. The others were a .22 Hornet, a .308 and an AR. I never thought I needed anything else.

Maybe some rowboat Rugers don’t fire, but mine does. I had a gunsmith friend work on the trigger a few years ago because it was it was heavy. It’s still not great by today’s standards, but it breaks at a sharp 4 pounds. I also replaced the scope, first with a Nikon Monarch and then a Leupold VX 3i. My rifle has always liked the heavy bullets best and will put three Nosler 180 grain divisions touching at 100 yards if I do my part. Federal’s 175-grain Terminal Mount is a close second favorite, and those old Winchester 180-grain Powerpoints still shoot pretty well. I now own two 6.5 Creedmoors, both of which also shoot well, but neither will beat that .30/06 at 100 yards. I’ve hunted with it in rain, mud, wind and sand and cleaned it once or maybe twice – ever.

Boy with a rifle sitting next to a dead pig.
The author’s son Anse paddles a Ruger boat after taking a pig. Will Brantley

A true collector’s item

Nowadays, my “work” hunts usually mean I’m shooting a new rifle or cartridge from another manufacturer. I’ve spent much of the last decade chasing big game around the globe with some really good borrowed guns from Browning, Winchester, Springfield, Franchi, Savage, Mossberg, Bergara and others, and in a variety of calibers. When I first did this gig and people asked me what kind of rifle I used at home, I’d be a little sheepish saying it’s a ten-year-old Ruger .30/06—and I’m not sure I ever told anyone that it is a bolt-on model. In this age of hybrid target/hunting rifles, new calibers and long-range everything, my old Ruger is not impressive.

Then again, it still works. Last March I was hunting hogs in Texas and my friend Ryan called around sunset just as a sound of sows and squeals appeared. I answered, put him on speaker and said, “Shut up and listen.” The shooting started and I killed three pigs in three quick shots. “That looked like that Ruger,” Ryan said, though he was only guessing because he’s shot with me more than most.

“Hell yes, it was,” I said. We talked for a while and shortly after we hung up, I killed two more pigs. I’ve had a lot of success with that rifle, and that’s why I reach for it again and again.

Ryan also owned a boat ruger – in 270, but like many others, he sold it years ago because it “kicked like a mother*@$er”. But he was the first to tell me that, in a deliciously ironic twist, boat paddles have become expensive collectibles. “Man, they’re bringing a fortune to Gunbroker,” he said. “I guess I shouldn’t have sold mine.”

Read more: Under Ruger ownership, the Big Marlin 1895 SBL is better than ever

I checked and sure enough, rifles are fetching $1500+ now – about triple what Dad paid for mine in the 90s. After reading several rifle forums, it seems that many people do not understand the demand for such an ugly and inaccurate rifle that was discontinued a long time ago, especially when there are so many much better rifles out there today. Well, to hell with what they think. Fifteen hundred won’t touch mine.

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