Have a Need for Speed? Try the 204 Ruger!

What happens when two firearms industry giants put their heads together? The 204 Ruger, brainchild of Ruger and Hornady, is known for its high velocity, accuracy potential, minimal recoil and flat trajectory.

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About the 204 Ruger

This varmint cartridge, introduced in 2004, was the result of a joint effort by Ruger and Hornady. It quickly became popular with varmint shooters due to its high velocity, flat trajectory, excellent accuracy potential, devastating effect on varmints, and minimal recoil. It’s based on the old 222 Remington Magnum case. Within a few years of its release, I bought a 204 Ruger rifle and a few boxes of Hornady factory ammo. The Hornady ammunition shot well, and soon I was handloading the little cartridge. I quickly learned 204 Ruger  is great for rockchucks, sage rats and prairie dogs. As time went on, I discovered it’s also good on coyotes! 

CZ 527 Varmint Rifle Overview

CZ has offered the 527 in a variety of cartridges and configurations. Mine is their Varmint Rifle, with a 25” 1:12 twist “light varmint” or “heavy sporter” barrel. The rifle is no heavier than a standard sporter rifle, which is perfect for what has been called a walk-around varmint rifle. 

Some have found the standard 1:12 twist marginal for stabilizing 40 grain bullets, particularly those with a boat tail design and a longish nose. Heavier 204 bullets are out there, but many of them require a faster twist barrel for stabilization. With a good handload, the rifle usually shoots about 0.5”  to 0.75” groups at 100 yards. 

An interesting feature of the CZ 527 is the set trigger. The standard trigger on my rifle requires nearly 5 pounds of force. The set trigger requires just over 2 ounces when measured on Lyman’s Electronic Digital Trigger Pull Gauge

The receiver is grooved for 16mm dovetail scope mounts and the bolt handle barely clears the ocular piece of my Leupold Vari-X III 4.5-14x scope. 

This is one of very few of my personal rifles with a detachable magazine. The clearly marked 204 Rug mag holds only five cartridges. 

Hornady’s 40 grain .204 V-Max bullet

Hornady’s 40 grain .204 V-Max is a pretty slick varmint bullet capable of good accuracy and explosive results on varmints. It may only be marginally stabilized by some 1:12 twist rifles, in which case there are shorter bullet options from Hornady and other manufacturers. The BC may seem low, but a G1 BC of .275 is actually respectable in 20 caliber. I have shot this bullet on targets out to 600 yards with reasonably good accuracy. It is, of course, affected by the wind more than longer, heavier bullets with higher BC’s. 

I’ve loaded this bullet for years over Hodgdon’s BL-C(2) powder, and more recently with their CFE 223 powder. For some reason, I was having trouble producing a good group with the CFE 223 load and this bullet recently, but am certain it was operator error as it has shot nicely under MOA for me in the past. 

Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.

One of the benefits of the 204 Ruger is how flat shooting it can be. Even when pushed at a relatively mild 3,580 fps, it’s clear that the bullet holds a reasonably flat trajectory. I often prefer to hunt with my scope set for 200 or even 300 yards. This bullet makes longish range shots on coyotes, prairie dogs or rock chucks simple. 

Berger’s 35 Grain Flat Base Hollow Point Varmint Bullet

Berger’s 35 grain flat base hollow point varmint  bullet isn’t particularly sleek— it has a flat base and stubby appearance. The G1 BC is only .179, which in today’s world seems ridiculously low. However, it’s accurate and can be moved out at a substantial muzzle velocity. This makes it very useful in the varmint shooting world. This is the most accurate bullet I’ve tried in my CZ 527 and has printed roughly half MOA groups. My field experience with this bullet indicates that it’s not quite as frangible as one might imagine. Impacts on prairie dogs and rock chucks resulted in quick or instant death, but didn’t have the violence of the various plastic tipped bullets I’ve used in the 204 Ruger. On the few coyotes I’ve shot with it, the bullet didn’t normally exit when placed in the chest, but it certainly killed quickly. This could be particularly useful for fur hunters. 

For years, my load for the Berger bullet has been 30 grains of BL-C(2), with a Federal 205 small rifle primer and neck-sized Hornady brass. This load’s excellent velocity of 3,842 fps gives this bullet a surprisingly flat trajectory out to 300 yards or so, given the low BC figure. 

Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.

Introducing Handloading with Wilson dies

Wilson’s benchrest style dies are my choice for the 204 Ruger. The Wilson dies I use only neck size the case, and cannot be used with a standard loading press. They are to be used with a small arbor press instead. Using the Wilson dies, only the neck of a fired case is resized. Interchangeable bushings are used to adjust the case neck tension. The same die is also used for for de-priming the fired case. 

Bullet seating is also done with the arbor press. The Wilson bullet seating die holds the neck-sized case straight and seats the bullet straight as well. This produces very little bullet runout, and can help produce excellent accuracy. My arbor press is by RW Hart, but there are several excellent choices available. I seated the bullets to 2.300 inches. 

I chose to seat the primers with Hornady’s excellent handheld priming tool. This tool can be used with either Hornady shell holders or RCBS/Redding style shell holders. It has an excellent “feel” while seating the primers — mine has always seated them just slightly below flush, which I appreciate. 

I measured powder charges with Lyman’s Gen 6 Powder Dispenser (to see more of the Lyman Gen 6, check out the full video below). Using CFE 223, a ball powder, the charges never varied from the specified 29.0 grains. 

I personally enjoy working with the Wilson dies and the little arbor press. Working with quality tools is a pleasure. This method is a bit different from using a standard press and the process can be a bit slow, but it still produces excellent ammunition.

Conclusion

The 204 Ruger cartridge still delivers what it promised when introduced. It’s “zippy” with high muzzle velocity. It also offers a flat trajectory, good accuracy, and is lethal on varmints and coyotes. The light recoil is a real pleasure. With my sporter weight rifle and no muzzle brake, I can typically see the bullet impacts on game or on target as the crosshairs never leave the target during recoil. 

It’s particularly good for burrowing varmints, and not bad at all for coyotes. 

I believe that Ruger and Hornady came up with a real winner nearly 20 years ago and I’ll continue to be a fan of the little cartridge. 

Get the Gear! 

MidSouth Shooters Supply carries 204 Ruger brass and bullets: 

204 Ruger Unprimed Rifle Brass 50 Count by Hornady (midsouthshooterssupply.com)

20 Caliber .204 Diameter 40 Grain V-Max 100 Count by Hornady (midsouthshooterssupply.com)

20 Caliber .204 Diameter 35 Grain Match Varmint HP 100 Count by Berger (midsouthshooterssupply.com)

Find L.E. Wilson dies on their website.

Stainless Steel Chamber Type Bullet Seater-BS- (lewilson.com)

STAINLESS NECK SIZING DIE – WITH INTERCHANGEABLE BUSHING-SND (lewilson.com)

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Thanks,
Guy Miner

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