What’s a Ranch Rifle

I like weird weapon genres. Stuff that escapes the larger cultural zeitgeist of the American gun-buying public. Stuff like tackle box guns, for example. It’s very niche and seemingly unknown to most gun owners. Today, I want to talk about the idea of the Ranch Rifle. As far as I can tell, Ruger was the first to popularize the term. These days, it’s been applied to a few guns, and I’m left wondering what exactly makes a ranch rifle. 

I started by asking the only rancher I know what rifle he totes while working, and he doesn’t tote a rifle. He has a Beretta 21A in his pocket and an old Stevens pump action shotgun in his truck. So, no Ranch rifle is to be found or defined. Since asking a rancher was a bust, I had to rely on the marketing material from firearm companies to better determine what precisely a ranch rifle is. 

The World of Ranch Rifles 

As mentioned, the earliest use of the term I can find relates to the Ruger Mini 14 Ranch Rifle. The Mini 14 and the term Ranch Rifle have become synonymous, but the ranch model did have a few different features from the standard prior to 2004. The ranch version of the Mini 14 had a mechanical ejector and a flip-up rear sight, and it was set up for Ruger scope rings. 

Ruger took the American series in the ranch direction. The Ruger American Ranch Rifle is a mouthful. These Ruger Americans were made to be lighter and more compact, with 16-inch barrels and what’s more or less intermediate power rounds. Rounds like 350 Legend and 450 Bushmaster don’t count as intermediate, but they can fit in a standard AR action. 

Ruger leaned hard into the term, but it wasn’t the only company to do so. Heritage made a big version of its Rough Rider. They pushed the barrel to 16 inches, added a stock, and called it the Rancher. It’s a .22LR that’s easy to swap to a .22 Magnum. There is also a tactical Rancher for those who want to mount optics. These are single-action revolver rifles, so they are somewhat odd. 

Foxtrot Mike makes a rifle called the Ranch Rifle. It’s an AR-15-based rifle with a proprietary lower that eliminates the pistol grip and accepts Remington 870 stocks. FM even sells a model with the Woox wood stock. The bolt design is proprietary, but the rifle can use almost any AR upper. 

In that same vein of shotgun stock equipped AR-like rifles, the SIG MCX Regulator also uses the term ranch rifle in its product description. It’s the same idea with an MCX short-stroke gas piston spin. 

What Can We Gather? 

If I were just looking at these guns, it would seem like there is a theme to the ranch rifle. It tends to be a repeating rifle. The rifle also appears to stress a lightweight design with a low-recoiling cartridge. Control seems to be the idea behind the common chamberings of the cartridges present. Basically, if it works with a multical AR lower, it can be used in a ranch rifle. 

There is also a lean away from tactical design for whatever reason. I don’t quite see an advantage to using straight stocks with semi-pistol grips. I don’t think they offer any advantage, but they certainly don’t offer much of a downside. Ranch rifles also tend to stick with a certain aesthetic. 

That aesthetic is old-school cool. I dig it, personally. I like wood stocks, and I’m one of the rare guys who likes the AR with a shotgun stock look. The term ranch rifle certainly invokes a Wild West appeal, and Wild West guns didn’t have collapsing stocks or pistol grips. If I worked a ranch, I’d likely think a stock standard AR rifle or carbine of some type would work perfectly fine and arguably be a bit cheaper for riding around in a pickup truck. 

The advantage I see in the lack of modern tactical parts and pieces is the ability to shove the rifle into some form of scabbard hanging off the side of a horse. A pistol grip or big A-frame front sight might make that tricky; thus, the old-school stocks tend to work well for this very niche use. 

Ranch rifle is most certainly a term that is more applied to aesthetics, but that’s okay. All-black furniture, M-LOK handguards, and similar features get boring after a bit. So, we can all indulge in some Monte Carlo stocks and wood furniture every now and then. 

Travis Pike
Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.