At the Range: Ruger SR-556VT Varmint Rifle

Ruger SR-556VT Right Side No Sights

The AR-15 platform derived from battle-rifle roots, however, because of its modularity, it’s been tweaked and tuned into manifold other shapes, including accurized varmint versions, such as Ruger’s piston-driven SR-556VT.

Ruger SR-556VT Right Side No Sights
Ruger’s Piston-Driven SR-556VT No. 5914 5.56 NATO Rifle

I recently had a chance to take a SR-556VT Autoloading Rifle #5914 to the range before it was recalled by Ruger because some parts in the trigger weren’t hardened properly. I didn’t have any problems with the two-stage trigger, and I thought it was one of the best factory AR triggers I’ve had a chance to shoot extensively. Nevertheless, just be aware of the recall before you read any further.

At, the company says, “We have determined that the disconnector in the two-stage trigger system on our SR-556VT modern sporting rifles was not properly heat-treated by a vendor and that the disconnector can wear prematurely. This, in turn, can result in an unsafe condition in which the rifle delays firing (there is a delay in firing after the trigger is pulled) or doubles (discharging once when the trigger is pulled and again when the trigger is released). Although no incidents have been reported from the field, this is an important safety issue, and we are therefore recalling the rifles.”

Apparently, the affected disconnector is used only in the two-stage trigger system found in the SR-556VT models, and no other models of the SR-556 are affected by the recall. But all SR-556VT rifles manufactured to date are subject to the recall.

I shot the rifle with a Trijicon VCOG 1-6×24 optical gunsight, whose integral Picatinny base fit directly onto the Ruger’s flat-top receiver. Indexing was pretty accurate — point of impact only changed about an inch when I took off the sight then put it back on and checked the zero.

To collect accuracy data, I fired five 5-shot groups at 100 yards using a Caldwell Fire Control Front Shooting Rest and sand bags. Temperatures ranged between 68 and 80 degrees, with variable sunlight and wind.

Ruger SR-556VT Left Side No Sights
The polished 410-stainless-steel barrel was 20 inches long. The Ruger’s flat-top receiver allowed Picatinny accessories to fit anywhere along its length.

The Ruger fired TulAmmo 223 Rem. TA223550 55-gr. Full Metal Jacket rounds into 2.7-inch average groups, a little better than the Federal American Eagle 223 Rem. 62-gr. FMJ bullets with 3.0-inch average groups. Far and away, the Ruger preferred Black Hills Ammunition 223 Rem. 77-grain Sierra MatchKing Hollow Point Moly Coated M223N9M ammo, which grouped at 1.8 inches on average — certainly accurate enough for hunting coyotes at appropriate ranges. I did notice the Ruger strung shots vertically as its barrel heated up even though it was free floated.

The two-stage trigger was excellent, with a 2.4-pound first stage and a second stage aggregate of 4 pounds.

Ruger SR-556VT Action
The Ruger showed tight fit between the upper and lower.

The rifle’s two-stage gas piston functioned flawlessly. The gas system had a 4-position valve to tailor the gas flow to the round or suppressor. The bolt carrier group was chrome-plated for corrosion resistance. The polished 410-stainless-steel barrel was 20 inches long and had a 1:8 right-hand twist with six grooves. The barrel didn’t come with a flash suppressor or sights, and it was chambered in 5.56 NATO so it shoots both .223 Rem. and 5.56 NATO rounds.

Ruger SR-556VT Gas Adjustment Knob Detail
The gas system had a 4-position valve to tailor the gas flow to the round.

The heavy-gauge barrel made it a hoss to carry, with an empty weight of 8.75 pounds. The barrel length and fixed stock (LOP 13.75 inches) made the rifle’s overall length 38.25 inches, so it’s not the most compact rifle either. The upper and lower receivers were made of aluminum alloy with black oxide finish and hardcoat anodization. As mentioned, the upper had a flat-top picatinny rail that ran its length. It came with three Steel C Products Defense 5-round magazines, but it accepted all the 10-, 20-, and 30-round AR magazines I tried in it. The rifle had an oversized charging handle, and the stock featured two built-in compartments for storing cleaning supplies.

Ruger SR-556VT Oversized Charging Handle
The oversized charging handle is a nice touch.

The aluminum forend was comfortable to hold without gloves. The shooter can add Picatinny rail sections to the forend if he wishes. The controls were unusually smooth and positive. A slightly oversized trigger guard made shooting the Ruger with gloves easy.

Ruger SR-556VT Handguard Vents
The handguard was smooth and easy to handle.

Cleanup was a joy. The bolt was fairly clean, and the firing pin was spotless. To remove the piston, I needed to punch out a pin and rotate the regulator. While the process was simple, the parts were very tight.

Ruger SR-556VT Right Side with White-Bolt
The bolt and bolt carrier group were chrome-plated for corrosion resistance.

Assuming the recall fix doesn’t mess up the trigger, I’d be happy to continue shooting the Ruger SR-556VT Varmint Rifle. It brings a lot to the table with the right loads.

Have you shot the Ruger SR-556VT? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.



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Comments (9)

  1. Why anyone would purchase TULA ammo is beyond me, it is the “Yugo” of the steel cased ammo world and if someone managed 2.75″ groups with Tula Ammo they have a GREAT rifle indeed.
    I practice with Wolf 62gr and with my piston driven Ruger I can get 1.5″ groups and with Freedom Munitions 855 5.56 I can repeatedly obtain sub 1″ groups at 100 yards using a Redfield 3X9X40 with an offset riser made by UTG (yup cheap). These rifles are superb and make the AR design rifle halfway functional though I still maintain its purpose should be limited to killing critters like prairie dogs and the round is in no way capable of being the combat firearm that it has been forced into our troops hands to use in a much lesser direct impingement system rifle. I do have one of these rifles and find them fun to shoot but I actually have a better time shooting my S&W M&P15-.22 which is just slightly less terminal than its .223/5.56 Nato big brother.
    All in all I would feel much more confident bringing a quality AK47 to a real firefight than I would ANY Stoner design “AR type” rifle with its anemic varmint round. Heck, it isnt even the best varmint round as the .220 Swift outperforms it accuracy wise as does the .22-250. If one HAS to have an AR platform rifle then stick with the Smith 15-.22 and have a good afternoon of shooting but if some relative dies and leaves you several cases of .223 or 5.56 Nato ammo then I would highly recommend purchasing the Ruger gas piston 20″ varmint gun. It is, for what it is a very superb product.

  2. I am very sorry about my first post when I said that the barrel was pinned at the piston housing. I meant to say that the hand guard is pinned to the piston housing, so the barrel can be moved around somewhat as the hand guard is moved around. Sorry again – brain and typing fingers not firing together off the same subset of neurons!

  3. I know that I am late to this party, but just read the review on this rifle now that I have one coming yet this week. F.Y.I. these barrels are NOT free floated but pinned at the front piston housing, hence some vertical climbing, group-wise is in order from barrel heat expansion.

  4. After reading other posts about the in-accuracy experienced, I went back over my loading/test log and decided to plug my loads into the McMillan spin rate calculator. Everything except the 65+ grain bullets are pretty much off the table except at very slow velocities. I experienced the best accuracy with 68gr Hornady match grade (#2278), which also show to be in the acceptable spin range. Don’t let the 1:8 barrel twist in this rifle frustrate you with 55 gr “common” ammunition. It’s going to like heavier bullets. This rifle was built with a bull barrel that is 20″ long, definitely NOT for those who like cheap surplus and 100 yard short range work. Any off the shelf AR can do that. Let’s see if this one can be pushed way on out there!

  5. I was excited when I found these on sale (on-line) so I jumped into the piston crowd. Cleaned it up on arrival and headed to the range. After multiple attempts to get something into the chamber I gave up took took it back home – totally frustrated. The bolt simply would not close on a cartridge. Close inspection showed the extractor was locked down solid and therefore the cartridges would not seat on the bolt face. I took the assembly apart and found an O-ring around the extractor spring and a solid plastic peg inside the spring. There was no way on earth that spring could have been depressed. I do have several other AR and LR rifles, and none of them had these pieces. So I removed them and put the spring where it belonged, without the extra garbage. I just got back from the 4th range trip breaking it in and testing different ammunition. 750 rounds now without a single failure of any kind. Cleanup is a breeze, barrel, piston and bolt in a matter of minutes. It just doesn’t get dirty like a gas impingement system does. It’s a dream to shoot and is sub-moa accurate with the right ammo, (as long as you do your part). With this rifle the ammo is very important to get the right weight/speed worked out. I did report my experience to Ruger, but have not received any response from them.

  6. I have owned the sr556vt for around 6 months now, and it easily shots sub moa groupings at 100 yards from a bipod using a 4-12×40 scope. I’ve tried all sorts of factory ammo from hornady 55gr sp, 55gr Sierra blitzing through to the 69gr Sierra matching (all were sub moa). Worst groupings I got were with 62-64gr power points which grouped around 2-3 inches. I have recently had the barrel shortened to 18inchs and a suppressor fitted which has had no negitive effects on accuracy.

  7. Im with Robert on this one. 1.8″ being the best group is pretty poor with match ammo. BUT, one type of match ammo and a 1-6x scope really isn’t going to display the potential of this rifle. It is a VARMINT rifle so why not test with a more applicable scope? Different quality ammo? I read this looking for answers and only got more questions…

  8. I bought the SR556VT back in May, about a month before heading west to help try to eradicate the evil prairie dog. Been going for a few years now, taking an Encore in .223 Rem with an exquisite trigger job. Usually go through 400-500 rounds with that.
    I had an M16 jam on me back in ’75, tried the idiotic forward assist to no avail, and haven’t thought much of AR’s ever since. But my buddy kept gently nudging me, and I finally started looking. I like the gas system, and figured in general that Ruger knew more about building an AR than I did, so I went for it. My new Ruger made an experience that was already more fun than should be allowed 10 times more fun!!!!! Had to run in to Mobridge for another 300 rounds of ammo, 850 total. No malfunctions that were not attributed to my homemade brass catcher. So I’m cheap. I’ve always like a two stage trigger, and this one, while not as good as the Encore, helped account for much carnage in the dogtowns. Being able to keep the sight picture through shot after shot was worth it!!! I just bought a .25-45 Sharps upper for it as well, so I guess that means it’s definitely a keeper!!!! I already have 800+ rounds loaded in .223 for next year, more coming just in case.

  9. I like Rugers ( I have several including a 308 GSR a great rifle) but 2-3 MOA groups from a bench… just plain sucks. You think that kind of “accuracy” is OK? With today’s machining techniques 1 MOA should be considered a minimum even for a hunting rifle and for varmints, at least anything smaller then a good sized coyote, this rifle is totally inadequate. I’m surprised Ruger would put out a weapon that shot this badly.

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