Made for just a baker's dozen of years across the 1970s and 80s, the Ruger No.3 is a little-known but often loved single shot rifle made in a host of interesting calibers-- if you can find one.
No. 1 origins
In 1967, Bill Ruger was steadily expanding his growing company into a number of different ventures. One of these, he decided, would be a single-shot rifle based on a classic design that harkened to the old 'great white hunters' of yesteryear. Rugged sportsmen like Frank Selous and WDM Bell, men who had pursued and taken the largest, most dangerous game in Africa, did so with a Gibbs-Farquharson Rifle.
A Gibbs-Farquharson Rifle.
This huge bore rifle used a falling block action operated by a short lever to open and close a very strong breech behind a fixed barrel. These guns were designed in the 1870s and popular throughout Africa and wherever deadly big game such as lions, tigers, and bears were found. Typically chambered for rounds like .505 Gibbs and .416 Rigby, they were literal elephant guns. Made by custom gun makers like Holland and Holland, these guns were very expensive.
Bill Ruger took the old Farquharson design, improved upon it, and put it into production in the United States as the No. 1. The basic model was chambered in medium calibers like .223, .270, and the like, while the No. 1-H, commonly called 'The Tropical Rifle' went much larger.
The No.1 and its variants were so popular when first introduced that by 1973, Ruger decided to make a budget version-- that's where the No.3 came in.
Design differences between the 1 and 3
(Here you see a Ruger No. 1, background, compared to a No.3 in the foreground. Note the much simpler furniture, barrel band, sights and lever of the No. 3 when compared)
Overall, the No. 3 is a simpler gun without the heavy checkering and high finish on the lower grade straight grain walnut wood furniture, or as deep a bluing and polishing on the metal parts. Further, the gun (in later variants) used a very simple butt plate that was modeled off the plastic one used on the 10/22 rimfire.
Instead of having the standard rings and adjustable ramp sight on the No.3, the No.1 came standard lacking the rings and with a simpler sight.
One quick change that is noticeable on the No.3 over its slightly more elegant brother is that the lever has a more traditional Springfield style (Ruger calls it an American Style) trapdoor lever and a barrel band over the forearm of the rifle.
While most parts are interchangeable between the two (and many No.3 owners dress up their guns with surplused No. 1 wooden furniture, shaped to fit), the lever, which locks up slightly differently, is a unique item.
Overall, the design produced a rifle that, when debuted in 1973, ran about $100 cheaper than the No.1.
Introduced for a $265 MSRP, these handy single shot carbines were chambered in .22 Hornet, .223 Remington, .30-40 Krag, .375 Win, .44 Mag, and 45-70 Govt. Over the years, however, the company trimmed back on the chamberings offered until 1985 when it was only offered in the old .45-70. With production costs rivaling the No. 1, Ruger ended production on the No. 3 line in 1987 when the last MSRP was $289. It's estimated that as few as 40,000 of these guns were made and Ruger maintains a partial serial number range list online.
Getting your own
Listed with a value ranging up to $750 in the most current blue books and Pedersen's guides, these guns have proven themselves collectable. Looking through the past six months archives of online gun sales, they range from $550-$950 with the higher prices going towards the .375 Win and .44 Mag loadings, which are among the rarer of the breed.
Unfortunately, so many of these No. 3s have been used to build custom/semi-custom guns, that finding one in the standard factory configuration these days is getting hard. With that in mind, should you come across one that is minty with the original box could be a nice find for the safe.
Ruger has the manual online for free download and parts are out there from most aftermarket houses.
You just really can't go wrong if you come across one of these nice old single shots.