The little air rifle that could – the Ruger Explorer

Monday, March 29, 2010

A while back I was considering the vast array of airguns that are available for purchase today, and it came to me that there was a hole in the marketplace. What was needed, I thought, was a “transitional” gun – one that filled the place between BB guns, like my beloved Daisy Model 25, and the more serious small guns like the HW25L or HW30.

The gun would have to be small, reasonably light, easy to cock with one stroke, affordably priced, and usable by the whole family. It wasn’t long thereafter that a package arrived from UmarexUSA with a Ruger Explorer in it, and it seems to be just what I had in mind.

The Ruger Explorer is a “youth” airgun with a spring-piston powerplant. It’s only an inch over a yard long; the length of pull is just 12 inches, and it tips the scales at just 4.5 lbs. When I pulled it from the box, my first thought was: “Wow, this is really light and easy to handle.”

The most striking feature of the Explorer is the ambidextrous black composite all-weather thumbhole stock that is just loaded with swoopy styling. Starting at the rear, the butt pad is made of a polymer that is softer than the rest of the stock. Moving forward, the buttstock itself is so radically abbreviated as to almost not be there. The checkpiece is ventilated; the pistol grip is nearly vertical, and underneath it you’ll find the Ruger logo.

Moving forward, the trigger guard is molded into the stock, and it encloses a metal trigger fashioned from sheet metal. Ahead of that is an indent (where I place the crook of my arm when shooting from a sitting position), following by a contoured had grip on the forestock.

Ahead of that is the barrel, which is clad in polymer and has a molded-in muzzle break that incorporates a mount for the front red fiber optic sight. Moving backwards, you’ll find the breech block which mounts an adjustable rear sight with green optical fiber. To the rear of that is the rest of the receiver which has dovetails for mounting a scope, followed by a screw-and-tab gizmo that functions as a recoil stop for a scope. At the very tail end of the receiver is a black polymer receiver cap and a black polymer push-pull safety.

The specs on the Ruger Explorer claim 495 fps, and I got 483 average, launching 7.9 gr Crosman Premier pellets through my Oehler chronograph, which works out to about 4 foot-pound of energy.

To get the Explorer ready to shoot, grab the muzzle break and pull the barrel down and back until it latches. This take about 16 or 17 lbs of effort and open the breech for loading. Stuff a .177 pellet in the aft end of the breech and return the barrel to its original position. Take aim, push the safety off with your thumb, and squeeze the trigger. At about 1 lb 7 oz, the first stage comes out of the trigger. At 4 lbs, 13 oz, the shot goes down range. The report is a muted “doink,” and recoil is almost non-existant.

I tried shooting the Explorer with Crosman Premier light pellets at 13 yards from a sitting position using the fiber optics sights and got 1.25” edge to edge groups. So I ran to the workshop, grabbed a 3-12x44mm scope and mounted it on the Explorer. (Now, I know what you’re thinking: why in the world would anyone mount a $190 scope on a $60 air rifle? I have three really good reasons: (1) it was already sitting out on my work bench, (2) the mounts were already on it, and (3) it looks really cool.) I went back outside and tried again from a sitting position at 13 yards, but this time using Daystate FT pellets. This time, the five-shot groups shrank to just a hair over .5 inch CTC.

Would the Explorer do better with different pellets from a steadier rest? Maybe. Certainly it’s plenty good enough for assassinating a bagful dollar store dinosaurs at 10-20 yards and nailing soup cans at much longer range.

I predict that if you slap a cheap scope on a Ruger Explorer, sight it in, and hand it to any kid who has even the slightest interest in shooting, you’ll have them grinning in no time. I found this gun so much fun to shoot that I predict the kid will have a hard time getting the Explorer out of Dad’s hands.

Til next time, aim true and shoot straight.

– Jock Elliott


  1. Mat says:

    I found your post very helpful, but the thing is, I’ve never even held an air rifle before… They really interest me and one of my friends has one… I’m 16 on october 4th and I haven’t even spoken to my parents yet… If you could give me some professional, but basic beginner advise that would be fantastic, thanks and hope you can help 🙂

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      I suggest you start with the most important thing: Safety.

      Please read the following with care:

      After you have read those, then you might check out this:

      Finally, read through the archives of my blog, available on the right hand side. I think you might find it educational.

  2. Gary says:

    Good review.
    I think there are VERY few junior size air riles worth a darn. The few that I have seen are “cheap” versions of adult rifles. They are put together poorly (especially the really LOUSEY triggers) and the LoP is still adult length. Low velocity does not = a junior rifle, there are many more factors to define it as a junior rifle.

    I have been looking for a replacement for the discontinued Gamo Delta to use as a junior trainer/starter rifle. The Gamo has a bad trigger. Not as LOUSEY as the Daisy 953, but still does not qualify as “decent.”

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      thanks for your comments. In addition to the Ruger, Weihrauch makes a small rifle as well, but, if I remember correc tly, there are no anti-recoil holes in the receiver if you want to mount a scope (but there are dovetails).

  3. Gary Clarke says:

    Thank you Mr. Elliot for a very interesting review on the Ruger Explorer> I just purchased my explorer and hope to get some great plinking with it as well as home defense. If you know of any guns good for this purpose and where i could purchase please let me know.
    Thank You
    Gary C.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      The Ruger Explorer is a fine gun for plinking, but honestly, I don’t recommend any airgun for home defense. If you live in the United States, I highly recommend that you take the NRA Home Self Defense course. It will educate you about the issued, particularly about the legal aspects of home defense, and you will be better equipped to make an informed decision.

      1. Gary says:

        Thank you for your reply, I no longer reside in the US. I live in Canada where the gun laws are very strict. I travel to Vermont and New York often to visit family and truly miss the freedoms in which America is so blessed to have. I hope that one day i too can enjoy these liberty’s and afford to purchase a rifle for my home defense. Until then my explorer will have to suffice. Thanks Again Gary

  4. dean says:

    i got same rifle i can shoot small bottle at 30 meters

  5. Larry Bentley says:

    I did the “unthinkable” with the thing and upgraded the spring I had from and existing air rifle. This, btw, was my original intention of purchasing the air rifle. I loved the ergonomics of it. Accuracy is actually pretty good out to about 10 yards for reasons I will explain in a moment. Power is excellent. Now as far as what I think I did with mods.

    When I upgraded the spring it was out of an old Crossman I had sitting in the closet that rust had killed. I think spring pressure was around 26lbs. The spring was a bit long so I cut the spring two coils longer than the original Ruger spring and threw a shim in at the bottom to keep the spring from digging into the rifle. At least for a little bit. I also threw a variable 3-9X scope on the gun pretty much for the same reasons. I thought it was cool. There were problems due to increased recoil and I had to loc-tight a few parts. But it seems to be working out.

    The results in the field were pretty impressive. But I have a “crack” from the rifle that I think can be explained as such. The pellet is barely supersonic when leaving the barrel. 10 yard accuracy is pretty good but drops off sharply after 15. That could mean the pellet is dropping to subsonic speeds about 12-13 yards or so. As far as power, I achieved a kill at 30 yards from a round the “skipped” off the ground about 7 feet in front of the target. I was shooting some of the vermin birds that day. I did manage a kill on a jackrabbit which is hard enough with a semi-automatic rifle considering the way they run. The target was sitting still at about 20 yards.

    All in all I have no complaints. It’s easy to carry the rifle in the back 40. It’s reasonable accurate. And thanks to my little upgrade, it’s actually a fairly serious rifle.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      That’s interesting — I wouldn’t have thought of trying to “hot up” the little Ruger.

      You might actually get better accuracy at longer range by going to a heavier pellet that keeps the speed out of the supersonic realm. I think it would be worth the experiment.

  6. Luc Duchene says:

    Great write up! Just bought this for my Son for his bday he LOVES it fun too shoot now we might be looking for some accessories 🙂

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you’re enjoying the rifle.

  7. Jeremy Hiebert says:

    I am trying to figure out why my rifle will not stay in the cocked position, it will hold pressure. It just wont stay in the cocked position, If anyone knows a way to fix this or even if it is possible please let me know, my email is thank you.

    1. Jock Elliott says:


      Not seeing the gun, I’m not sure what is going on, but it sounds as if the screws or bolts on either side of the breech need to be tightened.

  8. Mike I says:

    I have two of these rifles. The first was polish and lube tuned by me and is shooting Crossman destroyer 7.9g at 501fp/s very accurately. My son used it to take a rabbit with one shot on his first hunting trip. The second is for my Nephew. The first one was so good that it seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately the second one came with problems. Like the other post here it fails to latch consistently. It will work fine for five or 10 or 20 cycles and then will not latch or, much more scary, will release the piston as you close the barrel. Unfortunately I did not shoot this gun before tearing it apart to two minute. I have, by process of elimination, concluded that the piston seer surface was not adequately machined. There was a radius at the bottom of the seer as well as a much greater than 90° angle on the face of the seer. After much reworking, I have completed 100 shot cycles without a failure. I will definitely do a few hundred more before I handing this going over to a 10 year old. It was fortunate that I had the identical gun to help eliminate the cause. On the positive side, there is space left for adding shim in this gun. I added approximately .625 inches to my son’s gun and ramped up the power to 595 ft./s. This brought the energy to 6 ft/lbs. A 33% gain over what it was shooting without the shimming. If I can solve the problem with my nephews gun, we will have two very happy 10-year-olds shooting Ruger explorers.

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