Ruger M77 Hawkeye All-Weather .338 Federal Rifle
By Chuck Hawks and the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The new Ruger M77 Hawkeye bolt action repeating rifle is an allegedly improved version of Sturm, Ruger's Model 77 Mark II rifle, itself an "improved" version of the original Ruger Model 77. Externally, all of these M77s look pretty similar, and the basic design remains an excellent one, based largely on Mauser 98 principles.
I own both an original M77RSI and a M77R Mark II, and the former is the better-finished and turned-out rifle. The Mark II does incorporate some enhancements, but they are overshadowed by the atrocious, lawyer inspired, Mark II trigger mechanism and the failure of Ruger (especially in recent years) to adequately polish the inside of the rifle's receiver and the various engagement surfaces, resulting in a less than smooth operating action. The net result is that most Ruger owners I know regard the Mark II as a step down from the original M77 (now often referred to for identification purposes as the "Mark I").
The Hawkeye touts improvements over the Mark II, particularly as regards the trigger, so we were curious to see if the Company had cleaned-up the Mark II or further cheapened their centerfire bolt action rifle. Certainly Ruger should be feeling the heat of competition from rifles made by companies such as Anschutz, Kimber, Savage, and Weatherby, to mention a few, who are able to provide their customers with hunting rifles with smooth actions and good, adjustable trigger mechanisms.
According to the Instruction Manual supplied with the rifle, the Hawkeye's notable features include a new LC6 steel trigger mechanism with a fast lock time, a newly designed floorplate latch, a red rubber butt pad (with which the Mark I was also supplied) and a newly contoured stock. The Hawkeye All-Weather version reviewed here sports a stainless steel barreled action and a black, injection molded, synthetic stock. Other Hawkeye variations include the "African," "Alaskan," "Compact," and "Frontier Rifle" models. M77 Hawkeye rifles are available in a variety of calibers, including .338 Federal as reviewed here.
There are so many warnings and so much red ink used in the supplied Instruction Manual as to make that document practically unintelligible except to lawyers. Actually, a dedicated reader can probably sort through the various warnings and find the information required if he or she is patient and has a high tolerance for BS.
In each incarnation of the Model 77, Ruger has "improved" the trigger by making the pull weight heavier and heavier. The original version of the Model 77 had an excellent, fully adjustable trigger. The Mark II trigger was heavier, creepier, and not user adjustable. Most serious shooters simply replaced the Ruger Mark II trigger with an adjustable Timney or other after market trigger, thereby adding about $100 to the cost of their rifle.
So, we here at Guns and Shooting Online were most curious to see what the new LC6 trigger has to offer. Would it be competitive with the industry leading Savage Accu-Trigger, making the expense and hassle of fitting an after market trigger unnecessary? As soon as our Hawkeye test rifle arrived we eagerly untangled it from the packing material, slipped in the bolt, and tried the new trigger pull.
Friends, you should have heard the collective sigh of disappointment. The LC6 trigger mechanism may be steel (instead of aluminum), but the trigger pull of our test rifle is creepy and very heavy. It averaged 6.25 pounds on my RCBS premium pull gauge, and was not particularly consistent. This trigger is substantially worse than the trigger in the M77R Mark II rifle that we reviewed in 2005. Bummer! Let's just say that we don't think that the LC6 trigger mechanism is going to appreciably reduce the sales of after market triggers.
Also worse than previous M77 rifles that we have tested is the generally crude external finish and the (lack of) internal polishing of the action. The Hawkeye bolt feels as if it is running on sand. This action is worse than the action of the M77R Mark II rifle that we reviewed in 2005, and that rifle's action was pretty rough. The Hawkeye receiver and key parts are investment cast, and apparently assembled without any attempt to clean up the castings. This is just about the roughest bolt action rifle that we have ever tested.
I hate writing these things as Ruger is the leading American gun maker and I am a fan of the Model 77 bolt action, as well as many of their other products. Even worse, the nice folks at Ruger have been good to Guns and Shooting Online and I regard them as friends. But the truth will out, even if we tried to hide it, which we can't do because we owe our readers a fair analysis and honest opinions.
In most other areas the Hawkeye seems to be typical Ruger M77 fare, which is to say basically very good. We have discussed the M77 action in considerable detail in previous reviews, so I'm just going to hit the highlights here.
The Model 77 Hawkeye features a Mauser pattern action with a flat bottom receiver and an integral recoil lug, one piece bolt, full length Mauser type extractor (beveled to ride over the rim of a cartridge in the chamber), receiver mounted ejector, generous ejection port for fast loading from the top of the action, and a hinged magazine floorplate. The magazine floorplate release is in the front of the trigger guard and rather stiff to operate, but very positive. The M77 action also includes a square bridge receiver with integral scope mount bases (the best system going), and an innovative diagonal bedding screw. The bolt release is at the left rear of the receiver in Mauser 98 fashion, while the safety is a Model 70 type three position device. M77 barrels are now precision hammer forged. This is all good stuff, and highly regarded by experienced hunters.
Ruger ad copy claims that the walnut stocks of Hawkeye rifles are slimmer, more rounded, and have improved checkering that wraps around the forend. That is all to the good, and the new checkering pattern is definitely an improvement over the old, skimpy, Ruger checkering that we have criticized in the past. Nice to know that someone at Ruger was listening!
Our test rifle's injection molded synthetic stock came complete with a mold line down the center and rather course "checkering" in a somewhat skimpy but conventional 4-panel point pattern. There are small, unattractive Ruger emblems molded into the center of each panel that further cheapen the already chintzy looking stock. On the other hand, the recoil pad is excellent, marked "Ruger" but feeling like a Sims product, or maybe a Pachmayr Decelerator. This plastic stock is conventional in shape and it has a straight comb that positions the eye correctly for using a telescopic sight. It is tightly bedded around the action and along both sides of the barrel. It's not pretty, but it is functional.
A drop-in, laminated hardwood sporter stock from Accurate Innovations would help the appearance of this rifle immensely, and probably make it kick a little less and shoot a little better as well. (Not that we had any complaints about the recoil or accuracy of the Hawkeye with its supplied stock.)
The M77 Hawkeye is available in short (.308) and standard (.30-06) length actions. The .338 Federal caliber rifle is built on the short action, for which the cartridge was designed. The rifle that is the subject of this review came with a dull finish 22" stainless steel barrel, which matches the equally dull stainless steel receiver and bolt. This is not a satin metal finish, it is lackluster finishing. Ruger ad copy calls it "Hawkeye Matte Stainless." The most attractive part of the whole package is a large silver Ruger medallion etched into the steel magazine floorplate. Following are the basic specifications of the Ruger M77 Hawkeye All-Weather rifle.
For testing, we mounted a Leupold VX-L 3.5-10x50mm scope that we had on hand in the medium height Ruger rings that came with the rifle. The Ruger integral base with supplied rings remains the best scope mounting system in the industry. The small crescent moon segment removed from the bottom of the VX-L's big objective bell allows this scope to fit low and close to the barrel without having to resort to tall rings. The superb optics and accurate fingertip adjustments of this Leupold scope make range sessions a real pleasure. It showed our bullet holes so clearly that we had no need to use our spotting scope when shooting groups for record at 100 yards.
Note, however, that this scope has a little too much magnification and bulk for a serious .338 Federal hunting rifle. A Leupold 2-7x model would be my first choice for a scope on any .338 Federal caliber hunting rifle, and that is exactly what I have mounted on mine.
To see how the M77 Hawkeye shoots we headed for the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon, our usual testing venue. As you have probably read before, this outdoor facility offers covered shooting benches and target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. We used the 100 yard stands when shooting groups for record. For a change the winter weather in Western Oregon was warm and mostly sunny, with temperatures in the low 50's F. and only a light wind that we didn't figure would have much affect on our .338 bullets over 100 yards.
All recorded groups consisted of three shots from a mildly warm, but not hot, barrel. Bob Fleck and Dave Tong assisted yours truly with the shooting chores. We shot from a Caldwell Lead Sled weighted with 50 pounds (2 bags) of lead shot. The Lead Sled helps to keep the rifle steady and dramatically reduces recoil.
Many thanks to the kind people at ATK/Federal Cartridge, who supplied us with samples of all of their .338 Federal factory loads. These include Federal Premium loads using a 180 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet at a MV of 2830 fps, a 185 grain Barnes TSX bullet at a MV of 2750 fps, and a 210 Nosler Partition bullet at a MV of 2630 fps. From the ATK Fusion line came a load using a 200 grain Fusion bullet at a MV of 2660 fps. All of those factory velocities were derived in 24" test barrels, of course, not the 22" barrel of our Hawkeye test rifle.
Here are our shooting results with the Ruger M77 Hawkeye:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS TESTED = 1.84"
This time Bob and Dave tied for shooting the smallest group, at 1-3/8". These are, on average, pretty good results for a powerful medium bore rifle. The overall average is better than we got with factory loads in our Kimber 84M rifle in .338 Federal caliber, and just a hair behind our shooting results with a Sako 85 rifle in the same caliber.
In the course of testing we occasionally fed a cartridge directly into the chamber to see if the extractor would ride over the case rim, and every time it easily did so. A good thing to know if someday you need one more shot in a tight corner. Most of the time we fed cartridges from the magazine, as is recommended with controlled feed rifles.
One problem that we encountered during our range testing was that if pressure was applied to the bolt handle at an angle when closing the bolt, the bolt would tend to bind. Also, when unlocking the bolt after firing a shot it would sometimes stick, requiring a blow from the hand or excessive force on the bolt handle to get it to rotate to the fully up (unlocked) position. Both problems, we are sure, were caused by the failure to polish the bolt lugs, receiver raceways, and other mating surfaces when this rifle was made. Even the cylindrical bolt body is not polished. This lack of workmanship is especially regrettable on a medium bore rifle that might reasonably be used to hunt dangerous predators such as bear and big cats.
Of course, the Ruger M77 Hawkeye All-Weather is not as expensive as the other .338 Federal caliber rifles that we have reviewed. In fact, it is the least expensive of the three rifles reviewed to date. (The Kimber 84M Classic and Sako 85 Hunter are the other two rifles--see the Product Review Page for details.)
A person could have a gunsmith replace the Ruger LC-6 trigger with a Timney and polish the internals of this rifle, then replace the cheap synthetic stock with a nice Accurate Innovations drop-in laminated wood sporter stock, and still spend less than the price of a Sako 85. And, in terms of design, the Ruger M77 action is fundamentally superior to the Sako 85 action. (The same economics would not apply to the Kimber 84M, but the Ruger is a heavier rifle and therefore more comfortable to shoot). Anyway, it's a thought and it illustrates that the Ruger M77 Hawkeye All-Weather does have unrealized potential.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2007, 2012 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.