Rifle Review: Ruger M77 Hawkeye Magnum Hunter

April 7, 2014

Ruger’s M77 Hawkeye Magnum Hunter joins the ranks of classic American-made hunting rifles. Not only does this gun just look sharp with its straight lines and simple elegance, it also offers features and accuracy you’d expect from a custom or factory custom rifle — and at a great value compared to those other options.

The M77 Hawkeye Magnum Hunter is currently offered in only .300 Winchester Magnum, and when I first saw it, I naturally asked myself what it offers above and beyond the M77 Hawkeye All-Weather in the same chambering other than a muzzle brake and upgraded stock to justify the additional $200 in price. The leading feature I found is an innovative new muzzle brake “system” that gives you the benefit of practicing with the brake but hunting without it, with no shift in point of impact.

Muzzle brakes do a great job of reducing felt recoil, but they have one big drawback — they’re very loud. And even though there are electronic hearing protectors you can wear while hunting, most hunters and guides don’t wear them in the field. Any shot you take without hearing protection will ring your bell and damage your hearing, and using a brake takes things to otherwise unheard-of levels.

You can often remove a brake, but that usually makes your bullets hit somewhere else, requiring a re-zero, so the challenge for riflemakers is to find a way to get rid of the brake when you want to, but with no change in point of impact. Seems simple enough, but the muzzle is the last thing your bullet touches before it’s on its own, and even slight changes there are disproportionate and can really throw things off. Ruger’s answer is a replacement weight that tricks the bullet into thinking nothing has changed.

Quality Platform

Ruger’s M77 Hawkeye continues the company’s tradition of offering quality guns and value-added features at no additional cost. This is basically a Mauser-design rifle — a design so good that it has endured for more than 100 years with only a few improvements over that time. Ruger’s tweaks (and these are not all necessarily unique to Ruger) include beveling the front of the non-rotating claw extractor. That gives you the benefit of controlled round feed plus the ability to single-load cartridges without having to run them through the magazine. Another tweak is rotating the blade ejector in the action from the 9 o’clock position down closer to 7 o’clock. That eliminates the horizontal cut through the left locking lug while retaining the reliability the blade ejector is known for. Give the bolt a hard yank and your brass goes flying, a gentle open and you can simply lift your brass from the action.

Rather than Mauser’s three-position safety that arcs over the top of the bolt shroud and locks the striker but gets in the way of a scope, Ruger’s is off to the side and blocks the LC6 trigger. It offers the same benefits of “safe” with the bolt locked closed, “safe” with the ability to open the bolt for loading and unloading, and “fire,” all within convenient reach of your trigger hand and out of the way of your scope.

Great Standard Features

On the value-added side of things, the most obvious is Ruger’s integral scope mounts and included 1-inch rings. These make mounting a scope as easy as changing sparkplugs on a Volkswagen Rabbit and ensures perfect compatibility while eliminating the frustration that comes with ordering the wrong aftermarket base.

The steel magazine floorplate is hinged so you can empty the magazine all at once, and Ruger’s nice touch is a release button concealed in the front of the triggerguard. It’s not going to gouge your finger or cause you to accidentally dump the magazine when the gun recoils, and it’s not going to dig into your forearm or accidentally release while you’re cradling the gun, either.

Ruger triggers used to be good, then they sucked, but now they’re good again. While the company is using the currently popular “trigger within a trigger” style on its American rifle line, it has a more traditional-looking but no-less-refined new LC6 on the Hawkeye Magnum Hunter. It’s not user-adjustable, and at 4 3/4 pounds pull, the sample gun ranks just a little “heavy” by traditional understanding of trigger pull, but there’s something different about how this trigger pulls that makes it not seem as heavy. It actually reminds me a little of some of the electronic ignition triggers I’ve used where there’s not so much in the way of trigger movement. Instead you just keep pulling on it incrementally harder until the gun goes off. Once it releases, there’s a little overtravel, but I was hard pressed to see this trigger move before it broke.

Same Weight, Less Kick

In .300 Win. Mag. chambering, the All-Weather and the Magnum Hunter are within 4 ounces of each other — 7.75 pounds and 8.0 pounds, respectively. They both have 24-inch stainless steel barrels, but the All-Weather has a lightweight synthetic stock and heavier barrel while the Magnum Hunter has a thinner barrel and a heavier stock. Felt recoil from both guns would be much the same were it not for the Magnum Hunter’s muzzle brake system that releases the high-velocity gas radially from the muzzle instead of straight back, which greatly reduces what your shoulder feels. The muzzle brake is part of an overall system consisting of an interchangeable thread protector, brake and weight. Ruger makes both the brake and weight the identical weight, but also cleverly gives them the same center of gravity so the harmonics of the barrel stay the same between the two. Use the brake when sighting-in for less recoil and the weight while hunting for less blast — no re-zero needed — and you easily switch them using a 5/8-inch open-end wrench.

Thinner barrels like on the Magnum Hunter tend to be less accurate than heavy ones, but instead of that being a detriment, Ruger addressed that issue with some traditional solutions. For one, the barrel is hammer-forged, which results in one of the most consistent and smoothest barrels mass-production can make. The barrel is also free-floated, so there is no possibility of stock warp or flex having influence on accuracy. Lastly, Ruger uses its patented angled front guard screw that pulls the action both down and back. It’s unclear to me if there is any advantage to combining the angled pull with the Hogue stock’s pillar bedding, but suffice it to say the combination goes over and above the garden-variety glass bedding job, and that was obvious once I had this gun on the range.

On The Range

For accuracy testing, I mounted a 3.5-14X Nikon Pro Staff 5 with BDC reticle on the Magnum Hunter. This power range is ideal for a sporter weight .300 Win. Mag., as it has low enough power for close shots, and enough zoom for when you have to stretch the range a little. Combined with the BDC reticle, Nikon’s Spot-On program indicated clear holdover values for my pet load of Hornady’s 180-grain Interbond bullet at 2,900 fps to distances farther than I’m ever going to shoot.

Having long-range holdovers and being able to hit are worlds apart from each other, though — for one thing, a gun has to be accurate, and this M77 Hawkeye Magnum Hunter really delivers that. It routinely punched 1-inch five-shot groups at 100 yards, and when I fired a three-shot group while comparing point of impact shift between brake and weight, the gun scored them all in a single hole.

The key claim about this brake system is no shift in point of impact whether you have the brake or the weight on, and it comes so close that for all practical purposes I can state it works as advertised. After zeroing and firing a group with the brake, I switched to the weight. While groups opened up a little, the center of those groups shifted only ¼-inch left and up from the brake-zeroed groups. Firing a larger number of multi-shot groups might even smooth out that ¼-inch shift to none.

Recoil with the brake was remarkably unremarkable, so it serves its primary function as well. Helping tame the recoil, too, was the generous recoil pad on the Hogue stock. A different stock usually doesn’t get me very excited, but to me a gun is a tool, and the functionality of this one is no less beautiful than high-grade walnut is to someone who likes a gun to look pretty. The overmold rubber is never going to come off, and is just soft enough that this stock isn’t going to make a “clunk” when you rest it on the edge of your treestand for a shot. Its inherent “stickiness” and “cobblestone” texture provides about as sure a grip as you’re going to find, and it’s a great insulator, so it won’t act as a heat sink and draw any body heat from your hands during cold weather.

Conclusion

So back to my original question of what do you get for the additional $200 between the All-Weather and the Magnum Hunter in the same chambering? If you bought just the Hogue stock and paid its retail price of $170 plus any tax or shipping, you would quickly eat up that $200 difference, so you could look at it as you’re buying an upgraded stock, and Ruger is giving you an effective muzzle brake free. But Ruger took that added value one step farther with the matched weight system, and for those of us who shoot magnum rifles more than on occasion, both on the range and in the field, that’s worth a lot.