Ruger has introduced a new variant of its Hawkeye Predator rifle called the FTW Predator. Chambered in either 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Winchester, it’s designed for the big-game hunter who wants to stretch the range of his or her shooting. Inspiration comes from the company’s HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion), which can often be a bad thing. But in this case Ruger’s CEO, Mike Fifer, is a dedicated hunter who actually puts Ruger’s products to the test under real field conditions so he can see for himself what will or will not work for other hunters.
For example, one of the first guns Fifer directed Ruger to make under his leadership was the Hawkeye Predator. According to Ruger’s long gun product manager, Mark Gurney, Fifer’s a serious predator hunter. But when Fifer looked at the guns Ruger offered predator hunters, he thought the company could do better. At the time, Ruger offered a standard lightweight Hawkeye sporter that was the right size and a heavy-barreled Varmint/Target model that had the right accuracy and trigger, but individually neither was quite right — instead, a great predator rifle lay somewhere in between.
“We ended up with the Green Mountain laminate stock with a medium contour barrel,” says Gurney. “[Fifer] had them drilled for .204 Ruger, .223 Rem. and .22-250 — he even got down into the nitty-gritty detail of the different barrel lengths that are ideal for those calibers. He wanted a two-stage trigger, and that was the birth of the Hawkeye Predator.”
In addition to hunting, Fifer and his team spend considerable time at various shooting and hunting schools such as Gunsite and FTW’s SAAM (Sportsman’s All-weather, All-terrain Marksmanship), where key decision makers evaluate guns and how they really perform. FTW’s Tim Fallon (he’s the “F’ in FTW) explains, “Ruger has been sending engineers here for many years and it has to have changed their design in some of the mechanics and nuances of the gun. Whether that’s strictly due to SAAM or good management, probably both, [their guns] have evolved over the past several years into really nice rifles. I think what they learn here is, ‘what does the hunting market need?’”
Gurney tells me that Ruger brings various guns to SAAM to shoot at long distance, and for that, the gun to bring is the Hawkeye Varmint/Target in either 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Win. That’s a big heavy gun you shoot laying on the ground, so you can shoot out to 1,000 yards or more, but it’s not the kind of gun you want to lug around when hunting.
“Mike was doing some sheep hunting…and the whole concept of longer-range hunting really got to him,” explains Gurney when discussing the evolution of the FTW Predator. “So he looked and asked, ‘What is our best combination of features for a long-range hunting gun?’ and he realized we had it — it was in the Predator model. Let’s just chamber it in something bigger, so now you have the 6.5 Creedmoor and the .308.
“At the same time, we’re developing the Scout rifle, and the Scout Rifle has an adjustable length of pull. Like a bicycle, the most important thing on a rifle is the fit. So you put all of these things together, and here’s Tim Fallon from FTW saying, ‘If you’re going to come out here, maybe you ought to make a gun this way,’ and we ended up with the [FTW Predator] spec as it is now… the Predator in a larger caliber to handle the greater distance better and with the [Scout Rifle’s] adjustable length of pull.”
Length of pull is adjustable from 12 3/4 inches to 14 1/4 inches by way of three half-inch spacers included with the gun. “[Students] quickly get it when you show them how easy it is to adjust the length of pull,” says Fallon. “The whole family can shoot [the same gun] on the range the same day.”
Those spacers are topped with an inch-thick rubber recoil pad, and it does a good job of taking the sting out of hard-kicking loads. At the time of this writing, FTW and Ruger are evaluating incorporating a synthetic stock and Ruger’s removable muzzle brake/barrel weight into future FTW Predators, which is a testament to Ruger’s willingness to continuously improve products. “In the case of the 6.5 Creedmoor,” says Fallon, “the dadgum thing is so fun to shoot you could shoot it off your forehead. [With the brake] there’s no recoil at all, so for kids it’s especially good….”
The FTW Predator has the same bombproof receiver and massive Mauser-type non-rotating claw extractor with controlled-round feed as the rest of the Hawkeye line. Even though it is controlled-round feed, you can still single-load, as the extractor face is beveled and the inside of the action machined so it can snap over the cartridge rim on closing. Ejection is from a fixed blade, so the degree of ejection is controlled by how robustly you open the bolt. Pull it back gently and a case merely pops loose; yank the bolt back like you mean it and the case goes flying.
Another feature is the two-stage, adjustable target trigger also found on the standard Hawkeye Predator and Varmint/Target models. This is not Ruger’s Marksman or LC6 trigger, but a real target trigger that Gurney says Ruger chose because of the possible advantages it offers for the usually less hectic and more deliberate trigger discipline needed when taking longer-range shots.
“There are three screws: Pull weight, overtravel and sear engagement…” explains Gurney. “Despite it being a seemingly simple task, we recommend a gunsmith or a return to the factory for adjustment.” On the sample gun, first stage take-up was 0.8 pound with the trigger breaking at a delightful 2 1/2 pounds pull. It had a really nice feel to it but had about 1/8-inch of overtravel.
The action is finished off with a hinged steel floorplate so you can quickly and safely empty the four-round magazine without running each cartridge through the chamber. A three-position safety lets you unload or cycle cartridges with the safety on or lock the bolt closed, and the FTW Predator has Ruger’s integral scope mounts machined directly into the receiver. Rings are included.
There is no action bedding. Instead the FTW Predator utilizes Ruger’s patented angled front guard screw that pulls the action both down and back and a barrel pressure point at the forend tip. “When you put some pressure on [the barrel],” says Gurney, “you stop the amplitude of the barrel vibrations.” He went on to explain that in his experience, a free-floated barrel might give really great accuracy with a pet load that leaves the muzzle at the same moment every time, but if you shoot a load the gun doesn’t like, a free-floated barrel can exaggerate that dislike. With the pre-stressed barrel, though, a broader variety of ammo will shoot well, which is convenient if you’re not dedicated to shooting a bunch of loads to find just the right one.
I fitted the FTW Predator with a Meopta MeoPro 4.5-14x44mm scope, selected Hornady’s 150-grain American Whitetail loads and headed to the range to see how it would shoot. It was late June, and at that time of year ambient air temperature in southern Arizona is blast-furnace hot. Combined with the radiant heat from an omnipresent sun, it’s arguably an unfair environment for accuracy testing because barrel heating is extreme.
The effects of the excessive heat showed, too, as my first three-shot group clustered into a tiny 0.49-inch group with each successive group increasing in size by about 1/3-inch. To counter the effects of the extreme heating I swabbed the outside surface of the barrel between shots with water until the water stopped boiling off. That kept the barrel at a temperature you could comfortably hold with your bare hand and shrank groups back down to consistent sub-1/2-inch with the smallest warm barrel group being 0.30-inch. There were no malfunctions of any kind and the generous recoil pad does a great job at mitigating felt recoil.
I found the trigger overtravel a little annoying because I had to make my follow-through more deliberate, but it didn’t appear to negatively influence accuracy and can be adjusted. Overall, this is an eminently practical rifle for hunters who might encounter shots where you have to air out the bullet a bit.
“We see 1,000 guns a year…” says Fallon, “and all you have to do is keep your eyes open to realize ‘wow, that’s not going to work’ or ‘whoa, that really does work.’ The good news with Ruger engineers is they’re able to shoot lots of different types of guns in realistic circumstances and learn ‘OK this works and this needs to be in our guns’ or ‘this doesn’t work and isn’t worth it.’ They never stop asking questions… They’re inquisitive. They want to know more versus, ‘Meh, what we make is the best, just leave it alone.’ They’re an amazing group of people — great leadership.”
That’s saying a lot, but Ruger’s decision makers are also its customers using their guns the same way you and I do in the field, and that shows with the Hawkeye FTW Predator.