Hunting in New England has its disadvantages. The cover is thick, making it difficult to see game, and the walking can be tough. And if you take a common sporting rifle into the woods, chances are that when the moment arrives, your swing will be hampered by the closest tree.
Looking back, it's easy to see why lever guns from Marlin and Winchester were so popular for this sort of country. Short in stature, handy as all get out and with a profile that begged to be carried in one hand, they could be put in use faster than it takes to think about it.
I'm sure this was the foundation for the new Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye Compact rifle. Short and trim, it is available in both blue carbon and stainless steel actions with either walnut or laminated stocks and in short-action chamberings ranging from the .223 Remington up to the .300 RCM (and .300 and .338 RCMs in Compact Mag-num guise).
The Hawkeye retains the three-position safety of the Mk II. The bolt knob is smooth, the handle dished out for scope clearance.
Overall, you are looking at a sporting rifle that measures no more than 35.5 inches long, checks in between 6 and 6.5 pounds depending on wood options and is equipped with a curt 16.5-inch barrel in the Compact series (20-inch in Compact Magnum). The Laminate Compact I tested is chambered for the popular .260 Remington, a perfect balance for deer-size game in close cover.
The stainless steel action complements the satin-finished gray/black laminated stock perfectly, creating a classic-looking field rifle, and the metal's matte finish cuts down on game-spooking glare.
The Mauser-inspired Model 77 action consists of a non-rotating, controlled-round-feed extractor for flawless feeding and extraction, and the mechanical blade ejector kicks out empties dependably.
The magazine follower does not touch the bottom of the bolt during its travel, allowing the action to cycle with moderate smoothness.
The only thing I'd like to see in the future is the inclusion of a guide rail within the receiver raceway to cut down on bolt wobble. Seems to me while upgrading the present M77 series this would have been on the to-do list, but apparently it was passed by--again.
The bolt body is not polished bright, and the bolt handle is swept back and dished out for additional scope clearance. The bolt knob is not checkered. The bolt release is on the left side; pulling it out allows the clearance necessary to remove the bolt.
The three-position safety locks the bolt and the firing pin when in the rearward position; mid-position allows the bolt to be cycled with the safety on; forward is fire.
Triggers are always important to savvy hunters, and while Ruger's redesigned trigger on the Hawkeye, the LC6, isn't in the target category, it did break very crisply at 4.5 pounds with only a bit of slack. The trigger itself is smooth and carefully rounded, which I think makes the pull seem lighter. A latch forward of the trigger guard unlocks the hinged floorplate, which is etched with the Ruger logo.
In addition to improved checkering, Hawkeye stocks are slimmer in the fore-end and wrist, which fits the hands better.
The Hawkeyes are treated to better checkering than their predecessors, with more coverage on the pistol grip and fore-end.
Like all of the Hawkeye series, there have been improvements in the wood stocks. For example, the cut checkering now goes completely around the fore-end in an attractive point pattern. On the pistol grip, the pattern has been extended toward the rear of the stock.
It seems to me that the wrist of the pistol grip and the lines of the fore-end have been thinned to a more comfortable configuration.
True to Ruger's stock philosophy, there's no Monte Carlo comb nor cheekpiece to interrupt the clean lines of the rifle. There is, however, a pistol grip cap and black butt pad complete with black spacer. All that is hardly earth-shattering, but what's worth noting on this stock is that the length of pull is only 12.5 inches.
The floorplate is etched with the Ruger logo and released via a lever in front of the trigger guard.
Ruger continues to employ an angled front stock screw that the company claims increases accuracy--on the theory that the angled screw helps to pull the action down and into the stock in a rearward direction.
At the range, the .260 Remington proved again why it is so popular with knowledgeable deer hunters. I also had the opportunity to shoot Remington's Managed Recoil cartridges. With a 50 percent drop in recoil and specially designed bullets that perform well at lower velocities, this is a terrific option for youth, women and recoil-shy seniors.
While the Ruger Compact didn't set any accuracy or velocity records (muzzle velocities were down about 6 percent due to the short barrel), that shorter tube and the gun's trim weight and overall length make it a swift-handling rifle perfect for woods hunting.