June 23, 2020
By Layne Simpson
The Model 77 Hawkeye Compact Magnum introduced in 2008 was the beginning of a popular trend at Ruger. Its 20-inch barrel was chambered to .300 Ruger and .338 Ruger. Walnut and blued steel or synthetic and stainless steel were other options. During the next year the Compact Magnum was joined by the Alaskan in .375 Ruger, also with a 20-inch barrel. Barreled action choices were stainless steel with either a natural matte finish or with a tough black coating. It also had a Hogue synthetic stock. The Alaskan was replaced by the Guide Gun in 2013.
The Guide Gun was the first snub-nosed Hawkeye I shot, and it is easily recognized from a distance by a colorful Green Mountain laminate stock. I took one in .375 Ruger to Alaska for grizzly and could not have chosen a better rifle for the game and the conditions. Still in production, the Guide Gun is available in .30-06, .300 Win. Mag., .338 Win. Mag., .416 Ruger and .375 Ruger, the latter in right- and left-hand actions.
Production of the second-generation Alaskan variant of the Hawkeye began July 2019 and best as I can tell, it is identical to the earlier rifle bearing that name. The barreled action is also a duplicate of the barreled action of the Guide Gun and that made its reintroduction no more difficult for Ruger than switching stocks.
I am not sure what process is used to apply a matte finish to the barrel and action, but it appears to be bead-blasted, and the beads used on the Alaskan were a tiny bit larger than on my older Guide Gun. You have to look close to see the difference in finish texture, and application quality is the same.
Whereas the bolt and its handle on my Guide Gun were given the same matte finish as the rest of the metal, they are brightly polished on today’s Alaskan. The bolt handle hugs the side of the stock and that, along with the short length of the Alaskan, makes it an excellent candidate for saddle scabbard carry.
The Alaskan in .375 Ruger featured in this report weighed eight pounds, 4.6 ounces. Mounting a Weaver 2-8X Grand Slam scope with Ruger rings, attaching a leather sling and filling the magazine with three cartridges put hunt-ready heft at half an ounce over 10 pounds. All metal is stainless steel, and that includes the trigger guard/floorplate assembly.
The 20-inch hammer-forged barrel measures 1.16 inches just forward of the receiver and from there it tapers to a muzzle diameter of 0.77 inch. A fairly heavy tube is less likely to walk bullets as it heats up as some light barrels are prone to do, and it better resists bending when a horse falls and rolls over the rifle during a high-country elk hunt. A Lyman Digital Borecam revealed a fairly smooth hammer-forged bore with only minor tool marks running across the lands. The six-groove rifling has a 1:12 twist.
The barrel wears a single-chamber, 28-port brake, and believe me when I say that it does an excellent job of reducing both recoil and muzzle rise. I seldom notice shoulder-bump when shooting at game, but a brake is most welcome during practice sessions, when developing a handload and when accuracy-testing a rifle. The brake weighs 1.7 ounces and rifle zero is unaffected when it is replaced by an included muzzle weight. A thread protector is there for those who choose to use the rifle without brake or weight.
To discourage caliber/brake mismatch, thread patterns differ: 5/8x28 for the .416 Ruger; 5/8x18 for the .375 Ruger; 1/2x32 for the .338 Win. Mag.; and 1/2x24 for smaller calibers. In other words, if you own two rifles in, say, .300 Win. Mag. and .375 Ruger, you will not be able to absentmindedly attach the .30 caliber brake to the barrel of the .37 caliber rifle. Ruger has started engraving the caliber on the side of the brake.
When the Model 77 rifle was introduced in 1968, its bolt had a non-rotating external extractor, and while its appearance was close enough to Paul Mauser’s version to fool some gun writers, it was not a controlled-feed system. Rather, it was push-feed with the claw of the extractor shaped to cam over the rim of a cartridge after the cartridge had been pushed fully into the chamber by the bolt.
The bolt also had a plunger-style ejector. In other words, the Model 77 action may have looked like a Mauser, but it operated like a Remington Model 700.
When the Mark II version of the Model 77 was introduced in 1991, the action became true controlled feed with the rim of a cartridge slipping beneath the claw of the extractor just prior to entering the chamber. But should you need to single-load, the claw of the extractor will cam over the rim of the cartridge once the bolt has pushed it fully into the chamber. At the same time as the extractor was changed, the plunger ejector was replaced by a spring-loaded blade in the floor of the receiver.
Investment-casting the receiver and bolt offers several benefits to the manufacturer other than savings in production cost. Doing so makes it possible to have the bolt handle integral with the body of the bolt rather than brazed-on or attached in some other way as in many action designs.
The body of the bolt has dual-opposed locking lugs along with an integral guide that stabilizes the bolt during the opening cycle. The guide also reduces binding and wobble during bolt travel.
Unlike some other rifles with a pivoting-blade ejector, the left-side locking lug of the Ruger is not slotted for ejector passage. That increases the shear strength of the lug. Bolt removal is made convenient by an easily grasped release on the left-hand side of the receiver.
Disassembling the bolt for cleaning the firing pin and its spring is a snap. Hold the bolt upside down with its shroud pointed toward you and twist the shroud clockwise to about the two o’clock position. Then place a small finishing nail in the takedown hole of the cocking piece and the entire firing pin assembly is rotated counter-clockwise for removal.
The Model 77 action originally had a two-position, trigger-blocking safety slide on the tang. Beginning with the Mark II version, it was changed to a receiver-attached, three-position lever located just behind the bolt handle, and it also blocks trigger movement.
Like the safety on the Winchester Model 70, all the way forward is Fire and all the way rearward is Safe, with the bolt blocked from rotation. Placing the safety in its middle position allows the bolt to be rotated for loading or unloading the chamber with the safety still engaged. Unlike the Model 70, fully engaging the safety does not cam back the cocking piece to deactivate the firing pin.
While the Model 77 action was in its design stages, Bill Ruger had six of its features patented, and one was the recoil lug setup. Like the lugs on many other rifles, it extends downward from the bottom of the receiver, but whereas the action bolt usually enters from the same angle, on the Ruger it enters the rear of the lug from a 30-degree angle.
Tightening the bolt draws the lug into firm contact with a shoulder in the stock mortice. In those days most rifle stocks were made of wood, and the thinking at Ruger was the design compensated for possible shrinkage away from the lug due to fluctuations in moisture content in the wood.
There are several things to like about Hawkeye rifles (Ruger has dropped the Model 77 designation and now simply calls them Hawkeye), and one is the inclusion of scope rings, which saves the new owner money and eliminates the hassle of rounding up a scope mount. And since the base is integral with the receiver, all screws are easily accessed for tightness check without removing the scope.
The Alaskan also comes with extremely durable and altogether practical open sights. The express-style rear sight consists of a thick, 0.17-inch steel blade with a wide and shallow V highlighted by a vertical white line at the rear. Dovetailed to a sturdy steel base, the blade is windage-adjustable only, which is okay since the iron sights on the Alaskan would mostly be used for getting off quick but well-aimed shots at fairly close distances.
A big problem with the front sights on most factory rifles is the bead is too small for quick acquisition during poor ambient light conditions. Ruger covered that base quite nicely with a white bead measuring 0.095 inch in diameter. It is attached to a ramped base, and the base is attached by a wide integral band encircling the barrel. A bit farther back, another steel barrel band has a post for a quick-detach sling swivel. Shifting the front swivel from the stock to the barrel is the thing to do on a hard-kicking rifle.
The LC6 trigger was introduced in 2006, and it was not designed to be user-adjustable. A video on Ruger’s website clearly explains complete disassembly of the rifle for cleaning, and that includes the trigger. The trigger departs the factory quite heavy, but it will usually improve if the rifle is shot a lot. Ten pulls with a Lyman digital gauge on the spanking-new Alaskan averaged 5.5 pounds with a variation of six ounces.
My Guide Gun has seen a bit of use and its trigger pull averages 4.25 pounds with a five-ounce variation. While both triggers have neither creep nor overtravel, neither could be described as smooth. Switching springs and honing surfaces will make it smoother and lighter, and a good gunsmith should be able to handle the job.
The Hogue OverMolded stock worn by the Alaskan is made by injecting molten synthetic rubber around a fiberglass skeleton for a permanent bond between the two. The fore-end has a good bit of flex, but the barrel free-floats in a roomy channel, and contact between it and the stock is unlikely.
There was only one issue with the stock. I shot the open sights at 50 yards, and while lateral bullet points of impact of the three test loads were close enough and close together, stock comb height prevented me from bringing the bead down close to the rear sight, and that caused the gun to shoot quite high.
It would not be a problem with a wood stock as its comb could be easily lowered with rasp and sandpaper, but that’s not possible with the Hogue stock. Back on a positive note, dimpling at its wrist and fore-end along with the tacky surface of the Hogue stock ensure a non-slip grip with wet and muddy hands. But don’t let your cat rub against the stock!
The barreled action is pillar-bedded in the stock. The rear pillar has a conventional shape and size, but the front one is shaped for compatibility with the angled action screw of the recoil lug. Bottom metal is steel, and since the magazine floorplate release is located flush with the front of the trigger guard, it is not likely to get bumped in the field.
The performance of the entire family of Ruger Compact Magnum cartridges is impressive, and I have grown especially fond of the .375. But due to a combination of minimal body taper, short overall length and a sharp shoulder angle, the top cartridge in a fully loaded magazine does not feed smoothly when the Hawkeye is new.
Aggressive bolt manipulation will make it feed reliably, but slowly and quietly easing a cartridge from magazine to chamber should you suddenly find yourself within close proximity of game can be difficult if not impossible.
I cured my Guide Gun of that affliction by loading 20 dummy cartridges (no primer or powder) and running them through the action numerous times. I stayed with the program until the top cartridge could be eased into the chamber fairly quietly.
I was curious to see how much velocity is lost with the 20-inch barrel. Advertised speeds for Choice Ammunition with 250-grain Barnes TTSX, 260-grain Nosler AccuBond and 300-grain AccuBond are 2,820, 2,805 and 2,670 fps, respectively, from a 24-inch barrel. Velocities from the Alaskan were 2,746, 2,736 and 2,588 fps.
An average velocity loss of 19 fps per inch of barrel length is a fair tradeoff considering how handy the snub-nosed Alaskan is in heavy brush. Differences in points of impact of bullets of different weights came as no surprise. With the 300-grain load zeroed dead-on at 100 yards, the 260-grain load was four inches high and the 250-grain load was six inches high.
Several years ago a clerk at a big gun shop in Anchorage told me the Ruger Guide Gun and the Alaskan were their best-selling big game rifles. That may account for the number I have seen in the hands of guides and hunters in Alaska. Alaska is hard on hunters and even harder on rifles, and both Rugers have stood the test.
In addition to being capable of fending off some of the harshest weather and hunting conditions on the planet, the rifles are light enough to carry over difficult terrain for days on end and short enough to weave through the thickest of alder thickets. They are extremely durable, totally reliable, accurate enough and are chambered for cartridges that are capable of finishing a hunt with a single shot but also of completing the job should things go wrong.
Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan SpecsType:
Dual-lug bolt action centerfireCaliber:
.300 Win. Mag., .338 Win. Mag., .375 Ruger (tested)Capacity:
3+1, hinged floorplateBarrel:
20 in., cold hammer forged stainless steel, 1:12 twistOverall Length:
8.25 lb. (actual)Stock:
Hogue OverMolded w/Hogue padMetal Finish:
Ruger LC6, 5.4 lb. pull (measured)Sights:
Windage-adjustable rear, white bead frontPrice:
Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan Accuracy Results