November 20, 2020
By Brad Fitzpatrick
Bill Ruger was a brilliant firearm designer, and part of his brilliance was an ability to take a classic firearm design and reinvent it in a way that made it even more desirable. One of his early designs, the Ruger Blackhawk, was (and is) a modern take on Colt’s single-action revolver. Bill Ruger also designed a single-shot rifle based on the Farquharson falling-block design in the form of the Ruger No. 1. Even in the modern era of carbon-fiber barrels and chassis guns, the elegant No. 1 continues to have a large and loyal following.
Another of Ruger’s forward-thinking developments was the Ruger Model 77. In the 1960s Remington revolutionized the rifle world by developing a cheap, functional push-feed action for its Model 700. To compete with the Model 700, Winchester revised its venerable Model 70 and dropped the full-length claw extractor in favor of a push-feed design and made other cost-saving production changes. Winchester fans howled in fury and begged the brand to give them back their controlled-feed rifles. When Winchester brass refused to meet the demands of its customers, Bill Ruger stepped in.
In 1968 Ruger launched the Model 77, and it was a hit. It was a functional, affordable rifle that filled the gap left by Winchester’s departure from the controlled-round-feed market. Over the years the Model 77 has evolved like Ruger’s other designs. The Model 77 Mark II followed in 1989, and the rifle received another facelift in 2006 when it became known as the Ruger Hawkeye. The Hawkeye name came with two other changes: the addition of Ruger’s LC6 trigger and a new stock contour.
The Hawkeye family of rifles has continued to grow and evolve, and the newest addition is the Hawkeye Hunter. In many ways, the new Hunter looks similar to the Model 77 rifles that came before it. The controlled-round-feed action comes standard, as does a straight-comb walnut stock with a traditional red rubber recoil pad.
The full-length claw extractor bites heartily onto the rim of the case, and there’s a fixed ejector blade that rides in a machined cutout in the one-piece bolt and sends empty cases whirring from the action when the action is forcefully cycled. The hinged steel floorplate features an engraved Ruger logo, and the magazine floorplate release sits flush with the front of the trigger guard. It’s not as easy to access as other floorplate release designs, but it’s almost guaranteed not to dump your spare ammunition by accident.
In a world where rifles with adjustable polymer stocks and oversized carbon-fiber barrels are the hot trend, the Hawkeye’s sporter barrel and traditional stock pay homage to Ruger guns of the past.
Ruger does an exceedingly good job of balancing traditional design aspects with modern features to make its rifles appealing to a wide range of shooters. The Hawkeye Hunter comes with a stainless steel machined receiver and a stainless steel barrel. The metalwork’s satin finish contrasts nicely with the walnut stock and protects the rifle against the harsh elements.
All Hawkeye Hunter rifles have free-floated, cold hammer-forged 5R barrels with threaded muzzles and thread protectors (the .300 Win. Mag. version comes with a radial brake). The test rifle in 7mm Rem. Mag. came with a 24-inch barrel, and it features a 1:8.5 twist rate, which clearly shows the engineering team at Ruger understands shooters are gravitating toward heavy-for-caliber bullets.
Another practical, shooter-friendly touch on this rifle are the flats on alternate sides of the thread cap that make it simple to remove should it get sticky. Hawkeye Hunter barrels feature a 5/8x24 thread pattern.
The Hunter is equipped with a 20-m.o.a. top rail. Twenty minutes of adjustment make this rifle suitable for long-range shooting, and the added convenience and security of a sturdy top rail adds to the rifle’s appeal.
I’m a big fan of Ruger’s traditional Model 77/Hawkeye’s machined integral bases on the receiver, and if you prefer that optic mounting system, you can remove the top rail by loosening the four beefy 8-40 screws that hold it in place.
The Hawkeye Hunter's stock is made from well-figured American walnut with diamond checkering on the pistol grip and the fore-end. The pistol grip is a little narrow for my taste, but it’s well-angled and positions the wrist comfortably for firing. The fore-end tapers toward the muzzle and is rounded on the bottom.
Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Specs
- Type: Controlled-round-feed bolt-action centerfire
- Caliber: .204 Ruger, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC, 7mm Rem. Mag. (tested), .308 Win., .30-06, .300 Win. Mag.
- Capacity: 3+1
- Barrel: 24 in.; threaded 5/8x24; comes with thread cap
- Overall Length: 44.75 in.
- Weight: 7 lb., 10 oz.
- Stock: American walnut
- Finish: Satin stainless
- Trigger: LC6, 3.7 lb. pull
- Sights: None; removable 20-m.o.a. top rail; machined for Ruger rings
- Price: $1,099
- Manufacturer: Ruger, ruger.com
Length of pull is 13.5 inches, which will fit most average-sized adult shooters. Unlike other members of the Hawkeye family, the Hunter model doesn’t offer length of pull adjustments. I’m a traditionalist at heart, so I love the red rubber recoil pad, but it’s just a half-inch thick and doesn’t suck up recoil as well as some of Ruger’s larger recoil pads. A black grip cap with the Ruger logo is another of those classic styling cues that have found their way onto the Hawkeye Hunter, and it looks good.
Hawkeye rifles feature a three-position wing safety that allows the shooter to load and unload the rifle with the safety engaged. The layout is similar to the Winchester Model 70, which I also like, but I prefer the Ruger safety for two reasons. First, it’s larger and easier to control. The Ruger safety is comma-shaped in cross section, and the serrated flats on the front and rear side of the safety make it easy to manipulate. Second, the Ruger safety is easier to operate silently when game is very close.
The bolt release is on the left rear portion of the receiver. It’s 1.5 inches long, so it’s easy to find—a much better design, in my opinion, than smaller tabs that require more effort and concentration to operate. The floorplate release, as I mentioned, rides against the front of the trigger guard and stays well out of the way when operating the rifle.
Southpaw shooters need not feel left out. The Hawkeye Hunter is available in left-handed models chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and .300 Win. Mag.
The test gun in 7mm Rem. Mag. weighed just under eight pounds without an optic. When I added a Leupold VX-6 HD 2-12x42 scope, the total rifle weight jumped to nine pounds, one ounce—not exactly a featherlight but not heavy enough to preclude you from most hunts. What’s more, that added heft helps knock down recoil on the 7mm Rem. Mag. to manageable levels.
Magazine capacity for the rifle is three rounds, and overall length is 44.75 inches. Suggested retail price for the Hawkeye Hunter is $1,099, which places it in competition with the Remington Model 700 American Wilderness Rifle ($1,173), the Browning X-Bolt Long Range Hunter ($1,300), and the Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Stainless ($1,210).
I have a 1978 Model 77 7mm Rem. Mag. rifle with a tang safety, a gun I picked up for a song at a local gunshop when everyone was clamoring for polymer stocks and 6.5-caliber rifles. Despite its cost, the gun shoots extremely well. It’ll go under an inch with some factory loads, and with handloads it’s a tack-driver.
Naturally, with the new Hawkeye packed up and headed to the range, I thought I should bring the old Model 77 along to compare them side by side. In terms of weight, the two scoped rifles are within a few ounces of one another. The Hawkeye Hunter has a better stock contour. The old Model 77’s wide, flat-bottom stock feels clunky compared to the more modern Hawkeye.
My old gun features a plunger ejector that isn’t as positive as the new gun’s blade, and the modern Hawkeye Hunter’s flush-fit floorplate release is better positioned than the older gun’s inside-the-trigger guard design because there’s no chance the release will strike the shooter’s finger under recoil—dumping the contents of the magazine while striking a stinging blow to the shooter’s finger.
My old Model 77 shoots well, but the new Hawkeye Hunter is more accurate. I was hoping the Hawkeye would go under an inch, and it beat that number with every load tested, averaging less than an inch with two of the three and producing an impressive 0.51-inch three-shot cluster with Hornady’s 162-grain Precision Hunter load.
In fact, I screwed up while shooting that load and accidentally fired a fourth shot into one of the groups and decided to go ahead and fire a fifth round to see what the rifle was capable of for five shots. Though it doesn’t figure into the final accuracy totals, the five-shot group measured 0.80 inch wide. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Ruger Hawkeye Hunter is a sub-m.o.a. gun.
Controlled-round-feed guns have a reputation for reliability, and I had no problems with the Hawkeye Hunter. The only issue that occurred was a consequence of my failure to pay attention when loading a magazine. I didn’t fully seat one of the rounds, and when I pressed the next cartridge in place in the magazine it wouldn’t click into position, which required releasing the floorplate, dumping the cartridges and starting over. When I seated each cartridge correctly, there were no issues, and the Hawkeye Hunter fed, chambered, extracted and ejected without a problem.
The Hawkeye Hunter’s LC6 trigger broke at 3.65 pounds on average when tested with a Wheeler gauge, about a quarter-pound lighter than the older Model 77. There’s a little bit of movement prior to the trigger break with the LC6, but it’s barely noticeable, and when the trigger breaks, it does so cleanly.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Hawkeye Hunter’s stock seems to handle recoil better than the one on my older rifle, and the new gun is less inclined to whack you in the cheek. That being said, the thin, rubber recoil pad doesn’t offer a lot of cushion, so if you’re particularly recoil sensitive, you may want to consider adding a large pad or looking at one of the Hawkeye models that come with length-of-pull adjustments and a thicker pad.
That’s not to say that recoil was abusive, but in 7mm Rem. Mag. this rifle does produce some setback that might cause recoil-sensitive shooters to turn away. Of course, you could add a muzzle brake if you found recoil off-putting and didn’t mind the extra muzzle blast.
Bill Ruger always did an excellent job of combining classic features with modern technology into his guns, and that’s part of the reason the brand that bears his name has been so successful. With the Hawkeye Hunter the company has created a classic rifle for the modern hunter: a gun that looks good, shoots good, and offers features that today’s shooters have come to expect. I think Bill Ruger would be proud to know his name is on this gun, and shooters who buy a Hawkeye Hunter will be pleased to add that rifle to their collections.
Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Accuracy Results