April 15, 2020
By Layne Simpson
Ruger introduced the Hawkeye Long-Range Target with two action lengths. First came the long-action version in .300 Win. Mag., and it was followed by the short action in 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC. While both have been well received by those who bang steel and punch paper at extended distances, others have found other uses for them.
A friend who spends a lot of his time sitting in an elevated blind while waiting patiently for the buck of a lifetime to appear far across a vast cultivated field bought one in 6.5 Creedmoor, and he loves it dearly. But he walks only a short distance from his pickup, and he shoots deer with the rifle resting on a sandbag. Pushing 13 pounds with scope, his rig is a bit hefty for the majority of hunting most of us do.
Soon after the Long-Range Target was introduced, I peered into my trusty crystal ball and saw a lighter version in the works at Ruger. It has arrived. The new Long-Range Hunter was introduced in 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC, and since by now most RifleShooter readers are probably suffering from a serious case of 6.5 Creedmoor overdose, I was happy to see “6.5 PRC” stamped on the barrel of the test rifle.
The 6.5 PRC has been described as a short-action cartridge, but its SAAMI maximum length of 2.955 inches greatly exceeds 2.810 inches, which has long been the standard for short-action cartridges such as the .308 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., .260 Rem. and many others.
I recently had gunsmith Don Fraley put together a rifle in 6.5 PRC on a blueprinted Remington Model 700 action. Because interior magazine length of the short version is much too short at 2.840 inches, we went with a long Model 700 action with a magazine box for the .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. The interior length of its magazine is 3.825 inches.
I mention all of this to emphasize that Ruger engineers were assigned the challenging task of shoehorning the 6.5 PRC cartridge into the short Hawkeye action. I have one of the first Hawkeye rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor to leave the factory back in 2008. On the short action, its magazine is much too short to handle the 6.5 PRC. Those clever guys at Ruger overcame the magazine length obstacle by utilizing the Model 77 Scout Rifle action, which is still in production in other calibers. While it is also on the short Hawkeye action, it feeds cartridges from a detachable box magazine.
Interior length of the Long-Range Hunter magazine is 2.980 inches. The longest 6.5 PRC factory ammunition I have shot measured 2.950 inches. For trouble-free feeding, cartridge length should be 0.020 inch or so shorter than magazine length so the magazine is plenty roomy for factory ammo.
However, the Ruger magazine does not offer a lot of empty space for chasing the rifling by seating bullets in handloads longer as erosion gradually increases chamber throat length. While not all hunters fire enough rounds in a big game rifle for this to become an issue, some shoot their rifles year-round, and it is for their benefit that I point this out.
The barrel is stainless steel, and a big surprise to me was its length of 22 inches at a time when many hunters prefer the higher velocities of longer barrels. Measuring 1.160 inches in diameter at the receiver and tapering to 0.650 inch at the muzzle, the barrel is also quite thin.
The 5R style of rifling in the barrel was developed during the 1970s by Boots Obermeyer, who still turns out match-grade, cut-rifled barrels in his Bristol, Wisconsin, shop. He got the idea when examining rifling developed by the Russians for the AK-74 rifle in 5.45x39. It has five grooves with angular sides on the lands that tend to reduce the accumulation of bullet jacket and propellant fouling. This assumes a smooth bore with the absence of toolmarks running across the tops of the lands. Examination of the Ruger barrel with a Lyman Digital Borescope revealed a level of smoothness as good as is commonly produced by the cold- hammer-forging process.
While Obermeyer has never boasted of 5R delivering better accuracy than other styles of rifling, he does believe positioning lands opposite grooves decreases bullet jacket deformation thereby discouraging jacket failure in quick-twist barrels. He also believes it requires fewer break-in rounds and is a bit easier to clean.
The 1:8 rifling twist rate of the Ruger barrel is quick enough to stabilize extremely long 6.5mm bullets. The muzzle has 5/8-24 threads for an included single-chamber, 30-port brake, and a thread protector is included. The barrel is supported by the stock for 1.75 inches beyond the receiver and from there on out it free floats.
While the Model 77 rifle was introduced with a push-feed action, it was eventually changed to controlled-feed action with the rim of a cartridge slipping beneath the extractor claw just prior to entering the chamber. At the same time, a plunger-style ejector in the bolt was replaced by a pivoting blade in the floor of the receiver.
Like all of today’s Hawkeye rifles, the Long-Range Hunter has an investment-cast, flat-side, flat-bottom receiver with a 30-degree-angled front action bolt that when tightened draws the recoil lug firmly against the shoulder of its mortice in the stock.
The rifle has the familiar three-position, trigger-blocking safety: all the way forward to Fire; all the way rearward for Safe with bolt locked; and in the middle position the gun is on Safe but the bolt can be operated, allowing for loading or unloading the chamber while the safety is engaged.
Ten pulls on the LC6 trigger with a Lyman digital gauge averaged 4.75 pounds. I felt no overtravel, but there was some creep and the pull was a bit on the gritty side. The latter will improve some with use, although a gunsmith who knows how to switch springs and smooth rough surfaces can instantly transform the trigger into a better one.
Most Hawkeye models come with one-inch rings for scope attachment, but the Long-Range Hunter departs the factory with a 13-slot, 20-m.o.a. rail attached to the receiver. The top of the receiver is also notched for Ruger rings, which are not included; to use these notches, simply turn out four 8-10 Torx screws and remove the rail.
The bottom metal is aluminum with a magazine latch in the front of the trigger guard. Pushing the exposed end of the lever forward pivots its upper end to the rear, freeing the magazine for removal. The empty magazine does not gravity-drop and requires manual removal. When inserting a loaded magazine, I found it best to depress the upper end of the latch with the rear of the magazine prior to pushing it to its latched position.
The magazine is sheet steel with a low-friction polymer follower and is probably best described as quasi-single-stack since cartridges rest in slightly staggered positions. The magazine of the test rifle held four 6.5 PRC cartridges, but pushing it into the rifle to its locked position with the bolt closed took quite a bit of muscle.
I found it easiest to turn the rifle on its side, wrap four fingers through the ejection port for leverage, and press the bottom of the magazine with the heel of my hand. A sharp rap on the bottom of the magazine with the palm of my hand also sent it home. Feeding of the top cartridge was quite rough. Downloading to three rounds made magazine insertion easier and the top round fed more smoothly.
A rifle with a protruding magazine is not as comfortable in one-hand field carry as a flush-fit magazine, and while the Long-Range Hunter was not bad, its balance point required a three-finger carry with my pinkie wrapped around the bottom of the magazine.
Ruger carves the stock from a laminated hardwood blank and then applies a durable epoxy finish. And thank goodness it is brown rather than boring black. A steel crossbolt just behind the recoil lug mortice and another just behind the magazine cutout add reinforcement against splitting.
The stock is stiffer and quieter than a cheap injection-molded synthetic stock, probably more stable, and is more pleasing to the eye as well. Wrist circumference is five inches, and the fore-end is 4.25 inches around at its midpoint.
It is one of the best-feeling stocks Ruger has produced. A textured finish on the stock offers a no-slip grip for dry hands, but checkering would be much better for hunts with rain, snow and muddy conditions in the forecast.
A soft, one-inch rubber pad soaks up recoil quite effectively, and three half-inch plastic spacers allow length of pull to be easily adjusted from 12.75 inches to 14.25 inches. Simply turn out two screws to remove the pad and add or subtract the number of spacers to suit you. The system was introduced years ago on the stocks of the Scout Rifle, the Alaskan and the Guide Gun.
Fresh from its factory box, the rifle weighed seven pounds, six ounces. Filling the magazine with three cartridges, attaching a leather sling, and topping the rifle with a Bushnell Elite 4200 4-16X scope in Talley rings increased that to nine pounds, 6.5 ounces. Its weight along with an extremely effective muzzle brake makes it quite comfortable to shoot, and most hunters should be able to handle its recoil without the brake.
In addition to the Hornady factory load, I also used two offerings from Choice Ammunition, which is handloaded and tested in standard barrels instead of pressure barrels, meaning the published velocities will likely be closer to what you can expect from your own gun. The 120- and 130-grain loads I shot in the Long-Range Hunter have advertised velocities of 3,185 fps and 3,145 fps respectively and are based on a 24-inch barrel. You can see in the accompanying chart the velocities from shorter-barreled Ruger were not far off.
Powder capacity of the 6.5 PRC is about three grains more than the 6.5-284 Norma and about three grains less than the 6.5 Rem. Mag., and three rounds through the Long-Range Hunter had me water-cooling its thin barrel between each group. The rifle would not hold five consecutive bullets close enough together to make me smile, but considering the weight of its barrel, accuracy was quite good for three shots.
More important than small groups was the fact that points of impact of the first bullets fired into each of four groups from a cold barrel were practically dead-on the same point of impact. That’s a great confidence builder when the buck of a lifetime suddenly appears on the far side of a wide canyon and that first shot has to count.
Ruger M77 Hawkeye Long-Range Hunter Accuracy & Velocity
Ruger M77 Hawkeye Long-Range Hunter SpecsType:
Two-lug bolt-action centerfireCaliber:
6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 PRC (tested)Capacity:
4+1; detachable box magazineBarrel:
22 in. cold-hammer-forged stainless steel; 1:8 RH twistOverall Length:
7.38 lb. (measured)Stock:
Speckled black/brown wood laminateMetal Finish:
Ruger LC6, 4.25 lb. pull (measured)Sights:
none; Picatinny rail installed on receiver and cutouts for Ruger scope ringsSafety: