Over the years I have owned a few American-made firearms, both rifles and shotguns, and I have always come to the same conclusion: American rifles are built to do the job, rather than please the eye of the beholder.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, in a way I admire it. Recently Viking Arms as kind enough to lend me one such American rifle, an M77 Ruger Hawkeye in .243 Winchester, for field testing. I was excited to say the least, eager to see how much things had changed since my American rifle-owning days.
The first thing that struck me was the slim shape of the rifle overall – in fact it initially looked more like a .22 rimfire than a centrefire in .243 Win. The woodwork was a well-finished walnut with some graining; the chequering was sharp, well-cut and in the right places.
The classic Mauser action is too well known to describe in detail. It is old-fashioned, admittedly, but extremely reliable. Typical of this design is the amount of ‘slop’ encountered when the bolt is fully drawn. The full-length Mauser extractor, coupled with the fixed ejector, does the job of removing spent cases very well indeed. The bolt handle, which has been left in the white, has a distinctive look, which I find quite pleasant. The bolt handle, although designed with a cutaway, swings very high when in use – so high, in fact, that it fouled the eyepiece of on one scope I tried. Switching to another scope solved this problem – I’d recommend sticking to scopes with less bulbous eyepieces when using this rifle.
The bolt initially felt rough and it was an effort to get the bolt forward – although this is something you get to some extent with all new rifles, it particularly caught my attention on this model. Closer inspection showed that the bolt raceways had not been polished. After a bit of use and the application of a tiny amount of polishing paste, the bolt freed up quite a bit; I suspect that with a bit more time and effort, this will cease to be a problem entirely.
As mentioned earlier, ejection was very effective. The receiver has been machined from a solid billet, and has integral scope mounts. These are matched with the pair of one-inch rings, supplied by Ruger, which have their own unique locking system that ensures the scope will not move once mounted. Incidentally, the rings are of different heights, with the higher unit mounted at the rear.
The magazine is the good old internal box type with a floor plate arrangement, loaded from the top through the receiver and supported by a blued metal cage and follower. In .243 calibre, the mag’s capacity is four rounds. A hinged floor plate design, which is a bit fiddly but very secure, drops the rounds from the magazine when thecatch is operated. The Hawkeye model now has a laser-etched Ruger emblem on the floor plate; while this doesn’t make a difference to overall performance, it is a move towards a more attractive overall appearance.
The tapered 22in hammer-forged barrel matches the slim woodwork rather well. I used 80-grain Winchester soft points in the button-rifled barrel, as I hadn’t anything heavier to hand. Results would probably have been better using 100-grain fodder, but more on that later. The barrel is stock-bedded rather than free-floating, but that didn’t seem to be a problem when shooting the Hawkeye. Stock measurements were standard – I found them ideal.
When zeroing – and also when firing two or three shots in quick succession – the slim barrel heated up quite noticeably. Although this initially worried me, it did not affect accuracy – although I suspect it might begin to if I fired a longer string of shots. However, this is purely a hunting rifle, so this is more of a theoretical concern – it is unlikely ever to happen out in the field.
Taking the rifle out to zero, I was once again stuck by its lightness. Sadly, most of us now use a moderator. While I appreciate the advantages of them, they add considerable muzzle weight to a light weapon, and to my eyes totally ruin the aesthetics of most hunting rifles. The Ruger came with one of Brügger and Thomet’s moderators, nicely finished in matt grey. It weighed in at 635g. I was impressed with its performance, although to my old ears there is not a lot to choose between any of the recognised makes nowadays. This mod – as you would expect of a Swiss-made item – was very nicely presented indeed; it is made in stainless and available in either stainless or black. What is more, it is extremely long-lasting. Brügger and Thomet suggests that an occasional dunking in solvent is all that is needed by way of maintenance, and Viking Arms tells me it should be good for 10,000 rounds, which would probably see me and most of my rifles out. Although it is not cheap (retailing at £312), in my opinion there are very few better mods on the market.
The scope for this test was one of the Hawke range of optics from Deben. Like the rifle, it is not overpriced but it does the job more than well enough. The Eclipse is a good all round scope, and at under £90 it is good value.
After bore-sighting the Hawkeye, I soon had the first four shots there or thereabouts. A few rounds and a slight adjustment on the scope later, the little .243 was on the money, printing groups at a fraction under one inch (.977 to be exact). I felt that this could certainly be improved by using 100-grain loads, or even more – with the right load, I would expect the group size to be halved.
The LC (Light and Crisp) designated single-stage trigger consistently tripped at three and a half pounds. This is slightly heavier than I am used to, but perfectly acceptable for a factory rifle. After a dozen or so rounds I soon got used to the trigger, and it proved to be smooth in operation.
How would I sum up the M77 Ruger Hawkeye, and would I buy one for foxing? Well, it certainly isn’t a work of art, but it is functional. You couldn’t call it sophisticated either – it is more of a downtown man than an uptown girl – but it is a very practical little rifle, built for purpose not pose, which is certainly the correct way round to have the priorities. Extremely light on the shoulder, it would definitely be a joy on an all-night foxing foray or a day-long deer stalking excursion, and retailing at £999 it is comparatively light on the pocket.
I have a strong feeling that this rifle will last forever and take everyday knocks in its stride. If you are looking for a workhorse rifle for foxing, you should seriously consider the Ruger. MP
Model tested: M77 Hawkeye in .243
Price range: Around £1,000
Contact: Viking Arms 01423 780810 www.vikingarms.com