Most riflemen I know are always on the lookout for one rifle that can do everything. While no such rifle exists, Ruger’s latest M77 Hawkeye, the Long-Range Hunter, is a production rifle that can best handle all hunting needs in the lower 48 states. The combination of rifle and cartridge are what make this possible.
Barrels & Actions
Looking at a couple key specifications shows the rifle is the right size and weight for almost every type of hunting. It weighs 7.2 pounds, so it’s not super lightweight, but it is light enough to pack around the mountains. Its barrel is 22 inches long, a couple inches shorter than what we’d normally see paired with any magnum cartridge. However, the 6.5 PRC cartridge chambered in Guns & Ammo’s test rifle was designed to work well in short barrels. There is negligible velocity loss in a 22-inch 6.5 PRC barrel.
The Long-Range Hunter’s 22-inch barrel has a 1:8-inch twist, so it also works with all 6.5mm bullets up to and including Hornady’s new 153-grain A-Tip. It’s a hammer-forged stainless-steel creation that has a lighter, sportier contour. The barrel contour bells out at the muzzle to provide enough shoulder for a muzzle brake or suppressor to reliably seat against. This is one of my favorite features on this rifle.
Muzzlebrakes are great for shooting a bunch, but suppressors are a life-changing experience that more shooters embrace everyday. Suppressors remove the muzzle blast each of us must endure when the rifle fires. When comparing recoil and muzzle blast, muzzle blast is more responsible for bad shooting habits and missed shots. It needs to be eliminated first, so suppressors are a must.
The problem with putting a suppressor on a hunting rifle is that most hunting barrel contours don’t leave enough material around the muzzle to provide a stable shoulder for a suppressor to seat against. Without a robust and square shoulder as a clearly defined stop, the suppressor can become crooked when it hits the end of the barrel’s threads.
Getting a custom barrel contoured for a hunting rifle with a bell-shaped muzzle is difficult and expensive. In fact, a guy would probably be limited to a heavier contour with flutes to cut weight. However, Ruger offers up a hammer-forged stainless-steel barrel with what looks like the ubiquitous and time-tested hunting contour. The only difference is the slight bell at the muzzle that makes it so suppressor and muzzlebrake friendly.
The action Ruger pairs with its barrel is the M77 Hawkeye. The Hawkeye is different from other M77 actions because Hawkeye models are true controlled-round feed (CRF). When the cartridge leaves the detachable box magazine, the case rim slides up under the bolt’s external claw extractor. The cartridge is either being held by the magazine or the extractor. At no time is a round floating around in the action.
While I remain unconvinced there are any feeding reliability advantages of CRF actions, I am a huge fan of the monstrous extractor. The M77’s extractor is a large piece of spring steel that grabs about twice as much of the case rim as most push-feed actions. Extractors don’t break often but they do on occasion, and I’d hate to have one break on an important or expensive hunt.
The best way to prevent any extractor trouble is to make it large as Ruger did with the M77. Ruger also chamfered the front of the extractor so that it slips over cases dropped into the action. Should a guy need one more round than the magazine can hold, he can just drop it into the receiver and run the bolt home. The chamber allows the extractor to slip over the case rim without damaging either the extractor or the case. Not all CRF actions can make this claim.
Prep & Shoot
The Long-Range Hunter comes with a full-rail scope base that gives the shooter more scope-mounting options than other models. The rail allows for use of whatever rings the shooter has on hand, so it’s easier to get the right height for whatever scope you care to mount. The rail section also allows for ring placement anywhere along its length. This makes it easier to set proper eye relief.
There are four No. 8-40 screws that hold the scope base in place, ensuring that even the heaviest scopes won’t move the base under recoil. The base also has a 20 minute of angle (MOA) bias. The bias tilts the scope downward at the objective lens and points the scope’s internal erector assembly towards the top of the objective lens when zeroed at 100 yards.
Using a biased scope mount makes sense when shooting at longer ranges. Instead of a zeroed scope in a no-bias mount having available adjustments of 50 MOA up and 50 MOA down, the biased mount allows for 30 MOA up and 70 MOA down. This extends the range to which the shooter can dial to hit his target.
Ruger puts their LC6 trigger on the Hawkeye Long-Range Hunter and it’s an excellent choice. Unlike most modern rifles, the LC6 trigger is not a self-contained cassette type. This means that the trigger is not encased by two metal plates that make maintenance difficult. The LC6 is an exposed trigger where, once the barreled action is removed from the stock, the shooter can access the trigger, sear and springs.
Field maintenance of the LC6 is a snap. Some brake cleaner to blast out gummed-up oil and debris followed by a light oil is all it needs to function reliably after a couple years of hard use.
The LC6 pull weight sits right around 6 pounds, which is a good weight for field work. However, that may be too heavy for some. The good news is there are aftermarket trigger springs available that take almost no mechanical ability to install. The simple construction of the LC6 allows for spring replacement by pushing a single pin out of the way. The lighter spring is available from erniethegunsmith.com and costs $7. It’ll cut the pull weight almost in half. Of course, Timney Triggers makes an excellent aftermarket trigger for the M77, as well.
The final unique component of the Long-Range Hunter is the stock. The stock is made from laminated wood that has a spackled two-tone finish. The finish looks good and offers some texture. The stock weighs only 2.2 pounds and a lot of the weight is in the rubber buttpad and spacer-adjustable length of pull system. I’d leave the stock alone. It makes a fine choice for general hunting use.
I took this rifle and cartridge combination with me on an antelope hunt in Colorado last fall and it worked beautifully. The rifle is light and handy. Even chambered in 6.5 PRC, it has very little recoil. The lack of recoil is attributable to the muzzlebrake, but even with the brake removed, recoil was minimal. This rifle begs to be used with a suppressor, and it’s a goal of mine to start doing all of my hunts with a suppressor on my rifle. It’ll keep me from going deaf and every guide appreciates the effort, too.
I managed to take a nice pronghorn buck at just under 200 yards with Hornady’s 143-grain ELD-X bullet. The animal was facing me angled slightly to my left. He only required one shot and it entered his chest on the right side. It angled across his body and exited just behind his ribs on the left side. Death was immediate.
I love the 6.5 PRC because it’s like a 6.5 Creedmoor Magnum. It shoots all the same great bullets (there’s such a wide selection of really good 6.5mm bullets these days) a few hundred feet per second faster. This makes it a flat-shooting and low-recoiling cartridge that has plenty of penetration for even a large bull elk. When loaded with an appropriate bullet, the 6.5 PRC is a great choice for everything from coyotes to elk, and it won’t beat you to death doing it.
Ruger has done an excellent job in developing the Long-Range Hunter. It has achieved a sub-MOA-accurate rifle that’ll easily handle deer and antelope at whatever distance the hunter is confident in shooting. When it comes to elk, I’d keep my shots inside 300 yards. All this in a rifle that’ll sell across the gun shop counter for right around $1,000.
Ruger Hawkeye Long- Range Hunter
- Type: Bolt-action
- Cartridge: 6.5 PRC
- Capacity: 3+1 rds.
- Barrel: 22 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 42.25 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 3 oz.
- Stock: Wood laminate, painted
- Grips: Textured
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in., adjustable with spacers
- Finish: Stainless steel/Hawkeye Matte Stainless
- Trigger: Ruger LC6; 5 lbs., 13 oz.
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $1,280
- Manufacturer: Ruger, 336-949-5200, ruger.com