(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details – enter by December 26th!)
By Donald Urbatsch
When dad suggested that we take a trip to Africa for some hunting I had to find an appropriate caliber rifle for the task. There are plenty of big game rifles to choose from on the market and if I wanted to have any money left over to pay for my hunt, I had to find the economy option. This brings us to the Hawkeye African from Ruger with an MSRP of $1199 and a street price about thee hundred dollars less, making this an attractive buy when compared to the big money commanded by some other rifle makers . . .
Ruger offers the Hawkeye African in four calibers, .300 Win Mag, .338 Win Mag, .375 Ruger and .416 Ruger. The .416 Ruger cartridge was developed as a joint venture between Hornady and Ruger in 2008 and is based on the .375 Ruger cartridge. The .375 Ruger cartridge was intended to provide the ballistic performance of the .375 H&H in a standard length action by making the case the same diameter as the belt of the belted magnums giving the case greater capacity in a shorter length.
The .416 Ruger is just a .375 Ruger necked up to .416 caliber and has ballistic performance similar to .416 Rem. Mag. It throws a 400 grain pill at 2400 ft/sec with over 5,000 ft-lbs. of force. Hornady is the only commercial manufacture of ammo in either caliber at this time and they offer two bullet choices in their dangerous game series; the DGX Dangerous Game Expanding and the DGS Dangerous Game Solid.
This is not a cartridge review; however I wanted to point out that since this is a fairly new cartridge with only one manufacturer, factory ammo is scarce. And at $70 a box of twenty, it isn’t cheap. I practice mostly with reloads that I load light as I can only stand to shoot about ten rounds at a time of the factory stuff.
Out of the box the Hawkeye African is a good looking rifle on an American walnut stock with an ebony fore-end cap. The stock is sleek and profiled for using the open express sights. I am not an expert on grading wood, but it looks good to me and I expect that it will be scratched and dented in short order anyway. The checkering looks good and feels nice in the hands.
The standard recoil pad that this rifle comes with looks nice and compliments the rifle’s aesthetics, but it is ridiculously thin and inadequate to reduce the felt recoil unless you’re a masochist. Once I got this rifle, I just had to shoot it right away and headed off to the range. I made it through nine factory rounds before I called it quits and decided that the recoil pad had to go. This rifle now sports a KICK-EEZ magnum recoil pad.
The Hawkeye African is built on a Mauser style action with a large extraction claw. I am told that is important in a dangerous game gun. It sports a three-position safety allowing for the opening of the bolt without taking the safety completely off. The Ruger action features-built in scope mounts. I consider this one of its best features for several reasons, First, there is one less set of screws to come loose under heavy recoil throwing off your zero. Second, there are no scope mounts to interfere when using the express sights. Lastly, I just think it looks better.
Beneath the action is a three-round capacity box magazine with a metal floor plate and a latch that is unobtrusively concealed in the trigger guard.
The barrel is 23 inches with a 1 to 14 right hand twist. Mounted on the barrel is a white front bead with a rear adjustable express style sight. The rifle comes with a set of Ruger scope rings.
Out of the box, the open sights were an inch high at 50 yards with factory ammo and I have not adjusted them. There is sling post on a band around the barrel so that the post doesn’t hit your support hand. The Hawkeye African models now all come with the Ruger Muzzle Brake System that consists of a low profile brake, a matched muzzle weight and a thread cap. So far I have only shot it with the brake but the advertising claims that the matched muzzle weight ensures the same point of impact if you do not want to shoot with the break.
The fit and finish appears to my eye to be of good quality. I have noticed some scratches in the finish on the action at the scope mounts when I remove the scope to use the open sights. It doesn’t bother me, but I am attempting to be thorough. The bolt could cycle more smoothly, however I only notice any roughness when I am calmly sitting on my couch slowly working the action. When shooting rapid three shot volleys, I don’t seem to notice.
I did try and slide a dollar bill between the barrel and stock to see how well floated the barrel was and it had a couple of tight spots. Since this was never intended to be a tack driver I don’t think I’ll be glass-bedding it. How big is minute of Cape buffalo, anyway?
I purchased this rifle for the purpose of hunting buffalo in Africa, so I have been shooting it with that goal in mind, shooting as much as I can off-hand and with rapid follow up shots. The rifle weighs in at 7.88 lbs. according to the Ruger website, making shouldering the rifle and getting on target with the express sites comfortable for me (I’m 6’1” and 230 lbs., so your mileage may vary). I may have mentioned the recoil — this is not a gun for the recoil sensitive or one that you would use to introduce a new shooter to the joys and fun of shooting sports. But with the muzzle break and magnum recoil pad, even the full-power loads are no worse that 12 gauge magnum slugs.
I just don’t have a sensitive enough trigger finger after years of repetitive motion injury to my hands to give a meaningful trigger review. Heck, I can’t even complain about the stock trigger on my M&P. I can say, though, that the stock trigger feels adequate to me. The pull is short and breaks with that surprise that a rifle trigger should have. I don’t happen to have a trigger gauge, but it is light enough for me to hit a stationary clay pigeon at 50 yards with the express sights.
I read how 3-shot groups are not an adequate predictor of accuracy. Please forgive me, if you would like to volunteer to shoot ten or more rounds from the bench with this rifle, please leave your contact information in the comments below and we’ll go to the range. I shot this group because it is standard practice to put a demonstration of accuracy in a review and that’s the best group I was capable of that day. I am certain the rifle is more accurate than I am capable of shooting and for its intended purpose of shooting dangerous game at 100 yards or less, it will get the job done.
Model: Ruger Hawkeye African
Caliber: .416 Ruger
Magazine capacity: 3 rounds
Materials: Alloy Steel, American Walnut, Ebony
Weight empty: 7.88 Lbs.
Barrel Length: 23″
Overall length: 44.88″
Sights: Express style open sights, integral scope mounts with rings included.
Action: Mauser style bolt action.
Finish: Satin Blued
Price: $1199 MSRP as reviewed $879
RATINGS (out of five stars):
Style * * * *
If you want a classic looking bolt gun, this one fits that description. It loses a style point with me because the muzzle break is not a classic look. This rifle is not a display model, but looks good all the same.
Ergonomics * * *
The gun can shoot better than I can. The 13.5” length of pull was just right for me out of the box. I had to cut the stock down when I went to the magnum recoil pad and on that note, it loses a couple points from me on that count. Ruger puts a big recoil pad on their Guide Gun in this caliber. They might as well have put a steel butt plate on the Hawkeye African for all the felt recoil the stock pad helps with.
Reliability * * * * *
It’s a bolt gun. There is only one brand of factory ammo. I have not had any reliability issues when shooting the factory made gun food. I will tell you I had some reloads fail to fire and I suspect it was the Remington primers I was using (thank you Freedom Group). The Federal primers have all fired fine.
Customize This * * *
If one was so inclined they could put a new stock on this rifle, give it a trigger job, have it glass bedded and polish the feed ramp. But if I was going to spend that kind of money, I could have just bought a more expensive rifle. All in all, it is not any more or less customizable than average.
Overall * * * *
Here is the deal — I have always felt that there was a point of diminishing returns on your money when it comes to firearms just as there is a price point below which I would not trust my life to the reliability of a rifle when a buffalo is charging. The Ruger Hawkeye African is an entry level dangerous game rifle. It is a well made gun with a powerful new cartridge that’s more than capable of taking any game that walks on land for a price that won’t keep you from making that trip to Africa. Or making you cry when you drag it through the brush.