It was hard to write this review. Even harder to write it honestly. Still, this is ‘The Truth About Guns,’ and I guess that’s what I’ll have to stick to.
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye African model is the best bolt action hunting rifle Ruger makes. And that’s saying a lot.
The African model is supremely reliable, powerful, fast to shoulder, fast to shoot, and all class. With a retail cost of around $1,200, even in today’s market, it’s underpriced. I suspect that’s why it is so difficult to find in-stock and I hope none of you read this review in the vain hope that I would have a chance to get one for myself.
As I mentioned in my Ruger M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter review, I got this rifle for an African plains game safari I recently completed. I’d be shooting my Ruger No 1 in .375 H&H Magnum, but I really wanted an African model for Mike, my hunting partner for the safari, to use on his first hunting trip abroad.
When both the African and the FTW Hunter models came in, I gave Mike the choice on which rifle to take on the hunt. The FTW Hunter is an excellent, capable rifle and of a style Mike was more familiar with, but I really wanted Mike to choose the FTW Hunter. Of course, whatever Mike was going to choose for his first safari he would be keeping for life. That was a given. How else could it be?
Mike chose the African model and I couldn’t blame him. Anyone would. I’m still jealous.
This particular rifle is chambered in the extremely capable .375 Ruger. As I described in my Ruger FTW Hunter review, the .375 Ruger is the modern equivalent of the venerable .375 H&H Magnum. Firing the same bullet, the .375 Ruger is able to deliver slightly more velocity that the .375 H&H Magnum, but with a shorter barrel and from a standard length action.
When comparing the .375 H&H Magnum to the .375 Ruger, there really are very few advantages of the older caliber, and none of them are ballistic advantages. There are more varied loads available for the century old cartridge and it is more available around the world. That’s it.
The newer .375 Ruger is beltless and intrinsically more accurate. It fits in a shorter, and therefore faster-to-reload and more rigid action. It burns powder more efficiently, producing higher velocities in a shorter barrel. The shorter barrel and shorter action makes for a rifle that’s smaller and easier to maneuver in tight brush.
The M77 Ruger Hawkeye African comes in several calibers. It’s now offered in 6.5×55, 280 AI, this .375 Ruger and the larger .416 Ruger.
The .416 Ruger was the first of several calibers created from the .375 Ruger case, and is simply the .375 Ruger case necked up for the .416″ bullet. Either caliber is effective, but the .416 Ruger’s 400gr bullet at 2,400fps gives the shooter even more mass for bone crushing power on dangerous game.
Ruger was well represented on our safari. For this hunting trip, I carried my Ruger No 1 in .375 H&H Magnum. Mike carried this M77 Hawkeye African in .375 Ruger, and when we arrived at NB Safaris we found our guide George’s choice for his own hunts as well as backing up his clients was the now discontinued Ruger M77 Hawkeye Alaskan in .416 Ruger.
When I asked George why he went with the Alaskan model instead of the African, he responded that the African model simply wasn’t available at the time in South Africa.
The heart of the Ruger M77 Hawkeye African model is the Hawkeye action. This is the same tough machine we saw with the FTW Hunter, but with a different finish. It’s a controlled round feed rifle, but might not please Mauser purists.
It’s really the best of both worlds, as you can single-feed a round into the chamber, but it also grabs the round from the magazine and ensures it won’t fall out during rough handling, say, during rapid shots on a charging Cape Buffalo. Dual claw extraction and positive ejection further ensure reliability under any conditions.
The bolt is once-piece of solid stainless steel. This slightly contrasts with the black bluing of the rest of the gun, but the utility of the material and finish can’t be denied. If you were looking to customize the gun a bit, jeweling the bolt would be appropriate with the finish of the rest of the rifle.
The Hawkeye actions includes the appropriate three-position safety. You can choose to keep it far forward, ready to fire and work the bolt. The middle position keeps the gun from firing but allows manipulation of the bolt. All the way to the rear keeps both the trigger and the bolt inoperable. Whereas the effect of Ruger’s three-position safety is the same as the Mauser and the “improved Mauser” of Wincher’s Model 70, the safety itself is located on the receiver of the Ruger, instead of in the bolt itself.
The action may be the same as the other Ruger Hawkeye bolt guns, but the style and finish certainly are not. Ruger took pains to make a rifle that performs like a modern Ruger, but also harkens back to the great safari rifles in use well before the bolt action Ruger was ever invented.
Every single photo of the Ruger African used in this article was taken after months of shooting in the states and after 10 days of hard use in South Africa.
I do mean hard use. At one point during a zebra hunt in what our guide called “proper mountains,” the metal bar attaching the sling to the barrel band snapped, sending the muzzle of the rifle falling backwards from Mike’s shoulder and into the rocks. It was a hard fall and yet the rifle was no worse for the wear. It wore a parachute cord attachment for the rest of the safari.
Not only did the rifle experience hundreds of trouble-free rounds in practice prior to the safari, but Mike carried the gun slung and unslung through miles and miles of brush. It was routinely covered in the dust and red sand of the plains.
It got wet. It fell over on rocks. It got used the way a hunting rifle is supposed to be used. A lot. And it never failed.
It never failed to look great, either.
The walnut stock has a bit of stripe to it and the fit is flush throughout the gun. It’s not free-floated to the barrel, and that would be nice, but not really expected or required on a safari rifle. There are a few extras here in the stock, including the ebony foreend cap and the Ruger medallion inset to the grip.
The deep checkering on the stock is well appreciated. On our safari, Mike was challenged with both steady, carefully aimed shots, as well as fast off-hand shots at moving targets. The good grip and great ergonomics of the Ruger’s stock meant a solid connection to the gun during all hunting conditions.
The metal finish on the African is particularly well done. Ruger isn’t really known for finely finished guns. The old Single Sixes and three-screw Blackhawks had a bit of a unique plum hue to their finish, but nothing like that has been in the Ruger catalog for a while.
The M77 Hawkeye African, however, sports a glossy black blued finish throughout the rifle. This includes the heavy 23″ cold hammer forged barrel as well as the receiver itself. It’s not a mirror polish, but it’s a big step up from what I would expect, especially at this price range.
The trigger of the African model is exactly the same as one on the FTW Hunter and the other new Hawkeye models. It’s not adjustable and has a little bit of creep and squish before a break of 3lbs, 10oz for the average of five trigger pulls using a Lyman Digital Trigger Scale.
Take a look at the butt pad. It’s red. There are a few different kinds of butt pads on Ruger’s Hawkeye bolt guns, but this is the only red one. Not only does it look great with the wood, but it’s one of Ruger’s nods to some of the fine bolt action safari rifles of the early to mid 20th century.
The same goes for the barrel band. Does a barrel band improve accuracy and shot consistency? It does not. But it’s the way the big magnums were made way back then, and Ruger’s inclusion of the sturdy barrel band is yet another tie back to those earlier guns.
If you don’t want to use the barrel band, you might want to reduce the amount of soy in your diet. In the meantime, you can install the optional included swivel stud into the forestock.
When Mike took the Ruger African out to sight-in prior to our hunt, our guide noted the muzzle brake and commented on “the guide killer” in anticipation of the report. I hate muzzle brakes for the same reason. They convert recoil to sound and blast, and I’d rather have the recoil.
The factory muzzle brake on the Ruger African is not bad at all, and is appropriate for the magnum caliber. It certainly reduced recoil. As Mike was new the to the heavy calibers, I was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to make fast follow up shots. This concern was unfounded. Mike’s practice regimen certainly helped, but the muzzle brake helped too.
If you don’t want the brake, it can be removed easily and either a supplied weight can be added to match the same barrel length, or neither can be used and the simple supplied thread protector can be screwed on. If hunting in Africa, let your guide know your thread pitch ahead of time, and they can likely supply a suppressor in-country.
The African model includes a bright white bead front sight, as well as a single leaf windage adjustable express style rear sight. The iron sight setup is traditional, designed less for precision shots far away as they are for fast shots on charging, dangerous game.
As with all M77 Hawkeye rifles, the scope ring mounts are milled directly into the top of the receiver. Ruger includes 1″ rings for these mounts with the rifle. Mike chose to top the African with a Trijicon Huron 3-9×40 riflescope.
The Ruger African’s integral bases, included rings, and variable scope proved perfect for the varied terrain and game we hunted. Mike took shots from 40 to 200 yards, from the tall grass to the scrabble-topped mountain ridges. The rifle, mount, and scope combination worked flawlessly.
Shooting from bags or from a Caldwell Stinger shooting rest and using a 10 power riflescope, the Ruger African was able to print 1 1/2″ five-round groups averaged over four shots strings. These groups were used firing both a 260gr Nosler Accubond and 250gr Sierra Game King bullets. Both of these bullets were going about 2,750fps. As components were extremely limited, we practiced and hunted with the very first recipe I loaded up.
Since this recipe generated ample energy and better than acceptable precision, it was good enough on the first try. No commercial rounds were tested. Printing 1.5″ groups from a traditional hunting rifle in a magnum caliber is plenty good, but you may be able to wring even better from the rifle with the right factory round or a different reload.
More importantly, the Ruger African, when employed by a competent marksman, was able to deliver a solid level of precision in-hand and off impromptu rests in very real hunting environments. Mike’s off-hand punch to the heart of a trotting zebra proved the real world precision potential of the Ruger African model in a way no bench queen rifle ever could.
I knew I’d regret handing the Ruger African to Mike. Along with the memories of an incredible hunt, it’s his forever now. After seeing how well the rifle performed over the course of our safari, my desire for one has only increased.
In the M77 Hawkeye African model, Ruger has managed to make the same capable, dependable gun their reputation in North America was built on, but with a distinctly classic safari rifle style. That they’ve managed to do so with such a modest price tag is just as impressive.
Specifications: Ruger M77 Hawkeye African
Caliber: .375 Ruger (other calibers available)
Stock: American Walnut with Ebony Forend Cap
Front Sight: White Bead
Rear Sight: Windage Adjustable Express
Thread Pattern: 5/8″-18
Barrel Length: 23″
Overall Length: 44.88″
Material: Alloy Steel
Finish: Satin Blued
Length Of Pull: 13.50″
Twist: 1:12″ RH
Weight: 8 lb.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Accuracy * * * *
Very good. Maybe even better with factory ammunition or a different reloading recipe.
Style and Appearance * * * * *
Ruger absolutely nailed it here. Pretty wood, great finish, and multiple style points from traditional safari bolt guns, and on a budget much less than I would have thought.
Customization * *
There’s a lot of different models offered by Ruger, but not the same level of aftermarket support as some other brands.
Reliability * * * * *
Perfect in all situations.
Overall * * * * 9/10th
I wanted this gun before, I want it even more now. The M77 Hawkeye African is the best Ruger has to offer. No 5 stars because the wood is very good, but not amazing and the trigger is just OK.