Firmly established in grumpy-old-manhood, I don’t like surprises. It’s usually my kids making some pricey mistake, my doctor making an even pricier one, or the dogs bringing on an absolute catastrophe. The dogs get a pass. They’re good dogs.
When a buddy working at Sportsman’s Finest called me and let me know they had a firearm waiting for me, I wasn’t expecting it. My spidey senses were up. Probably the Feebs, out to entrap me. Was the ATF sending me an unregistered RPG-9 with chainsaw bayonet attachment? Both were reasonable scenarios, but not the case.
Instead, Sporsman’s had a Ruger M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter chambered in .375 Ruger with my name on it. And it was a pretty good surprise.
A couple of weeks before I got the call from Sportsman’s Finest, I had contacted a representative at Ruger to see if there was any way he could find a Ruger Hawkeye African in 9.3x62mm for an upcoming plains game safari I had scheduled. I was looking everywhere for one, but had struck out.
No dice…Ruger didn’t have any either. But they did have a Ruger Hawkeye African in .375 Ruger to try out and I was happy to give it a shot.
This Ruger M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter in .375 Ruger arrived a few days after the Ruger African came in. Ruger probably told me it was coming, but I was busy yelling at squirrels, turning off lights in empty rooms, and yelling, “I’m not made of money!” which is roughly 60% of fatherhood.
Taking the rifle out of the box, a quick inspection showed very shiny engraving on the magazine floorplate. It was the logo of the FTW Ranch, with “FTW SAAM Hunter” and a large ram printed on it.
Although I’ve never been to the FTW Ranch, I know of it. At least I thought I did. It’s a big game ranch a couple of hours west of my place, specializing in native game as well as some beautiful exotics.
What I wasn’t aware of is their “Sportsmans All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship” (SAAM) programs. So I gave them a call and got the lowdown.
The SAAM program makes up the majority of the business at the FTW Ranch. This is a pretty interesting set of services, where they teach hunting-focused marksmanship to all levels of shooters.
The goal is to get people precise out to about 500 yards with common hunting rifles, using the gear and shooting positions they’ll actually be using in the field. Then there’s a whole Safari SAAM that features moving targets, including charging targets, at a variety of ranges. Pretty neat. I’ve called them for a tour and I’ll report back here.
The FTW Ranch SAAM program has been working with Ruger since about 2009. Ruger decided that they’d make better hunting rifles if their engineers spent time in hunting scenarios with their rifles and developed a program with the FTW Ranch to do just that. Then Ruger worked directly with FTW Ranch to develop a line of rifles based on what the ranch thought were solid basics for a hunting rifle.
The Ruger M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter starts with the M77 Hawkeye action. Ruger has long held a reputation for robust guns, and this stainless steel action is one of the reasons for it.
Ruger bills it as “Mauser-style.” Kind of. You can definitely see the similarities. Take a look at the photo of the bolts below. That’s the Ruger Hawkeye on the left, a Winchester M70 in the middle, and an M24/47 Mauser on the right.
The most obvious difference is the safety. On the original K98, and the M24/47 above, as well as the “improved Mauser” action of the M70 Winchester, the safety is part of the bolt itself.
The Ruger has a 3-position safety that is identical in effect, giving the shooter the option to keep the safety in the middle position, locking the trigger but not the bolt. But unlike the Mauser and Winchester, the Hawkeye’s safety lever is not intrinsic to the bolt.
The Ruger is “controlled feed” in all the ways that really matter. For the three Mauser purists out there who will likely read this, yes, you can load a round directly into the chamber if you wish, and with a little bit of pressure, you can snap the round directly onto the bolt if you press the case against the extractors. The action does not require the round to be loaded from the magazine.
Since I had two Ruger M77 Hawkeyes to shoot in the same chambering (the African and this FTW Hunter) I was able to verify that both would load easily from the magazine, as well as directly into the chamber.
That said, hunters should get into the habit of loading from the magazine so that they are capable of doing so under duress. If you have a controlled round feed firearm, the cartridge is much less likely to fall out during wild handling if loaded from the magazine.
The massive advantage of the .375 Ruger is the 3.340″ cartridge overall length, the same as the .30-06 Springfield (hallowed be its name). That means it will chamber with a standard length action, decreasing the cost and increasing the availability of the rifle. You’re not giving up anything to the old belted magnums, at least when it comes to the ballistic performance of the cartridge.
The case capacity of the .375 Ruger is actually a bit more than the .375 H&H Magnum, (100 grains compared to 95 grains). For any particular bullet weight, you can get more from the .375 Ruger than you can from the .375 H&H Magnum, and you can do it with a shorter barrel as well.
Most reloading manuals have the barrel length for the .375 H&H Magnum test barrel as 24″ or 26″. The .375 Ruger’s test barrel is usually a compact 20″.
There are two potential disadvantages of the .375 Ruger. The first is that short, thick cartridges sometimes have feeding issues. Although the potential is there, it’s not an issue with these rifles. I ran both the FTW Hunter and the African with bullets from Hornady and Sierra in Hornady cases in ranges from 200gr soft points to 300gr solids.
Between myself and another shooter, we put 250 wallet-crushing rounds through these guns. I had zero feeding issues with any of them. Feeding issues with the .375 Ruger cartridge in the Ruger Hawkeye may be theoretical. They are not actual.
The only real disadvantage compared to the .375 H&H Magnum, other than the cool factor of the old belted magnum, is availability. In all the places around the world where you may have need of a 300 grain bullet moving at 2,600fps, the .375 H&H Magnum is present. Not so with the Ruger cartridge, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
For those of you who appreciate what will go down as one of the better all around hunting cartridges of all time, the .300 PRC, the .375 Ruger is its parent case.
You’ll find a 22″ stainless barrel instead of the more common 20″. This was purposefully done to wring out every bit of authority from the .375 Ruger cartridge, while still keeping the rifle handy enough to use around the world.
I found I was gaining about 20-30fps on what the math said my loads should be from a 20″ barrel. That puts a starting load for this rifle pushing a 260gr Nosler Accubond at 2,748 fps, generating almost 2,400 fps at 500 yards. Again, that’s a starting load…it only goes up from there.
There are no iron sights included. There’s no barrel band. Instead, you’ll find Ruger’s very much appreciated scope bases milled into the receiver itself. A pair of 1″ rings comes with the rifle, and other rings are available.
I already had a set of 30mm Ruger rings, so I mounted both a fixed 10X Bushnell scope on the 1″ rings, as well as a Nightforce SHV 5-20×56 on the 30mm rings. The Nightforce scope just barely cleared the barrel with maybe 1mm to spare. If you want to go with long range glass you may need to get some high rings.
At the business end of that barrel you’ll find a muzzle brake. I generally hate muzzle brakes, but Ruger has this one right. It does a fine job taming the recoil of a cartridge that’s mild by “dangerous game” standards, but likely considered stout for the white tail deer hunter.
With the factory brake attached, recoil is very manageable, even through long strings of fire. And yet, you also won’t need to double up on ear protection or worry about every object on the shooting bench flying off every time you pull the trigger.
Ruger’s supplied options with the brake as well. You can remove it and add what is essentially just weight to the front end, or a thread protector, or in the best case scenario, a silencer. The brake and weight both have flats cut into the base for easy removal with a crescent wrench or large pliers.
The stock is wrapped in the Natural Gear Camo Hardwood pattern. This pattern is one suggested by the FTW Ranch, as its colors are neutral and suited for a wide variety of habitats. It’s pretty great for our local live oaks and brush.
I found the camo wasn’t fully applied inside the checkered areas of the stock, but you’d have to look pretty hard to notice. It was nothing like the obvious gaps in application on the Browning X-Bolt I recently reviewed. I was disappointed to find the stock was not inlet to allow the barrel to float inside the forestock channel, and instead made contact almost entirely on the left side, and occasionally on the right.
Absolutely vital, especially for any heavy caliber firearm, is a proper length of pull. The Hawkeye FTW Hunter includes a series of spacers at the end of the stock to customize the length of pull. The buttpad itself is large and textured with wide, thick cuts to grab and hold onto clothing for a solid fit into the shoulder.
As I mentioned, I had no issues with the Hawkeye FTW Hunter’s feeding. I also had no issues firing or ejecting. If you yank hard, you’ll end up with brass 15 feet away. Or you can be a little more careful and drop them right next to you.
I had no commercial loads available for this review, but I was able to load my own rounds, from 200gr Sierra Pro Hunters, 235gr Speer Hot Cors, 250gr Sierra Game Kings, to 300gr Hornady DGX bullets, all in Hornady cases. I loaded many rounds three times without any case trimming. I never experienced a failure of any type with the FTW Hunter with anything I put through it.
The trigger on the FTW Hunter is the LC6 trigger found on Ruger’s other M77 Hawkeye guns. It breaks with a little bit of grit and squish at an average of 3 lbs, 7 oz from my Lyman Trigger Scale. It’s OK, but just OK. I know a whole lot of folks remain hopeful Ruger will figure out how to make a crisp, user-adjustable trigger like so many of their competitors have, but do so on the superior M77 Hawkeye action.
On the bench, the FTW Hunter shot well enough. As I said, I had no commercial rounds for this gun. The rifle seemed to like the heavier grains, as the 300 grain Hornady bullet, pushed to 2,600 fps with IMR4831 printed 1.2″ five-round groups at 100 yards. The worst group was the 235 gr starting load, with 1.7″ groups.
The load we’ll be using to hunt plains game with, the 260 gr Nosler Accubond at 2,778 fps with Hybrid 100V, scored 1.4″ on average over four-shot strings. I suspect if I opened up the barrel channel a bit to reduce the uneven pressure, the groups of the FTW Hunter would shrink a bit more. Still, that means the competent marksman could confidently take any animal on earth at 300 yards, and any African plains game or any game in the western hemisphere at 500 yards.
For such a superbly capable firearm, the FTW Hunter in .375 Ruger carries well. Ruger really got the feel of the gun right. The balance of the barrel and simple stock geometry put the gun right in your hands.
It’s easy to carry and especially easy to shoot standing. Correctly slung, the gun is really nice to shoot. The 235 grain loads, even at their top velocities, feel like a heavy .30.06, and yet they are capable of even more.
I wasn’t expecting this gun, but I ended up liking the surprise. Nothing on the rifle really stands out, and yet, it’s just one of those guns that’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s easy to carry, rests well in the hand or on a bag, and it’s easy to shoot, considering the chambering. The camouflage pattern really does work just about anywhere and the stock and muzzle brake give the shooter solid options. All of that with a retail price of under $1,000. The Hawkeye FTW Hunter is a heck of a value.
As this is published, I’m hopefully in South Africa, hunting plains game with my Ruger No. 1 in .375 H&H while my hunting partner for the trip is using that Ruger M77 Hawkeye African in .375 Ruger. When I get back, I’ll set up some time to bring this FTW Hunter to the FTW Ranch and SAAM school, with the hopes of putting it through its paces there.
As it is now, I know that Ruger has once again stayed true to their roots, making a solid, affordable firearm, this one for even the toughest game. And that really wasn’t a surprise at all.
Specifications: Ruger M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter
Caliber: .375 Ruger
Stock: Natural Gear Camo Hardwood
Barrel Length: 22″
Material: Stainless Steel
Thread Pattern: 5/8″-18
Twist: 1:12″ RH
Finish: Hawkeye Matte Stainless
Weight: 7.8 lbs.
Overall Length: 41.25″ – 42.75″
Length of Pull: 12.75″ – 14.25″
MSRP: $1,279.00 (found online easily for under $1,000)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Style and Appearance * * *
The satin stainless finish on everything is done well. The camo pattern is a good one, but it’s imperfect in the checkered areas.
Customization * * * *
There’s not quite as much available for the Ruger M77 line as there is for some others, but with a length of pull adjustment and multiple muzzle options from the factory, Ruger makes up for it.
Reliability * * * * *
Supreme reliability is Ruger’s claim to fame. No surprises here.
Accuracy * * *
A tight, inconsistent barrel channel likely robs this gun of what it could be. Still, it’s good enough.
Overall * * * *
I’d like to see a free-floated barrel, an adjustable trigger and the option for iron sights. But man, Ruger made a heck of a capable gun at a price any big game hunter can afford. Stick with the M77 Hawkeye FTW Hunter and save the cash you’d spend on a prettier, but no more capable firearm. Get yourself a Wildebeest instead.