Originally published by John McAdams on Wide Open Spaces.
In a previous article, I talked about my initial impressions of the brand new Ruger Hakweye FTW Hunter rifle. Since then, I’ve spent a great deal of time at the range with the rifle as I tested various types of ammunition in it and tried to determine what sort of accuracy the FTW Hunter is capable of.
During this time, I’ve shot five different loads of factory ammunition in the rifle: 150gr Remington Core-Lokts, 180gr Winchester Power-Points, 180gr Hornady Superformance SSTs, 180gr Barnes VOR-TX TTSXs, and 200gr Nosler Partitions (the last three brands courtesy of the good folks at Ammunition to Go). I’ve also shot targets at various distances and from multiple shooting positions to get a good idea of how the rifle will perform afield. So far, the performance of the Ruger FTW Hunter has been very pleasing indeed.
Which Ammo Did The Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter Shoot Best?
When I received the rifle, I mounted a Leupold VX-3i scope on it. Then, I shot several groups with each brand of ammunition off a bench at 100 yards to see which one performed best.
I also measured the velocity of all of my shots using a chronograph and compared the advertised velocity of the ammunition to what I measured in reality.
With the notable exception of the Hornady Superformance ammunition, the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter shot all the ammunition very accurately.
Average group size varied slightly, but the Winchester Power-Points shot best, which an average group size just over .5″ and a single group that measured right at .25″ (see photo below).
The Remington Core-Lokts shot .8″ to .9″ groups, as did the Nosler Partitions.
The Barnes VOR-TX bullets consistently shot 1.1″ to 1.2″ groups.
Unfortunately, the Hornady Superformance ammunition was the glaring outlier in the group. For whatever reason, my rifle did not like that ammo and shot it very poorly (average group size 3.5″). I don’t know exactly why, but my particular rifle absolutely loved that Winchester ammunition about as much as it did not like the Hornady ammunition.
In any case, with the exception of the Hornady stuff, the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter shot each different brand of ammunition accurately enough for me to feel comfortable using it at just about any ethical hunting range. Individual results may vary, so I recommend testing out a couple different brands in your rifle before taking it afield. However, my overall impression of the rifle is that it’s more than accurate enough for hunting under real world conditions using factory ammunition. I’m sure a skilled handloader and a hunter who is a better shot than I could further improve upon the results I got with the FTW Hunter.
Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter Accuracy At Extended Range
After I finished comparing the accuracy of the various brands of ammunition in my Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter, I decided to see how well it would do at longer range. The shooting range I was at goes out to 500 yards. Though I have no intention of taking a 500-yard shot at an animal while hunting, I still wanted to test the rifle at the maximum range possible.
Using a ballistic calculator combined with the velocity data I obtained from my chronograph while testing for accuracy, I determined my holdovers for the Barnes ammunition at 300, 400, and 500 yards with a 200 yard zero.
A shot from the bench at 300 yards hit exactly where I intended. I then fired two shots at an 18″ square steel plate at 400 yards. As you can see, both shots were right on the money.
I then fired a single shot at the range’s 12″ square steel plate at 500 yards. The results of that shot (see the photo below and the video at the top of the page) convinced me that the rifle and ammunition were up to the task of shooting at that range.
Like I said before, I have absolutely no intention of taking shots at 400 or 500 yards when hunting. However, some hunters do need to take shots at similar ranges. Fortunately, the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter is easily capable performing on that level if the shooter and ammunition are up to par.
Shooting The Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter While Afield
Shooting a rifle from a solid bench rest is all well and good, especially when trying to determine which load is most accurate in a rifle. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never shot a single animal from a bench rest on a hunting trip. While most of my shots have had some sort of support, it was always in the form of something only somewhat stable, such as a tree or a set of shooting sticks. Since I plan on taking the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter elk hunting later this fall, I decided to start shooting it from more realistic hunting shooting positions.
I shot the 1/3 scale elk target in the photo below off shooting sticks at 100 yards (simulating a 300 yard shot). I’ve also shot the rifle in a similar manner using a vertical pole for support (simulating a tree). In each case, the FTW Hunter handled just fine and both the Barnes and Nosler loads shot to the same point of impact as they did off a bench (I pulled one shot to the right).
Final Thoughts On Shooting The Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter
In an effort to judge both the recoil of the rifle as well as Ruger’s claim that the substituting the muzzle weight for the muzzle brake would not change the point of impact, I shot the rifle a great deal using both muzzle devices. When using the muzzle brake, the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter is an absolute joy to shoot. Recoil is very light, certainly less than a comparable rifle chambered in .30-06, and probably less than the same rifle in .308 Winchester.
Not surprisingly, the muzzle brake increases both noise and muzzle blast, especially to people standing off to the side. I was wearing both ear plugs and ear muffs while shooting the rifle though, so the noise really didn’t bother me. However, don’t even think about shooting this rifle without ear protection with the muzzle brake attached, even when hunting.
As expected, recoil noticeably increased when I removed the muzzle brake. However, recoil was still very manageable without it. Additionally, though group sizes stayed the same, I did notice a small shift in the point of impact of slightly less than half an inch when I switched the brake for the weight. This shot increased to a little more than half an inch when I removed the muzzle weight and replaced it with the thread protector.
At most hunting ranges, this probably won’t make much of a difference. However, I do recommend verifying your zero with the muzzle weight before hunting with it.
Additionally, since Ruger designed the FTW Hunter as a hunting instead of a bench rest rifle, the company incorporated many compromises into the design. For example, the rifle weighs 8.2 pounds when stripped down. With a scope, sling, and a full magazine, the weight of the rifle increases to about 9.5 pounds. While this isn’t super heavy, it’s not exactly a lightweight mountain rifle either.
However, this weight does a good job of splitting the difference between being light enough to carry for long distances while still being heavy enough to provide a stable shooting platform with manageable recoil.
At the same time, the FTW Hunter’s barrel is not designed for prolonged rapid fire. Especially when shooting a large capacity cartridge like the .300 Winchester Magnum, the barrel will rapidly heat up, causing a dramatic drop off in accuracy if you’re not careful. For this reason, I had to be meticulous about keeping the barrel cool: I never fired more than three shots in a string and I’d let it cool standing upright in the shade with the bolt open before shooting it again. Fortunately, this should not be an issue on a hunting trip.
All in all, I’m extremely impressed with the performance of the Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter. It has passed every test so far and I’m looking forward to hitting the woods in pursuit of elk with it this fall. Stay tuned for more updates on how it performs in further testing as I continue to prepare for my hunt.
Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Facebook The Big Game Hunting Blog, Twitter @TheBigGameHunt and on Instagram The_Big_Game_Hunter.