Ruger Hawkeye Tactical HM77VLEH 308 Win., $1172
Tactical bolt-action rifles are pretty easy to spot. Typically, they utilize a composite stock with pronounced pistol grip, oversize bolt handle and fire from a heavy barrel. The military models are camouflage or earth tone in color, and the law-enforcement models are usually black. Accuracy, strength, and simplicity are key attributes.
Can a tactical rifle serve as a hunting rifle? Were not saying one cant. Its just that a tactical rifle typically weighs more than a hunting model. The heavy barrel enhances the ability to maintain accuracy throughout repeat fire and excessive heat.
In addition, tactical rifles tend to be more suitable for longer distance shots and offer ergonomics that favor the prone position or other means of support. Compared to hunting rifles that feature adornments such as engravings or fancy wood, the tactical rifle is stark and businesslike. In this test we evaluated Rugers $1172 Hawkeye Tactical No. HM77VLEH in 308 Winchester.
Our test procedure was straightforward. Shooting from bench support we fired groups at paper targets placed 100 yards downrange. Beyond accuracy data, we judged the rifle as a total package after taking careful note of characteristics displayed by the trigger and the bolt. We also wanted to know how willingly it took to the shoulder and related to a variety of support. We fired it from sandbags, a mechanical rest, from prone position and seated with bipod support, using a $1783 Nightforce 5.5-22X50mm NXS scope (www.nightforceoptics.com).
Test ammunition included three selections of factory ammunition. We recorded five-shot groups firing Remington 180-grain Nosler Partition No. PRP308WB, Remington 168-grain Boat Tail Hollow Point Match No. R308W7, and 175-grain Boat Tail Hollow Point rounds from Black Hills Ammunition. Making use of the powerful Nightforce scope, we were able to use small target dots from Birchwood Casey measuring little more than 1 inch across. We also fired three-shot groups of some of our favorite handloads developed for lower recoil and accuracy at moderate distance. Our handloaded ammunition consisted of filling each cartridge case with an identical charge of IMR 4064 powder atop Winchester Large Rifle primers. We then seated three different bullets from Sierra (www.sierrabullets.com). They were the 165-grain Spitzer Boat Tail bullets No. 2145, 165-grain boat tail hollow points No. 2140, and the 150-grain Spitzer bullets No. 2130.
The Ruger Hawkeye Tactical cut the most familiar profile. But that doesnt mean it was plain. The Ruger was fit with a true bull barrel measuring 20 inches in length. The muzzle was double crowned and recessed about 0.035 inches. The outer edge of the barrel was beveled. The barrel and receiver are listed on the www.ruger.com website as being finished in Hawkeye Matte Blue, but these parts were a match for the black color of the stock. The receiver was machined with a proprietary scope base for fitting a set of Ruger scope rings, which were supplied. The bottom of the receiver was capped by a hinged floor to provide secondary access to the four-round magazine. The Ruger logo was imprinted in a shiny hologram-type etching on the floor plate. The floorplate release was located outside the trigger guard. We found it somewhat difficult to press, but once the release was pushed, your finger was in position to hold the spring-loaded floorplate in check. This gave us the ability to control the floorplate and catch the rounds as they dropped. In this way, unloading the magazine could be performed with one hand.
The bolt, bolt handle, and trigger were each satin stainless in color. The bolt release was a lever to be pulled outward from the left side of the receiver. The hinge was rearward so you reached to the front of the lever to operate it. The safety was located on the right to the rear of the bolt handle. This entire area was also colored Hawkeye matte blue. As a result the vertical line of the satin stainless bolt handle created a distinctive accent. The safety operated in three positions, including forward to fire and fully rearward to lock down the bolt and seize the trigger. The middle position held the trigger in check but allowed the operator to work the bolt. The bolt handle itself was flattened and much of it, save the ball on the end, was seated well below flush with the side of the stock.
Perhaps the most notable feature of the Ruger Hawkeye Tactical rifle was its stock. This was the Hogue Overmolded stock (www.getgrip.com). The Overmolded stock consists of three main components. A rigid fiberglass reinforced skeleton to suit the action, aluminum pillar bedding, and a synthetic elastomer (rubber) that is ejection molded to form the outer shape. Hogue offers this technology for several types of rifles including the Ruger Minis and the AR-15 as well as bolt-action models. The stock on our Hawkeye Tactical featured Hogues exclusive cobblestone texture applied to the pistol grip and along the fore end area. But we found the Overmolded material provided enhanced grip without being tacky throughout its entire surface. Dual sling studs were mounted up front and a single stud to the rear. The buttpad was the thickest and far and away the most effective among our three rifles. The most comfortable rifle to shoot, we think the entire body of the Overmolded stock helped absorb recoil. The overall feel of the gun was short and maneuverable.
At the range we learned that the Hawkeye Tactical had a very nice two-stage trigger, breaking at about 3.5 pounds. This was the Ruger LC-6 trigger. No mention of adjustability was made in the owners manual and no point of adjustment was visible. The bolt action was quite long and not as smooth or as steady as we would have liked. Once the bolt was fully to the rear it could be moved up and down or side to side. The key to a smooth stroke was not to forcibly tug it fully to its stop. Once the bolt face passed the bolt opening, we learned to let momentum carry it the final inch of throw. This technique helped us avoid moving the bolt off its true horizontal path. Relying upon wrist motion instead of arm strength helped us cycle the Ruger much faster. But its what happens when the bolt is closed that really counts.
Remingtons 168-grain Boat Tail hollow point match was the top factory round overall with a 0.4 inch group. Average group size for this round was computed to little more than 0.6 inches. The Hawkeyes barrel was rated at a 1:10 inch twist. This generally favors heavier bullets, but the Black Hills 175-grain bullets produced a 1.1 inch average and the 180-grain Remington rounds averaged 0.7 inches. Our handloads gave us the best results. The 150-grain Sierra Spitzer rounds produced a 0.6 inch group and the 165-grain Sierra BTHP rounds landed in a 0.5 inch pattern. The best overall group of the test was nearly one hole. Hits from the 165-grain Sierra Spitzer Boat Tail slugs formed an elliptical pattern measuring about 0.2 inches across. The Spitzer is a popular hunting bullet so that underscores our assertion that a good tactical rifle can serve as a good hunter as well.
We had to pay more attention to cycling the bolt to move quickly, but the accuracy provided by the Hawkeye Tactical was superb. Credit the smooth LC-6 two-stage trigger and the short, heavy barrel featuring 1:10 rate of twist. The Hogue Overmolded stock reduced recoil substantially and made it look easy, too. Adding a removable magazine system was our only wish. The short overall length of the Hawkeye Tactical likely makes it the best choice for keeping in the back of the patrol car.