Gun Review: Ruger M77 Hawkeye African .375 Ruger

Ruger M77 Hawkeye African – Is this the Single Safari rifle? Perfect for all big game – the world-round?

Africa — what a magical place! Just the mention of this magnificent destination conjures up indelible images in my mind of spectacular sunsets over the savannah, the Southern Cross in a dark night sky, the roar of a lion at dawn, or stories told around an evening campfire.

All contribute to why it has to be one of my favourite places on this globe to hunt. But all that aside, it is the wildlife that draws me back — its variety, interwoven complexity and sheer numbers are nothing like what you will find anywhere else. Game abounds in sizes from as small as a house cat to the largest land animal on Earth.

I consider myself most fortunate to have been on five African safaris and will be heading back later this year on my sixth. Already I’m thinking about my gear list and central to that list will be my rifle. I have hunted in Africa with calibres from a .270 Winchester to the .458 Winchester Magnum. In a number of instances, when dangerous game was part and parcel of my hunt, I packed two rifles — a smaller calibre and a big bore. Unfortunately, this practice is just not as feasible as it was 30 years ago, so I have been on the constant lookout for a single rifle that will do it all. (Well, at least the majority of it all.) As part of that search, on 16-day safari to Zimbabwe I took only a .375 H&H and used it for everything from game as small as a duiker to as large as an eland bull and a rouge bull hippo.

With the right ammunition to match the game being hunted, it worked very well.  So when Ruger, in consort with Hornady, introduced the .375 Ruger in a standard length action I had to have a serious look at both the rifle and cartridge to determine just how they stacked up. First into the gap was the Ruger M77 Hawkeye Alaskan. Its performance, which was simply outstanding, was written up in the Sept/Oct 2008 issue of The Outdoor Edge. More on that rifle later on.  But I have to admit from the moment that test was completed and the article written, I have counted down the days until I could test its counterpart, the Ruger M77 Hawkeye African.

The Ruger M77 Hawkeye African .375 Ruger

Prior to discussing the African, I would like to briefly delve into the .375 Ruger cartridge and some requisite standards for a single safari rifle. I will start by simply stating that for a new cartridge to be of interest to me it has to offer some real and positive advantages over the cartridge it was designed to replace. This cartridge appeals to me over the .375 H&H, particularly when hunting dangerous game, for a couple of reasons.

First, with its standard length action and cartridge case that is the same length as a .30-06 case, it will cycle faster than a long magnum action and second, because it can generate more velocity and subsequent energy than the .375 H&H, it will have an advantage in knock down authority, and it can do that in a barrel as short as 20 inches. Quite remarkable when you think about it.

When contemplating a single safari rifle, if dangerous game is on the agenda, most countries set a minimum calibre and that frequently is set at a .375 so the .375 Ruger certainly meets this base line requirement. The rifle should be equipped with iron sights so that if need be the scope can be removed and a potential close-quarter hunt or follow up on a wounded animal can continue in heavy cover. It must have an action that is totally reliable and last, and I must admit that this is nothing but a personal preference; it should have a wood stock, preferably with some figure in it.

Now let’s take a look at the African. With my hang-up on wood stocks for safari rifles, I will start there. The African has a walnut stock with some figure — in fact my test rifle had a bit more figure than I even expected and with its classic design and fine checkering, it would be right at home in the African bush veld.  It also has a non-rotating Mauser-type controlled round feed extractor that features a fixed blade-type ejector for positive ejection of empty cases as the bolt is moved fully rearward. It has an LC6 trigger that offers smooth and crisp precision right out of the box. The trigger on my test rifle was set at four pounds, two ounces, and broke constantly at that setting. Which for a safari rifle is a must as nothing can be more disarming than pulling down on a cape buffalo and not knowing at what pressure the trigger is going to break. The barrel is cold hammer forged for topnotch accuracy and easy cleaning. The finish was also returned to a satin polish blue, which from my perspective, better fits a safari rifle than the matte blued finish on the earlier models. They also added a front swivel barrel band, very pleasing on a safari rifle.

In keeping with another of my requisites, it has iron sights with a white front bead and a shallow “V” windage adjustable rear sight. It also has integral scope mounts machined directly on the steel receiver for as solid a mounting surface as exists on any rifle. Of course, Ruger also includes with the purchase of the rifle a set of rings that are designed to precisely fit the integral mounts.  Note, however, that the rings that are supplied with the rifle are one-inch and if you are looking to mount a scope with a 30mm tube as I was, you will need to obtain them from Ruger or another after market source. Another nice feature is that the three- position safety will allow you to lock the bolt or load or unload the rifle with the safety on, a nice touch. Last, it has a hinged floor plate to make unloading easy, in the case of my test rifle, too easy. (See test section for additional comments)

Leupold VX-R 1.25-4x20mm Scope

As this review is all about a single safari rifle I went looking for a scope that provided a number of elemental features. It must have rugged dependability, be of variable magnification wherein the lower setting is less than 2x, have plenty of eye relief, be sharp and bright providing a very clear target image, and have a reticle that can offer very quick target placement even under very low light.  Enter the Leupold VX– R 1.25-4x20mm scope with its Fire Dot reticle and 30mm tube. This is simply a great scope. It offers just too many features to mention them all, so I will stick with the highlights. Before I do I must mention that I own and use a considerable number of Leupold scopes and not a one has ever let me down. No matter the tough love I have given them over three decades, they have been absolutely dependable.

With this scope’s rugged and Argon/Krypton waterproof construction and lifetime guarantee, I’m already starting with a scope that will offer a lifetime of service whether it is in Africa or anywhere that I may want to hunt.

I will start with its lenses that are index matched for exceptional brightness, colour integrity and contrast and when you add the light transferring ability of the 30mm tube, this is one bright scope despite its 20mm objective lens. But there is more as all exterior lenses are treated with DiamondCoat for optimal light management and scratch resistance. Incidentally, all the lenses are also lead and arsenic free.

Another feature that stands out is its precision finger click adjustments. What a plus, as you no longer need a coin or screwdriver to adjust either the windage or elevation dial. They are so easy to use and you can feel each click as you turn the dial. No more guess work as to how many clicks you may have moved either adjustment.

I have possibly saved this scope’s best features to last and that is its Fire Dot reticle system. While the majority of hunting in Africa is conducted under ideal light conditions, there are exceptions. If, for example, a leopard is a priority you will be hunting at the very edges of available light and a lighted reticle is nothing short of a must. That can also apply right here at home when hunting bear.

Fire Dot is all but space age as the fiber optic technology provides the optimum blend of daylight illumination, light transmission and contrast for low light hunting situations. But that is just half the equation as the lighted red dot reticle lights up at the mere touch of the control button (left side of the scope) and has eight settings for brightness that are advanced each time you touch the activation button. It even gets better as the scope is equipped with Motion Sensor Technology that will automatically shut down the lighted dot into a standby mode after five minutes of inactivity and then will turn it back on the moment it is moved. Saving both extra movement and an additional function to fret with when that big tom leopard or, for that matter, big bruin finally shows up.  Not to mention the extended battery life it offers.

Field Test

I must admit that after the performance of the Alaskan, I was certainly looking forward to testing the African. So as soon as the rifle arrived and recalling from my experience with the Alaskan that the higher ring went on the rear mount, I had the scope mounted in no time flat. I can assure you that the pair left me pining for Africa. Instead, I loaded up my gear and headed off to the range. Not a bad second choice.

The first thing I noticed was that the action on the African was a bit sticky, so I worked on it for a few minutes with some high viscosity lube and it quickly smoothed right out. I then cycled a number of rounds through it from the magazine and after being directly fed into the chamber, nary an extraction problem arose, however, every time the rifle was fired the magazine floor plate would drop open. Which brings me to a comment a reader recently mentioned — If I can remember it correctly it went something like this: “Don’t these gun companies send you special guns that are sure to perform well?”

The answer is no — the guns I review are off the shelf and as such are as subject to performance glitches as any gun that may come off the assembly line. Now, in this instance, a bit of work by a smithy would no doubt have corrected the problem but as this was a test rifle, I did not tamper with it so I was never able to test it for rapid fire. But I did put quite a number of rounds through it one at a time, the results are below. Before I detail the range results, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t mention that the VX-R scope was a sheer joy to work with.  It was bright, sharp and, even in daylight conditions, the red dot reticle provided a very quick and precise aim point. Then, when you add the 100-yard to 75-foot field of view at its 1.25 power setting, it will be right at home hunting in very thick cover right here or in Africa. Simply, a top-notch scope for any safari rifle you may want to mount it on.

Range Test

Ammunition Average Velocity (FPS) Group (Inches)
Hornady 270-grain SP 2,741 1
Hornady 300-grain DGS Superformance 2,657 2
Hornady 300-grain RN 2,665 3/4
Hornady 300-grain FMJRN 2,618 1-1/2

The only ammunition that did not quite meet my expectations was the Hornady 300-grain DGS Superformance. The velocities were not any better than the standard 300-grain round nose and the accuracy was not as good as I expected as it tended to string the group out vertically. At first I thought it might be that the barrel was overheating, but despite letting it cool right down prior to shooting another group, the same issue arose. It might well have been a barrel harmonics issue with this particular load but as it shot the other ammo well, I never investigated it any further. While the African did not quite match the exceptional accuracy of the Alaskan with its .540 and .370 inch groups for the Hornady 270-grain SP and 300-grain RN respectively, it shot well. And it grouped the 300-grain FMHRN three-inches directly below the sub MOA 300-grain RN ammo, providing an ideal combination for any African game you may want to hunt.

All groups were three-shot, 100-yard groups and all velocities were measured by a Chrony Gama Master chronograph.

Ruger M77 Hawkeye .375 Ruger African Specifications:

  • Calibre: .375 Ruger (the African is also available in the following calibres: .223 Remington, 9.3 x 62, .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Winchester Magnum)
  • Barrel Length: 23 inches
  • Total Length: 43.75 inches
  • Total Weight: 7.75 pounds (Total weight: rifle, scope rings, 8 lbs. 12oz.)
  • Rifling Twist: 1:12
  • Magazine Capacity: 3 rounds
  • Length Of Pull: 13.5 inches

VX-R 1.25-4x20mm Scope Specifications:

  • Length: 9.5 inches
  • Tube Diameter: 30mm
  • Weight: 11.5 oz.
  • Eye Relief: 3.7 – 4.1 inches
  • Reticle: Four options; Fire Dot Duplex (test Scope), Fire Dot Circle, Fire Dot 4, Ballistic Fire Dot
  • Field Of View @ 100 yards: 29.0-75 feet

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