My first real deer rifle was a Ruger M77. Being a bit green and not overly wealthy at the time, I searched out what seemed to be a quality rifle for a good price. The fact that it was priced for clearance that day only helped solidify my decision. More than 20 years later, I still have and love that rifle. Having seen many M77s come and go over the years, I have become quite familiar with their operation and reliability. But today’s rifle is actually a new one to me.
The Ruger M77 .308
The M77 has been around for quite some time, offering what many consider to be the best features of a Mauser clone. There are quite a few models available now in long and short actions as well as the Hawkeye variants such as the one we are discussing today.
The Hawkeye Laminate .308 is a no-nonsense hunting rifle. Perhaps you could even call it a quintessential American deer rifle. This stainless rifle features a 22-inch barrel with a 1:10 twist. It boasts a 4-round magazine in the gray laminate stock. The stock itself features classic checkering in the right spots to help with grip, sling studs at the front and rear, and a rubber recoil pad at the back.
The controls of the rifle are also quite familiar to many shooters. There is a three-position safety on the bolt shroud that allows the bolt to be locked closed or operated on safe. The third position is obviously the firing one, which leads us to the trigger. The LC6 trigger is an improvement on the older M77 triggers according to Ruger. For my purposes – and for any deer hunter who might use the rifle – I feel it is just fine. The rifle also has a hinged floor plate that is easily released by depressing a tab inside the trigger guard.
I’ve always had a soft spot for the old M77. It feels like many of my best early hunting experiences seemed to have a Ruger in them. They may not have the glass-smooth bolt throw of more expensive rifles, but they function flawlessly and firmly. The fit and finish of this rifle matched everything I expected, so I eagerly prepped the gun to get it on the range.
To the Range
I had mounted a scope to the Hawkeye, not exactly the scope this rifle deserves, but it would do for my testing purposes. Mounting the scope touches on one of the few things I don’t love about the M77. The built-in scope bases and the factory-supplied rings from Ruger are considered by many to be convenient. I thought the same many years ago. I have since come to dislike them somewhat. Personally, not having the ability to swap rings and/or optics around in a pinch is quite irritating.
With my rifle and ammo in hand, I went to the shooting bench and got started. I zeroed the rifle in a few shots, and then I figured I’d shoot a few patterns to see which ammo the rifle preferred. I was shooting what I had available, which was some Hornady 155- and 168-grain match and some Desert Tech 175-grain match. The 155- and 175-grain ammo shot well enough for the purposes of the average deer hunter. It could do even better with a little refinement.
I took the M77 Hawkeye into the mountains for a hike – after all, it is a deer rifle. The lightweight little Ruger was a pleasant carry when compared to the rifles that are 10 pounds or heavier that I am used to carrying. Its modest size made it very easy to maneuver and quickly get on target.
I stretched the gun out a little bit shooting the Hornady 155-grain match ammunition and was happy to see that there were few things within a reasonable distance that I couldn’t hit. Making hits on 10-inch targets inside 400 yards was easy enough. The claw extractor in the Ruger provides outstanding extraction, which is a must-have in a hunting rifle, and the 4-round magazine allows for plenty of follow-up shots should you need them.
The 155-grain Hornady ammunition seemed like a perfect match for this rifle, and it shot very well. I would happily take this combination on a deer or elk hunt here in the Rockies.
As I expected, the M77 Hawkeye was everything I wanted from a hunting rifle at this price point. It has rugged and time-proven durability while still retaining a handsome and modern look. The stainless construction makes it a great candidate for poor weather hunting like a stormy chase through soaking clouds after a mountain goat. The size and weight make it well suited for long treks through steep, wooded ridges chasing after a herd of elk.
It’s also plenty accurate for smaller game animals like pronghorn, so you can make every shot count. Whether your taste favors high-end hunting rifles or the clearance rack at Walmart, the Ruger M77 Hawkeye would serve a lifetime or two as your main hunting rifle.