My search for an all-around hunting rifle landed me with a Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Model 77, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. When I lifted it right out of the box, I couldn’t help but notice its beautiful walnut stock bolt action rifle with a 22-inch, cold-forged, stainless-steel barrel and rugged one-piece stainless bolt with very positive, reliable extraction system. This rifle features a hinged floor plate for safer unloading by not needing to cycle rounds in and out of the chamber. The Model 77 has a three-position safety, allowing an operator to lock the bolt, load and unload the rifle with the safety engaged. What I have learned about being a new hunter in the last few years is this: the less complicated your equipment, the less to go wrong when faced with the complex split second decisions when a shot may present itself.
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I installed a Crimson Trace new Brushline Pro series scope 4-16x50mm with CT BDC PRO reticle. Initial zeroing sessions went very smoothly, with side parallax and front ocular reticle diopter adjustments allowing for sharp visual clarity and focus at all practical hunting ranges 50-to-300 yards. (*NOTE* This scope reticle sub-tensions are bullet drop compensated for a 150-grain bullet with a .308 caliber rifle.)
With a little homework and knowing the 6.5 Creedmoor ballistics from my prior long-range shooting experience, transposing the .308 chart provided by Crimson Trace and getting on target was not difficult to figure out the elevation holds out to 300 yards. Crimson Trace is in the process of adding a ballistics calculator to its website, specifically for this purpose. A few ¼ MOA click adjustments and the setup was dialed in at 100 yards and ready to test hunting ammunitions. I ran four different factory hunting loads through the rifle. The most consistent and tightly grouping load being Hornady 143 grain ELDX, which showed averages of outstanding performance of ½ to 3/4 MOA off the bench. Confidence and excitement built rapidly as my first fall hunt of the season was scheduled for only a couple weeks away.
Wyoming Deer Hunt with Sisters of the Sage
Sisters of the Sage 4th Annual Whitetail Deer hunt takes place on a fifth-generation family bison ranch near Meeteetse, Wyoming. This event is an all-women’s hunt organized by Tanya Lewis and run entirely by volunteer mentors. All involved in this small, special hunt are former participants of the Wyoming Women’s Antelope Hunt. These few dedicated ladies come together every year and continue to mentor women hunters in hopes of inspiring more women to continue to hunt and pass along the knowledge of self-sufficiency. This hunt turned out to be the perfect way to put my new Hawkeye Hunter through its paces. Six hunters of various skill levels and three volunteer mentors met the first weekend in September with the goal of learning from one another and hopefully putting some fresh deer meat in the freezer.
We arrived in the small town of Meeteetse on a Friday afternoon. We settled quickly into our cabins, met our hunt partners and mentors. Then, we headed off to the range to check rifle zeros before beginning to hunt the next morning. All was going well at the range with most of the ladies. My Ruger M77 only needed one tiny elevation adjustment to compensate for the altitude change from Washington state to Wyoming. I had a few of the ladies give the rifle and new Crimson Trace scope a try. Those who shot it absolutely loved the setup. The clean, crisp break of the trigger, the low recoil of the 6.5 Creedmoor with the included muzzle break combined to create all positive feedback from the hunters.
My hunt partner, Melissa, was having some difficulty with her zero; one of the mentors asked for my assistance. I noticed immediately that Melissa’s scope was loose on the rifle. Further investigation revealed that the bases attached to the rifle also were loose. The former helicopter mechanic in me went to work getting everything retorqued. Then we noticed damaged hardware to attach the rings to the bases. The problem was not able to be remedied on the spot. So, we immediately switched gears, getting her behind a zeroed rifle for some repetitions before the next day’s hunt. Since we were assigned hunt partners, it made sense for her to use my Ruger M77. Melissa was naturally a bit nervous with the thought of taking game with a rifle she had not practiced with very much. She made quick work of getting a couple great groups downrange before we ran out of daylight.
Morning of the Hunt
In the darkness of the early morning, we all loaded up with our assigned teammates and headed to the ranch. Three teams of three – two hunters and one mentor – felt excited to begin our hunt adventure. Upon arrival at the ranch, the trucks all went different directions to separate sections of the expansive ranch. Melissa and I discussed who would hunt first with the shared rifle. It would be me up first. Darkness turned to twilight, and we saw deer darting across the road in front of us and groups of deer grazing in the wide-open fields. Our guide, LeeAnn, had a couple of places in mind to try and get us set up to start stalking deer.
Along the way, we spotted a few deer in a field near an oil pump. Using the large oil pump and noise it makes as cover, we embarked on the first stalk of the morning. LeeAnn and I were able to get into a good position behind a large cottonwood tree. The light was getting brighter, but still a bit dusky. We glassed the deer for a few minutes and ranged the larger doe. She was within range. What the range finder did not see, but the Crimson Trace Brushline Pro did, the doe had a young spotted fawn. I decided not to shoot.
We saw several deer downwind of us, but there would be no way to get in range with the wind not in our favor. They smelled us and bolted several hundred yards away. We absolutely had to change up our position with the wind.
We loaded back up in the truck and made our way to a better position a couple miles away, upwind of a cluster of deer in a large open field. We had a plan to make our way through the tall, wet grasses along the fence line and see how close we could get. From the truck, the deer feeding in the field were more than 600-to-1200 yards away. As we slowly closed the gap toward the deer, they became aware of our presence but did not spook. Melissa and LeeAnn stayed in place while I continued the belly crawl to shorten the distance on a doe I had spotted in an adjacent field. I was caught and snorted at by a deer I did not see though the tall grasses. That stalk was blown.
As I went to stand up, more deer appeared to my right in a different field. I made myself as flat as I could very quickly. I was lying in some shorter grasses without much cover to these deer. My heart raced as I slowly extracted my rangefinder out of the mud from under my torso (the same torso I just squeezed flat into the mud and made one with the earth a few seconds ago). I slowed my breathing enough to get a range on the deer: 286 yards. The mud I lay in happened to be the path the deer wanted to cross on a track over a large irrigation canal. The deer seemed cautious, but still inched closer. Now they ranged at 228 yards.
I began trying to tactfully wiggle in the sticky mud to get the rifle into a workable position. I accomplished this task and took another range shot on the deer slowly stomping its way towards me – 165 yards. I started taking slow deep breaths and attempting to calm my heart rate down. I pinged her again at 136 yards. She now fell well within my comfort range for a good, clean shot. I ditched the rangefinder and settled into my rifle. The entire time, this deer kept stomping a few steps closer and then would pause a few seconds and would repeat. The next cycle of this dance, I had her in the crosshairs, disengaged the safety, inhaled, said a short prayer and squeezed the trigger. She went down quickly. My hunt was over with one well-placed shot. The group of deer were a little rattled, but did not scatter out of the field.
Now it became Melissa’s turn to try and notch her tag. Melissa and LeeAnn were more than 150 yards away from my location where I was with the rifle. We were faced with the challenge of getting her to the rifle without spooking off the rest of the deer in the field. Melissa began her crawl toward me. I engaged the safety, rolled into some taller grass to top off the rifle capacity to full for Melissa to have all three rounds available. Melissa successfully crawled to me without scaring away the deer. The deer moved several hundred yards out of Melissa’s comfort range, but remained in the field. LeeAnn decided to make her way to us; the deer moved further out of range. Time to field dress my harvest. Darn it, left my knife in the truck!
I sneaked back out of the grass to work my way back to the truck to retrieve my knife. LeeAnn and I went to work field dressing. Melissa headed to the adjacent field to continue to scout for deer between the fields and the cottonwood trees to the east. As LeeAnn and I dressed my deer, we heard a shot ring out in the distance. It sounded like it came from an area on the next ranch over where we saw other hunters earlier in the morning. A few minutes went by, and Melissa walked up and casually stated, “I got one.” She estimated the doe had stood somewhere between 75 and 100 yards from her.
All of us were thrilled! We now had two tags notched with only two shots fired on the hunt with this new Ruger Hawkeye.
Later, I asked Melissa how she felt confident enough to take a shot at game with a strange rifle she had only shot a few rounds though the evening before. This is what she said: “When Jen Barcklay says it is zeroed in, have no doubt. The Ruger Hawkeye is a wonderful rifle and when it is time for me to upgrade, it will most certainly be at the top of my list. Even for a lefty who shoots with a right-handed rifle. It was a smooth transition that ultimately led to an excellent shot and perfect harvest.”
This Hawkeye Hunter is now field tested and hunter approved. I could not be more pleased with the performance, simplicity, accuracy and reliability of the Ruger Hawkeye Rifle. Paired with the Crimson Trace new line of hunting scopes, it proved to be a very successful set up. I’m definitely looking forward to more hunting adventures with this beautiful rifle.
Ruger Hawkeye Hunter Rifle, 6.5 CM MSRP: $1319