Gun Digest

Beyond 1,000 Yards: The Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter

Ruger’s Hawkeye FTW Hunter has proven itself at jaw-dropping distances. Your skills determine where the line is drawn.

What sets the Hawkeye FTW Hunter apart:

Why whisper? I whispered because that’s about as loud as the ping was from the steel I hit at 1,500 yards with the 6.5 Creedmoor during a 2-day Sportsman’s All-Weather All-Terrain Marksmanship course (SAAM) taught at FTW Ranch in Texas.

OK — I’ll admit, the cocky silver-haired Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter rifle did have a few upgrades. The stock is adjustable, the barrel is 24 inches and at the end sits a brake. Still, this rifle can be ordered as a catalog item from Ruger, and minus the German optic and a few cases of Hornady ELD-X ammunition, you’d get the same gun if you ordered it from Ruger today. Sounds off-the-shelf to me.

[Whisper] … ping.

Now, some of you may think putting a muzzle brake on a polite cartridge like the 6.5 Creedmoor might be overkill. I disagree. Why? I’ll let an engineer “brake” it to you: “Nobody likes to get punished by heavy recoil, and hunters normally shoot better when not in pain,” said Amund Skoglund, Commercial Director North America, RUAG Ammotec USA, Inc.

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While most hunters might recoil from such an admission, the truth is recoil impacts a hunter’s ability to shoot confidently, whether we admit it or not. On top of recoil, brakes help keep muzzles down, so follow-up shots can be made just as accurately as the first. A tiny flaw in our technique, often masked at 100 yards or even 200 yards, becomes a miss — or worse, a wounding shot — at the kinds of distances the 6.5 Creedmoor or its beefier big brothers were designed for in the first place.

Logic, Applied

I learned this over and over again at SAAM, a course that’s not shy about teaching hunter shooting ethics in addition to skills. I also learned that marksmanship is as much about common sense as it is ballistics.

What do I mean? Well, it makes sense that the most accurate shot is always the steadiest shot, yes? One of the big ideas SAAM instructors try to get across to hunters is to not just try to find a steady rest, but to insist upon it — or not to take the shot.

Since its introduction, the 6.5 Creedmoor was scooped up by long-range target shooters and has thus garnered the reputation as a go-to target cartridge. But all the major ammo companies — as well as some smaller ones — have embraced the 6.5 Creedmoor, and the birth of some very good hunting bullets has been the result, making it a very capable long-range hunter.

This idea is delivered in three simple rules:

1. The more skin on the ground, the better. Always get as low to the ground as possible.
2. Stability is the key to good shooting. Always get at least two points of contact to rest your weapon if possible.
3. Be an uncompromising shooter. If you cannot hold the crosshairs in the inside 50 percent of the vital zone, get the where you can or get positioned to where you can.

These truths helped me to learn, and then accept, my personal shooting limit was and is about 400 yards on live game. If the critter I’m after is farther, I get closer — or all it gets to see is me tip my ball cap toward it for getting the best of me that day.

The 2-day course explains this common sense in a lot more detail. In fact, it covers it in a 24-chapter, 110-page book that takes students down to this philosophy: “It’s the hunter’s job to kill an animal instantly with the first shot. Hunters owe it to the animal to accomplish that. If not 100 percent certain, get closer or don’t shoot.”

The Long-Distance Hunter

Back to that Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter: The one I shot at SAAM, and the identical one I have in my gun safe here in Virginia, is chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. For those of you new to the Grand Island, Nebraska, inspired .264 block party, it’s because the cartridge is very accurate, doesn’t recoil much, shoots slicker-than-whale-snot 6.5mm bullets — and did I mention it doesn’t kick much?

When building out a rifle that has serious long-range capability, you limit yourself — and that rifle — if your scope isn’t designed for the same tasks.

Hornady’s Neal Emery goes into even more detail about the 6.5 Creedmoor’s success over some other 6.5mm bullet pushers.

“The Creedmoor has quite a few things going for it,” he said. “It’s a true short-action cartridge that allows long, heavy bullets to be seated out. The .260 Remington requires the same long, heavy bullet to be seated further into the case or the use of a long action. The 6.5×55 is even longer. The Creedmoor also benefits from close adherence to both the chamber design spec and the ammunition spec — everyone essentially makes it the same.”

During the SAAM course, which by the way featured a lot of different manufacturers’ 6.5mm Creedmoors, we all shot the same ammo: Hornady. There are a lot of choices for bullets these days, and that’s especially true for the 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge.

The introduction by Hornady of the ELD platform gives target shooters and hunters a choice they think they need to make. But, according to Emery, the genius of the ELD design is that its aerodynamic qualities benefit both paper and paleo gatherers.

“In both bullets, it creates the perfect meplat (point)” said Emery. “They are the same, time after time. Manufacturing BTHP bullets with the exact same tip geometry doesn’t happen. For the ELD Match bullets, it’s all about consistency and maximizing the ballistic potential.

“On the hunting side (ELD-X), the tip is quite important for the terminal effect,” he continued. “Upon impact, the tip gets pushed into the hollow cavity in the nose, forcing expansion. BTHP designs are dependent on what they hit to dictate how or if the bullet expands. Tipped bullets are far more consistent in their expansion.”

The Ruger Hawkeye FTW Hunter is a rifle accurate enough to take advantage of a long-range capable cartridge like the 6.5 Creedmoor, and it’s a rifle you can haul up a mountain, scratch, get muddy, cuss at (I don’t want to talk about it) and, like your trusty dog, it still loves you enough to be there when you need it.

Sure, there are more accurate rifles, which might shoot tighter groups for longer engagements, with less recoil, less muzzle rise and more pop from the muzzle, but if you’ve ever hunted where every direction to and from camp is up, up higher and then keep climbing — then the true beauty of a hunting rifle you can and should carry, which can and does hit steel at 1,500 yards all day long isn’t just your buddy … it’s your very best friend.

[Whisper] … good shot! Let’s go pack it out.

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