Ruger Hawkeye Essay

I’ve never given voice to such misgivings before but, fact is,there are times when I question just what is being testen when we runaccuracy trials on an open-sighted handgun. Are we finding out howgroupable “pistol X” actually is–or how well theshooter’s eyes are dealing with distance and glare and fatigue on agiven day? Alas, until some entergprising inventor comes up with a universalmount that attaches a scope to any handgun made (and then dismounts,leaving no evidence), I’m not due to find an answer to thatquestion.

One thing I do know though, with an open-sighted sidearm,I’ve never even come remotely close to duplicating the 1-1/2-inch100-yard clusters I can manager with my Leupold-equipped custom .444Marlin single-shot pistol. So what’s causing me to suddenly begin reflecting on thisissue? Ruger’s Hawkeye, that fascinating no-longer-made amalgam ofsingle-action revolver and single-shot pistol, is the culprit. It justspent a week with such a gun–the pistol was in iron-sighted trim, alas.And though with said Ruger I shot one of the tightest 200-yard groupsI’ve ever printed with a scopeless handgun, well–I’m not theleast bit certain that I did justice by that remarkable, and nowclassic, arm. My odyssey with the Hawkeye began one afternoon at the shop of mylocal dealer, Howard Smay (Smay’s Sporting Goods, 170 W. Main,Dept.

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GA, Saxonburg, PA 16056). Now Howard is a Ruger Collector–thereare a number of such, to a point where they’ve formed their ownRuger Collectors’ Association. And today there was something newin my friend’s display case, an 8-1/2-inch barreled, .256Winchester Magnum-chambered hybrid that would soon become my test piece.

I was enthralled; of course, I’d seen Hawkeyes before, but this wasthe first time I’d had an opportunity to examine one in detail.And when a search of Howard’s shelves revealed a supply of thehard-to-find .256 ammo also (Winchester still loads this round, thoughits limited availability would lead you to believe otherwise), I simplycouldn’t resist. Gun and cartridges were picked up following themandated three-day waiting period, and were transported to a local rangefor testing. However limited one’s enthusiasm may be forPennsylvania’s 72-hour handgun pickup delay one thing must be saidfor it; it certainly gives the classic arms writer time to study thehistory of any pistol he is borrowing or purchasing. And that’sjust how I made use of the three days, adding to what I already knewregarding the history of what may be the best known of Bill Ruger’sfew unsuccessful undertakings. What I discovered was that the Ruger Hawkeye represented a secondattempt by the U.S.

arms industry to build a handgun around the hot .256Win. Mag cartridge. A first attempt–a six-shot revolver–ended infailure due to the .256 case’s propensity to back out of itschamber at ignition, thus binding up the cylinder of any wheelgun onemight bore for it. A single-shot pistol, sans rotating cylinder,promised relief from this problem. Thus, early in 1962, Ruger’s engineers hit upon a plan forcreating such as single-shot while making extensive use ofalready-present Ruger single-action revolver technology.

This planinvolved use of the standard single-action frame, substitution of arotating breechblock for the cylinder, and placement of the chamberinside the barrel. A rather long firing pin, running the full length ofthe breechblock from frame to face, was thus necessitated, and so was a”shod” extractor rod, the “shoe” of which formedpart of the barrel. The result of all this ingenuity–10 pre-productionHawkeyes–left the Ruger plant in late summer of 1962, bound for thetesting facilities of a number of prominent U.S.

gun publications. These periodicals proceeded to give the new Hawkeye rave reviews.For not only were .256 factory load ballistics pretty impressive in anungapped 8-1/2-inch tube (2,360 feet per second (fps) was achieved withthe 60-grain .257-caliber HP bullet loaded by W-W), but accuracy wasexceptional, especially for pre-Contender times.

The entire Hawkeyeset-up–chamber integral with bore, unchanging sights-to-borerelationship–was literally made for group-ability. Hawkeye was thuspronounced an ultimate arm for the handgun varminter by most of theauthorities of the period and production en masse commenced in Januaryof 1963. However, the new single-shot’s tenure on Ruger’sproduction lines was not to be a protracted one, for the Hawkeye provedto be no great seller, this despite such attractive features as afactory trigger job and factory tapping for a scope block. Just whysuch unpopularity was the rule is not hard to understand–the demand forso specialized a pistol had simply been overestimated.

Also there weremany shooters who just didn’t care for the Ruger’s SA stylelockwork, or its hybrid SA/SS looks, or its lack of versatility. Hence,as of July 1964, Hawkeye production ceased for all time, with fewer than3,100 units having been completed; it would be fully the mid-1970’sbefore Ruger Inc. found distributors for the last of the 3,100, socomplete was the buyers’ ennui. Indeed, only with the rise ofinterest in Rugers as collectors’ arms, in the late 1970s, wouldprices of Hawkeyes ascend above cellar-level (to a point where now canpay tariffs just under four figures for mint-in-the-box-with-papersexamples). It was, however, no mint example I took possession of at”first legal opportunity” in dealer Smay’s shop.

Quitethe contrary, my test piece exhibited what, for a Hawkeye, represents”considerable wear”. Perhaps 90-percent of the originalfinish remained, the barrel giving much evidence of extensiveholstering. Functionally and internally however, this mid-productionRuger Hawkeye was as-new. Trials of the sample gun began with simple familiarization handling–a necessity in this case since I’d not had an opportunityto examine a Hawkeye in detail before.

What I found was a number ofsignificant differences, “feel-wise”, between the Hawkeye anda conventional Ruger SA revolver. Balance, for example, wasnoteworthily splendid–and I’m not one who takes much notice ofbalance when evaluating any handgun. In the Hawkeye though, the absence of a conventional cylinder, whenadded to the long, thick-walled tube, led to a muzzle-heavy stabilityeven I could appreciate. Trigger too was spectacular; in fact, in fact,it was absolutely perfect–3-1/2 pounds, no creep, no overtravel (Iwould later comment that you knew you’d tripped the hammer when thegun reared up in front of your face). Truly, that factory triggertuning had indeed been everything Ruger’s advertising had claimedit was in 1964. Even hammer action had a unique feel to it as therewere but two hammer positions–full-down and full-cock–and, of course,no cylinder to rotate; hence, gone was the assortment of “clicks’n’ clunks” one normally hears and feels when cocking aRuger SA wheelgun. Other features though were “Blackhawk all the way”;sights were of the characteristic Ruger adjustable variety–which is tosay excellent, though not perfect for my tastes (ramp fronts tend tocatch light under some conditions and offer little to compensate forthis vice on a sporting pistol). The butt was pure Rugerplowhandle–super-comfortable to me–but not to others.

As for the Hawkeye manual-of-arms, this was easily mastered with asingle try. To load, simply thumb in the breechblock lock plungerlocated on the pistol’s left side while sumltaneously rotating thebreechblock counter-clockwise as far as it will go. Then drop a .256round into the barrel and rotate the breechblock clockwise until itlocks again. Cock the hammer, press the trigger, and the pistol willfire. Unloading is accomplished by re-opening the breechblock and usingthe extractor rod. All of which is in no sense complicated, though itis slow, even for a single shot.

In any event, with the basics of Hawkeye operation nowsecond-nature to this writer, accuracy trials with the Ruger wereundertaken from the 25-meter bench. Initial shots yielded a variety ofimpressions, not the least of which was that Hawkeye represented onesweet-shooting instrument. That super-trigger and those thoroughlyfunctional sights made for a gun which literally wanted to shoot well.

The mild recoil helped matters still further: kick was about what onewould expect from a +P load in a mid-fram .38 Special. And, of course,that long sight radius aided the shooter, too.

Groups were as fine asthis shooter can print with open sights on a handgun (I have unashamedly confessed in print several times my inability to consistently printinside “one-inch at 25” with an iron-sighted handgun. Theeyes are simply unequal to the task. I reiterate my confession here, sothat the reader may not be mislead regarding the Hawkeye’scapabilities). So . .

. one-inch for five shots at 81 feet was the norm wheneverthis writer did his part. And I’ll wager my being that saidone-inch would have been cut by one-third to one-half, if only a pistolscope had been mounted on the test piece. Be assured then, a Hawkeyewill shoot, very probably into the “two inches at 100-yards”claimed by the factory 20 years ago. It simply won’t do so in myhands–at least without a scope. Following that extended 25-meter benchsession, incidentally, I did make a single on-command attempt to print afive-shot 200-yard group with the test piece. Results were four shotsdead-on point of aim inside 6-1/2 inches, with round number five–aproduct of visual fatigue–stretching matters to 8-1/2 inches.

As for negative Hawkeye shooting characteristics, these were few innumber. True, hammer-fall was slow and heavy, as is often said, but Ifor one have difficulty relating to this characteristic as a significantgroup-spreader. Too, blast is substantive–one shooter, seated a fewfeet to the author’s left during trials–reported a foot-longfireball at each ignition and complained of both a deafening report andan almost palpable shock wave. But still, report, flash, and blast donot rouble a shooter, only his observers. The Hawkeye is still amongthe easiest-shooting of guns in my book.

Takedown of the Ruger for cleaning is also easy. Oen first opensthe action as previously described and checks to ensure an emptychamber. The bnase pin latch is then depressed and the base pin isdrawn forward as far as it will go. The breechblock is then rolled, ina counter-clockwise motion, out of the frame. Take care that the firingpin and the breechblock lock plunger, both of which are underconsiderable spring pressure, do not leap backwards out of thebreechblock as this is accomplished.

When the breechblock has beenremoved, the ejector assembly may be removed from the frame byunscrewing the ejector housing screw, then pulling the assembly off theframe. Reassembly is the reverse. I’ve heard it said on a number of occasions that the only realreason for Hawkeye’s failure lay in timing–it had the misfortuneto first see the light of day at least a decade before there was a”world-full” of handgun varminters and metallic silhouette shooters to receive it. Do I believe this? I’d like to, forHawkeye is a fine shooting tool in my view . . .

but I don’t.Recreate the gun today and the same fate will befall it as befell itbefore. There are several first-class reasons for this. First of allis the very existence of the Contender which–quite unlike theHawkeye–can be set up for anything from squirrels to grizzly and veryinexpensively at that. Most of us like the idea of being able toconvert our .256 from the factory and it does well by the cartridge too.In silhouette circles, the Hawkeye would not be beyond consideration.But could it compete with a Merrill or Contender? I don’t thinkso.

The Hawkeye is, for one thing, laborious to load and unload,relatively speaking. Extraction is a separate function that one mustundertake manually with a rod, not an automatic function as on modernsingle shots. The chamber mouth is less accessible when in the loadingposition than is the case with the competition, and the breechblockalways seems to want to inch back from the “rotated-full-open”position, so as to interfere with introduction of a new roudn.

Theseare minor matters, I’ll concede, but not to a metallic silhouettecompetitor for whom those two minutes for five shots pass awfully fastwhen the clock’s running. Then there’s the simple fact thatlots of general interest shooters have taken to heart the variouswritten condemnations of its heavy hammer fall. So reissue the Hawkeye?I doubt Ruger will ever undertake such a venture. But that won’t prevent me from retaining quite a favorableopinion of the gun all the same.


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