Part two of two, on Ruger’s New M77 Hawkeye Magnum Hunting Rifle! To read Part 1, click here!
A New Approach to Muzzle Brakes
Many custom rifle makers have, for some time, installed muzzle brakes on a high percentage of their rifles. Some will put them on every rifle they make unless the customer specifies otherwise.
That fact has not gone unnoticed by manufacturers, for muzzle brakes are increasingly showing up on factory rifles. While some might argue that this points to a general wimping-down of the shooting populace, it’s a clear indication that manufacturers detect a trend and are moving to capitalize on it.
The chief advantage offered by muzzle brakes is their ability to reduce felt recoil by as much as half, depending on the caliber and design of the brake. To put it in terms most shooters can easily grasp, a decent muzzle brake will reduce .338 Win. Mag. recoil to a perceived level approximating that of a .308 Win., or tame a 30-06 Springfield down to .243 levels. That can be a real blessing to those with low recoil tolerance or shooters with medical conditions that seriously restrict the choice of cartridges they can safely shoot. Many varmint shooters prefer muzzle brakes, even though they shoot rifles with very little recoil, in order to see bullet impact through their scopes and adjust aim accordingly.
Muzzle brakes also have disadvantages. First and foremost is the increased noise and muzzle blast. I can assure you it’s no fun to stand off to the side of the muzzle brake-equipped barrel of a rifle chambered for one of the real thumpers, like a .378 Wby. Mag., when someone touches it off without warning. I have figuratively had my bell rung and literally had my hat blown off my head in these situations. For this reason, some guides won’t allow hunters to use muzzle brake-equipped rifles. It’s a great way to go deaf quickly if you don’t use proper hearing protection.
I’ve also seen inexpensive scopes fail on rifles with muzzle brakes. I’m not entirely certain of the scientific explanation for this, but it happens often enough that you would be wise to equip a heavy hitting muzzle brake-equipped rifle with a scope proven to be rugged and reliable.
Another disadvantage stems from the fact that most muzzle brakes are removable. That’s not a problem if you zero a rifle with the brake on and leave it on permanently, but if you remove it, barrel weight and harmonics are altered sufficiently that few rifles will shoot to the same point of impact. Savage addresses this issue with a twist-open, twist-closed muzzle brake on several of their rifles.
Ruger is taking an entirely different approach. The Magnum Hunter rifle uses Ruger’s new proprietary muzzle brake system, which employs a removable radial-port muzzle brake. Should you prefer not to use it, you simply unscrew it and replace it with what Ruger calls a “dynamically-matched” muzzle weight (or an included thread protector if you desire neither). Ruger claims that switching between the brake and the weight will not alter point of impact for a given load. Does it work? We’ll reveal the answer shortly, but first, here’s a rundown on how the rifle performed at the range with the muzzle brake attached.
Accuracy to Spare
Velocity testing yielded no major surprises. All five factory loads tested over my Competitive Edge Dynamics M2 chronograph came in reasonably close to their advertised velocities. The most noteworthy variance came from the Barnes VOR-TX 165-grain TTSX, which averaged 111 fps faster than factory-stated velocity. It was outpaced only by the lighter 150-grain Hornady Superformance load, which came in 62 fps below factory-stated velocity. Both the Federal Vital-Shok 165-grain Nosler Partition load and Winchester’s 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip sped along a bit faster than advertised, while the Barnes VOR-TX 180-grain load was only three fps off the mark.
Accuracy has long been a point of discussion with the M77 rifle, starting in the early years when barrel quality varied considerably. Today, barrel quality is much more consistent, and it’s been quite some time since I encountered a Model 77 that couldn’t be coaxed into shooting with acceptable accuracy. The Magnum Hunter didn’t need much persuasion.
For testing, I mounted a new Weaver Super Slam scope. I chose the 2-10 X 42 mm. model with Weaver’s EBX ballistic reticle. The scope’s sharp, multi-coated optics and pull-up turrets made sighting in a snap.
With limited ammo and time, accuracy testing was restricted to shooting four three-round groups for each load tested. The rifle proved to be consistently accurate across a range of bullet styles and weights, as demonstrated by an average group size, for all ammo tested, of just 1.16 inches. The largest average group size for any single load measured was just an inch and a half. Clearly, if you do your part, the Magnum Hunter will get the job done in the field.
While inch-and-a-half groups are perfectly acceptable for an off-the-shelf hunting rifle shooting factory ammo, things got a bit more interesting when I fed the rifle Barnes VOR-TX ammo with tipped triple shock bullets. Groups shot with the 180 gr. load averaged just 0.70 inches., with a best single group of 0.47 inches. The 165-grain VOR-TX load wasn’t far behind. Average groups measured 0.88 in. with a best group of 0.67 inches.
And what of Ruger’s claim that the Magnum Hunter shoots to the same point of impact with the muzzle brake or muzzle weight installed? I put that claim to the test by firing one additional group for each tested load and found that the rifle did, indeed, shoot to the same point of impact with no discernible difference in average group size.
That effectively eliminates one of the disadvantages of muzzle brakes. You can zero the rifle at bench, without beating yourself up with recoil, and replace it with the muzzle weight for field use with full confidence that your rifle will still hit where it’s supposed to.
And, with its rugged, all-weather design, it will do so just about any place you care to take it.