Several years ago I was prowling around a crowded little gun shop when I heard a rifle softly calling my name, begging for me to take it home. It had a lot of innovative features, a stock with classic lines, and it was chambered in one my favorite old cartridges, the 7X57 Mauser. How could I resist that Ruger M77?
Bill Ruger (1916-2002) was one of the icons of American gun design, up there with Browning, Pederson, and other historic giants. He surpassed even those men with his mind for business and an ability to recognize things that the rest of the world failed to see. He ran his gun company not by listening to the naysayers or the bean counters but to his heart. He didn’t rely on focus groups or marketing studies. Ruger designed the guns he wanted, which he believed the American public would buy, and was hugely successful.
Borne From the Heart
Ruger started the company in in 1949 along with his partner Alexander Sturm. Their first product was a semiautomatic .22 LR pistol. By 1953 Ruger was ready to expand the product line and the “experts” told him that single-action revolvers were dead and would never sell. So in defiance of them, he brought out the Single Six .22-caliber, single-action revolver. The Single Six is still selling well today. Just to prove he was right, Ruger brought out the Blackhawk centerfire single-action revolver in 1955. Today Sturm-Ruger pretty much owns the modern single-action revolver market.
Ruger wanted to make a rifle, and everybody told him he was foolish to consider a single shot. “Nobody will buy it. They want repeaters,” the cynics said. Ruger didn’t listen. In 1966 he introduced the single-shot Number One rifle. It was a hit and is still selling well today, nearly half a century later.
When Ruger wanted to enter the bolt-action market, the naysayers and his own bean counters were against it. “You can’t possibly compete with Remington and Winchester. It can never work, you will be ruined.”
Ruger ignored them and in 1968 he introduced the Ruger M77—a gun that is still one of the top-selling bolt-action rifles in the world.
A Working Man’s Rifle
Ruger wanted a rifle for the working man, one that “could be purchased with one week’s take home pay.” Part of the innovation with this new rifle was how he incorporated the use of castings for the action and bolt, which reduced manufacturing costs. It had never been done in a modern centerfire rifle, and all the naysayers said it wouldn’t work—that it would be dangerous, particularly using a cast bolt. They claimed that only a machined bolt like the competition was using would be adequate. But Ruger proved them wrong. Not only is it less expensive to use investment casting to make the M77 bolt, but extensive testing showed that it was actually stronger than a machined bolt.
The original M77 was a big and solid gun. To me, the stock was just a little bit clubby, but that’s what Ruger wanted. He asked in very non-PC terms that the pistol grip be designed like a “Polish girl’s ankle.” He also insisted that the stock have classic lines.
One new and unique design feature on the M77 was the angled-forward action screw. This draws the action tight into the stock, which the Ruger designers believed to be important for accuracy. The action features a big, non-rotating claw extractor, and the bolt is a classic two-lug design. One difference from the classic Mauser action is that this Ruger uses a spring-loaded plunger ejector, rather than a fixed ejector. It’s also a push feed, rather than a controlled round feed like the classic Mauser.
There is a dog leg on the bolt handle, which I think adds flair. The first M77 rifles used a flat bolt handle rather than the round bolt handle found on later guns.
Another innovative feature was the flange on the left side of the bolt. This is a new design that, in the unlikely event of a case rupture, would prevent any gas from escaping down the left side of the action and hitting the shooter in the face. Ruger was again ahead of the curve with this safety feature.
The Ruger M77 features integral scope mounts machined into the receiver. This feature allowed the scope to be mounted lower than any other factory rifle at the time. That got the centerline of the scope closer to the bore of the rifle. It also allowed the use of the classic stock design: By mounting the scope low on the rifle, there is no need for a high comb on the stock.
One distinctive feature of the Ruger Model 77 rifle was the tang-mounted “shotgun-style” safety. This is favored by a lot of hunters because it puts the safety right under the shooter’s thumb, in a natural position. Ruger wanted it to have a bolt lock so that when the safety is on, the bolt is locked closed. Bolts on rifles without a lock can catch on a hunter jacket and open the bolt—which happens with me, because I carry rifles on my left shoulder. Sadly, Ruger capitulated to the lawyers in the mid 1980s and they changed the safety on guns made after that so it no longer would lock the bolt closed.
That changed in 1989 when the original M77 design was replaced by the M77 MK II rifle. The MK II introduced a three-position safety similar to the Winchester Model 70. The center position unlocks the bolt for unloading, but still keeps the gun on safe. The MK II made a few other changes to the M77 including introducing controlled round feeding and a different ejector style.
In 2006, the M77 had another change, including adding the name Hawkeye. These guns have a better trigger. They also have addressed some of the accuracy issues with the earlier guns. The new M77 Hawkeye rifles I have tested have been exceptionally accurate and are impressive rifles. I recently tested the M77 Hawkeye Predator from Ruger and it was one of the most accurate factory rifles I have shot. It gave .5 MOA groups with factory ammo. I used it to make first-round hits on targets all the way out to 1,200 yards.
The Ruger M77 has enjoyed a long and successful run on the American gun market. The rifles today are some of the best available as the Sturm Ruger Company continues to promote the ideas and concepts of one of the greatest gun designers in history, Bill Ruger.