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Ruger Hawkeye.

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 run accuracy trials on an open-sighted handgun. Are we finding out how groupable "pistol X" actually is--or how well the shooter's eyes are dealing with distance and glare and fatigue on a given day?

Alas, until some entergprising inventor comes up with a universal mount that attaches a scope to any handgun made (and then dismounts, leaving no evidence), I'm not due to find an answer to that question. One thing I do know though, with an open-sighted sidearm, I've never even come remotely close to duplicating the 1-1/2-inch 100-yard clusters I can manager with my Leupold-equipped custom .444 Marlin single-shot pistol.

So what's causing me to suddenly begin reflecting on this issue? Ruger's Hawkeye, that fascinating no-longer-made amalgam of single-action revolver and single-shot pistol, is the culprit. It just spent 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 groups I've ever printed with a scopeless handgun, well--I'm not the least bit certain that I did justice by that remarkable, and now classic, arm.

My odyssey with the Hawkeye began one afternoon at the shop of my local dealer, Howard Smay (Smay's Sporting Goods, 170 W. Main, Dept. GA, Saxonburg, PA 16056). Now Howard is a Ruger Collector--there are a number of such, to a point where they've formed their own Ruger Collectors' Association. And today there was something new in my friend's display case, an 8-1/2-inch barreled, .256 Winchester Magnum-chambered hybrid that would soon become my test piece. I was enthralled; of course, I'd seen Hawkeyes before, but this was the first time I'd had an opportunity to examine one in detail. And when a search of Howard's shelves revealed a supply of the hard-to-find .256 ammo also (Winchester still loads this round, though its limited availability would lead you to believe otherwise), I simply couldn't resist. Gun and cartridges were picked up following the mandated three-day waiting period, and were transported to a local range for testing.

However limited one's enthusiasm may be for Pennsylvania's 72-hour handgun pickup delay one thing must be said for it; it certainly gives the classic arms writer time to study the history of any pistol he is borrowing or purchasing. And that's just how I made use of the three days, adding to what I already knew regarding the history of what may be the best known of Bill Ruger's few unsuccessful undertakings.

What I discovered was that the Ruger Hawkeye represented a second attempt by the U.S. arms industry to build a handgun around the hot .256 Win. Mag cartridge. A first attempt--a six-shot revolver--ended in failure due to the .256 case's propensity to back out of its chamber at ignition, thus binding up the cylinder of any wheelgun one might 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 for creating such as single-shot while making extensive use of already-present Ruger single-action revolver technology. This plan involved use of the standard single-action frame, substitution of a rotating breechblock for the cylinder, and placement of the chamber inside the barrel. A rather long firing pin, running the full length of the breechblock from frame to face, was thus necessitated, and so was a "shod" extractor rod, the "shoe" of which formed part of the barrel. The result of all this ingenuity--10 pre-production Hawkeyes--left the Ruger plant in late summer of 1962, bound for the testing 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 an ungapped 8-1/2-inch tube (2,360 feet per second (fps) was achieved with the 60-grain .257-caliber HP bullet loaded by W-W), but accuracy was exceptional, especially for pre-Contender times. The entire Hawkeye set-up--chamber integral with bore, unchanging sights-to-bore relationship--was literally made for group-ability. Hawkeye was thus pronounced an ultimate arm for the handgun varminter by most of the authorities of the period and production en masse commenced in January of 1963.

However, the new single-shot's tenure on Ruger's production lines was not to be a protracted one, for the Hawkeye proved to be no great seller, this despite such attractive features as a factory trigger job and factory tapping for a scope block. Just why such unpopularity was the rule is not hard to understand--the demand for so specialized a pistol had simply been overestimated. Also there were many shooters who just didn't care for the Ruger's SA style lockwork, or its hybrid SA/SS looks, or its lack of versatility. Hence, as of July 1964, Hawkeye production ceased for all time, with fewer than 3,100 units having been completed; it would be fully the mid-1970's before Ruger Inc. found distributors for the last of the 3,100, so complete was the buyers' ennui. Indeed, only with the rise of interest in Rugers as collectors' arms, in the late 1970s, would prices of Hawkeyes ascend above cellar-level (to a point where now can pay tariffs just under four figures for mint-in-the-box-with-papers examples).

It was, however, no mint example I took possession of at "first legal opportunity" in dealer Smay's shop. Quite the contrary, my test piece exhibited what, for a Hawkeye, represents "considerable wear". Perhaps 90-percent of the original finish remained, the barrel giving much evidence of extensive holstering. Functionally and internally however, this mid-production Ruger 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 opportunity to examine a Hawkeye in detail before. What I found was a number of significant differences, "feel-wise", between the Hawkeye and a conventional Ruger SA revolver. Balance, for example, was noteworthily splendid--and I'm not one who takes much notice of balance when evaluating any handgun.

In the Hawkeye though, the absence of a conventional cylinder, when added to the long, thick-walled tube, led to a muzzle-heavy stability even I could appreciate. Trigger too was spectacular; in fact, in fact, it was absolutely perfect--3-1/2 pounds, no creep, no overtravel (I would later comment that you knew you'd tripped the hammer when the gun reared up in front of your face). Truly, that factory trigger tuning had indeed been everything Ruger's advertising had claimed it was in 1964. Even hammer action had a unique feel to it as there were 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 a Ruger SA wheelgun.

Other features though were "Blackhawk all the way"; sights were of the characteristic Ruger adjustable variety--which is to say excellent, though not perfect for my tastes (ramp fronts tend to catch light under some conditions and offer little to compensate for this vice on a sporting pistol). The butt was pure Ruger plowhandle--super-comfortable to me--but not to others.

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

In any event, with the basics of Hawkeye operation now second-nature to this writer, accuracy trials with the Ruger were undertaken from the 25-meter bench. Initial shots yielded a variety of impressions, not the least of which was that Hawkeye represented one sweet-shooting instrument. That super-trigger and those thoroughly functional sights made for a gun which literally wanted to shoot well. The mild recoil helped matters still further: kick was about what one would 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 as this shooter can print with open sights on a handgun (I have unashamedly confessed in print several times my inability to consistently print inside "one-inch at 25" with an iron-sighted handgun. The eyes are simply unequal to the task. I reiterate my confession here, so that the reader may not be mislead regarding the Hawkeye's capabilities).

So . . . one-inch for five shots at 81 feet was the norm whenever this writer did his part. And I'll wager my being that said one-inch would have been cut by one-third to one-half, if only a pistol scope had been mounted on the test piece. Be assured then, a Hawkeye will shoot, very probably into the "two inches at 100-yards" claimed by the factory 20 years ago. It simply won't do so in my hands--at least without a scope. Following that extended 25-meter bench session, incidentally, I did make a single on-command attempt to print a five-shot 200-yard group with the test piece. Results were four shots dead-on point of aim inside 6-1/2 inches, with round number five--a product of visual fatigue--stretching matters to 8-1/2 inches.

As for negative Hawkeye shooting characteristics, these were few in number. True, hammer-fall was slow and heavy, as is often said, but I for one have difficulty relating to this characteristic as a significant group-spreader. Too, blast is substantive--one shooter, seated a few feet to the author's left during trials--reported a foot-long fireball at each ignition and complained of both a deafening report and an almost palpable shock wave. But still, report, flash, and blast do not rouble a shooter, only his observers. The Hawkeye is still among the easiest-shooting of guns in my book.

Takedown of the Ruger for cleaning is also easy. Oen first opens the action as previously described and checks to ensure an empty chamber. The bnase pin latch is then depressed and the base pin is drawn forward as far as it will go. The breechblock is then rolled, in a counter-clockwise motion, out of the frame. Take care that the firing pin and the breechblock lock plunger, both of which are under considerable spring pressure, do not leap backwards out of the breechblock as this is accomplished. When the breechblock has been removed, the ejector assembly may be removed from the frame by unscrewing the ejector housing screw, then pulling the assembly off the frame. Reassembly is the reverse.

I've heard it said on a number of occasions that the only real reason for Hawkeye's failure lay in timing--it had the misfortune to 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, for Hawkeye 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 it before. There are several first-class reasons for this. First of all is the very existence of the Contender which--quite unlike the Hawkeye--can be set up for anything from squirrels to grizzly and very inexpensively at that. Most of us like the idea of being able to convert 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 think so.

The Hawkeye is, for one thing, laborious to load and unload, relatively speaking. Extraction is a separate function that one must undertake manually with a rod, not an automatic function as on modern single shots. The chamber mouth is less accessible when in the loading position than is the case with the competition, and the breechblock always seems to want to inch back from the "rotated-full-open" position, so as to interfere with introduction of a new roudn. These are minor matters, I'll concede, but not to a metallic silhouette competitor for whom those two minutes for five shots pass awfully fast when the clock's running. Then there's the simple fact that lots of general interest shooters have taken to heart the various written 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 favorable opinion of the gun all the same.
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Title Annotation:classic revolver evaluation
Author:Shimek, Robert T.
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Dec 1, 1984
Previous Article:Shooters & computers.
Next Article:.22 Auto Nine pistol.

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