The .375 Ruger cartridge and Ruger Hawkeye African bolt rifle are not flashes in the pan, but the author thought they could stand a little improvement. Hornady
's new Superformance loads produce a bit more velocity, and the rifle refinements made by Hill Country Rifle make it more accurate and user-friendly.
It's no secret to those who know me that I am a huge fan of the .375 H&H. After all, I've had a tremendous amount of success with various .375 H&Hs on four continents over the last decade and a half. Consequently, it took me a while to warm up to the .375 Ruger that Hornady introduced back in 2007. In fact, I was inclined to ignore the upstart medium bore altogether until an article assignment forced me to spend a couple of months putting a few hundred rounds of Hornady ammunition through the then-new Ruger Hawkeye African rifle. I'm glad I did because the time I spent behind that trim little Ruger made it quite clear to me that the new rifle and the .375 Ruger cartridge are no flashes in the pan.
The Hawkeye African won me over from the start. Its trim, easy-handling stock has clean, classic lines and comes easy to the shoulder. The 23-inch barrel balances and swings beautifully. Serviceable iron sights, Ruger's rugged integral scope bases, and a decent trigger right out of the box round out one very solid package.
I came to appreciate the new cartridge's ballistics. The shorter, fatter case fits easily in a .30-06-length action yet equals or exceeds .375 H&H velocities from a shorter barrel. In fact, it exceeds .375 H&H velocities from my Hawkeye's 23-inch tube with Hornady's factory ammunition and my own Barnes TSX handloads. By the way, my clients and I have taken everything from warthogs to elephants with those loads.
If I had to find one thing to complain about with the cartridge, it would be the scarcity of factory loads. The early Hornady loads worked just fine and shot pretty well, but I was looking for a deeper-penetrating softpoint than the old roundnose, and I wanted to try and eke out a little more accuracy than the 1.25-inch average I was getting with Hornady's 300-grain load. To do it, I experimented with the 270- and 300-grain Barnes TSX.
I found I could easily drive the 270-grain TSX at close to 2,700 fps, but I got the best accuracy from my rifle with 73.5 grains of IMR-4007SSC, which drives the 300-grain TSX and the 300-grain Barnes Banded Solid at just over 2,460 fps. Both bullets strike the exact same point of impact at 100 yards, group great, and really hammer game. In fact, a client recently used my rifle to take a fine Zimbabwe tusker with that Barnes solid. A single shot was all it took, though he wisely paid the insurance.
Improving The Rifle
As much as I liked my Ruger Hawkeye African from the start, there were a few things I wanted to change. First, the recoil pad was definitely in need of improvement. And though the factory trigger was pretty good, I wanted a lighter one. I also wanted to improve on the rifle's accuracy. I don't have much experience bedding and tuning Ruger rifles, so I called my friend Dave Fuqua at Hill Country Rifle to see if he could help.
Fuqua suggested I start with Hill Country's standard accurizing package, which includes pillar- and glass-bedding the action, re-crowning the barrel, lapping in the locking lugs and scope rings, and tuning the trigger. Based on past experiences with Hill Country and the firm's sub-inch guarantee, I figured that package would be enough to make my Hawkeye a true sub-MOA gun. The addition of a 1-inch-thick Pachmayr Decelerator pad, cutting the stock back to my preferred 13-inch length of pull, and giving the metal a corrosion-resistant CeraKote finish were the last items on my list of improvements.
Hornady's new Dangerous Game Expanding (DGX) and Dangerous Game Solid (DGS) bullets are outstanding dangerous-game bullets. The new Superformance loads also help the upstart Ruger cartridge best the old H&H loads by a considerable margin.
The rifle I got back from Hill Country was everything I hoped it would be. The new black recoil pad is noticeably softer and wider than the factory pad, which cushions the blow and helps distribute the recoil over a wider area. The shorter length of pull makes the gun fit me like a fine custom rig. The black CeraKote finish looks good, and it will help protect the rifle in humid climes.
The trigger on my optimized rifle is outstanding. Ruger's LC6 trigger is fine right out of the box, but Fuqua tuned mine to 3 crisp, clean pounds. According to him, the locking lugs didn't need any work, and the bore of the factory 23-inch, hammer-forged barrel looked great, but he did recut the crown. He also added aluminum pillars and glass bedded the action, recoil lug, and floorplate to ensure consistent contact of the action to the stock for the utmost accuracy. The bedding also strengthens the stock and helps keep it from splitting.
I installed a Trijicon 1-4X scope with heavy German No. 4 reticle and illuminated green center cross on my "improved" Hawkeye. I used a set of Warne's bombproof QD scope rings to ensure that my rig would stand up to a lifetime of rough roads and even rougher baggage handlers.
My optimized Hawkeye shoots as good as it looks. The Decelerator pad does a great job of dampening felt recoil, and the light, crisp trigger makes it easier to shoot well. It's also noticeably more accurate. My Barnes TSX loads now group just under 0.75 inch, and my old stock of Hornady factory ammunition averages right around 1 inch.
Optimizing The Ammo
I was pretty happy with my improved rig's accuracy, but I still wanted to get a little more velocity than the 2,460 fps I was getting with my handloads. Enter Hornady's new Superformance ammunition, which Hornady claims will drive the new DGX (Dangerous Game Expanding) and DGS (Dangerous Game Solid) bullets at a blistering 2,660 fps and deliver more than 4,700 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Superformance ammunition relies on new, super-efficient, fast-burning powders to give the .375 Ruger an extra 145 fps of velocity over 300-grain .375 H&H loads and 170 fps over 270-grain H&H loads without compromising accuracy or noticeably increasing recoil. According to Hornady, "This performance is achieved because the powder is completely burned prior to the bullet leaving the barrel and imparts as much energy as possible to the bullet. As a result, the muzzle exit pressure is lower and the muzzle gas velocity is dramatically lower than for previous high-performance ammunition. This reduces the rocket
nozzle effect from the gases leaving the barrel, resulting in lower recoil levels and high levels of accuracy."
Hornady's velocity claims proved true on the shooting range, where the new DGS and DGX loads averaged right at 2,600 fps from my Hawkeye and grouped just under 0.75 MOA. Recoil was enough to get my attention, but it wasn't punishing. In fact, it was exactly what I would expect from a .375 H&H as lightweight as my Hawkeye (7.75 pounds, unloaded and without scope).
The increased energy, deeper penetration, and tackdriving accuracy of Hornady's new Superformance .375 Ruger loads will help secure the future of this fantastic, efficient cartridge. My optimized Hawkeye African from Hill Country Rifle will make shooting the little powerhouse a whole lot more fun.