Make room for a new .30 — this one’s worth it.
This is a story about a cartridge (and indeed, a bullet) as much as it is about a rifle. Sturm, Ruger & Co. invited me on a hunting trip earlier this year to experiment with their new M77 Hawkeye rifle chambered for the .300 RCM cartridge. While I was excited about the trip, I was skeptical about the need for another .30-caliber cartridge in the world. I came away a believer.
The .300 RCM (Ruger Compact Magnum), along with its bigger brother, the .338 RCM, were follow-ons to the .375 Ruger, which was created to rival the venerable .375 Holland and Holland, but to do so with a noticeably shorter barrel. The .375 Ruger succeeded admirably, as its ballistic performance actually exceeds the .375 H&H in a rifle with a barrel that is 4-6″ shorter.
Buoyed by the success of the .375, Ruger then repeated its effort in .308 and .338 calibers. When I first heard of the effort, I thought, “just what the world needs: another .30-caliber rifle cartridge.” A closer look, however, revealed the legitimate value of these new cartridges: they meet or exceed the Winchester .300 and .338 magnums, respectively, and do so with a 20″ barrel. They also do it with a considerably shorter case length, enabling a more compact rifle action and quicker reloads.
As you can see, the .300 RCM is short and stout. Advanced propellents and an aggressive shoulder angle contribute to its amazing ballistic performance.
Anyone who has ever hunted in heavy brush or woodsy terrain will readily recognize the value of a compact rifle. To get magnum performance, however, from a shorter rifle is a true bonus. And this is just what you get with the Ruger M77 Hawkeye. Redesigned for the .300 and .338 RCMs, the Hawkeye now features a slimmer stock reshaped for quick handling. It also features Ruger’s new LC6 trigger. This was my first experience with the LC6, and I’m happy to report that it lives up to its reputation. The Hawkeye also sports a larger rubber recoil pad.
But the real beauty of the Hawkeye when chambered for the RCMs is the aforementioned 20″ barrel. Combined with the shorter action available with the .300 RCM, you can now get a true magnum rifle that weighs in at 6¾ pounds (unscoped) and is just under 40″ in overall length. (We’re approaching carbine territory here, just to keep things in perspective.) And, despite the light weight, recoil is milder than a .300 Winchester.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about the M77 Hawkeye.
As the .300 RCM was a collaborative effort between Ruger and Hornady (one of many such joint projects), it seemed appropriate to test the rifle with Hornady’s ammunition. As we were hunting in a part of California that prohibits the use of lead projectiles, we turned to Hornady’s new GMX bullet.
The GMX (Gilding Metal eXpanding) is Hornady’s entry into the nascent market for high-performance, lead-free ammunition. It is of homogenous composition from an alloy that is largely copper and tin. As the alloy is somewhat lighter than lead, the ballistic coefficient for a bullet of a given weight is higher. Hornady claims excellent expansion from this bullet, and our hunt confirmed this (more on this later.)
The first order of business was sighting in the rifles and their new scopes. I only used 5 shots for this purpose, but it was enough to impress me with the Hawkeye’s comfort and accuracy. I immediately felt confident with this rifle. As we were to be hunting over a dry farm that was waist-high in barley and other cattle crops, its compact size seemed especially appropriate.
There were six of us hunting on this trip. One hunter had bagged a meat sow the first evening, so five of us were still active the next morning. As it turned out, all five of us were hoping for trophy boars. I could tell the guides were less than optimistic about accommodating all of our wishes.
We split into two groups. My hunting partner bagged his around midday — a nice black boar that was about 300 pounds. One down, four to go. We broke for lunch without another opportunity. That evening, the guide took me to a very remote spot on the property where he knew the hogs liked to bed down. We were across a small canyon from the pig beds, which were on a steep hillside filled with concealment brush. I set up shooting sticks while the guide glassed the hill. After about 10 minutes, he found one, but it was sleeping. The idea of shooting a sleeping animal just didn’t appeal to me, so we decided to wait a bit.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait long. A noise behind us startled the hog, and he stood up. I readied the rifle, but from our distance (about 200 yards) I couldn’t ascertain the gender. The guide used his glasses again, and whispered to me, “shoot that pig.”
As the hog wasn’t really going anywhere (I think he was going to lie down again), the shot wasn’t difficult at all. I aimed just behind the shoulder and squeezed. The bullet flew true, and the hog took one step and fell over, DRT (Dead Right There). We made the short but steep trek towards the animal. When I finally got to him, the guide was beaming with happiness.
We’d really scored with this one. Not only was he big (we estimated 320 pounds) but blonde and with huge tusks. Definitely a keeper. I couldn’t be happier, especially as I noted to myself that the shot went absolutely where I’d aimed for. I’ll never make a better hunting shot in my life.
When we cleaned the animal, the performance of the .300 RCM and the GMX bullet became even more impressive. A rib on each side of the animal was broken. As the shot was a “through-and-through” we never recovered the bullet, but one lung had a large hole in it, suggesting that the bullet had expanded quite a bit.
This bullet wasn’t from my shot (I never found mine), but came from another hunter in our group, using identical rifle and ammunition. Note the near-perfect expansion; this is especially impressive given the bullet’s composition.
By day’s end, all five active hunters had filled their tags. Incredibly, we all got the nice boars that we were hoping for. Two were over 300 pounds (amazing in itself, as the guides told us that they only got five hogs that large in all of 2008!) and the others were very nice sized as well. Truly an amazing hunt for everyone.
It’s worth recapping the performance of the .300 RCM here as well. Let’s consider:
- 200-yard shot
- 320-pound animal
- broke a rib upon entry
- destroyed a lung
- broke another rib and exited (never to be found)
All this from a 150-grain bullet shot from a 20″ barrel. As mentioned at the top of this article, I was skeptical about the .300 RCM, but…consider me a convert. Ruger has another winner on their hands, and Hornady’s GMX is clearly a great product as well. I’d gladly use both on future hunts.