Steyr Arms SSG69 PII 308 Winchester, $1899
Tactical bolt-action rifles are pretty easy to spot. Typically, they utilize a composite stock with pronounced pistol grip, oversize bolt handle and fire from a heavy barrel. The military models are camouflage or earth tone in color, and the law-enforcement models are usually black. Accuracy, strength, and simplicity are key attributes. Can a tactical rifle serve as a hunting rifle? We're not saying one can't. It's just that a tactical rifle typically weighs more than a hunting model. The heavy barrel enhances the ability to maintain accuracy throughout repeat fire and excessive heat.
In addition, tactical rifles tend to be more suitable for longer distance shots and offer ergonomics that favor the prone position or other means of support. Compared to hunting rifles that feature adornments such as engravings or fancy wood, the tactical rifle is stark and businesslike. In this test, we evaluated a 308 Winchester aimed at the law-enforcement market and the $1899 Steyr Arms SSG69 PII 308 Winchester.
Its flat-black Parkerized 25.6-inch barrel was the longest of the trio, and its muzzle was double-crowned, recessed and polished. The outer edge of the muzzle was beveled about 45 degrees. This contour was designed to reduce the chance of foliage grabbing on and perhaps fouling the bore. The top of the Parkerized steel action was milled to accommodate a quick detachable scope mount (supplied). The bolt handle was oversized, and the throw was short and positive. The action was housed in a one-piece synthetic stock that was understated if not somewhat ominous in appearance. It gave off a hollow sound when we tapped on it. But before we could be turned off by this characteristic, we began to appreciate what this stock had to offer. The sides of the stock from the inlet for the bolt handle forward were nearly vertical. Checkering was molded in along the first 10 inches of fore end. The barrel was distinctively floated, leaving a gap of about 0.10 inches between the fore end and the barrel. The tip of the fore end was fit with a sling loop that swiveled a full 360 degrees beneath the barrel. The bottom side of the fore end was fit with an internal rail suitable for mounting another sling stud or attachment for a bipod. The rail was long enough to mount multiple accessories. Given the long barrel, we think the SSG69 PII was the best bet for some really long shots, and this rail could also be used to mount a thumb stop for competitive shooting.
The pistol grip was liberally checkered, flaring outward at the cap on the lower end. The comb of the buttstock was flat rather than raised and neutral in profile from the comb downward. But the left side of the stock was relieved with a channel and connecting point for a sling. A sling the width of one inch or less should fit flush, but this could still interfere with the cheek of a right-handed shooter. The buttpad consisted of a plastic mount covered by a thin convex layer of rubber. Nevertheless, we rated shock absorption as being adequate. Beneath the buttpad were three shims that meshed to produce a maximum length of pull (LOP) measuring about 13.8 inches. Each shim added about 0.33 inches to LOP. We tried removing all three shims and replacing the buttpad, but the two slot head screws that held the butt pad in place were too long and protruded from the rear. Shorter screws were not supplied, so a trip to the hardware store would be called for to solve this.
The safety was located directly behind the arm of the bolt on the righthand side of the receiver. It had a rather long, hard throw to it, at least before any break-in that might ease its movement. The motion was back for Safe, exposing a white dot, and forward to Fire, leaving a red dot visible on the receiver. The rear half of the lever-face was lined and raised to accept being pushed. The forward half was scalloped to create a hook-like surface so it could be pulled more easily to the rear. Safety-on not only seized the trigger but also locked down the bolt. Once in action, movement of the bolt was piston like, short and smooth. There was really no way to be sloppy with this bolt or bind its motion by jerking it up, down, or side to side. Removing the bolt required dropping the magazine and clearing the chamber. With the safety in the fire position, the bolt was pulled to the rear. Pressing the trigger released the bolt. Installing the bolt was as simple as re-inserting it into its channel.
The Steyr featured a two-stage trigger which, as delivered, presented about 3.75 pounds of resistance. The weight of the trigger pull could be adjusted by turning a screw located directly behind the trigger. The owner's manual warns that too light a trigger pull may cause unintentional discharge. The amount of slack in the take-up of the trigger can also be adjusted by turning the screw located on the front of the trigger. Too little slack could also produce an unintentional discharge. We liked the trigger as delivered. There was plenty of feel and feedback from the moment of taking up slack to the point of let-off.
It is common to point to characteristics such as rate of barrel twist when explaining that one rifle or another is better with say, lighter bullets rather than heavy ones. Certainly the Steyr hammer-forged barrel did its job, but we think the consistent trigger rich with feedback was the reason why all three of our factory-loaded rounds with bullets ranging in weight from 165 grains to 180 grains produced five-shot groups measuring between 0.8 inches and 0.9 inches across. Our handloaded ammunition did underline the Steyr's preference for medium- to heavier-weight bullets. The 150-grain bullets printed about a 1.2-inch wide group on average. But our 165-grain handloads delivered groups measuring 0.5 inches and 0.6 inches across.