Foreign vs. American .308 Rifles: Are Hunters Missing Something?
We pitted two bolt-action centerfire hunting guns from Blaser and CZ to see how they measured up against tried-and-true products from Remington and Ruger. Winners: The ADL and R93 LX.
Tired of the same ol’ hamburger in your rifle selections? Want to add something a little different to the gun menu, perhaps something exotically foreign to our jaded tastes? We thought it would be fun to sample a couple of foreign hunting rifles, one of them fairly common, the other seldom seen, and test them against typical U.S. offerings. Accordingly, we acquired a pair of European rifles, one from the Czech Republic and one from Germany, and two common U.S. makes, to find out if the foreign rifles offer desirable features or characteristics we might have overlooked.
The rifles we tested were the CZ Model 550 American and a Sig-imported Blaser Model R93 with interchangeable barrel. For the U.S. rifles we selected the Remington 700 ADL and the Ruger M77 Mark II, all of the rifles in caliber .308 Winchester. All the rifles had wood stocks. All four rifles had solidly mounted sling swivel studs. We got scope rings and recoil pads with the Blaser, CZ and Ruger. The CZ, Remington and Ruger came with iron sights, but the Blaser had no provision for them. The CZ alone had a detachable magazine. The CZ had a 24-inch barrel. All the rest had 22-inch tubes. The quality of the wood was uniformly good, the Blaser’s the best, in line with its price tag. The Ruger and Remington had dark-finished, decent wood with finishes clearly superior to either of the European offerings, in our view. The U.S. guns had all the wood pores filled. Both the Blaser and CZ had visible pores that caught a fingernail.
Metal finish was also pretty good for all four rifles. The shiniest steel was on the CZ, and it had superb polish and metal fitting throughout. Also very shiny was the Ruger, with excellent fitting and no sharp edges. Slightly less gleaming was the slick-working Remington, while the metal on the Blaser was entirely dead-matte finished, black on the barrel, bolt, trigger guard, and scope mount, and flat silver matte on the aluminum receiver.
Beyond these cosmetic differences, we also found performance variations that made us look fondly at the Blaser and Remington. Here’s what we found in more detail.
CZ Model 550 American
Our recommendation: This $489 rifle is a refreshing change of pace from our domestic rifles. It looked good and was well made throughout. However, we can’t see the need for a 9.4-pound rifle in .308, especially one with poor accuracy with hunting ammunition.
The CZ’s single set-trigger is a handy option for precise shooting. Maybe U.S. shooters are getting bored with tradition, and going in more now for stock shapes like the CZ 550 with its squared-edge cheekpiece, slim forend, and curved-top buttstock. At any rate, most of our evaluators liked the stock shape, which is more of a typical European style than the rifle’s name would have you believe. Some folks didn’t like the squared corner on the cheekpiece or the curved-top buttstock shape. Cosmetically, we rated the overall quality of the CZ to be very good to excellent, and it was an attractive rifle. The checkering was clumsy-looking at the pistol grip and not very even, but adequately sticky. The light-colored wood had some figure, and we liked the well-fitted black trestle-style recoil pad. The metal was well polished and blued, exhibiting none of the waviness that a high polish can bring out. The rifle came with iron sights consisting of a hooded front bead and U-notch, slide-adjustable rear.
The steel trigger guard was quite long. It incorporated a button at its forward end to release the magazine. The mag had an aluminum floorplate but steel sides and follower. The unit came out and went in easily, which was a good thing because we couldn’t load the four-round magazine while it was in the rifle. However, it fed well. We were able to single-load the rifle by placing a round into the feedway and partly into the chamber, and then closing the bolt over it. Ejection was not all that positive, and some of our empties stayed in the gun unless we worked the bolt briskly.
The bolt release was similar to that found on a Model 70 Winchester. The safety was a three-position right-thumb-controlled rocker located just aft of the bolt handle. Forward to fire, mid-position to cycle rounds out of the magazine, and all the way back to lock the bolt closed and cocked. It worked properly. There was a button on the left rear of the bolt sleeve that is used to disassemble the bolt for cleaning. With the rifle cocked, pressing on the button while lifting the bolt handle renders the bolt sleeve free to be unscrewed from the bolt body.
The biggest problem we found with this rifle was its weight. With the Artemis 3-9x scope (made in the Czech Republic by Meopta) installed in the solidly made scope rings and dovetail bases (about $45 extra), the all-up weight was 9.4 pounds unloaded. That’s too much for a .308, in our estimation.
We used the single-set trigger for our accuracy testing. The regular pull had a lot of creep, but it broke at a very acceptable 3.5 pounds. The adjustable single-set broke at about half a pound. There was a screw in front of the trigger to adjust the single-set pull, but we left it alone.
Our first five-shot group with Winchester Supreme Competition ammo (168-grain Nosler HPBT Match bullets) had four in 1.25 inches, plus a flyer. The next five-shot group measured 1.25 inches including a flyer. Four were inside 0.9-inch. All told, the average group with the Winchester match ammo was 1.2 inches. Unfortunately, the CZ shot well only with match ammo. Our two brands of hunting ammo didn’t group at all well, which was a decided disadvantage of the gun.
Blaser Model R93
Our recommendation: The $1,795 Blaser offers interchangeable calibers and lightning-fast bolt operation combined with outstanding accuracy and the ability to easily swap calibers. Easy to learn, the Blaser is also easy to love, in spite of its less than perfect stock finish. Buy it, if you can stand the sticker shock.
The Blaser came disassembled in a large box, but all the tools and a comprehensive instruction booklet were there to put it together, and it was very easy to do so. Two Allen screws hold the barrel to the forend, then the plastic magazine is dropped into the aluminum receiver, then the aluminum bolt body must be inserted correctly into the receiver. As soon as that goes in, you’re met with the most amazing aspect of the Blaser. The bolt doesn’t turn. It merely glides forward with ease, and with a slight forward rotation of the handle it locks up tight.
Slight finger pressure rearward on the bolt handle causes the bolt lever to rotate and move backward, unlatching the collet-type lockup.
Although we were completely unfamiliar with this rifle when we took it out of the box, within a short time we thought the R93 felt like an old friend. Blasers have interchangeable barrels, so you can swap calibers with the turn of two Allen screws. The scope stays with the barrel, so when you make your .308 into, say, a .243, you don’t lose your scope zero. This is a versatile and handy system that makes the R93 more than just a good rifle. The rifle package included rings and scope-mount base, plus all the tools needed to mount the scope. We dropped in a lightweight, matte-finished Artemis 4x scope. Its finish matched the Blaser exactly.
When you’re used to the bolt and can force yourself not to attempt to lift it, this rifle can be fired extremely quickly, much faster than any turn-bolt rifle. The economy of motion takes some getting used to, but once mastered, the Blaser becomes very friendly. The lockup is by a 14-fingered collet that is driven radially outward by a centrally located plunger, that in turn is driven by the rocking bolt handle. The bolt head is recessed for the cartridge, extraction is by a radially moving clip powered by a circular wire spring surrounding the bolt head, and ejection is by a spring-loaded plunger within the bolt. You need to read the instructions to find out how to remove the bolt for cleaning. It’s easy but tricky.
The firing pin is basically a striker held in the cocked position by a vertically moving pin found at the rear of the receiver. All essential parts are made of steel, with the surrounding or carrying members of light alloy. This bountiful use of light alloy makes the Blaser R93 a very light and handy rifle. All-up weight with the 4x Artemis was 8 pounds. The rifle felt much lighter because of its superb balance. The overall design of the rifle took some getting used to, but it worked to perfection, and the entire package was very well done. The metalwork was flawless and the inletting was outstanding. The thin black rubber buttpad resembled a Pachmayr Presentation pad, but was German, and was slightly too large for the wood. It had a texture resembling leather, and it provided adequate padding for the caliber. The pistol grip was capped nicely with a black synthetic oval. The barrel was free floated. The Blaser’s checkering was also well done. The wood had nice figure in the butt, and straight-grained wood of a matching hue in the forend. We found a lot to like about this innovative rifle. However, some will never like the Blaser’s safety.
It is a plunger located centrally at the rear of the bolt. To put the safety on, press inward against spring pressure and slightly downward with your thumb, and the safety plunger moves rearward under spring pressure. As it does so it uncocks the striker and locks the bolt closed. To release the safety, press forward rather forcefully with the thumb, ending the stroke with a slight lift. This reveals a large red dot, indicating the rifle is ready to fire. The effort of taking off the safety is caused by the fact that you’re cocking the striker as you do so. There is thus no way the rifle can fire with the safety on.
The Blaser’s trigger pull was superb. It broke cleanly at 2 pounds, American manufacturers please take note. It had some significant overtravel, but this didn’t bother any of our shooters.
At the range, the Blaser was clearly a target-quality rifle with the Winchester Supreme match ammo. Our average groups were less than 0.9 inch, and that was with a 4x scope. It did well with the Remington Core-Lokt also, with groups of 1.4 inches.
Remington 700 ADL
Our recommendation: The $492 iron-sighted Remington worked well, was slick handling, looked great, and offered absolutely fantastic accuracy in spite of a heavy trigger pull. It’s a lot of rifle, and it’s a better buy than the CZ.
There is not much unfamiliar about the blind-magazine version of one of this country’s favorite rifles. The specifics: walnut stock with perfect satin finish and adequate but sparse checkering, especially at the pistol grip; Monte-Carlo style cheekpiece for scope use; Allen-head stock screws; 22-inch barrel; plastic buttplate; non-free-floated barrel; excellent bluing and metalwork; no frills, just a clean workhorse of a hunting rifle. We disliked the iron sight picture of the Remington because the rear U-notch is much too deep. There was thus no good reference for holding repeatable elevation. A better sight picture would be a simple wide-angle V with no notch, and with a center-locating white triangle or diamond just below the center of the V, similar to the white diamond found on the Ruger. With a weight of 6.95 pounds (no scope), you don’t have much rifle to pack around, which means you can tote it a long way before getting tired. The Remington weighed a full pound less than the no-scope CZ. With our test scope mounted, the rifle weighed 8 pounds. We longed for a lighter trigger, but had to make do with a clean pull of 5.5 pounds.
The rifle had a two position safety, forward to fire. The magazine held four rounds. If you’re wondering how to unload this rifle’s blind magazine, it is not necessary to fully chamber each round. Put the safety on, and use the bolt to shove each round forward until it just pops loose from the magazine lips, then pull the bolt back and tip the rifle sideways to let the loose round fall out. Do this four times, and the rifle’s safely unloaded.
At the range, with our 12x Leupold mounted, the 700 ADL shot the Winchester match ammunition into average groups of 0.8 inch. We thought that was impressive, but with Remington’s own Core-Lokt ammo, the rifle shot nearly as well, averaging just over 0.9-inch.
Ruger M77 Mark II
Our recommendation: The $635 Ruger offered iron sights, controlled feed, total reliability, solid construction, but only mediocre accuracy. A lightweight and good-looking rifle, the Ruger M77 would be easy to carry all day, and with the right ammunition would be an acceptable hunting rifle. But it didn’t shoot well in our tests, so we can’t recommend it.
The weight of this one was easy to remember, a .308 that weighed exactly 3.08 kg without scope. That translates to 6.8 pounds, the lightweight of the test series. With test scope mounted, the empty weight was 7.8 pounds, and that was more than heavy enough for the recoil of the .308 cartridge, though we’d have liked a slightly softer buttpad. The iron-sight picture was adequate, but we doubt if many shots would go through this rifle without a scope being mounted, because the rifle came with scope rings.
Ruger’s wood- and metalwork were excellent, the metal polished to a high gloss, the bluing well done, and the stock finish expertly applied. The four-round magazine had a swing-down floorplate that made it easy to empty the magazine.
It was easy to load the magazine, and rounds fed well from it. This was a controlled-feed rifle, which means the round is grabbed by the extractor before it gets fully into the chamber. With a rifle of this configuration, you can easily cycle the rounds out of the magazine box with the bolt, first placing the safety into the middle of its three positions. All the way forward with the safety lever is the fire position, and all the way back locks the bolt closed.
The Ruger, like the CZ, had a clumsy shape to the checkering pattern at the pistol grip, but it was overall well done and adequately sharp. The inletting was also more than acceptable. Ruger’s metalwork was excellent. Ruger now makes its rifles cut-free. You can run your fingers inside and out of their action and not encounter any sharp edges, and we thank them sincerely for that effort. The thin recoil pad did a barely adequate job of cushioning kick, but did a great job of holding the rifle in place on the shoulder while the shooter briskly worked the bolt. The Remington’s slippery plastic pad was not as good at this task.
On this test rifle the front bead sight was easily replaceable, being held in its dovetail by a spring-loaded plunger. We thought that was a nice touch. The folding rear iron sight was adjustable by two small screws for elevation, and by drifting for windage. There was a locking screw to hold the windage adjustment, or make it easy to change, another nice touch. A white diamond helped center the front bead, and the sight picture was adequate. We had to remove the rear sight to mount our scope.
We could have asked for a slightly slicker bolt, but in fairness this one got slicker the more we used the rifle. When we first took the rifle out of the box, we found that if we pressed slightly sideways on the bolt handle with the bolt all the way open, it was impossible to move the bolt forward. With use it became less of a problem.
We removed the rear iron sight to clear our 12x Leupold and began shooting with the Winchester match ammo. The Ruger shot these into average groups of just over 1.4 inches, and that made us think the gun might be a poor shooter. We were right. The Ruger shot the Core-Lokt ammunition into groups just over 2 inches average. The average grouping with the PMC fodder was pathetic, about 3.5 inches.
Gun Tests Recommends
Best Buy. Remington 700 ADL, $492. The bolt was slick, the gun was light in weight, superbly accurate, well finished, well made, and looked good. We’d choose it first of all the rifles tested for value received.
Blaser Model R93, $1,795. Ejection was positive, the gun was friendly either from the bench or offhand, and we’d love to take it hunting. With barrels in other calibers and no fitting needed, you get a great deal of flexibility with the Blaser. Although we would like to see the pores on the wood better filled, we feel the Blaser R93 is well worth its price. If you can stand the sticker shock, buy it.
CZ Model 550 American, $489. If we had found a hunting round that shot in the CZ, we might have recommended the CZ 550, but we also didn’t like having to remove the magazine to load it. However, that point can be viewed as a safety benefit. Also, the gun was heavy, which made it a joy to bench shoot. We could easily fire long strings without fatigue as a result. Carrying it would be another matter. This rifle had such good performance with the Winchester match ammo that we feel it will reward the handloader who searches for a hunting load that the CZ will like. If these drawbacks don’t deter you, and if the lines of this gun interest you, we say caveat emptor and give it a conditional buy recommendation.
Ruger M77 Mark II, $635. Other than its questionable accuracy, there were no problems with the rifle. It fed and ejected perfectly. The trigger gave a clean 4.5-pound pull, about 1.5 pounds heavier than we’d like. The rifle had enough weight for the caliber, but didn’t lend itself to long strings at the bench because of its light weight and slender barrel that tended to get hot very easily. But this is a hunting rifle, and it had enough weight for that purpose. If it had shot better, we’d say buy it. But we think the other guns outdid the Ruger in this crucial area. Thus, we’d have to pass on the Ruger M77 Mark II.