April 2007

Bolt-Action .223 Alternatives: Savage 16FSS Earns an A-Plus

We graded down Remingtonís 799 for its rough action and less-than-stellar accuracy. The good students were the black-and-stainless Savage and Rugerís ?ne, but costlier, Hawkeye.

Some parts of the country, notably California, donít permit their fine, law-abiding citizens to own so-called "black rifles," which generally means you canít have an AR-15 if you live there. But you may still want a rifle that handles the .223 cartridge, for a number of reasons. One may be to take advantage of the low-priced "deals" that often come along on surplus .223 or 5.56 ammunition.

The need for a non-semiauto .223 is generally met by a bolt-action rifle. Many companies have made delightful little rifles for the .223 over the years, notably Sako and various suppliers of the so-called Mini Mauser in that caliber. The Sako Vixen is still much sought-after, though prices continue to climb, with new versions (Sako 85) around $1600 today.

There are plenty of other more affordable choices, however, and for this test we chose three rifles in the $550 to $750 range. The guns were Savageís Model 16FSS "Weather Warrior" in stainless/synthetic ($569), Rugerís new Hawkeye "All-Weather" also in stainless/synthetic ($749), and Remingtonís Zastava-made Model 799 in blue/laminated ($648).

We tested the three with two factory loads by Black Hills, a 62-grain FMJ and a 60-grain JSP, as well as Remingtonís 55-grain PSP. We also tried two low-cost surplus brands of FMJ ammunition that were loaded in Russia, typical of so much of the very inexpensive stuff that will inevitably find its way into almost all .223 rifles. One of these was brand-named Wolf, and the other was white-box Russian. We also experimented with very-heavy-bullet handloads designed for 1:7-inch twist, but results were uniformly so poor we didnít record them. Here is what we found.

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