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AK-Pattern 5.56/223 Rifles: We Test Izhmash and Archer

Putting new calibers in old designs is a popular trend, proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. In this test we look at the classic AK-47 platform chambered in 5.56x45mm to see if the new trick would fit the old dog. Matching a new rifle to an old favorite in caliber means keeping fewer types of ammo around the house, so we wondered how the AK would perform with the smaller 5.56mm NATO round to match our favorite AR platforms. Many AR and M4 variants are now available in a range of chambers, from 22-caliber plinkers to 300 Blackout and most things in between, including 7.62x39mm, so this switch works both ways if you want it to. We recently found two AK-styled rifles chambered in 5.56 NATO that we could perhaps upgrade into something better, if the base rifle functioned well enough to consider making the initial investment. Depending on their performance, these two AK-47 variants chambered in the NATO 5.56x45 round might be nice additions to a collection and would make a great companion to an AR in the same caliber.

We found a Polish Archer, imported by I.O. Interordnance, and an Izhmash Saiga Sport, imported by TGI, Inc., of Knoxville, Tennessee, to compete in a head-to-head contest of fit, form, and function, with considerations toward making modifications. Here's what we learned.

DPMS and POF 308 Semi-Autos: Heavy Hitters, or Just Heavy?

The last five years have been a roller-coaster ride for the gun industry, with an emphasis on AR-style rifles, which at one point were sold out nearly everywhere and were often selling above MSRP when you could find them. Now, AR sales are mostly down, except for a segment of the market that seems steadily abuzz, the larger caliber ARs, most commonly the 308 Winchester chambering. Most of the larger population of AR-15 owners can't be sold on the larger chambering simply because of heavier rifle weights, but steadily emerging, is a group of gun enthusiasts who seem not to be deterred by the extra weight. This is evident by the many 308-caliber AR-style guns on the market today made by many gun manufacturers, including Patriot Ordnance Factory and DPMS. These firms are not newcomers to this market; DPMS, in fact, was one of the first companies to develop and manufacture a line of 308 Win. AR rifles about 15 years ago.

We approached this test as if we were already gun owners, and we were considering whether to add a .308 semi-auto to our existing collection to add range above and beyond what our 5.56/.223 semi-autos could develop. So we chose two slightly different configurations to see what seemed like the better mix of weight, handling, and recoil. One of our test guns was a DPMS LR-308-AP4, which has an MSRP of $1269 in its base configuration (with an aluminum free-float handguard), and a suggested retail price of $1399 with an optional free-float quad-rail, as tested here. It is a 16-inch-barrel carbine with a direct-gas-impingement operating system. We pitted it against a Patriot Ordnance Factory Gen3 P308-20 BLK with an MSRP of $2599. This 20-inch-barrel rifle uses a 3-position short-stroke gas piston system to operate the action (your choice of normal, suppressed, and bolt-action operating modes).

We used a three-person test group for this evaluation, all proficient shooters in their area of interest. One was a longtime AR-15 5.56 rifle shooter and collector. The second team member prefers large-caliber bolt-action rifles, and the final member mainly shoots 22 rimfire rifles and pistols. Would trigger time behind either of these 308-caliber AR-style rifles convince them to part with a lot of money to buy one?

Battle Rifles: Berettas New-Age ARX 100 vs. Colts LE6920 AR

If we were a rifle maker with a line of AR-15s, we might put up a neon sign outside our establishment that had an image of our carbine with a simple message below: "Millions and millions sold." Because while that might not quite be true for an individual maker's line, it is certainly true for the ArmaLite Rifle platform collectively. The various configurations of ARs are among the highest-selling rifle designs ever, and their appeal seems to keep broadening, even in the face of political restrictions in some jurisdictions.

Despite this popularity—or perhaps because of it—other designs suited for self defense want to take the AR down a notch, make a little cheddar for themselves at the expense of the standard defense rifle of our time. One such competitor du jour is the Beretta ARX 100, itself an adaptation of the successful ARX 160 military rifle made by the famous Italian gunmaker. The ARX 160 service rifle has shown up in several war zones, and it certainly is not an M16/M4/AR-15 rifle. In fact, the ARX platform has little in common with the AR, which could be a significant hurdle for commercial success, or perhaps the beginning of the next big thing. Which one is what we aimed to find out when we went shopping for a 5.56 NATO-chambered Beretta ARX 100 JXR11B00, $1522, a recent online price for the rifle at TombstoneTactical.com. We put it against a Colt M4 Carbine LE6920SOCOM, $1622, which we recently priced at a Houston-based firearms and floral-design store called Texas Guns and Roses (TexasGunsandRoses.com). This price also includes a $15 handling fee for online orders.

The disadvantage the Beretta had to overcome was that most experienced rifle shooters handle the AR-15 as if it were second nature. To help dial out some of that bias, we assembled a group of both novice and experienced raters for this project, one of whom has fired rifles, but never the AR-15 or the Beretta. With no prior AR-15 experience, we would see how quickly our novice could be brought up to speed on both rifles. Other shooters included a 20-year law-enforcement veteran, whose abstract on carbine training has been published on a federal level, and another rater who is a military captain recently returned from a fourteen-month deployment and a certified NRA instructor. We felt that this mix, along with other interested shooters, would help us pick the best battle rifle.

To test them, we used loads in different weights from several makers. We included Federal American Eagle 62-grain FMJ Green Tips (prior to the recent BATFE attempt at reclassifying them as armor piercing), Hornady 55-grain jacketed soft points, and Black Hills' 77-grain Open-Tip Match. We also fired the Black Hills 52-grain Match, Hornady 55-grain Zombie Max, and Federal's 55-grain JSP and Winchester's 55-grain FMJs. Here's what we found:

CZ-USAs 204 Ruger Bolt Action

In making the case for the AR-15 platform to serve as a hunting rifle, it was pointed out that its military pedigree does not really set it apart from the other rifles we love carrying into the field. Almost every rifle from musket to semi-automatic was born of military design, so why should the Modern Sporting Rifle be any different? Likewise, were also seeing a growing acceptance of bolt-action hunting rifles with military profiles. Just like the AR-15, if a certain stock configuration and features like removable box magazines work well for snipers and designated marksmen, then they are sure to work efficiently for the hunter, too. Hence the appeal of our test rifle, the $885 Model 527 Varmint Target from CZ-USA chambered for 204 Ruger.

243 Win. Bolt-Action Rifles Under $500: Ruger Vs Mossberg

In our test teams initial discussions about evaluating production bolt-action rifles, an interesting sideline emerged. One member of our test team owns a bolt-action rifle built by Roger David of Sulphur, Louisiana (Davids Gunshop, 337-527-5089). Evaluated in our November 2004 issue, it turned out to be a super-accurate rifle. And why not, considering it was hand-built by a master gunsmith and utilized the finest components. But in the last year or two, weve been seeing accuracy results from inexpensive assembly line rifles that come close to the performance of our most prized custom guns. Which leads us to two questions. First, how is that possible? The answer is computer numerically controlled (CNC) machining and new methods of computer-aided design.Our second question was, if we were to choose a couple of these new bolt-action rifles that sell for less than $500, would they really perform at a level of accuracy that just as few years ago would be much more costly in terms of time and money? To see if todays rifle shooters really are being treated to superior accuracy at a bargain price, we decided to test two synthetic-stocked rifles from Ruger and Mossberg. Our choice of cartridge was 243 Winchester because of its reputation of delivering more than adequate power to take down deer while disturbing a minimum amount of meat. Plus, 243 Win. is an effective choice for hog and coyote hunting. Our rifles were the $449 Ruger American and the $471 Mossberg 4X4. Both rifles are lightweight hunting models fitted with black synthetic stocks, matching blued barrels with recessed crowns, pre-mounted two-piece scope bases, sling attachments front and rear, rubber buttpads, and removable box magazines. Barrel lengths for the Ruger and Mossberg rifles were 22 inches and 24 inches, respectively.To give our budget rifles the opportunity to excel, we chose a little more scope than might be found on an everyday hunting rifle. The new Steiner Predator Xtreme model 5003 offered 4-16X variable power with a 50mm objective lens. Built on a 30mm tube, it measured 15 inches in length and weighed 22 ounces. Side parallax adjustment was calibrated from 50 yards to 500 yards to infinity. Click-adjustment value was MOA. We counted 240 total clicks of elevation and 200 clicks of windage from lock to lock. The Steiner Plex S1 is a second-focal-plane reticle that offers ballistic lines for holdover calibrated for most popular calibers and bullet weights. Stick-on reference charts are supplied. In addition, the hold-over lines were bordered by a series of cascading dots to the left and right to help compensate for wind. The dots are calibrated for a 10-mph wind value, according to the owners manual. We found the added visual reference to be useful and clear. The Steiner Predator Xtreme comes with a 30-year warranty.After successfully mounting the Steiner on the Mossberg rifle, we couldnt get the scope to stay seated atop the Ruger. Measuring the interior dimensions of the slots on the Mossbergs scope mounts we found that rear notch on the Mossberg measured only 0.146 inches wide, but the two notches on the front base were larger, measuring only about 0.150 inches across. Whereas the mounts didnt match, they still were able to provide a good enough fit for the thin, round cross bolts of our Leupold Rifleman rings. The Rugers cross-slots were uniform but wider, measuring about 0.156 inches across. Switching to a set of Warne Maxima rings (No. 215M), which utilize rectangular lugs for seating, solved the mounting problem.To test, we chose ammunition topped with four bullet weights. They were Black Hills Gold 85-grain Barnes TSX, Winchester Super X 80-grain Pointed Soft Point, Black Hills Gold 62-grain Varmint Grenade, and 58-grain Hornady Varmint Express ammunition. Each rifle was tested for accuracy from a bench. We shot at targets located 100 yards away. Heres how our rifles performed:

Two E-Rifles Go Head to Head: Ruger Essential vs. Adcor Elite

AR-15 rifles continue to be churned out by more and more manufacturers. Frankly, the modular concept of the AR platform means that rifles can be built to specific price points, more easily, we think, than traditional bolt guns or other actions. And we recently found two such guns that illustrate how perfectly pitched the product price can be made to appeal to a specific customer.

The Ruger SR-556E "Essential" #5912 5.56mm NATO/223 Rem., $1375, is what Sturm, Ruger calls its value-priced two-stage piston-driven carbine. The major similarity between it and the SR-556FB (January 2010) is the carryover of Ruger's two-stage piston and multi-stage regulator. The major difference is, rather than a quad rail, the Essential has a round aluminum handguard with a full-length Picatinny rail only at 12 o'clock, so the rail and the flattop receiver align. The handguard is also drilled and tapped to accept sections of rail or handguard covers, available at www.ShopRuger.com, which allows the user to configure the handguard to his or her requirements while minimizing size and weight. It's also a significant cost savings over the quad rail.

Adcor Defense's B.E.A.R. Elite is the second generation of that company's modern automatic rifle line. Based in Baltimore, Adcor rolled out the original B.E.A.R. (Brown Enhanced Automatic Rifle, designed by and named for Michael J. Brown, executive vice president of operations at Adcor Defense) with a free-floating gas-piston system attached to the rail. This allowed for a free-floating barrel. Other features were a key-locked rail system, an ambidextrous forward-placed charging handle, and a polymer dust shield that protects the ejection port from debris.

The B.E.A.R. Elite tested here offers several enhancements to the original (hereafter, we'll spell it "Bear" so those capital letters don't scream on the page). The Bear Elite features an FN Manufacturing 1:7 twist hammer-forged, hard chrome-lined barrel with M249 rifling profile, a Magpul MOE Mil-Spec rifle stock, and a Magpul MOE rifle grip. Both the Bear and Bear Elite are available in several barrel lengths, optics ready or with sights, and in fully automatic for law enforcement. Our test gun here is the optics-ready (no sights) 16-inch-barrel Adcor Defense Brown Enhanced Automatic Rifle (B.E.A.R.) #201-2040 E, $2214.

The charge we gave our test team was to compare a highly-rated gas-piston gun to the two new entries, so we chose the Ruger SR-556FB 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Rem., $1995. It's obviously very similar to the 556E — but much more expensive. In contrast, the Bear Elite offers an interesting set of potential upgrades, but it is $200+ more expensive than the SR-556FB.

22-250 Rem Bolt Actions: Four Varminting Rifles Compete

Last summer members of our staff toured South Dakota and found a haven for open range hunting. At the 17,000 acre Rifle Ranch, (605-985-5516), located about one hour from Rapid City, we fired a selection of borrowed rifles chambered for 223 Remington ammunition. On the flight home we discussed additional options for shooting small targets at greater distance and decided to gather a selection of bolt-action rifles chambered for a round that packed more powder, the 22-250 Remington. They were the $1391 Kimber 84M Longmaster VT, the $699 Venture Predator from Thompson Center Arms, CZ USA's $1037 550 Varmint, and the $975 Howa Talon Thumbhole Varminter package rifle complete with scope. If the lower price tag of the Venture Predator puts it in the position of being a David to the more expensive trio of Goliaths, maybe we will find out what it takes to reach the top of the pyramid. All four rifles were tested without adjustment to the factory-set triggers.

Our primary accuracy tests were performed from the 100-yard benches at an outdoor range effectively sheltered from the wind. But we also visited a public range that offered characteristics much closer to what we would expect in the field to fire three-shot groups from the prone position at 200 yards. American Shooting Centers is located in one of the largest public parks in North America and the topography was open and rich. For this section of the test, we used only the rounds that had performed the best in the individual rifle from the 100-yard bench. Temperature, humidity, and wind speed remained constant for all four of our 200-yard test days. The only variation was day four, where in the 6.1 mph average gusts shifted from a benign 5 o'clock, over the shoulder direction to in our faces from 2'oclock. We also suffered changes in light and even some rain. Days that followed were much worse, so we had to be satisfied with the results. We think we made the correct choice of caliber for our next trip to South Dakota because the flat trajectory and high velocity of the 22-250s tempted us to ignore all but the strongest crosswinds.

Our test ammunition featured three different weight bullets. Premium choices from the Black Hills Ammunition Gold lineup were the 36-grain Varmint Grenade and the 50-grain Hornady V-Max rounds. According to Black Hills Ammunition, the word premium is used to describe "a niche product wherein best was the only way to go." For example, the 36-grain Varmint Grenade featured a lead-free frangible bullet designed to meet mil-spec standards for limited collateral damage. We chose the Varmint Grenade and the 50-grain V-Max rounds after seeing spectacular results from gelatin tests. Our budget round was the 45-grain JHP ammunition rounds from Winchester USA.

For optics we chose the Swarovski Optik Z5 3.5-18X44-L-BT scope with plex reticle. The primary appeal of this scope was that its visual definition was so exacting that we didn't need to use the scope at full power magnification for any of the shots required by our tests. In addition this scope offered the Ballistic Turret option. The Ballistic Turret (BT) is a system that allows the shooter to have up to four different distance settings immediately available by dialing the elevation to a preset stop. Based on a 100-yard zero, Swarovski's online guide can tell you how many clicks to raise elevation for just about every available commercial load. Or, you can enter the ballistic coefficient of a specific bullet and the velocity of your load to determine "come ups" for distances of choice. For example, if you know a specific landmark such as a stream is 170 yards away from your tree stand, you can develop a preset for the exact point of aim. The system is best explained by a video posted on YouTube by the manufacturer. On YouTube, search for "Swarovski Optic Ballistic Turret."

At Rifle Ranch the expansive field of view made it difficult to judge distance by the naked eye. Thankfully, a Nikon 550 LRF range finder was able to correct us. In the open field the BT option and the Nikon range finder would have been an unbeatable combination. But, for our test process, wherein our chores were to zero four different rifles, with three different rounds of ammunition, disengaging the Ballistic Turret temporarily was the answer. For mounting components we visited AGR Outdoors (www.agroutdoors.com). With all these tools at our disposal, let's find out which rifle or rifles will be going back to South Dakota.

Bullpup Showdown: Steyr AUG Vs. MSAR and the FN FS2000

There are certainly some aspects of the bullpup rifle that make sense. For instance, the shorter overall length of the bullpup, gained by having the action and magazine located behind the trigger in the buttstock, improves maneuverability and reduces weight. Overall, a bullpup is about three-quarters the length of other battle rifles and is often lighter, two attributes many firearms consumers want. The Steyr AUG, one of the best-known bullpups, is 28 inches long, just 10 inches longer than its 18.4-inch barrel. In a more conventional rifle, such as the Ruger Mini-Thirty, a standard semiauto action housing an 18-inch-long barrel makes the guns OAL 37.5 inches. On an M4-length AR-15, such as the Stag Arms Model 2T 5.56x45mm NATO with its 16-inch barrel, that overall length can still stretch out to 32.25 inches. So if youre worried about knocking over lamps, a bullpup may be the way to go.But which one? We recently tested a trio of bullpups that we were prepared to like because, in part, they are cool: the Steyr AUG/A3 SA USA Bullpup Rifle 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $2000, the U.S.-market semiauto version of the full-auto AUG; an AUG clone, the Microtech Small Arms Research (MSAR) STG-556 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $1750; and the non-AUG-inspired FN FS2000 Tactical 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $1995.We got the lightly used MSAR and FN at Collectors Firearms in Houston (www.collectorsfirearms.com, [877] 214-9327), and the prices cited for them are what were on their hang tags. The FN and MSAR were both in "excellent condition" according to the Collectors descriptions. A new MSAR at Collectors ran $1895, and a "like new" FS2000 with its shipping box and other items was the same price as our FN test gun, $1995. Our Steyr was NIB, and we averaged five retail sources to arrive at the price we listed. In any case, we didnt assess any cosmetic downgrades on the two rentals because they werent new, nor did we award any advantages for the AUG because it came with a case and other items common to new guns.In many respects, this test could be called AUG vs. FN, since the Steyr is the fraternal twin brother of the MSAR. Though all three are bullpups, they arrive at their work destination in two different ways. One of the problems with AUG-bullpups is, that without modification, the ejection ports would send spent cartridge casings into the face of a left-handed shooter. In contrast, the FS2000s design pushes spent casings out a port on the front of the rifle. But the bolt and ejection-port cover can be reversed in the AUG/MSAR, making them suitable for lefties.

Bullpup Showdown: Steyr AUG Vs. MSAR and the FN FS2000

There are certainly some aspects of the bullpup rifle that make sense. For instance, the shorter overall length of the bullpup, gained by having the action and magazine located behind the trigger in the buttstock, improves maneuverability and reduces weight. Overall, a bullpup is about three-quarters the length of other battle rifles and is often lighter, two attributes many firearms consumers want. The Steyr AUG, one of the best-known bullpups, is 28 inches long, just 10 inches longer than its 18.4-inch barrel. In a more conventional rifle, such as the Ruger Mini-Thirty, a standard semiauto action housing an 18-inch-long barrel makes the guns OAL 37.5 inches. On an M4-length AR-15, such as the Stag Arms Model 2T 5.56x45mm NATO with its 16-inch barrel, that overall length can still stretch out to 32.25 inches. So if youre worried about knocking over lamps, a bullpup may be the way to go.But which one? We recently tested a trio of bullpups that we were prepared to like because, in part, they are cool: the Steyr AUG/A3 SA USA Bullpup Rifle 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $2000, the U.S.-market semiauto version of the full-auto AUG; an AUG clone, the Microtech Small Arms Research (MSAR) STG-556 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $1750; and the non-AUG-inspired FN FS2000 Tactical 5.56x45mm NATO-223 Remington, $1995.We got the lightly used MSAR and FN at Collectors Firearms in Houston (www.collectorsfirearms.com, [877] 214-9327), and the prices cited for them are what were on their hang tags. The FN and MSAR were both in "excellent condition" according to the Collectors descriptions. A new MSAR at Collectors ran $1895, and a "like new" FS2000 with its shipping box and other items was the same price as our FN test gun, $1995. Our Steyr was NIB, and we averaged five retail sources to arrive at the price we listed. In any case, we didnt assess any cosmetic downgrades on the two rentals because they werent new, nor did we award any advantages for the AUG because it came with a case and other items common to new guns.In many respects, this test could be called AUG vs. FN, since the Steyr is the fraternal twin brother of the MSAR. Though all three are bullpups, they arrive at their work destination in two different ways. One of the problems with AUG-bullpups is, that without modification, the ejection ports would send spent cartridge casings into the face of a left-handed shooter. In contrast, the FS2000s design pushes spent casings out a port on the front of the rifle. But the bolt and ejection-port cover can be reversed in the AUG/MSAR, making them suitable for lefties.

223 Rem. Bolt-Action Shootout: Savages New Model 25 Wins

The 223 Remington is a practical cartridge with broad appeal and application. It has already been some 44 years since the U.S. Army adopted it, based on the 222 Remington that itself was quite a commercial success since its 1950 introduction. Like most cartridges or variants adopted by the military, its long-term popularity is virtually guaranteed. It is one of our favorite cartridges, with a variety of ammunition available at reasonable prices. Unlike some of the older "burn a lot of powder in a small hole" rounds such as the 220 Swift, or perhaps the more recent 204 Ruger, the 223 Remington offers generally good barrel life and overall economy that makes it a fabulous choice for many as a general-purpose 22-caliber centerfire.Likewise, the 223 comes chambered in a wide selection of rifle styles, and for this test, we have selected three rifles with sporter-profile barrels and lighter, handier overall dimensions compared to heavy-barrel varmint rifles. Our test guns are the types of reliable, fun rifles that are ideal for coyote and other predator hunting where mobility is required. Call them ranch rifles, coyote rifles, long-range groundhog guns, walking varminters, or even whitetail rifles in some areas-they have tremendous utility and flexibility, easy on shoulder and wallet alike. The contestants are the CZ USA 527 American 03022, $711; Ruger HM77R Hawkeye 07103, $779; and the Savage Model 25 Classic Sporter, $616.Bob Forkers Ammo & Ballistics II lists about 67 different factory 223 Remington loads, and thats just scratching the surface-not counting custom ammo, the tremendous number of reloading recipes, and the new variants introduced annually. We wanted to compare results with reasonably priced, "non-match" ammo-but we didnt want to go the route of various one-off bulk buys or surplus ammo, either. In times past, South African battle-pack military surplus 5.56mm rounds and Israel Military Industries (IMI) cartridges have both given unimpressive results, so we dont feel the "just making brass" class of ammo is worth the bother these days. SAAMI warned against the use of 5.56mm ammunition in 223 Remington chambered rifles back in January 1979. We believe in erring on the side of caution and safety; therefore, the ammunition we test will have a headstamp that matches the barrels of our rifles.Over the years, we have found that Federal American Eagle 50-grain jacketed hollowpoints have given us surprisingly good performance considering the price tag. Here, we tested Federal load #AE223G; in the pile of 200-round bulk packs we bought it is #AEBP223G. This 50-grain hollowpoint is a 3400 fps MV load, with a published G1 ballistic coefficient of .204. It was this load we decided to use as a baseline for the bulk of our testing. We also shot a five-shot strings under just adequate range conditions (89 degrees F., 10-15 mph pulsing crosswind) as fast as possible, letting the groups stand as they were shot: no discarding "flyers" or any artificial skewing of the results. This is the type of shooting we feel is relevant to "minute-of-coyote" field performance. Further, we fired three-shot accuracy groups at 100 yards from bag and cradle, testing Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition 40-grain Barnes Varminator rounds, Remington-UMC 45-grain jacketed hollowpoints, and again with our Federal American Eagle 50-grain rounds.To record velocities, we used a Competitive Edge Dynamics CED M2 Chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle, and the shooting was done at a range 500 feet above sea level, with air temperatures around 77 degrees. We shot the CZ 527 in set trigger mode for this portion because we found it resulted in tighter groups than the standard trigger pull. In all the firing, we had only one hang-up; a failure to feed a Remington-UMC round from the clip of the CZ.

223 Rem. Bolt-Action Shootout: Savages New Model 25 Wins

The 223 Remington is a practical cartridge with broad appeal and application. It has already been some 44 years since the U.S. Army adopted it, based on the 222 Remington that itself was quite a commercial success since its 1950 introduction. Like most cartridges or variants adopted by the military, its long-term popularity is virtually guaranteed. It is one of our favorite cartridges, with a variety of ammunition available at reasonable prices. Unlike some of the older "burn a lot of powder in a small hole" rounds such as the 220 Swift, or perhaps the more recent 204 Ruger, the 223 Remington offers generally good barrel life and overall economy that makes it a fabulous choice for many as a general-purpose 22-caliber centerfire.Likewise, the 223 comes chambered in a wide selection of rifle styles, and for this test, we have selected three rifles with sporter-profile barrels and lighter, handier overall dimensions compared to heavy-barrel varmint rifles. Our test guns are the types of reliable, fun rifles that are ideal for coyote and other predator hunting where mobility is required. Call them ranch rifles, coyote rifles, long-range groundhog guns, walking varminters, or even whitetail rifles in some areas-they have tremendous utility and flexibility, easy on shoulder and wallet alike. The contestants are the CZ USA 527 American 03022, $711; Ruger HM77R Hawkeye 07103, $779; and the Savage Model 25 Classic Sporter, $616.Bob Forkers Ammo & Ballistics II lists about 67 different factory 223 Remington loads, and thats just scratching the surface-not counting custom ammo, the tremendous number of reloading recipes, and the new variants introduced annually. We wanted to compare results with reasonably priced, "non-match" ammo-but we didnt want to go the route of various one-off bulk buys or surplus ammo, either. In times past, South African battle-pack military surplus 5.56mm rounds and Israel Military Industries (IMI) cartridges have both given unimpressive results, so we dont feel the "just making brass" class of ammo is worth the bother these days. SAAMI warned against the use of 5.56mm ammunition in 223 Remington chambered rifles back in January 1979. We believe in erring on the side of caution and safety; therefore, the ammunition we test will have a headstamp that matches the barrels of our rifles.Over the years, we have found that Federal American Eagle 50-grain jacketed hollowpoints have given us surprisingly good performance considering the price tag. Here, we tested Federal load #AE223G; in the pile of 200-round bulk packs we bought it is #AEBP223G. This 50-grain hollowpoint is a 3400 fps MV load, with a published G1 ballistic coefficient of .204. It was this load we decided to use as a baseline for the bulk of our testing. We also shot a five-shot strings under just adequate range conditions (89 degrees F., 10-15 mph pulsing crosswind) as fast as possible, letting the groups stand as they were shot: no discarding "flyers" or any artificial skewing of the results. This is the type of shooting we feel is relevant to "minute-of-coyote" field performance. Further, we fired three-shot accuracy groups at 100 yards from bag and cradle, testing Stars & Stripes Custom Ammunition 40-grain Barnes Varminator rounds, Remington-UMC 45-grain jacketed hollowpoints, and again with our Federal American Eagle 50-grain rounds.To record velocities, we used a Competitive Edge Dynamics CED M2 Chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle, and the shooting was done at a range 500 feet above sea level, with air temperatures around 77 degrees. We shot the CZ 527 in set trigger mode for this portion because we found it resulted in tighter groups than the standard trigger pull. In all the firing, we had only one hang-up; a failure to feed a Remington-UMC round from the clip of the CZ.

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

Some parts of the country, notably California, dont permit their fine, law-abiding citizens to own so-called "black rifles," which generally means you cant 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 Savages Model 16FSS "Weather Warrior" in stainless/synthetic ($569), Rugers new Hawkeye "All-Weather" also in stainless/synthetic ($749), and Remingtons 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 Remingtons 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 didnt record them. Here is what we found.

A Landmark Decision in Bruen

From the the majority decision written by Justice Clarence Thomas in a landmark Supreme Court gunowner-rights decision, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association,...