One shot, well placed, at great range: this is perhaps the ultimate shooting test. If the target is a varmint or a distant rock, the flat-shooting .22-250 will do the trick nicely. This is the realm of the precision rifle — or is it? Why not do it with a handgun? A bolt-action or break-open single-shot pistol might be lots more fun and is certainly more of a challenge to the shooter. Such handguns naturally require the use of a scope to get the most out of them, and also to help you to see small targets at extreme range.
Make no mistake, such a handgun is capable of at least as good accuracy as a comparable rifle. All barrels vibrate when you shoot a bullet through them, and the longer and less stiff the barrel, the greater the chance of the vibration resulting in variances in the point of impact. The handgun has a shorter barrel than that of a varmint rifle, and because of that short length and relative stiffness, the handgun barrel vibrates less. Good examples are capable of truly astounding accuracy, as Mr. Don Bower of Colorado has proven. His line of cartridges in his personally set-up handguns give groups at 500 yards that are on the order of less than three inches for three shots. But we digress.
No, we didn’t try the handguns in, this test at 500 yards, nor did we get that kind of accuracy from them. But, don’t feel that because you have a short firearm its accuracy is limited.
The .22-250 is the second-hottest of the common varmint cartridges, beaten only by the .220 Swift. Long a proven varmint cartridge, even before it became legitimate (factory loaded), the .22-250 depends on high velocity to work its magic on varmints. It doesn’t lose all of its high velocity when fired in a short barrel, but it does lose a bunch. The shooter must be aware that essentially all bullets loaded into the .22-250 are designed to perform at the full “rifle” velocity, and you won’t get the explosive performance that you get out of a rifle when the same ammunition is fired from a pistol. While the performance with some loads and bullet weights will be adequate for varmints, you may want to do some serious testing of your loads to match them to your intended quarry and conditions.
We test here the Remington XP-100R, which is a four-shot bolt-action pistol with a 14-1/2-inch barrel; the new Savage Model 510 Striker with a 14-inch barrel and two-shot capacity; and the Thompson/Center Encore break-action single shot with a 15-inch barrel.
Our new Remington XP-100R was fitted with a one-piece fiberglass composite stock with a dull gray pebble-grained finish. Our sample’s free-floated barrel, right-hand bolt, and receiver all had a uniform matte-black finish. The barrel was tapered toward the muzzle, which had a recessed crown. The bolt body was finished in a dull black, not jeweled and polished as on this manufacturer’s rifles. We thought this gave the gun a very business-like look, and it was a welcome change.[PDFCAP(1)].
The XP-100R had a blind magazine with a steel follower. There was but one sling swivel stud, well installed, located on the forend. The stock’s pistol grip was at the rear of the piece and was finger-grooved for a right-hander. It also had grooves on both sides of the forend to aid grasping with the left hand. The bolt knob had the usual Remington-style checkered panels on top and bottom. No iron sights were provided, but the top of the barrel was drilled and tapped appropriately if the shooter wants to buy and install them. We installed a 2.5-7x Redfield EER scope onto the XP-100R using a one-piece base and Redfield-type rings, and found we had to use an offset ring at the front.
The Savage Striker, which was based on this manufacturer’s Model 110 bolt-rifle system, had its pistol grip amidships, and had a rest pad built into its base as an aid to shooting. Although the bolt handle was on the left side, this setup was intended for right-handed shooters. The loading/ejection port was on the right. The pistol grip finger grooves, however, were ambidextrous so the gun wouldn’t be lost on a left-hander, but he/she might have a strange time operating the bolt or inserting cartridges into this gun. The Savage Striker had a blind magazine with a plastic follower.[PDFCAP(2)].
The metal finish of the Striker gave the appearance of having been first polished and then wire brushed to give a smooth matte finish to the surfaces that we found very pleasant. The bolt body was devoid of jeweling, and again we applaud the sincere look of the gun. The barrel was straight-tapered to the muzzle and had a rounded crown. The stock was one-piece black composite with a lightly textured finish. There was no checkering, nor any sling attach-ment hardware. We put another Redfield 2.5-7x EER scope onto this handgun, this time with a two-piece base and offset Weaver rings. This gun had no provisions for the mounting of iron sights.
The single-shot Encore by Thompson/Center (T/C) was a stiffened and modernized variant of this manufacturer’s long-successful Contender. The Encore was designed to handle higher-intensity cartridges, and the gun in general weighs more than a Contender. One may change the caliber by interchanging barrels, something that was not possible with either of the other two guns in this test. The Encore’s design included a two-piece wood stock with a Schnabel-shaped forend and finger-grooved pistol grip, iron sights mounted to a rather stiff barrel, a spurred trigger guard to open the piece, and an external hammer.[PDFCAP(3)].
Our Encore had a matte blue finish to the action and a polished, nearly straight blued barrel with a recessed crown. The American walnut stock was satin finished, and there was no checkering or texturing. It had a very neatly installed black plastic pistol grip cap. The hammer had a long serrated spur that permitted easy cocking with the thumb of the firing hand. The gun came with a micro-adjustable rear sight and a barrel-mounted front on a ramp. We put another 2.5-7x Redfield EER onto the Encore with a one-piece base and Weaver-style rings; we had to remove the rear sight to do so. We noted that the Encore, in spite of its coming with iron sights, appeared the most natural and pleasant of the three test guns while wearing a scope.
Fit and Finish
Our Remington XP-100R’s stock-to-metal fit, and inletting, was quite good. The barrel was completely free-floated. There was a small gap along the right side of the receiver, but the barrel channel was uniform. The metal-to-metal fit was above average, we thought, with only moderate side-to-side play in the trigger and almost no play in other moving parts. The action locked up solidly. We looked forward to testing this gun’s accuracy.
The Striker also had good inletting, overall. However, there was a space along the left side of the barrel that was slightly larger than the space on the right. Also, the back of the receiver didn’t sit quite flush with the stock. There was a significant gap there, in fact. We though the metal-to-metal fitting was only average. There was rather a lot of side play in the trigger, though the bolt locked up securely.
The Encore had a small gap between the grip wood and the frame. There was a large but intentional gap at the back bottom of the forend to permit the gun to open. Overall, we rated the inletting to be quite good. The metal fitting was decidedly above average, in our opinion. The action locked up securely, there was only a minor amount of play in the moving parts, and we thought this gun promised to shoot well.
Manual of Arms
While we stated above that one shot ought to be all that’s needed, there come times when a fast second shot will be either necessary or actually part of the game. To that end, we evaluated the speed and ease with which we could get the fired round out of the gun and another round into place.
With the XP-100R, the manipulation of the bolt could be quite like that of a bolt-action rifle, in that the right hand released the grip and operated the bolt. However, we found it more natural to reach over the top and manipulate the bolt with the left hand, and not break our controlling grasp with the right hand. This was probably not the correct manual of arms, and we suspect we would probably find this easier to accomplish, after dedicated practice, using the right hand to operate the bolt. Also, while we could easily feed rounds from the magazine into the gun with this technique, it required a bit of trickery to reach over the top and drop a loose round into the action for one-shot-at-a-time work.
The Striker had its bolt handle on the left. For our testers, operating the bolt with their left hand proved to be an easy way to get the second shot out of the magazine and into the chamber. However, recharging the magazine or loading a loose round was just as troublesome as with the Remington. With the ejection/loading port on the right and the bolt handle on the left, it was just about mandatory to use both hands for the job. If the Striker held more rounds, this would not be a big deal, but it held only two.
The Encore is a single shot firearm. However, we have seen many skilled shooters make perfect scores using T/C’s on silhouette targets, when they had to shoot five shots within limited time constraints. The bottom line here is that the breed is very fast and very easy to reload. One squeezes the spur on the trigger guard to break open the gun; the extractor frees the spent case for easy removal; the left hand finds the next cartridge and drops it into the waiting breech, then goes back to the forend and closes the gun. The right thumb then cocks the trigger for the next shot. This is a very easy and fast-operating gun to shoot repeatedly — in fact, until you run out of ammunition.
The four-shot Remington XP-100R was fitted with a two-position safety located at the right rear of the receiver. Forward was the fire position, just like on Remington 700- series rifles. When in the engaged position, rearward, the bolt could be operated but the sear was blocked so the gun couldn’t fire. We found it worked positively. However, the shooter had to shift his/her shooting grip on the gun to reach the lever. The bolt movement was slick and easy, but locking and unlocking it was a bit stiff. The bolt came out of the gun just like on this maker’s rifles, by pressing upward on a tab just in front of the trigger. The trigger pull was 5-1/2 pounds, with zero takeup, a crisp release and very little overtravel. Extraction with this gun was smooth but slightly weak, as cases were tossed about a foot to the right of the shooter.
Our two-shot Savage Striker had a bolt movement that was fairly smooth, but not as slick as the Remington’s. The trigger pull was 5 pounds, a bit creepy, had a mushy release and lots of overtravel. Extraction was smooth, but ejection was weak (though consistent) with empties landing half a foot to the right. The Striker had a sliding safety located behind the bolt on the tang, similar to that on the manufacturer’s Model 110 rifles. It was a three-position affair that locked everything when moved to the rear, let us operate the bolt when in the middle position, and allowed firing when all the way forward. We found it to be easy to use, but it couldn’t be reached with the firing hand unless we let go of the grip. The Striker was fitted with a cocking indicator in the form of a large lever, located at the right rear of the receiver, that raised when we cocked the action. Bolt removal was accomplished by opening the bolt, pressing the trigger and depressing the cocking indicator lever.
The Thompson/Contender Encore had very simple controls. We could open the gun readily by pressing on the trigger guard spur, and found that the barrel pivoted open freely and also locked back into place readily. The trigger pull was 5 pounds with no takeup, a clean release and a small amount of overtravel, pretty much what you want for precision shooting. However, all of these handguns had trigger pulls that were at least a pound too heavy for really good work.
The Encore design has a passive hammer block safety that prevents the hammer from contacting the firing pin unless there is continuous pressure on the trigger. In other words, if you drop a cocked Encore it won’t fire. Also with this design, a bolt interlock prevents firing when the barrel isn’t fully closed.
The extractor of our test Encore brought fired or unfired cases about 1/4 inch out of the chamber when the gun was fully open. Some might want an ejector, but we suspect most users of these “short rifles” will be reloaders who will want to prevent fired cases from hitting the dirt.
Handling and Feel
The test Remington XP-100R was the longest (over two feet) and most muzzle heavy gun of this test. We found it to be the slowest pointing and the slowest to get onto the target. Although the grip of the gun lent itself to right-handers only, we found it to be the most hand-filling and the most comfortable of the test. This gun gave the least felt recoil, but not by a large margin. We found this gun didn’t sit on a rest as solidly as the others due to the somewhat rounded bottom on the forend.
The next longest gun was the Savage Striker, some two inches shorter than the Remington. It was also the lightest gun of the test by a small margin. This one was more evenly balanced in the hand than the others due to the central position of the grip, yet it was still muzzle heavy. The ambidextrous grip fit the shooter’s hand best when the hand and arm were positioned off center to the right or left, not directly in line with the gun and behind the grip. This grip was fairly comfortable, and the thumb/trigger groove was repeated on both sides of the gun, permitting its use by left-handers. This gun had the second-heaviest recoil, but the most muzzle jump because of the thin barrel. (You can buy the Striker with a muzzle brake installed, but it cuts the effective barrel length by 2 inches.) This gun had the best offhand muzzle stability due to its more even balance. The stability of the Striker on a rest was excellent, due to the large, flat bottom of the grip and the flat and wide forend.
The Encore was the shortest handgun we tested here, and the second most muzzle-heavy. How-ever, it pointed the quickest and was the fastest to acquire a target. We found the grip to be not as hand-filling as the other two guns, but we liked the fact that it was ambidextrous. The Encore seemed to recoil a bit more than the others, and it had the second highest climb of the muzzle on firing. This gun was the least steady on a rest because of the thinness and curvature of the forend. This one was the most compact and thus would be easiest to carry or store.
Accuracy of all three guns with the Remington 55-grain PSP ammunition was essentially ident-ical, on average, to two decimal places. The guns produced 1.78-, 1.78-, and 1.73-inch groups at 100 yards with that load. Accuracy was close to identical with the medium-weight test ammunition, the Winchester 50-grain Ballistic Silvertip, and average groups varied from 1.55 to 1.70 inches. However, with the light 40-grain Federal Premium Varmint HP load, the Remington punched out some pretty small groups, averaging 0.90 inch for all shots measured. The other two guns managed groups about twice as big, the Savage getting 1.70 inches and the T/C Encore yielding 1.60 inches. This load left the guns at about 3,700 feet per second, and ammunition of this type probably ought to be the first choice for varmint hunting. The 55-grain loads obtained only about 3,200 feet per second, yet they come out of a full-length rifle barrel at least 400 feet per second faster. The 50-grain Winchester load gave the best average groups of all test ammunition in the Striker, so if we bought that gun we’d experiment with handloads utilizing that bullet weight.
A bolt-action handgun or a serious single-shot pistol like these we tested should have been able to shoot groups of less than an inch at 100 yards. We concluded these all needed some accurizing. Even the good groups shot with our test Remington with one bullet weight were no indication the gun was up to par. A gunsmith we know did some serious tuning on one of these Remingtons in the new .260 Remington caliber and got groups down to 1/2 inch at 100 yards. Before he tuned the gun, it shot groups larger than 3 inches. He also tested a Savage Striker in .22-250 and got sub-MOA (minute of angle) groups with it, and, though he did reduce the trigger pull considerably on that gun, he did no other tuning. All we can give you are the results we got here, and the overall accuracy of these three seemed to be a bit lacking.
If we wanted a good, accurate bolt-action or single-shot handgun in .22-250 caliber, we’d pick the Savage Striker out of this batch. It cost but $400, while the T/C Encore was $495 and the Remington XP-100R was a whopping $665. The Striker gave accuracy equal in most cases to the others, and it had the best stock configuration for easy shooting off a rest. As we noted, it also gave us the most stable off-hand grip.
We’d pick the T/C second out of these, mostly based on its price. It’s a good-looking gun and you can swap barrels to get different calibers, but it still costs nearly a C-note more than the effective Striker. It might be our first choice in a larger hunting caliber because of its natural pointing qualities and easy packing.
The Remington had a very stout fiberglass stock, but some major problems in the money area. The $225 you’d save by buying the Striker could get you set up to reload, or would buy you enough ammunition to shoot for a long time. You can use it to get a really good trigger pull put into the Striker and perhaps have it glass-bedded, and have one outstanding Striker for the same money as the basic XP-100R.