October 1998

Ruger Model 77R Tops Marlin, Remington In .280 Rem.

The Ruger was more accurate and less expensive than the Remington Model 700 BDL DM and the Marlin MR-7 in .280 Rem.

Neck a .30-06 case down to 7mm and you have the .280 Remington, which is probably a more useful cartridge today than the .270 Winchester. Bullet diameter of the .280 is 0.284 inch, same as the 7x57 and 7mm Magnum. This cartridge concept actually goes back a long time. The .280 Ross, introduced in 1906, had essentially identical performance, though its case was a bit bigger. Cartridges Of The World gives the .280 Remington an introduction date of 1957 (chambered in, of all things, the Remington Model 740 autoloader), but many a handloader had experimented with the 7mm-06 long before that.

Right after World War II, Elmer Keith and his friends Charlie O’Neil and Don Hopkins did some historic testing with a cartridge they called the .285 OKH. The .285 OKH case was essentially identical to the .280, and it was the first of a series of OKH cartridges which featured an extended flash tube, Elmer’s duplex loads, and gave extremely good performance. The original Keith duplex load used very heavy bullets.

Today, with so many available powders covering a very wide range of burning rates, there is little need for duplex loading, although it did everything Elmer said it did. Our Senior Technical Editor Ray Ordorica can vouch for that, having tried it himself.

Factory .280 Remington loads today use bullet weights of 120, 140, 150, and 165 grains, at velocities from 3150 feet per second (120-grain) to 2820 feet per second (165-grain). Factory loads don’t include 175-grain bullets, but that is one more useful bullet weight for this cartridge.

A shooter/handloader wanting versatility and outstanding overall performance with a bit less recoil than the .30-06 would be very wise to go with the .280 Remington. It offers good case capacity and a wider selection of bullet weights and types than are currently available for the .270 Winchester. By the way, the .280 has greater headspace length than the .270 to preclude its going into a .270 chamber. The .280 beats the 7mm-08 and the 7x57 in this caliber, because their cases are smaller. Unless you handload, the 7x57 comes in last because it is not factory loaded to as a high pressure as the 7mm-08. All in all, the .280 has a lot going for it.

During the period 1979-1980, Remington called this cartridge the 7mm Remington Express. Confusion resulted, and that company resurrected the original name. By any name, this is one of the finest all-around rifle cartridges for North American hunting, though many think it’s too small for moose and big elk.

Which .280 rifle should you buy? We bought a Remington 700 BDL DM, a Ruger Model 77R Mark II and a Marlin MR-7 in the caliber and tried them out for you.

The Rifles
Our three test rifles all had stocks made of walnut. They had blued finishes and 22-inch barrels, and weighed between 7-1/4 and 7-1/2 pounds. They all held four rounds in their magazines. Only the Remington had iron sights, though they are available as an option on the Marlin. Only Ruger provided scope rings. We put Burris 3-9X Fullfield scopes on all three rifles for our testing.

The Marlin had a white jeweled bolt body with a blued handle. We felt this rifle closely resembled the Winchester Model 70, at least in the action profile, tang contour, safety, floorplate release button, and one or two other features. It came with a brown rubber recoil pad and blued steel swivel studs, all of which were carefully installed. The stock had a satin finish and well-cut checkering. It had a plug in its left side that indicated the presence of a cross-pin for stock strength. The trigger guard and floorplate were made of aluminum alloy with a matte black finish. The overall lines of the rifle were clean and classic, though we felt there could have been a little less wood mass at the pistol grip for the best looks.

Click here to view the Marlin MR-7 features guide

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The Ruger also had a floorplate made of matte black aluminum, but its trigger guard was made of steel. The floorplate was hinged. The action and barrel had a bright polish, and the bolt body and knob were white stainless steel with a medium polish. The checkering was expertly cut. The stock had a black pistol grip cap, black rubber recoil pad and blued steel swivel studs, all of which were very well installed. The stock had Ruger’s classic straight-line buttstock configuration, clean and neat.

Click here to view the Ruger Model 77R Mark II features guide

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The last two letters of the Remington’s designation of 700 BDL DM means that it came with a detachable magazine. We found the overall look of the Remington to be somewhat garish. The cutouts for the magazine release gave the rifle a Continental look that we thought was attractive. The stock featured a glossy finish, a black forend tip set off by a white spacer, and a thin black rubber recoil pad with another white spacer, all of which were cleanly installed. The checkering was the skip-line style, and was very well done. There was a crosspin in the stock, covered by a plug on the right side. The stock had well-installed blued steel sling swivels. The stock had a Monte-Carlo profile that promised shooting comfort. The action had the current Remington pseudo-engraving, and all the metal parts were polished to a medium gloss. The bolt body was jeweled.

Click here to view the Remington Model 700 BDL DM features guide

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Fit and Finish
We classed overall stock-to-metal fit to be about average on the Marlin MR-7. There was a small gap along the right side of the receiver, and the space along the right side of the barrel was twice as wide as that on the left. There was a small gap around the back of the trigger guard, which some think ought to be there to avoid eventual splitting. The metal-to-metal fit was above average, and most moving parts had minor amounts of play. There were a few minor tool marks on the top of the bolt’s locking lugs and on the interior of the receiver. We found, to our joy, no sharp edges on this rifle.

Next up, the Ruger M77R had average stock-to-metal fit. There was a small gap along both sides of the receiver. The barrel channel very closely followed the shape of the barrel, so it wasn’t free floating. Inletting of the trigger guard was satisfactory. Metal-to-metal fit was above average, and there was only a small amount of play between moving parts. There were a few very minor tool marks on the face and back underside of the bolt, and very minor casting marks inside the receiver. However, rare for Rugers, there were no sharp edges. Perhaps they’re listening. In the past, we’ve cut ourselves on many a Ruger rifle.

Remington, as usual, didn’t completely free-float the barrel of the 700 BDL DM. The inletting was very good, we thought. There were no gaps anywhere, and the barrel channel was quite uniform. The trigger guard and magazine well area were very nicely inletted. Metal-to-metal fit was, for the most part, very good. The moving parts had little or no play. There were very minor tool marks on the face of the bolt and in front of both locking lugs. Again, no sharp edges cut our exploring fingers.

Triggers and Controls
Only the Remington had iron sights. They consisted of a white-faced bead front with hood, and a sliding rear blade on an inclined ramp. The rear was adjusted by first loosening the lock screws and then drifting the blade for windage, and sliding it fore and aft for elevation.

The Marlin MR-7 had a 4-1/2-pound trigger which had no take-up, a crisp release and minor overtravel. The trigger itself had a grooved 3/8-inch-wide face. This rifle had a three-position safety that operated just like that of the Winchester Model 70. Pulling it all the way to the rear locked the bolt and blocked the trigger; halfway forward blocked the trigger but let the bolt operate; and all the way forward was the firing position. We found the safety to be stiff, but it worked. To take the bolt out of the rifle, one had to press downward on a sliding lever located at the left rear of the receiver. Extraction and ejection were identical to those of the Remington, there being a circular extractor located in the bolt recess and a spring-loaded ejector on the face of the bolt. To open the floorplate, it was necessary to press inward on a button located at the front of the trigger guard. The box magazine snapped on and off of the floorplate when in the open position.

Our test Ruger came with a 5-pound trigger that had no take-up, a hard release and minor overtravel. The trigger was smoothly finished with a 1/4-inch-wide face. The safety had three positions, though the motion was different from the Marlin/Winchester type. All the way back locked the bolt closed and blocked the trigger; halfway allowed cycling the bolt but blocked the trigger; and all the way forward permitted firing. It worked positively and well. This rifle had controlled round feeding, with its very positive grasp on the cartridge. With this system, cartridges were grasped by the extractor as they came up out of the magazine, could then be chambered or drawn rearward under complete control of the bolt, and were thrown from the rifle when they struck the ejector, which was secured to the action. To remove the bolt, one pulled outward on a lever located at the left rear of the action. To open the hinged floorplate, one depressed a catch located in front of the trigger guard.

The Remington’s trigger broke at 5-1/2 pounds. It had minor creep, a hard release and little overtravel. The 3/8-inch-wide trigger was grooved. Extraction and ejection were just like the Marlin, a ring extractor and plunger ejector all contained in the head of the bolt. This system has stood the test of time, if you can live without controlled feeding. The safety was Remington’s two-position lever, located at the right rear of the receiver. Forward was fire, and when the safety was rearward (On) it didn’t prevent the bolt from moving. It worked well. The Remington’s bolt release was positioned just above and in front of the trigger, inside the guard. Pressing it upward permitted the bolt to be withdrawn for cleaning. The magazine was removed from the rifle by pinching inward on the two spring-loaded catches located at the sides of the magazine, and pulling it down and out of the rifle.

Handling
Inserting rounds into and removing them from the Marlin was a little harder with the detachable box magazine in place in the rifle. However, we could get cartridges into the magazine easily enough with that unit out of the rifle. We found the Marlin MR-7 handled the slowest of the three test rifles. It was the heaviest, but the most evenly balanced. It was also the least muzzle heavy, yet it afforded good muzzle stability in spite of that. The recoil pad was quite comfortable, and this rifle produced the least felt recoil. The straight comb provided good jaw contact and an adequate amount of cheek contact when using a scope. The rounded forend and the hand-filling pistol grip afforded a secure grasp. The bolt moved very smoothly rearward, but there was some minor drag when going forward.

The Ruger, the lightest rifle of the test, was noticeably less muzzle heavy than the Remington 700 BDL, but afforded adequate muzzle stability. Shouldering and target acquisition were the fastest. This rifle also had the most comfortable recoil pad. The pistol grip was a bit thin for some of our testers, but it and the rounded forend let us get a good grip on the rifle. The straight comb provided good jaw contact, but not much cheek contact. This could perhaps be improved upon if you installed one of the smaller-objective scopes and got it lower onto the receiver than we did, with some of Ruger’s low-mount rings. Loading the magazine was readily accomplished, and there were no surprises. Recoil was the heaviest of the test because of this rifle’s light weight, but we stress that the .280 doesn’t kick all that much. Bolt fore-and-aft drag was greater than that of the Marlin, but not bad. This bolt locked and unlocked the easiest.

The Remington came to our collective shoulder very naturally. Shouldering and target acquisition were very smooth, we thought. This rifle’s muzzle-heavy balance gave it the steadiest hold on target, very stable indeed. This, we must say, inspired confidence. The Monte Carlo stock afforded the solidest and most comfortable stockweld for shooting with the scope, but we experienced some discomfort from the recoil pad’s pointed toe. The pistol grip and oval-shaped forend were, for us, the most comfortable and gave the securest grasp of the test. (If you can’t get a grip on your rifle, you won’t have confidence and won’t get the most out of it. This is increasingly important as recoil goes up, and becomes absolutely critical in rifles with more kick than the .375 H&H Magnum.) We had a very easy time loading the Remington’s magazine, whether it was in or out of the rifle. The bolt’s back and forth movement was exceptionally smooth, but it locked and unlocked somewhat harder than usual for a Remington.

Shooting
None of the rifles had any malfunctions of any sort with the ammunition tried. We fired Winchester 140-grain Ballistic Silvertips, Federal 150-grain Nosler Partitions and Remington 165-grain Core-Lokt soft points.

Click here to view the Performance Table

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There were no slouches in accuracy, a tribute to today’s rifle and ammunition manufacturers. The smallest average 100-yard groups were shot with the Ruger using the Remington Core-Lokt 165-grain ammunition. They were just over 1.0 inch in size. The Remington also liked that load, providing 1.2-inch groups with it. The Marlin hated it, spitting them into average groups over 2 inches. The Marlin gave its best with the Winchester 140-grainers, racking up groups just under 1.25 inches. All in all, not too shabby a trio of rifles, we thought. The worst average groups fired with any rifle was just under 2.4 inches, which the Ruger did with the 140-grain Winchester ammunition, so the Ruger gave both the best and worst accuracy. It goes to show you you’ve got to test your own rifle with a variety of ammunition to get the most out of it.

Our Picks
We really liked the feel of the Remington, having had good luck with them over time. The .280 is, after all, the company’s cartridge. While we applaud Remington for their glossy Weatherby-style looks, we don’t like shiny hunting rifles. White-line spacers are not for everyone, either. However, after so many makers disdained these spacers for so many years, once in a while they look pretty good simply because they’re different. If you have a glossy stock, skip-line checkering, “engraving” and a raised Monte Carlo cheekpiece, you probably ought to have white-line spacers. They seem to be more appropriate on such a glossy, glitzy rifle than on a classic-shaped and dull-finished rifle. This one cost us $639, and it would be a fine rifle for shooting, though its trigger was a bit heavy and the bolt a bit sticky. However, we don’t like glossy rifles in the hunting fields.

A couple of our shooters liked the looks and general pleasantness of the Marlin, and we couldn’t get away from comparisons with the Winchester Model 70’s looks. The detachable magazine was a novel idea that would come in handy. The magazine was removable, it was there, you could use it any way you want, and yet it didn’t detract from the looks of the rifle. We thought the excess wood at the pistol grip was the only ungainly aspect of this bolt-action rifle. The Marlin cost $598.

We like light, classic rifles and fixed magazines. The moderate recoil of the .280 cartridge lets it work in a light rifle, even one lighter than this Ruger. We don’t think you can beat the classic good looks of the Ruger and, though we don’t favor investment castings, no one does them better than Ruger. This rifle also has controlled feeding, which most of us think is the best system. (We really wish Ruger would either go back to their old tang-mounted safety or offer it as an option. It was, for some of our testers, the best rifle safety position of all.) For these reasons, we favor the Ruger over the other two. It was also the least expensive, at $574.