August 1998

Winchester 70 CS BOSS Our Pick In A Braked 7mm Magnum

In this test of magnum hunting rifles with muzzle brakes, we preferred the Winchester due to its better workmanship, feel and accuracy.

Ah, yes, the 7mm Remington Magnum. The blast, the roar, the kick—not bad prices to pay for all that extra performance, right? Actually, this cartridge’s performance isn’t as great as you might think. Here’s why.

Those who already have a .270, .280, .308, .30-06, or about half a dozen others of that ilk, and want to buy a 7mm Magnum to get a hotter, flatter-shooting rifle are simply paying good money to essentially duplicate what they’ve already got. In actual fact, there’s not a great deal of performance difference between any of those above calibers and the 7mm Remington Magnum. Take your pick, and within reasonable game-shooting distances any one will do as well as any other one, with reasonable loads. If your goal is to hit a deer-size target at 200 yards, even 300 yards, there’s not two inches in trajectory difference between suitable bullets out of any of these other rifles and the 7mm Magnum at that distance.

The problem is being able to hit the target, and you can’t buy that ability. Face it, 300 yards is really pushing it for most hunters, even for the very experienced shooters who test our rifles here at Gun Tests. Shots taken at game will almost always be from ranges less than 200 yards, and commonly less than half that range, even in wide-open country. One of our shooters sighted-in his .264 Winchester Magnum very carefully one year in wide-open antelope country. He shot the rifle and made charts showing the trajectory at all ranges all the way out to 500 yards and beyond, and then studied them until he knew to the 1/2-inch where that extremely flat-shooting and accurate rifle would lay its rounds. Then he missed a standing antelope at less than 50 yards.

It’s the singer behind the rifle, not the song of the rifle, that counts.

The 7mm Magnum kicks more than the usual .30-06 and makes more noise. The pretty little ballistics charts give it a significant performance advantage over most other rifles in its class, but consider for a moment what it is you’re trying to do with such a rifle. Let’s say you’re going after moose, and want a powerful rifle. The heaviest bullet commonly available in loaded 7mm Magnum ammo is 175 grains.

But wait–the .30-06 is loaded with 220-grain bullets! Guess which rifle will deal a heavier blow to the moose. An Alaskan hunter of our acquaintance bought a 7mm Magnum because he wanted more rifle than he had in his ’06. He shot a standing moose at less than 100 yards from what amounted to a bench rest, as luck had it. The moose walked away, giving essentially no indication it had been hit. It died not far away, and the hunter eventually found it, but he just about threw his new “powerful” rifle after the moose, because he knew his ’06 had done better work for him in years past. The moose, you see, hadn’t read the ballistics charts. If you want more power than given by the .30-06, we suggest going to a larger bore, not a smaller one.

Okay, you want to go after long-range mulies or antelope, and think that the 7mm Magnum is the flattest-shooting commercial rifle available. (It isn’t, by the way. The .257 Weatherby wins.) How much flatter will the 7mm Mag shoot its flattest loads than will your ol’ .30-06? Lets look. With a bullet weight of 175 grains, velocity of 2,970 fps (our chronograph data) and a 250-yard zero, the 7mm Magnum rises 3 inches at midrange, and drops 3.5 inches at 300 yards. A flat-shooting commercially loaded .30-06 lets fly with a 165-grain load at 2,900 fps. It rises 3.3 inches at midrange and drops 4 inches at 300 yards. That’s a difference of 0.3 inches at 140 yards, or half an inch at 300 yards. Can you hold that well? Is your rifle that accurate? We sincerely doubt it. The bullet from the 7mm Mag will be traveling 2,380 fps at 300 yards, and the ’06 bullet will be going 2,220 fps. Not a lot of power difference. By the way, that data came from the RCBS.LOAD external ballistics calculator, one of the neatest computer programs we’ve seen.

If all the above hasn’t put you off and you still want a 7mm Remington Magnum–if you won’t sleep well until you have one–then go ahead and indulge. We bought three samples and tried them for you.

The Guns
We chose a Remington 700 BDL SS DM-B with 25-1/2-inch barrel, including muzzle brake; a Savage Model 116 FCSAK with 22-inch muzzle-braked barrel; and a Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless with its BOSS system pushing the barrel length to 26 inches. We thought we’d see a drop in performance from the shorter barrel on the Savage, and we did, but you’ll have to wait a bit until we tell you how much. We also thought we’d blow our ears off with all the muzzle brakes, though we expected them to significantly cut felt recoil. We’ll tell you right now we weren’t disappointed on either count.

Our test Winchester weighed 7-1/2 pounds, had an internal non-detachable magazine, and was made of stainless steel with a black synthetic stock. The stainless parts had a non-glare frosted silvery finish. The bolt was jeweled. The stock had molded-in checkering and a smooth finish to the rest of the stock, and had a 13-3/4-inch length of pull. The stock had a straight comb that was relatively slim, but fit the face well. This stock also had swivel studs, a plastic grip cap and a black rubber recoil pad—all of which were well installed. Ditto the magazine/trigger guard assembly. The floorplate opened by depressing a button located right in front of the trigger guard. Best of all, this rifle had the old claw-type extractor of the pre-’64 Winchesters, coveted by knowledgeable riflemen worldwide because of the controlled feeding it offers. By contrast, the Remington 700 had a ring-type extractor and a spring-loaded ejector contained within the bolt, and the Savage 116 had a system similar to the Remington. They all worked, but some of us are prejudiced toward controlled feed.

Click here to view the Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless features guide

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Ejection with the Winchester system was performed by a spring-loaded bar that pops up into a slot in the Model 70’s bolt, and empty cases were flung from the Winchester distances that depended on how briskly the bolt was worked.

The BOSS system fitted to the Winchester was a three-piece screw-on device. The middle portion was the brake, and it had 32 gas ports of diameters varying from 1/8-inch at the front to 1/4-inch at the rear. (For more information on the BOSS system, see the sidebar on this page).

The Remington 700 BDL weighed in at 7-1/2 pounds. It had a detachable box magazine, the current rage among many hunters. This one held three rounds. This essentially all-stainless rifle had a trigger guard made of aluminum. The bolt was jeweled. The stainless parts for the most part had a non-glare frosted silvery-white finish, and there was shallow engraving-like decoration in a scroll/leaf motif applied to both sides of the receiver. The stock was black synthetic with molded-in checkering and a raised cheekpiece, and with a lightly textured finish to the plastic. Length of pull was 13-1/4 inches. The stock had swivel studs, a black plastic pistol grip cap and a black rubber recoil pad that we thought was very well installed. The muzzle brake was integral with the barrel and had twenty 3/16-inch ports.

Click here to view the Remington 700 BDL features guide

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Our test Savage was found to have a 13 3/8-inch length of pull to its black synthetic stock. The stock had molded-in checkering and a smooth exterior finish. The straight comb was relatively wide and, we thought, comfortable to the shooters’ faces. The stock was fitted with stainless swivel studs, a black plastic pistol grip cap (well installed) and a black rubber recoil pad. The pad had a black spacer that was unevenly fitted and slightly oversize near the toe. This rifle was mostly made of stainless steel, and the parts featured a brushed low-glare finish. It was fitted with a detachable magazine that held three rounds. The trigger guard was steel. The Savage name and logo were laser-etched onto the white bolt. This rifle weighed 7-1/4 pounds overall, the lightest by 1/4 pound of the three tested.

Click here to view the Savage Model 116 FCSAK features guide

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The Savage muzzle brake was made in two pieces. The inner piece was integral with the barrel. The outer piece could be rotated to turn the brake on or off. Both the outer and inner parts had 36 gas ports in them of 1/8-inch in diameter. When the outer piece was rotated fully counter-clockwise, the gas ports lined up and the brake was On. When the outer sleeve was rotated clockwise, the ports no longer lined up and the brake was Off. We found that after firing some 60 rounds the carbon buildup made the outer sleeve very difficult to rotate. We broke it loose with padded pliers and it was then easy to use again. We can’t imagine this being a problem in the field...unless you need to shoot more than 60 shots to bag your deer, and in the process couldn’t decide whether or not you needed the brake for shot number 61. Seriously, we recommend keeping an eye on the carbon buildup in the brake to make sure it works when or if you need to turn the outer sleeve.

Fit and Finish
The Model 70 Winchester Classic Stainless had pretty good fitting, all told. The free-floated barrel had a very small gap along both sides of the receiver. There was a medium-size gap at the rear of the trigger guard. All the moving parts had little or no looseness or excess play.

The Remington’s barrel was not fully free-floating, but the stock was fitted well to the receiver. There were small gaps around the magazine well and the trigger guard, however. Most moving parts had a small amount of play, about what you’d expect.

The Savage 116 FCSAK had a problem keeping its stock screws tight. They shot loose, but that was after our accuracy testing, so those results weren’t affected. The interior edges of the receiver were somewhat sharp. Most moving parts had a small to moderate amount of play. The barrel was free floating.

Triggers and Safeties
The Winchester Model 70’s trigger had some problems. Its pull measured 6 pounds, but felt more like 8 pounds. The pull had minor creep, a very hard release and minor overtravel. The trigger itself had a grooved 3/8-inch-wide face with rounded edges. The Winchester Model 70 safety was located, as usual, on the bolt sleeve and had three positions: forward to fire, middle to cycle the bolt without being able to fire the gun (the striker is blocked), and all the way back to lock the bolt and also block the striker. It worked positively.

Remington put a clean 4-pound pull into our test rifle. There was no take-up, a crisp release and only minor overtravel. The trigger itself had a grooved 3/8-inch-wide face with rounded edges. The Remington safety was a two-position lever located at the right rear of the receiver. One pushes it forward to shoot and rearward to block the trigger, but not the bolt. We found it to be readily operated with the shooting-hand thumb.

The Savage 116’s pull weighed in at 5-3/4 pounds, incorporating a small amount of creep, a clean but heavy release and minor overtravel. The trigger was ungrooved, 1/4-inch wide, and had square edges. The Savage safety was a three-position tang-mounted slide. All the way forward was Fire. The trigger was blocked in the middle position. All the way back blocked the trigger and locked the bolt. It operated readily with the shooting-hand thumb.

Handling and Feel
The Remington was the least muzzle-heavy of the three test rifles, but still provided good muzzle stability. The target acquisition was, as you’d expect, the fastest of the test. We felt shouldering was the best and most natural, but the pointed toe and square edges of the recoil pad were not very comfortable. (In case you don’t know it, that can be fixed with a sharp, slightly coarse file.) The raised cheekpiece gave us the best stockweld of the test, with solid cheek and jaw contact. We felt the grip’s shape was very comfortable, and the nicely rounded forend gave a very good grasp. This rifle, we thought, also provided the least felt recoil. That means the brake was the most effective of the three at reducing both recoil and muzzle lift. However — and this goes for all three rifles — muzzle blast was at least two or three times louder with the brake than with an unbraked or uncompensated 7mm Magnum rifle. You can’t get something for nothing, and muzzle brakes can hurt your eardrums. Remember, in the field you don’t wear hearing protection — at least, not usually.

We thought the greater muzzle weight of the Savage 116, despite its least overall weight, made it the most sluggish to get on target. However, the weight of the fluted barrel let us hold the rifle with good steadiness on the target. The recoil pad didn’t slip and the rifle was quite comfortable. The stock also was decently comfortable to our shooters’ faces. The somewhat squared forend and hand-filling pistol grip gave us a good grasp on the Savage. We thought the felt recoil was probably the greatest. But, we found it hard to compare with the felt recoil of the other two, as this rifle was 1/4 pound lighter. At any rate, it recoiled less than a comparable .270 rifle. The blast was again 2 to 3 times louder than without the brake.

The Winchester Model 70 was a little more muzzle heavy than the Remington, but less so than the Savage 116. It had above-average muzzle stability on target. The shouldering and target acquisition of the Model 70 we thought was satisfactory, and the recoil pad was the most comfortable of the test. Most of our shooters thought the pistol grip was too thin, but it, together with the oval-shaped forend, gave us a secure grasp on the rifle. We judged the Winchester’s recoil to be a little heavier than that of the Remington, but noticeably less than that of the Savage 116. Again, the blast from the recoil reduction device blew our ears off, and just about as badly as did the other two test rifles.

Loading and Shooting
Getting rounds into and out of your rifle must ideally be a task that is easy and smooth to perform, because in most areas hunting is done in cold weather, when manual dexterity isn’t all it could be. Moving from area to area in your vehicle during the course of a hunt must be done with an unloaded rifle, both for safety’s sake and because most state’s hunting laws mandate it. Accordingly, the prospective hunting-rifle buyer ought to pay close attention to ease of loading and unloading whatever rifle he or she chooses. We can test but one example of each brand. The example you choose might give slightly different results from ours, particularly as to ease of loading/unloading. If you choose a rifle with a detachable magazine, test it before you buy to make sure the magazine goes in and comes out easily and positively. If it falls out of the rifle in the field and you lose it, you’ll have nothing but a clumsy-loading single shot in your hands. If you choose a rifle that has a fixed magazine, be sure you can manipulate it easily with half-frozen fingers. If loading or unloading your rifle is a sticky job, you might make a deadly mistake by forcing things.

We used three types of ammunition for our testing. First was Federal’s Premium 160-grain load featuring the Nosler Partition bullet, at a measured velocity of about 2,950 fps. The second type was Remington’s 165-grain Extended Range, which gave about 2,790 fps. Third was Winchester’s 175-grain Power Point soft point ammunition, which gave us about 2,970 fps.

Inserting rounds into the Remington’s detachable magazine was, we found, easy whether the magazine was in or out of the rifle. But, the magazine had to be positioned just right before we could insert it into the rifle. Also, when the magazine had its full load of three shots, it required a very hard push to strip the first round off the top and into the chamber. On the firing line, the Remington gave its best accuracy with the Remington 165-grain ER load, with 1.4-inch groups. Worst was 1.95-inch average groups with the hottest ammunition, the Winchester 175-grain load.

Next up, the Savage proved to be easy to load. Ammunition went into the detachable magazine with no problems. The magazine went into and came out of the rifle readily. Accuracy of the Savage 116 was tolerable, beating the Remington with the same Remington 165-grain load, and producing average groups of 1.1 inches. Worst groups with the Savage were right at 2.0 inches with the Winchester 175-grain ammo. One big difference we found was that the short barrel of the Savage cut over 100 fps from two of the loads, the Federal and Winchester ammo, and about 50 fps with the Remington load, compared with the velocities obtained in the Remington M700 or the Winchester Model 70 rifles. The M70 and M700 produced essentially the same velocities from all ammo.

Click here to view the Performance Table

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Third, the Winchester Model 70 proved to be a shooting machine. There were no problems inserting rounds into the internal magazine, and the hinged floorplate worked readily to remove them. Feeding was slick and easy. Our test gun’s bolt movement was exceptionally smooth. Accuracy with the Remington 165-grain ammo again was the best of the three brands tested, just as with the other two test rifles. Average groups were just under an inch. This rifle also liked the hot Winchester 175-grain load, putting them all into an average group of just over an inch, 1.05 to be exact. Even the Federal Premium load did well, its 1.3-inch average group size beating the best group fired with the Remington M700, and keeping up with all but the Remington ammo in the Savage 116.

Our Picks
We were slightly put off by the Remington’s fussy magazine, but we liked the looks and handling of the rifle. Workmanship was a cut above that of the Savage, but the cost difference of $140 in favor of the Savage might make a big difference. The Savage costs $650 as tested, the Remington was $789 and the Winchester cost us a buck less, $788.

We liked the handiness of the short barrel on the Savage 116, however, and its brake worked well enough that the lighter weight of the rifle made it an easier-carried rifle than the other two. That must be balanced against the velocity loss of about 100 fps that came from the reduced-length barrel. The barrel, after all, was but 22 inches long and part of that included the brake. If you want all the 7mm Magnum has to offer, you’ll probably want a longer barrel than the Savage’s; we felt that if the shooter wants a short and powerful rifle, the .338 Magnum would be a better bet.

The Winchester felt a bit slim in the grip, but we loved its slick feeding and great accuracy. If the Model 70’s trigger had been a bit better, we’d have been more pleased. As it was, it needed of work. That made this rifle and the Remington a toss-up for our choice. The clean look of the Remington was inspiring, but it ought to have shot better. The BOSS system on the Winchester did absolutely nothing for the looks of the rifle, but apparently it helped the accuracy. We liked the Winchester’s controlled feed, too.

Out of the box, we’d have to pick the Winchester and do something about the trigger. This is followed very closely by the Remington. Either is a fine hunting rifle. The Savage is okay, but cartridges such as the 7mm Magnum lose too much from short barrels to make us consider this combination. We put it a distant third.