Hunting Rifles: We Can’t Stand High-Dollar Mato .30-06
This $1,660 clone of the Dakota costs four times as much as a recently tested Savage 111F but delivers no significant advantages, in our opinion. Worth a look: Browning’s A-Bolt.
Interest in the bolt-action .30-06 never seems to dim, especially when hunting season rolls around. We recently tested (May 1999) a handful of similarly configured hunting rifles that all had composite stocks and 22-inch barrels, the rifles bearing the names Savage, Winchester, Remington, Howa, and Century. The winner of the test was the inexpensive Savage M111F, $395. Because you may be considering the purchase of a new hunting rifle for the coming deer-hunting season, this month we tested two more rifles whose reputations precede them, the Beretta Mato (which means bear in the Dakota Indian dialect) and the Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker with BOSS, both with synthetic stocks and blued barrels. These are more expensive rifles than the $395 Savage. The Browning retails for $640 and the Beretta for $1,660.
The question: Does a higher price bring improved performance or greater pride of ownership? Does it give you more of a hunting rifle that even the more budget-minded hunter simply can’t overlook?
Let’s take a look at each gun and find out.
Our recommendation: We looked at the rifle, then looked at the $1,660 price tag and nearly fainted. This gun simply costs too much for the performance and features it delivers.
The Beretta is essentially a Dakota clone in a synthetic stock that costs about $1,600 less than the Dakota in a wood stock. Based on our experiences with the gun, we think such a price is outrageous. Our first impression of the Mato was that it was a Mauser 98 in a plastic stock. Then we dug into it, and the rifle began to take on the look of the Model 70 Winchester. However, it apparently is based on the Dakota action design, as made by Beretta in Maryland.
We discovered this rifle had some nice features. First, it came in a hard, combination-lockable ABS case along with two integral yet detachable magazines. Also in the case were a definitive instruction manual, statement of the (1 year) terms of warranty, a bottle of Beretta oil, another lock for the case, a rifle sock, quick-detachable sling swivels, and a carry strap. There were no scope bases or rings. The bolt was fluted, which may aid its slickness over time but did nothing to change the typical Mauser 98 rattle when the bolt was fully open. The bolt was very rough in the action. Oil helped a bit, but it was still stiff after we had fired over 50 rounds, and it stayed stiff throughout our testing. The manual states the trigger is fully adjustable, by a qualified gunsmith. It was in great need of adjustment right out of the box. The trigger pull was gritty, creepy, and had a pull weight of 5.5 pounds. The bolt release was a wing that essentially disappeared into the rear bridge until deployed, and then it flipped out at right angles to the bore axis. The safety was the common three-position Model 70 type, all the way forward to fire (red dot shown), midway to disassemble the bolt or cycle rounds out of the magazine, and all the way back to lock. It worked properly. The 24-inch barrel was fully floated in the fiberglass/Kevlar/carbon-fiber stock. The stock featured a very attractive finish consisting of string-like black additions to a basically flat-gray painted finish. The stock had a stand-off cheekpiece with shadow line, a thick solid black recoil pad with a leather-like surface on its back end, and sling swivel studs.
Overall fit and finish were excellent, the bluing smooth and nicely matte finished, and the parts well mated to the stock. Inside the stock there was a CNC-machined aluminum block to aid rigidity and give added support to the action. We looked in vain for the scope bases, rings, anything at all to let us shoot the Mato. It came with no provisions for optics and lacked iron sights; however, the receiver was drilled and tapped for 6-48 scope-base holes. It had the obligatory little hole-plugging screws, but no scope bases.
Think on this for a moment: A manufacturer ships a rifle with no iron sights, onto which you must install a scope in order to shoot it. Then the maker puts the little plug screws in, which you must remove before you or your gunsmith can install the scope mount. The scope mount is not provided, nor does Beretta (nor Browning) suggest any sort of mount whatsoever. We suggest this common technique of shipping rifles is obsolete, as Ruger has learned (its guns ship with integral mounts). Hunting rifles need scope mounts. Contrast this with another expensive rifle we’re testing for an upcoming report, the Blaser 93. This rifle came with a scope mount and rings, and all the wrenches needed to install everything. All we had to do was attach the parts to the rifle, pick up our scope and drop it into the mount, tighten everything, and we were ready to go. Likewise, a less expensive CZ rifle came with useful iron sights, plus stout integral scope-mount bases and rings. Some rifle makers seem to have the right idea. For the asking price, Beretta USA can well afford to put a set of bases and rings into the box so the new buyer can at least shoot his rifle when he gets it home. The omission of these parts is unacceptable, in our view.
We phoned Beretta and inquired about scope mounts, and were told the only mounts that fit the rifle were Beretta’s own, made for them by TNT (Talley). This wasn’t true, because the action had essentially the same contours as the pre-’64 Model 70 Winchester, and inexpensive Weaver bases fit it. A set of Weaver rings and bases retails for less than $30. We tried a set of Leupold Detacho mounts that came off a pre-’64 M70 and they worked. The Talley bases and rings retail for $89.50, and they, or at least the Weavers, should have been in that fancy hard case.
Although the original Mauser 98 rifle design (on which the Model 70, Dakota and Beretta are based) mandated loading the chamber from the magazine, the Beretta Mato permitted dropping a round into the feedway and closing the bolt over that round. This worked well, we thought.
The magazine held four rounds. Both magazines were easily removed or reattached to the rifle, and they were securely held in place. The trigger guard and floorplate were steel, the magazine follower of plastic, and the mag box was made of non-magnetic metal that looked and felt like stainless steel.
We installed our test Leupold 12x scope in the Leupold Detacho rings and bases and repaired to the range with Federal Classic 150-grain Hi-Shok and Speer Nitrex 165-grain/Grand Slam loads, and one of our favorite handloads with 168-grain Sierra MatchKing bullets. Our shooting indicated that the Mato is indeed overpriced, because it didn’t shoot worth a damn. Our smallest three-shot group (3/4-inch) came from a handloaded Sierra MatchKing 168-grain bullet, yet these carefully assembled match-quality loads averaged only 1.4 inches. The best average three-shot group with commercial loads was 1.3 inches with Federal’s Hi-Shok ammo. The Mato hated the fine Nitrex ammunition with its premium Grand Slam bullets, giving average groups of 2.4 inches. Thinking we had a problem somewhere we rechecked everything and fired more groups, but the gun didn’t shoot any better.
The Beretta Mato is also offered with a fancy Claro walnut stock at $2,300. The wood-clad Mato is a nice-looking rifle, which is worth something, but in a mediocre-shooting plastic stock, this Winchester Model 70 (or Dakota) clone has few distinguishing features.
After we tested the Mato, we called Gabriele dePlano, product marketing manager at Beretta USA, and asked why they didn’t include a set of rings with the gun. He informed us that we had been told in error that only one set of rings would fit the gun, and that in fact any set that would fit a pre-’64 Winchester Model 70 would work with the Mato. He said they considered including a set of rings/bases, but couldn’t come up with just the right ones. The powers there couldn’t agree on 1-inch or 30mm rings, for one thing. Then, for a high-grade rifle they couldn’t see giving the buyer inexpensive mounts, and didn’t want to increase the cost an additional $100 or so by providing extremely high-grade mounts. However, dePlano told us they will mount any scope in whatever mounts the customer wants, when he orders the gun. Our suggestion: Omit the hard case (which isn’t good enough to survive a lifetime of abuse, in our judgment) and instead provide the TNT rings and bases. It’d be a wash on cost.
Browning A-Bolt Composite Stalker with BOSS
Our recommendation: At $640 this Japanese-made rifle is a more intelligent buy than the Beretta. You get adequate rifle for your money, a good-looking and solid unit with a bolt lift of only 60 degrees, a smooth bolt, superb trigger, and decent accuracy. We loved the safety, right on top of the wrist and, overall, we liked the A-Bolt a lot.
This rifle’s plain-finished black stock (fiberglass/graphite composite) had a palm (or Wundhammer) swell on the right side of the pistol grip. It was of classic form, with no cheekpiece. The stock felt great for right handers, and the lefties had no problems with the swell, or lack thereof. The checkering looked good and worked well. The rifle felt very solid and comfortable. The stock was fitted with a hard black-rubber recoil pad and sling swivel studs. The free-floated barrel was fitted with the BOSS brake system that is supposed to allow the shooter to dial in the best vibratory characteristics for best accuracy, while reducing recoil in the bargain. We didn’t have time to test this thoroughly, but it did cut felt recoil. However, it sure made the gun louder (it actually blew paint off our test bench), did nothing for the clean lines of this rifle, and we think the average shooter could well do without it shooting .30-06 loads.
The magazine of the A-Bolt bears special mention. Pressing the button in front of the trigger guard drops the floorplate, and secured to it by spring and clip is the detachable magazine containing your loaded rounds. To remove the magazine and its contents, lift at the bullet end and it slips right out of the rifle. This is nearly as handy as the Beretta’s totally dropping box. The trigger guard and the magazine floorplate are made of aluminum alloy. The magazine itself is steel.
The bolt head of the A-Bolt is recessed, and contains a plunger-type ejector and spring-loaded extractor reminiscent of the post-’64 Winchester Model 70. The bolt body rides in a three-ribbed sleeve that guides the bolt and aids in its smooth feel. The sleeve is finished in what appears to be satin chrome. The bolt system worked well, and ejection was positive. The bolt was quite slick after we oiled it, and with three lugs it required only 60 degrees of lift to open. The effort needed to cock the bolt was slightly heavier than that required for a 90-degree bolt, but was quite acceptable. The angled bolt handle helps direct the hand’s effort to lift the bolt handle, but some of our shooters would have preferred a checkered handle.
There was a cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt, right above the exceptional shotgun-style safety, centered on top of the tang. The safety locked the bolt closed, and it couldn’t be put on unless the rifle was cocked. The trigger itself was a 3/8-inch wide, heavily serrated, gold-colored unit of non-steel. The trigger is user-adjustable for pull weight, but we left it alone. The pull was magically clean at 3.4 pounds, had no creep, and just a touch of over-travel, all in all an excellent trigger.
We rated the overall fit and finish of the A-Bolt excellent. The metal was matte black, nicely matching the stock. The magazine holds four rounds; it’ll actually hold five, but you can’t get the bolt to close over five rounds. Therefore the capacity is four plus one, and you ought never to hunt with a round chambered, so that makes this a four-shooter. We put the 12x Leupold onto it with Weaver bases and, at the range, discovered that the fine trigger pull let us shoot consistent groups. The Federal 150-grain Hi-Shok did the best, averaging 1.25 inches. The Nitrex averaged 2 inches, and our handload went into an average of 1.25 inches. We are quite sure that increased testing with the BOSS system would result in superior accuracy with all loads. We tried a few different positions with the Nitrex loads, and at one setting we got a group of 1.2 inches, where the previous group at another setting had been 2.8 inches. If nothing else the BOSS system encourages test shooting, and the hunter who does so will ultimately know his rifle very well. This rifle felt very good during our shooting tests except for the extremely loud noise from the muzzle brake. Recoil was very much cut down over the heavier Mato, but the loudness was painful even through good ear protectors. We would like the rifle better without the BOSS on it, assuming it still gave reasonable accuracy.
Savage Model 111F
Our recommendation: As we noted in May, this Savage was lightweight, fast handling and accurate. If you can overlook its heavy trigger, we felt this modestly-priced rifle would be a good choice for frugal shooters.
Though the Model 111F cost less than the other rifles in this test, it was clearly the most accurate. Its best five-shot average groups, 1.03 inches at 100 yards, were produced with Remington 125-grain pointed soft points. Winchester 165-grain PSPs yielded 1.13-inch groups.
We felt the Model 111F’s worst feature was its extremely heavy trigger. After a minor amount of creep, the pull released with 8 pounds of rearward pressure, followed by a moderate amount of overtravel. The Model 111F had an internal magazine with a fixed floorplate. Top-loading cartridges into the magazine through the ejection port in the right side of the receiver was easy enough. However, the only way to unload the magazine was to repeatedly cycle the action, which was slow. Due to its light weight, the Model 111F was the easiest to carry around for any length of time. Target acquisition and shouldering were the fastest. However, the Savage’s light weight also resulted in the least muzzle stability, which made it the hardest to hold steady.
Gun Test Recommends
You say you have to have a new rifle? Beretta was disappointed that this gun didn’t shoot very well and had such a poor trigger pull. They told us they test-fire every gun before it leaves Beretta USA, and couldn’t understand why ours was not up to their standards. Neither could we, but there you have it. How can Beretta justify such a high price? We can’t figure it either, and suggest you save your money. Try the affordable Savage instead.
We liked the A-Bolt a lot, particularly its smoothness and accuracy. Before we bought it we’d try one without the BOSS unit, which would cut the cost to about $575. We could live with the short-lift bolt and perfect trigger. Remember, the Savage 111F needed a trigger job that would bring its price closer to the A-Bolt. If we needed a plain working-type ’06 we’d pick the Savage, shop around for a good trigger job, and buy ammo with the spare change. For a little classier rifle we’d pick the A-Bolt.
Best Buy. Bringing forward our previous evaluation of the Savage Model 111F from May, we’re even more impressed with the gun’s value. We believe this Savage is a lightweight, fast-handling, accurate gun whose sole drawback was a heavy trigger. As we noted, we felt the Model 111F’s worst feature was its extremely heavy trigger. In our view, the modestly-priced Savage Model 111F, $395, delivers a lot of bang for your buck. We’d buy it over the other guns.