December 2001

Precision Test: FN Puts Robar, Dakota, and Autauga To Shame

The Fulton Armory .308 was one-third to one-fourth the cost of other long-range rifles, but it shot as well, or better than, other guns we’ve tested in the category.

This rifle’s metal was Parkerized in matte black. The
gray H-S Precision Pro-Series stock was very comfort-
able for all our shooters, and the buttstock was fitted
with a non-slip rubber buttpad.

Back in November 1999 we tested three precision .308 rifles by Robar, Autauga, and Dakota. The cheapest of these, by Autauga, cost $3,200, and we thought it was a “Best Buy” at the time. The Dakota Longbow was over $4,000, and the fine Robar was over $5,000. The accuracy of all of those rifles was simply astounding. Half-inch groups were the norm, with match-grade ammunition. We got the distinct impression it was necessary to spend inordinate amounts of money to guarantee such precision, with all the bells and whistles of that group and class of rifle. We may have been wrong.

We recently had the loan of a similar rifle, made in the U.S. under FN (Belgium) supervision, and sold only by Fulton Armory, in Maryland. It didn’t quite have all the bells and whistles of the other three precision rifles we tested, but had the more important ones. Called the FN Special Police Rifle, it was a .308 Winchester caliber, with heavy barrel and synthetic stock. Best of all, its listed retail cost from Fulton Armory is $999.95, which we round off to $1,000.

Click here to view the Fulton Armory FN Special Police Rifle features guide

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This rifle looked pretty good, if austere. The metal was Parkerized in matte black, and polish and workmanship were excellent. The gray stock, actually an H-S Precision Pro-Series, looked almost normal, compared with the “tactical” McMillan stock used by the previously tested trio. The very comfortable stock was fitted with a non-slip rubber butt pad. With a rifle of this weight, 10.1 pounds, the recoil pad is chiefly for a non-slip grip on the rifleman’s shoulder, and for protecting the rifle when standing it on the ground.

The stock had two sling lugs under its forend and another on the buttstock. It had internal aluminum bedding blocks for a stiffer action and, presumably, improved accuracy. The bolt handle was checkered for a better grasp.

The action was a Winchester Model 70, with that fine action’s coned breech, controlled-feed extraction, adjustable trigger, three-position safety, and easy bolt disassembly. The right side of the action was marked, “Made by USRAC, New Haven, CT, USA.” The left side had “FN SPECIAL POLICE RIFLE.” The trigger pull was very clean, but weighed 5.8 pounds, way too heavy for us. Because this rifle was on loan to us by its owner, we left the trigger alone. Model 70 triggers can be made as good as any in existence, and that’s good to know. The over-$2,000 price difference between the FN and the Autauga would buy the world’s finest trigger pull, with quite a few dollars left over. The trigger guard was of aluminum alloy, and was larger at its front, to offer more room for large or gloved fingers.

The nicely crowned, rotary-forged barrel was 25.8 inches long, and was unfluted and fully floated. Twist was stated by Fulton to be 1 turn in 12 inches. To our surprise, the barrel was chrome-plated, something not usually associated with extreme precision. In this case, it was all to the good, offering the cleaning and maintenance ease of chrome combined with outstanding accuracy. There was a four-round, all-steel, detachable magazine that came out and went back in easily. Extra magazines are available from Fulton for $50 each. Fulton also offers items like a Harris bipod and a sling for this rifle, as well as headspace gauges and other accessories.

The action was drilled and tapped for conventional scope mounts. We mounted one of our favorite target scopes, a 36X Weaver, and headed for the range.

We tested with two types of match ammunition, by Federal and Winchester, both with 168-grain bullets. In spite of its heavy trigger, the FN Special Police Rifle performed with great precision. A lighter trigger of around 2 pounds would have made our work easier, but we couldn’t ask for much improvement on the FN’s accuracy. Our best three-shot group at 100 yards was 0.3 inch, fired with the Winchester match fodder. The average of all groups, with both types of ammo, was 0.6 inch.

Click here to view Accuracy and Chronograph Data

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Our shooters’ impressions were that the FN Special Police didn’t kick much at all, so its 3 pounds less weight than the previously tested rifles’ 14 to 15 pounds were not necessary to keep the kick down for the .308 cartridge. The 36-power scope was NOT what you’d want for a tactical rifle. It was on the dark side on overcast days, making it hard to see the fine cross hairs. While the Weaver 36X Target was precise, clear, and easily adjusted, it didn’t lend itself to fast target acquisition, and that might be very important in a real-life situation.

We’d prefer one of the scopes of the type found on the previously tested three, two of which were Leupold Tacticals (about $1,500), and one Leupold variable, all designed for rapid use in the field while providing about 10- to 14-power maximum magnification. (We must clarify that the 36-power magnification did not make this rifle “more accurate” than the other three. We’ve shot less-than-MOA groups with rifles having 2.5X scopes from our machine rest setup, and are quite sure we got everything there was to be had out of the former three rifles.)

Robar S90, Autauga Tactical, Dakota Longbow
In our previous tests, we thought the nearly 14-pound Robar (The Robar Companies, Inc., [623] 581-2648) was probably worth its $5,200 cost because of its accuracy, and because of the extras, such as scope, special bipod, special-made McMillan stock, fluted Lilja barrel, hard carry case, absolutely outstanding workmanship, and corrosion-resistant finish. Built on the Remington Model 700 action, it did not have a detachable magazine. Today, we would have to wonder about its price. To be sure, the Arizona-based firm of Robar has a stellar reputation for quality goods, and stands behind everything they sell. Although they had no written guarantee, it has been our experience that, if anything is wrong with one of their products, Robar will make it right. That is undoubtedly one of the factors behind the high price of the rifle.

The Autauga Tactical rifle (Autauga Arms, Inc., [334] 358-0980) got our nod in the former tests as the best buy of the trio. It performed, we reported, entirely well enough. Its adjustable McMillan stock permitted it to be fitted to individual riflemen’s tastes, so one rifle could be used by several persons if needed. In practice, we suspect, rifles aren’t shared. One shooter gets one rifle, and adjusts it to his specific anatomy. The McMillan stock makes that easy, and such a stock is something the buyer of the FN might want to consider. However, all our shooters found the FN to be at least comfortable enough for casual use.

The fine Dakota Longbow (Dakota Arms, [605] 347-4686) at $4,250 had something going for it that none of the others did, a cartridge that would strongly tend to take the guesswork out of range estimation. For some types of use, the Dakota’s .300 Dakota cartridge makes lots more sense than the .308 Winchester. The Dakota slung the same-weight bullets more than 650 fps faster than any of the .308 Winchester loads, achieving a velocity of 3,360 fps with a 168-grain bullet. That’s a whole lot closer to a straight line than the .308 Winchester’s 2,700 fps, and a lot more potential energy on arrival. We thought the Dakota rifle had lots of potential, though our test sample was hampered by a minor feeding problem. We’re sure Dakota has that figured out by now.

Gun Tests Recommends
Fulton Armory FN Special Police Rifle,.308 Winchester, $1,000. Best Buy. The only complaint about the FN was with the trigger, which while clean, was too heavy to make it easy to shoot the rifle well. We all found the stock to be very comfortable, and a good compromise for our staff of shooters.

We were extremely pleased with all aspects of this rifle, especially its price and accuracy. We’re sure many police, SWAT, and spec-op military units will want to give Fulton Armory’s FN Special Police Rifle a close look. It’ll save a bunch of money over the previously tested rifles while providing essentially the same performance, in our view.

Our limited experience with Fulton Armory tells us that they stand behind their products. In point of fact, the FN Police Rifle outshot all the other rifles previously tested. This, in our limited experience with only one rifle from each outfit, makes us lean very heavily in favor of the FN Police Rifle. It’s the best buy we’ve seen in precision, or sniper, rifles. The Fulton outfit has stated that — so far — the rifles are available to whomever wants one, but they fear that in the not-too-distant future, the FN Special Police may have to be sold only to law-enforcement personnel or military units.

The other three rifles’ prices included options such as scopes, and for such rifles a best-quality (read expensive) scope is mandatory. But even throwing in a $1,500 scope and a good carry case, the FN Special Police still beats the Autauga badly for price. We already know it beat it for accuracy as well. We think precision shooters with specific needs are going to beat a hasty path to Fulton Armory’s door to acquire one of these outstanding rifles.