September 2003

Sorting Out Seven-Oh-Eights; We Test a Quartet of Bolt Rifles

The Savage 16 was our Best Buy. The Remington Titanium didnít perform; Blaserís Prestige had big problems. The H-S Precision rig shot consistently, but was heavier than we would have liked.

The Blaserís workmanship was flawless, so far as we could see. The engraving was almost certainly machine done, but was very attractive. The odd curved piece at the back of the bolt is the safety.

The 7mm-08 Remington first saw the light of day in 1980. Touted to be the first “modern” 7mm cartridge designed for short actions, it was not. The more powerful .284 Winchester, chambered in the same “short” actions, beat it by 17 years. The 7mm-08 was a popular wildcat long before Remington made it official. The 7mm-08 wildcat would have been born the first afternoon of the first day that .308 cases were available to experimenters.

The 7mm-08 is 0.2-inch shorter than the ancient 7x57, which has always been one of the world’s most useful cartridges. Despite its shorter length, the 7mm-08 essentially matches the ballistics of the 7x57 with 140-grain bullets, but only in factory loads. Handloaded, the 7x57, also known as the .275 Rigby, vastly beats it for pure horsepower. But that does not mean the 7mm-08 is useless. Far from it, as it has become quite popular in its 23 years of official life. Today we can find rifles made for it by at least nine manufacturers.

We gathered four of these and wrung them out for your benefit. They were the Savage Model 16 FSS ($556 MSRP with scope), Remington 700 Titanium ($1,239 MSRP), H-S Precision ($3,655 as tested; $2,215 without scope), and the Blaser Prestige (about $2,300). The Savage and Remington were notably lighter than the other two, especially the Remington. Both had black synthetic stocks and stainless-looking metal work. The Savage came with a Simmons 3-9 scope and the H-S Precision rifle had a 30mm 4-16X Swarovski attached. The Blaser came with scope rings and base, but the Remington had neither bases nor rings.

Savage Model 16 FSS, $556


The first thing we did with the Savage was take a file to the parting mark on the black plastic stock where our hands and faces rested, to avoid getting cut. This, we felt, was something the factory should have addressed. The stock was fitted with sling-swivel studs, and had a hard, thin rubber butt pad that didn’t fit well at all. It was so hard as to be useless. The stock had checkering in the right places that worked well enough. The pistol grip had a plastic cap with the Savage logo. The four-shot magazine was blind, so it had to be unloaded by cycling rounds with the bolt. The three-position tang safety permitted doing so with some measure of safety.

The metal work was attractive. The 22-inch, free-floated barrel and its action were brushed stainless, and the trigger guard appeared to have been etched. The overall finish was non-reflective, though the bolt had a high polish. The bolt knob was checkered on top. Barrel twist was given by the company’s website as one turn in 9.5 inches. Extraction was by a sliding, spring-loaded finger on the periphery of the recessed bolt head. Ejection was by a sprung plunger, and we found that cases flipped out as soon as they cleared the forward action ring.

The Savage came with a Simmons 3-9X scope and mounts, none of it properly attached. The base screws were loose, as were the metric-head Allen screws for the rings. The U.S.-size Allen screws for the action were also loose. This jumble of international screws had no place on a U.S.-made rifle, we felt.

The Simmons scope adjusted easily to our eyes and gave a reasonable sight picture. There were no iron sights on the Savage, nor on any of this quartet, we might add. Some of us prefer iron sights on all hunting rifles, having been stung a time or two by scope failure — for any number of reasons — in the field. But they do add weight.

We took the Savage Model 16 to the range with ammo by Remington, Federal, and Winchester. After only six shots into our test shooting, something happened to the Simmons 3-9x scope that made it impossible to use at full power. The scope went out of focus on the target, though the reticle remained clear. The problem seemed to get worse in steps with each shot. We suspected loose glass, but it wasn’t loose. We thought it might be mirage from incredible atmospheric and barrel heat. (Range temperature was 100 degrees, F.) Lowering the scope’s power gave a useable sight picture, but the image remained out of focus at higher power settings. We replaced the scope with our test Leupold 12X, using the same rings and bases that had held the Simmons, and continued shooting. Our first groups with Federal ammo and the Simmons scope averaged 4 inches. With the Leupold mounted, groups averaged 1.8 inches with the same ammo. The next day we again looked through the Simmons scope and the downrange image was again clearly focused. We can only guess that the scope, kept in a cool room for several days, had developed internal fog in the intense heat outdoors. The problem didn’t reappear, but neither did our confidence in that Simmons scope.

Click here to view "Accuracy and Chronograph Data."

We found the trigger pull to be wanting. It broke at 5.2 pounds, had distinct creep and didn’t make it easy to shoot this rifle. The bolt dragged on the rim of the top cartridge in the magazine as we drew the bolt back. It took a strong tug to get it all the way back. We had to make sure the rounds were carefully placed within the magazine or the bolt would fail to pick them up, though that can happen with many other rifles. We also had a problem several times with feed. Several times, when we placed a single round into the magazine lips and shoved the bolt forward, the round popped out of the magazine and failed to chamber, instead fouling the bolt. We could not repeat this failure reliably, but it happened often enough to get our attention. Cartridge feed with more than one round in the magazine was reliable throughout our testing. It was easy, and reliable enough, to place a single round into the raceway (with the magazine empty), and let the bolt push it into the chamber. Ejection was okay, but not all that strong. There were no failures to fire or eject. The Savage liked the Winchester ammunition best, averaging just under an inch. Felt recoil with the Savage was noticeable and uncomfortable with its hard recoil pad.

We thought the scope was a waste of time and effort on the part of Savage. First, anyone with any shooting experience would remove the scope just to make sure the mounts were tight. And they’d probably remount the scope in a more secure set of rings, made of better materials. We found the scope screws to be soft (unlike those of our commonly used test mounts by Weaver, which are not the most expensive, but in our experience one of the most satisfactory mounts available). And experienced shooters would also want to mount their favorite scope brand, which may or may not be Simmons.

H-S Precision Pro Series 2000SA, $2,215


This attractive rifle came with a 30mm Swarovski 4-16X AO scope with a complex TDS reticle ($1,440 from Cabela’s and other sources). That huge scope was securely mounted in bases that matched the matte-black finish of the rifle’s metal work. The rifle had a 24-inch barrel, detachable magazine, and a slick, smooth bolt with cone-shaped locking lugs. The bolt head was recessed and featured a sprung plunger for ejection. The synthetic stock was finished in an attractive brown-colored mottled pattern that looked great and also served to add traction to the rifle. There was no checkering. The bolt came out like that of a Model 70 Winchester. Its safety was also similar to the Winchester’s, being a three-position wing on top of the right rear corner of the bolt. The stock was fitted with a thick, soft recoil pad that worked well for us.

The website (www.hsprecision.com) indicated a great variety of buyer-selectable options, including caliber, stock color, length of pull, and scope bases and rings in varying heights and diameters. We plugged the information from our test rifle into the website and came up a price for the rifle, currently designated as the 2000 SPR, of $2,215. Add $1,440 for the scope, and you’ve got a rifle cost of $3,655.

The company guarantees half-minute groups with match ammo. Quoting the company website, “All H-S Precision `Pro-Series’ rifles are …guaranteed to perform within certain accuracy standards — using match components only. Half MOA … for .30 calibers and smaller….”

Whether or not our rifle would perform to the factory’s guarantee must remain for its owner to discover. We had no match bullets nor dies on hand. Without doubt, the H-S rifle was very consistent with all three types. There were no bad groups whatsoever, but overall average was 1.35 inches.

The metal, other than on the scope, was uniformly matte-black Teflon, well prepared under the finish. We could not fault the metal work, nor the inletting into the synthetic stock, in any way. The 24-inch barrel was free floated back to the action. The stock had sling-swivel studs fore and aft. The curved trigger broke cleanly just under 3 pounds. Workmanship seemed to be excellent throughout the rifle, and we liked its feel and operating qualities, other than its great weight, which was over 9 pounds with the big scope.

We found the magazine slightly fussy to load, because it had to be removed from the rifle, and rounds had to be inserted beneath the lips, much like loading a semiauto pistol. We were able to get four into the mag, but the bolt would not close over it, giving the rifle a 3+1 capacity. The detachable magazine came out and went into the rifle easily. The release button was in the front of the trigger guard, and was not likely to be released accidentally, we thought. Loose rounds placed into the action fed well.

As noted, this was a relatively heavy rifle, which meant it had very little recoil in comparison with the others. However, recoil of this cartridge is prominent, so there was still some significant push from the rifle with each shot. Accuracy was uniform and steady with all three loads. Its trigger pull was very good, and obviously lots of care had gone into the rifle’s manufacture. It was fitted with a scope that cost more than most rifles. We suspect the H-S would respond to careful load selection or handloading. With the rifle’s weight, it would be fun and easy to shoot all day long. It had adequate accuracy for any reasonable big-game hunting use.

Remington 700 Titanium, $1,239


Remington built a solid-feeling, lightweight rifle in this one. We liked it right from the start, not having fired a shot yet. The “twisted” bolt grabs the attention, but then the subtle points come into play, like the stock with its slightly pebbly finish that needs no checkering, the cuts beneath the bolt handle, the slim 22-inch barrel, the nice flow of the stock into the ejection port, the thick, soft, perfectly fitted recoil pad, the comfortable cheek piece, and on and on. This was a well-thought-out and well-made rifle. It came with no sights, just drilled and tapped for scope bases. The tapped holes were filled with those tiny plugs we’ve come to hate, but hey, who wants to put out a rifle with holes in its action?

Remington gives the twist rate as one turn in 9.25 inches. The 22-inch barrel is of 416 stainless steel, and the stock is a black Bell & Carlson carbon fiber-reinforced composite. There were sling-swivel studs. In keeping with weight savings, the magazine was blind. We were able to put four rounds into it, and of course you could not add to that number once the chamber was loaded. The barrel was fully floated to a point about two inches back from the forend tip, and was then snug within the stock. It would appear, from our testing with a magnet, that the action alone was made of titanium. The bolt, trigger guard, trigger, barrel, magazine follower, and all the screws were magnetic. We greatly liked the overall appearance of this rifle. With our fairly light Leupold scope attached in Weaver mounts, the rifle had a weight of just under 6.5 pounds. That’s a light rifle! The trigger pull was clean, but could have been a lot lighter. It measured over 5 pounds, way too much, we thought.

We liked the rifle, and thought it was well set up for hunting. There are scopes lighter than our 12X Leupold out there, but with any kind of sling you’re still going to be packing a 6.5-pound rifle, or thereabouts. That weight might be ideal for mountain hunting, or for any sort of hunt where extra weight is not needed, and that means just about any big game hunting. The recoil was almost unnoticeable with this rifle, testament to Remington’s ability to build a light but thoroughly useful rifle. Everything worked well here, too. There were no failures to feed or eject. The rifle was slick handling and comfortable, and had a “professional” feel to it that made us like it a whole lot. Though it looked superficially like the Savage, a few minute’s handling told us they were worlds apart in their overall integrity — price, too, we might add.

Now for the bad news. This Remington wouldn’t shoot worth a whoop. We got groups with Remington ammo that averaged 4.0 inches. With Winchester’s fodder things got a bit better, averaging just under 2.5 inches. Accuracy with the Federal ammunition was usable, averaging 1.7 inches, yet nothing to rave about.

Blaser Prestige, about $2,250


According to SIGArms, the company is in the process of phasing out the R93 Classic and LX lines. The R93 Classic will become the Blaser R93 Luxus model and will feature the addition of an ebony forend on the high-grade Turkish walnut stock and engraved side plates with North American game scenes. The R93 LX will become the Blaser R93 Prestige, the gun we tested.

The lovely wood of this innovative rifle was well complimented by scroll-engraved side panels and soft-white finish on the action and trigger guard. The bolt and barrel were matte black finished. The rifle looked just great. It came with a one-piece scope base and rings, which had U.S.-size Allen screws despite having been made in Germany. We actually mounted two different scopes, our 12X Leupold and also a 36X Leupold target scope, but we got similar groups with both scopes. Best was 0.8 inch with the Winchester fodder, and overall the groups averaged 1.3", which was a bit better than the H-S Precision rifle with its accuracy guarantee. However, all the bells and whistles in the world, all the lovely wood, fancy engraving, and fine trigger pulls (the Blaser had a GREAT trigger) won’t make up for a rifle’s failure to eject. This Blaser did not eject well at all, during our shooting evaluations.

This rifle wasn’t cheap, not by a long shot, but for the price you got fabulous, well-matched wood on stock and forend. The wood had pretty good finish and checkering, but these were not perfect. The pores were not perfectly filled nor were the checkering diamonds uniformly sharp, but most would not notice either of these. You also got the Blaser’s lightning-like bolt action, which requires only a forward and aft movement to work its collet-like lockup. The bolt moves through a small angle as you put pressure on it. The bolt must be fully forward for the gun to fire. We failed to push it fully forward once, and though the striker fell, the round didn’t fire. The primer had a barely noticeable mark. With the bolt fully forward, the rifle fired every time. We don’t count that as any fault of the Blaser, just our mistake in failing to push the bolt all the way home.

The engraving was almost certainly machine done, but it withstood close examination with a loupe, and we thought it complimented the rifle. The inletting was flawless. The forend was tightly bedded to the barrel full length, and the wood blended with the front and rear of the action with no gaps. The butt pad, which was too thin and too hard, was perfectly fitted to the butt. There were sling swivel studs, the front one being out of the way of the forward hand. The rifle had between-the-hands balance, which for some shooters encouraged good offhand hits. Others thought it should have had more muzzle weight for steadiness. However, these differences of opinions held for all four rifles.

The Blaser’s action may be removed from the stock with two Allen-head screws, and the wrench comes with the rifle. Its owner may thus swap barrels easily, if desired, so one rifle can shoot several different cartridges, if you wish.

Putting the safety on the Blaser requires a knack. You must push in strongly on the button protruding from the back of the bolt, then press it down and release it. This uncocks the action and locks the bolt closed. Pressing straight in on that button recocks the striker and places the rifle into its firing mode, and reveals a large, bright-red dot beneath the button at the back of the bolt. The bolt may be removed by first pressing down on a stop button near the rear of the magazine with a screwdriver or similar tool. This permits the bolt to be withdrawn fully back within the action, it having been held slightly forward — in line with the rear of the cartridges — by a stop on the magazine insert. The magazine insert is part of the system by which the Blaser R93 can handle different cartridges interchangeable. With the bolt all the way back in the action, pressing another button on top of the right side of the receiver permits withdrawing the bolt for cleaning and inspection.

Extraction was by a slide that cut through the recessed front of the bolt head. A sprung plunger at the bottom of the bolt recess flipped cases out. However, we had big problems here. Throughout most of our test firing, the empty cases were left in the raceway. We had to pick them out by hand. Only a few were grabbed by the extractor properly and flung from the rifle. Most of the Federal brass seemed to be ejected properly, but almost none of the Winchester and Remington empties made it all the way out. We looked hard, but could not see anything wrong. Neither was there a significant correlation to the rim diameter or thickness of the three brands of cases. We don’t know why the rifle was not ejecting, but we didn’t like it at all. Not on such a costly rifle.

Gun Tests Recommends
Savage Model 16 FSS, $556. Buy It. With a good scope mounted, the Savage became an acceptable rifle, if not an awe-inspiring one. It cost the least, and it did work. Although we used the scope mounts that came with the rifle to mount our Leupold, we certainly would not use them if we were setting up the Savage for serious uses. We could learn to live with the trigger pull, but we’d mount a softer recoil pad. There was nothing really wrong with the Savage, and like most rifles that bear that name, this one shot well with at least one type of ammo. We thought it represented a decent rifle for not a lot of money. And of course, we’d save the extra money the scope package cost, and buy the rifle by itself.

H-S Precision Pro Series 2000SA, $3,655. Conditional Buy. Everything worked well, and the rifle gave a feel of great integrity. However, it was way too heavy, we thought, for average hunting needs. It could easily weigh a pound less, and still be a viable hunting rifle. It also ought to have given more accuracy, we thought, especially in light of the wording on the action surrounding a logo of metal silhouettes, “Engineered for Accuracy.” We could not really fault the rifle, but felt there were others in this test that would be more suitable for all-around use of the 7mm-08 cartridge.

Remington 700 Titanium. $1,239. Conditional Buy. Did the Remington give enough accuracy to justify its relatively high price? Maybe. You’re paying for lightness more than anything here. Keep in mind the standard Remington Mountain Rifle cost $800, though it is nominally a pound heavier. We felt a four-inch rifle would be unacceptable for hunting today, but a sub-two inch rifle — assuming the Remington could not be tweaked to give better than that — would be useful, we thought, though not for everyone. How to improve accuracy? Forend pressure could surely be looked into and played with, given the type of inletting here. Remington barrels generally shoot well. This one seemed to be straight and true, so there’s no reason the rifle wouldn’t shoot better than it did for us. We strongly suspect careful tinkering would pull more accuracy out of this Remington. Should you buy it? We thought the hunter who really needs the lightest rifle might do so. This Remington was in all ways except accuracy a fine, well-made rifle.

Blaser Prestige, about $2,250. Don’t Buy. The Blaser kicked hard because of its rock-like butt pad. In spite of that, accuracy was all anyone would want, and except for the failures to eject, this rifle would have been our top pick. The Blaser had a trigger pull with zero creep, and that helped us shoot good groups with ease. But we feel rifles ought to work, and because this one did not, we rejected it, knowing full well Blasers have a fine reputation and that it might be really easy to fix this. Nothing would make up for the extreme disappointment of bringing home such a desirable and relatively expensive rifle only to find out it didn’t work.