December 2006

Best Tested Firearms: Rifles

Best in Class: RIFLES

Remington 700 LTR
.308 No. 5739, $850
Reviewed: August 2006

Remington does not have a suggested retail for this rifle. They let the dealers set the price, with $850 being an average selling price. Even though the rifles are produced in small volumes for the police and military, they are occasionally available to the public. This 20-inch model is available in .308, .223 and .300 SAUM. Remington also sells a .308 LTR TWS (Total Weapons System) that is scoped, cased, and comes with bipod and sling. In other words, it is ready to go.

The 700-series action’s bolt face, barrel, and receiver surround and support the cartridge head. The Model 700 receiver is machined from ordnance-grade steel, and the muzzle crown is recessed to protect the rifling. This is the same action used for the M-24 Sniper Weapon System built for the U.S. Army.

The Model 700 LTR’s 20-inch barrel is 1.5 pounds lighter than the standard 26-inch version, and the 20-inch gun weighs in at 9.0 pounds. Model 700’s chambered for .223 Remington and .308 have five-shot (4+1) capacities.

This rifle has a floorplate for easy unloading. This is a safe and quick way to unload the rifle in the field. With the push of a button, located in the trigger area, the floorplate pops open, dropping the rounds in the magazine in your hand.

When you pick this rifle up, one of the things you first notice is the fluted barrel. The 20-inch barrel has three 3/8-inch-wide flutes. All the metal parts are matte finished, which is appropriate for a tactical rifle. The rifle comes drilled and tapped for standard 700 scope bases. We used Weaver two-piece bases on both rifles. The stock on the LTR is made for Remington by HS Precision. It has aircraft quality aluminum bedding blocks, which stiffen and stabilize the stocks, and allow for accurate and consistent torquing of the action screws against metal sleeves in the blocks. Remington advised that the action screws have 43 in.-lbs. of torque from the factory, but the screws can be tightened down to 65 in.-lbs., and this may improve accuracy slightly.

Our rifle had a 3.25-pound trigger, but we were lucky because most rifles leaving the factory are set at 4.5 pounds. This trigger is not readily adjustable by the shooter. Our trigger was smooth and crisp, nonetheless.

To test this rifle we shot five different brands of ammunition with both 150- and 168-grain bullets. We wanted to try regular hunting ammo, such as that you can find in any discount store, and we wanted to try the match ammunition most departments use. All accuracy testing was done off a bench at a private range. To test the tactical capabilities we also shot the rifles using a Harris bipod. We shot five-shot strings with a good cleaning in between each string. We scoped the rifle with a Bushnell 3200 7-21x40. This scope did an excellent job of helping the shooter get the best accuracy out of the gun.

Our test ammos included Winchester Power Point 150-grain bullets, a widely available, affordable hunting round; Hornady Custom 150-grain BTSP rounds, that company’s every day .308 hunting ammunition.

Moving up the ammo food chain, we shot Federal Gold Medal Match .308 168-grain Sierra Matchking BTHPs (boattail hollowpoints), the king of the hill for .308 target shooters for years; and Winchester’s Supreme Match 168-grain BTHPs. To round off our test we chose the .308 TAP, manufactured by Hornady. The TAP ammunition is expressly designed for personal defense, and this .308 had a 168-grain A-max bullet.

Two ammos produced results much worse than we’d expect: The Hornady Custom 150-grain BTSPs had an average group size of 1.90 inch. The Winchester SuperX 150-grain Power Points shot an average group size of 1.70 inch.

The Federal Gold Medal Match 168-grain Sierra BTHPs did a lot better. They ran at 2538 fps, and shot a smallest group of 0.68 inch and had average group sizes of 0.89 inch. Even better results came with Hornady TAPs, which went out the muzzle at 2593 fps and shot a tiny best group of 0.34 inch and an average group size of 0.68 inch.

Best: Winchester Supreme 168-grain HP Match bullets went 2550 fps, and recorded a 0.39-inch best group and an average group size of 0.63 inch.


RIFLES RUNNERS-UP

Savage 111FCXP3
.30-06 No. 16326, $424
Reviewed: February 2006

This unit is offered in .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Mag, and .300 Win. Mag., in addition to the .30-06 chambering we tested. Overall length was 42.75 inches with a barrel length of 22 inches (for the .270 and .30-06; the magnums come with 24-inch barrels. The gun unscoped weighed 6.5 pounds, and with the Simmons scope, rings, and bases, it weighed in at 7.5 pounds. The detachable magazine held four rounds. The stock was a black synthetic unit with cut checkering (not molded) and dual pillar bedding of the action to the polymer "furniture." The Simmons 3-9x40mm scope came mounted and bore-sighted over the blued action and free-floating and button-rifled barrel, which had a 1:10 right-hand twist and standard crown. The stock came with a nylon sling and steel swivel studs.

The Savage contains many polymer parts, such as the stock, that require little or no fitting and finishing. Inletting around the tang, receiver, trigger group, and barrel lock nut were fine, but we noted a mildly irritating form seam down the length of the stock. It was particularly high at the front of the forend and on top of the stock, where the shooter’s face rested. The rubber buttpad was unevenly fitted, too. However, the checkering was excellent, with very defined edges along the outside of the pattern and sharp tips on the diamond shapes in the checkering.

Metalwork on the Savage was very good, with no blueing or polishing flaws that we could see. The laser etching on the bolt is something that Savage promotes, but we could take that or leave it. As you might expect, pieces of the gun you might expect to be metal are plastic instead, both to save weight and cost. The trigger guard is polymer. The two-lug bolt is a push-feed type, with the extractor sitting at 6 o’clock and the ejector at 2 o’clock when the bolt is pushed into the receiver and locked. We had no issues with feeding or extraction using the Savage. The bolt action motion was pretty smooth, too, and the big ball on the handle allowed for a positive forward shove and downward push to lock the action. However, we didn’t like the rear baffle assembly on the bolt, which was loose on the bolt body. It didn’t cause any malfunctions, but it could spin around the bolt shaft if it were hit accidentally.

Getting the bolt in and out of the gun wasn’t difficult. To remove the bolt, we elevated the muzzle of the empty gun, opened the bolt all the way, pressed down the cocking indicator, and pulled the trigger. The bolt fell free. To get the bolt back in the empty gun, we put the muzzle on the floor, started the bolt head into the receiver, and pushed down on the cocking indicator. The bolt then slid home.

As we noted above, the Savage shot one ammo, the Winchester Super-X 180-grain Power-Points, into 1.2-inch average groups, which isn’t bad at all. With the gun on the shoulder, we noted that some shooters couldn’t quite get a full sight picture on the Simmons without creeping forward on the stock. Fortunately, there was enough room on the front base to push the scope and aluminum rings back a half inch to get this needed eye relief. Still, the stock felt too long to get proper head position on the butt, and we would probably cut off an inch of it to make it fit better with heavy clothing, but not all shooters would need to do this.

Elsewhere on the stock, things felt pretty good. The slim pistol grip afforded a good grasp on the gun, and the flat base of the detachable magazine provided a comfortable place ahead of the trigger guard to move the front hand in so the front elbow could rest on the shooter’s body, if desired. The trigger broke at 6.1 pounds, not the worst we’ve ever felt.

 
Winchester 94 Trapper
.44 Magnum, $458
Reviewed: January 2006

The Winchester 94 Trapper’s 16.2-inch barrel with 1:26 inch twist lined up nearly flush with the end of the nine-round-capacity magazine tube. The Trapper’s blue steel and dark wood, complemented by a saddle ring on the left sideplate, gave the impression of timeless hardware.

The thumb-operated tang-mounted safety slides forward for fire and back for on-safe. An additional safety feature was the pressure-operated safety that required the lever to be pressed flush to the stock before the trigger was free to move. With the tang safety activated, we were able to move the trigger and release the hammer, but the hammer was unable to contact the firing pin.

We found the action to be very light and easy to work, especially after the hammer has been moved back. But a speedy reload is pretty much out of the question, considering the one-at-a-time loading gate. Left-handed shooters will have an easier time topping off the magazine while keeping the gun shouldered, but the reload is an inherent sore point of the tubular magazine. Ejection of spent cases was angled to the right despite the breech-block riding centered atop the receiver. With each stroke of the lever we could see straight down into the feeding mechanism.

The front sight was dovetailed into the heavy wall of the barrel. The rear sight was also of a traditional, if not crude, design. To adjust for windage, the shooter would need to impact-drift the base of the rear assembly. Elevation adjustment was in two stages. To get rough elevation adjustment, the shooter slid a graduated step forward or back. To make fine adjustments, the shooter repositioned the rear blade up or down within its yoke. The top strap was drilled and tapped.

We began by shooting the Winchester from the bench and found that we liked the sights on this carbine. The white triangle on the rear sight blade was very helpful in getting the proper index. Also, we did not see that the front sight was covering a lot of target.

This didn’t help very much firing the PMC rounds, however, which delivered an average group of 2.6 inches per five shots. All shots fired featuring the 270-grain Speer rounds resulted in sub-2 inch groups. However, the Winchester became the star of the test overall when we landed five shots into one hole at 50 yards shooting the Hornady 300-grain JHP/XTP ammunition. We measured this collection of big bullet hits to be approximately 0.7 inches center to center. Average muzzle energy was 1273 foot-pounds, or a bulldozing power factor of 415 for Practical shooters who prefer that computation.

Our first shots with the Winchester were fast. We were able to find the sights and fire quickly when mounting the Winchester Trapper (1.175 seconds on average). This difference mainly reflects how clear open sights on the Winchester speed target acquisition. We felt that the Winchester Trapper 94 did not necessarily need the addition of a scope to make it faster or more accurate.

Firing quickly we learned that the action of the Winchester could be short-stroked. That is, if the lever was not worked through its full range of motion forward and back, the spent round would be ejected but the fresh round would not be moved into the chamber.

On three separate occasions the next round to be loaded actually popped out, leaving an empty chamber. Reason: The lever had some play, and the action of the lever itself was light. Ideally, lightweight actions contribute to speed but without the shooter experiencing the sensation of mass coming to a stop, it is possible to mistake the end of the lever stroke and switch directions before cycling is complete. We have to chalk this up to being a training issue.

Ruger 10/22CRR .22 LR, $275
Reviewed: April 2006

The 10/22 features a fast-cycling action fed from a rotary magazine that holds ten rounds. Ruger offers thirteen different models based on this design, including those with solid wood, laminate, and composite stocks ranging in price from $275 to $314. Aftermarket, there are many more custom parts available. The subject of this test was the company’s latest variation. The 10/22CRR features the same action as its bigger brothers, but the barrel was barely longer than 16 inches and length of pull had been scaled back to just 12.5 inches. The handsome walnut stock was also proportionately smaller from top to bottom and thinner from side to side. The result was an unloaded weight of only 4.5 pounds. Overall length was about 33 inches.

We found it easy to whip the 10/22CRR from target to target. The stock was straight at the comb and continued in one smooth piece to envelop the action and cover all but the final 6 inches of the barrel. The pistol grip was thin. We really liked the way the action fit into the stock like a fine jigsaw puzzle. All the edges were clean and smooth, including the trigger and the trigger guard. The magazine release was nestled underneath. All the steel was dark blue. Inside you could see the turbine-like fixture pick up each round as it was loaded. Above was a rear sight similar to a pistol assembly. Elevation was adjusted by a set screw, and a light-gathering filament offered two green dots to complement the red filament of the front sight. Ruger dovetailed the front sight into a band at the muzzle, tapped the receiver, and supplied a Weaver scope mount. We wish Ruger had also supplied some plugs to screw into the holes while we tested with the scope mount removed.

The Ruger 10/22 fit our bench well. The stock settled into the bag nicely. We thought the rear sight was hard to use; still, under difficult conditions we were able to print five-shot groups that measured about 1.3 inches on average. This placed the Ruger 10/22CRR first overall in our accuracy tests.

We took advantage of the supplied scope mount to test fire with an inexpensive but durable 1X red dot scope. With the wide view provided by the 30mm lens, our ability to zero in on targets with the 1-MOA red dot was limited only to our testers’ individual distance-vision quality. We were also able to acquire targets faster using the red-dot unit. By supplying a precision scope mount, Ruger made its 10/22CRR optics-ready, which gave it another edge over the other guns.

Hi-Point Model 4095
.40 S&W, $225
Reviewed: May 2006

This all-black carbine was not the most space-age looking of the trio, but it was not far behind the Beretta. The first thing we had to do was install the bolt handle, which is shipped disassembled to ensure it won’t poke through the shipping box. This was an easy operation, and the necessary small wrench was included in the form of a multi-purpose tool that also adjusted the sights. The Hi-Point came with a laser kit ($85) and a clamp-on compensator/flash hider ($25). We did most of our testing without the compensator installed, but when we tried it, we’re sorry we didn’t have it on all the time. It worked very well to keep the gun in place and helped keep the rather sharp recoil off our faces.

But let’s look at the gun more closely before we take it to the range. Like the Hi-Point pistols this carbine won’t win any beauty contests, we thought. The stock was a one-piece molding that extended from the butt to near the muzzle. It was extremely comfortable to the face and put the eye, for most of us, right in line with the outstanding (aperture rear, post front) sights. The forend portion of the stock had deep grooves molded in that gave excellent traction to the fingers, even if wearing gloves. The pistol grip, which accepted the ten-round magazine, was a touch on the large size, but comfortable. The grip had a left-side-only magazine release in the same position as found on 1911 autos. Pressing it allowed the magazine with its extended bottom for fast reloads to drop free. However, many of our shooters found it difficult to operate the mag release or the safety without shifting the hand position toward the left. The safety worked properly, which is to say, down to fire.

The upper part of the action was of blued sheet steel, and to it was screwed the excellent and well protected rear sight assembly. It included a fully adjustable aperture, which was large enough, but could be made larger if desired for even quicker pickup by the eye. The front sight was very clever, we thought. It was a post protected by an eye-guiding ring of steel, and both the post and its guard were adjustable by loosening a bolt within a slot, so the front sight could be made to regulate properly with the rear sight, if needed. We didn’t need to touch the front sight, but many times we’ve wished other guns had such an adjustable or compensating front sight. The barrel was shrouded with a slotted guard to let heat escape and keep the fingers off the hot bits. As noted above, the cast-metal flash hider or compensator clamped onto the front of the barrel, and added a bit of weight there.

The accessory laser sight was a loss to us. We examined it and all its many parts, but the odd-shaped battery that came with it was dead on arrival, and we could not find a replacement. Also, the instructions for the laser sight, which ultimately clips to the bottom of the compensator, were very poorly written.