May 2007

Semiauto .30-06 Hunting Rifes: 750 Woodsmaster Wins the Day

Bolt-actions are the standard for many hunters, but some of our testers preferred Remington’s 750, Benelli’s R-1, and Browning’s BAR Safari semi-autos over their own bolt guns.

Many hunters love semiautomatic riflesfor shorter-range (under 200 yards) deer hunting, mostly because they don't need sendero-class accuracy, but instead prefer faster-handling, shorter firearms. Also, not having to work a bolt-action rifle in close quarters is a positive, when a fast follow-up shot can prevent wounded game animals from suffering needlessly.

Springield Semiauto Rifles

We tested three .30-06 Springield semiauto rifles that made our bolt-action-lovin', big-buck-killin' team testers want to convert. From top, they are the Remington Model 750 Woodsmaster 27061, $831; the Browning BAR Mark II Safari, $934; and the new Benelli R-1, $1,265. We liked the lower price and better accuracy of the Woodsmaster, though we wondered why the rifle would be named after a chainsaw.

We recently tested three .30-06 Springfield rifles that purportedly are good enough to make bolt-action hunters convert. They are the Browning BAR Mark II Safari, $934; the Remington Model 750 Woodsmaster 27061, $831; and the new Benelli R-1, $1,265.

How We Tested

All three rifles came with sling-swivel studs, but the R1's and 750's front studs were fitted to forend caps, which rotated. We liked them better than the stock-drilled studs on the Browning. Also, only the Remington had iron sights standard. For our test, however, we removed the rear sight because the Bushnell Elite 4200 4-16x50mm scope's large front objective would have hit the rear sight with the medium rings we used. Some shooters might choose to mount higher see-through rings so they could take advantage of the iron sights. The Bushnell 4200 performed well on all three rifles.

We fired the rifles at Houston's American Shooting Centers, recording all the accuracy data on a chilly, but relatively still, winter afternoon. We used a Ransom Rest front benchrest with a rear bunny bag to stabilize the guns, collecting accuracy data at 100 yards. An Oehler 35P chronograph recorded the velocity data.

We chose two hunting-style rounds for the evaluation: Federal's 150-grain Power-Shok softpoints and Sellier & Bellot 180-grain softpoints. The third ammo was Black Hills' Gold 168-grain Match boattail hollowpoint, which recorded very impressive accuracy numbers across the board.

To reduce recoil, we tried Remington's Managed-Recoil .30-06 Springfield 125-grain Core-Lokt PSP RL30062 ammunition in all three rifles. Unfortunately, it would not cycle the actions. The felt recoil was noticeably less, but for most shooters the recoil generated by the loads tested was very acceptable. Remington and Browning both chamber these rifles in .243 Winchester, so if you are looking for a lower-recoil option in a semi-auto, they might work for you. Here's what we thought of each of the guns:

Remington

750 Woodsmaster .30-06

No. 27061, $831

This model, introduced in 2006, is chambered for .243 Win.,. 270 Win., .308 Win., .30-06, and .35 Whelen. An 18.5-inch barrel Carbine is the same price, and a synthetic-stock model introduced this year sells for $732.

The 750 variants replace the 7400 model, which we reviewed in July 1998. It is useful to compare the two guns to see what Remington kept, and discarded, in the 750 line.

At the time of its retirement, the 7400 was a fully mature product line, being initially chambered in 6mm Rem., .243 Win., .270 Win., 7mm Rem. Express, .30-06 Sprg. and .308 Win. The .280 Rem. chambering came in 1988, and the .35 Whelen appeared in 1993. There were several variants in the 7400 line, including a Special Purpose (1993 to 1995), a Buckmaster ADF Limited Edition (1997), a Weathermaster (2004), a Synthetic (1998 to 2006), and a Carbine (1988 to 2006).

The Model 7400 Carbine we tested nearly 10 years ago had a 18.5-inch barrel in .30-06 Springfield. The $573 gas-operated rifle utilized a steel receiver and a rotary bolt, and had a detachable four-round magazine, open sights and a Monte Carlo-style stock.

Our test gun back then showed average-quality metal- and woodwork. The Remington weighed 7.25 pounds and was 38.75 inches long, but we said it didn't shoulder nearly as fast as the Browning against which it was tested. The plastic buttplate was slippery and did nothing to reduce the kick generated during recoil. The elevated comb provided a very good stockweld when using a scope, but our shooters thought it was a little too high with the open sights. Movement of the Remington's trigger had a moderate amount of takeup and a mushy 4.5-pound release, and a noticeable amount of overtravel. The Remington Model 7400 Carbine's open sights were adequate. We didn't like the Remington's bolt hold-open system. The bolt locked open directly on the magazine's follower. So, the bolt didn't stay open, and couldn't be locked open, when the magazine was removed. The Model 7400 Carbine's best accuracy at 100 yards was three-shot average groups of 2.28 inches with Remington 125-grain PSPs.

Some of these faults have been corrected on the 750. It had a four-shot magazine, and on our test gun, a 22-inch round-tapered blued barrel. The gun weighed 7.5 pounds and measured 42.6 inches in overall length. The stock has been restyled, with an American walnut forend and stock with machine-cut checkering under a satin finish. Sights included a gold-bead front sight on a ramp and a step rear sight that's windage adjustable. The gas-action gun came with an R3 recoil pad, and had a positive cross-bolt safety with a Remington key lock. The receiver was tapped for a scope mount.

In the 750, the gas orifice is drilled at a 45-degree angle, instead of a 90-degree angle like on the 740/742/7400 guns. This eliminates a 90-degree turn at the gas port, and it eliminates shaving-off copper in the bore from the projectile. Copper shavings in the gas port of the 7400 would build up over time, and cause the gun to not cycle reliably.

The gasblock on the 750's barrel has been moved rearward, which also moves the gas orifice hole rearward. Moving the gas hole back captures gases sooner and under greater pressure, which should increase reliability by giving more consistent bolt velocities

The barrel extension is now made as a cast part instead of a machined part. By casting, Remington says it can better control internal geometries and eliminate machining burrs, which they say translates into better reliability. Also, the bolt head has a slick nickel/Teflon coating, which smoothes out bolt sluggishness. The gun comes with an R3 recoil pad, and the comb drop has been lowered at the comb so that the shooter can use the rifle sights more easily, one of our complaints about the 7400.

All of our testers agreed the R3 recoil pad was the most comfortable and effective of the rifles tested. The R3 buttpad was very soft, though it wasn't fitted flush with the buttstock. They also judged the 750 to have the least felt recoil of the rifles tested.

Our sample came with nicely figured walnut on the buttstock and forend, which featured finger grooves more like what we'd expect on a pump gun. Unlike the others, the buttstock had a Monte Carlo-style cheekpiece. LOP was 13.5 inches. Drop at the comb was 1.6 inches, and drop at the heel was 2.5 inches. The gun came to shoulder smoothly and naturally, and gave us a solid cheekweld to view the sights or scope.

Three out of five test shooters preferred the Remington's stock design over the others. It made no difference to one, and the left-handed shooter preferred the other two. (Of the three makes tested, only Browning makes a true left-handed rifle.) Three out of five testers preferred the forend of the Remington, one preferred the Browning's and the one with the smallest hands preferred the R1.

The action-release button appeared on the left side of the detachable magazine, which couldn't be removed with the bolt open. The action operated stiffly but positively, and we had no malfunctions, except with managed-recoil rounds.

The push-button safety, located behind the trigger, had a child safety lock built into it, but it in no way interfered with the normal operation of the safety when it was not activated. The safety was smooth and positive.

To load the 750, the shooter drops a round in the chamber and pushes forward on a button, located on the left side of the box magazine, thus pulling down the follower and allowing the bolt to close. Then you can remove the magazine by pushing forward on a lever just in front of the trigger guard. The older-model 7400 magazines are interchangeable with the 750. Another advantage of the Remington is 10-round box magazines are available for the Remington, but not the other two rifles tested.

The Remington came with a chamber brush, but we'd prefer a bore-snake that drops into the muzzle and can be pulled through the length of the gun. Cleaning the action spring is also fairly easy. To take the forend off, the shooter loosens the forend screw and removes the forend. Then he brushes the action spring and action tube with gun cleaning solvent, dries it, and applies a thin coat of Rem Oil to prevent rusting.

The trigger assembly pops out easily for cleaning, much like a shotgun trigger group. To remove the trigger assembly, the shooter closes the action, then taps out the front and rear trigger plate pins. Then lift the rear of the trigger plate assembly and remove the assembly from the receiver.

At the range, the 750 shot near-MOA with everything we fed it. Using the Federal 150-grain Power-Shok Sps, the Woodsmaster shot 1.1-inch average groups, compared to the Browning (1.6 inch) and the Benelli (1.4 inch). With the Black Hills Gold 168-grain Match boattails, all the guns shot well, with the 750 having a slight edge in average group size of 0.8 inch compared to the Browning (0.9 inch) and R-1 (1.2 inch). Likewise, the 750 shot better (1.1 inch) groups than the Safari (1.4 inch) and the Benelli (1.7 inch) with the Sellier & Bellot 180-grain softpoints.

Benelli R1.30-06

No. 11736, $1,265

The R1 was introduced in 2003, the Brescia, Italy-based manufacturer's first attempt at a centerfire autoloader. Originally chambered in .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum, the list of chamberings now includes the 300 WSM, 270 WSM, and 308. Most variations of the gun, either with satin walnut stock or synthetic, weigh in between 7.0 and 7.2 pounds. Barrel lengths range from 20 to 24 inches. Prices start at $1,265 MSRP for walnut-stocked guns, and range upward to $1,435 for the 2007 black-synthetic, Grip Tight, ComforTech model in .270 WSM or .300 WSM. All models ship in a fitted hard case.

Our gun was the 22-inch-barrel, satin-walnut No. 11736 unit, which measured 43.75 inches in OAL, weighed 7.1 pounds unscoped, had an LOP of 13.75 inches, a drop at comb of 1.25 inches, and a drop at heel of 1.75 inches. The R1 can be taken down quickly without affecting zero (the scope rides on the receiver), and the R1's modular setup and integrated upper-receiver/barrel assembly allows caliber-conversion packages to expand the gun's power range. Optional recoil pads are available for the desired length of pull (13.4, 14, 14.1 inches.) Optional open sights feature a fully adjustable rear blade and front sight with a special red filament insert.

The action is an auto-regulating gas-operated system with three-lug rotary bolt. The chrome-plated bolt features a spring-loaded, plunger-type ejector and claw extractor. The rifle will not fire unless the bolt is all the way forward and the lugs are in the fully-locked position.

The R1 is lighter than the others in this test in part because its lower receiver is aircraft-grade aluminum, as are the trigger guard and magazine cap. Like on the others, the R1 has a detachable magazine. It release is a half-inch-long button on the front of the trigger guard. The shooter presses the button inward toward the trigger guard, which releases the polymer-shell magazine. Benelli integrated the magazine into the frame very well, giving the gun a streamlined look. That area, combined with the other lines of the gun, turned off some of our shooters. Cosmetics are a matter of taste, and though the gun has striking lines, not everyone will like them - just like many people prefer traditional Frederic Remington bronzes over the spare lines of Giacomo Manzu' figures.

Interestingly, like on the Remington, Benelli has moved the gas port on the barrel is closer to the breech, which increases pressure in the operating chamber. Theoretically, this improves cycling time and reliability, but all the guns in our test cycled regular-pressure rounds fine, and they all failed to cycle lower-pressure rounds.

The R1 includes a drop-change kit - five shims that allow the amount of drop at the comb and heel of the buttstock to be adjusted. The deep-V design of the R1 buttpad didn't cushion as well as the R3 pad on the Remington, testers said.

As we noted, the R1 doesn't include sights, but it is drilled and tapped for scope mount bases.

R1 barrels are cryogenically stress-relieved, but that didn't translate into better accuracy in our tests. As noted above, the Remington outshot this gun with every ammo we tried.

Browning BAR Safari

No. 031001226 .30-06, $934

The Browning BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) used by the U.S. military was developed in 1918 and was widely deployed in WWII. However, the sporting rifle version, known by the same name, started to be manufactured in 1967.

Browning makes twelve different models of the sporting BAR. They include left-hand models, various stocks and lightweight versions. The Safari, the top of the line BAR, comes in .243, .25-06, .270, 7mm Rem Mag., .30-06, .308, .300 Win. Mag., .338 Win Mag. With the BOSS attachment, the gun is also chambered in 270 WSM, 7mm WSM, and 300 WSM. The most expensive guns in the line are chambered for WSM and magnum rounds with BOSS, and run $1,071.

Barrel lengths range from 22 to 24 inches and feature round medium-taper sporter contours. French walnut makes up the pistol grip stock and forend, with hand checkering. The Safaris ship without sights. Other features include a removable trigger assembly with larger trigger guard; detachable 4-round box magazine, scroll-engraved receiver tapped for scope mounting.

The Mark II Safari like the one we tested in .30-06 was introduced in 1993. It's imported from Belgium by Browning. Our test rifle was made within the last year.

Like the Remington and Benelli, this gun had a 22-inch 1:10 barrel, with an OAL was 43 inches. LOP was 13.75 inches, with a drop at comb of 0.75 inch and a drop at heel of 1.125 inch. It weighed 7.4 pounds.

The Safari model has an engraved, forged-steel receiver and walnut stock and forearm. Diamond-pattern cut checkering covered the grip and much of the forend. We thought the Browning Safari had the third-best wood quality in the group, with the R1 and 750 being neck and neck.

Most of team felt the Browning, with its scroll work on the one-piece ordnance steel receiver, polished blue metalwork, gold trigger, and shiny wood stock, won that part of the beauty contest, but when it comes to hunting, most shooters preferred the satin walnut stock on the Remington.

The Safari receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. The bolt release lever is incorporated into the receiver. The fluted stock design incorporates a full pistol grip with an undercut and is contoured for use with open sights or a scope. The forearm is full, and lacks the finger grooves we preferred on the other two guns. Sling swivel studs are installed in the stock and forearm, but we preferred them on the forend caps like those found on the Woodsmaster and R1.

The crossbolt safety was simple and easy to use, and the trigger broke at 5.0 pounds, the lightest in the test. However, the motion was mushy, but slightly better than the Remington and slightly worse than the Benelli. The trigger assembly can be easily removed for maintenance and cleaning.

The detachable box magazine popped forward by working the sliding switch in front of the trigger guard, and a hinged floorplate kept the magazine on the gun. We preferred the box pop out of the gun as it did on the others.

The BAR is a gas-operated autoloader with a multiple-lug rotating bolt that locks directly into the barrel. A recessed bolt face covers the cartridge base, which is encircled by the barrel and then surrounded by the receiver. There are seven lugs on the bolt and an action bar/inertia block link.

As we noted, the BAR shot nearly on par with the Remington, turning in one sub-MOA group average.

Accuracy and Chronograph Data

Remington Model 750 Woodmaster .30-06 No. 27061

Benelli R1.30-06 No. 11736

Browning Bar Safari 031001226 .30-06

Gun Test Report Card