April 2010

Long-Shooter Showdown: We Test a Trio of Good Bolt Actions

The Steyr Arms SSG69, Kimber 84M LPT, and Ruger Hawkeye Tactical rifle all hit their marks. Picking between them is a matter of choosing which features you must have to shoot only one shot.

Tactical bolt-action rifles are pretty easy to spot. Typically, they utilize a composite stock with pronounced pistol grip, oversize bolt handle and fire from a heavy barrel. The military models are camouflage or earth tone in color, and the law-enforcement models are usually black. Accuracy, strength, and simplicity are key attributes. Can a tactical rifle serve as a hunting rifle? Weíre not saying one canít. Itís just that a tactical rifle typically weighs more than a hunting model. The heavy barrel enhances the ability to maintain accuracy throughout repeat fire and excessive heat. In addition, tactical rifles tend to be more suitable for longer distance shots and offer ergonomics that favor the prone position or other means of support. Compared to hunting rifles that feature adornments such as engravings or fancy wood, the tactical rifle is stark and businesslike. In this test we evaluate three rifles chambered for 308 Winchester aimed at the law-enforcement market. Our three test rifles are the $1315 Kimber 84M LPT, the $1899 Steyr Arms SSG69 PII, and Rugerís $1172 Hawkeye Tactical No. HM77VLEH. All three rifles featured full-float barrels and black synthetic stocks. Our test procedure was straightforward. Shooting from bench support we fired groups at paper targets placed 100 yards downrange. Beyond accuracy data, we judged each rifle as a total package after taking careful note of characteristics displayed by the trigger and the bolt. We also wanted to know how willingly each rifle took to the shoulder and related to a variety of support. Each rifle was fired from sandbags, a mechanical rest, from prone position and seated with bipod support.

When it came to choosing optics for our test, we weighed the advice of one staffer who had taken the position that he would rather own one good expensive scope than have several lesser optics, so we shot all the guns with a $1783 Nightforce 5.5-22X50mm NXS scope (www.nightforceoptics.com). Fitted with an illuminated mil-dot reticle, this scope has been in use by one of our long-range specialists for more than two years. The open-face mil-dots, which appear as small loops, have proven helpful when determining elevation for targets at an undetermined distance. We mounted the 31-ounce scope using 30mm Nightforce rings fit with half-inch bolts. The use of a 65-inch-pound torque wrench made fast work of swapping the scope from one rifle to another.

Test ammunition included three selections of factory ammunition. We recorded five-shot groups firing Remington 180-grain Nosler Partition No. PRP308WB, Remington 168-grain Boat Tail Hollow Point Match No. R308W7, and 175-grain Boat Tail Hollow Point rounds from Black Hills Ammunition. Making use of the powerful Nightforce scope, we were able to use small target dots from Birchwood Casey measuring little more than 1 inch across. We also fired three-shot groups of some of our favorite handloads developed for lower recoil and accuracy at moderate distance. Our handloaded ammunition consisted of filling each cartridge case with an identical charge of IMR 4064 powder atop Winchester Large Rifle primers. We then seated three different bullets from Sierra (www.sierrabullets.com). They were the 165-grain Spitzer Boat Tail bullets No. 2145, 165-grain boat tail hollow points No. 2140, and the 150-grain Spitzer bullets No. 2130. Each rifle was fired to produce a single three-shot group with each handload. Weather conditions varied during our 9 a.m. to noon sessions, with calm winds in the morning and gusts exceeding 10 mph toward midday. Each rifle was treated to a break-in regimen of one shot and clean; two shots and clean; three shots, clean; four shots, clean; and finally five shots and clean. With little interference from the weather, we think we were able to accurately assess each of our test rifles. We think each of our test rifles was exceptional divided primarily by shooter preference. Letís shoot each rifle and see which one might be your favorite.

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