October 2017

All-Round 308 Winchester Rifle Shoot-Out: Not Our Faves

Savage, Remington, and Browning trot out a quartet of bolt and semi-auto contestants for our shooters to look over. Results: A ho-hum set of ratings and not much enthusiasm for any of them.

All-Round 308 Winchester Rifle Shoot-Out: Not Our Faves

All of the 308 Winchester–chambered rifles, with barrel lengths of 16.5 to 26 inches, worked well enough, but each had flaws that were hard to overlook. From left are the Remington 700 SPS Tactical 85538, Browning BAR MK3 Stalker, the Savage Axis 19223; and the Remington SPS Varmint. The Varmint was clearly the best shooter, but it was also heavy and long, which made its handling sub-par. We’re not sure we’d buy any of these rifles.

Looking for a go-anywhere do-anything 308 Winchester-chambered rifle? If so, in this article we test Remington SPS bolt guns in two variants, a Tactical version with a carbine-length barrel at 16.5 inches and the 26-inch barrel SPS Varmint, to get a good look at opposite ends of the length spectrum. Then we added two rifles with more traditional barrel lengths, the 22-inch-barrel Savage Axis and a semi-auto, the Browning Automatic Rifle Stalker, also with a 22-inch tube.

The truth is, these rifles will fire most of their cartridges on a range. This means we’d like them to be comfortable to shoot and deliver satisfying accuracy. Hunting is a consideration, of course, so the rifle should be useful for thin-skinned game to 200 yards or more. The adage of “200-pound game at 200 yards” will apply here. In a dangerous world in which it may be the only self-defense option for some homes, the rifle should also have some utility as an emergency rifle or for area defense. It should handle quickly enough for boar hunting, or varmints and pests, such as coyotes if need be. Area defense simply means that those of us with a larger homestead or a potential campsite do not wish to be helpless if we encounter adversaries. And we’d prefer our choice not cost as much as a Scout.

Obviously, then, we want a dependable, easy-to-shoot, easy-to-carry rifle that’s well made. Doesn’t sound that hard because we are not expecting to be able to light a match with each round, but we do want to hit the K zone at 200 yards. Some shooters have claimed that shorter, stiffer barrels like that on the Tactical shoot as well as a longer barrel, like that on the Varmint. We are going to see how velocity varies as well, and to compare the chronograph stats bolt guns develop in terms of velocity to that of a semi-auto. We do not want a 4-foot-long 12-pound rifle, but we wondered if we would have to compromise on weight (that is, go heavier) if we do not get the accuracy we want. We are not holding out for accuracy for 50 continuous shots and do not need a heavy target barrel, but, instead, we’re looking for a rifle capable of delivering good accuracy for a dozen shots or so. Durability and quality are important. The rifle should last for the shooter’s entire life. Also, to save money, we looked for used rifles in Like New or better shape, a standard which all four members of the quartet met.

We elected to fire the rifles in four drills. We would fire quickly at human-silhouette targets at 25 yards, for the SHTF situation. It is also a drill that has some merit in learning to snap-shoot predators and coyote. At 50 yards, we used the Innovative Targets (Innovative Targets.net) steel gong. While we fired for precision, we also wished to test speed to an extent in this drill and fired a combination of standing and kneeling. We would expend 20 rounds in each pursuit, at 25 and 50 yards, for 40 rounds. We also fired 10 rounds at 100 yards offhand. Finally, we fired three three-shot groups for accuracy at 100 yards with three different loads, alternating between rifles to let the barrels cool, firing from a solid rest and attempting to obtain the best accuracy possible. During the offhand firing stages, we used Fiocchi 150-grain FMJs for the 25- and 50-yard work. For firing offhand at 100 yards, we used a handload consisting of the Hornady 155-grain SST and Varget powder for 2750 fps. For benchrest accuracy testing, we used three loads. The Hornady 168-grain ELD Match, Federal 165-grain Trophy Bonded, and Gorilla Ammunition’s 175-grain Sierra MatchKing load. Here’s how they performed.

All the cartridges tested gave good-enough results as far as baseline expectations, we thought. That is, we had no failures to feed, fire, or eject in the test. And all three produced a level of accuracy we want to see—1 minute of angle, or 1-inch groups at 100 yards—in at least one rifle. For example, the Gorilla Ammunition 175-grain rounds gave the best results in the Remington SPS Varmint at an eye-popping 0.9-inch average group size, then the SPS Tactical at 1.2 inches, the BAR Stalker semi-auto at 1.6 inches, and the Savage at 1.9 inches on average, far behind the leader. We saw the same pattern with the Hornady ELD Match 168-grain Polymer Tip load, with the Varmint again shooting under MOA with a 0.9-inch average group, the Tactical at 1.4 inches, the MK3 BAR at 1.5 inches, and the Axis coming in at 2.3 inches. Likewise, the SPS Varmint lead the parade with the Federal Trophy Bonded 165-grain Polymer Tip load, shooting 1.0-inch average groups. The BAR jumped into second place with this load, shooting slightly better at 1.7 inches than the Tactical’s 1.9-inch average. The Axis was fourth again with an average group size of 2.2 inches.

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