The idea of packaging rifles like other consumer goods —cars with radios and computers with cables, for instance—has never gotten much traction in the gun biz. In other gun-industry segments, most guns come ready to roll; i.e., handguns and shotguns usually need only ammunition to fire. However, rifles are slightly different critters because they often need optics to perform at their best. And getting optics on a rifle and making it shoot right is a skill many consumers sadly lack, for better or worse. How can guns be made ready to go from rack to target? By adding a pre-selected, mounted, sighted-in scope as part of a package.
Shopping around we were able to find two different .223 rifles available with scopes already mounted and sighted-in at the factory: The Savage 110 GXP3 arrived with a Simmons 3-9X32mm already aboard at a package price of $449. CZ-USA offers its 527 American Classic for $540 with a MeOpta 3-9X42mm Artemis 2000 scope for an additional $466 ($1,006 total). We wondered how these two products would stack up against “standard” rifles, on which the shooter would have to add glass to shoot well. To answer that question, we acquired Ruger’s M77R MKII, which comes without a scope but includes a set of rings and an integral base for $634, and a $633 Remington 700 BDL Custom Deluxe. Neither the Ruger nor the Remington came with optics, so we added identical Burris 3-9X Fullfield scopes to bring them up to par with the package guns. Prices for the Burris scopes vary according to your region, but we chose $250 as a reasonable retail cost to gauge the value of the packages against the non-scoped guns. Thus, the Ruger’s roll-out price would be around $884, and the BDL’s take-home tag would be $883 without rings and bases. While the Remington did have a good-looking set of iron sights, we weren’t going to let it do battle with the other rifles without crosshairs. We paid $17.05 to add a Redfield base and $21.55 for rings. Bore-sighting services added another $20, bringing the grand total to $941.60.
Obviously, the Savage had a huge price advantage, so if it performed on par with the others, it would easily earn a Best Buy rating. And that’s just what happened.
For any full-size rifle, we test accuracy at 100 yards off of a bench. To do this, we rented a spot at American Shooting Centers in Houston, a public range located in George Bush Park. We placed the gun butts on a Protektor rabbit-ear sand bag to support the stock (Brownells #723-300-004, $40) and a Sight-In shooting rest with bag (Midway item numbers 519-867, $24.99; and 483-273, $7.99, respectively) under the forend.
We shot two higher-end ammos, one from Federal featuring the 69-grain Sierra Matchking boattail hollowpoint (BTHP), and a moly-coated round from Hornady, the solid-tipped 40-grain Varmint Express (VX). Our third choice was a less expensive 55-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) round from Black Hills that we purchased locally for $10.47 plus tax per 50-round box. We found that the FMJ rounds, especially the Federal cartridges, produced more heat than the moly-coated Hornady VX, slowing our shooting speed and—we believe—affecting accuracy.
Though we collected pure accuracy data from the bench, we plinked standing with Winchester’s White box 55-grain ammo along with our regular test rounds. Each gun was fired left and right handed, despite being built for the right-handed shooter. To avoid excessive heat skewing the chronograph results, we fired one brand of ammunition at a time in a round robin of rifles to allow each one time to cool. Here’s what we found:
Ruger M77R MKII
Our recommendation: Conditional Buy. Although somewhat heavy, the grip area and stock are a good choice for the shooter with smaller hands. But at its $634 price, we can afford to be picky and demand better performance.
The M77R MKII is a solid, well-made rifle. The trigger pull is short and crisp, the bolt action is smooth and sure. It features a solid-walnut stock with appropriately placed checkering. We especially like its thin contour behind the trigger and the way it fans out, giving us the leverage we like to pull the stock into the shoulder. The rubber pad at the end of the buttstock is a three-layer laminate that does a good job of absorbing shock, and, incidentally, is not so tacky that it catches on clothing. The bolt handle blends nicely with the stock, putting it out of way when shut. A safety lever is available immediately behind the bolt handle and travels to the rear bolt in a 90-degree arc when activated. The combination of thin grip and controls held closely to the stock make this rifle ergonomically suited to the smaller-handed shooter. Even releasing the floorplate to empty the four-round magazine is easier for a smaller hand when depressing the release, which is flush-mounted in front of the trigger guard. Though this gun is nearly identical in price to the Remington, it is not as fancy, nor does it shoot as well, but it does include a money-saving integral scope base and a set of rings.
The barrel isn’t free-floated, but it didn’t seem to affect accuracy from the bench. But it certainly could when firing using a sling. In this case, the sling pulling on the stock could cause stress on the barrel. To avoid any bullet deflection due to a taut sling, we tried the Steady Strap from Cylinder & Slide, ( 448-1713). This simple strap simply loops around the thumb of the forward hand and over the shooter’s head. The idea is to add a gentle steadying pressure by offering a sling effect with the arms. This is counter to the technique of supporting the rifle from underneath at its balance point beyond the trigger guard. We found this point to be located at the center of the bolt when closed.
The gun was most accurate when firing Hornady’s VX ammo (the true star of this test) and the less expensive ammunition from Black Hills. Although we did manage some 0.8-inch groups at 100 yards, the average size was 1.2 inches.
Savage 110 GXP3
Our recommendation: Buy it. This $449 package is such a steal, we hate to alert Savage Arms for fear that they’ll raise the price.
Whenever we hear the term “package deal” we can’t help feeling this will be synonymous with compromise. At only $449 for rifle and scope, we feared we were in for a disappointment. But the Savage 110 GXP3 was a lesson in how to and where to save money.
The walnut stock was pleasingly sculpted and stained to a smooth low-gloss finish that highlighted its grain. Lacking a grip cap and featuring pressed, not cut, checkering, this was still a tasteful piece of woodwork.
The butt pad was featureless and thin, but adequate. It proved to be sticky and was always grabbing our shirts. We couldn’t find the trap door to the enclosed magazine, because there is none. To empty the magazine without manipulating the bolt, you have to remove the action from the stock. This is done so by removing the two forward bolts underneath the stock.
Sitting atop the rifle was a Simmons 3-9X32mm scope held in place by two single-bolt rings. The optics and rifle performed well together, firing the Federal Gold Medal 69-grain Sierra Matchking BTHP into a couple of 0.9-inch groups, but the average landed at 1.1 inches. Our Black Hills ammunition shot groups from 1.2 to 1.5 inches, which just a few years ago would have rated superb for an off-the-shelf rifle shooting factory fodder. The Hornady VX in this gun was even better, tying the Remington for best group at 0.7 inch and notching average five-shot groups dead on at 1.0 inch.
Savage supplied a proof target displaying a five-shot group measuring about 0.6 inch firing the same Federal cartridge. You can see that we almost matched this accuracy with both the Federal and Hornady rounds without the benefit of a windless tunnel or gun vise.
How did Savage produce a near sub-MOA rifle that sells with scope for less than many shooters spend on a scope alone? We suspect it is because they paid attention to carefully machining and assembling parts, choosing and expertly mounting a complementary scope, and properly bedding a floating barrel. Testing the amount of float at the forend with dollar bills, we could stuff more $50 bills between the barrel and stock than it takes to buy this excellent package gun.
Remington 700 BDL Custom Deluxe
Our recommendation: Buy it. Though it’s the heaviest rifle in the test, it is also the one with the most obvious center of gravity. For $633, there’s a lot of extras and performance, too. The short-action trigger is excellent, but Remington still left room for adjustment.
The Remington shot narrowly better than the Savage—to the point where any difference could attributed to shooter error. But it unquestionably had the nicer cosmetic package. As proven by the Savage 110, you do not need scrollwork, a jeweled bolt, checkered bolt knob, mirror finish stock with cut checkering, and a raised cheekpiece to shoot well. Nor do you need a calibrated rear sight and hooded front sight. But these things are nice to have in a good-shooting gun like the BDL.
From a standing position, the Remington is the easiest gun to shoot, in our view. The balance point just ahead of the trigger guard allowed the gun to sit comfortably on the shooter’s front hand. The trigger had a very short, crisp stroke, though it was also heavy. We believe that a gunsmith could wind this down to a very light positive pressure that should be a delight. As it stood, from the factory you had to concentrate on a firm press and smooth break moreso than on the other rifles in the test. The trigger function is exactly the opposite of the CZ rifle, where the action is long enough to require steering the sights for the duration of the pull.
CZ 527 American Classic
Our recommendation: Don’t buy it. Despite having an exceptional feel and handy size and weight, we had trouble chambering and igniting every brand of ammo in this $540 product. The bolt seems flimsy and doesn’t track easily into place. The MeOpta scope is a find, though.
The CZ 527 was the smallest gun in the test, which could be very useful. This rifle was the first to arrive, and by the time we got to our range session we were in love with it. It featured a pleasantly finished walnut stock with fine checkering. It had a detachable box magazine which sat right in the middle of the gun’s balance point. This ruled out shooting the gun with a flat palm hold, but the 527 was light enough that shooting off our fingertips was viable.
The trigger was thin, but the corners had been cut off, making it comfortable to use. Unfortunately, our sample developed a creep that made the made the trigger movement feel inordinately long. Two other problems showed up as well. For one, it failed repeatedly to ignite both the Black Hills and Winchester ammunitions. Also, the magazine was unreliable whenever it was filled to its five-shot capacity. In addition, the bolt, which operated smoothly without the resistance of a round to be chambered, required a start with the thumb at the end of the bolt when a round needed to be moved forward. To work around this problem, we fired most of our groups by laying a single round atop the follower of an empty magazine to avoid a snag.
Accuracy was just over 1 MOA on average when firing the Hornady ammunition. The Federal round averaged 2.0 inches, and the only group we managed with the Black Hills ammo measured 2.1 inches. Because of the malfunctions and so-so accuracy, we felt there wasn’t much to recommend on the gun itself. However, sitting atop the CZ 527 was another Czech Republic product, the MeOpta Artemis 2000 scope. The 3-9X42mm unit was a good find, offering a bright field of view and clear, usable crosshairs. Adjustment for distance and arriving at a fine focus was easily accomplished. We could not detect any creep or change in adjustment after extensive firing.
Gun Tests Recommends
Savage 110 GXP3, $449. A Best Buy. Just avoiding the hassle of setting up a matching scope is worth some dollars, not to mention including the scope in the price. This gun goes from store shelf to under an inch for less money than most pistols.
Remington 700 BDL Custom Deluxe, $633. Buy It. Even without the fancy extras, this rifle still offers the most downrange potential, in our view.
Ruger M77R MKII, $634. Conditional Buy. Well finished and appealing, the Ruger Model 77 nonetheless lacked a floating barrel, which might improve its accuracy. It wasn’t as accurate as the Remington or the Savage, but it was a good product, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to downgrade it further to a “don’t buy” rating.
CZ 527 American Classic, $540. Don’t Buy It. Though this rifle offers appealing size and finish, it needed to work and shoot better. CZ’s MeOpta scope, not a bargain at $466, is certainly worth a look on its own merits.