Anyone seeking an all-around cartridge for North American hunting would be well served by the .30-06. In fact, the cartridge would be pretty handy just about anywhere one wanted to hunt, worldwide. Make the rifle out of stainless steel, put it in a synthetic stock, and you’ve got a versatile, durable tool that ought to last several lifetimes.
The .30-06 is the most popular cartridge all over the world, and rightly so. The many varieties of bullet weights, types and velocities available, in both factory loads and as components for the handloader, are unmatched in any other cartridge. There are saboted lightweight bullets at varmint-getting velocities, heavyweights up to 220 grains with enough horsepower to cleanly take fairly heavy game, and lots of options in between. The cartridge is versatile and flexible, and an outstanding choice for anyone who doesn’t want a closetful of rifles for different uses. The ’06 fills many needs.
Stainless steel rifles are not maintenance free. The use of stainless means your rifle won’t be damaged by occasional neglect, as sometimes happens on extended hunts or near the seashore. It’ll still need cleaning after use, just like rifles made of ordinary steel. Essentially, the use of stainless steel means the firearm will never need refinishing. Unless it is seriously damaged along the way, fifty years from now your rifle will look exactly like it does today. That’s the good part.
The bad part is that stainless steel shines. Polish it enough and it almost glows in the dark. The shininess can be mitigated by surface roughening such as wire brushing or vapor blasting. However, unless you paint it (a viable option), the rifle will always be white metal, and that’s probably more easily seen by wary game animals than blued steel. The shine is dealt with by the manufacturers with varied success, as we’ll see.
There are good and not-so-good synthetic stocks. Cheap ones feel and sound cheesy. They are hollow black plastic handles, nothing more. The best ones are composites of fiberglass and Kevlar, some with carbon-fiber reinforcement. These stocks are tough enough to take to war, or to let your horse step on, without fear of breakage. Such a stock alone can cost several hundred dollars. Whether the price is worth it depends on the use to which you expect to put the rifle. You can always add such a stock later.
The Test Rifles
We got together three stainless steel .30-06 rifles, one from each of the major firms of Winchester, Remington and Ruger. We chose the Winchester Model 70 Classic Sporter Stainless, the Remington 700 BDL SS DM (detachable magazine), and the Ruger Model 77RSP Mk II. The Ruger and Winchester had controlled-feed extractors, while the Remington retained its old push-feed bolt. All the rifles had black synthetic stocks with black rubber recoil pads and some form of checkering. The Ruger had a 22-inch barrel with six grooves/lands; the others were 24 inches long. The Remington had six grooves and the Winchester had four.
Controlled feed means the extractor grabs the round being fed from the magazine as soon as it pops up out of the magazine, thereby controlling the fore-and-aft position of the round. The round may be pushed all the way into the chamber or, before the bolt is fully forward, the round may be pulled back by the bolt against the ejector. The faster you withdraw the bolt, the farther the round is ejected. The advantage of this system is that it is impossible to bump one round out of the magazine with the bolt and, before closing the bolt to capture that round, withdrawing the bolt all the way and shoving another cartridge against the loose first round, causing a jammed rifle. This is why many professional hunters of dangerous game prefer controlled-feed rifles to any other type of bolt-action rifle.
The removable magazine of our test Remington held four shots. The Ruger’s hinged-floorplate magazine held four rounds, and the Winchester had a hinged floorplate and held five rounds. The Winchester and Remington were equipped with QD swivel studs, and the Ruger had sling rings attached to its stock.
None of the rifles had iron sights. Only Ruger provided rings and integral bases, but, in our opinion, the rings supplied put our choice of scope a quarter-inch too high. We mounted Burris Fullfield 3-9x scopes on them all, and proceeded with our evaluation.
Looking at a stainless rifle with a composite stock is like looking at a black and white photograph. Contrasted to a blued rifle with a walnut stock, these rugged working tools look rather stark.
This starkness is relieved somewhat in the Ruger, which has serrated inserts where one would expect checkering. The Ruger stock is strange to some eyes with its relieved buttstock (sides) and the inserts. One quickly decides if he likes or dislikes the concept. We suggest you withhold your personal judgment until you handle and shoot the firearm. The Ruger’s synthetic stock is injection molded of Du Pont Zytel with glass-fiber reinforcement.
The matte-black stocks of all three rifles were uniformly non-reflective. Both the Winchester and Remington had checkering. The Winchester’s checkering could have been a bit sharper, but it worked well enough. That of the Remington was very sharp, but the apparent quality of the stock left a lot to be desired. The stock sounded thinly hollow when bumped, it visibly deformed to light pressure on the buttstock, and also had some visible rough spots and unevenness along the side, near the action. It didn’t seem up to the overall quality of the rifle. Contrasting its stock, the Remington’s action had some engraving-like decoration in a leaf and scroll pattern that seemed to demand fine walnut, not cheap plastic. However, the overall contours of the Remington were very pleasing to the eye.
The Ruger’s serrated “checkering” panels work very well. They provided a positive grasp to the rifle, and the stock had a stout and hearty feel that inspired confidence. The only obvious potential problem was that the steel parts were quite shiny, by far the shiniest of the three test rifles. The surface finishes on the Winchester and Remington were flat white, apparently arrived at by slightly different means, but they didn’t have any of the Ruger’s glare.
None of the rifles had any problems whatsoever with metal surface flaws. The Ruger action exhibited a small bit of surface waviness, which was a natural product of their investment casting process. The Ruger action, however, had that company’s usual very sharp edges, which could cut the fingers. There is really no excuse for this. A few minutes’ deburring with a file fixes the problem, but their blued rifles look pretty bad after this is done.
We judged the stock-to-metal fit in the Ruger and Remington to be excellent, and that of the Winchester to be adequate. Metal-to-metal fit of all three rifles was generally very good.
The Remington’s detachable magazine was a bit rough to operate at first, and required a knack to get in and out smoothly. After two or three insertions, the roughness disappeared and it was easy to remove or reinstall the magazine. We found it loaded easily whether in or out of the rifle.
We have long wondered about the perceived need for detachable magazines on hunting rifles. We’ve been told this makes it easier to unload the rifle for transport, but safe unloading is a snap with controlled-feed rifles such as the Winchester or Ruger. The live rounds don’t have to enter the chamber as they’re cycled from the magazine. With cold fingers, this is easier than removing a detachable magazine.
The first thing we noticed about the Remington was that its bolt lift (rotation) was rough. It felt hard and gritty on opening/cocking. With a cartridge in the chamber, closing it felt rough, too. However, the fore-and-aft travel is very smooth, requiring little effort.
The Ruger bolt gave a bit of drag in feeding, and felt bumpy when extracting a cartridge. Like early Mauser 98s, the Ruger bolt is slightly loose in the action, and any significant sideways pressure on the bolt can cause it to bind.
The Winchester felt totally professional, right from the start. It fed and extracted very smoothly, the stock felt just right (though one of our testers preferred the Remington), and the rifle inspired a feeling of confidence.
Loading the magazines of the three presented no problems or surprises. It was easy and straightforward. They all unloaded equally easily, either by opening their hinged floorplates (Winchester and Ruger) or removing the magazine from the Remington. We found it far easier to unload the Winchester and Ruger by cycling their bolts than by opening the floorplates.
Part of our testing included shooting and handling the rifles in the offhand position to simulate their probable use in the field. This resulted in a clear choice of one of the rifles as the most likely to succeed in such usage, and it was something of a surprise to our testers.
The Ruger was lightest at 7 pounds empty. The Remington weighed in at 7 1/2 pounds and the Winchester weighed 7 3/4. However, the individual stock configuration and weight distribution of each firearm made the weight differences seem larger. The Ruger seemed to float because of its superior balance. The Remington had a shorter length of pull (by nearly half an inch) than the other two, and, with its lightened barrel, seemed whippy. The Winchester felt much heavier than the Remington because it had more weight in its barrel, and a thicker wrist to its stock.
We thought the Winchester was fairly easy to hold solidly on-target offhand, and its slight muzzle-heaviness seemed to help. However, its somewhat heavy 5 1/4-pound trigger pull made it hard to get center hits. The Remington felt quite whippy, and its creepy 5 3/4-pound trigger pull didn’t help. The targets reflected our unsteadiness with the Remington. However, the perfectly balanced Ruger felt very solid on-target in spite of the lightness of the rifle. It was extremely easy to hold it on the center of the target. Hits would have been easier if the Ruger’s 5 1/2-pound trigger pull were reduced to a rifleman’s weight of 3 pounds. That notwithstanding, the Ruger felt absolutely marvelous offhand, inspiring great confidence.
One of our testers noted that the shortness of the Remington stock (pull length of 13 1/4, vs. 13 5/8 for the other two) lent itself to the wearing of heavy clothing, as when hunting. Wearing such clothing might help to hold it steadier.
The Remington 700 BDL has a two-position safety easily located and operated by the shooting-hand thumb. All the way forward is the Fire position for all three rifles. The Ruger and Winchester feature three-position safeties. The middle position is intended to be utilized while unloading the rifle by cycling the rounds partly into the chamber, and then out into the hand. The extractors of these two controlled-feed rifles grab and control the rounds as soon as they pop up from the magazine.
All the safeties worked properly. In fact, there were no problems with any of the controls of the rifles. All of them loaded and unloaded with ease. The floorplates worked easily and properly. There were no problems with feed, function, extraction, or anything else on any of the rifles, a testament to the general high quality of the products of these three makers.
The bolts came out of the Remington and Winchester easily. The Ruger bolt release was very sharp and dug into the releasing thumb painfully. All the bolts went back into their actions easily.
Winchester scores a major plus in that its bolt is simple to disassemble for inspection or cleaning. You cock the rifle, place the safety in the center position and pull the bolt. Depressing a button (the sleeve lock) permits the bolt sleeve to be unscrewed, and the firing pin and spring come right out. It’s then a simple matter to remove or replace the pin.
The slickest rifle for feed and ejection was the Winchester, followed by the Ruger and then the Remington. Ejection was not as positive with the Remington as with either of the other two rifles. Remington’s ejection is by a spring-loaded plunger which exerts pressure against the back of the cartridge. As soon as the empty brass clears the action, the brass is flung away. With the other two rifles ejection depends on how hard you draw the bolt back. It was possible to fling empties 20 feet from the Winchester. The Ruger wouldn’t throw them quite that far.
As a glance at our Performance Table will show [PDFCAP(4)], we found no significant difference in accuracy among the three test rifles. Individual rifle preferences for different ammunition or weights simply didn’t exist. The worst group fired by any of them was a 2.25-inch group by the Ruger with the Winchester 165-grain PSP ammo. The best group fired was 1.00 inches, by the Winchester, with the 150-grain Federal Premium BTSP load. The overall average of the three loads tested gave the Ruger a less than 0.20-inch accuracy penalty over the other two. The worst rifle will shoot far better than is needed for success in the intended usage of the rifles.
Perhaps more interesting is that there was no measurable velocity drop with the two-inch-shorter Ruger barrel, compared to what we got with the other two rifles.
All the rifles had more than adequate accuracy. All of them need some trigger work if you’re any sort of rifleman. Trigger weights over five pounds are for lawyers, not shooters.
There was nothing to choose from for quality of finish or function. There were a few small differences in overall feel during manipulation. The Remington stock might not be as sturdy as the other two, but only the severest use or abuse will make that difference relevant. However, we must choose.
These are hunting rifles, and to that end the choice becomes simple. The lightest rifle gets the first nod because we carry hunting rifles lots more than we shoot ‘em. However, because most hunting situations call for some form of unsupported shooting, as in offhand or with a poor rest, the rifle which is easiest to hold on target (best balance) gets the nod. The clear choice in both instances is the Ruger Model 77RSP Mark II. It’s half a pound lighter than its closest competitor, and holds by far the best in our offhand evaluation. You’ll just have to get accustomed to the stock, because this rifle is a winner.