What are some good bolt-gun options for hunters who don’t want to deal with a lot of recoil? We reported on 22-250 rifles using loads suitable for deer hunting in the November 2019 issue of Gun Tests and noted the need for proper bullet construction and plenty of speed. Now we turn to a little cartridge that will fit in a standard AR-15 magazine, can roughly equal the energy of a 7.62×39 or a 30-30 Win. round, and has been designed to work well at supersonic or subsonic velocities. We are talking about the 300 Blackout — a cartridge scoffed at by some, but which we find both interesting and useful. Toward that end, we tested three of the current crop of bolt-action rifles chambered in 300 Blackout.
Our test samples were examples of relatively short-barreled bolt-action rifles with threaded muzzles, for those readers who might want to attach a suppressor and shoot subsonic 300 Blackout loads. They were the Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26968, $529; the Savage Axis II 18819, $385; and the just-introduced CVA Cascade SB CR3914R bolt action, $621.
As usual for this team, all testing was done at American Shooting Centers in West Houston. For accuracy comparisons, we fired multiple five-shot groups at 100 yards from a well-sandbagged position. We fired using a 13-pound bag called The Bear, plus a rear bag. Both did a great job of staying where they was supposed to on the bench while supporting the rifle. We learned that The Bear’s sides grip your firearm well and we were not having to reset our long guns every few shots. Available at RecoilGear.us, The Bear sells for $185, and we also used their Medium/Flat rear bag with the non-slip option, $35. The products are made with 1000-denier water-resistant Cordura fabric, put together with UV-resistant non-wicking thread, and every internal seam is at least double stitched, with some being triple stitched. Because of materials and construction methods, the bags are very unlikely to take on water and turn into something resembling a brick, a problem we have seen with other bags. All velocities were measured using a LabRadar device, and we fired three factory loads, two of which were supersonic and the third was subsonic. Those were Magtech 123-grain FMJs, Frontier 125-grain FMJs, and Precision One’s 200-grain Nosler hollow points. Using all this gear to record objective data, we then rendered our buy/don’t buy recommendations based on how the products performed in head-to-head testing.
Gun Tests Grade: C+
First produced in 2012, the Ruger American Rifle series includes a cold hammer-forged barrel secured in Power Bedding blocks. With action screws tightened through metal pillars, they mount the action securely to the synthetic stock and allow the barrel to free float. This combination tends to produce good accuracy, all in a package that has a street price of just over $500.
|Overall Length||36.0 in.|
|Barrel Length/Twist||16.125 in., 1:7 in.|
|Overall Height w/o Scope Mount||6.5 in.|
|Weight Unloaded||6.0 lbs.|
|Weight Loaded||6.5 lbs.|
|Action Finish||Matte black|
|Barrel Finish||Matte black|
|Magazine Capacity||10 (provided), 20 & 30 available|
|Magazine Type||AR-style detachable box|
|Drop at Comb||0.5 in.|
|Drop at Heel||0.75 in.|
|Bedding||Metal pillars and Power Bedding Block|
|Buttstock Length of Pull||13.75 in.|
|Receiver Scope-Base Pattern||Ruger, ships with 1-piece Picatinny rail|
|Trigger Pull Weight||3.0 lbs.|
|Safety||2 position on tang|
|Made In||USA, New Hampshire|
Our test piece is the Ranch Rifle version and brings a few new twists to the table. The barrel is just over 16 inches long and has a 1:7-inch twist. This is mighty fast for a 30-caliber gun, showing that Ruger wants this rifle to be able to stabilize the heavier, longer bullets normally used in subsonic loads. Our experience with 308 rifles, for example, normally has them using a 1:12 to a 1:10-inch twist. The Ruger Ranch Rifle chambered in 7.62×39 also has a 1:10 twist. Obviously, Ruger has special things in mind for the 300 Blackout version. The muzzle is recessed and has 5⁄8×24 threads, making it readily configured for a suppressor, and it arrived properly capped with a protector. The barrel is mated to the action with a collar, allowing it to be easily and correctly headspaced.
As with many long guns chambered in shorter cartridges, the Ranch Rifle uses a standard short action and then does some magic with the magazine. Our version of the Ranch Rifle uses an adapter that shortens the opening for the mag and allows the use of a standard AR-15/5.56 magazine. If you want to go afield with this rifle using a 5-round or a 30-round magazine, no problem. That may be a matter of convenience for working off a bench, plenty of fire power for the hog hunt, or just compliance in less-permissive states, but the choice is yours. As with an AR magazine, the follower rises to a point after the last shot, that locks the bolt to the rear. Some will like that and some won’t. We like to dry-fire our rifles, and that would be problematic with a mag inserted for practice on this rifle. The FDE-colored synthetic stock is light weight and allows the barrel to free-float. It has the expected two sling swivel studs and ends in a nice recoil pad, not that recoil is very noticeable in this chambering.
The three-lugged bolt is full diameter, thereby easing the production process somewhat and lowering costs. Ruger actually uses the bolt handle as the piece that holds everything together, and it works well. We were a bit disappointed with the movement of the bolt in the raceway. We thought that it was a good bit rougher than it needed to be, so we worked with it some. We hand-cycled the bolt more than 3000 times by our count, and it is a great deal smoother now. Apparently, it just needed some help wearing in. The three-lugged bolt head allows a shorter 70-degree bolt throw. Extraction/ejection is accomplished via a sliding plate extractor and a spring-loaded plunger. A visual and tactile cocking indicator protrudes from the bottom of the bolt shroud. Removal of the bolt is straightforward, requiring only that the lever on the left rear of the action be depressed while the bolt is withdrawn to the rear. The action comes with a long Picatinny rail factory installed. We liked that. Ruger used the Marksman Adjustable Trigger unit on the Ranch Rifle. Required compression was right at 3.0 pounds and very crisp. Though adjustable, we left it where it was.
The rifle functioned perfectly when fed from the magazine. All three of the rifles tested in this group had trouble feeding the stubby 300 Blackout cartridges if we just dropped the rounds into the opening of actions generally designed for longer cases. The Ranch Rifle was not quite as accurate as we had hoped, averaging five-shot groups approaching 3 inches from center to center on outside shots. A good bit of that was the Magtech ammo. This Ruger averaged more than 5 inches per group with that ammo, and the best luck we had with any of the rifles was almost 3 inches, that coming from the CVA Cascade. The most accurate ammo in the Ruger was the Frontier 125-grain FMJs. These were factory-assembled loads using Lake City brass and Hornady bullets. All three of our test rifles liked this load best. We were able to get a 0.77-inch five-shot group out of the Ruger with this one. Overall, the loads we tried in the Ranch Rifle shot a slightly disappointing 2.88 inches on average.
Our Team Said: The Ranch Rifle is short and handy. We dinged it for its mediocre accuracy compared to the other two rifles.
300 Blackout Range Data
|Magtech 123-grain FMJ||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||2278 fps||2245 fps||2281 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1418 ft.-lbs.||1377 ft.-lbs.||1421 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||3.50 in.||2.89 in.||1.97 in.|
|Average Group||5.38 in.||3.32 in.||2.79 in.|
|Frontier 125-grain FMJ||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||2191 fps||2201 fps||2199 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||1332 ft.-lbs.||1344 ft.-lbs.||1343 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||0.77 in.||1.09 in.||0.89 in.|
|Average Group||1.79 in.||1.61 in.||1.16 in.|
|Precision One 220-grain Subsonic||Ruger Ranch Rifle||Savage Axis II||CVA Cascade|
|Average Velocity||1057 fps||977 fps||1067 fps|
|Muzzle Energy||546 ft.-lbs.||466 ft.-lbs.||557 ft.-lbs.|
|Best Group||1.28 in.||1.16 in.||1.14 in.|
|Average Group||1.99 in.||1.89 in.||1.42 in.|
Testing was done at American Shooting Centers in West Houston. Muzzle velocities were determined via a LabRadar chronograph, $559. All shots for group were done from a Bear model large shooting bag ($185) and a Medium/Flat rear bag ($35), both from RecoilGear.us.
Value Guide: Short-Action Bolt Rifles
|Tikka T3X Varmint JRTXH312 223 Rem., $999||Nov. 2021||A||Our Pick. The most accurate rifle in these tests and perhaps the most versatile, we’d buy the Tikka.|
|CZ Model 527 03019 223 Rem., $785||Nov. 2021||B+||The trim receiver allowed the longest barrel, while maintaining a compact OAL. Outstanding trigger.|
|Ruger Hawkeye Predator 17122 223 Rem., $1359||Nov. 2021||B+||A brushed stainless finish, a gorgeous three-color laminate stock, and a great trigger.|
|CVA Cascade CR3907C 350 Legend, $658||Jul. 2021||A||Our Pick. Outstanding trigger and tons of features on a value rifle. Tied with the Savage M110 Hog Hunter.|
|Masterpiece Arms MPA BA MPR PRO 6mm CM, $2499||Apr. 2021||A||Our Pick. A heavy, yet graceful beast of a rifle. The MPA is one of the most popular rifles on the PRS tour.|
|Christensen Arms MPR 801-03035-01 6mm CM, $1799||Apr. 2021||A-||Lightest sample included in this group, tested for a sport that prefers heavy rifles, and it still almost won.|
|Ruger Precision Rifle 18032 6mm Creedmoor, $1599||Apr. 2021||B+||Good accuracy and dependability. We would have liked a crisper trigger and a wide, flat fore end.|
|Savage M110 Elite Precision 57558 6mm CM, $1999||Apr. 2021||B+||Least accurate with the Federal ammo. Black Hills and Berger ammunition were much better.|
|Savage Arms 110 Hog Hunter 223 Rem., $599||Feb. 2021||A-||Oversized bolt, adjustable iron sights, adjustable LOP, a box magazine, and a threaded barrel.|
|Christensen Arms Ridgeline 801-06015-00 6.5 PRC, $1793||Jan. 2021||A||Our Pick. Accurate with factory ammunition — even better with reloads. Carryover winner from Nov. 2020.|
|Seekins Precision Havak Pro Hunter 2 0011710059-F 6.5 PRC, $1895||Jan. 2021||A||Outstanding accuracy. We loved the Seekins stock and the trigger.|
|W’by Mark V Backcountry 6.5 RPM, $2249||Jan. 2021||B+||Beautifully put together, but downrange accuracy wasn’t up to what we saw with other rifles.|
|Bergara Premier M’tn 2.0 BPR28-65PRC 6.5 PRC, $1999||Nov. 2020||A||A 100% carbon-fiber stock and trim 24-inch barrel make this a premier mountain rifle.|
|Browning X-Bolt Max LR 035438294 6.5 PRC, $1180||Nov. 2020||A||A little longer and a little heavier than our other test rifles. Beanfield rifle rather than a mountain rifle.|
|Savage M110 Hog Hunter 57534 350 Legend, $487||Jul. 2020||A||Our Pick. Compact size with a short, stiff, accurate barrel and a great trigger. Straight-wall chambering.|
|Ruger American Ranch Rifle 26985 350 Legend, $442||Jul. 2020||F/B+||First sample failed when the bolt disassembled itself. The replacement rifle wasn’t all that accurate.|
|Winchester XPR Hunter 535741296 350 Legend, $635||Jul. 2020||A-||A full-length rifle that looked great and handled well; dropped off half a grade for its just-average accuracy.|
|Winchester M70 F’wt SS 535234220 308 Win., $951||Apr. 2020||A||Our Pick. Smooth handling, very good accuracy and classical styling.|
|Tikka T3x Lite Stainless JRTXB316 308 Win., $748||Apr. 2020||A-||Best Buy. Functional polymer stock, the smoothest bolt in the group, and the best out-of-the-box trigger.|
|Remington Model 7 CDL 26423 308 Win., $798||Apr. 2020||A||A nice piece of wood, a good trigger and a compact 20-inch barrel on a rifle that could really shoot.|