Recently, we assembled a panel and arrived at what could be described as a list of practical considerations for choosing an all-around rifle. Not a specialty piece, mind you, but a “daily driver,” so to speak. Our test team came up with three considerations we wanted: power, accuracy, and portability. We agreed that in terms of power, we’d like to be able to hunt at least some deer-sized animals, but not with so much power that the rifle was too heavy to carry or generate so much recoil that it was unpleasant to shoot. To us, this meant short-action calibers greater than 223 Remington but less than 308 Winchester. In terms of accuracy, it wasn’t long ago that producing a 1-inch group at 100 yards (1 minute of angle) was a high standard. Certainly 1 MOA is still a benchmark, but recent state-of-the-art machinery has made it possible to buy such guns over the counter. And last, but certainly not least, there’s portability. Today, that is just as likely to mean aboard an ATV as it is over the shoulder. Either way, slender and compact is still the desired profile. Thus, the focus of this test became four bolt-fed short-action rifles in medium or midrange cartridges. The lineup was as follows:
We had intended to keep the maximum length of our rifles to less than 40 inches, but we decided to include the 41.5-inch-long Thompson Center Compass because we were eager to find out if this $399 rifle chambered for 22-250 Remington had recovered since its sudden recall for safety issues. Adding to its appeal was its threaded barrel, ready for a suppressor or muzzle brake.
Our shortest rifle was also chambered for 22-250. The $859 Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas offered a Grade 1 satin-finish walnut stock with 12.5-inch length of pull and about one additional inch of stock spacers. The Micro also weighed the least, as little as 6.1 pounds unloaded.
In the middle we chose the newest model 557 from CZ USA. The Sporter Short Action chambered for 243 Winchester was perhaps the most traditional rifle, with a checkered walnut stock.
The least traditional rifle, at least in terms of appearance, was the Howa Mini Action rifle from Legacy Sports International. Its multi-cam finish, 6.5 Grendel chambering, and 10-round detachable box magazine set it apart from the others. The right size overall, we hoped the big magazine sticking out the bottom would not make the Howa too difficult to pack.
How We Tested
Testing was performed using sandbag support from atop the benches found along the 100-yard line at American Shooting Centers in Houston. Backed by towering berms, ASC is the centerpiece of sprawling George Bush Park. For optics, we utilized both a 40mm Leupold scope offering 4.5-14X magnification and a 44mm 3.5-10X Zeiss Conquest scope, depending on which was a better fit for our different rifles. Unlike tests of standard hunting rifles in which we sometimes use three-shot groups, we demanded accuracy across five shots here. Test rounds were chosen from Black Hills Ammunition, Hornady, Sellier & Bellot, and Wolf, with as wide a range of bullet weight as we could find. Here is what we learned about these rifles.
|Black Hills 22-250 Rem. 36-gr. Varmint Grenade||Thompson-Center Compass||Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas|
|Average velocity||3637 fps||3630 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1057 ft.-lbs.||1053 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.7 in.||1.1 in.|
|Black Hills 22-250 Rem. 50-gr. Hornady V-Max|
|Average velocity||3430 fps||3371 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1306 ft.-lbs.||1261 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.8 in.||1.2 in.|
|Sellier & Bellot 22-250 Rem. 55-gr. SBT|
|Average velocity||3517 fps||3443 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1511 ft.-lbs.||1448 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.6 in.||1.5 in.|
|To collect accuracy data for all the rifles, we fired five-shot groups from a sandbag rest using various optics. Distance: 100 yards. We recorded velocities using a CED M2 chronograph, with the first sky screen set 10 feet from the muzzle.|
|Black Hills Gold 80-gr. GMX||CZ USA 557 Sporter Short Action|
|Average velocity||2916 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1510 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||0.7 in.|
|Black Hills Gold 95-gr. Hornady SST|
|Average velocity||2748 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1593 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.3 in.|
|Hornady American White Tail 100-gr. Interlock|
|Average velocity||2717 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1639 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1 in.|
|Hornady 123-gr. A-Max||Howa Mini Action|
|Average velocity||2501 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1708 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1 in.|
|American Eagle 120-gr. OTM|
|Average velocity||2543 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1723 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.2 in.|
|Wolf 100-gr. FMJ|
|Average velocity||2634 fps|
|Muzzle energy||1540 ft.-lbs.|
|Average group||1.5 in.|
Thompson Center Compass No. 10071 22-250 Rem., $399
GUN TESTS GRADE: A
Simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. Delivered sub-minute-of-angle groups with all rounds tested.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 3 lugs|
|OVERALL LENGTH||41 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||22 in., 1:12 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)||7 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.9 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||7.25 lbs.|
|MAGAZINE CAPACITY||5 rounds|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable rotary box|
|BUTTPLATE||Rubber, adjustable cant|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.25 in.|
|RECEIVER SCOPE-BASE PATTERN||Weaver|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||4.75 lbs., adjustable|
We became aware of the recall on the Compass rifle almost before we had a chance to open the box. So back it went to T-C, or rather its parent company Smith & Wesson. Little more than two weeks later, the rifle was back in our possession at no charge for shipping in either direction. The recall was triggered by concerns, according to the maker, that “there may be some instances, depending on the height and position of the rifle and other factors, where a chambered round may fire if the firearm is dropped with the safety in the fire position.” We’re not sure what conditions could cause this to happen, but we did try slamming the buttstock on the floor repeatedly in an effort to get the trigger to release without the safety engaged. (Great buttpad, by the way). We also tried smashing the rifle from the front, into the muzzle, but the firing pin stayed put throughout this abuse, so we’re pretty sure the problem had been fixed. Before smashing the muzzle on a carpeted slab floor, we took care to protect the crown by backing off the thread cap. The cap had a checkered surface for grip and could indeed be removed by hand. Inside the barrel of the Compass was the maker’s patented 5R rifling, designed to limit bullet deformation as it’s forced through the barrel. The barreled action was free floated, using pillar bedding. The synthetic stock offers an integrated trigger guard, an extended cheek plate that favors the right-handed shooter, and sling studs front and rear. The magazine was removable and designed to fit flush. The release was secure, yet easy to reach.
The trigger-pull weight settled in at about 4.75 pounds after break in, losing about one-third pound since its first shots. A little mushy at first, the trigger did improve with use. Trigger-pull weight was adjustable, but the process was more complex than simply turning a screw. After removing the action, adjustments are made by manipulating three different nuts. One nut modifies tension; another locks said adjustment in place; and a third sets overtravel. Tools required include a small screwdriver and two thin quarter-inch open-end wrenches. The owner’s manual also suggests the use of clear nail polish to lock the adjustments. Taking almost three pages in the manual, adjusting the trigger would require a healthy dose of patience and some mechanical savvy, in our view.
If the stock was plain and understated, the bolt handle offered a contemporary tactical look. Bolt lift was short, describing an arc such as between 4 o’clock and 2 o’clock. A cocking indicator showed through a round hole on each side at the rear of the bolt shroud, with a three-position safety lever above. Fully rearward, the safety lever seized the trigger and locked down the bolt handle. With the lever pushed forward so that it was perpendicular to the bore, the bolt could be manipulated to empty the chamber with the trigger remaining locked. The bolt was released by pushing in a lever located along the left side of the action.
Two sections of plain Weaver mount were supplied and already mounted in the drilled-and-tapped receiver. Thankfully, Loctite had not yet been used on the mounting screws, because initial scope mounting seemed to show bias to the left as detected by a Wheeler Pro Laser Boresighter (Btibrands.com 580022, $175). Using a set of Sleeved Scope Alignment Rods (Brownells 080-918-000WB, $65) and a pair of Zeiss rings that had previously been trued, we brought the unit into alignment and arrived at the range just an inch or two low at 100 yards.
While Thompson hasn’t become a household word for their bolt-action rifles, T-C just about owns the world of handgun steel silhouette shooting, so we looked forward to accurate results. However, we quickly discovered a major flaw. As returned from the manufacturer, our 22-250 chambered rifle was supplied with a magazine with very small numbers reading 204, 223/5.56. We were, however, able to fire the rifle by coaxing the Compass to allow us to feed rounds singly over the top of the magazine. Of course, we immediately called the manufacturer to order the proper magazine so we could continue our tests.
Despite the mix up on the magazine and having to be a little more patient with the trigger, the Thompson Center Compass was the only rifle in the test to deliver sub-MOA groups with all three choices of ammunition. Our test shooters agreed that the actual measurements could have been mixed and matched to the different rounds, give or take a blink of the eye or a gust of wind.
Our Team Said: The Thompson Center Compass made shooting tight groups look easy. The possibility of adding a suppressor for quieting highly effective rounds like the Black Hills Varmint Grenade makes us want to go hunting ASAP. The barrel was obviously better than its bargain price. We’d be willing to pay a little more for further refinement.
Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas No. 035346209 22-250 Remington, $860
GUN TESTS GRADE: B+
This is a super-handy rifle for the whole family, and it can fit just about anywhere. However, accuracy lagged behind the much cheaper T-C.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 3 lugs|
|OVERALL LENGTH||38.375 to 39.175 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||20 in.; 1:9 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)||5.9 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||6.5 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Matte blue steel|
|BARREL FINISH||Matte blue steel|
|MAGAZINE CAPACITY||4 rounds|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable rotary, flush fit|
|LENGTH OF PULL (min/max)||12.5 to 13.3 in.|
|RECEIVER SCOPE-BASE PATTERN||Drilled and tapped|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||4.15 lbs.|
One of the ways to make a rifle handier is to make it smaller. One way to make a rifle smaller is reduce the length and breadth of the stock. Another is to attach a shorter barrel and utilize a short action. The Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas essentially uses two out of three such methods, unless you consider a 20-inch barrel to be short. The smaller stock helped the Japanese-made Micro Midas measure about one full inch less top to bottom than our other rifles and length of pull was just 12.5 inches. Three spacers measuring about 0.275 inches each can be added to increase length of pull, if desired. Even at maximum length, we liked the way in which the Micro Midas was willing to fit into small spaces.
Despite weighing about one pound less than the other rifles, the Micro offered protection from recoil thanks to its forward balance, provided by a barrel that was anything but thin. The walnut stock offered lots of useful checkering, wrapping around the forend and along the sides of the pistol grip. The rubber buttpad did a very good job of absorbing recoil, despite having a slightly smaller footprint. Sling studs were provided front and rear. We think the stock was neutral for left-handed shooters, but a dedicated left-hand action model limited to 243, 7mm-08, and 308 chamberings is also available. Besides these calibers, Browning chambers the right-hand Micro Midas for 300 WSM, 270 WSM, and, of course, 22-250 in our test rifle.
One might expect the X-Bolt to work via four lugs to describe an “X” shape, but there were only three. Bolt throw was from about 5 o’clock to just a hair above 4 o’clock. A sliver tab appeared at the bottom of the bolt when the action was cocked, and the safety was a two-position design located on the tang directly behind the bolt channel. Bolt release was by depressing a lever located on the left side of the action. The release worked easily, and returning the bolt to the receiver only required sliding it into the channel. The Browning bolt action was smooth, even when rounds were loaded one at a time over the top of the magazine.
Scope mounting was simple and precise thanks to Browning’s X-Bolt Integrated Scope Mount system (Browning #12501, $70). In this system, both the front and rear rings were integrated with a stanchion that bolted directly to the drilled-and-tapped receiver. Constructed using 7000-series aluminum by Talley, we chose from three different heights. The X-Bolt Integrated Scope Mount system is available for both 1-inch and 30mm-tube scopes.
Trigger-pull weight measured a steady 4.15 pounds. The feel was like pressing against a solid object, followed by a sudden break without any grit, take up, or creep. But at the range, the X-bolt was not as accurate as the other rifles. We did come close to averaging 1-MOA firing Black Hills 36-grain Varmint Grenade ammunition, but the Black Hills 50-grain V-Max rounds lagged by almost one-quarter inch on average. The Sellier & Bellot rounds produced 5-shot groups that measured 1.5 inches across, with little variation. Certainly, there are more rounds of 22-250 to choose from, but if our results tell us anything, the Micro Midas prefers lighter bullets of modern construction.
Our Team Said: We can’t believe we’re complaining about a 1.1-MOA rifle, especially when it covered all the bases our test team had openly expressed. The Micro Midas is a bolt-action rifle that fits into a small space, was fast into action, cycled quickly even when top loaded, and didn’t beat us up. Given the overall package and the visual appeal, we think it’s worth the time to test more factory ammunition or develop a handload to break the 1-MOA barrier in this rifle.
CZ USA 557 Sporter Short Action No. 04806 243 Winchester, $792
GUN TESTS GRADE: B+
The 557’s refined looks belied its rugged durability, but its heavier weight did not seem to tame recoil. May only need a more effective buttpad.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 2 lugs|
|OVERALL LENGTH||40 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||20.5 in.; 1:10 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)||6.9 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||7.1 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED||7.6 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Blued steel|
|BARREL FINISH||Blued steel|
|MAGAZINE CAPACITY||4 rounds|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable, flush fit|
|STOCK||American style, Turkish walnut|
|LENGTH OF PULL (standard/set)||13.75 in.|
|RECEIVER SCOPE-BASE PATTERN||19mm dovetail|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3.75 lbs.|
|WARRANTY||1 year on wood, 5 years mechanical|
The heaviest rifle in our test group was the CZ 557 Sporter Short Action chambered for 243 Winchester. The extra weight could be attributed to the substantial Turkish walnut stock with oil finish, or perhaps the extra steel atop the action machined to offer 19mm dovetails. But keep in mind that the 557 Short Action was originally designed to function as a compact 308 Win., which is also available (#04805, $792). Perhaps that’s why the action was noticeably bulkier and wider than on our other rifles. Considering the 243 version shares the same CNC machined-billet action, this rifle should be plenty durable.
Shouldering the CZ found the stock to be neutral for left- or right-handed shooters. Checkering appeared at the pistol grip and along the sides, but not underneath the forend. Sling studs were supplied, and a thin rubber buttpad with pronounced toe was in place behind a 0.20-inch-thick spacer. The trigger guard and magazine well were machined from a single block of aluminum. The detachable steel magazine was robust and held four rounds in a staggered column. The magazine basepad was polymer and protruded about 0.30 inches, but its contour was smoothly integrated and not likely to snag or interfere with steadying the rifle upon a tree limb or mechanical rest. The seal between magazine and rifle was tight, and accidental release was most unlikely because the release lever was located inside the forward arc of the trigger guard.
As delivered, the trigger was quite pleasing, but further adjustment was available by turning separate Allen wrench screws for pre-travel, trigger weight, and overtravel. The pre-travel adjustment screw was visible at the top of the long arcing trigger. Access to the overtravel and press weight screws required removing the action from the stock. We did not adjust the trigger from its 3.75-pound factory setting.
Removing the polished bolt required pressing down on the edge of a thin lever that was barely visible, partially obscured by the bolt itself. Perhaps the reason why the bolt release did not consist of a bigger lever mounted in a cutout along the upper portion of the receiver (such as was the case of our other rifles) was to avoid removing material and maintain maximum strength.
With the top of the receiver machined to accept CZ’s proprietary rings, alignment was assured. Unlike other makers, the CZ rings utilize slotted-screw heads for both the crossbolts and the rings themselves. The big crossbolts were quick to tighten, but some testers complained how easy it was to mar the heads of the four tiny ring screws. Inspection of the small screws showed an unusually deep channel. In this case, using a screwdriver that was thin enough to go all the way down into the slot was more important than a screwdriver blade that filled the slot all the way across.
At the range, we found that heat buildup was a concern for the CZ 557 Short Action rifle, specifically when firing heavier bullets. As the heat increased, the likelihood of flyers increased, especially after the first three rounds. This shouldn’t be a problem for deer hunters, and, indeed, the 100-grain Hornady American White Tail ammunition produced 1.0-inch groups on average when the rifle was allowed to cool. The Black Hills 95-grain Hornady SST seemed to generate the most heat. But when firing the Black Hills Gold 80-grain GMX ammunition, the CZ 557 seemed all but impervious to heat, producing 5-shot groups that measured about 0.7 inches across for all shots fired.
Our Team Said: This is a beautifully finished firearm, and it expresses much of what one expects from a traditional bolt-action rifle. Its 308 Winchester heritage was evident in the girth of its receiver. Feeding felt sticky at times, but this could change as the magazine spring settles or the interior polishes itself. A different magazine might have fed more smoothly or pointed the finger elsewhere. Our biggest complaint was the pointed toe of the rubber butt pad that seemed to magnify recoil. We’d trim it down. The width and contour of the heel was fine, but overall we’d rather the rifle had a more shock-absorbent pad.
Legacy Sports Howa Mini Action No. HMA90622MCC+ 6.5 Grendel, $855
GUN TESTS GRADE: C
This otherwise top-grade rifle was spoiled by weak magazine retention. It was difficult to keep the mag from dropping free.
|ACTION TYPE||Bolt, 2 lugs|
|OVERALL LENGTH||39.5 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH/TWIST||20 in.; 1:8 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)||6.9 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED||6.4 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED (123 gr.)||6.9 lbs.|
|ACTION FINISH||Parkerized steel|
|BARREL FINISH||Parkerized steel|
|MAGAZINE CAPACITY||10 rounds|
|MAGAZINE TYPE||Detachable box|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.9 in.|
|RECEIVER SCOPE-BASE PATTERN||Weaver|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||3.6 lbs.|
Given the performance of 6.5 Creedmoor rifles reviewed in our January 2016 issue, we’d say that manufacturers are fully justified in jumping on the .264-caliber bandwagon. So when we found out that Legacy Sports of Reno, Nevada was importing bolt-action rifles chambered for 6.5 Grendel, we had to try it out. Although the parent case of the Creedmoor is actually different from that of the much shorter Grendel, there are still enough similarities so that 6.5 Grendel could be thought of as the Creedmoor’s little brother. Key to this offering is the Japanese-made Howa Mini Action, featuring a bolt that is some 12% shorter. Specifically, the Mini Action bolt measures 6.0 inches in length, compared to Howa’s own Short-action bolt, which is about 6.9 inches long. Given that 6.5 Grendel was designed for semi-automatic fire (specifically for the AR-15), why not find a way to speed up manual operation as well? The Mini Action rifle is also chambered for 204 Ruger, 222 and 223 Remington. A 7.62x39mm chambering is also planned.
Housed in a synthetic stock, available colors included black and dark earth, plus coatings of Kryptek camouflage and our choice, Multicam. We also picked the 20-inch heavy-contour barrel over the 20-inch lightweight, or 22-inch-long standard-profile barrels. There is also a package rifle version including a Nikko Stirling PanaMax scope, but we had the Howa Mini shipped with two-piece Weaver bases instead.
Opening the box, we were enthusiastic. The Multicam stock looked great and proved to be highly mar resistant. The buttpad was soft, too, measuring nearly 1 inch in thickness.
The trigger, weighing in at about 3.6 pounds, felt smooth and natural. The bolt’s action was light and trouble free. The bolt stem was flattened to hide within the stock relief with little more than the bolt knob sticking out. The safety and bolt-release levers were made from sheet steel. Not what we’d call refined, but more likely to bend than break and rugged enough, in our view. The bolt release had a short forward and down movement, and the safety had three click positions for fire, safe-on bolt active, and the complete lockdown of trigger and bolt. The polymer trigger guard was integrated with the magazine well, including the magazine release lever and catch. A five-round magazine is also available, and like the supplied 10-round 6.5 Grendel magazine, it will also accommodate 7.62x39mm ammunition.
Feeding from the 10-round magazine was quick and sure, indicating that there may indeed be something to the Mini Action design. Searching for 6.5 Grendel ammunition, we found only five different varieties for sale on sites like Ammoseek.com. We tested with three. Wolf’s 100-grain FMJ rounds were capable of producing 1.5-inch groups on average. American Eagle 120-grain OTM rounds averaged about 1.2 inches across, and Hornady’s 123-grain A-Max rounds helped the Mini to gain a 1-MOA group.
One of the characteristics we were looking for was portability, so in this case a five-round magazine would have been more in line with our desires. Yet the lure of high capacity definitely has its appeal. No matter how short the magazine, the release was simply too easy to activate. The lever was larger than it needed to be, and it appeared in a vulnerable position. In addition, the detent provided by the operating spring was weak. At the bench (never mind walking through the woods), all we had to do is push the rifle forward on the sandbag and the lever would drop the magazine on contact. No matter what your opinion is on detachable box magazines (such as they get in the way, they can hold more ammo, the rifle can be reloaded faster, or they’re just too easy to lose), the Howa’s magazine release needed to be more secure.
Our Team Said: This is a fun gun to shoot. The only real problem, in our view, was lack of integrity in retaining the magazine. We could see filing down the magazine-release lever and installing a much heavier spring. But this is, after all, an $855 rifle, and it should be up to the maker, not the buyer, to deliver a finished product. Past that, the Mini Action is great pick.
Written and photographed by Roger Eckstine, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.