A long-range tactical rifle should, by its very nature, be simple and intuitive to operate. It should be reliable--and by that I don't mean, "when cared for, kept clean and properly lubed." I mean reliable come dirt, dust or unabashed abuse. And beyond all this, it should be accurate almost to benchrest standards. For without that accuracy, there is no reason for it to exist.
Here's a brief but intense look at the features, strengths, weaknesses and performance of several rifles in a diverse price range. One or two models are newish; several have a proven--even distinguished--track record.
A fairly understated rifle, the LPT (Light Police Tactical) is the only model we tested that is bedded in a wood stock--which is painted black after stippling the fore-end and grip areas. While the stock is wood, it's a laminate, and it is well profiled and comfortable.
Based on the Kimber 84M, the action is a trim iteration of the ubiquitous Model 70 Winchester. The controlled-feed extractor has been modified to easily accept cartridges single-loaded into the chamber. The 24-inch barrel is medium heavy and fluted. A one-piece scope rail with 20 m.o.a. of elevation built in is mounted at the factory.
Kimber rifles are known for good triggers and outstanding accuracy, and this one proved no exception. In fact, the trigger was the best of the rifles tested.
I'm not prejudiced toward either detachable magazines or hinged floorplates on a tactical bolt action--I'm comfortable with either as long as it is well designed. The Kimber's is. I particularly like the floorplate release, which is located forward of the trigger guard. However, I found feeding from the magazine slightly sensitive. A couple of times the bolt failed to pick up a cartridge that had been slapped in quickly. Careful placement of cartridges at the rear of the magazine box eliminated the problem.
Pros: Very good trigger. Good bang for the buck.
Cons: Slight problems feeding unless cartridges are loaded carefully
Best load: Federal 168-grain Gold Medal match
Accuracy: .58 inch
Savage Model 10FP
The 10FP has it all: an action with a proven track record (the Model 10 just turned 50), one of Savage's ever-accurate barrels, and a top-notch HS Precision stock. With a retail price of just over $1,000, this gun gets my vote as the best value in a tactical rifle. Model 10 actions have always felt a little "hollow" to me, and for that reason are not my favorite for feel, but boy does this rifle perform. I was hard-pressed to find much difference when shooting between it and rifles costing three times as much. I'm not a fan of the look or initial takeup of the firm's AccuTrigger, but once you take up that slack, it breaks like a January icicle and I love it.
The Savage shot almost everything well. The best four loads--Winchester, Hornady and two from Black Hills--all averaged well under three-quarters of an inch, with top honors going to Winchester's 168-grain Supreme. The barrel is the lightest-contoured of the rifles tested, but heating didn't seem to affect accuracy, at least through 10 rounds or so.
The one option I would like to see the company make available is an extended capacity magazine--something along the lines of a 10-rounder. Whisperings are that one may be available sometime in 2009.
Pros: Outstanding accuracy performance across a wide spectrum of ammo. Best value around.
Cons: At 10 pounds it's lighter than some shooters like for precision work, but folks with a need to move a lot in the field may consider that an advantage.
Best load: Winchester Supreme 168-grain match
Accuracy: .46 inch
Ed Brown A3 Tactical
In my book the finest looking of the batch, the A3 has many features found only on true custom rifles. The action is Ed Brown's own, built in-house and mated with a match-grade, hand-lapped Shilen barrel before being hand-bedded into a McMillan stock. The trigger is also a Shilen and is finely adjustable. All components of the A3--including the bottom metal--are machined from steel bar stock.
Although it's hard to talk of handling characteristics in a tactical bolt gun, I felt that the ergonomics of the Ed Brown are outstanding. All the controls are well thought out and easy to manipulate. The 26-inch barrel (all the other .308s were 24) didn't feel longer. The package as a whole just handled well.
A couple of interesting facts came out on the range. First, the controlled-round bolt fed a bit stiffly. It seemed that the base of a cartridge sliding from the magazine up across the face of the bolt encountered a tight spot and bound up just a bit. This, I think, would disappear with extended use. Second, the rifle always shot satisfactorily, but as the barrel heated up it really got going. Point of impact didn't change as it heated. Groups just got smaller--really small in some cases.
It's worth noting that the A3 is available with a drop-box extended magazine. Considering the rifle's penchant for shooting hot, I'd certainly recommend an A3 so equipped for anyone going into situations that might require sustained, highly accurate fire.
Pros: Built with extraordinary precision. Maintains accuracy and point of impact very well when hot.
Cons: Most expensive of the .308 rifles tested. Action somewhat stiff when chambering a round.
Best load: Black Hills 175-grain match
Accuracy: .52 inch
FNH-USA SPR A3G
The term I'd use for this rifle is "hard core." It's heavier and I dare say tougher than any of the others. Although the barrel is only 24 inches and is fluted, the rifle is well over 14 pounds bare. The bore is chrome-lined--a difficult thing to achieve without compromising accuracy--which gives FNH-USA's SPR series rifles a longer lifespan per barrel than any other tactical bolt-action .308 that I'm aware of. The big feather in the A3G's cap is from the FBI, which tortured one through 10,000 rounds, after which it still shot sub 1/2 m.o.a. groups.
The action is pre-64 Model 70 Winchester design, the barrel match-grade with mil-spec certified durability. An endless variety of McMillan stocks are available on the SPR series; the A3G wears an excellent version with adjustable cheekpiece and butt pad.
Shooting the FN was an education. Recoil was minimal due to the weight, and accuracy with its preferred load--Black Hill's 168-grain Match--was phenomenal. The trigger was adjusted fairly heavy, but was crisp and broke cleanly. Due to that massive barrel, the gun stayed cooler than the other rifles while firing.
The only downside I could find is the rifle's considerable weight, which, of course, contributes to its performance. And in the end, anyone whose job description is defined by the FNH-USA A3G is certainly tough enough to tote one.
Pros: Accuracy and longevity. The chrome-lined barrel puts it a notch above others for durability, and yet turned in the smallest average groups.
Cons: Considerable weight, as well as a none-too-cheap price tag.
Best load: Black Hills 168-grain match
Accuracy: .44 inch
Remington 700 XCR Compact
Never one to allow grass to grow under its feet, Remington has introduced a new rifle that epitomizes the "short and maneuverable" concept in tactical bolt actions.
Fitted with a 20-inch stainless barrel sporting three wide flat-bottomed flutes--finished with Remington's Black TriNyte PVD coating--the 700 XCR Compact weighs in at 71/2 pounds.
The stock is OD green with black webbing, and the barrel is free-floating. Remington's notoriously good 40-X trigger is externally adjustable.
A rifling twist of 1:12 suggests bullets in the 110- to 168-grain range for the .308 version, and a 1:9 twist should support all but the heaviest match bullets in the .223 version.
Either should provide excellent accuracy to the 500-yard line.
MSRP is $1,434.
With an unmistakably modern appearance, the TRG-22 features some of Finland's finest workmanship and design.
Known since before World War II for producing accurate rifles (Finnish-made Mosin-Nagants), Sako's TRG is no exception--or, perhaps better said, it continues to be exceptional. Ten-round magazines under a particularly rigid action come standard, and a 26-inch; 1:11 twist barrel maximizes the .308's potential.
The match-grade trigger is adjustable from two to five pounds, and the safety is located inside the trigger guard and is silent in operation.
The stock is fully adjustable and is available in green or desert tan. A factory rail mount for optics is standard. Several optional accessories are available: suppressor (where legal for civilian use), detachable muzzle brake/flash hider, transport cases, cleaning sets, special bipod, night-sight adapter and auxiliary steel peep sights for emergency use.
All in a relatively svelte 101/2 pounds.
CZ 550 Magnum H.E.T
If you need to reach out way beyond the point that mere mortals stop shooting, consider this rifle, especially in the .338 Lapua. It's also available in the right honorable .300 Winchester Magnum and the very hot .300 Remington Ultra Mag.
Any of the three will reach well beyond the .308's comfort zone.
The H.E.T is bedded into a Kevlar reinforced stock and sports a 28-inch barrel to milk out the last bit of velocity and a SureFire muzzle brake to make the arm relatively comfortable to shoot. Said stock is well-designed and has a thumb hook for prone shooting with a bipod.
The trigger is single set, the extractor a massive Mauser-type, and the action comes from the factory with a dovetail mount for optics.
With a weight of 14 pounds, this is not your average plinking rifle. The H.E.T is a serious plinking rifle.