A review of the newest in hunting rifles
Almost 50,000 dealers and industry people attended the SHOT Show in January in Orlando, Florida, to see the newest products for 2007.
Twenty-oh-seven won't exactly go down as a banner year for the introduction of new rifles. Most of what were hailed as "new" at the 2007 SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show are variations of existing models. But that has been the rule rather than the exception for several years.
That's not to say there is nothing new to talk about, however. There are several interesting developments, so let's get to it. As in the past, this review does not purport to encompass all that's new in rifles, so the omission of any particular make or model should not be construed as it not being newsworthy in any way.
Browning. The biggest news here is that there's now a takedown version of the BLR lever-action rifle. By simply pulling a flush-mounted lever on the underside of the forearm, the forearm/barrel unit can be removed from the receiver for easy transport. A scope can be mounted on the receiver in traditional manner or out on the barrel using an optional scout-style base that replaces the rear leaf sight. The latter option requires a long-eye-relief scope, and because it's mated to the barrel rather than the receiver, it better maintains zero when the gun is taken down and reassembled.
Browning BLR Takedown
This rotary-bolt, detachable-magazine rifle is strong enough to handle modern high-intensity cartridges, including belted and short magnums. Chamberings range from .22-250 to .450 Marlin.
Browning T-Bolt Heavy Barrel
In other Browning news, the unique T-Bolt .22 rimfire rifle that was introduced last year is now offered in a heavy-barrel target version. Also new are left-hand versions of the BAR in both ShortTrac and LongTrac and models wearing Dura-Touch stocks covered completely in Mossy Oak's New Break-Up camo. www.browning.com
Kimber. By the time this is being read the Kimber 8400 will be available in an express-style rifle in .375 H&H Magnum. When I saw the first prototype of the long-action Model 8400 a couple of years ago in .30-06, I noticed that the loading port and magazine were both dimensioned to handle full-length magnum cartridges, so this development is not surprising to me.
The Kimber people were showing what would be the definitive version of this gun at the SHOT Show, and it looks quite elegant, as well as having such practical features as a dropped box, a quarter rib with sturdy open sights and a barrel-mounted swivel stud.
Kimber has added the .338 Federal to its chamberings for the Model 84. This is the subject of Wayne van Zwoll's cover story in this issue. www.kimberamerica.com
Legacy Sports/Howa. Legacy Sports, importer of the Howa M-1500 bolt action, has brought us the first production rifle to be mated with Knoxx Industries' Axiom stock. Designated the Howa/Axiom, the stock alone makes this gun unique in both appearance and operation.
Expansion springs hidden inside the tubular spine of the buttstock and the pistol grip attenuate recoil forces by as much as 90 percent, or so the company claims. Both springs are attached to a sliding, wedge-shaped block that sits atop the pistol grip and to which the entire working half of the gun is attached. These springs are quite stout, as it takes considerable downward pressure on the barrel with the butt of the stock resting on the floor to get any movement at all. What movement there is under recoil is limited to a total range of less than an inch. An inch is not a lot, but with heavier-recoiling calibers it is important to have a scope with maximum eye relief. I've tested a Howa/Axiom in 7mm WSM and had no issues with eye relief using one of Legacy's Nikko-Sterling 4-16x44 Nighteater scopes, even though it was set at its highest power.
On the Axiom's tubular spine is a butt assembly that is adjustable for pull lengths of 11 1/2 to 14 1/2 inches. The high comb is also adjustable fore and aft and can be removed to lower the sighting plane for iron-sight use. For a sporting rifle, the Howa/Axiom looks more tactical than most tactical rifles, but its features are quite functional. www.legacysports.com
Marlin's .308 Marlin Express (left) and a .308 Winchester.
Marlin. The news here is not a new gun but the .308 Marlin Express cartridge. Developed for Marlin by Hornady, the .308 ME achieves .308 Winchester ballistics in the company's flagship Model 336 lever-action rifle. They do it using new, high-energy propellants and advanced loading technology in conjunction with Hornady's Evolution Flex-Tip bullet that frees tubular-magazine rifles like the 336 to use spitzer bullets.
The .308 Marlin Express pushes a 160-grain bullet at 2,660 fps, which compares quite favorably with the .308 Win. 165-grain loading at 2,700 fps. In the 24-inch-barreled Marlin MXLR (a fancy, all-stainless version of the 336), a three-inch-high zero at 100 yards puts you 1.7 inches high at 200 and 6.7 inches low at 300 — unheard-of ballistics in a traditional lever-action rifle. www.marlinfirearms.com
Marlin 336 MXLR
Mossberg. Best known for its reliable and highly affordable shotguns, this company continues to expand the bolt-action Model 100 ATR centerfire-rifle line. Introduced just three ye
ars ago in only two calibers, .270 Win. and .30-06, the line now includes a short action in .243 and .308, and this year the .25-06, 7mm Rem. Mag and the .300 and .338 Win Mags have been added.
Mossberg 4X4 Laminate
In conjunction with these new chamberings, a new stock is being offered in three variations: an injection-molded synthetic in black, traditional walnut and a black wood laminate. Designated as the 4X4, the new stock has a unique comb line and a ventilated fore-end that has a distinctive slope to the tip. To reduce weight in the laminate and walnut versions, the right side of the butt is dished out; in the synthetic version it's skeletonized. All are available in Mossberg's Scoped Combo, which includes a pre-mounted, laser-sighted 3-9x40 scope. Every model in the standard 100 ATR line is also offered with an optional scope package. www.mossberg.com
Remington. Among the new Remington introductions, the one that got my interest was the all-stainless version of the Model 798. As most of you know, Remington is now bringing in the old Mark X commercial '98 Mauser barreled actions made in Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia).
To my knowledge, this is the first commercial rendering of the classic '98 Mauser in stainless steel. Remington is stocking it in a Rutland forest green/brown laminated stock and glass bedding it. I think Paul Mauser himself would be flattered by this rifle. Calibers offered in the 798 Stainless Laminate are .243, .25-06, .270 Win., .30-06, 7mm Rem. Mag and .300 Win.
Remington Model 700 VL SS
The Model 710 bolt-action that Remington distributes through the discount chains as a package with a pre-mounted Bushnell 3-9X scope this year becomes the Model 770. It has a new synthetic stock with molded-in rubberized grip panels, a more positive latch for its detachable magazine and an easier-camming bolt. Like the 710, this newest iteration is available only as a package deal complete with mounted scope. Chamberings offered are as before: .243, .270 Win., 7-08 Rem., .308 Win., 7mm Rem. Magnum and .300 Win. Magnum.
Under the "Welcomed News" heading is Remington's announcement that all the new Model Seven and 700 offerings for 2007 are equipped with a newly designed trigger. Called the X-Mark Pro, most of the components look and operate very similar to their counterparts in the former trigger, but the new one is better and safer. For one thing, when the two-position side safety is engaged, both the sear and trigger are blocked. On the old trigger only the sear was blocked. Moreover, this new unit can be safely adjusted to a pull weight that's 45 percent lower than the current model, and thanks to a big investment in new, precision CNC machines, the trigger/sear surfaces are polished to a micron finish. The result is a trigger that received a big thumbs-up by everyone who tried it on the shooting range at a recent writer's seminar.
This new X-Mark Pro trigger can be retrofitted to existing Model Sevens and 700s, but it must be done by the company or one of its authorized repair stations.
In the extensive Model 700 line, the SPS and VL SS varmint rifles get revised synthetic and laminated thumbhole stocks, respectively, both of which feature ventilated fore-ends and the new X-Mark Pro trigger that was introduced two years ago and is gradually being phased into the entire 700 line. The Model Seven CDL SF — the deluxe job — gets an all-stainless, fluted barreled action; it, along with the above-mentioned varmint models, is being chambered for the new .17 Remington Fireball.
In the rimfire line there's a new, luxury-class bolt action designated as the Model 547 Custom, meaning it's strictly a Custom Shop proposition. Remington designers have always had a good grasp of what makes an elegant rifle stock, and the 547 reflects that in spades. This gun reminds me of the company's Model 700 African Plains Rifle, which to my eyes is the best-looking bolt-action rifle around.
But it's not just an elegant stock and a highly polished blue job that sets this gun apart. It sports a 22-inch Shilen button-rifled barrel with a Match Chamber (in .22 LR), a jeweled bolt body with an integral handle and cocking piece, a trigger that's factory-adjusted to three pounds, and a written guarantee to shoot half-inch groups at 50 yards. It's really a gorgeous rifle, but it's priced accordingly, at $1,132. www.remington.com
Ruger. This year the flagship Model 77 Mk. II rifle gets a new, trimmer walnut stock with wraparound checkering on the fore-end and a softer recoil pad. Previous iterations of Ruger's wood stocks have been a bit too chunky, particularly from the wrist forward. That's now been addressed with what is now called the Model 77 Hawkeye. Also incorporated is a lighter, crisper trigger designated as the LC6; I dry-fired several so-equipped guns at the SHOT Show, and it is indeed a better trigger than the current one. The floorplate on the Hawkeye is now steel, and it has a new latch that is said to be more positive in its operation and more secure. I can attest to that, too.
Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye African
The Hawkeye is also being rendered in a synthetic-stock version called the All-Weather. Both are available in a wide range of chamberings from .204 Ruger to .338 Win. Mag. The synthetic-stock model is also being offered in .338 Federal and the almost-forgotten .358 Winchester. These last two chamberings are also available this year in the Ruger Mark II Frontier Rifle, designed for forward scope mounting in "scout rifle" fashion.
Hosting the new .375 Ruger cartridge are two other new and distinct Model 77 rifles, the Hawkeye Alaskan and Hawkeye African. The former sports a Hogue synthetic, overmolded stock with rubberized grip panels and a 20-inch barrel; the African version a walnut stock and a 23-inch barrel. Both come with iron sights standard. www.ruger.com
Sako. This highly respected Finnish gunmaker has refined its Model 75 bolt-action rifle into what is now the Model 85. Most noteworthy among the several new features is that it is now a controlled-round-feed action using a detachable magazine that can be loaded from the top.
The back of the receiver bridge and bolt shroud have been redesigned to save weight and provide more bolt
support. Bolt travel is very smooth with no discernable lateral play. It's all well done and very attractive. An aluminum bedding block has been incorporated into all versions of the Model 85 — the Hunter, Stainless Synthetic and the Grey Wolf, which wears a black laminated stock. Being lighter than the Hunter and Grey Wolf, the Stainless Synthetic comes with a new, highly efficient buttpad — you know, one of those squishy-soft ones that really soak up and distribute recoil. www.beretta.com
Savage. There's a new version of the Model 10 called the Predator Hunter. Built on the short 110 action, this model is distinguished by its medium-heavy 22-inch barrel and the fact that the entire gun — barrel, action, triggerguard, long bolt handle and stock — is dipped in Mossy Oak's Brush camo pattern. Calibers offered are .223 and .22-250.
Savage Model 10 Predator
Savage Model 10 FCM Scout
The Mark II Classic .22 rimfire gets an elegant new Monte Carlo stock with contrasting fore-end tip, wraparound cut checkering and a glossy finish. Also new among its rimfire offerings is the Mark II BTVS, a stainless, heavy-barreled target rifle with a laminated thumbhole stock. The Accu-Trigger is now standard in Savage's rimfires as well as its centerfire rifles. www.savagearms.com
Thompson/Center. By far the newest of the "new" guns unveiled at the SHOT Show was the Icon, a bolt-action rifle that offers several features never seen on a production rifle. For one, there's an integral Weaver-type mount base machined into the receiver that allows fore/aft latitude for scope-ring placement. On the receiver bridge there are two positioning slots and three on the receiver ring. The lateral slots are a bit unsightly on a naked gun, but once a scope is mounted, the unoccupied slots are pretty much covered by the rings.
Thompson/Center TC Icon
The flat-bottomed receiver is machined from a solid billet and has three integral recoil lugs that engage abutments in an aluminum bedding block that is imbedded in the walnut stock — a feature pioneered by H-S Precision. The Icon's bolt sports three locking lugs up front oriented on 120-degree centers, making for a short, 60-degree rotation. A tool is provided not only to disassemble the bolt but to allow switching the bolt handle to one of three different styles.
This is a "fat bolt" action in that the locking lugs do not protrude beyond the diameter of the bolt body, meaning there are no lug raceways, only a perfectly round hole in the receiver in which the bolt reciprocates.
Other noteworthy features are an adjustable trigger and a unique side safety, which has two exposed buttons. The larger rear button activates the two-position safety, while a smaller button just ahead of it locks the bolt. When the safety is disengaged, so, too, is the bolt lock. And last, the Icon uses a detachable magazine, a feature that more and more riflemakers are going to these days.
In conjunction with the Icon, Thompson/Center is introducing a new proprietary cartridge, the .30 T/C. Developed by Hornady, the .30 T/C is of medium length, like the .308 Win., but its ballistics beat the vaunted .30-06 by 90 fps pushing the same 150-grain bullet. Like the .308 Marlin Express, this disproportionate performance is achieved using new, high-energy propellants not available to handloaders as well as advanced loading techniques. www.tcarms.com
Weatherby. After an absence of many years, Weatherby has a .22 rimfire back in its catalog. It's called the Mark XXII, the same name as the Weatherby semiauto that was made between 1964 and 1989, but this one is a bolt-action, clip-fed repeater. The rifle is a joint venture with Anschutz, one of Europe's best-known rimfire manufacturers, and there is a complete review in this issue. www.weatherby.com
Winchester. The only really new rifle this year from Winchester is also a rimfire. Called the Wildcat, it is a bolt-action repeater, and there are two versions, a sporter and a heavy-barreled target/varmint model. The design features a detachable box magazine that fits within a plastic housing that is an extension of the triggerguard bow and as such is reminiscent of the late 19th century martial arms of Mannlicher design. It's worth mentioning that each rifle comes with four magazines.
Winchester Wildcat Target/Varmint
Other nice touches include a recessed muzzle crown, checkered stock and an adjustable, fold-down leaf rear sight. The target model has a heavy .866-inch bull barrel without sights and is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Both guns are of surprisingly good quality, considering that the sporter carries an MSRP of just $229 for the sporter and $265 for the target/varmint.
Winchester has added a Grade II version of the Super X autoloading centerfire rifle. The new model has a unique length-of-pull adjustment to customize the stock to the shooter's measurements.
Winchester John Wayne 100th Anniversary Custom Grade Model 1892
And to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of movie legend John Wayne, Winchester is presenting two limited-edition Model 1892 lever guns for 2007. Both grades feature the large loop lever that Wayne always carried in his Westerns. Chambered in .44-40 caliber with 18 1/2-inch barrels, the carbines are engraved with likenesses of the actor on both sides of the action and feature scroll engraving with Wayne's signature and banners that read "Courage, Strength, Grit" and "John Wayne, American, 1907-2007." The High Grade Model has an engraved silver nickel nitride receiver, while the Custom Grade has gold embellishm
ents and fancier wood. There will be 4,000 High Grade models made and only 1,000 Custom Grades, priced at $1,999 and $3,499, respectively. www.winchesterguns.com