June 08, 2022
From the time Remington’s Model 788 was introduced in 1967 until it was discontinued in 1983, this relatively inexpensive sporter made a very credible case for being the best cheap bolt-action rifle ever made. Actually, the term “cheap” doesn’t do the rifle justice. “Relatively inexpensive” is a much more accurate—and less disrespectful—description. In 1969, the suggested retail price was $90. In comparison, the company’s premium Model 700 BDL started at $155.
Granted, the horrors of inflation would peg today’s Model 788/Model 700 comparative suggested retails at $654 to $1,138, but the Model 788 had a whole lot more going for it than the hoary ad-copy cliché of “value.”
The Model 788 was a new design, not simply an economy-driven knockoff of an existing Remington platform. It was the brainchild of Remington designer Wayne Leek and was ultimately offered in nine short-action calibers and in barrel lengths of 22, 24 and, near the end of its production run, 18.5 inches.
The Model 788’s bolt featured nine rear locking lugs, a 60-degree lift, and an unadorned, plain Jane stock with a Monte Carlo comb and—to the horror of many Mauser 98 and Winchester Model 70 purists— a three-round detachable box magazine. An overabundance of steel in the receiver made for exceptionally exceptional strength and rigidity, and the Model 788 quickly gained a reputation for exceptional accuracy. Legend has it this proved somewhat of an embarrassment to Remington’s flagship Model 700. Regardless of whether this was true, the fact remains that the Model 788 was a heck of a shooter for its modest price. Even Elmer Keith— no fan of budget hardware— was impressed by the rifle, which he reviewed after a writer’s seminar the Big Green put on prior to Elmer’s article in the June 1967 Guns & Ammo, “Remington’s Rack of New Guns”:
The Model 788 is a stiff, heavy action and should be ample for all the loads for which it is designed. They claim the fastest lock time in the world for this rifle. There is no locking on the bolt handle, but the case head is enclosed in the bolt face. The rear end of the bolt is also fully enclosed so no gas can escape to the rear. The cartridge case is fully supported at rear and sides, and it looked to me like a very strong action in every respect.”
Remington 788 History
I was fortunate enough to own a Model 788 in .243 back in the early 1980s. I found it to be a first-rate rifle for California mule deer, but like an idiot, I sold it because I had a new kid and needed the money. Since I had a .30-06 as well, the choice of which one to keep was fairly obvious, although a painful one. So painful, in fact, I resolved that someday I’d get my hands on another. My lust for one was seriously aggravated back in the early 2000s when G&A reloading guru Bob Forker told me he used a .44 Mag. Model 788 to calibrate the instrumentation when he was working on the 20mm chain gun for Hughes Helicopters back in the day. I asked him if he’d ever thought of selling it and was politely but firmly rebuffed.
But things brightened up several decades later. I recently borrowed a very nice specimen in .30-30 Win. from shooting buddy Doug Fee. It has a hardwood stock, although some early specimens came with walnut. Along with the .44 Mag., .222 Rem. and 7mm-08 Rem., the .30-30 is one of the Model 788’s rarer chamberings, as it was discontinued five years into the rifle’s production run. Snide remarks about the limitations of the .30-30 usually stem from its traditional platform: a lever-action carbine with a two-piece stock, capricious barrel band, open “buckhorn” sights and a relatively leisurely lock time. But stick the old saddle gun classic cartridge in the scoped, 22-inch barreled Model 788 with its quicker lock time—a claimed 2.5 milliseconds—and superior trigger, and the old .30 WCF becomes something of a different animal.
This is particularly so when updated loads like Hornady’s polymer-tipped, “spitzerized” LeverEvolution ammo are part of the equation. If you ever had any doubt as to the tack-driving potential of this 126-year-old legend, the Model 788 will dispel them.
In keeping with the vintage aspect of the Model 788, I mounted an old steel Weaver V-7 variable in Weaver mounts. Test loads included Federal’s 150-grain Hammer Down, Buffalo Bore’s 150-grain Barnes all-copper TSX and Hornady’s 140-grain LeverEvolution—all premium items above and beyond performance-wise from the traditional 150- or 170-grain roundnose softpoint. Before I started shooting groups, I broke out my faithful Shooting Chrony, set it up 10 feet from the muzzle and checked to see what kind of numbers I was getting. The Federal averaged 2,380 fps, the Buffalo Bore averaged 2,403 fps and the Hornady averaged 2,466 fps. No, it’s still not a .308, but from the 22-inch barrel of Doug’s Model 788, it’s reasonably close to the .300 Savage and mild recoiling to boot. And factory .30-30 ammo is a heck of a lot easier to find.
Next, I set up targets to see how the Remington’s legendary reputation for accuracy still held up. I needn’t have worried. At 100 yards from a sandbag rest, the old Model 788 easily paid for its freight and then some. The Buffalo Bore and Hornady loads both delivered three-shot groups right at an inch, while the Federal stuff came in at just under 1.5 inches. The trigger was a reasonably crisp four pounds with almost nothing in the way of creep.
Over the decades since Remington discontinued the Model 788. The company has offered a couple of takes on an economy rifle concept to fill the same niche and still stay under the suggested retail price of an entry-level Model 700 ADL. One was the Model 710 (2001–09). It was something less than a screaming success and was replaced by the Model 770 in 2007. The Model 783—built on Marlin’s X7 platform once Remington had acquired Marlin— was introduced in 2013.
But in my opinion, none of ’em match up with the Model 788. And, apparently, I’m not alone here. Auction-wise, I’ve seen Model 788s list at $800 or so for starting bids. And climb considerably from there, depending of course on condition and relative caliber scarcity. A total of 565,000 were built, so they’re out there, but a nice one won’t stay in the used rack for long, and you won’t be paying that original suggested retail of $90 for it.