Precision Rifle

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THE 204 RUGER CARTRIDGE & A COUPLE OF BUDGET RIFLES

 

                                                                                          There's a nip in the air but the shooting goes on....

 

Normally, I get a little bit excited when a new factory cartridge appears but it didn’t happen for me with the 204 Ruger. I never even bothered to try and get hold of a test rifle when they first came to the UK a couple of years ago. I dismissed it out of hand as just another vermin/foxing round and did we really need another – especially when it appeared to be nothing more than a necked-down .233 Rem?

 

Then I read Laurie Holland’s review of the 204 last year in Target Sports magazine  – suggesting that it might out-shoot not only the .223 Rem. but even the 22-250! If so, this little cartridge deserves a bit more respect. Out-shoot? It is claimed that the 204 will shoot flatter and with less wind-drift – even out to 500 yards. But is it accurate? Unfortunately, Laurie didn’t have a suitably chambered rifle at his disposal – but I do – in fact I have two!

 

As Laurie informed us, such is the success of the 204 in America that it is almost impossible to get hold of reloading components – brass, bullets and dies have just flown from dealers’ shelves due to the heavy demand so, when I finally managed to source these rifles for test, I was worried that I may not be able to obtain any ammunition. I know Hornady offer the 204 and Tim Hannam is the UK Hornady importer and fortunately Hannam’s hold a good stock. The 204 is offered with two weights of the excellent V Max bullets – 32 and 40 grain - plus a good stock of ‘loose’ V Max bullets. With the Hornady ammunition costing around 60p a bang you will certainly want to be reloading and Hannam’s also have die-sets in stock.

 

                                                                                                                              The 204, left, is maginally longer than the .223 Rem though they share the same head.

 

Unfortunately, the excellent V Max bullets are ‘off limits’ to UK target-shooters due to our ludicrous firearms legislation but maybe Hornady will get around to printing some ‘A Max’ box-labels - thus making them legal! But then again, this round is really designed for killing small animals so I can’t see many target-shooters falling over themselves for a 204 and of course, its near 4000 fps muzzle-velocity is well in excess of the MOD’s maximum velocity rating, thus rendering it ‘off-limits’ for many rifle-ranges.

 

The first of our test-rifles is a heavy-barrel Howa, very similar to the .223 Howa we tested a couple of years ago and this one came from the same source - Fox Firearms of Manchester. Fox Firearms are quite happy to sell you a Howa barrelled-action and keep a selection of suitable stocks so that they are able to offer customers a choice. I could have had a McMillan A5 tactical but I opted for a very nice looking grey wood-laminate thumb-hole. Fox also gave me a scope – one of their 10-40 Chinese ZOS – so I was all ready to shoot.

 

                                                                                                             Two very nice out of the box factory rifles. Top, the Howa. Bottom, the Ruger.

 

Rifle number two is appropriately an M77 Mk2 Ruger, from the originators of this little cartridge. The rifle came courtesy of Ruger UK importers, Viking Arms of Summerbridge near Harrogate. No scope unfortunately but at least a set of rings, so I’ll use my tried and tested Weaver T16 for the test.

 

Of course, this article is really about a cartridge rather than a gun and we have reviewed examples of both these popular rifles on previous occasions. But, before we go and do some shooting, let’s remind ourselves of what each manufacturer has to offer.  

 

The Howa has a stainless-steel barrel and action with a pleasing satin bead-blasted finish which goes nicely with the grey wood-laminate stock. The 24 inch barrel is a fairly heavy profile, tapering from 1.17 inches at the breech to 0.832 inches at the muzzle and the muzzle is finished with a neat recessed crown. The Howa trigger is breaking cleanly at just over 11/2 lbs., which is about as light as I would go for a ‘field’ rifle. Extraction is via a claw-type extractor with spring-loaded plunger-ejector in the bolt-face. Safety is by way of a thumb-operated lever mounted just to the rear of the bolt-handle. A five-round integral box-magazine completes the job.

 

The Ruger is very similar in many respects – wood-laminate stock with all stainless metal-work finished in an attractive satin grey – a bit darker than the Howa. The laminate stock is a natural wood colour but again, it tones well with the metal-work. Where the Howa action is a marriage of Remington and Sako designs, the Ruger is a more traditional Mauser style, with full-length extractor, flat-face bolt and fixed case-kicker. Again, there is an integral magazine holding five rounds and a thumb-operated safety just to the rear of the bolt-handle. The Ruger’s 26 inch barrel is of a slightly slimmer profile than the Howa, tapering from 1.16 inches inches at the breech to 0.736 inches at the muzzle, with a recessed crown. The Ruger’s trigger was nice for a factory example and felt lighter than its 31/2 lbs. break.

 

I have two boxes of Hornady factory ammunition, both loaded with 40 grain bullets. Why did I choose the 40 over the 32 grain bullet? The 204 case is slightly bigger than the 223, so I reasoned that it could easily handle the heavier bullet and the heavier bullet should be more effective at longer ranges.  

 

I’m shooting off the grass at 200 yards, using a bi-pod and back-bag but neither rifle is giving me what I would call a respectable performance - I certainly wasn’t reliably hitting a rabbit-sized target. After burning off a box of ammunition, I move a bit closer, one hundred yards closer to be precise and I can see why I was struggling at 200 yards. I just can’t get either rifle to group below an inch. OK, it’s not a brilliant day for group-shooting but I’m disappointed.

 

I mentioned my lack of results to Dave Wilde of South Yorkshire Shooting Supplies as Dave also shoots a 204. He kindly gave me a box of 40 grain Berger bullets and suggested a load using Hodgdon 4895 powder but that meant a wait until I could get over to Tim Hannam’s for a die-set.

 

Once I had the Hornady dies, I loaded up a selection of rounds close to Dave’s suggested powder-charge and set off for another day of testing but again, disappointment – still neither rifle would reliably print a 5-shot group below an inch. Was I going to hand these rifles back without getting a result? Dave suggested trying the 32 grain bullet, so a third box of factory ammunition was purchased.

 

By this time, both rifles had had a fair number of rounds down their barrels and, as I had no 20 cal. cleaning equipment, I was beginning to worry that they would never deliver their best with badly-fouled barrels. The weather in the north-west had been horrendous for several weeks but finally, a few days before Christmas, we had one of those calm, clear cold days. Time to give me and these rifles one last chance!

 

The Howa was first up and after a couple of zeroing shots my next three bullets went into a tiny quarter-inch clover-leaf. Phew, at last! I normally shoot 5-shot groups but didn’t risk firing the last two shots as I was terrified of spoiling my only decent group to date! I switched rifles. Would the Ruger also prefer a 32 grain diet?

 

                                                                                                                                     Not bad for the Howa.

 

When I peered through the old Weaver T16 - once regarded as a good scope - the image looked distinctly inferior compared to the more powerful Chinese glass on the Howa but it didn’t let me down and again, my first three shots went into a tiny clover-leaf - even smaller than the Howa’s. Confidence returned, I followed up with a 5-shot group from each rifle and both measured under half an inch.  

 

                                                                                                                                              Even better for the Ruger.

 

Clearly both rifles preferred the lighter bullet though I can’t think why. Twist-rate isn’t the problem as the bullets were cutting clean holes even at 200 yards. I would be interested to hear of other readers’ experiences with the 204. Having found the preferred diet, I would honestly like to keep these little rifles a bit longer and do some testing at greater distances but the Howa is already sold and believe it or not, Target Sports writers have to buy their own ammo. So that’s it – except that I do have a 204 Cooper in the pipe-line, so watch this space!

 

In summation, the 204 Ruger is clearly an accurate little cartridge which is a delight to shoot as it is almost recoilless and will certainly appeal to those interested in vermin control but, with only expanding ammunition available, it has little to offer the target shooter.

 

Ruger or Howa? Your choice. Both are good-looking, good-shooting rifles and very similar in specification and my limited test did not prove that either was significantly better than the other, nor for that matter, did I prefer one to the other. Both functioned flawlessly, both have decent triggers and similar stocks. If you are looking for a new foxing-rifle and don’t mind lugging around an eleven-and-a-half pound lump, then I think you would be happy with either.

 

Finally, thanks to Fox Firearms of Manchester for the loan of the Howa and Viking Arms of Harrogate (www.vikingarms.co.uk) for the Ruger. Fox are the main UK Howa importer (www.howauk.com) and the 204 is one of a number of new chamberings offered by Howa. Contact Fox Firearms on 0161 430 8278. Viking stock the complete range of Ruger firearms but are trade-only, so see your local dealer in the first instance.

 

Tech Spec – Ruger

 

Manufacturer              Sturm Ruger, USA

Model                         KM77 VT

Calibre                       204 Ruger

Barrel                          Stainless 26 inch hammer-forged

Stock                          Wood-laminate

Weight                        10lbs. (Less scope & mounts)

Overall length 46 inches

Trigger                        Two-stage.

Magazine                   Integral – 5 rounds

Importer                      Viking Arms, Summerbridge, Harrogate.

Guide price                £ 780 (but shop around.)

 

Howa

 

Manufacturer              Howa, Japan

Model                         Thumbhole Varminter

Calibre                       204 Ruger

Barrel                          Stainless 24 inch hammer-forged

Stock                          Wood-laminate thumb-hole.

Weight                        10lbs. (Less scope & mounts)

Overall length 44 inches

Trigger                        Two stage.

Magazine                   Integral – 5 rounds

Importer                      Fox Firearms, Manchester. 

Guide price                £645 (Barrelled-actions start at £335)

                                                                                                                 

 

 

THE COOPER MODEL 21 CLASSIC

 

Elegant?

 

I never envisaged featuring lightweight foxing/stalking rifles on this website but the little Cooper won its place for the simple reason that it is undoubtedly a precision rifle!

 

I saw my first Cooper rifle about ten years ago. I wasn’t over impressed to be honest. Yes, it was clearly a few rungs up the ladder from a Remington but enough to justify a 100% price hike? Yes, it was an accurate rifle but not that much more accurate.

 

However, 1995 was a significant time in the short but chequered history of Cooper Rifles, for it was then that the founder, Dan Cooper, left the Company. Perhaps not the best time to be buying a Cooper!

 

The Company was only founded in 1990, by Dan Cooper and two other former employees of the Kimber Rifle Company of Oregon but if I were to relate the whole Cooper history, it would consume the major part of this article, so do what I did and read it on the internet at www.cooperfirearms.com The bottom line is that Dan is back in charge and pursuing his original aims!

 

So what’s the Cooper ethos all about? Several things – accuracy, quality, individuality and elegance. Already you can see why Cooper claim to stand above other rifle manufacturers. Aside from a full bespoke custom rifle, could you apply these qualities to any other gun company’s product?

 

Of course, the Cooper is aimed at the hunter rather than the target shooter – by far the bigger market in the US. The rifles are offered in an impressive array of chamberings that will mainly appeal to the American ‘varmint’ shooter. In other words, the smaller end of the vast range of cartridges now available – though recently, they have added the 6.5-284. There are no belted magnums in the Cooper range but several suitable deer cartridges.

 

The rifle I have for evaluation is a Model 21 Classic, one of a batch of six recently imported into the UK by Fox Firearms of Manchester. They were all sold before they had even cleared customs but orders are being taken for the next batch, should you wish to indulge yourself. Our test rifle is therefore on-loan from its new owner, for which we are grateful and luckily, the calibre is one of my favourites – the 6PPC.

 

The Cooper is a nicely balanced rifle

 

All Cooper centre-fire actions are single-shot. This means no magazine cut-out in the underside which helps keep things nice and stiff – essential for ultimate accuracy. Actions are made in-house and employ a three-lug arrangement. On paper, the three-lug design must be the best but in practice, two three or four – it seemingly makes no difference, providing the necessary tolerances are maintained to keep all the lugs ‘in contact’.

 

The circular steel action is a lovely piece of miniature engineering and the bolt is tiny. A conventional claw extractor and spring-loaded ejector in the bolt-face are utilised and I’m pleased to report that all three lugs were making contact. The bolt-release is located on the left-side of the action and the thumb-safety to the right.

 

Three-lug bolt

 

The barrel is a light profile tapering from 0.94 inches to 0.6 inches at the muzzle, with an overall length of 22 inches. This is more than sufficient to burn the 27 - 28 grains of powder that we will be using to propel my 66 grain flat-base, hollow-point bullets at well over 3000 feet per second. The borescope reveals a very clean chamber and a bore with crisp rifling and a good internal finish, not dissimilar to any ‘match’ grade barrel.

 

All metal-work, including the aluminium trigger-guard and heel-plate, is finished in a smooth satin-black which matches the preferred finish that most manufacturers now apply to their scopes. Even with the owner’s 6-20 Leupold mounted on steel Weaver bases and steel rings, the whole thing weighs a mere 7.5lbs – so ideal for toting around the countryside and it is also very compact – just 41 inches from its rubber butt-pad to the tip of the neat recessed crown.

 

You know that I’m not a ‘wood stock’ person – unless it’s laminate - but those of you who are, will be pleased by the fine piece of walnut that Cooper have chosen for the stock. Chequering is sharp and neat – as it should be. The walnut has a satin finish, which will hopefully prove reasonably durable but then again, one advantage of a wooden stock is the option to re-finish it when it shows signs of use. Let’s go and do some shooting.

 

Shooting groups - note front rest and back-bag

 

The loads I have put together are based on my previous experience with this cartridge and I know that most 6PPC’s will shoot well with a case-full of Vihtavuori’s 133 powder which equates to somewhere between 26 and 28 grains. I have loaded a few batches that vary by a couple of tenths of a grain. I’m using Fowler 66 grain benchrest bullets, loaded out to just touch the rifling.

 

I would emphasise at this stage that the Cooper is not ‘tight-neck’ and you need not therefore worry about neck-turning your brass. Having said that, the choice of factory 6PPC ammunition is very limited and the owner had already fire-formed some Lapua 220 Russian cases. I am resting the fore-end on a front benchrest and using a rear bag to maximise the rifle’s potential.

 

After a couple of sighters, it’s time to go for a group. My next three shots leave me wondering if I am seeing things. There appears to be only one hole in the target but I’m up near the black square and maybe I can’t see the other holes………..I fire a fourth shot and it impacts just below of what I now realise was a miniscule three-shot group! Yes, the barrel is getting warm. 

 

That group on the top target is a three and one. The bottom group measues 0.128 in. for three shots at 100 yards

 

In addition to increasing my respect for the little Cooper, it’s also reminded me that light barrels soon heat-up! Once the barrel has cooled, I try for another three-shot group. Another stunner - a tiny clover-leaf that measures 0.128 inches! The best five-shotter I can manage measures a respectable five-eighths of an inch.

 

Conditions were for once perfect with no wind but nonetheless an impressive performance from the little Cooper. The superb in-house trigger is a single-stage design that breaks very cleanly at 2lbs – just right for a field rifle. The trigger is easily adjustable for travel and pull, once the action is out of the stock.

 

For some reason, bolt-lift was noticeably stiff on primary extraction. My rounds did not exhibit any of the other usual signs of pressure and a few of the owner’s homeloads, using less powder than mine, were also stiff to extract yet the borescope revealed a very smooth chamber.

 

A heavy barrel doesn’t make a rifle more accurate but it does help keep the barrel stable when it gets hot. An eighteen-inch barrel is plenty long enough for a 6PPC so it would be possible to have a shorter, heavier barrel without increasing the rifle’s overall weight but then that essential Cooper ‘elegance’ factor would be lost and in the field, more than two shots is rarely required.

 

Before I hand this little rifle back, I’m keen to take it apart and have a look at the bedding.

The barrel is of course free-floating but the clearance is kept small for appearance. Inletting is neat but not so tight that you would risk damaging something taking it out of the stock.

 

Note the Cooper trigger and recoil-lug 

 

When I did get the barrelled-action out of the stock, I was surprised by one or two things. Although the barrel is free-floated, the first inch forward of the action is bedded. This is a not un-common practise, particularly with heavy-barrelled rifles that need a bit of extra support but I wouldn’t have thought it necessary with this weight of barrel.

 

Note bedding under the first inch or so of barrel and behind the recoil-lug.

 

Also, Cooper have wisely abandoned the common practise of using a recoil-lug sandwiched between the action and barrel in favour of a steel-block, dovetailed into the underside of the action. This drops into a recess in the stock and again bedding material is used at the rear as it is critical that the lug is tight-up against something solid. The recoil-lug is also threaded for the front action-screw.

 

The Coopers are distributed by Fox Forearms of Manchester. Tel: 0161 430 8278 and the rifle on test costs £1032. There are several variations. For example, the heavier barrel ‘varmint’ version in stainless would be £1056  - which incidentally is far cheaper than the one I saw ten years ago, so these rifles not only exude quality but are very realistically priced!

 

If you are interested in a Cooper, get in touch with Fox – they are usually ‘to order’ and delivery will be around 6 months.

 

 

 

Les’s American Import – a 7mm F Class Rifle

 

 

Les Holgate is a regular on the UK F Class circuit and Webmaster for the GB F Class website. He also shoots at Diggle Ranges in the north west and at his home range in Cumbria. This is the story of his quest to import a new custom-built F Class rifle from America.

 

 

Choices, choices...............

In October 2005 I decided to go for a new F class rifle. The question was what calibre to choose and who would build it.

Although the 6.5-284 Win. is the most popular choice, after reading Jerry Tierney’s experiences on www.6mmBR.com (Gun of the Week 53) I eventually settled on the ‘straight’ .284 Win. chambering.  Why? Well I wanted a rifle to shoot the new 7mm 175 grain Sierras but not in the WSM case - I didn’t want to have to buy a new barrel every year! The ‘straight’ 284Win. is reckoned to be better in this regard than the 6.5-284Win.

 

Choosing a gunsmith 

So that was the chambering decided but who would be the gunsmith? I already had an excellent rifle in 6.5 x 55 Imp. built on an RPA Quadlock action by Norman Clarke of Rugby. Also, I mainly shoot at Diggle Ranges, so I know Peter Walker of Walker Custom Rifles in West Yorkshire to be an excellent gunsmith who has built a lot of the F Class rifles I shoot against - including rifles for GB F Class League winner, Peter Wilson but, I had an urge to do something different.

 

The Americans have taken F Class to a new level and obviously rifles can be imported into the UK from the US but how easy was it to do this as an individual, rather than via a dealer? I didn’t know of anyone who had done it but even so, I thought I would give it a try. With that decision made, all I had to decide on was my gunsmith.

 

I went back to 6mmBR.com website and the Benchrest Central website looking at their recommended gunsmiths list and finally settled on an American gunsmith by the name of Mike Bryant. Mike had an excellent reputation in the benchrest world and has an interesting website. He is a regular contributor to Precision Shooting magazine in the US and is a frequent contributor to various shooting forums. I contacted Mike by e-mail and yes, he would be delighted to build my rifle but he had someone else who organises the exportation of his rifles.

 

Import / export

This was done by Dan Lilja, the barrel manufacturer and I would have to contact Dan direct so that he could arrange the necessary export licence. Also, Lilja would only export rifles with their barrels on. Nice one Dan - but I had no real preference for a barrel-maker so this would not be a problem.

 

Dan advised me that I would need a letter from the relevant UK authority permitting the rifle to be imported. This is where I assumed it would all go ‘pear shaped’. But no, when I contacted the Department of Trade & Industry, I was told that providing it was for personal use and not as part of a business, importation would be simple. A few days later the relevant letter arrived.

 

Once a copy was faxed to Dan Lilja, with the original to follow in the post, the process could be started. They sent me an export form, which was very simple to fill in and with this returned to Lilja, all I had to do now was wait. The cost for all this would be $275 for the permit plus the shipping costs - not payable until the rifle was shipped. By November, Dan Lilja informed me my export permit had come through, so that was the paperwork done.

 

Spec'ing the rifle 

But back to the rifle, Mike had a pricing system that I had not come across in the UK. The basic package would be his ‘long-range benchrest package’ plus the cost of which ever action I chose – in my case the BAT ‘M’ action. These prices would include all work and a chamber gauge. He could also provide extras such as dies, rings and bore-guide. The price seemed to be very competitive but of course this will vary in accordance with the specification and the current exchange-rate.

 

                                                                                                      Personally, I don't think the BAT action can be bettered; they are superb quality. Weaver base is stainless with a 20MOA taper.

 

I had settled on a fibreglass Tooley MBR stock (which I use on my current rifle), a Lilja barrel (of course!) a Jewell trigger and a tapered scope-base for the BAT. The calibre would be 284 Win. with a tight neck. Mike had advised me that none of the above would be a problem but there could be a delay waiting for a BAT action. Mike asked for a 50% deposit up-front and, as soon as this was received,  he would start ordering the bits.

 

Mike’s extensive reamer collection didn’t include one which would be suitable for use with the new 7mm 175 Sierra Matchking so he agreed to buy a box of bullets and check the freebore so that he could order the relevant dimensioned reamer.

 

Now I just had to wait............ 

By March 2006 I was anxious to know how my rifle was coming along. It was at this stage that Mike informed me that there was a 6 months delay on the BAT action. Ouch! I knew there was going to be some waiting involved and there was nothing I could do. It finally arrived at Mike’s workshop in June. As he put it “BAT may take a while but they are worth the wait”.

 

Now all the items had arrived, it was just a matter of waiting for the work to commence and sure enough Mike told me that he would be starting my rifle in late July. By September, the rifle was complete and as soon as the final balance was paid it would be ready for shipping. It was actually ready earlier but the bolt had to be returned to BAT for diamond-fluting as this had been omitted when originally manufactured.

 

Importing is easy

Now for what I thought would be the hard part - getting it into the country. Again I contacted the DTI to see what would happen next and if I needed to get a firm to handle the importation. Not necessary - it would be simple. Once the rifle arrived in the UK and I provided Customs with proof of my firearms licence it would be shipped on to me. That’s right, direct to my home address, not to a firearms dealer for me to collect. Another anomaly in our strange firearms laws. Surely it wouldn’t be that simple.

 

Mike shipped the rifle to Lilja and by using the UPS on-line tracking, I could see it arrived at Lilja seven days later. It was only at this stage that Dan charged me for the export permit and the shipping, which was a further $185. That was the first leg of the journey, now for the long leg. Still plenty of time for something to go wrong.

 

Almost a week later, I was contacted by the agent for UPS at Coventry asking me to fill in an import form. Again just a few simple questions - such as what the item was and who was the sender. Plus one other question - the potentially painful question - value and some form of proof of the value. This would be the basis for the duty and tax. Fortunately when Lilja invoiced me for shipping the value of the rifle was on the invoice, so this was also sent.

 

                                                                                                           Note my new Farley joystick rest-top

 

I was contacted the following day to tell me everything was in order and they would send it to Parcel Force for delivery the following day. No one had asked me about my licence but I thought I would see what happened. A few hours later they phoned to tell me that Customs wouldn’t release it without proof of a firearms licence - surprise surprise!  I asked if a faxed copy would be good enough as I didn’t want to lose my FAC it in the post. When they checked, it was fine and the rifle was finally released.

 

The following day Parcel Force rang to advise me that as soon as I paid the invoice for the duty and tax the rifle would be delivered. I was unsure of how much to expect but in the end it worked out at £45 duty and £260 VAT, plus a small handling charge.

 

Twenty-four hours later, my yearlong wait came to an end. When I unpacked the parcel I was surprised to find a very good quality hard rifle-case with 5 locks that I hadn’t been charged extra for. Obviously the rifle would have to be packed in some kind of box but I didn’t expect anything quite that good. When I opened the box I got another shock, the rifle was threaded and had a muzzle break, again something that wasn’t asked for but had been included in the charge. So that was it, almost a year later and my rifle had arrived.

 

Along the way I had wondered about the sense in sending my hard earned cash halfway around the world to a person I had never met but all I can say is the service and cost was very satisfactory and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommending Mike Bryant.

 

                                                                                          Muzzle-brakes can't be used in F Class - which is why I didn't order one. But I got one anyway and it will come in useful as I occasionally shoot the odd 1000 yard BR comp. 

 

Developing a load 

As for the rifle, I now have to start the process of running-in and developing a load. As I said at right at the start, my decision to go for a ‘straight’ 284 Win. rather than the more fashionable 6.5-284 was after reading of Jerry Tierney’s exploits with this calibre. I liked the idea of a chambering which would offer me the BC of a 7mm bullet combined with a longer barrel-life than the 6.5-284 – which is now considered to be in the region of 2000 rounds. With the ‘seven’ I’m hoping for more like 3000. With F Class League shoots, we can get through a big round-count on a weekend and combined with practice and shoots at my home range, it means that barrels often won’t do two seasons, which effectively means a new barrel every year! Also, those who know me will know that I have a penchant for something a bit different – which was also my reason for sourcing a rifle from America.

 

                                                                                                                                                                        Left, the 'seven'; centre, the 6.5-284 and right, for comparison the 308Win.

 

Initially, my idea was to build the rifle to suit the new Sierra 175gn. 7mm bullet or the 180 gn.Berger but Mike Bryant advised that because of differences in the two bullets it would be difficult to throat the barrel to suit both projectiles – I opted for the Sierra, assuming that it would be more ‘obtainable’ and I know the VLD Berger prefers to be loaded into the lands and I didn’t particularly want to go this route for F Class.

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Left, the 180gn Berger, right, the 175gn Sierra

 

If you are looking for load-data, the Benchrest Central forums are a great source of information and Hodgdon’s H4831SC seemed to be a popular choice – ideal, as I already used this powder in my current 6.5x55 Imp. 54 grains seemed to be a popular load so I started a bit lower but even when I had worked up to 54 grains, the 175 Sierra was only making a miserable 2700fps. But there were no signs of pressure so I carried on, increasing the load by small amounts until I got up to 2900 fps – and still no pressure signs.

 

Unfortunately, the powder had run out of ‘oomph’ and adding more powder made virtually no difference but the case was pretty full anyway. The day I had chosen to carry out my load development was an unusually calm day for Diggle with only a 40mph wind blowing! It was difficult to get a shot over the chrono as it kept blowing over but, considering the conditions, my 5-shot groups were respectable and the velocity spread was within 15 fps. so I can only wait and see how it performs at my first real outing of the 2007 season at Bisley at the end of March.

 

I’d like to think that 3000 fps is achievable but maybe with Hornady’s 162 grain bullet rather than the 175 Sierra. Another option might be to try Vhitavuori’s N560 double-base powder. It should be an interesting year.

 

Les Holgate

 

Les - many thanks for a great article - Vince

 

 

Update - I know that Les would be too modest to sing his own praises but at the first real try-out for his 284 at Bisley, shooting over 1000/1100/1200 yards against some of the best F Class shooters in the UK, he finished a magnificent second - losing by just one V bull. Not bad for a new rifle/cartridge/load combination shooting at distances never before experienced. 

 

Les recently tried 1000 yard benchrest with his 284 and shot four, 5-shot groups - 4.6 inches, 5.6 inches, 6.7 inches and 6.9 inches!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Unique Alpine - by Rob Hunter

 

 

We generally like to feature a custom rifle for our Rifle of the Month and we have got a couple in the pipeline but meanwhile, Rob Hunter has kindly sent us a review of the Unique Alpine. This works in quite well because we hope to bring you a review of another Unique - this time made by the French Unique firm. It is a very similar piece of kit, particularly the action and the unique barrel fitting system.

 

Take it away Rob................

 

I have to admit it, when it comes to rifles, I’m biased. For me, if a rifle isn’t inherently accurate (for accurate read half MOA or less) then it’s not for me. Lets face it, the job of any rifle is to put a bullet into the last bullet hole - each time every time. If not, then there’s no room for it in my cabinet.

 

I know that’s quite a sweeping statement because rifle performance can be dependent on several factors. If we put our rifle into a shooting test-rig, it will probably group better than it does when we try the same experiment ourselves. That is of course down to the ‘human element’ - that living, breathing, constantly moving, fallible thing we call the ‘nut behind the butt’ - who screws up the group.

 

So, in order to wring the best out your rifle, it’s down to you to hone your  technique – shooting-position, breathing, sight-picture, trigger release, follow-through and lots of other factors.

 

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard people say “I can’t get it this rifle to group” or “I don’t know what’s wrong with it”. Well, you need to address all of the fore-mentioned points before you even start to blame your rifle.

 

Rifles are no different from everything else in life - you tend to get what you pay for. Yes, you can buy accuracy but bringing out a given rifle’s inherent accuracy is ultimately down to you.

 

Unique Alpine of Germany have come up with a truly innovative rifle design that goes further than most to help you in the quest to improve your shooting. The TPG 1 rifle is pretty well the ultimate in modular systems. That is to say, it can be easily stripped down into its component parts for transportation or even allow the operator to change major component-parts, including the barrel.

 

                                                                                                  The Unique Alpine can be dismantled in a couple of minutes with just three Allen keys

 

At a glance, the TPG 1 is obviously designed with ergonomics in mind but the use of CAD technology and high-grade materials means that it shoots as good as it looks.

 

Art or Science

Starting at the rear of this work of art, the stock is semi skeletonised and is in its self an amazing piece of workmanship. The stock and fore-end hand-grip are made from a high-impact synthetic plastic which comes in a range of single or multi-mix colours that are molded through, so no problems with scratches or dings.

 

The grip is a thumbhole design which is quite straight - or upright - with molded textured anti-slip finger grips and a wrist shelf at the base, all of which makes for a very comfortable shooting position. The stock itself can be adjusted to fit almost any size or shape of shooter. The length of pull, butt plate, cheek-piece height and lateral movement are all fully adjustable and if all that wasn’t enough, hidden within the stock is an adjustable ground spike to help control movement with the off-hand whilst shooting.

 

                                                                                               Multi-adjustable butt-stock

 

However, the really unusual feature of the butt-stock is the ability to detach it from the action simply by slackening-off a socket-head screw at the top of the grip and sliding the stock assembly rearwards. A handy feature if transportation space is at a premium. There is one more advantage of the nylon stock; I know of at least two other manufactures who use an aluminum chassis system and both give off a metallic ring when fired, which is very irritating. The nylon stock deadens any such residual noise from the metal to metal transfer at the action.

 

                                                                                                Butt-stock is quickly removed for compact transportation

 

Moving forward to the action -  a standard turn bolt set up - the body is made from an high-grade aluminum which is finished in a mil. spec matt-black coating. The bolt has three large locking lugs and a ball handle for easy operation. The action is smooth without any bolt wobble and the lock up on the action has a good solid feel. On top of the action is a steel multi slotted scope rail with a built-in 20 MOA rake.

 

                                                                                                  The CNC machined aluminium action is built to a very high standard

 

The action fits snugly into the full-length aluminum chassis which extends forward the full length of the fore-end. This is where the use of CAD technology comes in. In order for this mating of metal to metal surfaces to work, this fit has to be perfect - which of course it is and because the action and the chassis are made of the same high-grade F33 aluminum billet, they provide the same expansion properties thus avoiding any distortion between the two parts when heated - whether this is by ambient or firing generated temperatures.

 

The use of a metal chassis and the solid nylon stock does add to the overall weight and the rifle weighs in at 6.2 kg. This is slightly heavier than average but I like this, it gives a sense of quality and security and makes the felt recoil seem a lot less than it actually is. The other plus with a heavier rifle is the degree of muzzle-flip - and thus loss of sight picture - is greatly reduced.

 

The action holds a 5-shot single-stack drop out magazine made of pressed-steel and because of the single-stack, feeding is clean and positive with no hang-ups. The trigger-unit for which you have the choice of single or double stage - this one had a single stage - had a crisp clean break which was every bit as good as any aftermarket replacement. Both units are break adjustable from 600g to 1500g and can be adjusted for pull-length depending on the length of shooters finger. This is another nice feature - the amount of people that I see trying to operate a trigger using the joint of the finger instead of the ball still amazes me.

 

When I first saw pictures of this rifle, the only thing that I wasn’t to sure of was the safety catch. This is part of the bolt assembly and is positioned on the rear of the bolt and at first glance has the look of a  pistol hammer. In practice, its placement works very well and its easy to see if you have moved it to the ‘safe’ position without any head-movement from the shooting position.

 

Changing the barrel

Moving to the barrel, which is arguably the most important bit on any rifle, the medium-weight 650mm stainless-steel tube is fully free-floating. The profile tapers from 1.135 inches at the breech to 0.945 in. at the crown. Fluting comes as standard on all Unique Alpine barrels and there is an optional factory muzzle-brake for larger calibers. Speaking of calibers, U-A offer all the standard chamberings from 223 Rem. to 338 Lap. Mag as well as specials like .22 PPC, 6mm BR and 6.5x284.

 

Now, here’s the best bit - as this is a modular system, the barrels are easily interchangeable! By simply loosening a small internal socket-head bolt and three smaller locking screws, the barrel and the screw-on bushing that holds it in place, simply slides forward and out. Simple and quite brilliant. The process of removing and replacing a barrel can be accomplished in a matter of minutes without a major change to the point of impact. The ‘bushing’ actually houses the bolt locking-lugs and it is this unique feature which makes the barrel-swap and head-spacing possible.

 

                                                                                               Barrel can be swapped in a couple of minutes - including headspacing

 

I had three barrels to test - 6mm BR, 308 and 6.5x284. All were brand-new unfired barrels, plus the ammunition used was a mixture of home-loads from other rifles that I had to hand. I test-shot the

three-shot groups off a bi-pod resting on a bench at 100 yards in a moderate cross-wind. I’m sure the groups shown would improve once the barrels had been broken-in and with a bit of load development.

 

                                                                                                Half-MOA accuracy with any barrel

 

In theory you could have a 6mmBR, 243, 308 and 6.5x284 all on the same bolt face. This is a really big selling point - no waiting months or longer for a gunsmith to replace your shot out barrels, DIY in minutes! This advantage means you could have in essence have a caliber for all occasions on the one chassis.

 

Maintenance of this rifle is designed to be done by the owner, without any special training and the whole rifle can be field-stripped for cleaning or just changing parts with a few simple tools. If you have something you can’t handle then Russ Moorse and Stefan Holme at U-A know more about the design and build of this rifle than just about anyone and have been extremely helpful.

 

The versatility of this uniquely designed rifle combines technically superior adjustable ergonomics with some of the best ‘out of the box’ accuracy performance I have ever seen. If you’ve just started rifle shooting or you want to upgrade to a unit that will fulfill all your shooting needs, then in my humble opinion this is the only rifle you will ever need.

 

                                                                                              Probably the best 'out of the box' the factory rifle available

 

With one chassis and several barrels you could have a benchrest, foxing, tactical and 1000yd match rifle all for a fraction of the cost of four separate units.

 

Is there anything I would add to improve this rifle? Well all I would do is thread the barrel for a sound moderator but if this is your thing, U-A already sell a fully moderated 308 barrel. Coming in at around £2500 this is not a cheap rifle but when you look at what you get for your money, I think the TPG 1 worth every penny.

 

Rob Hunter

Hunters Of England

 

Rob - great article and great pics - many thanks - Vince

 

 

 

 

John Dean's 260 Rem.Imp. from Roedale Precision

 

                                                                                                                                                                                    John with his 260AI from Roedale Precision, Germany

 

I’m a member of a large shooting-club and there are plenty of custom rifles around built by our top-quality UK and American gunsmiths but, when John Dean told me that he had chosen German-based Roedale Precision to build his next rifle, I was somewhat bemused.

 

John soon put me straight on Roedale and proprietor Peter Lincoln and informed me that we would be meeting Peter on our forthcoming trip to the IWA gunshow in Germany. And so we did. We had a night out with Peter, chatted endlessly about – you guessed – guns and I looked forward to seeing the results of his work.

 

Hunting in Germany is a massive industry and most of Peter’s customers are looking for accurate rifles for this purpose but Peter also builds some fine competition rifles. Like most gunsmiths, he will build a rifle to whatever specification you choose and American actions and components are no problem. He also introduced me to the Norwegian Hansen action, which I had not seen before. This is a top-quality stainless-steel action using the same ‘footprint’ as a Remington 700 but built to a higher standard. Again, he is able to obtain any barrel you wish, though the excellent Lothar Walther barrels are of course ‘on the doorstep’.

 

                                                                                                                           The Norwegian Hansen action is one of Peter's favourites

 

The rifle we have for review is built around a second-hand Sako action which was supplied by the customer. Peter is happy to do this though of course, in line with most reputable gunsmiths, he will not work with inferior products. Factory actions can be improved on with a little truing but occasionally some actions are just not suitable as a basis for an accurate rifle. Fortunately, there was no such problem with the Sako. Peter has re-finished the action in matt-black, which contrasts well with the polished stainless barrel and dark-green marbled stock.

 

The stock incidentally is the McMillan ‘Prone’ – so called because it was inspired by the old Anschutz prone stock and will be familiar to shooters who came up through the ‘old school’ of shooting. It’s a very solid, robust fibreglass stock and is available with an adjustable cheek-piece and butt-plate assembly.

 

                                                                                                   The McMillan Prone stock is a chunky affair with fully adjustable butt

 

There was a lot of sense in choosing a German Lothar Walther barrel. Not only are they an extremely good barrel and readily available at a competitive price but they are also very hard wearing – so much so that some gunsmiths prefer not to work with them as they can be tough on reamers. The profile is typically heavy, tapering from 1.25 inches at the breech to 0.95 inches at the muzzle. Twist rate is 1 in 8 and overall length 26 inches, which is about spot-on for this calibre – the 260 Remington AI.

 

The whole rifle weighs in at a fairly hefty 16.5lbs. Unfortunately, this kind of weight is now becoming ‘the norm’ for a prone rifle. F Class rules permit an all-up weight of a whopping 22lbs – significantly heavier than the 1000 yard benchrest Light Gun’s 17 lbs. To some extent this is a pity, for it removes some of the gunsmith’s skill in building an accurate rifle down to a ‘weight’ and it also removes some of the shooter’s skill for it is far easier to tame the recoil with a heavier rifle. Personally, I think F Class would have been a much more interesting discipline if the all-up weight had been that of a Target Rifle (6kg. or 13.23lbs.) plus say a couple of pounds for a scope and bi-pod. This would have encouraged shooters to explore the smaller cartridges like the 260 Rem. rather than chasing the ‘magnum’ route.

 

Before we go any further, perhaps a few words about the 260 Remington cartridge is in order, for it is not an over-popular chambering in the UK. The ‘260’ tag can be misleading as it utilises the 6.5mm bullet. Although Remington adopted it as a ‘factory’ round in 1997, it started life much earlier as yet another ‘wildcat’ morphed from the 308 Winchester case. You could call it a 6.5-08, though most shooters prefer to form the brass by necking-up the 243Win case rather than necking-down the 308.

 

                                                                                                                                                                  On the right is a necked-up 243Win case before fire-forming

 

Our version of the 260 Rem. however is the AI or Ackley Improved version. Ackley Improved? Parker Ackley was the wildcat cartridge guru in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and he wrote for many of the famous US gun publications, like Guns & Ammo and Shooting Times and eventually published a superb two volume treatise on wildcatting and handloading. Parker necked-up, necked-down and ‘improved’ just about every cartridge on the planet and he developed a reputation for ‘no bull’ writing. His books are still in print and although a little out of date, are a valuable source of information for anyone with an interest in this fascinating subject.

 

Parker’s ‘improving’ usually consisted of removing the taper from bottle-neck cartridge cases and increasing the shoulder angle to forty degrees. Cartridge cases are tapered to aid extraction – particularly important in automatic and semi-automatic weapons but not so with single-shot rifles. Similarly, a shallow shoulder-angle - like the 308 Winchester’s 20 degree - is there to aid rapid-fire feeding. Ackley’s improvements usefully increase case-capacity and can also improve powder-burning characteristics. Even more drastic ‘improvements’ can be made by actually moving the shoulder forward – as with the 22 Dasher that we featured a few issues ago.

 

Why don’t we see the brass manufacturers offering 40 degree shoulders? Simple – it’s not easy to reliably form a steep shoulder using conventional case-forming machinery. Don’t forget, we do it from the inside – by fireforming.

 

Anyway, back to our 260 Remington. In its ‘improved’ state, it is quite capable of pushing out a 123 grain 6.5mm bullet at over 3000 fps, making it a very effective target-round, even out to extreme ranges. A loaded round will usefully fit into a 308 magazine, though powder-capacity can be compromised if a long 6.5mm bullet is seated too deep, so it is essential to specify a reamer design to suit your chosen bullet. This former hunting-round has recently seen a resurgence amongst American riflemen, particularly with 308 tactical shooters going the 6.5mm route due to the better ballistic coefficient of the 6.5 bullet.

 

John uses Lapua 243 Win. brass to form his 260 cases and reports that they blow-out to a crisp shoulder after just one firing with a slightly reduced load of Vhitavuori 550 powder and a 123 grain Lapua Scenar bullet. The neck is left standard but Peter’s reamer cuts a min-spec. chamber which reduces the factory clearance in the neck area but does not require any neck-turning of the brass.

 

John’s main use of his rifle is F Class and tactical competitions, with the occasional dabble in 1000 yard benchrest and some shooters would probably choose the 6.5-284 in preference to the 260 but this is a very efficient round offering impressive ballistics from its modest powder-charge and hopefully an increased barrel-life. Let’s go and do some shooting.

 

The rifle has a tapered Picatinny-style scope-rail and comes with a 36BR Weaver scope with fine crosshair/dot reticle which is perfect for our testing. After a couple of sub half-inch groups at 100 yards I’m keen to try something a bit more challenging for, if a rifle like this is going to cut it in F Class, it needs to be laying down groups around the one-inch mark at 300 yards.

 

 

John has left me with about twenty rounds but after my 100 yard groups, I’m down to less than ten rounds. A couple of shots are wasted ‘getting on’ at 300 yards, so I’ve just enough left to go for a five-shot group. As usual, conditions are less than perfect and I have no wind-flags whatsoever, so my one group off the bi-pod and measuring an inch and a quarter is excellent. This performance is typical of a modern F Class rifle which may be required to ‘hold’ a half MOA (five-inch diameter) V bull at 1000 yards. On a better day with a proper benchrest set-up we may even have improved on this performance but today, this is more than adequate to confirm the accuracy of this bespoke rifle.

 

                                                                                                                     Sako action has a new bolt-knob and is topped-off with a Pictatinny rail

 

The Sako action is a little dated with its Mauser style bolt and fixed case-kicker but with a custom bolt-knob it still felt good. Extraction was faultless with easy bolt-lift and no signs of stickiness. The trigger was excellent for a reworked factory example and it broke cleanly at just under a pound. In my opinion, this is about right for an F Class rifle. I like to hold aim with my finger on the trigger whilst watching the wind-flags – something you can’t easily do with a 2oz. benchrest trigger.

 

 

Finally, before I handed the rifle back, I couldn’t resist having a look inside with the borescope. As I expected, Peter’s chambering work was faultless and the

six-groove Lothar Walter barrel had an excellent internal finish. The muzzle is finished with a 90 degree recessed-crown with a 45 degree chamfer, which I think suits this style of rifle. The barrel has a high polish and Peter has also spent a little time cleaning-up the McMillan stock to remove any finishing marks from the moulding process.  

 

Finally, our thanks to John for loaning his rifle and if you are interested in what Peter Lincoln and Roedale Precision have to offer, have a look at the website at www.roedaleprecison.com  There is no problem working with Peter and importing a rifle. It’s a whole lot simpler and possibly cheaper than doing the same thing from the States.

 

 

NO 5 JULY 2006 - Vince's 7MM WSM

 

 

I make no apologies for this month’s Gun of the Month even though it is my own gun!

 

About two years ago I embarked on the fascinating route to building my own rifle. I purchased gunsmith Pete Walker’s old lathe when he upgraded and after some intensive tuition by Pete and the purchase of a reamer (Pacific Tool & Gauge) an action (BAT Machine) a barrel (Border) and a stock (Shehane Tracker) I was ready to go.

 

My chosen calibre was 6.5-284 as the gun was specifically for 1000 yard benchrest shooting. I campaigned the gun throughout the 2005 season and although I had the odd eight-inch group, overall, performance was disappointing. At one stage I did doubt my abilities to build a gun and I ended up gluing the action into the Loctite Hysol bedding with Araldite, to eliminate and possible bedding problems but it didn’t improve matters. I was plagued all year with vertical stringing.

 

‘Vertical’ is often claimed to be the result of poor gun-handling and I tried all methods, from ‘free-recoil’ to ‘holding-on’ but it made no difference. I tried Reloader 22 and Vhitavuori 165 powders and normal and magnum primers, all to no avail. The 6.5 barrel would have to go!

 

Following Scottish gunsmith Russ Gall’s success with his 7mmWSM in 2005, I decided to go down this route for 2006. Whilst over in America for the World Benchrest Championships, I picked-up a new bolt for the BAT ‘M’ action with a WSM bolt-face and a 7mm 4-groove Krieger barrel with 1 in 9 twist. Barrel profile is a straight taper from 1.25 inches to one-inch at the muzzle.

 

I was more than happy with the way the Shehane Tracker ‘tracked’ so that would again be the basis of the 7mmWSM.

 

The Krieger was chambered with a Pacific Tool & Gauge reamer based on a necked-down 300WSM case with a 0.312 neck to Pete Walker & Neil Woods design and to tame the recoil, a Vais muzzle brake was fitted to the 30 inch barrel. It has proved to be very effective.

 

Although there is a 7mmWSM ‘off the shelf’ factory case, the 300WSM has a slightly longer neck, so that is the better option. 300WSM cases are not exactly falling off the dealer’s shelves in the UK and I wanted some good brass. I had to go direct to Norma who were very helpful. Their brass is very good and easily necks-down to 7mm in one pass. After neck-turning to suit my reamer’s 0.312 neck, a single firing is all that is required to form a perfect 7mm/300WSM case.

 

Thanks to Russ Gall, I was saved extensive load-development and used Russ’s load with Reloader 25 powder and 180 grain Berger VLD bullets (un-mollied) which were kindly brought back from the USA by shooting buddy, Paul Harper. (I’ve since found out however that Norman Clark of Rugby is now the Berger importer and carries extensive stocks of bullets).

 

I settled on a load which gave an easy bolt-lift and a velocity of just over 3000 fps. Although it is possible to obtain more velocity, easy operation of the bolt is essential to avoid ‘upsetting’ the rifle on the bags and for the ‘speed shooting’ required in 1000 yard benchrest when wind conditions are rapidly shifting.

 

Reloader powders can be inconsistent from batch to batch and for this reason, I am reluctant to talk about exact loads but, start around 63 grains of RL25 and work-up in small increments. Sierra’s 175 Matchkings are another possibility which I intended to try.

 

All reloading is carried out using Wilson hand-dies and all rounds are checked for run-out. Anything more than two-thou. is un-acceptable. I do have a meplat-trimmer for the Bergers but I haven’t used it yet. Primers are Federal’s Large Rifle Magnum and the bullets are seated about 8 thou. into the rifling.

 

First time out, the ‘seven’ rewarded me with an eight-inch group and a 10 inch agg. for my four groups – good enough to take second place behind Les Prior’s 6.5 Tooley BAT. Unfortunately, I was unable to shoot it in the next competition as I was unable to get hold of any more Reloader 25 powder (you don’t get many loads out of a one-pound tub!) I experimented with Vhitavuori’s 170 but just couldn’t get the velocity. Reloader 22 gave reasonable results and I was just about to resort to that when I managed by chance to get hold of a tub of RL 25 from Andy Bird, another shooting buddy.

 

Sunday May 14th was a very cold day at Diggle, with a light headwind that had a tendency to ‘fishtail’ My first of the two morning groups was a promising six-inches, followed by a ‘seven’. On the afternoon detail, conditions were much the same and my third group was another ‘seven’. It was my fourth and final attempt of the day that broke Steve Dunn’s old 3.357 inch record with a stunning 2.866 inch group, which I honestly couldn’t believe until I actually saw the target afterwards.

 

It was a great feeling to capture that record which has stood for five years and I was hoping that mine would also stand for some time but, at the very next shoot in June it was broken again - but fortunately by me!

 

The record now stands at 2.67 inches. Although it was good to break the record again, it did make me realise that it was no fluke and there are certainly a few shooters and rifles out there which are capable of doing the job. I’ll enjoy it whilst I can.

 

Although I built my own rifle, a lot of others contributed in some way and I hope that I have given everyone a mention. Thanks again guys.

 

You can read more about the 7mmWSM under the 'Projects' section of this website and on www.6mmBR.com. week 71.

 

                                           Shooting buddy John Drake made me this superb trophy to commemorate the event.

   

 

 

 

No 4 JUNE 2006 - RICHARD'S DASHER

 

 

When I first set my eyes on this month’s ‘Rifle of the Month’ I didn’t initially think that I would be writing about it as it looked to be nothing more than a rather 'well-used' Stolle but as it turned out, Richard’s Dasher soon had my attention.

 

Rifles chambered for Dashers are not common place in the UK (and you can read about my own exploits with my 22 Dasher in the ‘Projects’ section of Precision Rifle) so I was a little intrigued when I received a request from Richard to take part in the UKBRA’s 1000 yard benchrest shoot at Diggle Ranges in April.

 

Although – as I am always quick to point out – the 6mmDasher does hold a 1000 yard NBRSA record, it still wouldn’t be most people’s choice of chambering for this event – especially if you shoot regularly at Diggle - it can get windy and small calibres often take a beating!

 

But, Richard’s Dasher wasn’t built with 1000 yard benchrest competition in mind – this is first and foremost a ‘working’ rifle and spends its time in the field rather than on the bench. Fortunately, on Sunday April 9th, it was a rare benign morning. The Diggle reservoir resembled the proverbial sheet of glass – an occasion we only witness on a handful of occasions – and never seemingly when we shoot 1000 yard benchrest.

 

Richard (foreground) waits for his relay to start

 

Do I need to remind you what a Dasher is? OK, it’s basically a 6BR Rem. but the shoulder-angle is steepened from 30 to 40 degrees and at the same time the shoulder is moved forward, further increasing powder-capacity. This is the standard Ackley-isng process made famous by the late, great Parker Ackley. But of course, you knew that. All this work usefully increases case-capacity by about 10% and the steeper shoulder is thought to give a better powder ‘burn’ by keeping the ‘turbulence-point’ well inside the neck area. Of course, these are all theories but they seem to work in practise and the short, fat powder column and steep shoulder-angle are features displayed by most of the ‘inherently’ accurate cartridges currently claiming the accuracy records.

 

Left, the 6BR, centre the 6mm Dasher and right, for comparison, the 308Win

 

I only had a quick glance at Richard’s rifle on the morning relays and in fact, his groups in those ‘ideal’ conditions, were nothing to write home about. It was in the afternoon - when the wind had lifted the flags a little - that Richard made us all sit-up with his spectacular 5 inch group – the best of the day. Yes, five-inches is quite special for five-shots at 1000 yards and only a handful of UK shooters – and rifles - have shot better.

 

So let’s have a look at Richard’s rifle in a little more detail. 

 

If you can't have your own personal gunsmith, your own test-range is next on the wish list! Note the wind-flag by the way.

 

This rifle has had a colourful past before it appeared on the 1000 yard benches at Diggle Ranges.

 

The rifle was originally built around a Teflon-coated Stolle Panda action by well-known American gunsmith and benchrest shooter, Dave Tooley. Back then, the chambering was 6PPC using a 21 inch barrel with a 1 in 14 twist. This is a typical spec. for a modern benchrest rig but in that stock (the Tooley MBR is a 1000 yd benchrest stock) it was never destined for 100 yard benchrest and Richard had it built for long-range vermin control. 

 

The 6mm barrel with 1 in 14 twist will restrict the shooter to using 70 grain bullets and although it should be stunningly accurate out to 300 yards, it could be struggling at longer distances.

 

Eventually, the 6PPC barrel was swapped for a 26 inch .243 Win. Ackley Improved barrel with a 1 in 8 twist, thus giving a lot more range and a harder-hitting bullet. The work, which included opening-up the PPC bolt-face slightly to accommodate the larger case-head was carried out by Scottish gunsmith, Jim Young of Continental Shooting Services (see www.continentalshooting.co.uk) At the same time, the action was re-bedded in the MBR stock.

 

Jim has since completely rebuilt the rifle as a ‘switch barrel’ rig and provided the 27.5 inch 6mm Dasher Border barrel with 1 in 8 twist to complement the 6PPC and 243 Ackley tubes. The 6mm Dasher will comfortably out-reach the 6PPC and thus falls nicely 'in between' the two other chamberings and of course, uses the same bolt-face as the 243 Ack.

 

The current barrel was chambered using a Dasher reamer supplied by Dave Kiff of Pacific Tool & Gauge USA and has a 0.269 inch fitted-neck.

 

Says Richard   “The Dasher’s Border barrel was a hummer from the very beginning and has shot several 3-shot groups in the ‘zeros’ at 100 yards (see pic) although I now consider it to be virtually worn out.”

 

These 100 yard three-shot groups measure 0.045 and 0.053 inches!

 

Well, a five-inch group at 1000 yards is not too shabby for a worn-out barrel Richard! Having said that, Richard knows how to wear out a barrel and to date he has had three 6PPC barrels, three.243 Ack. barrels and the current Border is his second Dasher barrel – the first one being a Shilen. Although we said that the rifle was originally built by Dave Tooley, after seven barrels and two bedding jobs I personally think that the credit for the rifle’s current performance should definitely go to Jim Young!

 

Incidentally, the scope is a 12-42 Nightforce BR mounted on one of Bill Shehane’s bases, with a 20MOA taper for ultra long-range work.

 

Tooley MBR fibreglass stock, Stolle Panda action, Border barrel, Nightforce BR scope and Reflex moderator. 

 

So, how does Richard manage to coax such superb accuracy from his rifles? Well, having your own private test range in the back-garden undoubtedly helps but all that testing certainly gets through a few barrels!

 

Without going into actual load details, Richard prefers Reloader 15 powder, CCI 450 Small Magnum primers and of course, Lapua brass. For target-work, Richard prefers the 105 grain Lapua Scenar bullet but uses the Hornady 105 grain A-Max for vermin.

 

The marbled McMillan stocks are limited in choice of colour but because the colour is in the gel-coat it’s not as susceptible to knocks and scratches as a paint-finish would be so is ideal for a ‘working’ rifle. Do you like the blue and white? That’s one choice Richard didn’t make – blame Janet if you don’t like it!

 

Many thanks to Janet and Jim Young of Continental Shooting Services in the preparation of this article.

Vince Bottomley 1.5.06

 

 

 

No.3 MAY 2006 - The Ultimate Remington?

Richard Wild from ‘Down Under’ reviews a very special Tactical Remington put together by Lightforce Australia, makers of the famous Nightforce optics.

 

 

The Lightforce/Remington package comes in it's own fitted carry-case.

 

Lightforce Australia has put together a super-accurate rifle-package that showcases what is possible from assembling the best of commercially available off-the-shelf parts.

 

Built around the darling of the custom rifle actions, the Remington 700 short action, the rifle under review is very much a technology demonstrator.  In addition, it is also a very accurate rifle.

 

One of the key benefits of the precision machine work available to the early 21st century shooter is the increase in modular systems that bolt straight onto the rifle with little to no need for additional fitting.  During a Sniping Symposium held in the UK in late 2004, a number of speakers stressed the need for modular rifle systems that can be repaired in the field without the need for highly trained Artificers.  Nevertheless, building a first rate rifle from components deserves the attention of the best gunsmiths and this particular rifle was smithed by one of Australia’s best.

 

The heart of any rifle is the action and the Remington 700 short action is a favourite choice for custom work due to its simplicity and popularity.  To that end, the action has been “blueprinted” so that all measurements are as close as possible to the original specifications of the factory blueprints.  Machinery wears and dimensions grow, so it is not uncommon for late model actions to be markedly different to early model ones.  This basic check also squares the action so the recoil lug and the centre-line of bore sit straight and true.

 

The action is glass bedded into the stock using three pillars and bedding material for extra strength and stability in all climates.

 

A Holland ground recoil lug has replaced the factory one. A Holland recoil lug rounds out the customising work on the action.  This recoil lug has been heat-treated and is thicker than the factory offerings and has a greater surface area to spread the recoil. Dual draft angles allow for easy removal from the stock and the lug can be pinned for accurate alignment in the stock.

 

The first noticeable change to the bolt handle is the addition of a Badger Ordnance Tactical Bolt Knob.  The Tactical Bolt Knob is 4 cm long and increases the leverage power of the bolt.  Made from 7075 T6 Aluminium alloy the extension weighs 35 grams and is covered in a Mil-spec anodised finish.

 

 

The extra length and shape of the extension gives the shooter the impression that the bolt is slicker and lighter to use and provides extra leverage for cycling tight rounds. During a rapid fire, cycling the bolt from the shoulder feels smoother than using a SMLE during a ‘Mad Minute’ this is assisted by the fact that the bolt and action are coated in a black, dry film molybdenum coating.  For those shooters requiring something different in an after market accessory, the bolt knob comes in a choice of matte black, gloss red, gloss green, or gloss blue finish.

 

The bolt lacks a Sako-style extractor, a common conversion, and retains the original factory one. A Sako conversion is available on request and offers better alternative the longer term.

 

 The factory floor-plate has been replaced with a steel floor-plate assembly and trigger guard built by D.D. Ross. Ross M1 Trigger guards are CNC machined from 4150 pre-hard steel, to rigid military tolerances.  The short action version weighs 215 grams and is currently in service worldwide on all USMC M40A3 Sniper rifles.  The floor-plate can also be converted for magazine use with other five or ten round options available.

 

The trigger is a lightly worked over factory Remington which has been adjusted to a crisp 1 kg pull.  Installing a custom trigger is easy and a Shilen or Jewell or other after market trigger can be used subject to the need for a safety catch or trigger weight limits.

 

The barrel is a Maddco in stainless steel with a 1 in 12 twist, produced in his “Accuracy International” profile.  The barrel is 61 cm long and is both lightly fluted and coated black in Nightforce’s Teflon coating.  This low glare coating is available in five colours; black, grey, olive drab, khaki and brown and is very tough. 

 

While reviewers tend to respect the equipment in their care, the rifle did succumb to the usual dings and dangs of travel and field use and it came up like new with basic care.  This coating can be applied to all metal work on any make of rifle by Nightforce and pricing starts from $200 for a standard centre-fire rifle.  It can be applied to any surface that can withstand temperatures of 160 C for an hour and a half.

 

The barrel is chambered with a tight Match reamer which has had the throat custom ground to a compromise length to suit factory Match bullets from 155 grains to 175 grains.

 

The rifle is stocked with a McMillan A-5 Tactical stock.  The A-5 is the culmination of thirty years of stock development that began in 1975 with the production of the M40A1 for the US Marine Corps.  While the A-1 is closer to a hunting stock, the A-5 is very different reflecting the close working relationship that McMillan has developed with the different marksmanship units.

 

For example, the A-2 was developed for the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team and is current issue for the US Navy Seals.  The A-3 was developed in response to the FBI's request for a lighter version of the A-2 and is used by many law enforcement organisations around the world.  The A-4 is current issue on the Marine Corps’ M40A3 rifle.

 

 The A-5 stock reflects the most requested features of the A-series and is constructed from hand laid fibreglass.  The butt is adjustable for length of pull and the height of the cheek piece.  The butt design comes with a butt hook for use with a bipod or front rest only as well as a flat bottom for tracking on a rear sandbag.  The pistol grip is straight and the wrist of the stock is flat and shaped for different thumb positions.

 

The fore-end is wider, lower and flatter than other stocks in the A-series and will ride well in a narrow front bag.  The fore-end also incorporates a rail for accessories including bipods, hand-stops, slings and other full bore style accoutrements.  The stock is equipped for flush-mounted quick detachable sling swivels.

 

Nightforce’s titanium lightweight scope mounts and a 20 degree inclined Picatinney rail have been chosen to get the best results for scope use.  These mounts are a mixture of titanium and steel components that together serve to reduce weight while retaining the strength of the heavier weight mounts.

 

The Nightforce NXS 5.5 – 22 x 50 scope uses the new Mil-Line Reticle (MLR) cross hair pattern (reviewed in Guns Australia March – May 2005).  The MLR is a metric based pattern that offers an alternative to mildot and other multiple cross hair precision reticles when it come to aiming off and range determination.

 

Instead of using the usual quarter Minutes of Angle (MOA) for elevation and windage, this scope was calibrated for mili-radians.  The primary market for this particular measuring system is the military and law enforcement communities but it is also a decimal equivalent to MOA.  One mili-radian is approximately 9 cm at 100 metres or one metre at 1000 metres.  With the mil adjustment divided into ten, each click moves the scope’s point of impact by just under 1 cm at 100 metres.

 

The rifle was a delight to shoot.  The initial impression was that it did not feel like a .308 while shooting.  In addition, perceived recoil and muzzle lift was much less obvious in comparison with other .308 target rifles due to the design of the A-5 stock.  The Accuracy International stock gives similar feedback when using the more powerful cartridges and it would be hard to choose between the two with regard to the best design.

 

The choice of ammunition was a simple one.  With the chamber designed for factory match rounds, the NRAA’s 155 grain Palma Match loads were used exclusively during testing.  From the start, accuracy from a light-weight bipod came close to the claimed 0.3 MOA.  A ten shot group at 300 metres came in around the 5 cm mark with a couple of wind changes not seen by the shooter.

 

The rifle was tested at 300 and 600 metres and performed very well at all ranges.  Several shooters with differing body types and scope shooting experience trialed the rifle and rapidly adapted the stock to suit their style of shooting.  All came off the mound beaming with delight.

 

Out in the paddocks and scrub around Canberra, the rifle proved to be a pleasure to use.  Whilst heavy for a stalking rifle, it carries well on the sling and is hefty enough to smooth out ‘the shakes’ from a quick dash up a lightly wooded slope.

 

The stock proved itself worthy of its sniper/tactical heritage with the design features allowing the hunter to adjust to any field position with ease. The MLR reticle proved its worth for firstly estimating distance and then holding ‘over’ or ‘under’ accordingly.

 

This is a very well thought out and prepared package suitable for both field and range use.  It also shows just what is possible from assembling the best after-market options for the Remington and assembling them with precision.  At around 7kg, the rifle is no lightweight, but it also doesn’t compromise on the basic requirements for long range accuracy. 

 

The cost of this particular package with a fitted Pelican rifle case is A$8,000 complete.  Other options are available on request.

 

Richard Wild is an Australian shooting journalist. His main interests are hunting and F Class competition and Precision Rifle is grateful to Richard for this contribution.

 

 

Greeny's Grendel 

 

Whe    Dave Green & the Grendel    

 

When Eugene Stoner presented his design for a new rifle to the US Army in the early sixties, he could never have dreamt just how successful his design would become. Not only has the M16 enjoyed a long and distinguished career as a battle-rifle but, in contrast to Michael Kalashnikov’s infamous offering, the civilian equivalent of Stoner’s MI6 (the AR15) is also one of the most popular and accurate civilian competition rifles in use today.

This is even more exceptional when you consider that the Stoner’s original brief was for a weapon effective out to 300 yards - statistics gleaned from WW1,WW2 and Korea showed that most battlefield kills were inside this distance. Yet, this rifle is regularly used to great effect in 600 yard target-rifle competitions. 

The preferred diet of the target-version of the M16 is now distant from the original military cartridge. 55 grain bullets gave way first to 62 grainers, then 70 and now 80 grain bullets are popular for extreme ranges. But, as always, there’s a trade-off. Heavier inevitably means longer and if the round is to load into the original magazine (which it must for the rapid-fire stages) the powder-capacity is compromised and velocity - and thus long-range performance - suffers.

 

Even before the ridiculous UK ‘semi-auto’ ban of 1988, the ‘black rifle’ was never popular with UK shooters. It exhibited poor accuracy with its light-weight mil. spec. barrel and hand-guard arrangement and although pre 1988 Practical Rifle shooters used semi-auto rifles exclusively, there were much better options to be had.

 

Time to roll on to 1992, when UK Practical Rifle was beginning to recover from the semi-auto ban and the sport was re-jigged around the bolt-action rifle. Enfield derivatives like the Enforcer were initially popular as they were one of the few rifles around with a high-capacity (10 round) detachable box mag. Those with enough money could maybe get hold of a second-hand Accuracy International and Peter Saroney spotted a gap in the market and began to develop his detachable-magazine version of Remington’s PSS.

 

 

A younger Greeny debuts the first straight-pull black rifle at Bangor in the early nineties  

 

In those days, the first PR League shoot of the season was traditionally held at the Bangor Tunnel Range and I well remember Dave Green turning up with the first ‘post-ban’ black rifle. Some amusement it certainly caused and even in the still air of Bangor’s tunnels, the .223 struggled to live with the 308’s. Forget it, Dave!

 

But Dave didn’t forget it. He persevered, modified, experimented and slowly began to make a break-through, winning the odd stage here and then a match. Other shooters started to take notice and more black rifles appeared. Eventually, Bob Clarke of Southern Gun Co. started making a UK manually-operated version of the AR15 to be known as the SGC Speedmaster. As more shooters have gone the black rifle route, development has snowballed but Greeny has always been up there, at the front – pushing.

 

The serious ‘black rifle’ target-shooters on both sides of the Atlantic have long searched for a better long-range round but within the rifle’s constraints – i.e. it must load into the standard M16 magazine, it must be small enough to be accommodated by the M16’s tiny .223 bolt-head and it must of course offer equal accuracy and better long-range performance than the .223 cartridge.

 

The .223 case-head is just 0.378 inches inches in diameter, compared to the .308’s  0.473 inch head and by chance, Dave found out that Derrick Martin of ‘Accuracy Speaks’ www.accuracyspeaks.com in the USA was already experimenting with an AR15 chambered for the 6BR, with very good results. Dave persuaded Derrick to remove the gas-system - to verify that it would work with a manual straight-pull. It did, and Dave put together his own 6BR and although accuracy was fantastic, it wouldn’t feed reliably from the magazine, so useless for the rapid-fire requirements of Practical Rifle.

 

By chance, whilst surfing the net, Dave came across the Alexander Arms website. www.alexanderarms.com AA were experimenting with the AR15 using the legendary 6PPC case but necked-up to 6.5 and the co-inventor of the 6PPC – Dr. Lou Palmisano – was involved in the project. The 6PPC is undisputedly the world’s most inherently accurate cartridge and case-head is just 60 thou. larger than the .223, so no problem opening up the AR15 bolt-face. Enter the 6.5 Grendel.

 

The ‘Alexander’ by the way is Bill Alexander, an ex-pat. Brit. with a solid armaments background and a desire to make the M16/AR15 even better – on the battlefield, on the range and even in the woods - for the hunter but we won’t go there in this article! Although there have been 6PPC and 22PPC AR15’s in the past, a 6.5 version was a new concept.

 

Ironically, the origin of the 6.5 Grendel case is – like the 6PPC - the 7.62x39 Kalashnikov cartridge-case. It was first necked-down to form the ‘220 Russian’ in the early sixties by the USSR Shooting Team for 300m target-rifle competition and then of course ‘morphed’ into the legendary 6PPC by the aforementioned Lou Palmisano and his gunsmith buddy, Ferris Pindell. I had the honour to meet Ferris at last year’s World Benchrest Championships in the USA and although he is in his eighties, the guy is still innovating – this time with a meplat-closing die!

 

Left, the 6PPC, centre the 6.5 Grendel and right, the .223Rem. 

 

 

The 6.5 Grendel is not just a necked-up 6PPC however. It’s not quite as simple as that. To ensure adequate performance, more powder-capacity is needed and this is gained by ‘stretching’ the case (see above) and advancing the shoulder. Other subtle case modifications are also incorporated - to withstand the additional pressures generated with the heavier bullets and to assist feeding and cycling with a semi-auto rifle.

 

Bullets from 90 to 140 grain can be used depending on application but the 123 grain Lapua Scenar is probably the best all-round option for target-shooting at all ranges. All ranges? Alexander Arms claim that the Grendel dislays better ballistics than the 7.62 Nato, with less recoil and it will stay supersonic out to 1000 yards! Incredible but who am I to doubt them!

 

OK, I’m convinced, the Grendel will offer a significant improvement on the .223Rem with the only drawback being a reduction in magazine capacity. The Grendel brass is made by Lapua and honestly, it looks as good as their 220 Russian case, which is of course the preferred choice of benchrest shooters all over the world.

 

 This is the US Army's option (left) - 6.8mm SPC

 

Interestingly, the US Army are currently beating a similar path to Bill Alexander with their 6.8mm SPC (special purpose cartridge). This cartridge is based on the 30 Remington case, which has a 0.422 in. diameter case-head and can also be accommodated by the M16 bolt-head and loaded into the M16 magazine. Whereas the 6.5 calibre offers an excellent range of ‘match’ bullets, the current choice of 6.8 bullets is limited but then again, the Army’s requirements are different. Even so, why they didn’t go for the Grendel when all the leg-work had been done, I can’t imagine. I suspect that Alexander Arms would have required some sort of ‘royalty’ payment and maybe there is also a tie-up with the Lapua brass, which is head-stamped ‘Alex-A 6.5 Gren’.

 

Of course, Greeny just had to have a Grendel – in fact he had to have two and he was kind enough to loan me one for this review. The occasion was a very cold March day at Diggle Ranges when Dave and a bunch of guys were shooting a national Service Rifle comp. - the new PC name for Practical Rifle.

 

Dave loads the 123 grain Lapua Scenar bullet over AA2520 powder but I’m not about to start publishing his hard-won load data. Have a look in the latest Vhitavuori manual – they recommend 133,135 and 530 and claim a velocity of just over 2500fps with the 139 Scenar bullet. The Scenar has a BC of .615 and my ballistic programme shows a terminal velocity in excess of 1200fps at 1000 yards, so well supersonic.

 

The SCG/AR15 clones have received more than their share of column inches in UK shooting magazines, so we will concentrate on the cartridge rather than the rifle. The standard .223 20-round magazines won’t of course hold 20 rounds of Grendel but to stay one jump ahead, AA are offering 24-round magazines. Of course, I wouldn’t normally load from a magazine for testing – especially using a rifle as vicious as this, with its spring-assisted bolt. But, if it didn’t work from the magazine, it wouldn’t be a viable alternative and it’s all part of the Grendel ethos that the round functions faultlessly with a self-loading rifle.

 

As a benchrest shooter, I insist on some sort of solid rifle-support when testing - or at least a good bi-pod, so I was a little perplexed by this rifle’s bi-pod – a plastic affair which shot out of the bottom of the front hand-grip! Great for an impromptu  support in the demanding world of Practical Rifle but hardly the best option for accuracy-testing!

 

 Call that a bi-pod? 

                                                              

I stapled half a dozen playing cards onto the 100 yard backer and proceeded to shoot a few groups. Unfortunately, the Schmidt & Bender scope – although excellent optically – was just 12 power and I could only ‘quarter’ the playing cards, rather than picking an individual ‘diamond’. Yes, I usually like to shoot five-shot groups but today, it’s the cartridge which is on test, not the rifle. Once I got used to the trigger, I soon dealt myself an impressive hand with the group on the 10 of diamonds measuring just half an inch – good enough to tell me that the Grendel certainly has what it takes. With a high-power scope and decent support, this would certainly be a sub. half MOA cartridge.

 

 This group measures exactly half an inch

 

In fact, I’ve just read a piece on the www.6mmBR.com website where someone is claiming a 5-shot group of just 1.198 inches at 660 yards! The group wasn’t shot in competition but it was witnessed independently. The rifle wasn’t an AR however but even so, it sounds as though the Grendel may be a rival to the 6BR.

 

On the downside, recoil is marginally more than a .223 but still light compared to a .308 and of course, you need to pick up your expensive Lapua brass and reload – no mil. surp. ammo. here guys!

 

 Rounds just fit the M16 mags. 

 

OK, we know the Grendel is accurate, we know that it will stay supersonic all the way to 1000 yards but let’s have a look at wind-drift and put a few numbers into the ballistic prog. If we shove a 75 grain bullet out of a .223 case at 2800 fps. it will ‘drift’ about 9 inches in a 10 mph cross-wind at 300 yards. With the Grendel, driving that 123 grain Scenar at 2500fps, we get a very similar wind-drift at 300 yards, but this cartridge was designed for 600 yards and by this time, our .223 bullet has drifted a whopping 36 inches in that 10mph cross-wind. The Grendel drift is a useful nine inches less – or one and a half MOA. Might not seem a lot but, when you are trying to find that six-inch diameter X-ring on the American Highpower target or if you are shooting at a fig.11 military target, the Grendel will clearly improve your hit rate.

 

The effectiveness of the Grendel was well demonstrated that very day at the Diggle competition. When the scores were totted-up, two shooters using .308’s tied for the win (it was windy!) but Greeny took third, ahead of a gaggle of .223 SGC’s, which formed the bulk of the entry.

 

 

Dave puts the Grendel to good use at Diggle's PR shoot

 

Clearly, Alexander Arms have done an excellent job in conjunction with Lapua to take the black rifle to the next level. Of course, it’s a big commitment to move up to a Grendel as a new bolt and barrel are required, so don’t expect to see a revolution overnight but, if you are contemplating an SGC  or AR15 for serious competition, you would do well not to ignore Mr Green this time and look more closely at the 6.5 Grendel cartridge.

 

Low Mill Ranges in Cumbria are the sole importer of the Grendel components and you need to speak to Peter Hathaway-Jones on 01946 814769 or visit www.lowmillranges.co.uk  if you are interested. Reamers are only sold under license so please don’t try and go the ‘back door’ route. The rifle I used had a Lothar Walther 19.5 inch barrel but a 24inch barrel is available - a must if you want to achieve those 1000 yard velocities. Sixteen-inch barrels will also be available later in the year.

 

GUN OF THE MONTH MARCH 2006

 

Tune-up for a Tired Tactical Remmy

 

I reckon that the PSS is one of the best rifles to come out of the Remington factory in recent years and in spite of its shortcomings, it manages to offer more accuracy per dollar than any other rifle I know. Most PSS’s will shoot sub. MOA right out of the box and with good hand-loads, half MOA is possible. It’s also got a stock which would be difficult to improve on and the built-in aluminium bedding-block definitely contributes to the rifle’s outstanding accuracy.

 

The .308 PSS, that is the subject of this article has been around for ten years now and has served me well, shooting Practical Rifle, Benchrest and Tactical shoots. I would estimate that the barrel has had at least 5000 rounds through it and it will still shoot under one MOA. However, the borescope revealed a well fire-cracked area just forward of the chamber but surprisingly, the latter half of the barrel was surprisingly good. However, this fire-cracked portion of the bore will tear-up the bullet’s copper-jacket and promote  further coppering of the good part of the bore and although accuracy is still acceptable, things can only get worse.

 

I have three options – sell it on and pass the problem to some poor unsuspecting shooter; fit a new factory barrel or go for a custom ‘match’ barrel.

 

I reckon the PSS would still fetch around £450 but I wouldn’t be comfortable selling it on in this condition and I initially explored the possibility of fitting a brand-new factory barrel, only to find that they are not available! At least that cuts down the options a bit so it looks like the spare custom barrel-blank I have will be put to use. The calibre of the blank is 6mm so I have a few options – bearing in mind that the rifle will mainly be used in Tactical shoots out to 1000 yards. I’m tempted to go 6B Rem. The 6BR is a fabulous all-rounder but then again I've recently shot a rifle chambered for the Swiss Match cartridge. The Swiss Match is very similar to the 6BR but slightly longer. For long-range work this extra case-capacity is useful but the Swiss only lengthened it because they wanted a cartridge that would feed better than the shorty 6BR. The Swiss Match is a superb cartridge that should do everything that the .308 will – with less powder and less recoil – let’s do it!

 

 Left 6XC, centre, Swiss Match, right 6BR

 

First job is to remove the old barrel and that was a bit of an eye-opener. It took a good smack with the mallet to shock it off and no wonder - take a look at the picture – rust! Well I can tell you that although this rifle has been used in the rain occasionally, it has always been pampered and never put away wet. The action-threads will need a good clean-up if we are to get a proper fit with the new barrel-threads.

 

Yup - that's rust!

 

From the machining-marks across the face of the Remington action, it is obvious that it has never been properly ‘trued’ in a lathe, so this is the first job. Using a snug-fitting mandrel, the action is set up between centres in the lathe and a skim taken off the face. In our case, two thousandths of an inch was enough to remove all the bluing, so in reality, it wasn’t far off – but enough to let in some water!

 

A light skim off the face helps true-up the Remmy action.

 

It’s rare to find a new Remington with both bolt-lugs in contact but because my old Remington has had over 5000 rounds through it, both lugs are making good contact, so no further work here, apart from a light lapping to even-out the deeper score-marks. Of course, there is a lot more you can do to accurise your Remington action but unless it is to be used for serious benchrest competition, it’s not really cost effective.

 

Some very careful measuring is now called for. Custom actions like Stolles and BATs are usually made to such a high standard using CNC machinery and you can almost thread and chamber a barrel simply by using the factory-supplied dimensions. Of course, it’s always preferable to have the action available but with glue-in actions on benchrest rifles, where you can’t try the barrel for thread-fit and headspace until you take the barrel out of the lathe, you sometimes need to rely on the repeatability of the action-maker's CNC machinery.

 

The tolerances are such on mass-produced actions, that each one is slightly different and some precise measurements must therefore be made – from the face of the action to (each of) the bolt-lugs and to the bolt-nose. Armed with these measurements, we can cut the tenon to length and diameter and turn our 16 tpi barrel-thread.

 

I’m using a four-groove Krieger barrel and the gunsmiths first job it to set it up in the lathe to run within one tenth of a thou. on the bore. This process can take some time but the four-groove Kriegers are easier, as each of the four lands in the bore can be aligned with the four pins on the spider-chucks at either end of the headstock.

 

When cutting the thread, we try the action frequently, so that exactly the right fit is obtained – not too tight – we need just a bit of ‘wobble’ so that the barrel-shoulder will snug-up on that newly-cut face on our action rather than binding on the thread. Once we have the action in place, we need to cut the bolt recess. This recess is what Remington call their ‘third ring of steel’ – though most manufacturers manage without it. Again we are looking for sufficient clearances at the bolt-face and around the bolt-nose but we're going a bit tighter than you will normally find on a Remmy. By reducing these clearances, we will – in theory – gain a little accuracy but the gain is not worth the extra it would cost Remington to work to these standards.

 

Cutting the bolt-nose recess - what Remington call their 'third ring of steel'.

 

With the barrel still in the lathe and the action nipped-up, I’ve ‘blued’ all the vital surfaces to check that our reduced tolerances haven’t disappeared altogether. This could be dangerous.

 

With all that sorted, we can now cut the chamber. The Swiss Match is quite a small chamber and it will take about an hour. We're using a muzzle-flush system through the bore which helps produce a superb finish by reducing the possibility of chips building up on the reamer and scoring the chamber walls. With about 50 thou. to go, it’s time to check the headspace.

 

We do this by inserting the ‘go’ gauge in the chamber, screwing on the action with the bolt in place and closed and then measuring the gap between the action-face and barrel-shoulder, using feeler-gauges. If you are using a recoil-lug, don't forget to slip it over the threads - I'm not but more on this later. The gap measured 46 thou. Using a dial-gauge, we can now accurately make the final cut to bring the chamber to the exact length. We want to feel just the slightest resistance on the bolt as we close it on the ‘go’ gauge. It's best to do this in two steps. We took it down by 30 thou., checked and then made the final cut.

 

The job is now finished but before we remove the barrel, we will remove all the sharp corners on all the newly cut surfaces with a piece of wet & dry paper. It’s now just a matter of crowning and polishing the barrel to a mirror finish.

 

Unfortunately, the new heavier barrel which tapers from 1.2 inches to 0.93 inches at the muzzle, will not fit the old barrel-channel on the PSS stock, so it’s over to shooting buddy Willy Dixon for a session on the miller to hog-out the channel. Another ‘theory’ I’m trying is ditching the recoil-lug. I’m hoping to control recoil by making a plate which will be a tight-fit in the magazine recess in the Remmy action and as the rifle will be single-shot only, the box-magazine cut-out in the stock will be filled with Devcon. Hopefully, this work will also improve stiffness and bedding. A new Shilen competition trigger with an 8oz let-off and a decent bolt-knob completes the job. Suddenly, this old Remmy looks a bit less tired.

 

We had to 'hog-out' the PSS barrel-channel to take the heavier Krieger tube.

 

I'm hoping this tight-fitting loading-plate will help stiffen the action when it's glued in place. I'm also ditching the recoil-lug.

 

As our reamer is a tight-neck, I will need to neck-turn some brass before I can shoot and run-in the new barrel. Even when running-in, the Swiss Match proved to be a real ‘tack-driver’ and I was soon punching out sub. MOA five-shot groups at 100 yards. Recoil is minimal and I reckon that it will do the job right out to 1000 yards.

 

A new bolt-knob completes the job. Scope is one of the new Nikkos - not bad for the money. 

 

If you were to attempt the same thing using a decent gunsmith, I guess it would cost you between £450 - £650 but what else could you buy for the same money that will give you this kind of performance?

 

Don’t forget, a few of our gunsmiths have Swiss Match reamers – Pete Walker of Walker Rifles, West Yorkshire, Precision Rifle Services in Scotland and Jim Young in Scotland. Pete Walker also has brass for the Swiss Match.

 

 

 

        

 

 

 

 

 

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