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RIFLES

Hundreds of rounds of test firing led to tight groups, sore shoulders and some real surprises from one of the best selections of new guns we've seen.
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This year, despite some chilly days at the test range, we recorded some of the smallest groups ever and also the most consistently good accuracy. This, of course, is due to good rifles, good scopes, good shooting and, especially, good ammunition. The ammunition by Speer, Remington and Winchester was better than good and in some calibers matched even expertly loaded handloads. Hornady's .17 Magnum Rimfire ammo unquestionably contributed to the better-than-expected accuracy of the two rifles we tested in this soon-to-be-popular new cartridge.



As always, our tests proved that price does not necessarily guarantee great shootability. In fact, some of our best performers this year were standard factory guns from here and abroad that demonstrated that you don't need to spend a million bucks to own a nice-shooting rifle.



CZ-527 Varmint

($753; 800-955-4486)

Caliber tested: .223 Rem.

Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 13.5 oz.

Barrel length: 241/8 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel and action

Stock: Synthetic

Trigger pull: 4 lb., 6 oz.

Intended purpose: Varmint hunting

Combine legendary Czech gunmaking with American accuracy know-how and you're bound to have a hot-performing combination. So it is with this sweet little rifle that utilizes an
H-S Precision stock to squeeze the
accuracy potential out of a stiff CZ barrel and action. As test team member John Taranto proved when he fired a five-shot group with our .223 Remington test sample that measured a tiny .229 inches. (Yes, Alice, that's at 100 yards with Winchester factory ammo.) And it wasn't a fluke, because John's biggest group with that rifle measured .673 inches. Newly available Talley scope rings solved the scope-mounting problems that have formerly plagued the CZ, so now there's not much more one could wish for in an off-the-shelf, ready-to-go varmint rifle unless it would be for CZ to get rid of that outdated cuckoo clock set trigger and replace it with a simple single-stage design.



Extra Comments



1) "Steel trigger guard is a nice touch."



2) "I dislike the magazine & trigger systems."



3) "Best varmint rifle we tested."



4) "Extremely tight group."



5) "If I were buying a varmint rifle I'd consider this rifle."



6) "A smooth, accurate rifle."



Kimber 84 Longmaster

($1,122; 888-243-4522)

Caliber tested: .22/250 Rem.

Weight as delivered: 10 lb., 12 oz.

Barrel length: 26 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel; case-hardened/
colored receiver

Stock: Wood laminate

Sights: None

Trigger pull: 4 lb., 1 oz.

Intended purpose: Varmint hunting

With a fluted stainless-steel barrel that seems to overburden the action and a slab-sided stock shape that apparently was inspired by a canoe paddle, it's hard to reconcile this latest Kimber varmint rifle with its elegantly styled and built sporters of the past. (They were our Editor's Choice in new
rifles for the past two years.) But close your eyes and feel the crisp trigger pull (our sample
adjusted down to two pounds safely) and you'll recognize solid quality. We had no trouble getting slightly sub-MOA groups with our .22/250 sample, but frankly we expected somewhat better performance considering the rifle's weight, pillar-bedded stock and beautiful trigger.


Extra Comments





1) "Comfortable rifle that fit me well."



2) "Too big & bulky even for a varmint rifle."



3) "Sort of a neither fish nor fowl rifle."



4) "Beautiful trigger."



Marlin 1894 Cowboy

Competition

($965; 203-239-5621)

Caliber tested: .38 Special

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 8.5 oz.

Barrel length: 20 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel; case-hardened/
colored receiver

Stock: Walnut

Sights: Open

Trigg pull: 3 lb.

Intended purpose: Cowboy action shooting

With a price tag barely on the safe side of a thousand bucks, this new lever
rifle is the priciest item in the 2002 Marlin catalog. It is also the most beautiful. With its octagonal barrel, rich case-hardened hues on the receiver and lever and good walnut, there's not much more to wish for with this American Beauty except perhaps an earlier-style steel buttplate and the
absence of the useless push-button safety. One might also wish for it
in .44/40 or .45 Long Colt calibers,
either of which would please Cowboy action shooters more than its .38 Special chambering.



Since the rifle has no screw holes for scope mounting, we did our iron-sight shooting at 50 yards, and it was delightful to see the tidy little groups form. This rifle is about shooting for fun, pure and simple, and the joys of rediscovering what a lever-action rifle is all about. If the tax deadline were not drawing near at this writing and the crosshairs of the IRS were not centered on my checkbook, I'd give serious thought to buying this prettiest of the Marlins.


Extra Comments





1) "A beauty."



2) "My favorite 'fun gun' tested."


3) "Steel buttplate would be nice."



4) "Well done Marlin, a personal favorite."



Marlin 17VOL GREAT BUY

($263; 203-239-5621)

Caliber tested: .17 HMR

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 9 oz.

Barrel length: 22 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel and receiver

Stock: Hardwood

Sights: Grooved for rings

Trigger pull: 4 lb., 4 oz.

Intended purpose: Light varmint hunting/plinking
Over the coming months there will be a flurry of rifles chambered for the new .17 HMR cartridge, but I doubt if many will be less expensive-or more accurate-than this one. There's nothing fancy about this rifle, let there be no doubt. The creepy trigger requires concentrated effort to avoid wild shots (our test team sketched out a simple modification that would make the Marlin trigger mechanism adjustable), but we were determined to give the test sample our best shot, so to speak, by mounting a high-quality, high-powered scope on it. (Inexpensive rifles are often victimized by sub-par scopes that don't allow shooters to wring out their maximum accuracy potential.) We were rewarded by some 100-yard groups that demonstrated the .17 HMR can be a serious varmint cartridge and that the inexpensive Marlin version can put five shots inside a one-inch circle.


Extra Comments


1) "Crude but it works."



2) "Shoots better than it looks."



3) "Accuracy for price is its best saving grace."



4) "Magazine difficult to insert."



5) "Superb accuracy is this rifle's best feature."



Remington Seven Magnum

($743; 800-243-9700)

Caliber tested: 7mm UMSA

Weight as delivered: 7 lb., 6 oz.

Barrel length: 221/8 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel and receiver

Stock: Wood laminate

Sights: Open

Trigger pull: 6 lb., 20 oz.

Intended purpose: Big-game hunting
There's nothing new about the Model Seven bolt-action rifle, so normally it wouldn't qualify for our gun tests. (Our one requirement is that the products we include be new and innovative.) What makes it "new," however, is the concept of combining a lightweight, carbine-size rifle (of the type usually reserved for light- to medium-power cartridges) with a magnum-class caliber. Thus the Model Seven in Remington's new 7mm Short-Action Ultra Mag. (SAUM) is an attention-getter.



I'd tried the combination a few months earlier, in the thin-shelled, synthetic-stock version (does Tupperware come to mind?) and was able to contain my enthusiasm. This caused scant hope for a spectacular performance from the laminated-wood-stocked sample supplied to our test team. I was wrong, and happily so, though a seven-pound rifle requires some hanging on to in a caliber that launches a 160-grain bullet at 2,960 fps. (We used the Remington load with 160-grain Nosler Partitions.) Not only was accuracy better than expected, but the rifle didn't at all seem to mind being fired with a hot barrel.



Test team member Allen Day, an experienced hand with magnum
rifles, fired two fast five-shot groups back to back that measured 1.026 inches and 1.224 inches with the
barrel too hot to touch. The biggest group of our test series was a hair over an inch and a half.


Extra Comments





1) "Sharp recoil-rough bolt."



2) "I score it high for accuracy."



3) "Fits very nicely."



4) "I like the short mag concept."



5) "Accuracy is excellent for this type rifle."



6) "Quite shootable, good balance."



7) "Fit & finish is mediocre."



Ruger 77/17 RM

($565; 520-541-8820)

Caliber tested: .17 HMR

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 4 oz.

Barrel length: 221/8 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel and receiver

Stock: Walnut

Sights: Ruger rings

Trigger pull: 4 lb., 1 oz.

Intended purpose: Light varmint hunting/ plinking

The usual description of Ruger's trim M77 bolt rifle begins with, "It would be a great little rifle if it weren't for the...." The sad exceptions are a trigger pull that feels like you're dragging an anchor over asphalt and so-so
accuracy. (Accuracy services and
replacement barrels for the 77/Rotary Magazine Series have evolved into an industry, which is surely an embarrassment for Ruger.) Even before the 77/17RM was on dealer's shelves,
independent barrel makers were hawking replacement "drop-in" barrels. But if all of Ruger's .17's are as accurate as our test sample, there will be little or no demand for replacement barrels. Groups of one inch, and slightly under, at 100 yards weren't uncommon. In fact, during one session test team member Stan Widner went to the bench with the Ruger and a box of Hornady ammo and shot a 15-shot group that measured 1.390 inches. Of these, 10 shots were under an inch and six were in an overlapping cluster. All would have done asunder a gopher at 150 yards.


Extra Comments





1) "Stock comb should be higher."



2) "Excellent action & scope mount designs."



3) "Heavy trigger is a negative factor."


4) "Great accuracy and reliability."



5) "Trigger needs to be redesigned."



6) "Bolt release is a nuisance."



7) "Excellent rifle for the money."



8) "Liked the magazine-easy to use."



Sako Finnlight

($1,239; 301-283-2191)

Caliber tested: .243 Win.

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 8.5 oz.

Barrel length: 201/2 in.

Metal finishppily so, though a seven-pound rifle requires some hanging on to in a caliber that launches a 160-grain bullet at 2,960 fps. (We used the Remington load with 160-grain Nosler Partitions.) Not only was accuracy better than expected, but the rifle didn't at all seem to mind being fired with a hot barrel.



Test team member Allen Day, an experienced hand with magnum
rifles, fired two fast five-shot groups back to back that measured 1.026 inches and 1.224 inches with the
barrel too hot to touch. The biggest group of our test series was a hair over an inch and a half.


Extra Comments





1) "Sharp recoil-rough bolt."



2) "I score it high for accuracy."



3) "Fits very nicely."



4) "I like the short mag concept."



5) "Accuracy is excellent for this type rifle."



6) "Quite shootable, good balance."



7) "Fit & finish is mediocre."



Ruger 77/17 RM

($565; 520-541-8820)

Caliber tested: .17 HMR

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 4 oz.

Barrel length: 221/8 in.

Metal finish: Blue barrel and receiver

Stock: Walnut

Sights: Ruger rings

Trigger pull: 4 lb., 1 oz.

Intended purpose: Light varmint hunting/ plinking

The usual description of Ruger's trim M77 bolt rifle begins with, "It would be a great little rifle if it weren't for the...." The sad exceptions are a trigger pull that feels like you're dragging an anchor over asphalt and so-so
accuracy. (Accuracy services and
replacement barrels for the 77/Rotary Magazine Series have evolved into an industry, which is surely an embarrassment for Ruger.) Even before the 77/17RM was on dealer's shelves,
independent barrel makers were hawking replacement "drop-in" barrels. But if all of Ruger's .17's are as accurate as our test sample, there will be little or no demand for replacement barrels. Groups of one inch, and slightly under, at 100 yards weren't uncommon. In fact, during one session test team member Stan Widner went to the bench with the Ruger and a box of Hornady ammo and shot a 15-shot group that measured 1.390 inches. Of these, 10 shots were under an inch and six were in an overlapping cluster. All would have done asunder a gopher at 150 yards.


Extra Comments





1) "Stock comb should be higher."



2) "Excellent action & scope mount designs."



3) "Heavy trigger is a negative factor."


4) "Great accuracy and reliability."



5) "Trigger needs to be redesigned."



6) "Bolt release is a nuisance."



7) "Excellent rifle for the money."



8) "Liked the magazine-easy to use."



Sako Finnlight

($1,239; 301-283-2191)

Caliber tested: .243 Win.

Weight as delivered: 6 lb., 8.5 oz.

Barrel length: 201/2 in.

Metal finish

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