A Wide Range to Pick From

The rifles wetested this year are a clear indication of the diverse approaches to firearmmanufacturing around the world and the … Continued

The rifles wetested this year are a clear indication of the diverse approaches to firearmmanufacturing around the world and the diverse ways gunmakers perceive whathunters and shooters want, need and will buy. It’s a constant challenge formanufacturers to come up with exciting new models, but at the end of the yearthe ones with the most success are the ones that do what they know how to dobest.

Case in point:This year’s Editor’s Choice, the first lever-action rifle ever to win tophonors (see opposite page), won simply because it does what it is supposed todo exceedingly well.

Beautifullyturned out rifles such as the centerfire bolt rifles by CZ, Kimber and Sakowarm our hearts and earn our gratitude. They’re proof positive that thetraditions of fine gun making are alive and well. And for that we arethankful.

BROWNINGT-BOLT

CALIBER: .22 LRTRIGGER PULL: 3 LB. 11 OZ. ACCURACY* (IN.): .761 (AVG.) / .350 (SMALLEST) AMMO:REM. ELEY MATCH EPS *AT 50 YARDS

It’s long beensomething of a mystery that Browning’s original 1965 T-Bolt was not moresuccessful. The rifle, made in Belgium’s FN Browning plant, offered slicklyfinished metal and wood, good accuracy and reliable operation, along with allthe other nice features of a good Browning. Yet it was discontinued after onlynine years. Perhaps the operation of a nonrotating bolt handle was too radicalfor those times. Well, the T-Bolt is back, and about the only similaritybetween this one and the original is the T-Bolt locking system. You operate itby simply pulling the bolt handle straight to the rear and then pushing itforward again to feed a fresh cartridge. This latest T-Bolt, made in Japan,differs from the original in several ways. It has a somewhat larger, swept-backhandle, a restyled stock (which has good checkering) and a truly innovative”double-helix” 10-shot magazine. It works like Ruger’s 10/22rotary-spool magazine, but with two smaller spools, one on top of the other. Asa result, its magazine is 1.4 inch narrower than Ruger’s, permitting a trimmerstock contour around the action. For this and a number of other reasons, thenew T-Bolt should be more popular than the original.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $611

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-333-3288;browning.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Functionsbeautifully
  • I want one!
  • Very goodtrigger
  • Nicelycontoured stock
  • Magazine easyto load and feeds beautifully

CZ 550 HUNTER

CALIBER: .300WIN. TRIGGER PULL: 2 LB. 6 OZ. ACCURACY* (IN.): 2.134 (AVG.) 1.512 (SMALLEST)AMMO: WIN. 180 GR. BST *SMALL GROUP FIRED WITH HANDLOADS

Picking up CZ’supscale 550 Hunter and working the bolt, you’ll be reminded of the slick butbusinesslike feel of the fine commercial Mausers of generations past. It’sobvious that its Czech makers wanted to capture the look and feel of old-worldgun making, but with a few modern features added. Most impressive about the 550Hunter is the metalwork, the oily smooth feel when the bolt is cycled and acontrol-fed cartridge snakes into the chamber.

The single-settrigger is so light and crisp at 2 pounds 6 ounces that there is really no needto set it for its 5.5-ounce touch-off position. The stock has the full, manlyfeel that’s needed for magnum calibers. The wood on our test rifle was goodwalnut but not at all enhanced by the humdrum checkering pattern, which seemedat odds with the rifle’s otherwise classic features.

Given the rifle’s8½-pound weight and its almost varmint-contour 24-inch barrel, we anticipatedexceptional accuracy, but with groups running as large as 3 inches with180-grain factory ammo and 1½ inches with target-grade loads, the 550 we testedwasn’t as accurate as we had hoped.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail:$1,100

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-955-4486;czusa.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Heavy enoughfor caliber and comfortable to shoot
  • One handsomerifle
  • Greattrigger
  • A lot of gunfor the money
  • Shot betterwith Jim’s handloads

CZ ZKM 453

CALIBER: .22 LRTRIGGER PULL: 3 LB. 4 OZ. ACCURACY* (IN.): .558 (AVG.) .472 (SMALLEST) AMMO:REM. ELEY MATCH EPS *AT 50 YARDS

During the fewyears that the Czech-built rimfire rifles have been available in the U.S., theyhave become favorites not only of plinkers and small-game hunters but also inthe increasingly popular rimfire benchrest games. Their popularity can beattributed to a combination of appealing prices and accuracy equal to or evenbetter than that of more costly rifles. The new ZKM 453 we tested was noexception. Aided by a set trigger that fired at a 5.5-ounce touch, it delivereda series of 50-yard five-shot groups averaging just slightly over a half inchwith Eley target ammo.

With itsmedium-heavy barrel, single-set trigger and wood stock, this latest CZ can bestbe called an all-purpose sporter-target crossover. Our test team found that itsplain looks were more than offset by its smooth functioning and ease ofoperation.

This no-nonsenserifle should appeal to plinkers and hunters, and even to serious rimfireaccuracy buffs.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $365

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:****

800-955-4486;czusa.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Functioned welland shot accurately
  • Not too fancy,but it can shoot
  • A tremendousvalue
  • Hard to beatfor sheer functionality
  • A tack driverat 50 yards

KIMBER 8400CLASSIC

CALIBER: .270WIN. TRIGGER PULL: 2 LB. 4 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 2.541 (AVG.) 1.225 (SMALLEST)AMMO: WIN. 130 GR. BST

If any one worddefines Kimber’s rifles it’s “classic,” meaning classic lines andhand-cut checkering on pretty wood, along with trimly contoured metal andmechanical features you’d expect on far costlier custom rifles.

Beginning withits near legendary rimfire rifles, Kimber expanded into short-actioncenterfires with its 84 series and this year has introduced a full-lengthaction for cartridges of .30/06 length, which include the .25/06, .270 Win.,7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. and .338 Win. Mag.

As expected, ourtest sample was a pretty thing to look at and handle, with a crisp trigger pulland slick operation, all of which earned it high scores from our panel ofshooters.

But Kimber alsohas a reputation for accuracy to uphold and in this category our rifle in .270caliber proved little more than an also-ran. With good Winchester ammo,five-shot groups ran to 3 inches, and even with carefully constructedmatch-grade handloads, it never cracked the MOA barrier.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail:$1,087

Performance:***

Design: ****

Price/Value:***

800-880-2418;kimberamerica.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Lovely to lookat, but only so-so performance
  • Definitelypreferred the handloads to factory ammo
  • Accuracy wasnot as good as I expected
  • Great wood

MAGNUM RESEARCHMLR 1722

CALIBER: .17 MACH2 TRIGGER PULL: 4 LB. 4 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 2.092 (AVG.) 1.291 (SMALLEST) AMMO:CCI 17 GR. V-MAX

“This suredoesn’t look like Granddaddy’s rifle” is one of the reactions you’llprobably have when beholding this truly 21st-century example of rifle designand engineering in a .17 Mach 2–caliber autoloader. The multicolored (availablein a number of different color combinations) open-panel “crutch”-stylethumbhole stock is, if anything, a beautiful example of modern sculpture, andthe carbon-fiber barrel reduces total weight to less than 5 pounds.

Along with thestock styling, the folks at Magnum Research have also combined beauty andpracticality with a striking-looking scopemount bridge that’s machinedintegrally with the receiver. And it feels as good as it looks, whether you’reshooting from a rest or offhand.

Our maincriticisms were occasional jamming and difficulty inserting and releasing theRuger 10/22 clip (the bottom metal and trigger unit is all Ruger). Groups at 50yards were excellent, but they really opened up at 100 yards, which wassomewhat surprising.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $729

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-772-6168;magnumresearch.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • What a fun gunto shoot!
  • Sexy stock andreceiver
  • Magazine istough to insert and remove
  • Differentlooking, but cute
  • Nice trigger.Deadly accurate at 50 yards

REMINGTON 750WOODSMASTER

CALIBER: .30/06SPRING. TRIGGER PULL: 4 LB. 3 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 2.719 (AVG.) 1.750 (SMALLEST)AMMO: FED. 165 GR. NOSLER PART., REM. 150 GR ACCUTIP BT

Ever since 1906,when it introduced its Model 8, a square-backed, John Browning–designedself-feeding big-game rifle, Remington’s autoloaders have been considered Kingsof the North Woods. The passing century saw several models and variations ofRemington autoloaders, all of which had well-earned reputations fordependability. The new 750 will no doubt continue this tradition and willcertainly appeal to hunters who like the speed and convenience of anautoloader. Though this latest Woodsmaster is most recognizable by its revisedstock styling and checkering pattern, it also has enough mechanicalimprovements to be considered a wholly new model. Among them is an improved gassystem that makes the rifle compatible with a wider range of caliber offerings,from .243 to .35 Whelen. Our sample worked flawlessly with the various makesand bullet weights in .30/06 that we tried, with groups averaging about 2½inches with Remington’s 150-grain AccuTip load.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $732

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-243-9700;remington.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Comfortable toshoot
  • Not a badchoice for a semi-auto
  • Pointsnicely
  • Shoots good foran auto
  • Liked thestock’s styling, especially the forend grip

SAKO 85

CALIBER: .338FEDERAL TRIGGER PULL: 3 LB. 9 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 3.319 (AVG.) 2.044 (SMALLEST)AMMO: FED. 185 GR. BARNES TSX

As dedicated Sakofans will tell you, the Finnish-made rifles are probably the most highlyevolved bolt-action rifles in the world. By that, they mean Sakos have evolvedfrom the beautifully built, hand-finished and delightfully accurate rifles ofthe 1950s to the highly engineered–and still–accurate–machine–produced riflesof today.

Like Sako rifleswe’ve tested in the past, this one had a superslick action, a crisp 3½-poundtrigger pull and a detachable box magazine that fed reliably. Different thistime, however, is that Sako has partnered with an American ammo maker tointroduce a new caliber: the .338 Federal. You’ll be hearing more about thisnew round, but basically it’s a .308 Win. case necked up to .338 caliber.

The test ammo wasloaded with 185-grain Barnes Triple-Shock X-Bullets. Given the accuracypotential of the Sako rifle, the .308 case and most .338 bullets, it shouldhave been a winning combo. But as our accuracy tests showed, it wasn’t, withgroups consistently over 3 inches and 4-plus inches not uncommon.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail:$1,595

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-237-3882;berettausa.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Buttery smoothaction
  • Crisp triggerand very nice wood
  • Riflefunctioned well but groups were a bit disappointing
  • Feeds like adream

SAVAGE M12 LRPVARMINTER

CALIBER: .223REM. TRIGGER PULL: 1 LB. 15 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 1.142 (AVG.) .826 (SMALLEST)AMMO: WIN. 50 GR. BST, WIN. 64 GR. POWER-POINT SP

With a reputationfor accuracy that is increasingly envied by other rifle makers, Savage pushesthe envelope ever further with an RBLP (right-side bolt with left-side loading/ejection port) action. This configuration has long been used on top-drawercustom bench-rest actions because it makes single-shot feeding faster and thesolid receiver top adds support for heavy varmint/target-type barrels. Thesefeatures, along with Savage’s light-pull AccuTrigger and a synthetic,wide-forend varmint-style stock should move the new M12 to the top of thevarmint class. Our test rifle however, a preproduction sample, in .223 Rem.,had a couple of easily correctable problems: One was a failure to eject, andthe other, a barrel with rate of twist that checked out at 1 in 8 inches.That’s too fast for the light 40- to 55-grain bullets usually used for varminthunting, and which we used in our tests. Thus, accuracy was not as good as itmight have been. A 1-in-12-inch barrel, such as Savage uses in its .22-250rifles would be a big improvement. We’re told this is already in the works.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $967

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

866-233-4776;savagearms.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Greattrigger
  • Closing bolt islike shutting door on high-quality safe
  • Love left-handfeed for quick loading
  • Did not groupas well as expected. A slower barrel twist would really help

WEATHERBY MARK VPISTOL

CALIBER: .22-250TRIGGER PULL: 3 LB. 14 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 1.907 (AVG.) 1.106 (SMALLEST) AMMO:FED. 55 GR. SIERRA BLITZKING

Compact FiringPlatform (CFP) is Weatherby’s long name for its bolt-action Mark V handgun.Guaranteed to deliver 1½-inch three-shot groups with a cold barrel and choiceammo, our .22-250 test sample proved capable of fulfilling this promise, withsome of our test groups running close to an inch for five shots. At the rangemost of our 5-shot groups ran closer to 2 inches, however.

Some of our testteam shooters commented that group sizes and shootability would have beenimproved if the overly stiff 3-pound 14-ounce trigger had left the factoryadjusted to a lighter pull.

The strength andaccuracy of the short-version of Weatherby’s Mark V action is well-known andwell tested, and in a handgun configuration it lived up to its reputation. Itmakes an excellent platform for a magazine-fed hunting handgun. The rigid,pillar-bedded Fibermark stock also earned high praise from our test team forits superior ergonomics–the molded grip, in particular, allowed our shootinghands to assume a natural and comfortable position.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail:$1,499

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:**

800-227-2016;weatherby.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Very ergonomicgrip
  • Comfortable toshoot
  • Trigger pullway too hard
  • A neat pistolfor prairie dogs

WINCHESTERSXR

CALIBER: .300WIN. MAG. TRIGGER PULL: 5 LB. 3 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 2.893 (AVG.) 1.786(SMALLEST) AMMO: WIN. 180 GR. BST

When matchedagainst some of the company’s famous bolt-action cousins of yesteryear,Winchester’s autoloading centerfire hunting rifles don’t have a comparabletrack record in quality. And perhaps the challenge of developing a centerfirethat lives up to the standards of the family is why the European branch of thegun-making complex that makes shotguns and rifles with the Winchester brandcame forth with this latest entry.

What thedesigners have wrought is distinctly European in flavor, and might appeal toyounger shooters–or those shooters who have no preconceived notions about whata Winchester should look like. Appearances aside, while the test rifle was easyto operate, it failed to impress the members of our team with its accuracy.

We might alsosuppose that a lighter caliber would have performed better. To be fair, though,as our testing progressed the rifle settled down and groupings improved fromthe initial 6-inch patterns to a more acceptable 13.4-inch to 3-inch range.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $839

Performance:***

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

800-333-3288;winchesterguns.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Easy tooperate
  • Trigger wasn’tbad
  • Shot prettywell for a semi-auto
  • Groups improvedas testing progressed

OUTDOOR LIFEEditor’s Choice 2006

MARLIN 336XLR

CALIBER: .30-30WIN. TRIGGER PULL: 5 LB. 11 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 1.245 (AVG.) 1.000 (SMALLEST)AMMO: HRN. 160 GR. EVOLUTION

What can be saidwhen a lever-action “thutty-thutty” outperforms three high-qualitybolt-action rifles? Well, you might say that lever rifles just aren’t supposedto shoot that way. At least that’s what we’ve been told or learned firsthandfor a century and then some. This latest version of Marlin’s tried and true–forover a half century no less–Model 336 can hardly be called a completely newrifle. But it incorporates enough new features to qualify for our new guntests, and we’re glad it did because it gave us a new perspective on theaccuracy capability of a lever rifle. And by accuracy I’m talking about the200-yard five-shot group fired by Executive Editor John Snow that measured awee 1.892 inches and 100-yard groups that averaged close to an inch.

While some ofthis exceptional performance can be credited to Hornady’s new Lever Evolutionammo, with its pointy, soft-tipped bullets (so as not to recoil-fire in a tubemagazine), let’s not forget the three basic rules of rifle accuracy: (1) A goodrifle will fire good ammo well; (2) a good rifle might even fire bad ammofairly well; (3) a bad rifle will not fire any ammo well. Meaning the Marlinhad what it takes to begin with. A big contributor to the Marlin’saward-winning accuracy was its 24-inch stainless-steel barrel. The 336 alsoearned extra points from our scorers for slick operation and flawlessfeeding.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $874

Performance:****

Design: ***

Price/Value:***

203-239-5621;marlinfirearms.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • Rebirth of thelever rifle
  • This riflefunctions beautifully and shot very well
  • A really goodlittle rifle
  • Awesomeaccuracy

OUTDOOR LIFEGreat Buy 2006

SAVAGE 93R17

CALIBER: .17 HMRTRIGGER PULL: 2 LB. 11 OZ. ACCURACY (IN.): 1.354 (AVG.) 1.000 (SMALLEST) AMMO: HRN. 17 GR. V-MAX

Any rifle in .17HMR is fun to shoot, and almost always accurate. But when we fired our firstgroups with this latest Savage .17, our team knew we were shooting somethingespecially good.

Long sufferingfrom a reputation for having the worst triggers in the rifle industry, Savageutterly reversed its standing with its revolutionary adjustable AccuTrigger,which is now a mainstay on all Savage rifles. But that’s just one of thereasons the 93R17 ran away with our Great Buy award. The sleek, laminated woodthumbhole stock, unlike some thumbhole stocks, is gracefully sculpted. Thewide, vented forearm rides the bags like a benchrest rifle and, quite honestly,looks like it belongs on a far more expensive rifle.

Add amedium-heavy stainless-steel barrel that delivers five-shot groups as small asan inch at 100 yards, then price it a tad under $400, and what you have is agreat buy.

FINAL SCORE: F G[VG] E

Retail: $399

Performance:****

Design: ***

Price/Value:****

866-233-4776;savagearms.com

TESTERS’COMMENTS

  • The AccuTriggeris always great
  • I wish the gripwere slightly fuller
  • Functions well,shoots even better
  • I loved thisrifle

THE RATINGS Excellent: **** Very Good: *** Good: ** Fair: *