The fever has broken. The red-hot demand for black guns and defensive handguns that dominated the shooting market for the past several years has cooled off, largely due to shifting political and economic winds. This has created some uncertainty for firearms makers, who have seen gun sales fall and stock prices drop. For the most part, the manufacturers have responded by introducing new products in a variety of categories and by cutting prices. It’s enough to bring a tear to the eye of any red-blooded fan of free-market supply-and-demand capitalism. As a result, we’re seeing more new guns in 2017 than we have in many years—and the scope of our rifle and shotgun test reflects this.
Several interesting trends are evident. The most significant is the presence of hybrid firearms that are meant to have crossover applications in more than one niche. With respect to rifles, the most vivid expression of this is among long-range tactical hunting rifles. Everyone has their own take on what this means, but typically we’re seeing heavier, longer barrels, detachable magazines, bulkier stocks with more adjustment, and Picatinny rails. Unscoped and empty, these guns usually weigh between 9 and 10 pounds, about 2 to 3 pounds less than true tactical rigs, and 2 to 3 pounds more than traditional hunting rifles. Another trend that complements this is the rise of the 6.5 Creedmoor, which is a standout target and hunting round. Though the cartridge has been around since 2007, and has been gaining steadily in popularity, this is a breakout year for it, in which nearly every new long gun is being offered in the 6.5. With shotguns, the hybrid movement is reflected in guns that cross over between hunting and shooting clays, or between different clay-shooting disciplines.
These guns—meaning both rifles and shotguns—serve a couple of purposes. One is to entice consumers into trying new types of shooting. The hybrid tactical-hunting models, for instance, give hunters a chance to experience long-range shooting, the hot trend of the moment. They also deliver value. A firearm that provides extra utility by crossing between shooting disciplines can theoretically save a shooter money.
Which brings us to the last major trend of 2017—falling prices. We’ve seen no shortage of smartly priced guns in recent years, but now good values are to be found at every price point, from entry-level firearms to semi-custom guns. With the collapse of the panic purchasing of ARs, black guns that would have sold for $2,500 or more a few years ago are going for nearly $1,000 less. It’s a welcome correction, and a sign that it is a very good time to be a shooter in what is unquestionably a buyer’s market.
This rifle was undeniably fun to shoot off the bench. It is built on Browning’s X-Bolt action and has been fitted with a 28-inch bull barrel and is nestled in McMillian’s excellent A3-5 stock. The rifle’s 9 ½-pound weight, combined with an effective muzzle brake, keeps the crosshairs rock-steady before the shot and during recoil. Chambered in 6.5 Creed, it is a natural for long-range targets.
The rifle’s heft diminishes its utility for hunting, and its limited magazine capacity doesn’t make it viable for competition. This lack of versatility cost it some points, especially in light of its $2,799 price tag.
Given the gun’s narrow focus on accuracy, we also thought it would shoot a bit better than it did. Its .945-inch group average wasn’t shabby, but we expected it to shoot at least .3 inch tighter.
The 22 Nosler is one of the year’s hottest new cartridges, and Colt Competition is one of the first gunmakers to chamber for it. Here’s what the round does: It jacks up .22-caliber performance in AR-15-sized receivers by necking down the 6.8 Rem. SPC. The performance boost versus the .223 Rem. is impressive. With 77-gr. bullets, the 22 Nosler gains about 400 fps over the .223. In our rifle, the round also happened to be extremely accurate. We got several groups in the .6s, and the overall 5-shot group average was .849 inch, making it the second most accurate rifle of the test.
The rifle has a crisp 3 ½-pound trigger, a well-designed muzzle brake, and a comfortable handguard.
This versatile rifle would work well in competition, and for staking out coyotes and stalking deer.
Bergara has been in the zone for the last couple of years and has produced another winner with the B-14 HMR, which took the Editor’s Choice award in the rifle category. We liked everything about this rifle, and as a tactical-hunter hybrid, it debuted at the right time.
Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, this is a tack-driver with a lot of nice features at a really good price.
It was the most accurate rifle in the test, with the average 5-shot group measuring .833 inch. It especially liked Winchester’s 140-gr. Sierra Match King load, which turned in 5-shot groups that averaged .474 inch—legit ½ MOA performance with factory ammo.
The stock has an adjustable cheekpiece with a simple knob for making quick changes in the field and comes with spacers the shooter can use to alter length of pull. We appreciated the narrow dimensions on the vertical pistol grip, and found the trigger geometry to be excellent. The inclusion of flush-mounted cups on the stock for QD sling attachments is a smart feature, but Bergara should add a third cup on the underside of the forend (replacing the rear swivel stud) for maximum flexibility and utility.
We were able to run the gun quickly, thanks to the oversize bolt handle and smooth two-lug B-14 action. And since the rifle weighs about 9 ½ pounds, we could drive the gun easily and maintain the sight picture through recoil.
We had no issues with the 5-round AICS detachable magazine. The rifle has a Sako-style extractor and plunger ejector, and cycled all ammo with no failures.
As with all rifles of this type, the weight is a bit of an issue for hunting. But since this is a rifle that one can legitimately use in competition after purchasing additional 10-round magazines, it is not a stretch to picture someone adopting it as his one-and-only long gun, mastering it at the range, learning to use it under pressure in competition, and confidently taking it afield to tag a trophy.
We knew this little .17 HMR with its appealing $329 MSRP was going to be a strong contender for a Great Buy award based on its price alone. That was confirmed as soon as we started shooting. By the end of the test, there wasn’t any doubt in our minds. This sweet little bolt gun is a heck of a value for anyone looking for a fun rimfire plinker, and it earned the award amid some stout competition. All judges commented in their notes on how smoothly the rifle ran. We were able to cycle the action rapidly after each shot, seemingly by instinct, as we quickly ran through its 10-round rotary magazine in a matter of seconds. None of us had any issues with the rifle feeding, extracting, or ejecting. It ran flawlessly with every type of ammo we put through it.
At just a touch over 6 pounds, the rifle is very handy to wield, and it earned high marks for its good ergonomics. The stock, with its raised comb and semi-vertical pistol grip, had a comfortable and natural fit, the top tang safety is easy to manipulate, and the user-adjustable trigger broke at a satisfying 2 pounds 10 ounces, which is about ideal for a rifle of this type.
The 20-inch barrel features button rifling and delivered very good accuracy. At 50 yards, the average 5-shot group measured .675 inch, with the best groups coming from the CCI A17 17-gr. load, which for me averaged .398 inch. With accuracy like that in a fast-handling configuration, squirrels, varmints, and other small game have good reason to worry.
The rifle is built to take a beating. The metalwork isn’t fancy, so getting a few scratches on it won’t bother anyone, and the composite stock will survive hard use whether it is stashed behind the seat of a pickup, leaned up against a barbed-wire fence, or shot off a pile of rocks.
As the name suggests, the Backcountry is a rifle bred for the mountains, and a good mountain rifle needs to be light, durable, and accurate. This Cooper checks all those requirements. Plus, it balances like a fine shotgun.
Unscoped, our .30/06 weighs just under 6 pounds. The carbon-fiber stock is stiff and ultra light. The deep spirals in the bolt body and hollowed-out bolt handle save grams. The 24-inch barrel is tipped with an effective spiral-patterned muzzle brake. The Jewel trigger, with a 1-pound 2-ounce pull, is too light for a hunting rifle, however.
I was able to wring .7-inch groups from it with match ammo from Federal and Hornady, which provides the kind of confidence a hunter needs when a trophy is on the line.
Montana Rifle Company prides itself on its Western cred, turning out stylish, hard-working guns at a fair price. So when it builds a rifle that looks like a pair of Lee Miller cowboy boots, you know folks are gonna tip their hats back and wonder if it can deliver the goods.
Well, the MSR has a lot of promise, seeing as how it’s chambered in the hot 6mm Creedmoor, and it delivered some excellent accuracy off the bench. But we had some feeding and cycling issues with the way the cartridges fed from the detachable box magazines we used—which was roughly, requiring a lot of effort at times to chamber rounds. This put a crimp in our otherwise enthusiastic response to this gun.
Apart from that, the rifle’s construction is top notch.
This rifle revealed its magic when we pulled the scope off and used its outstanding open sights to shoot small metal targets offhand at 100 yards. We all felt like Steph Curry draining deep 3s with each successive impact as we rapidly worked the smooth action and emptied the 4+1 magazine. This rifle ups your shooting game.
It was no slouch with the scope on either, turning in a couple of ½ MOA 5-shot groups for me with 168-gr. match bullets. It is chambered in .30/06 and is a new action size from Anschutz that has been many years in the making—the company, known for its gold-medal standards (having won more medals in Olympic competition than any other gunmaker), delayed introduction until it was ready.
The way this rifle comes up and points (and hits) makes it an expert hunting tool. With a good scope mounted with QD rings, you’ll be ready to take on everything from hunting in thick timber to long shots in open country.
All components on the rifle exude best-in-class quality, but we were especially taken with the perfect metalwork, excellent trigger—which adjusts for reach—silky action, and lovely wood on the stock.
The thumbhole stock, which is an optional upgrade, was the only sticking point on the rifle. It is aggressively right-handed, and adds several hundred dollars to the gun’s price, yet makes it uncomfortable for lefties to use and a bit less versatile for righties, who sometimes need to shoot from their off shoulder. We suggest going with the standard stock.
This rifle also features one of the most interesting innovations we saw in the Gun Test. The recoil lug (pictured above) on the action has a floating tab in the middle of it that the front action screw threads into. Because the tab has a bit of wiggle, and because the threads are set at an angle, when you tighten the guard screw, the action is pulled rearward, flush against the metal bedding block, for a secure stock-to-action fit that ensures peak accuracy. The Anschutz 1781 is German engineering at its finest.
The Mossberg Patriot Revere brings a whole new look to the lineup at this company, which has historically made firearms better judged on performance than aesthetics. Stocked with handsome walnut that has been upgraded with elegant touches—like a rosewood forend tip and grip cap, quality checkering, and maplewood spacers—it turns heads like no Mossberg has before.
Its performance wasn’t equal to its looks, however. We struggled mightily to wring good accuracy from this .300 Win. Mag. The best we could manage was one 1.335-inch group with Hornady 150-gr. BTSPs. The average group size was 2.5 inches, though we did have a handful of groups that measured between 1.5 and 2 inches. This dampened our enthusiasm for the rifle, especially in light of the good accuracy we’ve seen from Mossberg of late.
Otherwise, the rifle functioned well. The 2 ¾-pound trigger was consistent. By design, the action has a lot of play in the bolt, but it feeds, cycles, and ejects smoothly. The controls—everything from the two-position safety to the tab on the detachable polymer magazine—are generously sized.
This union of companies—a Remington 700 action in Magpul’s Hunter stock—is another example of a rifle looking to hit that tactical-hunting sweet spot. The accuracy from this .260 was impressive—at least with Black Hill’s 139-gr. Scenar round. Two shooters on the team turned in ½ MOA groups with that load, showing the potential of the rifle, despite the distracting 6-pound 5-ounce trigger pull.
The stock contains an aluminum bedding block and adjusts for length of pull with included spacers.
As with other heavy rifles—this one tipped the scales at 9 pounds—you’d need a strong back to carry it through the woods all day. We gave it very good marks for its durability and reliability, but otherwise we felt the rifle was a middle-of-the-road offering.
Okay, this rifle’s name is an ungainly mouthful. With that out of the way, let’s turn to its good qualities, of which there are many. First off, there are the rifle’s looks. It is an undeniably sexy number, with appealing angles cut into the billet upper and lower, and a stylishly contoured handguard. The aesthetics of this .223 translated into excellent ergonomics. The narrow handguard, with its smartly configured Picatinny rail attachment points, gives the shooter a lot of control over the rifle, enhancing how it handles and points. We also liked the 45-degree throw on the safety. The rifle was easy to control while shooting, keeping the crosshairs on target during strings of rapid fire.
Savage has decided to enter the AR market this year, and among its offerings is the MSR 10 Hunter. This is a full-size AR-10 .308 with a direct-impingement gas-operating system. With no optic mounted, it tips the scales at 7 pounds 13 ounces.
The addition of Blackhawk furniture on the rifle makes sense, given that Savage and Blackhawk are both part of the Vista family of brands. But it did contribute to our main concern with the rifle, which was its identity crisis. The rifle is called the Hunter, but there’s little on it that suggests it has been built with hunting in mind. It ships with a 20-round magazine, has a duty-weight trigger with a nearly 6-pound pull, a 16 ¹/₈-inch barrel, and a free-float M-Lok handguard with a full-length rail on top. In short, it looks like a standard tactical AR-10.
The feature that dominates the Vanguard Adaptive Composite (hence VAC) is the target stock. With its multitude of contours, shiny metal adjustment buttons, and grippy rubber panels that help you hang on tight under any conditions, it is the star of this show.
Two spring-loaded buttons let the shooter quickly alter the rifle’s comb height and length of pull. They work in a simple, easy-to-use manner that we really liked. But the stock is so “stubbornly right-handed,” as one tester put it, that some judges found it distracting to use.
Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, the rifle functioned well, which wasn’t a surprise given how smoothly Vanguard actions typically run. It produced several sub-MOA groups, including a .641-inch group with American Eagle 140-gr. OTMs.
How We Test Guns
We want every gun in the test to win. With that as our goal, Outdoor Life’s test team does its best to make sure each rifle and shotgun has the opportunity to shine and showcase its potential.
This starts with a thorough inspection of each firearm before we head to the range. We gather all the objective data on weight, length, trigger pull, etc., and at the same time make certain all the fasteners are tight and that no parts are missing.
With the pre-production and show-exhibition samples we often get, you’d be surprised at how frequently they require fixing up and tuning.
Once they are ready to shoot, which in the case of the rifles means they have been topped with quality scopes and zeroed, the fun begins. We put every gun through a battery of drills to mimic real-world use. Rifles are shot from field positions. Shotguns take on clay targets with every imaginable trajectory.
Then we get tricky. We load and handle the guns in an attempt to purposely induce malfunctions. Will a single cartridge tossed carelessly into the receiver feed well? Will a shotgun tuned for heavy shells still cycle a light target load? Does shooting a gun until it is smoking hot affect accuracy or reliability?
We also punch a lot of paper, using a variety of different loads and bullet weights, to ascertain the accuracy of the rifles. We take copious notes while gathering all this data, and use that information to generate the scores and rankings.
|Rifles||Bergara B-14 HMR||Anschutz 1781||Rise Armament 303H S Series||Colt Competition CRP-18N||Savage B17||Cooper M92 Backcountry|
|Caliber||6.5cm||.30/06||.223/5.56||22 Nosler||.17 HMR||.30/06|
|Rifles||Browning X-Bolt Target McMillian||Montant Rifle Co. MSR||Remington 700 Magpul||Weatherby VAC||Mossberg Patriot Revere||Savage MSR 10 Hunter|