Gun Test '08

Our annual no-holds-barred review of new firearms A sporting firearm is a complex blend of art, science, engineering and tradition. Which is why the members of Outdoor Life's gun test team need to be part art critic, engineer, historian and scientist, as well as have above-average shooting skills and lots of experience with guns and the people who buy and use them. In addition, no one on the eight-man test squad has any financial involvement with the making of guns, guaranteeing unbiased judging.Outdoor Life Online Editor
Cooper M52 Price: $1,862
Contact: cooperfirearms.com Anyone who thinks, "They don't make 'em like they used to," needs to look at the Cooper rifle that won this year's Editor's Choice award. The impression it makes is that of a finely handcrafted rifle with such custom features as classic stock styling, hand-cut borderless checkering with nary a runover at the edges, elegantly contoured metal and slick operation, all of which usually add up to a rifle priced in the thousands. Yet the Cooper rifle we tested carries a price tag of only $1,862, which includes an extra $267 for deluxe French walnut. For the base price of $1,595, you get the same gun with a nice claro walnut stock. The metal-to-wood fit of the action and bottom metal are as whisper- close as you'd expect from a fine custom rifle, and you even have to look closely to see the narrow and perfectly even space between the wood and the free-floated barrel. Like all Coopers, our test rifle had been accuracy-tested at the factory, and the three-shot test group was only a slightly enlarged hole. It had, however, been shot with select handloads, but we test with over-the-counter factory ammunition, which can make a huge difference in accuracy. Still, our groups with Remington and Winchester tended to stay close to 1.5 inches. Some groups, such as one by Arlen Chaney measuring .626 inches and one of mine at .847 inches, were much smaller. Despite the beauty and accuracy of our test rifle, it was not free of criticisms, the most common being a hard bolt lift, which is a usual complaint about three-lug actions, and the steep cocking cam of the shorter lift bolt. TESTERS' COMMENTS: Lovely wood; The bolt-throw is slick as silk; The trigger angle to the pistol grip is not great; Impressive accuracy; Cocking the action requires too much effort; Excellent design on the safety. Editor's Choice
Workmanship:****
Performance:****
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Mossberg 464 Price: $473
Contact: mossberg.com At first look you'll think this latest Mossberg lever rifle is a Winchester Model 94, and that's no doubt what its maker intended. After all, when Winchester shut down production of its longtime favorite, it left a big gap in the lever market that Mossberg was quick to recognize and fill. Look closer, however, and you'll see that it is far from a 94 clone. Though the locking mechanism is similar to that on the old Winchester, there are significant differences- especially the cylindered bolt, which ejects spent cases at a side angle so they won't bounce off a top-mounted scope. Also to this end, the receiver has a rear bridge for mounting a scope on top rather than on the side, as with the Model 94. Though we will always wonder at the purpose of an auxiliary safety on a rifle with an external hammer- a lawyer thing, no doubt- this new Mossberg has a tang safety, which is more convenient than the add-on sidebar safeties of other late-issue lever rifles. The metal is a deep semi-gloss blue, and the Mossberg's action is crisp, solid and sure. Accuracy is about what is to be expected with a lever rifle, with groups mostly in the 2.5- to 3-inch range with Hornady 160-grain LeverEvolution ammo. A better trigger pull might have improved performance somewhat, but a good value. Testers' Comments: Functioned well and a good value; Metal fit and finish very good; Ordinary lever-gun performance. Workmanship:**
Performance:***
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Browning X-Bolt Price: $849
Contact: browning.com Comparisons of Browning's X-Bolt with its popular but nearly quarter-century-old A-Bolt are, of course, inevitable, and what the nitpickers will find is a substantially different and much improved rifle. The A-Bolt's three-lug bolt is carried over, as is its super-slick operation and twisty bolt handle. Visually, however, the X-Bolt is a product of a design team that favors the European "mod" look in firearms and has brought us such startling stylistic concepts as the Cynergy shotgun. As with the Cynergy, the stock contours are- well- different, apparently just for the sake of being different. But even old-school traditionalists who scoff at seemingly gratuitous efforts of stock sculpting will have to admit that the X-Bolt feels mighty good in the hands, especially the neatly shaped forend. It also earns high praise for the integration of metal and wood in the way the extra-wide floor plate/trigger guard assembly flows into the stock contour. The reason for the additional width of the bottom metal is to house the detachable rotary magazine, which, by the way, is the easiest clip-type magazine to remove and insert we've yet tested. Press the release tab and it jumps into your hand. Also getting praise for ease-of-one-hand operation is a release tab at the root of the bolt handle that allows bolt cycling with the safety engaged. Getting even higher praise was the crisp, almost motionless trigger pull. Accuracy with our 7mm Rem. Mag. test rifle was exceptional. That, along with the gun's solid function innovations and fair price, earned it our Great Buy award. Testers' Comments: Nice trigger helped account for the great groups; A sensible sporter that's well priced; Shot well; functions well; Wow! Accurate rifle; Not your father's A-Bolt; Would love to take this rifle hunting. Great Buy
Workmanship:***
Performance:****
Price/Value:****
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Remington M700 VTR Price: $805
Contact: remington.com The triangular-shaped barrel on Remington's latest incarnation of the ageless Model 700 is certain to get lots of attention and comment. According to the company, the triangular barrel contour of the VTR (Varmint Target Rifle) reduces weight, which is obvious, because when you slice metal off a barrel it gets lighter. Remington also claims that it enhances rigidity and promotes rapid heat dissipation. But that may depend on what you're measuring. (Which reminds me of some writers and editors who should know better but have fallen for the notion that cutting external grooves in a rifle barrel makes it stiffer.) For whatever reasons, the VTR we tested proved accurate enough to qualify as a fairly serious varmint rifle, with 5-shot groups from our benchrest setup running as small as .835 inches. The test team was mostly inclined to credit its good performance to the crisp X-Mark Pro trigger and especially the VTR stock, which feels as good as it looks and rides the bags solidly. The integral muzzle brake wasn't a factor in the .223 Rem. we tested, but would be useful in dampening the recoil in the .308 version. Testers' Comments: Comfortable stock configuration; Triangular barrel looks cool; Shot well; A nice new look for the 700 action.
Workmanship:***
Performance:****
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Remington R-15 Price: $1,145
Contact: remington.com Well, it had to happen. After all, the AR-15 rifle in its endless embodiments has become the hottest game in town, and Bushmaster, a leading maker of ARs, is owned by the conglomerate that also happens to own Remington (as well as Marlin and DPMS). So, considering the source and rationale of Remington's R-15, the question is whether and how it can be different from all the other AR-type "black guns." To begin with, it comes not in black but in a snazzy camo; in .204 Ruger caliber as well as the AR standard .223 Rem. (5.56x45mm NATO, if you're tactically minded); and in three configurations. The rifle we tested is the VTR Predator Rifle, with a 22-inch fluted barrel¿the other versions have 18-inch barrels. Function was flawless, with negative comments directed mainly at the heavy and uneven trigger pull. Five-shot, 100-yard group sizes averaged around 1.5 inches for most of the ammo tested, but with Remington's 62-grain match bullet target loads, groups ran as small as .660 inches. Testers' Comments:Functioned well and easy to use; Quality of the camo dip could have been much better; The price is right.
Workmanship:**
Performance:***
Price/Value:**
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Savage Mark II Price: $421
Contact: savagearms.com For the first time since we began doing our annual gun test, a single rifle has won both the Editor's Choice and Great Buy awards. So how did it do it? With its gleaming stainless-steel action and barrel and a laminated hardwood stock that echoes the sculpting of legendary stock-stylist Reinhart Fajen, the MK II certainly looks considerably more upscale than its price tag indicates. But good value alone doesn't win Outdoor Life's top award. To do so, a firearm must exhibit a level of performance consistently better than that of other guns in its class. The Savage MK II .22 RF we tested proved to be not just the most accurate rimfire we tested this year, but the most accurate rimfire we've ever tested, including some high-dollar rifles of exalted European origin. After the gun was sighted-in at 50 yards in a test tunnel, the first four 5-shot groups measured .191, .202, .263 and .260 inches, for an average of .229 inches. Yep, that's less than a quarter-inch! More remarkable is the fact that these tiny groups were fired with standard Remington/Eley ammo and an old lot of CCI Green Tag, neither of which are considered the ne plus ultra by accuracy fanatics. The smallest group of all was fired by team member Sam Arnett, who demonstrated his award-winning benchrest technique with a barely measurable .109 inches. By comparison, an eighth of an inch equals .125 inches, so go figure. Aside from its obviously super-accurate barrel, much of the MK II's shootability was credited to its weight and the solid way the contoured stock rides the bags. Testers' Comments: Incredible value; can't beat the price for this kind of accuracy; Trigger pull could be better; A tack driver; Savage can be proud of this firearm; Aesthetically very pleasing overall; a damned fine .22 rifle; I¿ll buy it. Editor's Choice
Great Buy
Workmanship:***
Performance:****
Price/Value:****
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Ruger Charger Price: $370
Contact: ruger.com With more lives than a cat, Ruger's omnipresent 10/22 autoloader now comes to us in a handgun configuration. Manufactured by the millions, the gun has been tricked out in endless ways by imaginative- sometimes overly imaginative- custom gunsmiths, and its simple and reliable blowback action and 10-shot spool magazine need no further description here. As a handgun called Charger, however, it is in a class by itself. So don't call it a pistol, but a sporting and small-game handgun that, like other handguns of similar configuration, combines the accuracy of a rifle with the convenience of a one-hand firearm. Even so, the rakishly sculpted, laminated hardwood stock is obviously styled for a two-hand hold if one chooses. (Hint: With a two-hand hold on grip and forend, upper arms and elbows pressed to your side, and a rifle-type scope mounted, your aim will be surprisingly steady.) When the gun was fitted with a high-magnification riflescope and fired from sandbags in a tunnel, 50-yard groups ran as small as .546 inches and averaged under an inch. While there was general praise for the look and feel of the ambidextrous stock, there was criticism of the trigger pull, occasional failures to feed, hard jams that were difficult to clear and difficulty inserting and removing the magazine. Testers' Comments:Fun to shoot; Trigger pull is not good; Magazine hard to get in and out; Stock design is very good.
Workmanship:***
Performance:***
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Ruger M77 Hawkeye Price: $995
Contact: ruger.com Bill Ruger once told me that one of his ambitions was to make Ruger firearms for cartridges bearing the Ruger name. Sadly, that dream was sidetracked while he lived, but it's now been realized with distinctive Ruger calibers. I think Bill would also be proud of the new Ruger Hawkeye bolt rifle because it boasts the qualities that he held dear: simple but classic styling, good workmanship and reliable function. Fans of Ruger rifles will also find much to rejoice in with this latest version of the M77 bolt rifle, especially the greatly improved trigger pull. Though still nowhere as good as the original, pre-MK II, adjustable mechanism, it's much better than the so-called lawyer-proof MK II trigger, which has been the butt of endless shooting-range jokes. Also worthy of note is the subtly re-contoured black walnut stock, with its nicely rounded forend and classic, wraparound pattern of sharply cut checkering. And the depth and evenness of the matte-textured bluing shows attention to detail and is as good as you'll see anywhere at any price. What is missing, however, is a softer, more efficient recoil pad, as the .300 RCM we tested packs a memorable wallop at both ends. Accuracy with Hornady ammo loaded with its 180-grain SST bullet was disappointing, with groups averaging over 2.5 inches. Testers' Comments: A nice scabbard rifle for elk hunting; Could really use a cushiony recoil pad; A handsome rifle; A much-improved Ruger trigger; Handy, compact and fast.
Workmanship:***
Performance:***
Price/Value:**
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Savage M93 Price: $414
Contact: savagearms.com "This thing looks like it has been dipped in camo," commented one of our test team members about the latest .17 HMR package deal from Savage. Almost every exposed surface, including the pre-mounted 3-9X scope, is slathered with Mossy Oak's Brush pattern. As with all Savage rifles currently in production, the M93 is blessed with an AccuTrigger, which greatly enhances its shootability. The accuracy of our test rifle made it a sure bet for prairie-dog-size targets out to 150 yards or so. Of the different bullet styles we tested, our M93 had a strong preference for loads with the Hornady 17-grain V-Max, with 100-yard groups averaging a tad over an inch between the widest of five shots. However, as one test team member noted, the strong and variable winds at the outdoor range where we did our shooting can (and did) have a detrimental effect on the accuracy of some of our 5-shot groups. Testers' Comments: Great youth option; Love this trigger; Magazine is awkward; Practical squirrel and small-varmint rifle.
Workmanship:**
Performance:***
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Benelli Legacy Sport Price: $2,160
Contact: benelliusa.com Guns made for serious sporting-clays competition do not, as a rule, tend to have much dash or flash, but not so with this Benelli offering to the game. With a lavish covering of lace-like Victorian ornamentation on its bright silver receiver, it evokes the charms of a 19th-century New Orleans bordello- which is not meant in the least as a criticism. Autoloading shotguns have a way of looking so boringly alike that it's refreshing to see something different. What is not different about this Benelli, however, is the reliable action and its deep-freeze-treated Crio-barrel, which in this model has a ported muzzle to reduce jump and a ventilated rib that tapers from a wide .388 inches down to .320 inches. Wood both fore and aft is nice, as would be expected on a gun priced at two grand and change, with rich color contrast and a nice grain ripple in the butt section. The laser-cut checkering does its job but has none of the inspired creativity of the metal's decoration. None of the test shooters could find fault with the gun's function, and there was praise for its smoothness and easy pointing characteristics. Everyone especially liked the contoured recoil pad and the butt spacer and shims for custom-setting length of pull, drop and cast. It comes in a fitted plastic case and with screw-in chokes. Testers' Comments: Beautiful shotgun; Reliable loading function; That Benelli action works and works and works; Fit and finish is first-rate.
Workmanship:****
Performance:****
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Benelli Ultra Light Price: $1,445
Contact: benelliusa.com The trim little Italian-made autoloader that captured this year's Editor's Choice award won for the best, and simplest, of reasons: It does what a shotgun is expected to do, and it does it very well. Add to this the blessing of light weight and the bonus of beauty, and you've got a winner. Stylistically, Italian gun designers seem to abhor a flat surface (call it their Michelangelo complex), which accounts for the graceful receiver contours of this newest Benelli auto. To their credit, they let the sculpting stand alone, without jazzing it up with a shiny finish and florid ornamentation. Nicely figured walnut further complements the gun, and the gracefully tapered forend is free of the blocky, squared-off contours typical of many autoloaders. Not so flattering, however, are the laser-cut checkering patterns on the forend and grip panels, which are so pedestrian as to detract from the overall effect. Looks alone, though, don't make a good shotgun, and what earned the Benelli a winning score was a combination of flawless inertia-driven function, the hard-to-define quality called "quickness" and the myriad details that add up to a shotgun that is a pleasure to shoot. The attractive and functional design of the carbon-fiber rib earned extra points for innovation. (It will be interesting to see if other gunmakers adopt this lightweight but rigid style.) Testers' Comments: The stock is great; I'm going to buy one of these; Great gun to carry all day; I give it two thumbs up; Sexy little gun; Lovely to shoot; Very light and well balanced; A quick gun that would be perfect for quail and upland game.
Editor's Choice
Workmanship:****
Performance:****
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Franchi I-12 Upland Hunter Price: $1,129
Contact: franchiusa.com There was a time when the svelte, Italian-made Franchi autoloader was one of the most desired of all shotguns. Weighing just a smidge over 5 pounds, the 20-gauge version was the darling of grouse and bobwhite hunters. Times have changed, though, and modern-day Franchis have been relegated to the position of redheaded stepchild. Or so it would seem when compared to the attention lavished on the more glamorous Benelli family, with which it must share the importer's affections. The Franchi Upland Hunter we tested works on an inertia system similar but not identical to that of the Benelli auto. The I-12 weighed in at a half-ounce over 6 pounds, which supports Franchi's claim that it is the world's lightest autoloader. Despite its lightness, the I-12's recoil has been tamed to a tolerable level with a gel-filled recoil pad. Though the oil-finished stocks had some appeal, the overall styling was considered funky, clumsy and not well executed. It earned points for reliable function, however. Testers' Comments: Action works smoothly; Checkering is not done well; A good basic autoloading field gun.
Workmanship:**
Performance:***
Price/Value:**
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Weatherby Orion D¿Italia Price: $2,099
Contact: weatherby.com As its name tells us, this newest Weatherby comes from the land of pasta and Chianti, where the making of shotguns has long been something of a religion. Everyone tried to like the D'Italia because side-bys always evoke sentimental memories, and there was a lot about it to like. The outside surfaces of the monobloc-breeched, tube-chocked barrels are ripple-free and appear to be hand struck, and the action's visible screw slots are neatly aligned. The double-underlug action has a crisp, solid closure and the selective ejectors are positive. The medium-grade, slightly figured wood is nicely finished with classic point-pattern checkering. However, the stock's "proud" wood- the wood extending above the metal's surface- was much too, well, proud, and metal ornamentation, especially the game-bird images, was not worthy of the gun. Likewise, the non-selective trigger raised eyebrows and the safety was difficult to work. The shotgun's quickness and pointability won praise, but they were offset by the excessive trigger pull weights, which contributed to missed targets. Testers' Comments:Swings fast; Engraving is not great; Excellent ejectors; Trigger pull too heavy.
Workmanship:***
Performance:***
Price/Value:**
Outdoor Life Online Editor
Winchester Select Platinum Sporting Price: $2,625
Contact: winchesterguns.com You might mistake this newest over/under to bear the Winchester label for the once popular but discontinued Model 101. But in fact this competition gun comes from Belgium, not Japan, as did the 101, and there are other big differences. Most surprising is the bifurcated locking system, with two locking lugs engaging the barrels at each side rather than at the bottom. The usual cause for bifurcated locking is a trimmer, more shallow profile, but not so with this new Winchester. It's blocky and massive in every dimension. The rationale for this much metal, we gather, is to endure the hardship accruing from the thousands of rounds to which a competition gun is subjected. The gun got high marks for fit and finish of wood and metal, plus praise for especially delicate and extensive receiver ornamentation. Also earning praise were the ported barrels and the trigger, which can be positioned to suit individual preferences. Though the gun earned favorable comment for its overall feel and balance, there was consensus that it was rather dead and unresponsive- call it stubborn- and took some muscle to get its nearly 8 pounds of wood and steel to catch a flying target. Testers' Comments: Tasteful decoration on metalwork; Functioned flawlessly; Great for sporting clays; Looks like quality; Lots of nice touches on this gun.
Workmanship:****
Performance:****
Price/Value:***
Outdoor Life Online Editor