A field-test evaluation of several rifles and shotguns, covering their handling, shootability, quality factors and styling. A critical report …
by BOB WALLACK
- Beretta BL-4 Over-Under
- Charles Daly Venture Over-Under
- Galef Golden Snipe Over-Under
- Harrington & Richardson Auto Rifle
- Ithaca 500 SKB Over-Under
- Mossberg 500 Pump Gun
- Ruger 77 Bolt Rifle
- Smith & Wesson Bolt Rifles
WHEN GD EDITOR Amber asked me to take on the “Testfire” project this year, I began to lay in the supply of guns selected plus sample scopes and ammo, the latter from Remington, Federal and Winchester. Two guns are among the missing and can't be reported on thanks to the new Gun Control Act which says I can't be shipped a gun — or ammo.
One of these is a Browning auto rifle in 338 caliber, sure to be the hottest hunting rifle in years. I was really looking forward to trying this one out; the 338 is one of the finest long range cartridges — with bigger smash than Weatherby's 300 and with nearly equal ballistics.
At the outset I think it might be wise to spend a few moments telling you how and why these guns are evaluated as they are. For a 12-year perod I was a custom gunmaker; since then I've been in the advertising agency business. I've also been contributing books and articles to the gun press for about 20 years, thus my background is a combination of technical, practical, sales, marketing and advertising.
Many things in the evaluation of a firearm are purely personal opinion and many others are plain fact. For example, if a trigger pull weighs over 4 pounds and is creepy as an old rusty farm gate, it's too poor to be considered right. This is fact, plain and simple. If the lines of a stock don't please the reviewer that's personal opinion. Similarly, an experienced shooter and tinkerer can often make a rifle shoot well by fiddling with it — even though it doesn't shoot at all well as received. The procedure I've followed is to first test the gun as it comes out of the box. Just wipe the bore clean, mount the scope and bang away at the range just like the ordinary purchaser would. Then, if necessary, I've tinkered and tuned to get it perking better. By the same token, the average hunter shoots factory ammo; there's not much point in writing a glowing report about how a rifle can be tuned to win a bench rest match with carefully assembled hand-loads since the average guy won't ever use his rifle that way.
Another interesting fact often not disclosed is the way most rifles will shoot better with one brand of factory ammo over another. A year ago, when Jack Smart and I sighted our hunting rifles in at his club in Winthrop, Maine, his remodeled Spring-field 30-06 wouldn't shoot for sour apples with Remington ammo. I was just about to suggest that he take an extra rifle of mine and leave his pet back home when I discovered two boxes of Federal 150-gr. factory loads in my car. When we tried these in Jack's rifle they closed his groups from 3 inches to one! That's some difference but it's no freak; the reader is advised to try another brand before he gives up in disgust — or writes a nasty letter.
Smith & Wesson Rifles
Some said S&W ought to have produced its own action when they decided to market a bolt action sporter. Instead, the company took a route followed by others in the past. They imported the S&W rifle from Husqvarna in Sweden. The HVA action is an altered Mauser, very lightweight, mine going 6⅞ pounds with a Leupold 2–7X scope installed in Leupold mounts. Whether Smith & Wesson should have produced their own bolt action or taken the course they did is not for me to say. It's none of my business. I'm going to talk about the S&W rifle that's here.
The HVA action has been around this country for some 15 years and has proved itself pretty well. It has a better shaped bolt handle and smaller receiver ring than the FN. The trigger is basically a single stage military one with a surprisingly good pull — averages 3¾ lbs. It has some noticeable creep, however, and something I've never found in an S&W handgun. I think the sliding HVA safety leaves something to be desired. It locks trigger and bolt, does not lock the cocking piece (though the latter can't be released when on safe). This doesn't imply there's anything wrong with the safety, I prefer the handy simplicity of the old Enfield type as used on the Remington 700.
I'd like to meet the Swede who wound up the guard screws on this rifle! I had to use a wrench on the screwdriver to remove them and dismount the stock.
This rifle employs a light-metal cast guard, with a hinged floorplate. The lines of this guard are bulky and cumbersome to my mind and eye.
The stock is made from a fairly good piece of European walnut, checkering is of the old cut style though a bit coarse, and the diamonds are not brought to a point. S&W's Model C is as close to classic stock design as any of the S&W models, but I think it lacks the pure elegance of what I call “classic.” I suspect that's the European influence because virtually no European gunmakers, save the English, seem to know (or are willing to make) a classic stock shape. In any event, the S&W has a schnabel fore-end tip, somewhat popular in America during the 1930s until gunwriters of that day criticized them so merrily and constantly that they finally disappeared. S&W and Husqvarna may feel the time is right for another go at the schnabel, and surely it will appeal to some (Mr. R-g-r uses it, too!)
The entire butt section of this stock is too low, starting from the comb and running back to the heel. The comb nose is about 5/16ths below the cocking piece, and it should be ¼-inch higher, which would correct the whole shape. If the whole stock could just be raised this quarter-inch, and the awkward-appearing grip improved, it would be much better. I'd also prefer to see the comb considerably wider; it has the usual European knife edge.
S&W has used a fairly nice piece of European walnut (to the uninitiated, European walnut is far superior to American, being harder, denser and much more handsome) and its finish is of the luster type and very good.
The proof of any gun is in the shooting and the little S&W 270 performed extremely well. All shooting was done at 100 yards at the Angle Tree Stone Club in Attleboro, Mass., from bench rest; only 3-shot groups were fired, OK for any light hunting rifle. They quickly prove a rifle's inaccuracy since no number of additional shots can better a lousy 3-shot group, and a tight 3-shotter is enough shooting to prove a good hunting rifle.
Starting with 130-gr. ammo, this light rifle shot groups averaging 3 3/16″ with Winchester, 3″ with Remington and l⅛″ with Federal. (Federal ammo was far and away the best in this rifle, the largest group being l 7/16″ and the smallest a tight 5/16″ group! I wouldn't say that one tiny group was representative of the gun's potential by any means, but it does indicate excellent shooting when the rifle is given the ammo it likes).
Using 150-gr. loads it didn't do quite as well, but the accuracy was quite acceptable for hunting. Averages were: Winchester, 3⅞″, Remington, 3½″ and Federal, 2¼″. All shooting was done with a Leupold 2–7X variable set at 7X, and mounted in a Leupold two-piece mount.
Summing up, this new S&W 270 Model C bolt action rifle shoots like blazes when given the proper ammo, and it'll make a fine sporting rifle for any game suitable for the caliber selected. Most of the criticism I have is directed toward the stock, which I believe could be vastly improved.
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