The new Ithaca Guardian rifle represents Ithaca's first real move into the long-range precision chassis rifle game, and it doesn't disappoint.
There is a massive amount of interest today in long-range shooting, and in engineering firearms with the best possible rifle and cartridge pairings for professional operators and military snipers. The Ithaca gun company, a well-established American gun making institution, has decided to make a major move into the high performance long-range sector with the introduction of ultra-long-range precision sniper rifles. Notice, if you will, that I have indicated that these are “sniper” rifles and not the basic, or even advanced, sporting-type firearms.
The expectations in the discipline of the modern military sniper or police sharpshooter are much higher, and Ithaca has decided to address the subject with three different long-range precision shooting systems, available to both the public and professional organizations. These include: the Ithaca Guardian, a short-action rifle; the Protector, a long-action; and the Savior, chambered in the potent .338 Lapua. For this review, Ithaca sent Gun Digest the Magazine the Guardian short action in .308 Win. (7.62 NATO).
Ithaca will build its rifles with any combination of special features you want, in effect making its standard rifle outlet a custom shop of sorts. However, the test rifle arrived here at Ballistics Research & Development as a totally Ithaca-built receiver and barrel, but was set into Accuracy International’s aluminum sniper stock. This rifle can also be had as an Ithaca standard model with one of the company’s own chassis-stocked CNC units cut from a single piece of 6061 aluminum.
Fitted with the Accuracy International stock and a Nightforce BEAST optic, the rifle weighs in at 18.40 pounds, way north of any general-purpose deer rifle. With a receiver built off a 4340 chromoly steel billet and a non-welded, CNC machined and hand-fitted (blue printed) bolt, the American-made barreled action is state of the art in terms of quality.
The rifle features a heavy-tapered barrel running 1.233 inches at the receiver ring and .976 inches at the muzzle, making the 24-inch pipe a handful to say the least, but very unlikely to heat up much under sustained firing. The trigger, which was also custom fit, recorded a crisp 3 pounds of pull weight on my Timney scale. Again, the standard Ithaca chassis rifle makes use of a Trigger Tech Accu Trigger, but the custom-based Ithaca gun works will install any type of trigger that suits your taste. I believe the term is one-stop shopping.
On the Gun
After three days of wet snow and dark, cold weather, the sun came out enough to get the Ithaca rifle out and downrange for some basic zeroing over a very short assigned test period. The push feed bolt action picked rounds from the five-shot detachable magazine (AI) and chambered them with one slick-as-satin step. Set in heavy, 40-pound sandbag rests with the buttstock braced, I fired a few 168-grain boat-tail Lake City Government Match rounds. The first 100-yard, three-shot group measured 1.030 inches, indicating that the 23-degree morning, with a full-value right-to-left 5 to 8 mph frostbiting wind, was cutting into the rifle’s nail driving accuracy potential. However, the real world is just that, and sharpshooters, snipers, along with coyote hunters or grass rat killers don’t get to select perfect weather each day in the field. With groups printed via four different cartridges, it was obvious a pattern had emerged in that most of the groups held to just a few one-thousandths over 1 inch.
With a zero established at 200 yards, and groups shot for baseline accuracy, the next step in a quickly degenerating day in terms of weather was to move the target backer to 400 yards. Then I would press some five-shot groups downrange at Shoot N/C black carbon 18×18-inch blank targets with one half-life-size prairie dog Birchwood Casey marker target set in the center.
With the first two rounds of Lake City 168-grain sent at the 400-yard target, my self-generated firing solutions indicated a 1.5 Mil holdover on the target center. The two shots had been good in terms of the vertical line but hit just off to the left side of the prairie dog target. This was important because those first rounds at extended ranges answer questions of whether the shooter has the correct dope in terms of proper elevation. Now with a 1/10 Mil right-turn click against the full-value wind, the next three rounds sent home developed a nice 2.5-inch group on the paper dog’s body. I had been throwing cartridges one at a time into the rifle and simply sending the bolt forward as the push feed system. Without question the smooth feeding action did its job, and chambered every round in style.
Now, with the rifle showing some promise, I reset my dope for the 600-yard steel target (4.0 Mils), pushing two clicks on the Nightforce Beast into the wind, and sent the first round downrange. With the rifle and optics weighing in at 18 pounds, the rifle reacted like a .223 Rem., with the snow just ahead of the steel plate ripping a line several feet wide across the bottom of the steel. That splashing snow indicated a first round hit, and within seconds the return slap of the bullet against metal confirmed that my dope was good, and this rifle and glass combination was sending the mail just fine.
I fired four additional rounds in a slow-fire mode, and four more bullet-to-steel reports rang out across the snow-covered range. Not only was the rifle showing solid performance stuff, but it also was getting a real-time test in a winter environment that only western South Dakota in late March can provide. That final 600-yard steel was to be the end of the day, however, as I was now facing higher wind conditions, mid-day surface thawing mud and cold air that was not at all conducive to maintaining quality ballistic performance.
Pushing 1,000 Yards
On the second day of test shooting, I set up on the steel bench rest at 600 yards. I shot at this range the previous day but had not recorded any exact hits, only impacts that indicated a solid hit someplace on the gong. I had set up a life-size combat target from Birchwood Casey taped to a steel gong, and a second full-size wolf target was also close by, but I saved them for the long shots and turned directly to several half-gallon milk jugs filled with water and a few bowling pins at 600 yards. Using the Lake City Match 168-grain Sierra rounds, I took out the first jug cleanly with a 4.0 Mil hold. Three follow-up rounds produced three additional hits on two more jugs and a single bowling pin. Shooting at this range with the Nightforce-scoped Ithaca rifle was about as simple as shooting a .22 rimfire at a 25-yard soda can.
Loading up my gear and turning to my portable bench rest system at the 800-yard mark was the next level of advanced long-range testing. Now with a new 7.0 Mil elevation using the H-59 Horus reticle, I dropped the crosshair dead center on the life-size combat target. At the shot, the whole front of the lung area opened up in a blast of fragment bullet jacket and lead core. Four follow-up rounds produced additional centered impacts that about trashed the large photo target completely.
The 800-yard marker had been a solid target-ranging point to look the system over before taking on the final longer-range steel target shooting. After writing three books on long-range shooting and working with and interviewing both law enforcement and military snipers alike during the past five years, I have learned that the .308 is quite capable of showing the rifleman some strange behavior after 800 yards, and I was skeptical at best. At that 800-yard range, the bullet is falling 196 inches, or 16.33 feet out of the sky, and the 1,000-yard push drops the little 168-grain pill by a full 386 inches (32 feet). That, my friends, is “indirect” fire at best. Both field artillery and long-range shooting have a good deal in common it would seem. Because the .308 is about sleeping after 800 yards downrange at sea level, it indeed can make some strong turns before finding its target.
On the final station with my portable bench rest, and the early morning cold, dead air still hanging over the prairie, I chambered a Federal Premium 175-grain Sierra MatchKing cartridge, elevated a full 10.8 Mils, with my crosshairs sitting on the wolf target, then pressed three pounds off the Ithaca’s trigger. With wet earth and a soft paper target, I didn’t see anything happen at all. Chambering a second round and using the very same hold, I touched off round number two, which indicated a slight burst of wet earth behind the target backer. I proceeded to send three more additional rounds at the paired second target steel gong for good measure. When reaching the targets, I discovered I had center punched the wolf with two clean rounds, but had only hit the steel gong once. The South Dakota mid-morning wind machine had started up, and my wind flag and meter told me that the 10 to 18 mph building wind was about to shut me down.
After running the Ithaca Guardian downrange I put a call into Ithaca to learn more about this very new addition to the world of long-range rifles. What I can say right off is that I liked this new rifle a great deal, and I believe it can stand with any of the current offerings in 1,000-yard to one-mile shooting systems available today, given the correct cartridge.
In terms of cost, the short-action rifle I was shooting, minus the scope, will retain a MSRP of about $3,250. That includes the Accuracy International stock. Ithaca offers an in-house chassis rifle stock design as well, but will custom fit its barreled action to any stock request the customer might have. Also in the custom department, Ithaca will chamber any of its three action designs for any cartridge a customer requests. The only requirement is that the action itself does not require alterations: for example, short-action 6.5 Creedmoor or 7mm Remington belted Magnum on the long-action Ithaca Protector. In effect, these are custom shop offerings right out of the box. Questions about the Ithaca long-range rifles can be addressed at 419-294-4113.
As the old saying goes, “If you can’t see it, you can’t hit it,” and in the world of long-range shooting, nothing could be more true. Enter the new NightForce BEAST. The label is not about the looks or feel of the glass optic, but rather the hell management put engineers through when they indicated that Nightforce was to build the world’s best ultra-long-range sniper optic for military applications. What rolled out the end of the production line was a totally different, massively large riflescope that, by my estimation, will locate targets even beyond a mile, and then allow the shooter to calibrate an accurate, possible first-round hit against that previously located bad guy, varmint critter or steel plate.
I was pleased to see this scope mounted on the Ithaca long-range rifle, and even more pleased to see that the outstanding Horus H59 was etched into the reticle. With Mil-Radian graduations that cover 60 mils on the 34-inch turret tube, and another 28 Mil-reticle graduations from the 12 o’clock zero crosshair to the 6 o’clock bottom of the glass, this scope can guide bullets with solid accuracy right up to the .50 BMG, .338 Lapua, .300 Win. Mag., or the now-emerging .375 H&H Magnum, to the next zip code. In terms of the .308 Win. that the test rifle was chamber in, by just working with a turret set to a 200-yard zero and elevating to 10 Mils on the static reticle, you can send bullets into the 1,000 yard targets with ease. In other words, the .308/7.62 NATO is not even close to what this optic is all about when used out in Indian country.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the June 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.