Thursday, May 14, 2009
Many riflemen will tell you if there is one company that knows how to get it right, it is Remington. The frequent comment heard is “Remington shoots straight, right out of the box.”
And that has been my experience, both with personal guns, and the numerous rifles I end up tuning for friends each year.
Sometimes, it might take a little experimenting to find the right bullet, but Remington almost always performs better than adequate, right out of the carton.
When the unusually-configured barrel of the new Remington Model 700 VTR caught my eye, I decided my usual practice of signing for a test gun from the manufacturer wasn’t necessary. Experience proved the gun would shoot. And the features Remington built into this bolt gun intrigued me.
First off was that barrel. Talk about stand out on a gun rack--who ever saw a triangular-shaped barrel before? And it was the right length, too—just 22 inches.
The VTR stands for “Varmint Tactical Rifle” which falls into the ever-growing category of “tacti-cool” rifles with standard applications made to look like tactical guns with law enforcement or military uses. Of course, tactical rifles are no-nonsense, utilitarian rifles, spare to the point of Spartan with no unnecessary parts, everything designed for a purpose with no frilly cosmetics.
The new VTR is the long-proven Model 700 action with a patented triangular barrel, a design that offers more rigidity and less weight than a round barrel of equal diameter. With the larger surface area, greater heat dissipation is also claimed. An integral muzzle brake also acts as a protective crown for the rifling, extending past the crown for two inches.
The camo green composite stock has black grips overmolded into the forearm and pistol-grip—and it has two sling swivels on the front end—one for the sling, the other to attach a bipod for the varmint fields.
The gray, almost rough finish on the barrel and receiver is reminiscent of the old military “Parkerized” finish—a handsome, no-nonsense finish that seems to soak up oil, and sheds moisture with equal aplomb.
Since I’ve been planning a varmint hunt for prairie dogs this summer, I intended to build a rifle to take with me—in either .223 Remington, or .22-250 Remington. Once I spotted the VTR, knowing from experience it would shoot, the decision was made, and I ordered one.
After a lot of discussion with friends, some of whom have actually made prairie dog hunts, I settled on one of the icons in the long-range varmint fraternity, the classic .22-250, standardized by Remington in 1965.
Long considered one of the most accurate, easily adapted cartridges around, the .22-250 is known by old-time shooters by the nickname “.22 Varminter”—which gives you an idea of the status the cartridge holds in those ranks. I had never owned one, but the history of the cartridge, that it was developed by necking down the old .250 Savage centerfire deer cartridge, and its proven ability as a super long-range, accurate round all intrigued me, and I started buying different weight bullets in anticipation of its arrival.
Remington has installed a new trigger mechanism on the 700 which they call the X-Mark Pro Adjustable--which means they want it adjusted by a factory-trained gunsmith. I couldn’t stand the approximately 4.5 lb pull that came from the factory, so I took it to Reynerson’s Gunsmith Services (http://www.reynersons.com) for a trigger job. When I asked them to bring the trigger down to my preferred two pounds or so, I was informed the factory would allow them to set the triggers no lower than three pounds—
Lord, save me from lawyers, litigious societies, and heavy rifle triggers. I took what was offered.
I have to say, the gunsmith did an excellent job—we put a trigger-pull gauge on it after it came back, and found little creep and a crisp break right at the specified weight—I’ll live with it.
At the same time, I had them mount a nice 4-16X50 Alpen scope (http://www.alpenoptics.com) with an adjustable objective on high mounts, and I was in business. I could hardly wait to start testing loads and seasoning the barrel.
My normal practice with a new rifle is to buy an array of factory rounds and shoot them, scrubbing the barrel with Butch’s Bore Shine, or other copper solvent after each two or three shots for about 20 rounds. Then I go to cleaning after 5-6 rounds for another 20 or so, then after every 10 rounds for another 20.
Besides gaining brass to work up loads, I am breaking in the barrel and at the same time determining if the rifle has an inherent accuracy that can be enhanced by reloading and finding the perfect combination.
At first, the rifle frustrated me. It would shoot slightly above minute-of-angle (one inch) in a three or five-shot group, then climb out to almost two inches—which was rapidly determined to be cleaning-related. If I let it go past five or six shots without a good scrubbing, the groups widened considerably. This didn’t make sense as friends familiar with the caliber assured me their guns didn’t require excessive cleaning to maintain accuracy.
I also suspected I wasn’t reaching the full potential of the barrel because of bullet weight. Most of the rounds I could find were in the 55 grain or larger sizes—these would require a faster rifling twist for optimum accuracy. So I called the factory, and asked to speak to an engineer or someone in the sales department.
I was given the number of John Fink, who turned out to be the project manager on the VTR. I couldn’t have done better if I tried.
John told me the twist rate was 1-in-14. This is the recommended rate for the .22-250 as specified by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers, Inc. (SAAMI). Thus, he told me, the early weights originally designed for the cartridge were probably going to give me better performance. I should begin experimenting with weights in the 45 and 50 grain range, he said.
Talking to John Fink reminded me of the time we took a fisheries biologist down in the brackish Louisiana marsh, fishing for bass, redfish (red drum), and specks (speckled sea trout). We nearly wore the poor guy out asking him questions about the terrain, marsh loss, damage from nutria (a large South American rodent that adapted to our marsh, and is eating it away), and everything else we had been questioning for years. An expert is a great thing to have along when you are practising your favorite hobbies.
I had the project manager for the Model 700 VTR Bolt on the phone--I wasn't going to let him off without asking the question that has been gnawing at me for years: Just why does Remington insist on putting those two small protusions insided every forearm, supporting the barrel, and ruining what would be a perfectly free-floated barrel?
"We've tried it both ways," he said. "Free-floating the barrel, and using pressure points. We've found in the test results the pressure points actually have an effect on the harmonics of the barrels, and stabilize them. When we remove the pressure points the accuracy actually deteriorates--so we build them into most forearms."
"I've tried it both ways," I said. "I have a Model 7 in 7MM-O8 that I couldn't get past minute-of-angle with any ammo I bought, so I ground the pressure points out, and polished them down. I completely free-floated the barrel."
"Did it do any good," he asked?
"Not much," I admitted. "But the rifle shoots a little under 1 inch at 100 yards with 140 grain Remington Core-Lokt, and I've never bothered to work a load up for it."
My daughter uses it every season, and she doesn't need any better than that anyway. Until I get the Buck Fever out of her, it won't matter if she can drill one-hole groups, or shoot one inch. If it's a doe, she slays them, even out to 200 yards.
But a buck can walk out at 75 yards broadside, and Jessica will shake herself until her fillings fall out.
After talking to John Fink, I decided maybe the factory guys actually do apply some science to manufacturing these rifles, and decided to leave the pressure points in the injection-molded stock. I had found the same features in the laminated stock on my Remington Guide Rifle in .300 SAUM, and it shoots 150 grain factory loads in under an inch. I guess I need to quit second-guessing the experts.
I don’t know if the 80 rounds or so of factory ammo had finally done its job, polishing the bore and filling the microscopic imperfections with copper shavings, thus making a perfectly smooth tube, but suddenly, the rifle came alive for me.
Hornady V-Max ammo in 50 grains with a ballistic tip claimed 3800 fps, and gave up a five-shot group that measured 1 1/8” at 100 yards. But that was one flyer. Four of the five were touching, and printed inside of 5/8”!
I’ve always found you can go buy the most expensive ammunition on the market, and a Remington rifle seems to have a natural affinity for Remington ammo—don’t ask me why. This rifle proved no exception, and bulk-purchase 40 round boxes of 50-grain Jacketed Hollow Points (JHP) consistently fired 5-shot groups that grouped inside 7/8”.
An early 3-shot group of Winchester 45 grain JHP gave an exciting 5/8” group, but a later group fired around the time of the Hornady and Remington light-weights was very disappointing. I suspect either wind, or barrel fouling.
After over 120 rounds fired through the barrel, I’ve reached the point my friends told me about. Now, a quick swab with a dry patch is all the barrel seems to need when the groups seem to be growing. They tighten right back up, if I do my job.
I’m most pleased with my new “tacti-cool” rifle and caliber—it should prove to be an affordable and really accurate sniper rifle on prairie dogs out past 300 yards.
Now I’m hitting the reloading bench to tighten those groups into the proverbial “one-hole” for which this caliber is famous.
Then, on to the varmint fields for the ultimate test—I’m sure I’ll be telling you about that hunt before the summer’s over.
Posted by GORDON at 9:26 PM