Compared: .350 Magnum Rifles
By Chuck Hawks
The first rifle offered in .350 Remington Magnum caliber was the Remington Model 600 Magnum, back in 1965. Both the rifle and cartridge were far ahead of their time. This lightweight carbine came with an 18.5" barrel, but was soon replaced by the Model 660 with a 20" barrel.
Neither was very popular, and within a few years Remington had discontinued the Model 660 and was offering their .350 short magnum cartridge in the Model 700. Around the same time Ruger chambered their Model 77R Standard rifle for the .350 Magnum. Both of these rifles weighed more than the original Remington 600-series carbines (which helped to control the substantial recoil) and came with 22" barrels that offered improved ballistics and reduced muzzle blast.
But the damage had already been done. The .350 Rem. Mag. cartridge had gained a reputation as a loud, hard kicking number and sales of .350 rifles remained slow. The .350 was dropped from both the Model 700 and Model 77 lines, and in 1997 Remington stopped loading .350 factory ammunition. The world's first true short magnum cartridge appeared to be obsolete.
But the commercial success of the WSM cartridges in the early 21st Century caused Remington to rethink their .350 short magnum cartridge. Perhaps time and customer preferences had finally caught up with the .350 Mag. In 2003 Remington reintroduced the .350 cartridge, and a rifle in which to shoot it.
The new Remington factory load for the .350 Magnum, which uses a 200 grain Core-Lokt bullet, claims a MV of 2775 fps. The muzzle energy of the new load is 3419 ft. lbs. The trajectory of that load should look like this: +2.7" at 100 yards, +3" at 125 yards, +1.3" at 200 yards, -3" at 260 yards, and -7.3" at 300 yards. The maximum point blank range (+/- 3") is thus 260 yards.
Remington's new .350 rifle is the Model 673 Guide Rifle. This is a modern bolt action rifle with styling clues reminiscent of the now legendary Model 600 Magnum.
In 2004 Ruger again offered rifles in .350 Mag. First in their Model 77R Mark II Standard rifle, and then (unannounced) in the Model KM77RBZ Mark II Sporter with a stainless steel barreled action and laminated hardwood stock.
All of these new .350 Magnum rifles wear 22" barrels and weigh around 7.5 pounds without a scope, or about 8.5 pounds with a suitable scope. The .350 Rem. Mag is back!
Frequent Guns and Shooting Online readers know that I am a long time fan of the .350 Magnum cartridge, and that I had campaigned for its return. So, when Remington announced the new Model 673, I ordered one. And, a year later, when Ruger announced the availability of their Model 77R Mark II Standard Rifle in .350 Rem. Mag., I ordered one of those, too. These were not rifles I consigned from the manufacturers to review, but rifles I ordered from local gun shops and paid for myself. Which now makes it possible to write this comparison of the first two (new breed) .350 Magnum rifles.
The Remington 673 and Ruger M77R Mk. II are superficially similar, since both weigh about the same, have 22" barrels, short actions, hold a total of four .350 cartridges, and are bolt action rifles. However, they look and feel quite different, and will likely appeal to different customers. The Model 673 has a quite modern look, even though in some ways it is modeled on the old Model 600, while the M77R Mk. II is a very traditional rifle.
The Remington Model 673
The Model 673 is built on the Model Seven action. It comes with a distinctive, two tone, laminated hardwood stock. This striking stock is designed to minimize the recoil of the .350 Magnum cartridge. It incorporates a straight (fluted) comb, moderate pistol grip, and soft recoil pad. The forend is flattened on the bottom and rounded at the tip. There are generous cut checkered panels and detachable sling swivel studs are included.
The barreled action is polished and blued, with an engine-turned bolt. The bolt knob is checkered. The hinged magazine floorplate and trigger guard are made of black anodized aluminum.
The barrel is a 22" magnum contour tube that is free floating for most of its length. It wears an unusual, steel, ventilated rib (allegedly for fast target acquisition with iron sights). The fully adjustable iron sights are mounted on this rib. I might buy into the "fast target acquisition" argument if the 673 was supplied with low, express type iron sights. Unfortunately, it is supplied with a relatively high, conventional, open rear sight and a huge "shark fin" front blade that moves the line of sight so far above the rib as to render it pointless.
The Model 673 action is, of course, drilled and tapped for scope mounts. It shares the strengths and weaknesses of the Model 700/Seven action. Like its sister Remington bolt actions, it is machined from steel bar stock. This makes it stiff and relatively easy to bed. The head of the cartridge is enclosed by "three rings of steel," the recessed bolt face, chamber, and front receiver ring. It is a very strong, accurate, dual locking lug action.
The bolt release is a small, square button directly in front of the root of the trigger--not the most accessible location. The two-position safety is mounted at the right rear of the action and is convenient to use. By order of the corporate lawyers, who evidently are not hunters, Remington safeties no longer lock the bolt closed in the "on" position, so the action could come open if the bolt handle were to catch on a branch or something when the rifle is being carried slung over the shoulder.
The 673 is a push feed action with a plunger ejector and a circlip in the bolt face that serves as an extractor. The recoil lug is, in effect, a stout steel washer trapped between the barrel and receiver. These are probably the most criticized elements of the design, and rightly so. They are (usually) adequate, but there are stronger and better ways to do these jobs. As bolt actions go, the Remington Seven/673 is not particularly good at feeding or extracting cartridges, and it is somewhat awkward to reload.
The best feature of the Remington action is its user adjustable trigger, although Remington seals the adjustment screws with some sort of goo (it can be chipped off), and advises adjustment only by a certified gunsmith. Lawyers! The trigger on the test rifle came from the factory set at about 6.5 pounds, but judicious adjustment reduced that to a clean 3 pound pull.
Here are the basic specifications for the Model 673, taken from the 2005 Remington Catalog:
Remington advertising summarizes the Model 673 Guide Rifle thusly: "The Remington Model 673. Looks good. Moves fast. Hits hard." True enough.
The Ruger Model 77R Mk. II Standard Rifle
Bill Ruger, Sr. was a talented designer with a love of traditional firearms and a startling business philosophy: he tried to give his customers more than they paid for. When he decided to build a bolt action rifle, he tried to incorporate the best features of the finest classic bolt actions, particularly the custom Mauser 98 sporter and pre-1964 Model 70.
He used investment casting technology to make this possible at a time when those earlier actions had largely been phased out in favor of designs cheaper to mass produce. The result was the original Ruger Model 77, and its successor the Model 77 Mark II.
The M77 Mk. II action is a square bridge, Mauser pattern action with a flat bottom, integral recoil lug, and a large ejection port. It has two large locking lugs, a full length extractor that takes a huge bite on the case rim for positive extraction, and a fixed blade ejector. Open the bolt swiftly and the case is thrown well clear; open it slowly and the case can be removed by hand, a feature appreciated by reloaders. This is what is called a controlled feed action, and it feeds cartridges and extracts spent brass with great reliability. It is also fast and easy to load.
Unlike most controlled feed actions, the M77 extractor will ride over the rim of a cartridge placed directly into the chamber. This means that the Ruger M77 Mark II action can be single loaded in the field when one more shot is a crucial necessity and there is not time to load the magazine.
The convenient Mauser type bolt release is located at the left rear of the action, and the safety is located at the right rear. The latter is a Winchester Model 70 type three-position design. "Fire" is fully forward, "safe" with the bolt unlocked to facilitate unloading is the middle position, and "safe" with the bolt locked closed for carry in the field is the full rearward position. The trigger guard and hinged magazine floorplate are made of steel.
All Ruger Model 77 Mark II rifles are now supplied with accurate, hammer forged barrels. The barreled action is finished in a polished blue. The strong, one-piece bolt, including the smooth bolt knob, is left in the white. The stock wears a satin finish. No iron sights are supplied on the M77R, but the receiver rings are machined to accept Ruger scope mounting rings, which are supplied with the rifle. This is the best, most secure, scope mounting system with which I am familiar, and Ruger deserves credit for its design and implementation.
The M77R Mark II comes with a graceful black walnut stock in the modern classic style. It features a (fluted) straight comb, gently curved pistol grip with grip cap, (rather skimpy) cut checkering panels, black rubber butt pad, rounded forearm contour designed to fit the human hand rather than a bench rest, and quick detachable sling swivel bases. This is perhaps the most classic of the current "modern classic" style factory stocks.
Another feature unique of the Ruger M77 design is the angled front bedding bolt that holds the barreled action securely in the stock. This patented system pulls the barreled action downward and rearward into the stock inletting. The result is a barreled action solidly bedded in its stock.
As you can see from this description, the M77 Mark II incorporates almost every feature desired in an optimum bolt action hunting rifle. Except one: a user adjustable trigger. Sadly, the original M77 had an excellent user adjustable trigger assembly, but company lawyers mandated its replacement with an inferior, non-adjustable trigger that is the worst design of all the modern American bolt action hunting rifles. (Savage's Accu-Trigger is the best, but Weatherby, Winchester, Remington, and Browning bolt action rifles all have better triggers than the Ruger M77 Mark II.)
In the case of the rifle reviewed here, the trigger is creepy and breaks at around 5.25 pounds. Even worse, that is the average pull weight as measured by my RCBS Premium Trigger Pull Scale. The trigger actually releases unpredictably anywhere between 5 and 6 pounds. This crummy trigger is a serious drawback on a powerful medium bore rifle that, otherwise, is nearly ideal for hunting not only heavy CXP3 game, but also the world's most dangerous predators, including the big cats and great bears.
The Ruger corporate lawyers were correct in assuming that the trigger pull is a factor in the overall safety of a hunting rifle. What they failed to understand is that a gritty, heavy trigger like this one is far more hazardous than a clean 3 pound trigger. It could cause a bullet to fly out of the sure kill zone and contribute to the death of a hunter in a tight spot with a lion or grizzly bear. This rifle desperately needs Ruger's two-stage target trigger.
Serious hunters will probably just replace the stock unit with a quality after market trigger assembly. This is not difficult, but it is expensive and should not be necessary, particularly on such an otherwise well designed hunting rifle.
The following specifications for the M77R Mark II Standard rifle are taken from the 2005 Ruger catalog:
Here we have two bolt action rifles of identical caliber, capacity, barrel length, size, and weight. Both are manufactured by respected, old line, American firms. Yet they look and feel quite different, and have very different strengths and weaknesses. How do they compare at the rifle range and, most importantly, in the field?
At the Range
To answer the first (range) part of that question I spent a few afternoons at the Izaak Walton outdoor rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers target stands at 25, 50, 100, and 200 yards. For this comparison, we will be using the 100 yard range.
Understand that, unless a rifle is defective in some way, intrinsic accuracy is one of the least important factors about a hunting rifle, particularly powerful medium bore rifles such as these. They are intended to kill big animals (with large kill zones) at short to medium range. The maximum point blank range of the .350 Rem. Mag. 200 grain factory load is about 260 yards, and shots at dangerous game will usually be taken between 50 and 150 yards. For hunting large game at such distances a 2 MOA rifle is about as useful as a 1 MOA rifle. It is other factors that will ultimately determine the best hunting rifle. (For more on the subject of accuracy, see my article "Hunting Rifle Accuracy: Enough is Enough!" on the Rifle Information Page.)
Regardless of the facts, many shooters--particularly those with limited field experience--are intensely interested in accuracy results. Testing at the range was done with handloaded ammunition. The bullets used were the Speer 220 grain Hot-Cor Flat-SP and the Sierra 225 grain GameKing SBT. Powders were H335, IMR 4064, IMR 3031, and IMR 4320, all of which are very suitable powders for the .350 Rem. Mag. cartridge. All loads used Remington brass and CCI 250 (Magnum) primers. Muzzle velocities ran between 2400-2500 fps for all loads, which means muzzle energy averaged about 3000 ft. lbs. The .350 Magnum cartridge can be loaded considerably hotter, but these are proven loads. Recoil is considerable (after the first couple days of testing I had quite a bruise on my shoulder), but manageable.
Shooting was done off a bench rest from a Caldwell Lead Sled and consisted primarily of three shot groups at 100 yards. I let the barrel cool between shot strings. The ambient air temperature averaged about 50 degrees F and there was no appreciable wind.
The Remington wore a Leupold VX-II 1-4x scope, and the Ruger was equipped with a Weaver V3 (1-3x) scope. These are both good scopes for a .350 Magnum rifle, particularly for hunting dangerous game where field of view is paramount. Both scopes were used at maximum magnification, so the Model 673 had a 25% advantage in target magnification, which helped at the range. The Remington's superior trigger (after adjustment) was also an asset.
A further asset at the range is the efficient recoil pad fitted to the Model 673. The two rifles have virtually identical recoil, but the Remington's recoil pad helps to soften the blow to the shoulder. Ruger should supply all .350 Magnum rifles with a Pachmayr Decelerator (or equivalent) recoil pad. I intend to have one fitted to the M77 at the first opportunity.
To cut to the chase, both rifles performed well. With the loads they preferred they were more accurate than necessary and after shooting some 26 groups with both rifles I concluded that there is no practical difference in their intrinsic accuracy.
With all loads using the 220 grain Speer bullet the Remington 673 averaged an excellent 1.135" for three shots at 100 yards. With all loads using the 225 grain Sierra bullet the Guide Rifle averaged a perfectly acceptable 1.828" for three shots at 100 yards. The largest three shot group was 2 7/16" and the smallest was an incredible 3/8", both shot with the 225 grain Sierra bullet.
With all loads using the 220 grain Speer bullet the Ruger M77R Mark II averaged a pleasing 1.640" for three shots at 100 yards. With all loads using the 225 grain Sierra bullet the Ruger M77 Mk. II Standard Rifle averaged an outstanding 0.975" for three shots at 100 yards. The largest three shot group was 2 3/8" (using the Speer bullet), and the two smallest were only 3/4", both shot with the 225 grain Sierra bullet.
You can slice and dice those numbers any way you want. But, as I said three paragraphs ago, there is no practical difference in the accuracy potential of these two rifles. If you are thinking about a .350 Magnum rifle and trying to decide which to buy, you will have to continue reading.
In the Field
Take these rifles into the field for a full day of hunting and there still is not much difference. They are essentially the same length and weight, so one is as easy to carry as the other
If, like me, you tend to carry your rifle slung over your shoulder, you will appreciate the extra security of the Ruger safety, which when fully engaged locks the bolt closed so that it cannot be inadvertently opened by an errant branch. Finding the action open and the chamber empty could come as a nasty surprise to a hunter suddenly confronted by a large, dangerous predator. This will not happen with the Ruger Standard, but could with the Guide Rifle.
Before either rifle can be fired, of course, the safety must be released (moved from "safe" to "fire"). Here the Remington has an advantage. Its two-position safety is simpler, has a shorter throw, and is more convenient to use. The Ruger safety is better in that it locks the bolt closed, but it has an exceptionally long throw to fully release. I feel that under pressure it would be easier to fumble, although in the course of testing I had no problem with either safety.
Both rifles are easier to carry than most medium bores. The short magnum action and 22" (rather than 24") barrel gives these powerhouse rifles the portability and feel of a deer rifle.
The .350 cartridge was designed from the outset for use in standard (rather than magnum) length barrels. The fat, heavy bullet requires less barrel length to achieve its standard performance than the lighter, faster bullets of calibers such as the WSM and SAUM short magnum calibers. The bottom line is a rifle for big and dangerous game that you can carry all day with the ease of a 7x57 or .308.
Of course, more is required of a hunting rifle in the field than just being carried around. For one thing, the rifle must be loaded. Here, the Ruger M77R Mk. II is clearly superior. It has a larger and more accessible loading port, which makes it faster and easier to load or reload--particularly under pressure. And if you have shot your rifle empty putting some great beast on the ground and now need one more "finishing" round, the Ruger is easier to single load.
After a hunting rifle is fired, the spent cartridge brass must be ejected and a new cartridge chambered. The Ruger accomplishes these important jobs more positively than the Remington. Either rifle works pretty well when the actions are operated normally. But work the bolt really fast or real slow and the Ruger feeds more reliably. And if an oversize or stuck case must be extracted while some dangerous beast is sizing you up for his trophy collection, the Ruger is the rifle you want in your hand.
Should you shoot the big critter in front of you, only to find that the one directly to your left has decided to charge, you must whirl to face the new threat as you work the bolt to reload. Once again, you will thank your lucky star if your rifle is a Ruger M77 Mk. II. The controlled feed action will guide the new cartridge into the chamber despite the sudden lateral acceleration trying to throw it out the ejection port, while a push feed action like the Remington may well deposit it on the ground below where the chamber of your rifle was, instead of where it now is.
While we are on the operation of the actions, it should be pointed out that neither is as smooth as it should be. The bolt raceways of both are rough. The Remington's are scored by tool marks, and the Ruger's appear to have been left "as cast" rather than machined smooth. Of the two, the Remington is worse than the Ruger. Its action is so rough that if the bolt handle is pushed a bit laterally in addition to straight forward (surprisingly easy to do), it will bind and refuse to close. This is not exactly an ideal situation for a CXP3 class big game rifle! Shame on both manufacturers for not polishing this critical area.
At the end of the day, or when returning to a vehicle, you will need to unload the rifle. Both make this a simple process. With the 673, set the safety. Open the bolt. The Remington's strong plunger ejector will toss the chambered cartridge from the rifle when it clears the chamber. If you are clever you can catch it before it flies free and hits the ground.
With the Ruger, set the safety to the middle position. Open the bolt slowly. The fixed ejector will deposit the chambered cartridge in your waiting hand--no need to be particularly clever.
Once the chamber of either rifle is empty, leave the bolt open and depress the catch at the front of the trigger guard that allows the hinged magazine floorplate to swing open. The cartridges in the magazine will fall out, emptying the rifle's magazine.
The unloading process is similar with either rifle, but it is a bit easier with the Ruger.
Both of these rifles incorporate some good features. For rifles of their power they are handy and fast handling, with good portability. The .350 Remington Magnum cartridge is an excellent one. Both rifles are very accurate, more so than they really need to be. At the range there is little to choose between the two, although the Remington's superior trigger (after adjustment) makes it easier to shoot accurately, and its effective recoil pad makes it more comfortable.
In the field it is a different story. Although the Remington 673 Guide Rifle is an adequate hunting rifle, the Ruger M77R Mk. II Standard rifle is superior in most areas. Perhaps the most significant difference is that the Ruger's few deficiencies are easy to correct (principally a recoil pad and a new trigger assembly), while the Remington's problems are fundamental design deficiencies.
Note: Individual, full length reviews of these rifles can be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2005 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.
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