Shaw Precision Guns Mk-VII .338 Federal Rifle
By Chuck Hawks
Our test rifle per the Shaw Gun Builder.
I first became aware of E.R. Shaw semi-custom rifles when Guns and Shooting Online Cutlery Editor Gary Zinn submitted his article, Compared: .338 Winchester Magnum, .338-06 A-Square and .338 Ruger Compact Magnum. (Gary is also an experienced shooter and hunter.)
In his article, Gary briefly explored the availability of hunting rifles in the three subject calibers. In the case of the .338-06, there are no mass produced rifles offered in the caliber at the present time (winter 2015/2016). However, there is at least one reasonably affordable, semi-custom rifle that can be ordered in .338-06. This is the E.R. Shaw Mk-VII, a built to online order, bolt action rifle based on the Savage 110 action in short, standard long or magnum size.
I was not familiar with Shaw Precision Guns, a subsidiary of E.R. Shaw Barrels, prior to reading Gary's article. However, as a certified enthusiast and lover of fine rifles, I found the concept of an online custom gun builder fascinating. Naturally, I had to check it out.
The E.R. Shaw website's home page (http://www.ershawbarrels.com) includes a section devoted to Shaw Precision Guns. This is where you go to find out about Shaw rifles, customize your Mk-VII with the online gun builder and, if desired, order your semi-custom Mk-VII rifle. Note that you do not have to actually order a Shaw Mk-VII to explore the many options available through the online gun builder. You can even get a price for your creation without any obligation to actually order the rifle.
The Shaw Precision Guns web page says this about building a Mk-VII rifle:
"With the New Mk. VII setup you can choose from OVER 75,000 POSSIBLE COMBINATIONS. Your choices include 2 barrel contours, stainless steel or blued chrome moly steel, premium polished or matte finish, 4 stock options, long or short action length (depending on caliber selected), multiple barrel lengths and dozens and dozens of calibers."
"Specifications that come from YOU, for the exact gun you've been looking for, but without the high price tag of most custom rifles. Mk. VII prices range from just $775 to $1,250."
Shaw rifles are available in a great many calibers, from .17 Fireball to .458 Lott. These include not only widely available cartridges, but also wildcats and relatively rare numbers, such as .338-06 A-Square. One of the available calibers that immediately caught my attention was the .338 Federal.
Federal based their .338 cartridge on the short action .308 Winchester case necked-up to accept .338 inch diameter bullets. The result is a cartridge with nearly identical capability to the wildcat .338x57 O'Connor, a cartridge first proposed by Jack O'Connor and about which I had written extensively.
A factory loaded cartridge is always preferable to a wildcat, so when the .338 Federal was announced, Guns and Shooting Online enthusiastically began covering the new cartridge. Federal Cartridge offers a total of seven .338 Federal factory loads in their Vital-Shok, Power-Shok, American Eagle, Fusion MSR and Fusion lines, so finding an appropriate load for almost any hunt is not a problem.
Unfortunately, finding an appropriate rifle in .338 Federal caliber is more difficult. The limited selection of factory built rifles in the caliber is, at least at present, the limiting factor to the popularity of the .338 Federal cartridge. Guns and Shooting Online has previously reviewed the Kimber Model 84M Classic, Ruger Hawkeye All-Weather and Sako Model 85 Hunter rifles in .338 Federal and we are always looking for additional rifles to review. This is why the availability of the Shaw Mk-VII in .338 Federal immediately caught my attention.
Here was a chance to acquire a rifle with the customer's preferred specifications. What a concept. I immediately decided that Guns and Shooting Online should order a Shaw Precision Guns Mk-VII hunting rifle in .338 Federal for review. (This is one of the advantages of being the Owner/Managing Editor!)
The process of customizing a Mk-VII rifle is both easy and great fun for a dedicated rifle enthusiast. To start with, Shaw Precision Guns offers three models of their Mk-VII, the Mk-VII hunting rifle, Mk-VII VS single shot varmint rifle and the Mk-VII TS tactical rifle. I wanted a big game hunting rifle for this review.
Having made that basic decision, there are five steps to building a rifle: (1) Caliber, (2) Receiver, (3) Barrel, (4) Stock and (5) Submit for Quotation. The gun builder allows you to change any component at any time (you can go back and forth in the steps), so you can try different finishes, barrels, stocks, etc. You do not have to submit your creation for a quotation, but after you have designed your dream rifle it makes sense to see how much it would cost to make it a reality.
Step 1. Caliber
In the case of the rifle for a Guns and Shooting Online review, choosing the caliber was easy. The whole point of the exercise was a hunting rifle in .338 Federal.
Some calibers have up to four optional twist rates from which to choose, but only 1-10 is available in .338 caliber. No problem there, as 1-10 is the optimum twist for almost all .338 caliber cartridges and bullet weights. 1-10 is also the Federal specified twist for the .338 Federal cartridge.
Step 2. Receiver
As mentioned above, all E.R. Shaw Mk-VII rifles are built on Savage bolt actions and all come with AccuTriggers. First you choose a right or left hand action. Then, you choose the receiver finish: stainless steel polished, stainless steel matte, chrome moly polished (blued) or chrome moly matte (blued). The matte finish is bead blasted, a cut above the usual factory matte finish, which is simply unpolished. I chose a right hand action in polished stainless steel for our test rifle, as I am bored with the ubiquitous matte finishes.
Steel Leupold and Warne (Weaver style) scope bases are also available from Shaw and will come mounted on your rifle if you choose to order them. I opted for the Warne Weaver type bases, since here at Guns and Shooting Online we have a reasonable selection of scope rings for such bases on hand.
Step 3. Barrel
Here you have four basic choices. The first is material/finish, which will normally match the receiver choice, but does not have to. I specified polished stainless steel in the case of our test rifle.
The second is barrel length, from 16 inches to 26 inches in one inch increments. I debated between 24 inches and 22 inches. 24 inches is the test barrel length for .338 Federal and achieves full factory load ballistics, while 22 inches is handier and the shortest barrel I consider adequately efficient for the caliber. In the end, I chose 22 inches as most appropriate for a .338 Federal woods rifle without excessive ballistic sacrifice.
Third, you select your barrel contour, sporter or varmint. Sporter (#2.5) was the obvious choice for a .338 Federal big game rifle.
E.R. Shaw offers plain barrels (no fluting), barrels with straight flutes and barrels with helical (spiral) fluting. I opted for straight flutes on the theory that the flutes would help the barrel cool, slightly lighten the barrel and look neat. (At least to me--not everyone on the staff likes the looks of fluted barrels.) The helical fluting is advertised as having more cooling area and also producing a stiffer barrel than straight flutes, but I don't care for the appearance.
At this stage, you can also choose to have a muzzle brake fitted. Like most experienced hunters, outfitters and guides, I don't like muzzle brakes on hunting rifles, so I ignored this option.
Step 4. Stock
Here you choose your stock material. The choices are laminated wood (nutmeg brown), laminated wood (pepper gray/black), checkered walnut, or synthetic (matte black). All are in the modern classic style.
Naturally, I chose checkered walnut for a custom rifle. This comes with generous four-panel cut checkering, cheekpiece, fluted comb and detachable sling swivel studs. The butt terminates with a Pachmayr basket-stamped, black rubber butt plate. (This is a butt plate, not a recoil pad.)
I asked our Shaw sales representative if we could get an ebony forearm tip and pistol grip cap. Unfortunately, forearm tips and pistol grip caps are not available.
Step 5. Submit for Quotation
This is just a matter of supplying your e-mail and mailing address so that E.R. Shaw can send you a quote. In the case of our test rifle, the retail price turned out to be $1064, not including the scope bases. If you decide to place an order, the completed rifle must be shipped to your local FFL dealer for pick-up.
The typical waiting period between order and delivery was approximately 9-12 months at the time I placed the order for our test rifle. The service tag included with our finished test rifle showed the following basic specifications.
Here are measurements and additional specifications of our Shaw Mk-VII test rifle:
We received our E.R. Shaw Mk-VII test rifle in due course and it was exactly as specified. The surprise was the polished stainless steel barreled action. It is not just satin polished, it is a mirror polish on the order of a Colt Ultimate Python revolver and much shinier than it appears in the photo at the top of this page. The barrel flutes are left dull stainless steel gray, to provide some contrast.
Although it looks spectacular, the highly reflective mirror polish is probably not the most practical finish for a hunting rifle. If I had it to do over, I'd probably order the polished and blued chrome moly barreled action. The bluing over the highly polished steel would serve to reduce the glare.
We have reviewed rifles with Savage 110 pattern bolt actions enough times that I feel it is unnecessary to describe the push feed Savage action in detail here. If you are unfamiliar with the design and operation of the Savage action, see the Savage rifle reviews on the Product Reviews index page.
Briefly, it is a push feed action with an open top receiver, assembled bolt, bolt face sliding extractor (pioneered by Savage) and a plunger ejector. There is a gas escape port in the bolt head and holes on each side of the receiver to (hopefully) vent any escaping powder gasses to the side and away from the shooter.
There is an internal, blind, single stack magazine that Shaw literature says holds three cartridges. Our example would accept four cartridges in the magazine and feed them reliably.
The polished bolt handle terminates in a wrecking ball shaped knob that is larger, more comfortable and easier to grip than the usual round, checkered, Savage bolt knob. This is a definite improvement.
Bolt removal requires pulling the trigger and depressing the bolt release at the right side of the receiver at the same time. This is the Savage system, which I have always found awkward. My method is to pull and hold the trigger back with my right index finger, depress the bolt release with my right thumb and use my left hand to remove the bolt. The same cumbersome process must be followed to replace the bolt.
The three position safety slider is located on the stubby rear tang. Forward is "fire," fully rearward is "safe" with the bolt locked closed, while the middle position is "safe," but does not lock the bolt closed.
Out of the box, the AccuTrigger released at 3.5 pounds per my RCBS pull gauge. I removed the stock and adjusted the trigger to its minimum setting, which turned out to be three pounds. The pull weight range of this particular trigger measured 3.0 to 4.0 pounds.
The barrel is free-floating, but the action is properly pillar bedded in the stock. There are no unsightly gaps between wood and metal.
The one-piece, modern classic style stock has a rounded forearm tip and a straight comb with a cheekpiece. It is a functional design that tends to transmit recoil in a straight line to minimize muzzle jump.
There is too much wood left in the forearm, which should be slenderized. The pistol grip is also somewhat thicker than necessary at the wrist. Removing excess wood from the stock would improve the rifle's handling.
Unnecessarily beefy factory stocks are the norm, but a semi-custom rifle like the Mk-VII should come with a more elegant, slender stock. On the other hand, the extra wood adds extra weight, which does help ameliorate the recoil of powerful cartridges like the .338 Federal. So would a recoil pad, which this stock lacks.
Our rifle's Grade 3 black walnut stock has straight, contrasting grain structure. It is attractive, but not outstanding in appearance. I would rate it as "semi-fancy." This stock has exceptionally straight grain from the forearm tip to the butt plate, so it should be very strong. The borderless checkering is cut at about 24 lines per inch. It appears to be laser cut with an excess of flat top diamonds. A competent checkerer could point-up the diamonds, which would improve the appearance, but there would be little practical gain.
At my request, our friends at Leupold supplied a VX-3 1.5-5x20mm IR scope for use on the Mk-VII. This is an appropriate scope for a .338 woods rifle, providing a very wide field of view at minimum magnification for short range shots at big animals, as well as sufficient magnification at the high end of its range to take advantage of the approximately 260 yard maximum point blank range (+/- 3 inches) of the .338 Federal cartridge shooting a 200 grain spitzer bullet. The illuminated German No. 4 reticle should prove useful when hunting trophy feral hogs, which generally do not appear until after sundown.
Since this scope has a 30mm diameter main tube, I also requested Leupold's excellent QRW medium height, 30mm mounting rings for cross-slot bases. These are steel, quick detachable rings that actually work.
Before mounting the scope, I checked the mounting screws of the scope bases and found they had been correctly torqued. (This is not always the case with factory mounted scope bases, so it pays to check.) With a top quality scope and rings, mounting and bore sighting was quick and easy. The Mk-VII was now ready for a trip to the rifle range.
I enlisted the help of Guns and Shooting Online Gunsmithing Editor Rocky Hays and Chief Technical Advisor Jim Fleck to help with the shooting chores and for their input. As usual, we did our shooting at the Izaak Walton range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility has covered bench rests and target stands at 25, 50, 100 and 200 yards.
We used a Caldwell Lead Sled to rest the rifle and minimize recoil. As usual, after checking the scope alignment at 25 yards and refining the zero, we fired three shot groups at 100 yards for record to conserve precious ammunition and reduce barrel heating. We used Redfield Precision Sight-In targets.
The good old boys at Federal Cartridge provided Federal factory loaded ammunition for this review. These included Premium Vital-Shok with a 185 grain Barnes TSX bullet (MV 2750 fps), Premium Vital-Shok with a 180 grain Nosler AccuBond bullet (MV 2830 fps) and Fusion with a 200 grain electrochemically bonded bullet (MV 2700 fps).
The weather was cold (upper 30s F), damp and overcast, typical western Oregon winter weather. At least the breeze was light and not a problem for shooting a .338 at 100 yards.
As you can see from the above results, this is a highly accurate medium bore rifle. The medium priced Fusion ammo produced the most consistent groups, which is convenient, as we prefer a 200 grain bullet (SD .250) in a standard (not magnum) .338 cartridge. We agreed that, providing we did our part, this load should efficiently dispatch any Class 3 animal.
I had enough sense to wear long underwear and insulated boots, a parka and generally adequate clothing. Rocky and Jim, anticipating warmer temperatures, did not wear adequate clothing for the weather and were cold at the range.
They insisted they could have shot smaller groups if they had not been so chilly. This may be true, as they produced several flyers, while I did not. The rifle shot several MOA (or smaller) groups and would have recorded smaller average group sizes if they had performed at their full potential.
As usual, we all appreciated the clean, three pound AccuTrigger. A good trigger is a definite asset for accurate shooting.
The smooth action is also a plus, as is the new, more comfortable, bolt knob. I don't know what Shaw Precision Guns did to the action, but this one seemed slicker than previous Savage hunting rifle actions we have reviewed. The receiver is marked "E.R. Shaw Mk-VII," not "Savage Arms."
The rifle is easy to use as a single shot at the range. Just drop a cartridge into the open top receiver and close the bolt. This is one advantage of a push feed action.
Conversely, the single stack Savage magazine is kind of a pain to load. (Literally, as it is easy to pinch your thumb when loading the magazine.) You need to get each cartridge centered directly over the magazine and carefully press it down. Press the case head (rear) of the cartridge into the magazine first and then the shoulder/neck area, or it will not go in. The magazine feed lips are very tight and everything has to be done just right.
Unloading requires working the cartridges in the magazine through the action, as there is no hinged floor plate to dump the magazine contents. Set the three position safety in its middle position when unloading. This blocks the trigger, but allows the bolt to be operated. As far as I am concerned, hunting rifles should have hinged floor plates.
I shot the Mk-VII from the shoulder (without the Lead Sled) and I am happy to report that the recoil was not abusive. Even without a recoil pad, the kick was quite manageable. Credit the rifle's sensible stock shape and near 8-1/2 pound weight for this. For its considerable power, I would rate this as one of the more comfortable medium bore rifles to shoot.
Planning and ordering your Shaw Mk-VII rifle is fun and the great number of available chamberings provides cartridge options not available in standard production rifles. Many shooters and hunters have their own ideas about the best barrel length and twist, and a Shaw rifle can satisfy that desire. The stock options are also more diverse than with mass produced rifles.
The primary limitation is the lack of action choices; it is Savage or nothing. Perhaps in the future Shaw Custom Rifles can be persuaded to offer the option of a controlled feed action, such as a Zastava Mauser 98 or Winchester Model 70, with a staggered box magazine and a hinged floor plate.
Note: An expanded version of this review may be found on the Product Reviews page.
Copyright 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.