The Steyr-Mannlicher SBS 96 ProHunter
AKA Steyr Safebolt ProHunter

By Jon Y. Wolfe

Steyr Pro Hunter
Illustration courtesy of Steyr Mannlicher

The Steyr-Mannlicher Safebolt is one of the most interesting rifles I have ever owned. My particular rifle was imported by GSI (Gun South Inc.) in Trussville, Al. Steyr-Mannlicher rifles are engineered and manufactured in Austria.

My particular Steyr rifle is chambered for the 7mm Rem. Mag. and has a mossy oak synthetic stock, a 25.6 inch rotary cold hammer forged barrel, detachable two position magazine, 3-position rotary tang safety, user adjustable trigger set at 3.5-4.0 lbs. from the factory, a silky smooth 4-lug stainless steel bolt, is drilled and tapped to accept standard Browning A-bolt scope mounts, and has an adjustable length of pull by use of 1/4 inch spacers. Overall length is 46.5 inches, and the catalog weight is approximately 7.5 pounds. With scope, rings, and sling my Steyr weighs a reasonable 8.75 pounds.

The SBS 96 comes with Millett flush mount swing swivels that can be easily removed by pressing in and turning 90 degrees. A Harris Bipod adapter is available and is just as easy to use as the swing swivels. The calibers available in the Steyr Safebolt are .243 Win., 25/06, .270 Win., 6.5x55, 7x64, 7mm/08, .308 Win., .30/06, 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag, 8x57JS and 9.3x62.

The Steyr is my most used hunting rifle and has proven to be functional, accurate, and easy to carry and shoot. The 25.6 inch, rotary, cold hammer forged barrel has proven to have a high level of intrinsic accuracy, and if I do my job the groups are consistently sub MOA at 100 yards. The two-position magazine allows the user to cycle the action without loading a cartridge in the partially engaged position, and the fully engaged position allows the bolt to strip a cartridge from the magazine in the usual manner. The magazine holds three cartridges.

The stainless steel 4-locking lug bolt is smooth and easy to operate. It is easily disassembled for cleaning and lubrication. The bolt is removed by rotating the rotary tang safety to it most rearward position and simply sliding the bolt out. The bolt can be completely locked by moving the rotary tang safety to its most rearward position and pushing the bolt handle flush with the rifle stock. This locks the bolt so that it is not inadvertently opened while carrying it in the field. The bolt is unlocked by rotating the rotary tang safety forward to either of two positions. The intermediate forward position allows the bolt to be cycled while still keeping the rifle on safe, and the full forward position is fire.

The bolt has four locking lugs with the front pair being larger than the rear two. The bolt face looks very similar to the bolt face of a Browning A-bolt rifle. It has a plunger style ejector and a small claw that locks on to the rim of the case to accomplish extraction. When a cartridge is loaded the case is completely enclosed by the recessed bolt face. The bolt has functioned flawlessly in all situations. The receiver is a closed top design and this makes it difficult to manually load a cartridge into the chamber through the ejection port.

The stock on my particular rifle is a synthetic composite with a mossy oak break-up pattern. It comes with removable butt-plate spacers that can be used to adjust the length of pull. It is adjustable from approximately 12 3/4 inches to 13 3/4 inches. The stock is ergonomic, with a flat bottom forearm that rests naturally on a branch or shooting rail. The Millet sling swivels make it easy to remove the sling once in a hunting stand or blind. I like to remove my sling once I am in position as it makes the rifle easier to handle and one is less apt to catch it on a limb or other object.

The stock is ergonomically different from any stock I've ever used. It seems to be ambidextrous in that it is symmetrical on both the left and right side. However, it feels very natural and seems to focus the recoil down and away from the face. It fits the hand rear hand nicely, and has a slight palm swell. As I mentioned, this gun sees more time in the field than any of my other rifles, and I have learned to appreciate these little engineering details; they make this my favorite hunting rifle.

The trigger is a single stage, user adjustable trigger that is factory set between 3.5 and 4 pounds. Mine is set at 3.6 lbs. and functions flawlessly. The trigger is smooth, but has engraved lines that run perpendicular to the rifle. The trigger break is crisp and predictable.

I am using Hornady's Heavy Magnum factory loaded cartridges. These drive a 139 grain BTSP moly-coated bullet (BC .453) to a muzzle velocity of 3250 fps and muzzle energy of 3300 ft. lbs.

The trajectory of the bullet looks like this: +0.9 inch at 50 yards, +2.4 inches at 100 yards, +3.0 inches at 150 yards, +2.5 inches at 200 yards, +0.9 inch at 250 yards, -0.9 inch at 300 yards, and -3.0 inches at 316 yards. This gives me a 316 yard maximum point blank range when the scope is set 3 inches high at 150 yards.

I have not checked my velocity figures with a chronograph. But with the 25.6 inch barrel and the moly-coated bullet I'm betting it's pretty close to the advertised velocity, if not slightly greater, since Hornady uses 24 inch test barrels at their factory.

This is a excellent hunting rifle that is has many desirable engineering features including the two position magazine, adjustable length of pull, easy to use rotary tang safety, Millet flush mount swing swivels, and is drilled and tapped to use Browning A-bolt style bases. It has a high degree of intrinsic accuracy and the rotary, cold hammer forged barrel is superior.

One negative is that Steyr rifles are not easy to find. There are no gun stores within a 200 mile radius of my home that sell Steyr-Mannlicher rifles. Gun South Inc. at one time imported these fine Austrian rifles, but as far as I can tell, GSI is no longer an importer. [Steyr-Mannlicher has taken over importation and distribution of their rifles, so the situation should improve--Ed.] I've been able to find an ample supply on, but I've yet to work up enough nerve to buy a rifle from an auction.

I plan on getting another Steyr-Mannlicher in 7mm-08 within the next 12 months, but haven't found one yet.

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Copyright 2004 by Jon Y. Wolfe. All rights reserved.