Should This Be Your Next Hunting Rifle?
By Gary Zinn
Let me take you on a quick guided tour of the rifle pictured above. It is a new Remington item, called the Model 700 PCR (Precision Chassis Rifle). It is built around the proven Remington Model 700 bolt action, but otherwise is quite different from normal and familiar bolt action rifles, such as the Model 700 CDL (pictured below). Here are the key features of the PCR rifle.
Will traditional style bolt action rifles, such as the Model 700 CDL (above), give way in coming years to rifles such as the Model 700 PCR? Time will tell, of course, but I have some thoughts on the hunting utility of the bolt action versions of what some call "modern sporting rifles."
The term modern sporting rifle, or MSR, has been attached to autoloading AR-15 and AR-10 rifles, configured for hunting use. To me, the term is silly at best and misleading at worst. The Stoner AR rifle design predates the introduction of the Remington Model 700 and Ruger Model 77 rifles (to name just two relatively young models), yet no one calls those modern sporting rifles. What is up with that?
Because I think the MSR label is misleading and silly, I avoid using it as much as possible. I could call the rifles discussed here "bolt action MSRs," but instead I will refer to them as "faux AR" rifles, since they incorporate some of the design features of and often look much like AR type rifles.
Understand that I am neither touting nor panning the Remington Model 700 PCR rifle, as such. I am merely using the PCR as an example of a type of rifle, offered by over a dozen firearms firms, that are faux ARs, different in design details and appearance from the bolt action hunting rifles that have been popular with hunters for the last 120 years.
Why a faux AR?
As I see it, the main advantage of bolt action faux AR rifles is that there is no restriction on action length. AR-10 platforms are confined to .308 Winchester length cartridges and AR-15s are restricted to even shorter cartridges, but a bolt action can be sized to accommodate .30-06 length (or even longer/larger) cartridges. For instance, Remington makes the Model 700 Tactical Chassis, a faux AR available in .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum.
Therefore, a bolt rifle can be built with features including AR style pistol grip, buttstock and hand guard, chambered for any popular cartridge. Add a picatinny rail for mounting optics, a magazine well that makes it easy to insert and drop magazines and a free floating barrel and one has a bolt gun with the features of deluxe AR rifles, sans the autoloading action. Any manufacturer with a decent bolt action design can make a faux AR rifle.
Available faux AR rifles
While trying to get an idea of what faux AR rifles are currently available, I noticed that the design philosophy used for the Remington PCR, a "chassis" which joins the barreled action, buttstock, pistol grip and hand guard, is a prevalent design. Major production rifle makers who make faux AR rifles similar to the Remington PCR include Barrett, Bergara, Kimber, Mossberg, Ruger, Savage, Tikka, Weatherby and Winchester. (I have probably overlooked a few.)
An alternative design is a barreled action mounted in a one-piece synthetic stock, with a steeply dropped pistol grip (not separate from the buttstock), beefy buttstock, adjustable cheek rest, and length of pull changed via inserting or removing spacers. Rifles of this design are made by Browning, Daniel Defense, Howa, Thompson/Center, Remington and Savage (and, again, probably others that I did not notice).
These rifles are, arguably, not quite faux ARs, as I have characterized them above, but are clearly being promoted as long range hunting rifles, though the stock design follows the target rifle tradition, rather than being AR inspired.
Among them, the rifles I noticed are chambered in 16 calibers, ranging from .223 Remington to .338 Lapua Magnum. I was not shocked that the .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor are the most ubiquitous, with virtually all of the rifles I tallied offered in these two calibers.
Long range target shooting versus extreme range hunting
The type of rifle I have described was developed for long range target shooting. Competitive long range shooting has become popular and has been catered to by the industry, with rifles, optics and cartridges/loads developed and marketed for this type of shooting. Inevitably, this has spilled over into promotion of these same tools and technologies for hunting.
I have no quarrel with long range target shooting, whether it be competitive or recreational. I am disturbed, though, by the related development of introducing what I consider to be extreme range shooting into big game hunting. The ways in which this is encouraged include commercial promotion of "long range" hunting rifles, scopes and rangefinders, plus hunting cartridges/loads with claimed extreme range capabilities. Meanwhile, some shooting and hunting writers, along with long range shooting schools and guided hunt businesses, promote extreme range shots at game as an acceptable and even fashionable hunting technique.
My position is that taking extreme range shots at game animals is not acceptable. By extreme range, I mean any distance greater than the +/- three inch maximum point blank range (MPBR) of the cartridge and load in question. Very few high intensity cartridges, with hunting loads, generate MPBRs that extend much beyond 300 yards. Yet, I read an internet blurb by a promoter of guided "long range hunts" who asserted that, "Long range hunts are not about the trophy, they are about the distance and skill of the shot" and defined a long range shot as, "a minimum of 500 yards and beyond." I would be amused by this if I were not so offended by its irresponsibility.
I stated my case against extreme range hunting shots at length in the article Extreme Range Shooting , so I will not recreate that argument here, except for one point. Jack O'Connor, "The Dean of American Gun Writers," once wrote that two hundred yards is the PRACTICAL (emphasis added) killing range of pretty much any cartridge, because, "very few hunters can lay the bullets into the vital area of a game animal at any greater distance, even under the most favorable conditions." Contrast O'Connor's statement with that of the extreme range hunting advocate, as noted above. (One might also contrast O'Connor's vast hunting experience with that of modern long range hunting enthusiasts. -Editor)
Two truths and a lie about faux AR rifles
Truth: faux AR rifles are expensive. Among the rifles I studied in detail, the Remington Model 700 Magpul is the lowest priced faux AR I found, at $1175 MSRP. That is not much more than a Remington Model 700 CDL or a Winchester Model 70 Sporter, but from there production faux AR prices spiral upward to $2200 for the Daniel Defense Delta 5, with a dozen or so rifles priced between. Then, there is a jump to the Remington Tactical Chassis ($2900 to $3500), while the Barrett MRAD is priced at $6000. There are some custom builders who specialize in chassis rifles; one of these I noticed listed rifles in several game hunting and varmint calibers for about $4000. Buyers can check their wallets and make their own decisions.
Truth: faux AR rifles are heavy. The lightest weight rifle I identified is the Browning X-Bolt Max Long Range, at 8.2 to 8.5 pounds (depending on caliber), while the Remington Model 700 Tactical Chassis (.338 Lapua Magnum) weighs 12.5 pounds. In between, about half of the rifles I studied weigh between 8.5 and 10 pounds, about one-fourth run between 10 and 11 pounds and the rest weigh over 11 pounds.
These are bare rifle weights, to which we can add at least 2 pounds of optics and other accessories one might hang on the gun to get a field-ready rifle. This may not be an issue for someone who hunts by sitting all day in a permanent shooting hut, but the weight of a faux AR rifle would be a deal breaker for anyone whose hunting method requires mobility.
In addition, faux AR rifles with protruding pistol grips, magazines and boat paddle butt stocks, are awkward to carry and mount, a significant consideration when one is choosing a hunting rifle.
Lie: the inherent accuracy of faux AR rifles is a significant advantage to the hunter. First, the "inherent accuracy" of faux AR rifles premise may or may not be generally true and certainly may not hold for any particular rifle; nonetheless, I will accept it for sake of illustration. My quarrel is with the "significant advantage to the hunter" assertion, which simply does not make sense in the field.
Obviously, a precisely built, finely tuned rifle (of whatever style) that consistently throws awesome 1/2 M.O.A. groups would be highly desirable if one is shooting competitively at 1000 yard targets. Ditto for anyone who insists on plinking at game animals at a minimum of 500 yards and beyond. (I have already stated my attitude toward this practice.)
Conversely, a deer within normal +/- 3-inch MPBR distances cannot survive on the difference between a 1/2 M.O.A. rifle and one that shoots to 2 M.O.A., provided that the hunter executes the shot well in either case. It is worth noting that most new hunting rifles will shoot 1-1/2 M.O.A. or smaller groups, out of the box. A 2 M.O.A. rifle is sloppy by comparison with current production rifle norms.
My point is that a rifle model need not have a proven target shooting pedigree to be an effective hunting tool. Rather than possessing accuracy that can consistently put shots into the X-ring at any distance, a hunting rifle needs to be accurate enough to consistently shoot within a +/- 3 inch MPBR zone at practical hunting distances.
Firearms makers would like you to buy their latest and greatest products, such as faux AR rifles, while optics, ammunition and accessory firms will gladly sell you all the bells and whistles to trick them out. However, before going on a lavish buying spree, here is a fundamental question that merits pondering: "Do I really need this stuff for my next hunt?"
Copyright 2019 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.