By Scott Powers
I could just have easily titled this article "the most accurate .308 caliber out-of-the-box rifle ever" and simply ended it here. I deal with accuracy all day. It's silly really. Most rifles on today's market are sufficiently accurate to the demands placed on them, easily capable of hunting level or tactical level accuracy with good ammo. Yet I still continue to pass over or sell off any rifle in my collection that not only will not hold minute of angle accuracy or better, beat it by half. Years ago I adopted a Remington 700P in .308. It was a fine rifle but at that time, it was cursed with a very long throat. There seemed to be an era in Remington's production history where quality control fell a bit and that particular rifle suffered from a few issues. Remington has long since rectified these problems and has since released many a wonderfully accurate piece. I'll tell the tale of that particular 700P to illustrate how far things have changed at the Big Green. My 700P was a mid 1990s era rifle. It suffered from an excessively long throat. Bullets had to be seated well beyond magazine length to net best accuracy. The bolt wasn't making decent contact and I swear the screw holes in the receiver top were drilled off center, making scope mounting a little quirky. You can read my fixes in the September 1998 issue of Tactical Shooter magazine (Page 41, Vol.1 No.8). That rifle has since served me extremely well and has proven time and again to be one of the most accurate rifles in my cabinet. After a bit of gunsmithing to tune things up, the rifle, with original barrel, has exceeded my expectations for what is still in effect, a factory rig.
Which brings me to the topic of this article. In 2003 I believe, Remington started offering a rifle that to this day is still little known to many Remington fans and long range shooters who do not follow the industry closely. This is mainly because the rifle is offered only through one national distributor and if you are not set up with them as a dealer, you probably have never heard of it. Added to this fact, comparatively speaking, very few of these rifles are made annually. Numbers seemed to fluctuate between 250 and 500 per year. Known as the Remington Model 700SS 5-R Milspec this rifle is much sought after by those in the know. The premise of the piece is a stainless steel M700 action and barrel set in a newly designed HS Precision varmint stock. From its original format, the rifle has evolved a bit and for 2005 comes in the new HS Precision PSV74 varmint stock, which appears to be a hybrid between the tactically oriented Police stock found on the 700P and the more handy stocks found on the Remington Varmint Synthetic and Sendaro lines. The stock comes with a very nicely shaped palm swell that instantly places the hand in the proper position for solid trigger control. The 3 inch wide forearm has a re-curve in it which makes for very comfortable placement of your fingers in offhand positions. It also provides a very stable rest for bench shooting. The forearm is shorter than that found on the tactical rifles, making for a nice balance between solid feel and portability. Of course the stock comes with HS Precision's full-length aluminum bedding chassis system and it is a true drop in. Old time gunsmiths will claim at the minimum a small pad of bedding compound should be placed just forward of the recoil lug to support the barrel, but I have to tell you, this particular rifle shoots so astoundingly well that I would not mess with a thing. The action screws are to be torque-set at 65 inch pounds and that's it. Go forth and shoot.
The rifle derives its name from its barrel. 5-R Milspec refers to the rifling used. 5R-rifling features a radius'd shoulder between the lands and the grooves. Advantages are claimed to be a smoother engraving transition on the bullet jacket which, in theory at least, creates less drag in flight - which means possibly a slightly flatter shooting bullet compared to a bore of standard rifling profile. The second benefit is cleaning. Without the 90-degree angles between lands and grooves, fouling seems less likely to adhere as tenaciously to the bore. Copper fouling may also be reduced. This rifling profile is used in the Army's M24 Sniper rifle. It has a proven track record for accuracy at long range, often making M.O.A. or better shots possible to 1000 yards. The M700SS 5R Milspec has a 24" stainless steel barrel very close in profile to the original 700P Police rifle, before Remington went to the longer 26" tubes on their police line. I've never quite understood the need for a 26" barrel on a .308 rifle meant for tactical law enforcement use, but I've never complained about the slight increase in velocity since 1000 yard shooting was part and parcel of my life for a time. However, when it came to field use, portability and storage, I've always preferred the shorter 24" barrel of the older pre-1990s 700P or current M24. Were I in law enforcement where shots are generally limited, I'd definitely prefer the 24" barrel as urban environments are as likely, or more so, than rural.
Some have assumed the barrel on the 700SS is the same as the M24 barrel. While identical in rifling method, the outer contour is decidedly more portable. It's similar to what you see on the Sendaro or Varmint line, meaning it's not so burdensome over long hauls in the wild. Yet the accuracy this rifle has demonstrated proves that it can shoot right alongside its military brother and leave nothing behind in pure accuracy potential. I had heard reports ranging from .25" @ 100 yards to .7" at the same distance. Knowing how people like to pad numbers, I figured it was a solid half-inch rifle. But testing was proving problematic. I could not keep one in stock long enough to get it to the range! Finally a friend bought one (mine still doesn't have a scope) and we hit the range for our first tests.
Before going any further let me give you some particulars. One of the biggest complaints I have about factory rifles is the trigger and the throat length. Be it liability issues or some evil cabal bent on frustrating long range shooters everywhere, triggers usually come in at 8 pounds and throats are often long to avoid high pressures. The 700SS was not of this ilk. The trigger weighed in at 5 pounds. Still a little stiff but it was a crisp break with no creep. As the Remington trigger is bread and butter for any gunsmith worth his salt, I'd have it dialed down to a nice 3.5 to 4 pounds and leave it there. The chamber was equally, if not more impressive. I measured the maximum overall throat length for the bullet I indented on using, the Sierra 175 grain HPBT Match King. It came in at a reasonable 2.895" with the bullet touching the rifling. Recommended standard length for the .308 Winchester is .2.800". I was quite impressed. My 1990s era project 700P has had the chamber re-cut to match specs and its Max OAL with the same bullet is 2.885! Chalk one up for Remington! This meant I could seat bullets starting right at the recommended OAL or 2.8" instead of having to seat them way long just to see any kind of accuracy. Max OAL is not a figure you will use in your loads. It simply gives you an idea of how far your bullet has to jump before contacting the rifling. Every rifle has its quirks but most do not like a super long stretch. Accuracy suffers. Hand loaders often seat long, just short of the rifling, in an attempt to gain better accuracy. This method is not without risk. Pressure can spike. Rounds often do not fit the magazine. The 700SS on the other hand, has a reasonable chamber and thankfully doesn't force you to revert to extreme loading practices to net excellent accuracy. My buddy Aaron loaded up a batch of cartridges using Remington brass, 43 grains of Varget, CCI Benchrest primers and the 175-grain Sierra Match King bullets. He tried a few seating depths for testing purposes ranging from .015 off the lands to .095 off. I'll get ahead of myself here and give you a hint. Bullets seated right at the recommended SAMMI length of 2.8" shot the best!
For range testing I decided that, since this rifle is so popular in F class competition, we'd start right off the bat with hand loads. We used IMI 175 grain match for break-in purposes and the rifle grouped fairly well considering it was being cleaned between each shot, but groups were nothing to rave about, coming in around an inch @ 100 yards. This was to be expected since each shot was essentially a cold bore shot from a new barrel.
Aaron broke in the barrel by firing 10 shots and completely cleaning between each shot. Fouling for the first three or four rounds seemed heavy…but after the fifth round he was getting clean patches almost immediately! Break-in procedures are constantly in flux. Some claim now that it is unnecessary and wears out a barrel early. Others claim that a reasonable approach is to do a basic break in and don't go overboard. I fall into the latter group. We shot 10 rounds, cleaning between each shot using, first, Hoppes M-Pro 7 and a bore brush to get out the carbon (this stuff is very effective on carbon deposits), followed by dry patching and Shooters' Choice for the copper fouling. After 10 rounds we went right into shooting five round groups between cleanings. This break-in approach seems to be a good bridge between the no-break-in crowd and the rest of the long range shooting community.
Using 200 yard benchrest targets set at 100 yards and a 10x magnification, we first tried bullets seating out close to the rifling. OAL was around 2.885". The results were good, coming in around .6 inches with Aaron behind the trigger. He turned the rifle over to me when he got down to factory length loads. 2.800" long just like you get in any box of Federal GM or hunting ammo. I wasn't really prepared for what happened next. The first three rounds went into .192" @ 100 yards! The next round I bolo'd because I was so exited about the way this was turning out. I should have gotten up, walked away and given it a minute. The fourth shot opened the group up with a flyer to .7 inches… but the fifth shot went right back into that oblong one-hole group, leaving those four shots at .192"! I was amazed. Had I not gotten antsy about it, this would have been the best ever group I've fired using a rifle chambered in .308 Winchester. We tried upping the charge and also tried other seating depths, but discounting that one round error on my part, the rifle definitely prefers 2.800 OAL and a muzzle velocity of about 2575 fps. To hedge my bets, I can definitely say this is a half inch rifle, right out of the box, with no extra work needed other than good ammo and a skilled shooter. But it gets better. The 175 grain match bullet is known for its ability to remain stable in flight to 1000 yards. The downside of that is that it might not always stabilize by 100 yards. Often, the groups you see at 100 yards are not much smaller than the groups you see at 200 yards with this projectile. Whether you shoot Federal GM2, Lake City M118LR, hand loads or any other load using this type of bullet, generally, you 100 yard group will not tell you the true picture.
The following day we took the rifle to 200 yards and shot it alongside my 700P. It out-shot my rifle with ease, turning out groups in the .3 M.O.A. range! That is 6/10ths of an inch at 200 yards! Think about that. Five Shots. Six tenths of an inch. 200 yards. Over and over again. Point three minutes of angle. From a rifle costing less than a good scope. The best I could do with the 700P that day as .4 moa (about .75 inches) at 200 yards! Needless to say, the 700SS 5R milspec is a winner and as I stated at the beginning of this article, is probably the most accurate out-of-the-box .308 rifle I have ever had the pleasure to shoot. Its capable of true sub half MOA accuracy. It also seemed fairly indifferent to some variables we experimented with. Going up a grain in charge didn't phase it much, nor did playing with seating depth. The overall results indicate it likes 2.8" in OAL which is a godsend to people who do not handload, and it also seems to prefer velocities one normally expects out of the 175 grain loadings. Accuracy was excellent between 2550 and 2580 fps. You can certainly push the bullet faster but you gain little for it in accuracy. What this means is that those limited to using factory match ammo will see very good results. Federal GM2 and GM all hover between 2500 and 2600 out of most barrels in this length range. You can expect accuracy with factory match to fall in the .4 to .6 moa range. This is excellent for a non-tuned, non-custom rifle. Finally, as the rifle is all stainless, cleaning chores should be less work intensive and thus far this has proven to be the case. Tactical shooters will want to blacken or paint the rifle camo of course, but for competitive shooters just run and gun. The combination of the stainless action and barrel against the HS Precision PSV74 stock painted black with green webbing makes for a very handsome piece. Balance is excellent and ergonomic.
If you cannot tell, this is fast becoming my favorite long-range rifle. I can solidly recommend it for Varminters, Law Enforcement snipers, F-Class competitors and anyone else looking for an extremely accurate .308 caliber rig priced well below what one would expect to pay for a custom rifle with the same accuracy potential. With the reasonable 24" barrel length, the 700SS 5R Milspec breaches the gap between the Remington 700P and the 700LTR, giving law enforcement snipers a very accurate option for about the same money. You will spend over $1500 on a custom rifle to even come close to this level of precision.