Archive for the ‘Sniper Rifle Systems’ Category

Army Exploring M110 Semi Automatic Sniper System (SASS) Improvements

December 7, 2012
The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) is one of the U.S. Army’s more recently procured medium caliber sniper rifles. The Army is seeking to shrink the weapon’s size and lower its weight. PEO Soldier photo

In much the same way that the U.S. Marine Corps is exploring potential enhancements to its current 7.62 x 51 mm M40A5 Sniper Rifle, the U.S. Army is also exploring a number of similar enhancements to its own 7.62 x 51 mm M110 Semi Automatic Sniper System (SASS).


The M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) is an anti-personnel and light antimateriel weapon that fires 7.62 mm ammunition out to a maximum effective range of 800 meters. It incorporates a rapid fire/rapid reload design, variable-power day optic sight, and 10- or 20-round detachable box magazines. The weapon system exceeds the rate-of-fire and lethality of the M24 Sniper Weapon System. The M110 weapon system (combat ready with suppressor and loaded 20-round magazine) weighs 17.3 pounds. PEO Soldier photo

First fielded [first unit equipped] in the 1st quarter of FY 08, the M110 SASS is a lightweight, direct gas operated, semi – automatic, box magazine fed, 7.62 x 51 mm rifle intended to engage and defeat personnel targets out to 800 meters. The weapon is manufactured by Knight’s Armament Company, based in Titusville, Fla. The weapon’s associated Leupold Mark IV 3.5-10X scope provides field of view options to suit the specific tactical range applications. Using 10-round or 20-round detachable magazines, the semi-automatic M110 SASS greatly exceeds the rate of fire and lethality of the previous M24 Sniper Weapon System.


Army representatives outlined their interest in enhanced characteristics through a recent “sources sought” announcement. The announcement, dubbed Compact Semi – Automatic Sniper System (CSASS), was released by the U.S. Army’s Army Contracting Command on behalf of the Project Manager Soldier Weapons (PMSW).


CSASS interest focuses on manufacturing a complete system or reconfiguring some or all of the existing M110 SASS currently available in Army inventory.

Specific criteria outlined for the notional CSASS focus on size and weight improvements. Specifically, the announcement calls for the overall length of the weapon to be reduced using a shorter barrel and/or collapsible buttstock. Maximum overall assembled length of the rifle would be no greater than 36 inches with the stock at its shortest position and no sound suppressor mounted. This compares with a 40.5-inch length for the current SASS with buttstock fully compressed and without suppressor.

At “no more than 9.0 lbs. for the unloaded rifle without optics and accessories,” the CSASS would also be lighter than the current SASS design.

Other noted CSASS criteria include:

  • semi-automatic operation;
  • compatibility with 7.62 x 51mm NATO cartridges;
  • modular, adjustable pistol grip;
  • non-adjustable match style trigger;
  • fore-end hand guard that includes a fixed 12 o’ clock rail with configurable 3, 6, and 9 o’ clock rails;
  • muzzle mounted, detachable compensator/muzzle brake compatible with the sound suppressor;
  • bipod with tool-less detachment featuring cant and pan/track capability;
  • Army specified variable power day optic and compatible rings;
  • back-up iron sights offset 45 degrees from the day optic scope;
  • flush cup, quick detach sling attachment points; and,
  • “Significant improvement from M110 requirements while enduring higher rates of fire.”

The announcement identified a CSASS production requirement “at an estimated range of 125 per month with a capability to ramp up to 325 per month.”

Steyr SSG-69 PI

June 28, 2012


Steyr SSG-69 PI
Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO (.308 Win) or .243 Winchester
Barrel: Medium Contour, 4 Lands & Grooves, Cold Hammer Forged
Barrel Length: 25.6″ (650mm)
Twist: RH 1:12″
Weight (Rifle only): 8.8 lbs (4.0 kg) – rifle only
Overall Length: 45.3″ (1150mm)
Magazine: Detachable 5 or 10 round rotary magazines
Trigger: Two Stage set at 4.0 lbs
Stock: Steyr Fiberglass
Metal Finish: Parkerized
Price: About $1900 (2012 prices)


Back in the mid 1960’s when sniping once again came to the forefront of military leaders, the Austrian Army decided it needed to prepare their own snipers and properly equip them. The search for a proper weapon system was begun at that time and in 1969, Austrian based Steyr began building the new rifle which was paired with a Kahles ZF69 fixed 6x scope, Kahles also being an Austrian based company. The SSG-69, as it was designated, became the standard sniper rifle of the Austrian armed forces. The SSG-69 was also available on the civilian market where it is also commonly known as the PI (Roman numeral one) and it quickly became known as a very accurate rifle, even winning several prominent international competitions. Later a second version, the PII, was developed that included a heavier barrel without any iron sites and it was tailored toward the law enforcement community. A short version, known as the PIV, was also created and was designed for urban style operations and was setup to accept a suppressor.

Here at Sniper Central we have shot several SSG-69’s over the years and had always been impressed with the performance Steyr gets out of their rifles, but we had never ran one through a full series of tests or conducted a full write-up. One of the things we like to do is introduce readers to some of these less common sniper rifles that have played an integral part in sniper rifle development over the years and then see just what type of capability these rifles had in their day as well as compare them to today’s breed of sniper rifles. The SSG-69 series of rifles is still in production from Steyr, but the design is over 40 years old and really nothing much has changed over those years. So we thought we would pick one up and give it the full evaluation to see just what it could do. Since we tend to prefer function over beauty, we elected to pick up the original PI version since it was what the Austrians came up with as their desired combat sniper rifle in 1969. Now it was time to see what this old classic could do compared with today’s rifles.

One of the first things someone notices about the PI is that it looks somewhat like a sporter rifle, especially when there is no optics mounted. This is somewhat reaffirmed when you pick up the rifle, as it is quite light when compared to the modern custom built sniper rifles available today. The empty weight of the rifle, without optics, is only 8.8 lbs which is very similar to many modern hunting rifles on the market. The auxiliary iron sights also give the impression that this is more of a hunting rifle than a tactical sniper rifle. Though the colors of the rifle are certainly very business-like with the synthetic stock being green and all the metal parts are finished in a matte black color that offers no reflection.

The stock itself is made of fiberglass type of material and if one recalls, back in 1969 this was very much a revolutionary thing. All sniper rifles at the time were still using wood stocks, and this included the recently adopted M40 being used by the USMC, the US Army M21, German SP66, and all the others. While this may not have been the first ever use of a synthetic material for a rifle stock, the fact that Steyr was using them as standard on the SSG-69 was certainly pioneering. The stock does feel somewhat like a generic piece of hard plastic, similar to a M16A1 buttstock, and the molded fiberglass itself is smooth and slippery, especially when combined with sweat and other things such as face paint, and getting a solid cheek weld in all conditions can be tough. The buttstock is hollow which helps with keeping the weight down, and the shape of the stock is not bad. The stock may not have a modern vertical pistol grip with palm swell, but it does sweep down to a vertical position and there are serrations on the grip area to help with getting a firm grip. These same serrations are found on the forearm area as well. The forearm area also has a flat underside that is 2″ wide at the magazine and tapers down to 1.5″ wide at the front. This flat area provides a good solid platform when shooting from sandbags or other rests. There is also a standard accessory rail on the bottom of the forearm to allow mounting sling studs and bipods. The stock also has an integrated sling attachment point on the left hand side of the buttstock and when combined with the front sling attachment that is at the very front of the forearm and swivels, it allows the rifle to lay flat on its side against the operators back when it is slung. When the rifle must be slung, either when utilizing a different weapon or needing both hands free for such things as climbing and/or repelling, this is a preferred way of slinging the rifle. The buttstock also has a spacer system that allows for adjusting the length of pull by adding or removing spacers.

The Steyr SSG action is fairly long and thick and this was done to strengthen and stiffen the action to help improved accuracy. The forward part of the action is longer than most others as the barrel threads much deeper into the action than a typical modern bolt action rifle. This also was done to help strengthen the barrel to action mounting and to increase the stiffness of the entire barreled action as a whole. The top of the action has milled groves in it to accommodate Steyr scope mounting rings. Back in 1969 there was no standardized Picatinny rail as there is today and there is no means of mounting any sort of rail as the action is not drilled and tapped.

The SSG action is a closed top design with a decently sized ejection port. The closed top does add additional stiffness to the action, though it can limit accessibility to the interior of the action if that is ever needed. If it is not obvious yet, Steyr pulled out all the tricks known at that particular time to stiffen and strengthen the barreled action in an effort to improve accuracy and durability of the rifle. There is a safety on the right hand side of the action toward the rear. It is a fairly large thumb switch that has two positions. Forward is fire and then pull it to the rear using the thumb and the rifle is on safe. When the safety is activated the bolt is locked and the trigger mechanism is deactivated. With the detachable box magazine, it is easy and safe to unload the rifle with the bolt locked in this manner.

The SSG bolt is a fairly unique design, certainly different than the standard American made rifles such as Remington 700s, Savage 10s and 12s, Winchester 70s and others. The bolt has six lugs at the rear of the bolt instead of the standard two at the front. This arrangement allows for a short bolt throw, in the neighborhood of 60 degrees, which does allow for quick cycling of the action without fear of interference with the scope. The bolt handle itself is somewhat short and has what some would call a “butter knife handle”. While it is not a large bolt knob design like what is popular today, the shape is contoured to fit the natural grip of the hand and works well with and without gloves on. The bolt also has a little protrusion that extends from the rear of the bolt shroud providing a visual cue that the rifle is cocked and ready to fire. The extractor is a nice M-16 style extractor that provides positive clamping power onto the case of the cartridge. The operation of the bolt is smooth and short and works well for a combat sniper rifle.

The trigger guard is made of a hard plastic and the opening is oversized to allow the use of a gloved trigger finger with no problem. The hard plastic raises a concern of durability but it feels strong and there have been minimal reports of durability issues with the rifle as a whole. The large trigger guard is also able to accommodate a double set trigger which is optional, if not more common, on these rifles. The double set triggers are typically only suitable for accurate range work as the second trigger is extremely light for competition shooting. For tactical duty the single two-stage trigger is preferred and is what is present on this test rifle. The trigger shoe is ribbed to help with trigger feel and the trigger itself has a nice light first stage. The amount of takeup of the first stage is fairly short, under a quarter of an inch, and the second stage is heavier and brakes very clean at 4 lbs with minimal over travel. This is a bit heavier trigger pull than a typical precision rifle today, but the SSG was designed as a combat rifle and as such, it makes a good fit, especially with the nice clean trigger break.

In front of the trigger guard is the flush fitting detachable box magazine. The magazine itself is unique by today’s standards as it is not a single or double stack magazine but rather a rotary magazine. As the rounds are loaded into the magazine they feed in a rotary fashion. The standard flush fitting magazine holds five rounds and the rear wall of the magazine is made of a clear plastic that allows for easy identification of how many rounds are loaded. The magazine is releases by squeezing the two magazine release buttons on either side of the magazine. This is the same way that the standard Remington 700 DBM works, though the Steyr implementation operates better than the Remington. The magazines snap in with a good positive click and with minimal effort. When inserting a magazine, it is easy to find the mag well and perform rapid magazine changes. For a while Steyr also made a ten round magazine that protruded down below the rifle but these are very hard to come by and in high demand which drives the prices up.

As was mentioned earlier, the barrel on the Steyr SSG threads very deeply into the forward action for added strength and stiffness. The barrel itself is a lighter weight barrel than the typical sniper rifle today. The contour is what would be considered a medium to heavy weight sporter contour, with the barrel being just a bit heavier and thicker than a normal sporting rifle today. The diameter of the barrel at the muzzle is .715″ (18.2 mm). The barrel is cold hammer forged and has a measure rate of twist of 1:12″. The outside perimeter of the barrel is finished in a spiral pattern that adds a high quality finished look to the barrel and the crown is recessed as well to protect it during operations. The barrel is listed at 25.6″ in length, but that is measured from the start of the barrel inside of the receiver, so the length of the barrel from the front of the receiver to the muzzle is only 23.4″. On the SSG69 PI there is a set of open sights that work well as backup auxiliary sights for those times when Murphy’s laws of combat come into play and your primary scope goes belly up.

Overall the rifle is a compact and lighter weight rifle than what is typically considered for sniper use today. All of the correct parts are there in terms of a synthetic stock, durable and matte color metal finish, detachable magazine, solid action, short bolt throw, two stage trigger, larger trigger guard, bolt handle designed for gloved hands, but yet the rifle is still light weight and fairly compact. The real question now stood as to whether the rifle can perform to modern standards for combat sniper rifles.

One down side to the rifle being designed in the 1960’s was the concept of a picatinny rail was not the standard and there was no standardized way to mount a scope. The Steyr in this case utilized notched grooves in the top of the receiver and some specially designed rings to be used with a scope. These Steyr designed rings are a quick release style that incorporates features that keep things tightly in place during recoil. Typically we are not a fan of quick release style rings and we would even caution away from using them if you have a choice but in this case, the receiver is not drilled and tapped for any type of scope mounts, so the Steyr QR rings were the only option. In fairness, it should be mentioned that we did not run into any problems at all during the entire review process. The rings held tight and the rifle stayed zeroed. It also needs to be pointed out that the rings are specifically setup to go on one way and one way only. There is a forward and a rear ring and if they are flip-flopped the scope has a severe downward cant, upwards of 60 MOA. Also, the quick release lever must be on the right hand side of the action, else there is a severe right cant. Do not ask us how we know…

Sniper Central acquired this rifle with the intention of using it for many different write-ups and evaluations, so we wanted a scope that would match the rifle and we could leave mounted. What better scope fits that bill than one that was intended for use on the SSG69 PI? Originally the mated scope was a Kahles ZF69, which is a fixed 6x40mm scope with Bullet Drop Compensator (BDC) calibrated for the 7.62x51mm 168gr ammo. This scope and rifle combination made for an effective sniper weapon system out to 600 meters and perhaps a bit beyond. As time progressed, it was determined a more powerful scope would be beneficial so the Kahles ZF84 was adopted. The ZF84 is a fixed 10x40mm with the same BDC as the ZF69 and this combination extended the range of the rifle to 800+ meters. This was the scope that we chose for the Sniper Central SSG69 PI. A nice sample had to be found on the used market as these scopes do not appear to be available any longer. With the scope selected and purchased, it was mounted using the Steyr rings and the shooting portion of the evaluation begun.

We did not known which ammo would perform best in the SSG so for our 100 yard accuracy tests we decided to try several different loads and bullets to see if there was one the rifle preferred over the others. The summary of the results can be seen in the table below.

Ammo Average Best
HSM 155gr HPBT VLD Match 1.47″ 1.17″
Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr HPBT .87″ .734″
HSM 168gr HPBT Match .77″ .557″
HSM 168gr AMAX Match .40″ .322″

As you can see the rifle performed well, and the HSM 168gr AMAX did exceptionally well. The shooting was conducted over several different shooting sessions which ranged from 40 degrees in temperature up to 75. The four pound trigger does make it more difficult to get the most out of the rifle so focusing on a good consistent trigger squeeze is critical for getting the best performance. Because the barrel is a thinner profile, it does heat up quicker but no change in performance or shift of impact was noticed.

It is obvious when operating the rifle that the action was designed to feed from a magazine since it was very smooth with no feeding problems experienced at all. Though it is not possible to just drop a single round in the action and easily chamber it, like one can do with a Remington. It was also noticed that occasionally during bolt manipulation; the extracted shell would flip out but bounce back into the chamber during extraction. This was odd and it happened several times. Obviously this would cause a problem during combat operations and some adjusting may be needed to the bolt or extractor.

The accessory rail on the forearm came in handy to mount a Harris bipod to and the stock itself was comfortable to use, though the material is a smooth and can be a bit slippery. A strap-on cheek pad would probably be desirable to help with the cheek weld. Because of the short bolt through, rapid follow-up shots are fairly easy.

For our long range evaluations we initially started off with the HSM 168gr AMAX load because it performed so well at 100 yards. We shot the rifle on one of our Unknown distance courses for one of our classes and we engaged targets out to 750 yards (686 meters) with very good success, but only after we got the scope dialed in correctly. The problem was that the BDC dial on the scope was indicating 550 yards in order to hit the 750 yard target, which obviously was way off. The rifle performed very well, but we were wanting to get a deadly sniper weapon system combination from this package so the next time out we took the Steyr to the known distance range and decided to see what was going on from 100-800 yards, and this time around we used decided to use the HSM 168gr HPBT ammo which uses the Sierra Match King at an even 2600 fps, exactly the load the BDC was designed for, and we also determined that the BDC marks were probably calibrated in meters, not yards. The 168gr AMAX bullet has a BDC of .475 vs. .447 for the 168gr Sierra Match King, which would also explain why the BDC was so far off. So with the Steyr rezeroed with the new ammo we started logging the data at each 100 yard increment. Lo and behold, the BDC was dead on through 400 yards (366 meters) and then started to be slightly off from 500 yards (458 meters) thorugh 800 yards (732 meters). The data was just slightly off, again the bullet striking higher than the BDC marks which we attributed to the higher elevation (5000+ feet above sea level) and warmer temps than standard atmospheric conditions.

With everything figured out and dialed in on the scope, the rifle performs very well with it holding sub MOA through 800 yards. Even after running a good number of rounds through the rifle in a single session, it continued to perform well and to hold its accuracy. We did not try the auxiliary sights this time around, but perhaps we will another time, though we have no reason to believe they would not work as designed.

So where does that leave this ‘classic’ sniper rifle in the grand scheme of things? In our eyes, it stacks up well, especially for its intended purpose as a combat style sniper rifle capable of effective 100-800 meter engagements. The light weight is surprising when compared to modern sniper rifles and it is quite handy to use in the field. In the hands of the right team with utilizing good fieldcraft, it would be extremely effective. If we look at the requirements for our DM/S project rifle we see the following:

  • 7.62×51 NATO (308 Win)
  • 1 MOA with M118LR or commercial match ammo.
  • 1.5 MOA with M80 NATO ball
  • Overall length, less suppressor, 40″
  • 8 lb weight, unloaded, no suppressor, with optics
  • Break down capability for easy transportation (optional)
  • Semi-auto or Bolt Action
  • Detachable Box Magazine (DBM)
  • Suppressor capable
  • Durable, synthetic stock
  • Adjustable Stock (optional)
  • Scope with at least 8x magnification
  • BDC located on the elevation dial
  • Illuminated reticle
  • Picatinny rail
  • Night vision capable (optional)

The SSG69 PI fits this role extremely well. The only areas it fails in are the overall length and capability to use a suppressor. The rest of the short comings can be addressed with a different scope. (Well, it misses a bit on the weight as well, but so did our specially built rifle). Needless to say we were impressed with the SSG package as a whole and we can see why it is still being offered unchanged over 40 years after its introduction. Yes, it certainly has flaws, such as not being able to use standard scope mounting equipment, and a trigger that is a bit heavy, and perhaps a tweaked extractor, but the rifle can shoot well and holds that performance at long range as well. If only all of us could look and perform as good as the SSG-69 after being in rugged use for 40 years!

Savage Arms 110 BA .338 Lapua

April 7, 2012

Savage 110 BA .338 Lapua
Caliber: .338 Lapua Magnum
.300 Winchester Magnum
Barrel: Carbon Steel, heavy contour, fluted
Barrel Length: 26″ (660mm)
Twist: 338 Lapua RH 1:9″
300 Win Mag RH 1:10″
Weight (Rifle only): 15.75 lbs (7.16 kg)
Overall Length: 50.5″ (1283mm)
Magazine: Savage Arms Detachable Box Magazine (DBM) with 5 Round Box Magazine (338).
6 Round Box Magazine for 300 Win Mag
Trigger: Accutriger, single stage set at ?.? lbs
Stock: Aluminum Modular Design
Metal Finish: Anodized Matte Black
Price: $2394 MSRP (2012 prices)

The 338 Lapua is a very good cartridge for long range sniping and its use in combat sniper rifles continues to grow. Because of the growing adoption among military snipers there has been an increase in popularity among enthusiast as well as competitive shooters in the civilian ranks as well. The downside to the 338 Lapua is that it is based on the .416 Rigby case which has a larger case head diameter (.590″) than the standard magnum cases (.532″) and unfortunately, many of the commercial actions and bolts are not large enough to easily handle the larger case head diameter. Because of this, popular actions like the Remington 700 require special work to be done to them in order to fit the .338 Lapua, and anytime you mention special work, it means more money and also lower production numbers. As such, there are not a lot of lower priced precision 338 Lapua rifles on the market. That is where the Savage 110 BA comes in. Savage actions are built on a modular design, so instead of them having to make major modifications to a bolt design, they simply had to make a new bolt head and they were pretty much there. Of course some other details such as magazine design needed to be performed as well. The end result is that they were able to release a modern precision sniper rifle chambered in the .338 Lapua for a reasonable price. Now, reasonable does not mean cheap as the street price on these rifles is around $2000 at 2012 prices. This is still not cheap, but it is cheaper than most others out there and to justify the price, Savage has included various options and features to make it even more attractive. The big question is, will it perform? That is where we come in.

The 110BA had some initial teething problems when they were first released but those were sorted out and now the rifles are readily available on the commercial market. They arrive in a fairly typical Savage box, though larger than a normal, and it includes the rifle, bolt, instruction manual and some other registration and warranty cards. Everything is nicely packaged and wrapped in plastic with some light oil for corrosion protection. The packaging is well made and durable and is probably better than most mass produced factory rifles. As you unpack the rifle you begin to notice the rifle is large, like most all 338 Lapua rifles, and everything seems to be on a bit larger scale. The other thing you notice is that there are a lot of rails on the rifle, as we’ll discuss later.

For the past decade or so Savage has been making their mark in the industry by not being shy about innovation and being willing to try the latest fad and they tend to bring them to market quickly. On the 110BA the big thing that is different than most rifles out there is their stock. The aluminum chassis system is a flat sided aluminum modular stock that is finished in a matte black color. There are weight saving flutes on the sides and there is a detachable box magazine setup with a thick trigger guard. At the front of the trigger guard there is a magazine release lever that protrudes down below the guard. The modular stock is designed to incorporate an AR-15 style pistol grip and the grip it comes with is comfortable and has a PSG-1 style platform at the bottom to provide hand support. The platform is bulky, but it does its job well.

The MagPul adjustable stocks have been very popular on the AR rifles and the 110BA incorporates the same MagPul PRS stock for the buttstock. For those that are not familiar with the PRS, it has two adjustment wheels, one for raising the comb and the other for adjusting the length of pull. The stocks are well made from a hard kydex style plastic and with the easy adjustments it will fit just about any shooter. The plastic itself does not provide a great cheekweld and the shooter can sometimes find themselves slipping down and continuously trying to get into a non-slipping position, especially if sweating or with face paint on. Perhaps some moleskin or strap on cheekpiece could help.

If you noticed that there are flush cups on the stock, those are not installed from the factory and were installed by the owner after purchasing the rifle. There is an Anschutz style accessory rail on the bottom of the forearm which can be used to attach various picatinny style rails to be used for attaching a bipod. This rifle had a picatinny style rail that was used to attach the excellent GG&G bipod. There is a standard sling stud attachment as well that can be used to attach a Harris style bipod. The accessory rail runs the full length of the forearm allowing for a wide adjustment range to be used however needed.

The action is a standard Savage 110 long action with the rounded rear receiver. The controls will be familiar for those that have experience with Savage rifles. There is a bolt release switch/lever on the right hand side of the action and to remove the bolt you press it down while holding the trigger to the rear. Reverse the process to put the bolt back into the action. The safety is also in the standard location which is at the back of the tang and is wide with serrations to help with operation. It is a three position safety, forward for fire, back one notch for safe but allowing the operation of the bolt, and the furthest back position locks the bolt and the trigger.

The trigger is the Savage Accu-Trigger which has been around for a while now. The trigger was a revolutionary design for a rifle trigger and allowed Savage to have a light trigger pull yet still provide liability protection as there is no way for the rifle to fire without the shooters finger on the trigger. This is accomplished by having a ‘blade’ that protrudes through the trigger shoe and this blade must be depressed in order for the trigger to be activated. The concept is similar to the Glock Pistol mechanism for those that may be more familiar with that setup. The trigger on this rifle broke cleanly at a measured 1.25 lbs. with no takeup, besides the blade, and some over travel.

Picture of the accutrigger on a Savage 10FCP

The bolt handle is a large tactical style bolt handle that is machined with serrated grooves on it and it is a bit longer than the standard Savage bolt knob. One of the nice things about Savage bolts is that their modular design allows for easy bolt knob switching and there are several manufacturers out there that do after market bolt knobs for Savage rifles. The rest of the bolt is the same as any other Savage 110 bolt, including the bolt head and extractor design. There really does not look like there was much to do for Savage to be able to chamber their rifles in 338 Lapua.

The Magazine is a single stack magazine that holds 5 rounds of 338 Lapua ammunition. The magazine fits snuggly into the floorplate and it locks into place with a click. The fit can be tight and requires some practice to figure out the best way to easily get it inserted and seated. It seems to work best by tilting the magazine forward a bit to get the front of the magazine in first and then slide it on up until it snaps firmly in place. To release the magazine the operator presses the magazine release lever, at the front of the trigger guard, forward until the magazine pops loose. This lever is also firm and is difficult to operate when keeping the firing hand on the pistol grip, though it can be done with some effort. The easiest way, though probably not the best, is to remove your hand from the pistol grip.

As mentioned before, the action is a standard Savage 110 long action using the standard recoil lug and barrel locking nut as all other Savage 10 and 110 rifles. As is common with most mass produced rifles, the bolt fits into the action with a bit of slop but this helps when build up and grime get into the action from field use. The bolt itself slides fairly smoothly along the rails and chambers with minimal effort. The barrel is a 26″ long heavy barrel with 1:9″ RH twist and made from carbon steel. The barrel does have 6 flutes to help save some weight and there is a large muzzlebrake on the end with three chambers and closed at the bottom to help prevent dust and dirt from being stirred up upon firing. The barrel and action have a matte black bluing applied that is fairly non-reflective.

There is a large one piece rail along the top that extends ahead of the scope mounting area that is used for mounting night vision optics. The rail also extends down on the left and right hand sides of the rifle to provide accessory mounting areas as well. This provides a lot of mounting options but does also add to the weight and bulk of the rifle and it would be nice to have the option of purchasing the rifle without the side rails or forward rails if desired. The rail does also have a 20 MOA cant built into it to help maximize the elevation adjustments of the chosen scope. The extended rail is also properly designed to not touch the barrel which is free floated for accuracy.

Overall the rifle is large at over 50″ long and also fairly heavy at over 15 lbs. for just the rifle alone. When you add optics, bipod, and loaded magazine you are pushing 20 lbs. total for the system. But this is not completely out of the norm for a large .338 Lapua rifle. The 110BA looks the part and has all the capability to mount and utilize the latest accessories, though whether the rifle “looks” good is in the eye of the beholder. Some here liked the looks, others did not. But that is not what we are here for, we need to know how the rifle performs and what its capabilities are.

For our testing we mounted our trusty Leupold VX-III 6.5-20x50mm Euro spec (30mm tube) scope that we use for a lot of rifle reviews here. We utilized medium-high Nightforce 30mm rings, the scope needed to get up a little higher than normal to get the bell of the scope high enough to not touch the extended rail up front. This was required even with the slight depression in the rail for the scope. For our 100 yard accuracy tests we utilized the HSM 250gr Sierra Match King, 300gr Sierra Match King, and Swiss P 247gr Styx action ammunition. For round one of testing the temps were 35 degrees with a light rain and winds of 3-7 mph.

We have had troubles in the past using the Savage accu-triggers with gloves on and decided that all shooting would be conducted without gloves to try and help prevent the same types of problems. The rifle fed from the magazine very well and was smooth throughout the tests. It is a simple design but seems to work effectively. The steel magazines do not rattle around much when seated, even when empty. We also tried single feeding with an empty magazine seated in the rifle to test the ability to emergency load a single round and the rifle had no problems. The AR style grip is comfortable and provides a good upright position for your firing hand. Recoil on the rifle is mild for a .338 Lapua, this is due to a very effective muzzle brake and a heavy rifle. Unfortunately, that mild recoil is offset by the Magpul buttstock.

The shape and material of the buttstock is such that it is not easy to get a good solid, non-slipping cheek weld and to do so required me to cant my head to the side to help hold things in place and keep my eye aligned. Unfortunately this placed my cheek bone right on the hard cheek piece and after about 10 rounds; my cheek began to feel it. Even with the fairly mild recoil of the rifle, it took about 3 days for the pain from the cheek bone bruise to go away after the first shooting session. The pain was enough that I changed my cheek weld to not cant so far onto the cheekpiece, which meant using neck muscles to hold my head in place instead of resting it completely on the stock. This is not preferred or desired. I would prefer to see a more traditional stock design be used.

The accu-trigger continued to cause problems as well. We continued to have several failures to fire as the blade was not fully depressed during the trigger squeeze and this happened even without gloves. The reason is because some shooters with shorter fingers, myself included, do not curl the finger all the way around to make a full “J” shaped hook, when this happens the blade in the accu-trigger may not always fully depress and it does what it then is supposed to do and blocks the firing pin from striking. You hear a click, but do not get the associated boom. Perhaps training can correct the problem, but for those that are like me, the current trigger is not suitable for operational duty and a replacement would be in store. When the trigger is working, it is nice and aides with getting the full accuracy out of the rifle.

We also ran into two extraction failures while using the HSM 300gr ammunition. In both cases the extractor blade was not catching the rim of the case in order to extract it from the chamber. The extractor appears to be normal and it worked for all other loads and only happened those two times, but obviously, if that happens the rifle becomes a big 20 lb club instead of a long range precision rifle. A cleaning rod down the bore was all that was needed to remove the brass. We measured the case head diameter of one of the cases that failed to extract and discovered that it was .005″ smaller than the rest of the brass we measured. The Savage extractor is not an overly large one and it appears that this slight size difference was enough to keep it from being able to grab the spent brass. Other rifles such as the Sako TRG-42 have a more aggressive extractor that seems to be able to handle the variances better. The brass probably should be more consistent, but this does need to be watched when used in conjunction with this rifle.

The 100 yard accuracy results are listed below:

Ammo Avg. Group Best Group
HSM 250gr SMK 1.106″ (1.06 MOA) 0.980″ (.94 MOA)
HSM 300gr SMK 1.417″ (1.35 MOA) 1.082″ (1.03 MOA)
Swiss P 247gr Styx Action 1.940″ (1.85 MOA) 1.919″ (1.83 MOA)

As you can see from the results, the accuracy of the 110BA was not what we were hoping. While the rifle shot better than MOA on occasion with the HSM 250gr, it was just barely. The groups were very consistent; it just was not as tight as we had hoped. The Sako TRG-42 that we have here shot the same lot of 250gr HSM ammo well under .5 MOA and the 300gr at about .6 MOA so we could not attribute it to the ammunition. Typically Savage rifles shoot very well for factory rifles so we took the rifle out on a 2nd day for accuracy tests just to be sure, but the results were the same. Obviously there is probably a load out there that will shoot better in this rifle, especially if you hand load. But we could not get any better accuracy out of the rifle with these three loads.

Because the 250gr was shooting the best we decided to use it for the long range shooting impressions and at 300 and 400 yards the groups measured right at that 1 MOA again. For shooting steel plates at longer ranges it seemed to maintain the same MOA of performance. Now do not get me wrong, 1 MOA is still good and is what we require as a minimum from a rifle/ammo combination when considering a rifle for long range tactical use. But we were hoping for better performance, and as we indicated, perhaps with different ammo it will come into its own.

The rifle is a decent effort by Savage, but perhaps they have tried too hard to put all the right pieces together rather than looking at the rifle as a whole. Savage also offers their 110FCP with HS precision stock in 338 Lapua that uses the same muzzlebrake. We have not tried one of those out yet, but right now that is the way I would be leaning if I were purchasing a Savage 338 Lapua rifle, and it is less money as well. The 110BA performed okay, and the aluminum stock and other parts should hold up well. But with the uncomfortable MagPul stock, average performance, and an accu-trigger that I would need to replaced, I would be reluctant to recommend the 110BA.

If you own one of these rifles in 338 Lapua and have had different experiences with accuracy and comfort, let us know and we can be sure to update the information.

Les Baer .308 Semi-Auto Match

October 30, 2011

Les Baer .308 Semi-Auto Match
Caliber: .308 Win (7.62x51mm NATO)
Barrel: Les Barrel Custom (LBC) Stainless Steel with Cut Rifling
Barrel Length: 24″ (610mm)
20″ (508mm) – Optional
18″ (457mm) – Optional
Twist: RH 1:10″
Weight (Rifle only): 10.5 lbs (4.77 kg) – on our Scale
Overall Length: 43.6″ (1107mm)
Magazine: Magpul 20 Round Detachable Box Magazine
Trigger: Geissele Two Stage Trigger Group
Stock: Synthetic A2 style standard, Magpul optional
Metal Finish: DuPont S Coating On Barrel, Anodized Upper & Lower
Price: MSRP $2980 (2011 price)
When people think Les Baer Custom (LBC) the first thing that normally comes to mind are their amazing 1911 pistols. But a few years back they decided to branch out and take their gunsmithing skills to the long gun side, and they started building custom AR rifles. That eventually led to building both precision bolt action rifles as well as precision 308 semi autos, both of which are geared toward military sniping as well as Law Enforcement sharpshooters. With the adoption of the M110 by the US Army we have also been focusing on some of the semi-auto sniper rifles that are available, and in a continued review of the available market we took the opportunity to get one of the Les Baer Semi-Auto 308 Match rifles and take an in depth look at it and how it performs.TThe Les Baer Semi-Auto 308 Match rifle is a standard 308 AR platform style rifle that they have done their own design and custom work with. The lower receiver is similar to the DPMS and Armalite AR-10 style and actually takes the standard Mag-Pul 308 magazines, 20 round magazines in this case. The lower receiver itself is built more robust than other 308 AR platforms and you can see the additional stiffeners through various areas on the receiver. The receiver itself is precision machined from solid 7075-T6-51 aluminum with the enlarged trigger guard being machined as an integral part of the lower as well. The “Match” version of the rifle uses a standard A2 style pistol grip, nothing fancy, but it is a custom LBC setup that has additional material under the trigger guard, though this also means there may not be many after market grips that fit the lower receiver.

The Upper receiver is also machined from the same 7075-T6-51 aluminum and also is a bit more robust than other 308 uppers out there and has a hexagon shape for added strength and stiffness. The design is a flat top style with the integral picatinny rail. Les Baer has a new SWAT model of this rifle that has a monolith rail along the top of the receiver all the way up to the end of the forward hand guard, but the Match version we reviewed here just had a standard rail that spans only the top of the upper receiver, which on an AR usually requires a forward offsetting scope base in order to get enough eye relief to use standard optics. The upper does have a brass deflector and dust cover but there is no forward assist. The charging handle is a standard size affair, and an enlarged T handle on it might be useful when using the rifle with optics, but during our tests the size or the charging handle posed no problems.The Bolt carrier is a LBC chromed carrier with a LBC precision chromed bolt. The extractor is also a LBC extractor and is also chromed. The operation of the bolt and bolt carrier was smooth and we had no feed or extraction problems during all of our tests with the rifle. The operation of the rifle was flawless and provided confidence that it was going to operate as designed and with continued reliability.

The barrel is LBC’s own benchrest 416R stainless steel heavy barrel that is 24″ in length. LBC uses precision cut rifling when making their barrels and the barrels on these match rifles have a 1:10″ twist with five lands and grooves. The rifle is also available with an optional 20″ or 18″ barrel length as well as a muzzle brake if you so desire, but the recoil of this rifle is easily manageable. The barrel is freefloated� well, freefloated in terms of AR rifles, and the gas block is one of LBC’s own steel units with picatinny slots on top. The handgaurd is also made by LBC and is fairly wide at 2.350″ outside diameter with no taper along the entire length. There is a lock ring on the receiver side and single sling stud that can be used for mounting a harris bipod, which the rifle comes with. The handguard does seem to allow the bipod to mount solid and it also provides a fairly stable rest from sand bags and is not too wide for use with your support hand when shooting offhand.The overall finish of the upper and lower is a matte black anodizing that has a nice uniform and even appearance and all of the parts seem to match well. The barrel is finished in a Dupont S matte black over the stainless steel which gives the entire rifle a matching matte black finish. The upper and lower receivers fit together with a very tight and precise fit, indicating tight tolerances. This is usually one of the more obvious indicators as to whether an AR rifle is going to shoot well or not. The fire selector switch, bolt release knob, and magazine release are normal size and in the standard location for an AR rifle. The trigger itself is a Geissele two stage trigger and is one of the better triggers we have experienced on an AR platform. The initial stage is fairly light with just a bit of mechanical interference being felt and the second stage is light and breaks nicely at 3.5 lbs with just a bit of over-travel. We would like a bit smoother take up on that initial stage, but besides that the trigger is very nice and a very good match up for the purpose of this rifle.

The buttstock is actually nothing to write home about on this particular version. This is the Les Baer standard Match rifle which comes with the generic A2 buttstock. It is not adjustable and the quality is good and frankly, there really is not much more to write about it. The same rifle is available with the Magpul fully adjustable buttstock and if we were ordering the rifle for tactical use for a deploying unit, the Magpul would probably be the way to go. But the clean lines and simple functionality of the fixed A2 buttstock does work fine and will provide many years of solid service on the rifle if one were to opt for the standard A2 buttstock.A muzzlebrake is also optional on the rifle and Les Baer claims recoil will drop to about the level of a 223 rifle when using their muzzlebrake. With the highly effective brakes in use today, we do not doubt Les Baer�s claim. The .308 itself is not a hard recoiling cartridge and the buffer spring setup in the AR platform helps absorb recoil as well and we found even with the firm A2 buttstock and no muzzle brake, recoil was mild with this Match rifle and we do not see the need for a muzzlebrake.

For our shooting portion of the tests we utilized a Vortex 6.5-20x50mm PST tactical rifle scope mounted using a Rock River Arms elevated and forward offset scope mounting system, allowing us to get the scope properly in line with the shooter�s eye. The scope could probably be mounted without a forward offset mount if the rings are placed as far forward as possible and then also getting the scope mounted forward in the rings. The SWAT version with the monolith rail would allow mounting the scope further forward without the offset mounting base, but we did not have that version of the rifle and using the RRA mount worked fine. On the RRA we would prefer to have nuts on the cross bolts instead of just the hand knobs with slots for a large screwdriver. We did have the mounts go loose on us once during the shooting tests and with a proper nut we could of simply used our T-Handle torque wrench to set them at 65 inch-lbs, which would have prevented the base coming loose� but that is not a Les Baer issue, but rather a Rock River Arms issue with that product.Because the rifle incorporates a faster 1:10″ twist we wanted to test some heavier 175gr as well, so we primarily stuck to Federal 168gr Gold Medal Match as well as HSM 175gr Match ammo. Because of the round hand guards on AR rifles, we typically struggle with getting an AR platform to shoot good groups for us, and initially we had the same issue with the Les Baer. The rifle does ship with a 5 round test target that is sub .5 MOA so we knew the rifle had to shoot, and sure enough, once we got settled and started taking some extra time to insure everything was just right, we started to see the groups tighten up. Just a matter of getting the parts between the two ears of the shooter organized first, and then things started to come along.

We shot for accuracy on two separate days with both days being overcast, but with calm winds. The results of the accuracy tests are listed below:

Ammo Average Best
Federal GMM 168gr .693″ .344″
HSM 175gr Match .803″ .486″

As you can see the rifle will shoot sub .5 MOA when the shooter is on his game and shooting well. The trigger helps to allow the shooter to do the best they can and while if it were a bit lighter it might help even more, it is a nice compromise between safety in the field, and accuracy. The rifle did prefer the Federal GMM over the HSM 175gr, but I would recommend trying several different loads to find the sweet spot, especially if you are looking to shoot 175gr loads. The rifle digested and functioned flawlessly during all of our shooting tests.For the long range evaluation we wanted to gear the tests more towards the mission objectives of the US Army Semi-Auto Sniper System (SASS) requirements for the military and decide to test the rifle in rapid fire type engagements beyond 400 yards and here the rifle performed very well. The rifle returns to battery very quickly, allowing for very rapid follow-up shots, especially since the shooter does not have to remove his firing hand from the rifle and is ready to engage again as soon as the target is acquired in the scope. For rapid engagements and follow-up shots, the Semi-Auto rifles have a definite advantage over a bolt action rifle. At one point we conducted a test where we successfully engaged four (4) 15″ x 12″ steel targets at 400 yards in a total time of less than six (6) seconds, and with more experience with the rifle, that time certainly would get better.

After spending some time with the Les Baer .308 Semi-Auto Match rifle, we feel it would serve well in the capacity of a precision semi-auto sniper rifle. The accuracy is .5 MOA or better when the shooter is doing his or her part and the reliability and function is everything one expects. The $2980 price is on the high side when compared to other 308 AR rifles like the DPMS, Rock River and some others, so one would expect it to be of higher quality and perform better, which with our experience it seems to. There are always limitations, as we all know, to the AR design itself but Les Baer has done a nice job assembling a well sorted and capable long range semi-auto 308 rifle.