Readers of my previous ramblings here and on other websites will have noted that most of my Precision Rifle reviews have either concentrated on the nicer higher-end offerings from companies like PGW and TRG or some of the very fine custom pieces that various gunsmiths have assembled for me. This time I thought I’d try something different……….
There was a time – about a thousand years ago – when I was a young lad whose ‘pip’ on the shoulder signified some responsibility for keeping the flag flying in the remnants of Old Empire. Recalling such halcyon days on Her Majesty’s shilling, I remembered how our sniper teams were outfitted with the now-venerable Remington 700P topped with the very best glass then available – the Leupold and Stevens Mk 4 – and I got to thinking that a review of a similar set-up may make for an interesting read today.
I’m not much of a Leupold user but I did have one available- a Mk4 LR/T 8.5-25×50 – which was a bit too new and powerful but would have to do. The sourcing of a suitable rifle was a bigger problem as my heavy barreled Remington’s are so heavily customized that only the receiver remains Big Green. One Remington would sort of work – the R5 test mule I use for chassis reviews – but even that has aftermarket stock, trigger and bolt knob mmmm, what to do ?
While pondering this First World dilemma, I saw an opportunity to acquire a new in the box 700P in .300wm and, even better, a Leupold M4 3.5-10×40 with a mil-dot reticule. Both the rifle and scope were for sale at a good price so I now had the equipment needed for a retro 1980’s look.
Gathering the Gear
Back when a family sedan was a V8-powered rear wheel drive product of Detroit and motorists were enticed to rest at motels that advertised “free color TV”, the word “Tactical” wasn’t really used to advertise products but what did sell rifles and shotguns was the word “Police” and that’s why Remington named some of their better rifles and shotguns the 700P and 870P – with the P designation supposedly creating in the minds of prospective purchasers the idea that they were buying equipment suited for heavier duty ‘Police’ work.
So what is the 700P like ? Well, cynics might say it is just a SPS sold for more money but actually it is a bit more than that. The rifle sits in a HS Precision stock that’s made out of DuPont Kevlar and Fiberglass and is supposed to “stay dimensionally stable under the worst weather and tactical conditions”. It is a very good stock and is similar but not the exact same as the stock supplied with the R5. The difference between the 700P and R5 stocks is in the pistol grip – the 700P fits me just right whereas the R5 is a tad short and therefore got replaced with the B&C A3 on mine.
The Pistol Grip is Longer than on the R5
The 700P stock comes standard with a wide forend for shooting off bags, two swivels that allow for the attachment of both sling and bipod and, like many good stocks, has an aluminum bedding block that runs the length of the stock. Other than the stock, the other remaining and obvious difference between the P and the SPS is barrel length as all the 700P’s come with a 26″ barrel. I’ve heard it said that the Police versions are better assembled but I’ve never seen a source for that so I’m skeptical.
This particular rifle looked to be finished well and the black coating seems to be evenly applied and the rifle sat perfectly in its stock. Everything appeared to be in perfect order.
So how about the scope ? As I said, there was a time that many considered Leupold Mk4 to be the glass to beat but I’d now put them as more middle of the pack. Leupold Mk 6 and 8 are Leupold’s current high-end offerings but I’ve not seen them so can’t comment other than to say that with US prices over US$5,000 for the top models one would expect them to be.
Leupold’s claim to fame is that they are “designed, machined and assembled in the USA” but those US labour rates mean one does pay a premium for Leupold. However lots of shooters – both civilian and military – continue to have Mk4’s sitting atop their rifles and while they may no longer be top-tier they are still very decent scopes with solid features and glass clarity that is certainly on par with, for example, the very popular Sightron Siii.
In the 80’s we used two piece bases to attach scope rings to our rifles but this time I decided to make a concession to modernity and utilised the very popular Talley 20MOA steel rail. To bolt the scope on to the rail I used a set of Burris Signature Zee steel rings. Burris are not my favorite of rings but the plastic inserts are useful and certainly prevent maring of the scope tubes. As a matter of note I really like the rings from Tactical Precision Systems and consider them the ‘value buy’ amongst quality rings.
Finishing touches of a Harris type S 6-9 with Podlock at the front end and a Blackhawk cheekpiece at the other and it was off to the bottom hayfield to see how this old school set up would feel and perform when compared to more modern systems.
While most of us say that Savages shoot well out of the box, I’ve always personally preferred Remington and, frankly, I have yet to find a R700 I didn’t like – even the SPS’ I’ve bought as donor actions for custom builds had really decent barrels on them even though they ended up being spun off and replaced with fancy (and pricey) aftermarket ones.
For ammo I used some handloads of 190g SMK’s over 69g of IMR 4350. This isn’t a stout load but it’s a recipe which, give or take a grain, I’ve found to print well out of the .300wm’s that have passed through my hands.
I know that it is most unlikely for a LEO marksman to be given approval to shoot at anything more than 40 m away but I decided, after an initial function test and zeroing, to set up targets at 100y 200y and 400y and shoot firstly at old RCMP silhouette targets for hits and then at bright red 1″ circles for groups.
Hits on my ‘bad guy’ silhouette target were a breeze at both 100 and 200 but at 400 my eyes really need more magnification than that afforded by this Leupold. Shooting at the 1″ squares was again easy at 100 but at any distance after than the 10x simply isn’t enough for me to make quality groupings. Switching out to the other Mk4 (8.5-25×50) the rifle proved easily capable of sub minute accuracy with the average groups measuring just outside 3/4 MOA which wasn’t bad considering it is a bone stock gun shooting loads that are not tailored for this rifle at all.
So at day’s end what did I think of stepping back into the shooting world of 30 years ago? Of course, let’s state the big flaw in the experiment: I’m not using real 1980’s equipment but, rather, gear that replicates some of the best gear available in those days. Clearly, however, times have changed – especially since 2001 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – so today it’s simply true that there are rifles and scopes available to today’s marksmen that have many more features. A team that wanted to buy a long arm/scope combo today would be looking for rifle with detachable magazines, threaded muzzle (for suppressor ), ergonomically adjustable stock with accessory rails for NV gear etc. Likewise, the scope choice of today’s buyer may well encompass FFP, glass with more magnification and a better reticule choice.
Lack of features that some would deem essential doesn’t necessarily mean that a shooter should automatically give these Old-School items a pass. Certainly both the 700P and a Leupold Mk4 remain powerful tools for Law Enforcement and a good civilian shooter will likely punch just as many V-Bulls with a 700P as with other, more expensive, tactical rifles.
A big plus for the combination of a 700P and smaller Mk4 is simplicity and with simplicity comes weight or, more properly, the lack thereof. My PGW .338 Timberwolf SWS with a FFP Elite 3.5-21×56 certainly weighs a great deal more than does this retro gear.
Another plus for a simple set-up is cost. A 700P or the 700R5 can be picked up for twelve or thirteen hundred dollars. Add a quality scope for similar money and a couple of hundred for rings and bases and you are well equipped for less money than some ( myself included ) often spend on the rifle or the glass alone. The paper or moose you shoot really doesn’t know the difference.
I had fun doing this and hopefully it makes for a worthwhile read.