Light Bolt-Action Rifles

Lightweight rifles seemed to be the flavour of the month a few decades ago, then they kinda faded away, but the 1990s saw increased interest in what manufacturers were please to call “mountain” rifles. This pleased those who’d been hauling heavy guns around the peaks in search of trophy deer, goats and sheep. Short actions, light synthetic stocks and slimly contoured barrels all shaved weight, and as demand for ultra-light and featherweight rifles grew so the major riflemaking companies climbed onto the bandwagon, one after the other.

In  1980  Winchester  resurrected  their  Model  70 Featherweight. Two years later Ruger offered some serious competition with the Model 77 International. Then, early in 1983 Remington entered the fray with their Model Seven. All at once there were three new mountain rifles – light, short and easy to carry for long distances. Well, at least two of them were short and light, the Featherweight was normal length for a non-magnum Model 70 and it didn’t excatly live up to its name; it still doesn’t.

Now these guns weren’t exactly the first attempt to attract those hunters who climb high after game. In the early 1950s, the BSA Featherwight was introduced weighing 6-1/4lbs, but although it met all the criteria for a mountain rifle, it failed to gain much in the way of popularity because it had a bad drawback – an integral muzzle brake that made the shooter’s ears ring and blew his hat off.

In the mid 1960s Remington threw its ultra-light, ultra- short Model 600 into the fray. It fathered the Model 660, was in the discard for a while before reappearing in an economy version called the Mohawk 600. It didn’t prove a success and was eventually axed.

Which brings us to the present. But first we’ll establish some guidelines, let’s ignore all modern sporters that don’t meet our criteria, and see what’s left. We’ll impose an arbitrary  weight limit of 2.9kgs (6.5lbs) There has to be some kind of a limit and a rifle that starts out at 2.9kgs bare will end up weighing from 3.175kgs to 3.6kgs (7 to 8lbs) field ready. We’ll also stipulate a range capability of at least 300 metres, which includes a flat trajectory and retained energy sufficient for game up to sambar in size as well as accuracy adequate for the smaller deer species at that distance. The rifle must be stocked for use with a scope and sans open sights. Price can vary since some hunters will want an economy class gun, while for others the sky’s the limit. And we’ll want a standard length action for effective traditional cartridges; the only short actions we’ll countenance will be those for the Winchester Short Magnums.

So what’s on offer? By my rule of thumb, there’s quite a selection. Let’s take a sampling of various priced guns from the current crop.

Marlin XL7
The XL7 is still fairly new (there’s the short-action XS7, but we’re talking about rifles here, not carbines). The synthetic stock on this gun is perfect for scope use, and is available in black orvRealtree APG-HD. It has a smooth push-feed action, 550mm barrel and includes such features as: pillar bedding, Pro-Fire trigger adjustable down to 1.13kgs (2.5lbs), a fluted bolt, and comes with a one-piece scope base. It is a nice-looking rifle weighing 2.9kgs (6.5lbs) and priced well within reach of the shooter on a budget.

Kimber Montana
Two models qualify for high country use – the Model 84L, available in .270, .280 Ackley Improved and .30-06; and the 8400 in 270 WSM and .300 WSM. The former weighs a feathery 2.54kgs (5lbs 10oz) and the latter 2.6kgs (6lbs 3oz). Both offer a properly shaped classic stock with 25mm Pachmayr Decelerator pad and a full length 600mm match-grade barrel that’s free-floated to wring every bit of velocity and accuracy out of these popular cartridges.

The Montana has a controlled-round feed action, full-length Mauser claw extractor, 3-position wing safety and stainless steel barreled action. To reduce weight the Kimber Model 84L WSM rifles with synthetic stocks have light heft, weighing just 2.5kgs (5lbs 10oz) and the walnut-stocked 8400 versions are just a shade over at 2.72kgs (6lbs).

In terms of quality and value for money, the Kimbers are in a class apart.

Weatherby Mark V Ultra Lightweight
Chambered for the flat-shooting .240 Weatherby Magnum, .270 Win., 7mm-08, .308 and .30-06, and weighing only 2.6kgs (5.75lbs), with slim #1 contour barrel, this is the Weatherby’s rendition of a mountain rifle, and it’s a fine choice.

Based on a scaled down version of the Mark V action that has six locking lugs instead of the customary nine that we usually associate with the larger Mark V action, the gun’s stainless and fitted with a fluted 600mm barrel with exterior metalwork blackened to reduce game-spooking reflections. Other metal components use state-of-the-art alloys for reduced weight without sacrificing anything in the way of strength.

Styling of then synthetic stock is recognizably Weatherby and tan coloured with spider web accents. The Ultra Lightweight comes with a factory-tuned adjustable trigger and 1.5 MoA guarantee of accuracy.

Remington Model 700 Mountain SS
This “new in 2012” rifle is a fine example of the classic mountain rifle – 2.9kgs (6.5lbs) with 550mm light-contour barrel and action of satin stainless steel cradled in a Bell & Carlson aramid-fibre-reinforced stock. What we have here is a well- balanced rifle of slim proportions and manageable length with a black synthetic stock in .270 Win., .280 Rem. and .30-06.

The recessed bolt face locks up inside the counter-bored breech of the barrel which is surrounded by the receiver, forming three rings of steel that encloses the case head for unparalleled strength and safety. The Mark X-Pro trigger allows perfect trigger control. Bolt articulation is slick, functioning as smooth as silk and the rifle’s accuracy and reliability is an asset for any big game shooting.

Savage Lightweight Hunter 111
Rifles built by Savage have a well-earned reputation for being the most accurate found today. The action lightweight 111 weighs only 2.7kgs (6lbs) in the long action rifles. It features a slimmed-down, oil-finished American walnut stock with black forend tip, AccuStock and AccuTrigger, spiral fluted bolt, and top load 4-round detachable magazine. The light profile 500mm (20in) barrel is a bit short, however, and I’d feel more comfortable with the added velocity, flatter trajectory and extra energy provided by a longer barrel.

Calibres available: .25-06, 6.5-284 Norma,.270 Win. and.30-06..

Alas, Ruger seems to have cashiered its M77 UltraLight model and the Hawkeye range doesn’t meet our specs. My testing has convinced me that cutting weight in a rifle doesn’t hamper intrinsic accuracy, nor does shortening the barrel. But a minimum barrel length of 550mm makes up into in a light, nicely balanced rifle that mounts quickly and swings easily – a demonstrable advantage when shooting at running game.

The advantages of a light outfit when you’re carrying a rifle all day in mountainous terrain cannot be over-emphasized. In brush a short barrel may well be an asset, but in the high sierras where long shots crop up fairly frequently, I much prefer a rifle with a 600mm barrel. If I had to choose between the rifles described here, it would necessitate careful scrutiny, and there’s probably a few others that limited space prevented me from covering. If I had my druthers though, I’d like to see Winchester bring out a Model 70 Featherweight that really lived up to its name.

It has just come to light that USRAC has introduced a new Model 70 Featherweight Compact bolt-action rifle in .22-250, .243 win, 7mm-08 Rem and .308 Win weighing 6 1/2 pounds. Yes, it seems there is a Santa Clause.

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter Magazine February 2013




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