Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review

Review: Steyr Pro Varmint SX hunting rifle

The Steyr Pro Varmint SX is in a class apart, a handsome and superbly accurate synthetic-stocked .223 hunting rifle perfect for taking afield and blessed with all the virtues inherent in the modern Mannlicher system.

In no way does it resemble one of those overweight, cumbersome varmint rifles which are afflicted with fat, heavy bull barrels and a bulky stock. Rather, it’s an attractive outfit with a sleek profile intended to provide a medium weight, finely accurate .223 varmint-hunting rifle.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
A high-tech design and modern materials make the Steyr Pro Varmint a state-of-the-art varmint rifle

This model features a 24” free-floating stainless-steel match-grade fluted barrel. The familiar spiralling marks left by the hammer-forging process are all but obscured by five deep flutes in two sections.

As Steyr didn’t intend this to be a bench gun, the barrel is gracefully tapered from 29mm at the receiver ring to reach 20mm at the muzzle to decrease weight. To preserve the rifle’s accuracy under hard use, the muzzle sports a nicely recessed target crown which is threaded a muzzle device.

On a visit to Austria in 2006, I asked how Steyr gained such fine accuracy. Steyr technicians told me the hammer-forging process imparts a slight taper to their barrels in the order of 0.02-0.03mm (.0008” to .0012”) from chamber to muzzle and that this ‘choke’ is an aid to fine accuracy.

As well, the barrel has a small counterbore, followed by a shallow feed cone leading into the chamber. Tight breeching is obtained by this cone and a close fit-up of barrel to bolt, which ensures protrusion of the cartridge head from the chamber is held to a minimum.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
SBS action is tubular, thick-walled and very rigid. Picatinny rail allows plenty of fore-and-aft latitude for scope mounting

Furthermore, Steyr reams and polishes the chambers in its rifles only after each barrel has passed a series of exhaustive quality-control checks. After chambering, each barrel undergoes another series of checks: for concentricity; for interior finish, which is examined with a borescope end-to-end; air gauging for uniformity of interior dimensions; and straightness. And finally, chambers are checked and must be concentric to within .006mm (.00024”).

The Pro Varmint is based on Steyr’s famous SBS (Safe Bolt System), introduced in 1996. Totally rigid, the high-strength forged tubular-steel receiver has a diameter of 35mm and a length of 20cm. The addition of a separate Cycolac tang, which incorporates the trigger housing, increases the total length to 26.7cm.

The receiver encloses a unique 171mm long bolt whose body and lug circle have the same 21.2mm (0.836”) diameter. Four front locking lugs are arranged in two 180-degree opposed rows around the bolt head for greater bearing strength and a low 68-degree lift.

The lugs are formed by intricate machining of the bolt head. With no lugs protruding beyond the diameter of the bolt body, no lug raceways need to be broached into the inner walls of the receiver. Instead, the bolt stop acts as a guide by engaging a longitudinal track in the bolt.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Bolt head has four locking lugs in two rows

This design allowed Steyr to create a thinner-walled, lighter receiver, with a close-tolerance fit for the bolt. As a result, bolt travel is positive, very smooth and wobble-free.

Instead of engaging seats within the steel receiver ring, the four locking lugs engage in a separate high-strength alloy (Stellite?) locking-seat insert. Steyr had to be particularly careful about anchoring the insert, and a special setscrew threads up from the bottom of the receiver ring for this purpose. This bolt-to-insert lock-up simplifies manufacture and was probably carried over from early versions like the Steyr Scout, which had an alloy receiver.

This design also beefs up the receiver ring structure. The walls are 10mm (⅜”) thick, which combines with the small inside surface area to give superior resistance to expansion in the event of a ruptured case.

The bolt head is recessed to a depth of 3.4mm (.135”) and houses a plunger ejector opposite a spring-loaded pivoting extractor. The ejector is locked into a safety ring with integral parts shrouded in the safety bushing. Inside the barrel extension, a rotating safety bushing is a close fit around the bolt head to retain the extractor in the event of a case head failure.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Bolt body has a ‘grunge’ groove which collects any dust and debris that might affect cycling

This innovative breeching design is so strong that Steyr has fired high-pressure proof rounds developing 120,000psi in the SBS without any damage. Normal high-pressure proof loads produce only up to 70,000 psi!

Excessive pressure is expelled though the bore rather than rearwards through the action. Additionally, a pair of gas ports in the bolt body act to relieve excess pressure from a pierced primer, enabling the SBS to withstand three times the normal operating pressure of the.223 cartridge.

An unusual oval ‘grunge’ groove in the bolt body, some 3mm (.120”) wide and 1.3mm (.050”) deep, not only prevents dirt and debris from building up between the bolt body and the receiver, but ensures total reliability under freezing and dusty conditions. The bolt body is electroless nickel-plated to give smooth operation and resistance to erosion.

The cocking handle is raked back sharply and has a large pear-shaped knob. It is an integral part of a collar at the rear of the bolt and is held to the forward portion of the bolt body by three hex-head set screws. 

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Receiver has a large synthetic recoil lug. The magazine well is made of the same material

Dual-opposed cocking cams are located inside the bolt body to better balance cocking forces and give it a smoother bolt lift.

A bolt turndown of about 68 degrees allows enough extra rotation to overlap the cam bevels and thus centre the contacting surfaces for optimum bearing efficiency. The root of the bolt handle turns into a notch at the rear of the receiver during lockup, serving as a potential safety lug. Less bolt rotation translates into 20 percent less handle lift for faster bolt operation.

Bolt maintenance is straightforward. It is taken down by depressing a tab and twisting the rear of the bolt about 7mm clockwise. This allows the shroud, firing pin and spring together with the cocking cam ring to be withdrawn from the bolt body. Reassembly is in the reverse order.

Drilled and tapped, the action takes the same scope bases used on the Browning A-Bolt action.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Rotary safety is shown with locking tab raised. It is pressed down to remove the bolt from the receiver

The ambidextrous roller tang safety has three positions; red (fire); white (unloading with blocked trigger) and a third position (locked safe) indicated by a grey pop-up button. The last locks both trigger and bolt, and there’s a further option: pushing down on the bolt handle until it lies flush with the stock further blocks the firing pin in the ‘double lock’ position where the firing pin is cammed out of alignment. This is about as safe as you can get, other than an unloaded rifle.

To return to firing mode, you simply depress the button with the thumb and rotate the safety to red. This SBS design dramatically emphasises safe handling and use.

When the tang safety is disengaged and a white dot is uncovered, the bolt handle springs back up to its normal position, allowing the bolt to be manipulated to remove a chambered round from the rifle.

The Pro Varmint features a flush-fitting double-column detachable magazine made of black Cycolac which holds four rounds. A second locking notch allows the magazine to be lowered slightly to drop-lock position, which allows you to empty the chamber and close the bolt without feeding another round.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Magazine holds four rounds of .223. Set trigger is adjusted via a small screw in the blade

The trigger’s pull weight and sear engagement are set at the factory and Steyr recommends against the rifle’s owner tampering with it. Pushing the trigger forward puts it in set mode and the let-off is reduced to 225g (8oz). A small screw in the face of the trigger blade adjusts weight of pull in the set mode.

The Pro Varmint has a neoclassic stock made of tough, dark-green synthetic Cycolac with a textured finish. Designed primarily for varmint shooting off some kind of a rest, the slim fore-end is a flat U-shape in cross section but feels comfortable to grasp and sits squarely on a rest. For shooter comfort, both the fore-end and grip have black non-slip rubberised panels.

The comb of the stock is straight, dropping 17mm at the nose of the comb before sloping up to have 12mm drop at heel. It has a face-friendly rubber-like comb which is adjustable for height. There’s no cheekpiece. The butt is capped with a soft, thick recoil pad and a pair of sling swivel bases are installed.

The grip is gracefully curved, has an oval cross section, and a slight forward radius at the end, with a palm swelling on the right side.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
The trigger housing is an integrated part of the tang, which contains the rotary safety. Steel trigger blade is pushed forward to set the pull

The stock is injection moulded, but has a feature I’ve never seen on a Steyr before — a block made of some highly polished black material which incorporates the bedding platform, magazine well and recoil lug recess. This block has a length of 20cm, extends 5cm forward of the recoil lug recess and extends to the rear to the rear action screw hole located in front of the trigger guard. In addition, the fore-end is reinforced with diamond shaped struts, making the Pro Varmint stock very rigid.

The action screws are pillar-bedded and a large L-shaped recoil lug is attached to the receiver by a large machine screw and two cross-ribs on the lug that engage cross-slots cut in the underside of the receiver. The head of the screw is drilled and tapped for the front action screw. The lug, which is made of the same kind of material as the stock’s bedding block, bears evenly in its mortise. The lug and base are a neat fit in matching mortises in the synthetic stock, forming a large bedding platform.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Cycolac stock’s bedding is the same kind of hard plastic as the recoil lug to maintain a constant point of impact. It is weather and temperature resistant and will not warp

The rifle was fired for accuracy with Winchester ammunition in four different loadings: Varmint X 55gn PTRE (Polymer Tip Rapid Expansion); Varmint and Predator 55gn JSP; Deer Season 64gn Extreme Point; and 64gn Power Point. The two 55gn bullets had a nominal 3240fps velocity and the two heavy bullet loads were listed as doing 3020fps.

Accuracy with the Steyr Pro Varmint was very impressive, exactly as we expected. The standard 55gn stuff averaged .65” and the 64gn stuff averaged .85”. The rifle’s set trigger was ideal for a varmint gun, but breaking so lightly it took a bit of getting use to. The technique was, I found, to concentrate on maintaining a steady hold and then tap the trigger off when everything looked right.

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
Accuracy the average of five 5-shot groups from benchrest at 100yd. Velocities measured with MagnetoSpeed chronograph. Code: PTRE, Polymer Tip Rapid Expansion; EP, Extreme Point. Temperature 16°C

Accuracy-wise, the Steyr Pro Varmint is fully the equal of any of the current crop of varmint rifles. Weighing a neat 4.5kg (10lb) all-up with the Meopta scope, it should prove an especially attractive proposition for users who want the range and accuracy of a precision rifle in an easily portable outfit, as well as one that’s bound to instil pride of ownership.   

Steyr Pro-Varmint SX review
An ideal varminter for the bush, the Steyr is not too heavy carry in the field


  • Manufacturer: Steyr Arms, Austria
  • Type: Turn-bolt repeater
  • Calibre: .223 Rem (tested), .308 Win
  • Barrel: Stainless, hammer-forged, fluted, 60cm (24”), 1:12 twist
  • Overall length: 1115mm (44”)
  • Weight: 3.6kg
  • Stock: Cycolac, classic-style, green with brown inserts; drop at comb 17mm, drop at heel 12mm
  • Length of pull: 355mm (14”), adjustable with spacers
  • Safety: Tang-type lock bolt plus firing-pin disengagement
  • Sights: None; drilled and tapped for mount bases
  • Magazine capacity: 4+1
  • Price: $3495 (2024)
  • Distributor: Winchester Australia




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Nick Harvey

The late Nick Harvey (1931-2024) was one of the world's most experienced and knowledgeable gun writers, a true legend of the business. He wrote about firearms and hunting for about 70 years, published many books and uncounted articles, and travelled the world to hunt and shoot. His reloading manuals are highly sought after, and his knowledge of the subject was unmatched. He was Sporting Shooter's Technical Editor for almost 50 years. His work lives on here as part of his legacy to us all.