An Old Friend in a New Caliber
Story By Nick Saiti Photos By Kenda Lenseigne
The Wild West didn't seem like a place for sensitivity and self-reflection. Between tuberculosis, stampedes, and gunfights there probably wasn't much time for aligning your chakras, and I'm sure there are a few yoga poses that would have gotten you killed, if you had been caught practicing them in a saloon. Today, making your way through the world by the sweat of your brow and the strength of your own determination is still a thing. While some days feel more like herding cattle than working in an office building, being outdoors is now considered leisure time. Sometimes you just gotta get away to decompress, and the best way to do that is to get outside. Visions of the lone cowboy riding through the desert plains come to mind.
Balancing what's necessary and what's luxury is all in the eye of the cowboy carrying the stuff, but a strong knife, clean underwear, and a good rifle should all make the top of the essentials list. While the condition of my underwear would make an interesting read, let's focus on the latter.
Every shooter is different, and finding an off-the-shelf rifle that's a perfect fit for a specific shooter's needs is nearly impossible. A custom build is the way to go, and while we've come a long way from the lever-action repeaters of yore, simplicity and effectiveness are what we're after in a setting that can be unforgiving, both in surroundings and accommodations. Why? You probably won't have the items on hand to make complicated repairs if the situation calls for it. Simple in operation, bolt guns still offer many options. Caliber, barrel length, and the stock are just a few places that deserve careful attention. The task at hand is to build a lightweight outdoor rifle that fits in a saddle bag and lays waste to intermediate-range targets, but most of all is fun to shoot. The kicker is to build it at home.
THESE HERE PARTS
Putting together a light rifle that still has oomph requires some mathematics. Usually, energy on target plus light weight equals a bruised shoulder. Remember, one of the primary objectives of this build is fun, and while it's good for ammo conservation, nothing is less fun to shoot than a light rifle with a high-power cartridge. Enter our hero — .300 AAC Blackout was developed for U.S. Special Operations Command to use in the AR/M4 platform. The cartridge, often called "300 BLK" for short, was designed specifically to deliver more energy on target at shorter ranges (400 yards is pushing it) and still work well with a short barrel and/or a suppressor. For those unfamiliar with .300 Blackout, it's a 7.62x35mm cartridge, made by putting a 7.62/.308 projectile in a 5.56x45mm case. The plethora of projectiles for the .308 round makes for a variety of ammo options, potentially more so than the tiny .223. In the case of the Blackout, you have the added option of a subsonic bullet traveling under the sound barrier, making it a perfect silencer mate. Bonus.
We start our adventure with a Remington Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle with a 26-inch barrel chambered in .223. The barrel alone wouldn't fit in a saddlebag, much less the entire rifle; plus the gun handles like a ton of bricks. When packing for an excursion, the most important element is weight — I've never seen a serious hiker bring their espresso machine on the trail. AAC's 16-inch Remington 700 barrel in 300 BLK (available through Brownells as a special order) is anorexic compared to the 5-pound stock pipe. And what better place to get a barrel than the company that developed the round from scratch? Plus it's threaded for a suppressor. Extra bonus.
The stock is an important interface between the shooter and the rifle. It gets handled, scratched, and generally treated like a glutton for punishment, so it needs to hold up to abuse, both mental and physical. No fancy wood stocks here. Magpul's Hunter 700 stock is made from reinforced polymer with an aluminum bedding block extending into the grip for added rigidity. It has adjustability for cheek weld and length of pull, and it offers M-LOK slots for accessories. The best part is no bedding is required to fit the action, a true drop-in solution.
The trigger of a firearm is a place for personal preference. Some people prefer a glass rod break, others want a single stage, while others don't know which they like better. The general agreement is whatever the trigger, make the break consistent. TriggerTech's drop-in Remington 700 trigger offers much more than consistency, as it gives adjustability from 1.5 to 4 pounds and zero creep. While it's probably more than this rifle deserves, when it comes to fire controls, you can never have too much of a good thing.
Through heartache and defeat I've come to the realization that the scope isn't the place to skimp. And, as with triggers, I've also spoiled myself with decent glass. Trying to find a target while looking through a Coke bottle is not easy, and we're talking Mexican Coke, not the clean U.S. bottles.
German Precision Optics, also known as GPO, is as new as can be, but the people behind it are about as seasoned in the optics world as anyone. In a saturated market with almost no room to breathe, GPO is trying to make a name for itself by offering two solutions: either better features at the same price point or similar features at a lower price than the competition. Hmmm, odd concept — give the people what they want.
The GPO Passion 6Xi is a 1-6 power scope with a 30mm tube, and it has the feel of high-end European glass without the crazy price tag. It has an illuminated center dot that is truly daylight visible — surprisingly the intensity had to be turned down a few times, even in the Arizona summer sun! I lean toward reticles that give a little more information, so the German #4 reticle is not my favorite, but overall the scope seems to be a quality piece of equipment.
SLAPPING THANGS TOGETHER
My father once told me even the simplest job can be impossible if you don't have the right tools. A barrel vise from Viper Bench Rest, the Brownells Remington 700 action wrench, the Sinclair ejector spring tool, Clymer go/no-go gauges, and some rosin powder make up the list of specialized gear I acquired for this job. Screwdrivers, Allen wrenches, a torque wrench, and a mallet should be in every toolbox. If not, check your man card, as it might have expired.
The first order of business is to remove the stock from the action. I found myself looking for more points of attachment, but just two screws and you're done (sexual innuendo is fun). Next up: removing the existing barrel from the action. I imagined a muscle-bound bald guy with a handlebar mustache and leopard print unitard screwing the barrels into the actions at the Remington factory — these things are fitted ridiculously tight. I gave up trying a few times, but I thought of the poor Gunnery readers who would be deprived and pressed on. A key concern when doing a barrel swap is the chamber length, as It needs to be within SAAMI specs if you want it to be safe. Testing the headspace with the go/no-go gauges is a must before firing the rifle.
Everything becomes easier after the barrel is installed, as it's a few turns of the screw and the rifle is back together. Another important question is how much torque is enough? Knowing the proper torque specs is key if you don't want stripped or loose screws. This covers not only the rifle, but also the scope and mounts.
Putting this rifle together from components was much easier than I expected, and with a headspaced barrel, assembling a 700 is not a month-long affair as some gunsmiths would have you believe. One could start piecing together parts in the morning and be hitting targets by lunch, but the build is just not possible without the right tools. After all was said and done, my rifle weighed in at 8 pounds, including scope and magazine. It's not the lightest rifle out there, but it serves its purpose well.
SKIN THAT SMOKE WAGON
The biggest problem I faced with this rifle is my inability to cycle the bolt fast enough. I just want to keep shooting it! It could be that the recoil impulse is exactly the right frequency to generate endorphins in the brain, but it has the smile factor that's absent in other parts of life. This rifle isn't meant to be a long-range hunter and it probably can't take down a Bison, but there is no way to fully articulate that fun factor. It's like describing the beautiful woman you saw at the grocery store; unless you were there, you just won't get it.
Slappin' a silencer on the barrel adds an entirely new dimension of awesomeness. The rifle has no recoil to speak of, it slings .30 caliber bullets downrange, is lightweight, and now you don't have to wear hearing protection. This is the stuff I dreamt about as a kid. I just didn't plan on waiting a year for a tax stamp.
Time to get on the clock and back to work, as accuracy is much easier to measure than fun. I ran three different types of ammo down the pipe: Black Hills 125-grain OTM, Hornady Black 208-grain A-MAX, and Reaper Outdoors 208-grain A-MAX Subsonic. The testing was done at 100 yards with five-shot groups.
The Hornady netted the best group at 0.657 MOA, while the Reaper shot the widest at 0.728 MOA, so despite Internet lore, we found no evidence that the .300 Blackout is inaccurate. Something to take note of, however, is the difference in point of impact between subsonic and supersonic ammo. Subs impacted almost 5 inches lower and about an inch to the right of where the supersonic ammo hit, so be sure to confirm your zero and compensate when taking down that annoying coyote.
I RECKON THAT'LL DO
"Why?" This is the question I most often got when discussing this rifle. The potential of this build is not realized until the rifle is held, and even more so, when a shot is taken. There are limitations, but when shooting a gun makes you smile, it can't be a bad thing.
This rifle is handy, it's easy on the shoulder, and I know of hunters who've taken bigger game with the same caliber. The rifle is a modern-day .30-30 with the recoil of a .22. The 10-gallon hat will give way to a ball cap and the horse might be a Yamaha, but the cowboy will always be there. Chaps just look a little funny when riding an ATV.
Make / Model / Product ID#
700 SPS Varmint, Blued/.223 Rem/26”
Rem 700/M7 Lightweight Profile .300 Blackout Barrel
Hunter 700 Short Action Magazine Well Bottom Metal
Remington Ejector Spring Tool
Remington 700 Adj. Drop-In Trigger w/Safety
Remington 700 Rifle Action Wrench & Head
Black Ammo 300 AAC Blackout 208Gr A-Max
Black Hills Ammunition
300 AAC Blackout/Whisper 220Gr Subsonic OTM Ammo
300 AAC Blackout 208Gr Subsonic Ammo