Photo by Travis Rathbone
In the 1980s, watch designers developed the oscillating-crystal movement. As a result, it's now possible to build a watch for $39.72 that tells better time than a masterpiece of the horologer's art that has a conventional spring-driven movement and a price tag of $39,720. The watch guys proved that cheap does not have to mean inaccurate.
Same with rifles. The people who make them have figured out how to construct a gun that costs $300 but will shoot as well as a rifle that costs $3,000. Such a rifle will not be pretty, nor will it be finely made. The truth of the matter is that this sort of rifle may not be made well at all. But it will function, and it will be very accurate. The secret to such astounding (and inexpensive) accuracy? Stiffness. If you design a rifle that can't twist, warp, squirm, or flex when you pull the trigger, that gun is going to shoot like nobody's business. These days, every manufacturer knows how to do that.
Function Above All
The Model 783, which debuted at this year's SHOT Show, is Remington's first 21st-century rifle. It is, as the company's designers unashamedly admit, an amalgam of good ideas from other manufacturers. It is rough hewn, no surprise given how inexpensive it is ($450). It has a trigger that is less than terrific. It has a button-rifled barrel that is one of the roughest I've ever looked at through a borescope. And yet, it functions just fine. And it shoots. Oh boy, does it shoot.
What It Is
Remington built the 783 on a nylon-fiber-reinforced synthetic stock with its excellent SuperCell recoil pad at the butt and two aluminum pillars under the receiver. There are sling-swivel holes molded into the stock, an extremely good idea. The receiver is cylindrical and has a small ejection port, both of which enhance rigidity. Cartridges feed from a strong detachable magazine; you can load four in standard calibers, three in magnums.
Rather than soda-straw barrels, Remington has incorporated No. 2 contour tubes (22 inches for standard cartridges, and 24 for magnums). They are button-rifled, but that does not automatically mean they're good. I shall explain.
My test gun, a .30/06, arrived with a bore that resembled a coal mine. After an hour of cleaning, I got a borescope inside and beheld more annular rings than a redwood tree can grow in several millennia. It was a mass of toolmarks, and there were long, heavy streaks of copper fouling.
The trigger is a two-stage design, similar to the Savage AccuTrigger. On my rifle it was a creepy 5 pounds, and Remington says you can adjust it down to 21⁄2. Not this one. I got it down to 3 pounds 12 ounces, which is good enough, but an AccuTrigger it ain't.
Weight of the 783 is just over 7 pounds, which is about right, and it comes in .270, .30/06, .308, and 7mm Rem. Mag. Basic color is black, but a camo version will be available in 2014.
If you'd like proof that rifles no longer need to be works of art in order to shoot, here it is. These are the averages of four three-shot groups at 100 yards: Federal Premium 165-grain Copper, .534 inch; Federal Premium 180-grain Copper, 1.191 inch; Federal Premium 168-grain Match, .455 inch; HSM 165-grain SP, 1.245 inches.
Remington engineers told me that they frequently got jaw-dislocating groups from the Model 783. Given my experience, I believe them. My super-small groups weren't rare occurrences; they cropped up on a regular basis. And it shouldn't come as a surprise: Remington is making the 783 so that it can't do anything except shoot well. Even the nightmarish barrel is no impediment. The mind reels at the thought of what would happen if you put a good barrel on a 783.
Well-deserved criticism aside, the 783 is a good hunting rifle and a great value. The fact that it is as rough as a cob is no problem for a working gun. If you'd like to leave yours in the path of a wildebeest migration, go right ahead. Nothing will happen to the rifle. When you can pick it out of the dirt and the dung, you will still be able to shoot groups that you can cover with a dime.