Back in May F&S rifles editor David E. Petzal and deputy editor Dave Hurteau met me at my home shooting range in the West Virginia hills to test 20 new rifles for 2017. Not so long ago, a year’s crop of new rifles all looked and functioned enough alike to test them all together, in a single group. Not anymore. Given today’s specialization, spawned by the rise of the AR and surging interest in long-range and tactical shooting, the first thing we did was split our test models into three categories: sporting, MSRs, and long-range/tactical bolts. Then, over the course of four days, we generated roughly five gallons of brass, shooting the test rifles at distances from 10 to 500 yards—not to mention a few shots at 1,000-plus just for kicks. When the smoke cleared, we narrowed the field down to the top six rifles in each category and picked our standout performers and best values for 2017. Here’s the upshot. —R.M.
After weighing and measuring the rifles, we evaluated them for the following. Accuracy: Testers fired three five-shot groups from a bench at 100 yards, deducting one point for every 1/4 inch the average group size was larger than 1/2 inch. Shooter Interface: Here we devised specific drills for each rifle category. We shot long-range rifles out to 500 yards, measuring accuracy and evaluating interface. We subjected the ARs to speed drills on multiple targets. For sporting rifles, we shot from multiple positions, mimicking hunting situations. Fit and Finish: We evaluated workmanship and appearance. Functionality: We tested ease of loading, action smoothness, and general operation. We evaluated features and subtracted points for malfunctions. Trigger: We measured pull-weight with a digital scale and evaluated quality of pull. Finally, we weighted the test categories for a total possible score of 100 and crunched the numbers to get our rankings. We also divided the price of each rifle by its total score to determine the best value in each category. Sporting rifles were outfitted with the Bushnell Elite 4500 2.5–10x40mm riflescope, MSRs with the Bushnell 1–4x24mm AR, and long-range rifles with the Bushnell 3–12x44mm Elite Tactical Hunter. All scopes were mounted with Weaver rings and bases, and Hornady provided all test ammunition. —R.M.
Top Six Sporting Rifles
1. Best of the Test: Remington Custom Shop M7 Scout
|.308 Win.||6 lb. 3 oz.||38.75″ overall length||19″ barrel||Manners synthetic stock|
Tested with a Burris 2–7x32mm Scout Scope, the new M7 Scout was the most accurate sporting rifle tested (and the second most accurate overall). The Scout dominated the shooter-interface test; it was the handiest, fastest, and smoothest operating rifle we touched. Fit and finish and functionality were impeccable, and the Timney trigger was perfect. With its auxiliary XS Sights, red-dot compatibility, threaded muzzle, and three quick-detach sling swivels, the M7 is the definition of versatility. The only downside is price; perfection isn’t cheap. —R.M.
2. Montana Rifle Co. American legends Rifle
|.280 Rem.||10 lb.||45″ overall length||24″ barrel||AA-grade American black walnut stock|
This is a lovely rifle. There’s no other word for it: AA walnut, excellent checkering, first-rate fit and finish, a superb trigger, and more than enough accuracy. But it’s also a throwback to an era when sporting rifles could weigh a lot, and this one weighs a whole bunch by modern standards, probably too much. It reminded me to an uncanny degree of the pre-’64 Winchester Super Grade Model 70, except the American Legends Rifle has nicer wood and will shoot rings around one of the old Model 70s. If you’re a traditionalist, here’s your gun. —D.E.P.
3. Weatherby Vanguard Camilla
|6.5 Creedmoor||6 lb. 8.6 oz.||39.75″ overall length||20″ barrel||Turkish A-grade walnut stock|
The Camilla is designed specifically for women, with a higher comb, a 13-inch length of pull, and a slimmer grip and fore-end. Because of that, in addition to the all-male test team, we had an experienced female hunter (my wife) examine it. The Camilla was plenty accurate and finished second in the shooter-interface test. Above-average scores in the other categories as well put the Camilla third in the sporting-rifle division, just a few points ahead of the Howa Kuiu. Ironically, our woman hunter liked the Kuiu better. The Camilla is a solid value, too. —R.M.
4. Howa Kuiu
|6.5 Creedmoor||7 lb.||40.5″ overall length||20″ barrel||Synthetic stock|
I don’t know of anyone who has bought a Howa rifle and sent it back for repair or adjustment, or gone to the gunsmith with a heart full of wrath. And these days, that is considerable praise. As with all Howa rifles, the Kuiu’s quality is all out of proportion to price. I liked this rifle quite a lot better than its overall ranking. The Camilla’s excellent handling scores bumped the Kuiu out of our top three, but believe me, it is a very good rifle. —D.E.P.
5. Best Value: Mossberg Patriot Predator
|6.5 Creedmoor||6 lb. 9.8 oz.||42.38″ overall length||22″ barrel||Synthetic stock|
With below-average scores in fit and finish and functionality, the Predator is not a refined rifle. Most egregious was the ease with which the bolt could be bumped out of battery or to the fully open position. We also found the trigger a bit stagy and sticky. But the Predator ranked third in both accuracy and shooter interface. When it comes to getting on game and hitting your target, this gun gets it done—and at a price that earned it Best Value honors. —R.M.
6. Remington Model 700 American Wilderness
|.270 Win.||7 lb. 15.3 oz.||44.75″ overall length||24″ barrel||Grayboe fiberglass stock|
Built on the Model 700 action, this bolt gun is designed to be the ideal backcountry rifle. Accuracy was good, but the rifle’s size and weight hurt its shooter-interface scores. The trigger, though adjustable, was somewhat heavy and creepy, and fit and finish were a bit rough. Still, the rifle functioned without a hitch, and the Grayboe stock is indestructible. When you need this rifle to go bang, even in the roughest conditions, it will. —R.M.
Top Six MSRs
1. Best of the Test: Bushmaster Minimalist-SD
|.223 Rem./5.56 NATO||6 lb. 6.4 oz.||33.5–36.75" overall length||16" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
A sub-6.5-pound AR-15 that consistently shoots sub-1.5 MOA five-shot groups is noteworthy, but there's more to this rifle than its light weight and precision. The 1:8 twist rifling will handle long, heavy .223 bullets ideal for hunting, and the 4150 chrome moly barrel is capped off with a suppressor-ready AAC flash hider. Functionality was as good as or better than any AR we tested. The trigger was crisp, although a bit on the heavy side (the gun's only flaw). Where the Minimalist really stood out was in the shooter-interface evaluation. The rifle was extremely nimble and comfortable to shoot, and it turned in the test category's top score. Some credit here goes to the excellent Mission First Tactical stock and grip. All of this comes at a reasonable price for an AR, too. —R.M.
2. Mossberg MMR Pro
|.223 Rem./5.56 NATO||7 lb. 4.6 oz.||33.75–39" overall length||18" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
Generally speaking, AR-15s are very much the same; it's the little things that set them apart. Think of the "Star-Spangled Banner" sung by different performers, and you have a good analogy. To distinguish the MMR Pro, Mossberg sought the advice of competitive shooter Jerry Miculek, which led to a host of little things, including a JM Pro match trigger, a slim-profile 15-inch M-Lok handguard, an AXTS Raptor ambidextrous charging handle, and a stainless, compensated 18-inch barrel. The result is the most accurate MSR in our test. The test team's only complaints targeted the rifle's so-so fit and finish and its horrendously loud muzzle brake. A brake might be ideal for competition, but it's not what you want if you're going to hunt with this rifle. —R.M.
3. FN 15 DMR II
|.223 Rem./5.56 NATO||7 lb. 4.6 oz.||33.75–39" overall length||18" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
As the most expensive MSR tested, you'd expect the FN DMR II to perform well, and it did. The rifle's match-grade Timney trigger was the best of any AR we tested. The DMR II's fit and finish was far superior to that of the other ARs, and it tied with the Bushmaster Minimalist for top marks in functionality. The rifle got average scores in the shooter-interface test, hindered somewhat in the speed drills by its heft and length. Accuracy was just below average. The 1:7 twist rifling will allow you to shoot even the heaviest .223-caliber bullets, and the Magpul MOE grip and buttstock are comfortable. In the end, what sets the FN apart is the quality of the workmanship; whereas some ARs feel like a collection of parts, this feels like a finely crafted tool. —R.M.
4. Best Value: Mossberg MMR
|.223 Rem./5.56 NATO||7 lb.||33.25–36.5" overall length||16" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
Mossberg's standard MMR lacks a few of the Pro's features, but it's about 4 ounces lighter and costs about $450 less. It shot nearly as well, too. The MMR was the third most accurate MSR tested. We found fit and finish and functionality to be a bit lacking, but the MMR's overall performance and price make it the category's best value. —R.M.
5. Savage MSR 15 Recon
Score: 77 • $999 Savage
|.223 Rem./5.56 NATO||7 lb.||33.5–36.75" overall length||16.125" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
Savage debuted its first line of MSRs this year and the MSR 15 Recon is the flagship offering in .223. The rifle tallied solid marks in most of the test categories. Fit and finish was a tad rough and so was the trigger. Where the MSR 15 Recon stands out is in the value department—a solid second behind the Mossberg MMR. —R.M.
6. Savage MSR 10 Hunter
Score: 71 • $1,481 Savage
|.308 Win./7.62 NATO||7 lb. 12.8 oz.||36–39" overall length||16.25" barrel||Six-position adjustable stock|
As hunters, we were excited to test a new AR-10 .308 designed for the field, but we ended up a bit disappointed. The Hunter was the least accurate MSR tested. Most of its other test scores were around average. On the positive side, the Hunter is reasonably compact and not too heavy given its .308 chambering, and it is also available in the popular 6.5 Creedmoor. —R.M.
Top Six Long Range/Tactical Rifles
1. Best of the Test and Best Bargain: Bergara B-14 HMR
Score: 93 • $1,150 Jeff Wilson
|6.5 Creedmoor||9 lb. 3 oz.||41.5" overall length||24" barrel||Adjustable composite stock|
Bergara's custom shop in Georgia is staffed by craftsmen who either built rifles for the Marines when they were in the Corps, or did it as civilians. Marines like their rifles to shoot and get very cranky if they don't. The rifles that come out of the custom shop are (a) expensive and (b) perfect. The Model B-14 HMR, which is about one-quarter the price of a custom Bergara, is not expensive, and it's not perfect. There's more of a gap between the barrel and the fore-end than I care for. That's the end of the defects. This gun shoots. Our test rifle, which I shot separately, put 20 bullets at 100 yards into a group that measured 1.2 inches. Try this with your rifle sometime. The B-14 HMR is a slick, finely finished rifle that reeks of class. You'll have to be a very good shot to keep up with it. —D.E.P.
2. Browning X-Bolt Hell's Canyon Long Range
Score: 92 • $1,230 Jeff Wilson
|6.5 Creedmoor||7 lb. 7.9 oz.||42.75" overall length||26" barrel||Composite stock|
Do you yearn to hunt at long range and long for a dedicated rifle with which to do so? On the other hand, do you think you'll spew chunks if you have to look at another paramilitary horror with a Picatinny rail and Adjustable Everything? Do you resent having to buy a truss at the end of hunting season? Cheer up. Browning has built a rifle for you. It's called the Hell's Canyon Long Range, and it's an actual hunting rifle. Our test gun was chambered in the mild-kicking, infinitely accurate, and deceptively potent 6.5 Creedmoor. Browning has given the rifle a 26-inch barrel, so you can squeeze more velocity out of factory ammo and a lot more velocity if you handload, as well as a very good trigger. The Hell's Canyon Long Range is a sweetheart. There's no other way to sum it up. —D.E.P.
3. Weatherby Vanguard Adaptive Composite (VAC)
|6.5 Creedmoor||8 lb. 12.9 oz.||39.62–40.87" overall length||20" barrel||Adjustable composite stock|
The Vanguard VAC is designated as a tactical rifle, not a long-range rifle. This is an important distinction, because it's made to be handy, not to give the maximum amount of oomph to the three cartridges for which it's chambered, which a true long-range rifle must do. A 20-inch barrel is kind of scant, folks. That said, we had no trouble whatsoever hitting at 500 yards with it, and we certainly could have stretched it out farther. The VAC's stock is a true ergonomic marvel. It adjusts with push buttons, and once you get it set up, leaning into it to aim is one of the true sensual joys of this life. (In fact, it's so formfitting that a southpaw can't shoot it. I know.) The trigger is excellent, and the muzzle is threaded for whatever you want to hang on it. —D.E.P.
4. Howa HCR
|.308 Win.||9 lb. 11 oz.||39.75–42.40" overall length||20" barrel||Adjustable composite stock|
It's ironic that a country that makes it almost impossible for a citizen to own any firearm makes some of the best guns for the money. Such is the case with Howa, which is Japanese. Howa guarantees the accuracy of the HCR, and it is not kidding. Of note is the HACT trigger, which is so good I mistook it for a custom job. It's not. Like the Vanguard, this is a short-barreled tactical rifle, not one made for true long range (600-plus).—D.E.P.
5. Savage Model 10 GRS
|.308 Win.||8 lb. 13 oz.||39.62–40.87" overall length||20" barrel||Adjustable composite stock|
Part of Savage's law-enforcement series, the 10 GRS is akin in purpose to the Vanguard and the Howa. Its accuracy was fair; fit and finish were lacking. The trigger scaled 1.2 pounds, which is too light for a tactical rifle but just right for competition shooting. It goes off literally at a touch—much too easily for a shooter who has not practiced with it. The stock is the same as the Vanguard's—you'll fall in love with it. —D.E.P.
6. Remington 700 Magpul
Score: 81 • $1,175 Remington
|.308 Win.||9 lb. 2 oz.||40–41.5" overall length||22" barrel||Modular synthetic stock|
It's called the Magpul because it employs a Magpul Hunter stock, and the complete rifle offers all the right features for a reasonable price. I particularly like the black Cerakote finish, which beats the hell out of bluing. On the negative side is the X-Mark Pro trigger. "A level of shot control unmatched by any factory trigger today," sayeth Remington. I, however, am obliged to say that it does not break like glass, has some creep, and is about 2 pounds too heavy. —D.E.P.