With the housing crash of 2008 consumers in general became more price conscious than at any other time since the Great Depression, and the firearms industry was affected as much as any. Those gun manufacturers — rifle makers in particular who had a “value-priced” rifle in their stable — found themselves, if not in a lucrative market, a much larger one.
By 2012 Remington had its Models 770 and 783; Mossberg its 100 ATR and 4X4; Savage its Stevens and budget versions of its 100-series; Marlin its XL7, and Thompson-Center its Venture. All carried real world prices in the 400-dollar range at a time when the Winchester Model 70 and Ruger M77 Hawkeye were inching towards the $900 mark. Of the two, Ruger was the first to respond that year with its value-priced American, a totally new design that was very much different from its flagship Hawkeye, and priced low enough that it opened a whole new market, while at the same time not compete with the Hawkeye. That was plan anyway, but I don’t think it’s working out that way.
Ruger’s move did not go unnoticed by Winchester, for in 2015 they rolled out their answer to Ruger — the XPR, a rifle strikingly similar to the American in so many ways. Ruger did not chamber the American for magnum calibers until this year. Winchester, on the other hand, offered magnum calibers right from the get go. I’ve now had a chance to review several examples of each rifle and I’m impressed as much by their looks, performance and value, as I am by how similar they are.
At the heart of both rifles is a tubular receiver, which is the one component that defines virtually all value-priced rifles because it can be machined from bar stock or tube stock, which reduces machine time and is less expensive than using forgings or investment castings. As for the locking system, a tubular receiver is equally adaptable to a twin-lug Mauser-type bolt as it is to a three-lug arrangement; however, most of the truly new bolt action centerfire rifles we’ve seen introduced over the last decade or so have opted for the tri-lug arrangement, if for no other reason than it reduces bolt rotation (handle lift) from 90 degrees to 65-70, which allows a faster cycling of the action. First to employ this concept was Roy Weatherby with his Mark V Magnum, which was rolled out in 1958. Though the Mark V boasts 9 locking lugs, it is simply a variation of the basic tri-lug system because its three rows of three lugs per row are oriented on 120-degree centers just like any 3-lug, or for that matter a 6-lug action like the standard caliber Mark V and the Austrian-made Titan 6. In addition to the aforementioned, I can think of six other rifles based on tri-lug actions: the Sauer 100 and 200, the Steyr-Mannlicher SM 12, Thompson-Center’s Venture and Dimension, and the Titan 3.
Until recently most tubular receiver rifles employed a separate eccentric washer sandwiched between the barrel shank and receiver face to act as a recoil lug. This approach was first seen on the Remington 721/722 in 1948 and has since been used by dozens of other makers. The American, however, transmits recoil to the stock in a different way. Instead of an eccentric washer jutting downward to engage a shoulder within the stock, two steel V-blocks imbedded into the polymer stock engage grooves on the underside of the receiver fore and aft of the magazine cut. These blocks not only act as recoil shoulders, but also self-centering bedding surfaces for the tubular receiver. The American’s total receiver bedding surface therefore consists of four small points of contact at the 5 and 7 o’clock positions fore and aft of the magazine. With the barrel being free floated the entire length of the forearm, there is no point where the stock itself actually contacts the barreled action. Ruger calls it “Power Bedding.”
The XPR’s bedding arrangement is conceptually similar to that of the American, but a lot more straightforward; it consists of a steel recoil lug imbedded into its injection-molded polycarbonate stock, which engages a slot on the underside of the receiver ring.
Being tri-lug actions both employ the “fat bolt” concept whereby the bolt is of larger diameter than those of twin lug Mauser-type actions and their shallower locking lugs do not protrude beyond the body diameter. The bolt raceway, therefore, need only be a round hole in the receiver rather than having to machine lug raceways into the inner walls. It is but another aspect of the fat bolt system that makes producing an action faster and cheaper without really compromising anything.
The bolts are fashioned from bar stock and machining away material at the head is how the locking lugs are formed. Seeing the bolts side by side, the only apparent differences are in the shape of the handles and bolt shrouds; both of the latter are rearward-sloping and make for pleasing silhouettes. The bolt heads are also identical, employing an extractor housed in the face of the right-side locking lug. The bolt faces are recessed and completely encircle the case rim of a chambered cartridge. Ejection is courtesy of the ubiquitous plunger system that we see on virtually all rifles not employing controlled-round feed.
One feature that is pretty much the hallmark of budget class rifles is that they are bedded in injection-molded stocks, which is the case here. With the XPR, however, the trigger guard bow is integral with the stock, while on the American it’s a separate component. The former is the more economical solution. Both guns have superb detachable magazines fashioned from the same polycarbonate material as the stocks themselves. Oddly enough, the American in standard calibers employs a rotary magazine that fits flush with the belly of the stock, while the new Magnum’s is a straight- stack job that protrudes about a half-inch right at the balance point when hand-carrying the gun at your side. I guess they just couldn’t cram three of the fatter belted magnum cartridges into the existing rotary box. Too bad really, because it also ruins the lines of the gun. All three are excellent magazines, however, in that they are light, indestructible, easy to charge, and feed cartridges so smoothly and effortlessly that you can’t believe they’re actually doing it!
The stocks of both guns are quite handsome — straight comb classic in style with subtle stylish embellishments that takes liberties with conventional checkering — but is effective nonetheless. Both guns come with highly effective recoil pads and with pre-installed Weaver-type scope ring bases. The American, however, comes standard with a threaded muzzle and a thread-protecting cap should one want to mount a suppressor, while the XPR does not. The XPR, on the other hand, offers 11 calibers, including the .270, .300 and .325 WSMs and .338 Win. Magnum, while the American can be had in only 9 chamberings, topping out with the .300 Win. Mag. The American’s MSRP range is $489 to $699; the XPR’s is $549 to $599.
The Ruger American and Winchester XPR may qualify as being “value priced,” but they compromise nothing in the way of design, function, reliability or accuracy. In fact, in some respects they offer superior features than their higher-priced Hawkeye and Model 70 siblings. If there are any trade-offs they can only be in the degree of metal finish and in the fact that their stocks are synthetic. Not everyone is a fan of injection-molded stocks, and there is an option. Boyds’ Gunstock Industries is offering walnut and wood laminated drop-in stocks for both. For $125 in the case of the American, and $95 for the XPR, these guns can be literally transformed into true classics that would appeal to even the most traditional rifle weenie…including this one.–Jon R. Sundra