Bigger, Faster, Newer, Better!

Well, another SCI convention — the 46th, is now history. If memory serves — and at my age is often doesn’t — I’m pretty sure the first one I attended was the second one, which would have been in 1975. Back then the event was held at the Riviera and the entire convention was easily contained within one ballroom. I remember being able to see every exhibit in the room in an hour’s time! Since then I’ve missed attending no more than four or five, and when I did it was because I was hunting somewhere. So I’ve attended somewhere around 40 of them and take it from me, they just keep getting bigger and better!

As in years past, most of the new guns, optics, ammo loadings and related goodies debuted at the SHOT Show, which preceded our convention by only four days (which I also attended), but some interesting stuff was seen for the first time at our event as well.

The Precision Hunter 6.5 PRC loading sends a 143-grain bullet out at 2,960 fps, and with a 200-yard zero drops only 18” at 400 yards.

Having attended both, I can report unequivocally that the 6.5 craze continues unabated. Not only is every rifle manufacturer big and small now chambering for the 6.5 Creedmoor, but there’s been yet another new .26 caliber introduced, and it comes from the same folks who brought us the Creed: Hornady. I say yet another because in the past 24 months we’ve seen the rolling out of the 26 Nosler and 6.5-300 Weatherby, both of which now occupy the highest rung of the 6.5 caliber performance ladder by virtue of the fact they can launch 140-grain bullets at 3,300 fps.

Designated as the 6.5 PRC (Precision Rifle Cartridge), this new .26 is based on the .300 RCM (Ruger Compact Magnum) case simply necked down to .264”. Over the years, my idea of the perfect cartridge has evolved with the surfacing of new products and advances in technology.

Some 40 years ago when I became disenchanted with the belted magnum case, I often opined in my writings that I wished someone would take the H&H case and continue the rim/belt diameter forward instead of turning it down to form the belt. In other words, we’d have a beltless case with an average body diameter .020” larger than an H&H case, which steps down from the .532” rim/belt diameter to .512” just ahead of the belt. That is what Hornady did in developing the Ruger family of cartridges and the basic case on which this newest 6.5 is based.

Anyway, to put the PRC’s performance in perspective, it launches a 140-grain bullet at what Hornady claims is 2,960 fps, which is virtually identical to what the 60-year-old .264 Win. Mag. does with the same weight bullet! The only substantive differences are that the PRC does it with a beltless case that’s squat enough to cycle through short actions. As such, performance-wise it stands about midway between the Creedmoor on the low end, and the super magnums of Nosler and Weatherby on the other.

Initially two factory loads are being offered by Hornady: a 143-grain ELD-X bullet at 2,960 fps in its Precision Hunter load, and a 147-grain ELD Match load at 2,910 fps. With a 200-yard zero, the ELD-X load drops just 18 inches at 400 yards where it’s still packing 1,800 ft. lbs. of energy.

As to whether the world needs another 6.5 cal. cartridge, only time will tell. I will say though that I’d be surprised to see another 6.5 introduced by a major player anytime soon. I think we’ve got enough!

Mauser’s new M18 — the people’s rifle — sports a handsome contemporary classic style and is surprisingly affordable.

As for interesting new guns, two of the three come from Italy, which historically has not exactly been your hotbed of bolt-action rifle manufacturing! One of them is the Momentum by Franchi and is especially noteworthy in that and it represents the company’s first ever bolt-action — and they’ve been making guns since 1868. The other is the Saphire from Sabatti, a firm best known for its O/U shotguns and, on a relative scale, highly affordable double rifles. The third is the Mauser M18, which is being promoted as “The People’s Rifle,” which of course evokes the harkening back to the original Volkswagon   — The People’s Car — designed by Ferdinand Porsche in the mid-1930s. The idea being, with a MSRP of $699, it makes owning a genuine Mauser within reach of Everyman. In fact, with the Franchi Momentum priced at $609, these two rifles are priced to compete head to head with the growing number of “value priced” rifles such as the Ruger American, Winchester XPR and Remington 783. These guns are making serious inroads into the sales of flagship models — Ruger’s Hawkeye, Winchester’s Model 70 and Remington’s Model 700, respectively.

The Franchi Momentum is the company’s first entry into the bolt-action centerfire rifle marketplace.

All three of these newcomers represent not just a trend, but a paradigm shift in bolt-action rifle design in that they belong to the “fat bolt” tri-lug action family. The three salient features that characterize this genre are that the bolt is fatter than normal, and by forming the locking lugs by relieving material at the bolt head, the lugs do not project out beyond the diameter of the bolt body. This requires only a round hole in the receiver as the bolt raceway and, because there are three locking lugs oriented on 120-degree centers instead of a twin-opposed arrangement like on a Remington 700 or Savage 110-series, bolt rotation (handle lift) is only 60 rather than 90 degrees. The lugs can be in a single row of three — the most common arrangement — but also in two rows of three lugs, or three rows of nine lugs like the Weatherby Mark V Magnum. All share the same 120-degree lug orientation.

To give some idea of just how many rifles now employ the fat bolt tri-lug system, consider: Browning A-Bolt III, Sauer 100, Roessler Titan 3 and 6, Steyr-Mannlicher M12, Lithgow LA-102, Merkel MHR-16, Winchester XPR, Thompson-Center Vanguard and Dimension, Ruger American, and the Weatherby Mark V Magnum and its smaller six-lug sibling.

The Sabatti Saphire has an integral scope mounting rail and radiused rifling.

Among the three new rifles mentioned here, perhaps the most noteworthy feature belongs to the Italian Sabatti Saphire in that it employs what they are calling Multi-radial rifling. Alternate rifling systems is another crusade I’ve been on almost as long as I’ve been writing. It just seems intuitive that there has to be a better way to spin a bullet than conventional rifling where the sharp outer edges of the lands wear, and the 90-degree inner corners at their base collect copper fouling and carbonized propellant.

There are several other ways to impart gyroscopic stability to a bullet. There’s 5R rifling, which consists of five rather than six lands and grooves. The difference is that each land is opposed by a groove rather than another land, which compresses the bullet less. Also, and just as important, the sides of the lands are sloped creating an obtuse angle where land meets groove rather than forming a sharp 90-degree inside corner. The result is that there’s less bullet deformation, less friction (hence lower chamber pressure, all other things equal), and the barrel is easier to clean and required less often. Bottom line: better accuracy. Thompson-Center is using 5R rifling in its Venture and Dimension rifles, and Remington in some select tactical models of the 700.

But there are also other types of rifling. Because only the leading edge of the land is needed to impart spin, the trailing edge can simply taper down to form the groove with no angle involved. Then there’s polygonal rifling where there are no lands and grooves per se; only flat facets that meet one another at very shallow angles yet grip the bullet firmly enough to impart spin.

▪ It’s easy to see how radiused rifling offers better gas sealing, less bullet deformation and less bore friction. It also fouls far less and is easier to clean.

Then there’s radiused rifling, of which Sabatti’s Multi-radial is one example, and it’s the system I believe has the most potential. Picture conventional rifling in cross section and round off all inner and outer edges to where the bore is comprised of a continuous wavy line. Radiused rifling deforms the bullet less than any other system and offers less resistance to the engraving process.

All three of the rifles we’ve briefly discussed here are interesting in their own right and we’re hoping to review them in more detail in later issues, but we’re especially interested in playing with the radius-rifled Sabatti.–Jon R. Sundra

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