Fabrique National (FN) is a Belgium based firearms manufacturer that has a long history of firearms development and production which extends to development work with the USA, dating all the way back to when John Browning himself was working directly with FN in the early 1900’s. Once Belgium was liberated from the Germans after WWII that close relationship with the US Military was once again renewed and it continues today. FN has a manufacturing plant in South Carolina here in the USA, known as FN-USA, that produces both the M249 Light Machine Gun (LMG) or Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) and the M240 7.62 machine gun for the US Military. Both of those systems have been serving the US military for several decades now with a good service history.
In the late 1990’s FN wanted to capitalize on their reputation as a high quality manufacturer of military firearms and enter into the precision rifle market with a focus on the Law Enforcement community. FN is a part of a larger conglomerate known as FN Herstal (FNH) which actually owns FN, Browning and Winchester firearms, the latter being purchased after Winchester went bankrupt in 1989. So it was here that Hertsel was able to tap into their other business units and utilize resources they already had, mainly the Winchester model 70 action. FN then introduced the Patrol Bolt Rifle (PBR), which was geared more for the lower end of the price range and designed to be carried in a patrol cruiser. FN then introduced the Special Police Rifle (SPR) which aimed at the higher end rifle market, targeted directly at agencies looking for full time sniper rifles. Both of these rifle models were based on the Winchester model 70 action.
There were, and still are, several versions of the FN SPR rifle which mainly differed only by which McMillan stock was used. But in 2003 the FBI put out a request for proposals for a new sniper rifle to be used by both their elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and their regional SWAT snipers. Obviously this contract had the potential to be very lucrative both monetarily, as well as for the reputation of FN. FN-USA decided to enter the competition and submitted a slightly modified SPR A3 to be evaluated. At the end of the grueling competition, two rifles were selected by the FBI, this new version of the FN SPR A3G as well as the excellent, and more custom built rifle from GA Precision. The tests were typical of the FBI consisting of a thorough evaluation of performance and durability that covered many different areas. The two rifles are priced considerably different; the FN on the cheaper side and the GA Precision rifle that is significantly more expensive, as it should be with all the additional custom work that goes into them. What this allows is for the various field offices with regional SWAT teams to allocate their funds to the rifle that better suits their budget; but to be honest, based off of what we hear, most of the teams are opting to spend the extra on the GA Precision rifles, with only a few SPR’s in service.
Because of the history of rifle and the significant role the FBI plays in the Law Enforcement community, we wanted to bring in one of the SPR rifles for a full evaluation here at Sniper Central. We ordered the exact FN SPR A3G, as it is now designated, that is produced for the FBI in order to run it through our testing procedures here to see how it performs and whether we would like it as much as the FBI did. We also wanted to know if it would it be suitable for not only law enforcement sniping, but how would it work for the military sniper as well. We also realize that it has been 10 years since the testing and adoption of the SPR by the FBI and we thought it would be a fitting tribute to test the rifle at its 10 year anniversary and to see if it is still a capable rifle and a viable option today.
The A3G comes packaged in a heavy duty box with everything laid out nicely within. The rifle arrived with a safety booklet, owner’s manual, test target, and a Gun Record Book. The gun record book is a book that has pages to keep track of a running log of the rounds fired through the rifle. It is similar to what you would find in the back of most sniper log books. It is neat to see the information filled out by hand from the factory which indicated that 15 rounds were fired during testing before the rifle shipped out. The shooters also listed their names and type of ammo fired. At the front of the log it also lists that the headspace was set to 1.631″, torque screws set to 65 inch-lbs, trigger pull set to 3.5 lbs and the test group measured .17″, and as was mentioned, that test target is also included with the rifle. The overall effect is a bit of a personal touch that you typically do not see on a factory built rifle.
The first “Special Police” rifles built by FN used a HS precision stock, but if there are any of those rifles that made it to market, it was not many and would be hard to find. The “Special Police Rifle” as we know them today, are all equipped with the excellent McMillan fiberglass stocks and over the years various different versions of the SPR used different McMillan tactical stocks. Currently the SPR is offered with either the McMillan A3 or the A5 stock. The A3G version of the SPR that the FBI adopted uses the McMillan A3 with an adjustable saddle type cheekpiece as well as an adjustable spacer system at the rear to adjust the length of pull. The spacer system is slower than some other adjustable LOP stocks on the market today and it takes a few minutes to add or remove those spacers, but the reward is a rifle that is adjusted to fit the shooter but yet still has the solid feel of a fixed stock and the operator does not have to worry about it slipping or moving during prolonged use.
The adjustable cheekpiece is the McMillan saddle type unit with two hand tightened knobs on the right of the stock. The cheekpiece itself has an aluminum blade that extends down into the stock and those two screws actually screw into the stock and press against that blade to hold it in place. The cheekpiece is rubber coated aluminum and is quite solid, though the rubber can wear, crack, and be damaged over time. Unfortunately, where the spacer system is solid and rigid and you do not have to worry about it moving, the cheekpiece is the opposite. No matter how tight you crank the knobs, they will loosen, and unfortunately move when you least want it to. There are a few ways to address the problem, one is to make it SOP to tighten those knobs before every shooting session. Another option is to take some poly type of pad and trim it to the correct height to slip under the cheekpiece, between it and the stock, so that when the knobs loosen, the cheekpiece is held up in place with the poly pad. And a final suggestion might be to remove the cheekpiece and use an Eagle or TacOps strap on cheekpad. What we did with another SPR rifle we have here with the same type of adjustable cheekpiece was remove the knobs from the cheekpiece and then left the cheekpiece where it was for added height, and then put the TacOps cheekpad over the top of it and strapped it down. These are some solutions, but it really should be resolved at the McMillan factory and not in the field by the shooter.
The pistol grip on the A3 stock is a vertical pistol grip that has an excellent shape to it and is quite comfortable to hold and shoot. There is some texturing on it to help with grip and there is just a slight palm swell to nicely fill the hand as well as properly place the hand and trigger finger. There is also a deep cut out at the rear of the grip area for the thumb to wrap around. The stock thickness remains uniform through the action area, the forearm is fairly tall with a square bottom to it. It is not a wide forearm like what is found on the McMillan A5 stock, but it is flat with a forward taper to it which allows the shooter to raise and lower the aiming point of the rifle by simply sliding the rifle forward or back on the sandbags, if bags are being used. The forearm area also has some texturing on it to help with grip and there are two sling swivel studs up front to allow the use of a bipod as well as a sling. The entire stock is finished in the standard McMillan OD green molded in color and not painted which means it will not chip or scratch, but it is also a bit slicker than a matte epoxy style paint.
As was mentioned earlier, FN went to Winchester for their action and in this case they elected to use the Pre-64 control round feed Model 70 action as the base to build the rifle off of. The pre-64 Winchester model 70 action was based on, and is similar, to the Mauser 98 and it operates the same. The action has an open top with an enlarged ejection port for easy extraction and while the action is not over sized, it has enough mass to be rigid and stiff. The action has a large integrated recoil lug, not a separate lug like on a Remington, with a flat action bottom. FN does some additional work to the actions such as true the action face and bolt lugs to help improve accuracy. The bolt release is just to the left of the rear tang and it just needs to pressed down and then the bolt slid to the rear to remove it from the rifle. The safety is located on the bolt shroud and is the traditional, and preferred, three position safety which blocks the firing pin and not just the trigger. The first position on the safety is all the way forward and is the “fire” position, pulling the safety back one notch locks the firing pin but allows the bolt to be cycled for safe unloading of the rifle. Pulling the safety back into its final notch locks both the firing pin and the bolt, preventing it from being cycled. The safety is easily operated with the right thumb from the firing position and it firmly snaps into each of its locations.
One of the requirements by the FBI was that the action be fully glass bedded into the stock, which was something new to FN as their standard SPR rifles do not have a full glass bedding job. This is also one of the big reasons why the A3G rifles cost a more than the standard SPR rifles. With our sample rifle we reviewed, the first inch and a half of the barrel was also glass bedded, which is a common practice for heavy barreled rifles as it helps relieve some of the stress being placed on the front of the action when hanging heavy barrel off the front of it. FN indicates that the bedding is done using the popular Marine Tex glass resin.
The bottom metal is an oversized hinged floorplate that our magnet confirms is made of steel, which will no doubt improve durability versus aluminum or pot metal units that are found on other lower quality mass produced rifles. The floorplate is released by depressing the pin that protrudes at the front of the trigger guard. The magazine follower is also made of steel giving the overall feel of quality in parts much like a custom built rifle. The choice for the FBI not to require a detachable box magazine is somewhat of a surprise but one that is fine with us here, especially for the intended role of the rifle within the FBI.
The bolt is a traditional Mauser style bolt with a full claw extractor, also known as ‘control round feed’, and it works as good as the reputation that precedes it. As mentioned, the safety is located on the rear bolt shroud where the rear of the firing pin is also visible to give an indication whether it is cocked or not. The bolt knob is a standard size bolt knob as one might find on a hunting rifle, though it does have a band of light knurling around it to help with grip, though the knurling is fairly light and its effectiveness is perhaps not that great. The entire bolt is finished in a matte black that matches the action and barrel quiet well. The claw extractor that is a part of the pre-64 action provides excellent extraction and gives the operator high confidence that it will operate as it needs to in all conditions. The downside of claw extractors is that it adds extra parts and pieces to the bolt which ads complexity, but also makes the action not feed as smooth or easy as a “push round feed” action such as the Remington 700 or post-64 model 70 actions. Over time the claw extractor bolts do break in and become very smooth, as this rifle has begun to do, but the bolt will never slide as effortlessly as a push round feed design. To us, that is a small price to pay for the preferred reliability of the claw extractor.
The trigger is a standard Winchester model 70 trigger that FN has tweaked to meet their demands. It has a nice wide trigger shoe with vertical ribs that we like. The log book indicated that the trigger came from the factory adjusted to 3.5 lbs, but when we put our trigger scale to it, it measured 4.25 pounds. While this is a bit heavier than we like, it did break clean with just a tiny bit of take-up, but overall it is a decent trigger that could be cleaned up and adjusted by a smith, but is serviceable as it is. It should also be mentioned that a part of the FBI trials was a rigorous drop test in which the A3G passed without any problems.
The barrel is a heavy profile barrel that, according to our caliper, measures 1.135″ diameter at the action and tapers down to .925″ diameter at the muzzle. The barrel is 24″ long giving it enough length to maximize velocity yet saving some length and weight by not going with a full 26″. There are 6 large flutes in the barrel to help save some additional weight as well. The McMillan A3 stock is inletted larger than necessary which gives the barrel plenty of room to insure it is free floating and it also makes the barrel channel easier to keep clean and free of potential obstructions. One interesting feature that is not found on most other precision rifles is that the bore is chrome-lined. It is generally accepted that chrome-lining a barrel, unless done correctly, can negatively affect the accuracy of the barrel. FN claims that they have the process mastered, and the .5 MOA requirement seems to confirm that they have, and that the positive effects of a superior barrel life and the ease of maintenance outweigh the difficulty and costs of doing the chrome lining. The FBI required a 10,000 round barrel life without losing the .5 MOA accuracy requirement and the FN was able to pass those tests as well. An older out of production SPR A4 rifle we had on hand here does not have the chrome lined barrel, but checking the current FN catalog shows that all of their current lineup of SPR rifles have the chrome lined bores.
All of the external metal work is finished with a matte black phosphate finish that offers a non-reflective weather protection on the metal work. The finish is uniform over the entire rifle and combined with the OD green color of the stock makes a nice looking tactical rifle. The rifle also comes with a titanium 20 MOA canted base already mounted at the factory which makes scope mounting that much easier. We did take a few minutes to remove some of the spacers on the rear of the rifle to adjust the length of pull to fit us better. With the stock adjusted and the rifle poked and prodded as much as we wanted, it was time to see how the she performed.
For our shooting tests we wanted to use a scope that would be commonly found on a FBI SWAT sniper rifle and we chose the venerable Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50mm LR/T M1 which is one of the more common law enforcement scopes in use today and one that has been used by FBI SWAT sniper teams in the past. We used a set of Nightforce Ultralite titanium alloy rings to match the titanium 20 MOA base that came on the rifle. The scope was leveled, mounted and bore sighted and then we headed out to the range. With the Federal Gold Medal Match ammo still the most commonly used round for law enforcement sniping, we decided to focus our attention on that load, but did bring along a few other HSM loads to test as well. All accuracy tests were conducted over multiple days to try and get a better overall impression of the performance of the rifle, we also left the trigger at the factory setting.
For the short range 100 yard accuracy tests, the shooting conditions were between on 35 and 40 degrees (Fahrenheit) with overcast skies. All tests were fired from the bench with a sand bag up front and a sand sock at the rear of the rifle. We do not clamp the rifles in a vise or other device but rather shoot them as they may be fired in the field. The results of the 100 yard accuracy tests with various loads spanning the several shooting sessions can be seen below:
|Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr||.623″||.519″||.60 MOA|
|HSM 168gr AMAX||.885″||.598″||.85 MOA|
|HSM 175gr HPBT SMK||.960″||.699″||.92 MOA|
|HSM 155gr AMAX||1.091″||.900″||1.04 MOA|
As the results above show, the rifle did like the Federal Gold Medal Match (GMM) ammo the best and it was extremely consistent with the largest group over all the sessions only measuring .770″, though we were not able to match the .17″ size of the test target that shipped with the rifle. In fact, our smallest group (.519″) barely made it under the .5 MOA mark, measuring .496 MOA. While this does in fact meet the .5 MOA standard, it was not by much. The rifle did not perform as well with the various HSM loads and was not nearly as consistent as it was with the GMM. Adjusting the trigger to a good 3 or 3.5 lbs trigger pull would probably help with the accuracy, but even as it is, the rifle was consistent. We brought along the older SPR A4 rifle on one of the days as we needed to zero it for an upcoming write-up and wanted to shoot it alongside the A3G. The only ammo we shot from the A4 was the HSM 168gr AMAX and the second group out of that rifle measure .229″ (.22 MOA). We did not know what to make of it, especially since it is a non-chrome lined barrel and not fully glass bedded. Oh the mysteries of firearms accuracy, who can explain it? The A4 just seemed to like that particular ammo. We do suspect that there is more accuracy in the A3G that will come out with some further break in.
For our long range tests we decided to focus only on the Federal GMM ammo and thought that some 600 yard shooting on a silhouette target would be a good test. We headed out to the longer distant range on a bit colder day that was again overcast. After dialing in the required dope for 600 yards and compensating with a half MOA of left for a slight left to right breeze, the first shot was fired and hit at the three o’clock at about 4 inches. The second shot was right on top of the first. Keeping the same dope, a head shot was attempted and once again, it was three o’clock about 4 inches. A second shot was fired at the head and it hit nearly right on top of the first, just about an inch higher. With an exceptional group going, I held slightly left to try and compensate ever so slightly for the breeze that was picking up more and let the third shot go, where it went right off the right edge of the target, a miss. Looking at the picture below you can see how well the rifle was grouping at 600 yards indicating the rifle does have good long range accuracy. After the miss, a shot was fired holding slightly up from the bottom edge of the target to verify dope and that shot hit true.
The FN SPR A3G rifle as it was adopted by the FBI is still a capable and relevant rifle today. The performance of the rifle is up to standard and is capable of .5 MOA accuracy, though just barely with our new unbroken in rifle. The accuracy continued to be very good at longer ranges, but perhaps the strongest feature of the rifle is its reliability and durability. During the FBI trials FN conducted its own torture tests separate from the FBI and shoot more than 15,000 rounds through a single A3G rifle and not a single part failed and they claim the accuracy was still .5 MOA. The chrome-lined barrel, the McMillan A3 stock, the Phosphate finish, the claw extractor, are all design elements that are there for durability and reliability. Yes, there are a few things that can be improved on the rifle, such as the adjustable cheekpiece that will not stay in place, but as an overall package, it is a solid offering. Beyond just accuracy, a deployable sniper rifle must be reliable in all conditions and for a long period of time. There are other more capable, and expensive, rifles out there, but for an off the shelf rifle the A3G has many excellent features and performs well and it is a good candidate for not only Law Enforcement work, but for long range military sniping as well.