Snowy Mountain Rifles, SMR for short, is a custom rifle builder located here in Missoula Montana and we use their really nice DBM floorplates and have used their services with excellent results. A while back we reviewed their Paladin rifle, which now has a second generation model available, and it performed excellent and we continue to use that rifle for comparison tests and other evaluations due to its consistently good performance. As a custom rifle builder, SMR will put together just about any rifle a customer dreams of and an opportunity arose to allow us to review one of these custom built rifles chambered in 300 Win Mag. The rifle is an older build, about five years ago, but we figured this would provide a good opportunity to check out one of their rifles chambered in the very capable 300 Win Mag cartridge to see if it performed as well as the 308 Paladin rifle that we still use.
Like many of the sniper rifle reviews that we do, this SMR rifle was built per a customer order and as such there is not really a single set of specifications to outline. Additionally, this rifle is a bit older and uses an older SMR action and other things that SMR has changed. So the review will be more about the overall quality of the build and unique features than about a specific model offered by the company. This rifle was ordered by a friend of Sniper Central and we appreciate his willingness to let us run the rifle through its paces here.
The stock used on this rifle is a HS Precision varmint stock finished in black. The buttstock has a fixed cheekpiece with a reasonably high comb, but it is not raised which might cause some problems if a large scope is mounted on the rifle that requires higher scope rings. In those cases a padded cheekpiece may need to be used to raise the head to more easily align it with the scope, or even an adjustable cheekpiece like a Karsten could be added. Of course, it is ideal to keep the scope mounted as low as possible to help with any cheekweld issues. The length of pull on this stock is also non adjustable and there is a good padded recoil pad to help with absorbing some of the recoil from the 300 Win Mag. The finish on the stock is the traditional speckled HS precision finish but the stock has been repainted by SMR with a matte black paint. The speckled finish with matte paint does a good job of providing some gripping surface for your cheek to rest on. Though excessive sweat and facepaint might make it a bit slick at times.
HS precision may not have invented the palm swell, but their stock on the Remington 700P brought palm swells to the attention of tactical shooters. The 700P palm swell is pronounced and thick and can be divisive, some snipers love it, others hate it. Personally I have always liked it as it fills my hand well and allows for good rifle and trigger control. The other interesting thing of note on the 700P rifle stock is that the pistol grip is short, requiring some shooters to curl their pinky under the pistol grip when firing as there is not quite enough room for it on the pistol grip. The HS Precision stock chosen for this custom build is nearly identical to the 700P stock with just a little bit of difference in the forearm area. This means that the pistol grip is the same as on a 700P which includes the palm swells and the shorter pistol grip area. Recognizing these issues, it is still a moderately upright pistol grip that is comfortable and effectively lines the trigger finger with the trigger. HS also makes other stocks with a very tall and near vertical pistol grip that does not have the palm swell for those that so desire, but we are fine with this stock the way it is.
There is a nice cut out around the ejection port and the stock has an even thickness through this area where the action is mounted. HS Precision pioneered the aluminum bedding block system which all their stocks incorporate. This bedding block extends forward from the buttstock up past the front of the action which provides stability and strength. SMR uses CNC machines to inlet the bottom of the stock for their own detachable box magazine floorplate and this inletting is tight and looks very good. In front of the action area the stock widens into a wide semi-beavertail forearm which provides stability when shooting from a rest and a good mounting point for a bipod. This is the one area where this model of stock differs from the 700P stock. This one has a pronounced beavertail where as the 700P stock is just fat all the way around. Both styles work equally as well, but this one may be aesthetically more pleasing to some. There are the standard two sling swivel studs up front and one in the rear and on this rifle they are stainless steel instead of blued.
As we have already mentioned, the finish on the stock is the traditional epoxy painted matte black with speckled texturing to help provide a good grip. The finish that SMR used on this stock is not as matte as what traditional comes from HS Precision and is probably a better fit. The finish on the stock looks good and is functional. Of course, SMR will also build rifles on any of the standard and popular stocks that are out there from the likes of McMillan, Manners, Bell and Carlson and others.
Snowy Mountain Rifles is one of the companies out there that designs and manufacturers their own action that they use on their complete rifle builds. They offer several different models of actions that follow the Remington 700 footprint making them usable in stocks inletted for the 700. Their primary action now is their model 3600, they also offer a few other models beyond the 3600 that include ones tailored for lighter hunting rifles or ones modeled for beefier tactical and target rifles. This rifle used their older standard model 360 action in long action length to fit the 300 Win Mag. Because the actions are designed to be compatible with the 700, the rear tang area is the same as what you would find on the Remington with the standard safety on the right hand side and the same tapered shape of the tang.
You will notice that the bolt handle is a straight bolt that does not angle back toward the shooter, SMR offers both styles on their rifles and actions and the owner elected to use the straight bolt handle. The handle is longer than a traditional Remington 700 bolt handle and it is nicely trimmed to allow scope clearance. All of the SMR bolt handles are threaded and the knobs can be unthreaded and changed out if desired. The knob on this rifle is a larger tactical style knob that also incorporates rubber rings that provide some additional grip, though we are not convinced of their effectiveness. The bolt body on this rifle is fluted with some light fluting, but a different style fluting is used on their most recent rifles. The bolt is made of chrome-moly steel while the action is available in either chrome-moly or stainless steel. For all cartridges except the 223, SMR uses a M-16 style extractor which is a very good design versus the Remington style C-Clip.
The action itself rightfully reminds us of the Remington 700, but machined to much higher tolerances. The top of the rear of the action is fully round, unlike the 700 which is shaved down and more flat, this means Remington 700 scope bases and rails will not work on the SMR action. That should not be a problem since SMR manufacturers their own rails for their actions. The actions are threaded with the larger and more stout 8-40 threading instead of the normal 6-48 mounting screws. The ejection port on this older model 360 action is an enclosed port design instead of the open top like the 700, this provides more rigidity to the action, but does mean the port area is not as open and accessible as on the Remmy. The latest version of the 3600 actions have gone to an open top design like the Remington 700. There is a nice bolt release bottom on the left hand side of the action which allows for easy operation and removal of the bolt. This bolt release button is down on the horizontal access of the action which does interfere with the side of the stock and requires SMR to machine away a bit of the stock to make the bolt release fit, which they have done and is one of the reasons they repaint the stocks.
SMR also has designed and manufactured their own DBM floor metal that is similar in design to others on the market such as Badger Ordnance, Tactical Rifles, and others. It is robust in design and very durable and strong. There is a magazine release lever in front of the wide trigger guard that is easily operated with the trigger finger by pressing it forward. As has become the standard with after market DBMs, it works with the standard Accuracy International AICS magazines. Our test rifle was equipped with a single stack five round magazine, but all the normal 10 rounders and others will work as well. We have used many of these SMR DBM floorplates on Remington 700 builds and can attest that they work well and are well built and durable.
SMR will use just about any after market trigger that is out there for the Remington 700, but this rifle came with a Timney 510 with a wide and curved trigger shoe. We are fans of the Timney triggers and it was nice to see it in use here. According to our trigger scale, the trigger broke right at 3.75 lbs. We usually like a trigger between 3 and 3.5 lbs, but with the clean break of the Timney, we didn’t notice the little bit of extra pull weight.
The barrel is Benchmark stainless steel barrel with 5R rifling and 1:10″ twist. The contour is the standard Remington heavy barrel contour that is found on their 700Ps and varmint rifles. The barrel length is 26″ which is a good length to allow the 300 Win Mag to get some extra velocity for long range work. SMR also uses their own muzzlebrake which was installed on this rifle as well. As is probably evident by now, SMR is a full machine shop and they manufacture just about all of their own parts as needed. The muzzlebrake is flush fitting and threaded to the barrel on 5/8-24 TPI thread specs so it can be removed and a suppressor installed. Of course, all of the standard accuracy improvement measures have been done to the rifle, which includes things such as a thicker and precision ground recoil lug, their own match grade chambering, and other work. The action is already machined to tight tolerances since they manufacture the actions themselves, but they have their own standard procedures that they do for accuracy improvement.
The metal work on this rifle is covered in Cerakoting which SMR also does in house. There are tons of colors available and the customer on this rifle elected to us an OD green color to offset the black of the stock. This rifle came to us from the owner having previously been used so there are some scratch and scuff marks on the cerakoting. Obviously, these are not there when the rifle comes from the SMR shop. The overall appearance of the rifle is very business like and is more in line with a traditional sniper rifle with a traditional style stock instead of the newer chassis oriented designs that have become more popular today. The fit and finish of the rifle is nice throughout and the rifle appears ready for work. With a 26″ barrel and another 2+ inches of length for the muzzlebrake, the rifle can be long when hauling it through the field, but the weight is just a bit over ten pounds which is fairly light for a rifle of this size, this helps offset the length a bit.
For our shooting evaluations we mounted one of our test scopes to the already mounted SMR 20 MOA one piece rail. We opted to use a Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50mm scope with M1 knobs and that was already mounted with a set of Burris XTR aluminum rings. Since the rail was already mounted and the scope was already mounted in the rings, it took about ten seconds to use a T-Handle torque wrench and mount the scope to the rifle. Quick and easy, now it was time to test the rifle out at the range.
300 Win Mag rifles, due to headspacing based on the belted rim instead of the shoulder, can be difficult to make extremely accurate, so we like to try a wide variety of ammo types to see what the rifle likes. For the accuracy tests on this SMR rifle we rounded up a mix of four different types of ammunition that covered a wide range of available long range 300 Win Mag ammunition. The long running standard for 300 Win Mag match ammo has been the military A191, which is the 190gr Sierra Match King bullet launched at 2900 fps. This load is also now known as the Mk248Mod0 in military speak. For our evaluations we like to use the Federal Gold Medal Match version of this ammo, but unfortunately the 300 Win Mag ammo can still be a bit hard to find at times and there was no GMM available for us to use. Instead, we went with Black Hills 190gr for our base ammo. From there we wanted both lighter and heavier weight loads so we used a RAUG Swiss-P 176gr Ball, HSM with a Lapua D46 185gr FMJ and HSM with a 220gr Sierra Match King which is equivalent to the newer military Mk248Mod1 ammo. We felt that this should offer a good mix of both weight and manufacturers of ammo to see how the rifle did.
The weather for the tests was very agreeable with a slightly overcast sky and 53 degree temperatures and a slight 1-4 mph left to right quartering wind. All of the accuracy tests were fired at 100 yards from a bench using a sandbag up front and a sand sock at the rear of the rifle. As is common with all 300 Win Mags, the barrel heats up very quickly so we tried to pace the shooting out to prevent too much heat build up, but we did not completely cool the barrel after individual shots. This barrel heat does cause some mirage to deal with in the scope that we had to work around. The accuracy results are listed below:
|Swiss-P 176gr||0.750″ (0.716 MOA)||0.314″ (0.300 MOA)|
|HSM D46 185gr||1.800″ (1.719 MOA)||1.468″ (1.402 MOA)|
|Black Hills 190gr HPBT||0.891″ (0.851 MOA)||0.687″ (0.656 MOA)|
|HSM 220gr HPBT||1.278″ (1.221 MOA)||1.007″ (0.962 MOA)|
As you can see from the results the rifle really liked the RAUG 176gr Swiss-P Ball ammo. This load is not a screamer as the published velocity is only 2838 fps from the lighter bullet. The first two groups fired with this ammo were large, but then the rifle appeared to settle down and the rest of the groups were much tighter with several groups well under .5 MOA. Unfortunately those first two groups opened the average up. If we threw out those first two groups, the rifle averaged right at .5 MOA which is excellent. The rest of the loads did not perform as well as the RAUG, especially the 185gr D46, which is unfortunate since that load and the 220gr HPBT are hot with excellent long range potential. If the rifle were ours, we would also try some of the other new popular long range loads using the Hornady 208gr AMAX and the Berger 210gr VLD. Many shooters are getting excellent results with those bullets and they work great at extreme ranges.
The recoil on the rifle is very manageable as the muzzlebrake is very effective. Recoil is reduced to about the levels of a normal 308 sniper rifle, perhaps even a bit less. We suffered little shooting fatigue after a long day of shooting. The custom machined action is also very nice and very smooth. Bolt manipulation was excellent and rapid followup shots are well mannered with the reduced recoil and muzzleflip working in conjunction with good bolt operation. The magazine locked easily and positively into place and the rifle fed flawlessly during all of out tests, both from the magazine and while single feeding. Though when the magazine is empty, it would not drop free from the magazine well when the magazine release was pressed, we had to manually grab and remove the magazine. For rapid reloads, we prefer the magazine to drop freely away from the rifle. Another issue we had was with ejection. The extractor worked great, easily grabbing the brass and pulling it from the chamber, but several times we had the brass not clear the ejection port during the ejection process. It appears that it pops out but perhaps hits the rear of the ejection port and bounces back in. The extractor appears to be doing its job, but occasionally it gets a bad bounce. This is one of the reason why the lastest SMR 3600 action has a more open ejection port area with open top and different machining. We are told that this problem has been resolved with the 3600 action.
With the accuracy tests completed it was time to move to our new 300 yard head shot test. This is where we hang a Figure 14 WWII sniper target at 300 yards and then time ourselves with a three shot group fired from the prone (where possible). As you can see from the pictures of the Figure 14 target, there is not a defined aiming point which adds to the challenge, especially when combined with being timed, cycling the bolt, and only having a single opportunity for good results as we do not allow refires. The intent of the test is to provide a means of evaluating the rifle as a whole when operated in the field and the pressure is on. Head targets without defined aiming points at a range of 300 yards stretches the legs of the rifle just a bit, and being timed includes an evaluation of how well the rifle can be brought back on target quickly as well as how quick and easy cycling the bolt is. The goal of the test is to achieve a 1.5 MOA group in under 45 seconds with each of the shots a kill shot on the head. We love to see sub 1 MOA, but due to all the combined factors, that would be considered excellent. With the SMR we elected to use the RAUG Swiss-P 176gr ball ammunition as it performed the best during the 100 yards accuracy tests. We needed to dial in 3.5 MOA of up elevation to bring the impact up to Point of Aim, Point of Impact at 300 yards. We settled in on our slightly elevated shooting platform, put in a click of left on the scope to compensate for a slight left to right wind, and then started the timer. Anytime you are put on the clock the pressure amps up, but the rifle performed very well. We were able to recover from the recoil rapidly, easily cycle the bolt and engage the target all three times. Operationally the rifle was very comfortable and very serviceable. We were able to get off all three rounds in 29 seconds, though I did call one that I had rushed a bit and wasn’t as good as I would have liked. We also didn’t need the click of wind dialed in to the scope as it was a bit left on the target, though they were all still on the head in the kill zone. The group measured 4.554″ inches which is 1.45 MOA. This test was a very solid showing for the rifle.
Overall the rifle performed very well and we enjoyed the experience evaluating its capabilities. We were impressed with SMR’s bread and butter Paladin rifle we reviewed before and this custom built 300 Win Mag further shows what Snowy Mountain Rifles is capable of. The ejection issue is a concern, but one that has been addressed with later actions. Even then, it wasn’t a problem during the 300 yard test. The 300 Win Mag can be a difficult rifle to make super accurate, but the SMR showed great promise and capability. With the right ammo, this rifle is very capable of some long range sniping and with well mannered recoil it can be a very good daily duty rifle as well. We have also been in discussions with SMR and we plan to have a new 3600 custom rifle here for review in the near future in order to see how the latest versions of their tactical rifles perform.
Sniper Central 2016