Steyr of Austria has a long history of being one of the innovators of sniper rifle development and their original SSG-69 is considered one of the first truly modern sniper rifles. When it was introduced in 1969 is had one of the first, if not the first, synthetic stock on a production sniper rifle. It also included other innovative features such as a rotary magazine and unique scope ring mounting system. Unfortunately Steyr no longer produces the SSG-69, but they do have their SSG-04 and SSG-08 sniper rifles. The SSG-04 took the place of the -69 model as their entry model into the tactical sniper rifle category and the SSG-08 is their higher end offering. A few years back we spent some time with the classic SSG-69 PI performing a full review and while it had some shortcomings, we liked the overall usability of the rifle. Since the 69 is no longer a standard offering, we thought it might be good to take a look at the SSG-04 to see if is a suitable replacement for the original.
The old SSG-69 used a hollow fiberglass stock that literally felt like a hollow fiberglass stock. It was still very functional, but it had an interesting feel to it. The newer SSG-04, of which the 04 indicates introduction in 2004, uses a more modern synthetic stock that uses a more traditional for our day, polymer synthetic. The stock design does not share anything in common with its elder brother and is a completely new design and shape versus the -69. A lot has changed in the 35 years between the two rifle designs and it shows.
The SSG-04 continues with the Steyr tradition of adjusting the length of pull via a spacer system, but the recoil pad is now a real recoil pad with about .75″ of padding. The spacer design is also improved with a system that also can adjust the buttpad up or down, which is what the rear locking knob is for located on the right hand side. By loosening the knob the pad itself slides up or down to set it up to fit just right in the socket of the shooters shoulder. This is also how you get access to the screw that keeps the spacer system itself locked in place. This screw is how you remove or add spacers to the stock. While changing of the Length Of Pull (LOP) is not something that is often changed, it is a nice feature to have to adjust the rifle for the perfect fit.
The cheekpiece on the old SSG-69 was not adjustable and as such it would require the use of some sort of addon cheekpiece when utilizing a scope with a larger objective that caused it to be raised a good amount. The SSG-04 resolves this issues by the use of an adjustable cheepiece that uses a single knob to tighten down the cheekpiece at its desired height. Something that is interesting is that the cheekpiece is spring loaded so when you loosen the knob, the cheekpiece springs up to its highest setting. You then press it down to your desired height and hold it there while tightening the knob. It is somewhat unique, but it does work well. The cheekpiece shape is fairly comfortable though it is shorter than most and we felt a bit of a ‘zing’ in our cheek when we would fire, but no soreness or bruising came from it and it was quickly forgotten once we were into the shooting process.
The pistol grip on the stock is canted back toward the rear of the rifle so it is not a vertical pistol grip style. It does have a wider palm area with a moderately deep thumb depression behind it so it fills the hand nicely and is comfortable. On top of the thumb depression and integrated into the rear tang is a very different safety than is found on most rifles. It is a knob that rotates forward and back to place the rifle on safe or fire. The condition of the firearm is indicated by a red dot for fire or a white dot for “safe”. There is also a third position if you rotate the knob past the safe position where a plastic protrusion actually raises up and locks the safety in place. This Also locks the bolt in place providing a three position safety. This would be the desired condition the rifle would be placed in during movement or travel as it locks everything down and the safety cannot unsafely rotate due to the protrusion. The operator has to directly manipulate the safety to make the rifle capable of firing. If the bolt is up when the safety is rotated into this third position, it releases the bolt so it can be pulled straight back and removed from the rifle. It is a good location for a safety as the thumb naturally falls there allowing for minimal amount of hand movement to engage or disengage the safety. The control itself has a positive click and works well.
The trigger guard is molded into the actual stock and is obviously made of the same synthetic material. It is large enough that it provides plenty of room to operate the trigger while wearing gloves. The stock is fairly wide through the action area and a large part of that is due to the incorporation of a double stack ten-round detachable box magazine that is completely surrounded and enclosed within the stock itself. The action is also fairly beefy and wide which the wider stock handles without a problem.
The enclosed magazine well area of the stock extends to just slightly below the depth of the trigger guard and it is fabricated from a stiff injection molded plastic and then attached to the stock and held in place with the two action screws as well as some tabs where it mates to the stock. The plastic is very rigid with stiffeners and there is no flex on the sides of the magazine well which inspires some confidence in its durability. We do wonder how it’ll hold up to bumps and bangs in extreme cold temperatures, but Steyr has marketed these rifles for rugged military and police work so we are assuming these extremes have been tested… it is not something we would want to do to a rifle ourselves.
In front of the magazine well as the stock transitions into the forearm, it slims down in both its width as well as its height on the forearm area. It still provides a semi-flat forearm that provides a solid shooting base when firing from a rest but does remove a significant amount of material from the stock that helps in controlling the weight and improving the portability of the rifle. The forearm is relatively long and there is only a single sling swivel stud, so if you desire to utilize both a bipod and a sling, the sling will need to attach to the bipod or its mount. There are no other provisions for sling attachment points.
The stock has a somewhat plastic feel to it, but the light orange peel style texture provides an okay level of grip, though the finish has a bit of sheen to it with some slickness. The overall design of the stock is pretty good with a nice incorporation of an adjustable cheekpiece and adjustable buttplate as well as an adjustable length of pull via a spacer system. The plastic enclosed magazine well and molded in trigger guard will likely rule out any large number of after market stocks being available for the SSG-04 for future modification, so the rifle will have to stand on the merits of its own stock design when being considered for deployment.
The SSG action is a robust rounded action with a closed top and small ejection port opening. It is not the same action as the SSG-69 and appears to be an all new design, which should not come as a surprise. From the exterior, the action is very unassuming and appears to be just a simple round tube of steel, but of course, there is more to the action than that. The ejection port does have some beveled edges to help with smoothness of ejection and the action comes with a scope rail mounted and ready to go from the factory.
The bolt has some unique features and has a wide bolt body that necks down at the bolt head where there are two lugs and an M-16 style extractor with plunger for extraction and ejection. You will also notice in the picture below the grooves in the bolt body and other protrusions and grooves that all combine to aide in the cycling of the bolt. The cycling of the bolt is smooth, yet the bolt does not have the loose or wobbly feeling that can come from some push feed action designs. Because there are only two lugs, the bolt rotation is about the same as with most other common two lug actions such as the Remington 700 or Mauser. There is a larger, but not large, round bolt knob that is nicely sized to allow easy bolt manipulation with or without gloves. The knob itself also appears to have been dipped in some sort of a thicker epoxy style finish or paint that takes away the cold and slick metal finish if the knob were left just metal.
At the rear of the bolt is a hard plastic shroud that has a rounded boattail shape with a protrusion for a cocking indicator letting the operator know that the firing pin is cocked and ready to fire. The bolt handle extends out away from the action a quarter inch or so before it bends down. When combined with our test scope, a SIG Tango 6 with a large eye piece, the bolt handle would actually rub the power selector ring on the scope a tiny bit when cycling, so be aware of scope eyepiece clearance. We do not know of many other scopes with as large of an eyepiece as the Tango 6 so it should not be an issue for a majority of the scopes on the market. One thing we found a bit cumbersome was actually removing the bolt from the action. With the safety in the bolt remove position you simply pull the bolt back, but it hits the cheekpiece before it gets clear of the action. In order to remove it you have to raise the cheekpiece all the way up and then the bolt can slide back just enough by going under the cheekpiece. At that point it can then be removed. It works, but it is kind of a pain.
Steyr has been doing two-stage triggers for a long long time and it shows in this trigger as it has an excellent feel of quality and smoothness to it. The curved trigger shoe is wide enough to provide a good purchase area for the trigger finger and it appears to be finished in a smooth black anodizing. The first stage weighs only a few ounces and travels about .25″ before the second stage is engaged. Obviously, there is no further take up and it breaks very cleanly at 2.5 lbs according to our trigger scale. There is no real overtravel once the trigger breaks. Typically we prefer about a three pound trigger on a field rifle but with the two-stage design it gives you the extra safety margin as you take up the first stage to determine if you are really ready to take the shot or not. Of course, the trigger is adjustable as well so it can be set to your desired weight.
The magazine is a double stake magazine made of durable polymer that holds ten rounds and fits flush into the deep magazine well. It is released by squeezing the two tabs on either side of the magazine and then pulling it free. For truly rapid magazine changes a release lever and a magazine that will drop freely is preferred, but on a tactical sniper rifle, we are okay with this design as a compromise style. It allows for rapid enough changes but with a required deliberate action by the operator and it also minimizes the possibilities of an accidental mag drop. The two tabs work well with a very positive engagement click when loading the magazine into the mage well and the tabs have a smooth movement and are easy to reach on the rifle. The magazines themselves are blessedly easy to load by loading directly from the top and just pushing the rounds straight down. A much faster, easier and better arrangement than the common AICS magazines used on Remington rifles.
The SSG-04 is available with a 20″ or 23.6″ hammer forged barrel, our rifle has the longer 23.6″ barrel. It is a medium heavy weight barrel that starts off at about 1.16″ in diameter at the action and then quickly tapers down in the first few inches and then maintains a very gradual taper out to the muzzle where it measures .790″ in diameter. As a byproduct of the hammer forging process the barrel has a spiral finish on the exterior that Steyr does not machine or smooth out. Some people like it, others do not, but in reality, it really doesn’t effect the performance or the rifle or barrel. The barrel has a 1:12″ twist which will handle up to the 175gr class of 308 caliber bullets. There is a threaded on three chamber muzzlebrake from the factory to help manage recoil as well.
The metal finish is a matte black finish that Steyr calls Mannox and claims is highly corrosion and wear resistant. It is evenly applied and smooth and does look nice and appears to provide a good protection, and while we did perform out shooting tests in a cold and snowy environment, we have not performed any extensive corrosion tests and will take Steyr’s word that it works well. With the medium weight barrel and somewhat thinner profile stock, the rifle is only moderately heavy at 10.4 lbs without optics. The package is not compact and it was not intended to be, but it is a manageable size for a deployable rifle and yet has the new features expected on a modern sniper rifle. The fit and finish are better than a run of the mill production rifle and it appears to be well designed for tactical use with the fully enclosed magazine well and easy to use controls.
For our shooting tests we mounted a SIG Optics Tango-6 3-18x44mm tactical scope using a set of leupold Mark4 34mm rings. We brought with us four types of ammo for testing, three match grade and as has become our norm as of late, some M80 class ball ammo just to see how rifles perform with some less than match quality cheaper priced ammo. To see how we perform our full rifle tests, take a look at the “how we test” page. The weather was good Montana winter weather with 25 degrees Fahrenheit, a foot of snow on the ground, and a light snow falling with a light 3-5 MPH wind. A good test in semi-harsh conditions of a military grade sniper rifle.
For our 100 yard accuracy tests we brought Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr, Hornady TAP 168gr, HSM M118LR Equiv 175gr, and some Sellier & Bellot M80 147gr ball ammo. The accuracy tests went without any problems, even in the cold, and produced the following results:
|Ammo||Average Group||Best Group|
|Federal GMM 168gr||0.459″ (0.438 MOA)||0.339″ (0.324 MOA)|
|Hornady TAP 168gr||0.754″ (0.720 MOA)||0.449″ (0.429 MOA)|
|HSM M118LR 175gr||0.537″ (0.513 MOA)||0.304″ (0.290 MOA)|
|Sellier & Bellot 147gr||1.080″ (1.032 MOA)||0.306″ (0.292 MOA)|
As you can see, the rifle shot very well in terms of accuracy. All of the ammo, even the M80, shot well and the S&B M80 ball ammo even threw down one very impressive .306″ group. Though as expected that ammo did not do as well on average compared to the match stuff. The Gold Medal Match was extremely consistent and actually averaged below .5 MOA which is very impressive for a factory built rifle. Accuracy is certainly not a problem for the SSG-04.
In terms of shooting impressions, there were a few things of note. First, the rifle fed from the magazine great. It is very smooth and there were no hiccups with feeding from the magazines at all. Single feeding by just setting a round in the chamber on top of an empty magazine was not as smooth unless you insured the round was all the way back, else it would get hung up trying to get into the chamber. But with the ease of loading the rifle with a detachable magazine, we would recommend sticking to solely feeding the rifle with the magazines. Unfortunately, a more serious issue of ejecting was discovered during our tests. The extraction was no problem as the extractor worked great, but we discovered that with the ejection of the empty brass on occasion the empty case would not eject clear of the ejection port and it would fall back into the action and you would have an empty piece of brass hanging out of the ejection port, much like a “stove pipe”. When you then go to close the bolt, sometimes it’ll push the empty stove piped case out of the ejection port, but sometimes it does not and you have a feeding problem. Slow bolt manipulation with a finger extraction for ultimate covert cycling is also difficult with the SSG-04 because of the small ejection port.
The recoil was moderate as it did have a muzzlebrake, but the brake design is not as effective as some others. The first chamber of the brake actually is pointed forward and out to the sides and not rearward as some brakes do. The second and third chambers point directly 90 degrees out to the sides. This design is not as effective at reducing recoil, but it does direct the gases and sound more toward the sides instead of back in the shooters and spotters faces. The recoil is less than a rifle without a brake, but more than other rifles with more effective brake designs, and it certainly did not appear to hurt accuracy at all.
For our 300 yard head shot test we elected to use the very consistent Federal Gold Medal Match ammo and then setup our Figure 14 sniper’s head target and loaded our three rounds into the magazine. We dialed in 4.5 MOA of up elevation and fired a sighter to be sure all was good. We then fired the test for record. The purpose of this test is to test some medium range capability of the rifle in a rapid fire style engagement that tends to exaggerate shortcomings in the rifle and identifies the overall usability of the rifle under stress fire. As the test is designed to do, it made it abundantly clear of the one shortcoming of the SSG-04 that we already discussed… we had a failure to fully eject after the second round. This then took time and effort to clear and then reacquire the target and fire the final round. This slowed down our time results to 31 seconds, but we made an effort to be deliberate with our aiming and as we went down to check the target, our efforts were rewarded with an outstanding 1.160″ (0.369 MOA) group centered almost perfectly between the eyes at 300 yards. We cannot complain at all about the accuracy of the rifle, it is fantastic.
Overall, the rifle is well thought out but with a couple of minor issues like removing the bolt and we would rate it high if we did not have the more serious ejection issues. If any of our readers have a SSG-04 we would love to hear if you experience the same ejection problem or if it is something unique to our rifle. Other than that, the performance was very good and the rifle is setup well for military and or law enforcement use. A .5 MOA rifle with a well integrated 10 round detachable box magazine that is comfortable to shoot and easy to setup for any shooter for about $2000 is a good deal, but it also needs to function under all conditions when you really need it to.
Sniper Central 2017