Here at Sniper Central we are fans of not only the current modern day equipment used by snipers and long range shooters, but we are also students of the history of sniping. As a part of the history of sniping, we love to spend time learning about classic sniper rifles throughout the years and we continue to review the classic rifles whenever we get a chance. This time around we had the unique opportunity to conduct a full evaluation of one of the old Winchester Custom Classic Sharpshooter rifles. These rifles have not been made for about 20 years and this review was made possible by one of our loyal readers who allowed us to test his own personal rifle.
Back in the 1990’s all of the major rifle manufacturers had their own custom shops and you could place an order for a custom built rifle from the Winchester, Remington, Savage and other custom shops. As most of you know, the Winchester Arms company was actually shuttered by FN, their owner, and they quit building rifles for about a decade. As a part of that shut down, the custom shop obviously went away and so did the Custom Classic Sharpshooter rifles.
The Classic Sharpshooter rifles were a bit unusual in that while they were order and built by the Winchester custom shop, they were only available one way and could not be ordered with the custom features you would normally find with a custom build. There were two generations of the Classic Sharpshooter rifles and they differed in a few areas between the first and second generation rifles. All of the Classic Sharpshooter rifles came with a .5 MOA accuracy guarantee from the factory and the one we are reviewing here is chambered in 308 Winchester with a 24″ barrel with 1:12″ RH twist and six lands and grooves.
This rifle is one of the second generation Custom Classic Sharpshooter rifles known as the Classic Sharpshooter II which utilized a HS Precision stock instead of the McMillan stocks that were found on the first generation rifles. The stock is a traditional HS Precision stock made with their now very familiar kevlar, fiberglass and carbon fiber synthetic materials. There is a moderately sized recoil pad on the butt end of the rifle and the stock has a high cheekpiece to help align the eye with the scope and also drop the line of recoil a little more inline with the shoulder to help reduce muzzleflip. The cheekpiece is a straight cheekpiece and does not have a raised comb which allows the stock to fit nicely when in the prone position.
The pistol grip is a tall vertical pistol grip with plenty of room for the entire hand and is nicely contoured to allow high levels of comfort and to nicely align the trigger finger with the trigger. The pistol grip does have the standard HS Precision palm swells which fill the hand fully and while some people find them too obtrusive, I have always liked them. Above the pistol grip there is a depression to allow the shooting hand thumb to rest behind the tang and while it is not as contoured as some other stock designs, it is not uncomfortable. The stock is ambidextrous, meaning that it can be shot left handed without any comfort issues even though the rifle and bolt itself are right handed.
The rear tang area of the action is a traditional Winchester model 70 tang that extends back longer than a Remington 700 tang. Since the safety is located on the bolt shroud there is only the bolt release control on the left hand side of the tang. That safety is the common three position safety that has been found on countless number of Winchester model 70’s through the years. With the swing lever pressed all the way forward the rifle is in fire, with it half way back and extended out perpendicular to the bolt, the rifle is on safe but the bolt will cycle allowing the operator to safely unload the rifle if needed. With the safety swung all the way back to the rear it locks everything down preventing the bolt from cycling or the trigger from firing. It is a traditional setup, and very effective.
We all know the story of the Winchester model 70 and how in 1964 they changed from the beloved Mauser style claw feed extractor (control round feed) and then switched to the cheaper to manufacture push feed design like the Remington 700. Decades later, Winchester reintroduced the claw extractor as a separate version of the rifle and even marketed it as a “Pre-64” style. The first version of the Classic Sharpshooter used the push feed design while the Classic Sharpshooter II that we have here used the claw extractor version of the action. Yes, the claw extractor ads some other parts into the action that keep them from being as smooth as a push feed design, but this one is well made and very smooth as it is. I would venture to guess that the custom shop spent some time polishing the actions when they put these rifles together and even then, the positive feeding and extracting that the Pre-64 design allows more than makes up for any increased resistance when cycling the bolt, if there is any.
The bolt itself is stainless steel and all pre-64 fans will find everything that they love right where it is supposed to be. The bolt handle is obviously bent down for scope use and slanted back as is normal on modern production rifles today. The bolt knob is not large, but is nicely sized and round and has some nice knurling on it to help with bolt control in all conditions. The claw extractor is obvious to see in the picture below and works exactly as designed and easily fulfills expectations for its reputation while in use. There are some markings on the bolt shroud to indicated the safety position, but it is difficult to see while behind the rifle. Though the safety operation is intuitive and any operator will quickly adapt without the need of a visual indicator as to the condition of the rifle.
The action itself is standard Winchester model 70 and unfortunately we do not know the extent of action truing that went into building these custom rifles beyond a advertising tag line that said they were hand fitted and honed. We imagine it was the normal blue printing and squaring up of the action face, lapping various lugs and other things as they put the rifles together. If any of you readers know in detail what work was performed by the custom shop we would love to know in order to document it here. From our observations, everything appears to be nicely fitted and precisely made. This rifle came with a scope and scope base mounted, which is a period correct single piece base before picatinny rails came into use, and we left that base in place on the rifle for the review.
The rifle has a standard 5 round internal box magazine with a hinged floorplate. The Winchester floorplate is very nice as it is machined out of stainless steel and not cheap pot metal or aluminum alloy. There is a protrusion in front of the trigger guard that is the hinged floorplate lock and release mechanism and it operates by pressing it in which will then release the hinged floorplate, emptying the internal magazine. The entire floorplate is very well made and designed and it is obvious why the USMC chose to go through the trouble of adapting a Winchester steel floorplate for use on their Remington 700 M40A1 rifles in the 1970s.
The trigger on the Customer Sharpshooter has a nice wide trigger shoe with vertical ribs to provide a great trigger feel, but what is more important is how the trigger actually functions. According to our trigger gauge, the trigger breaks very clean at a very consistent 3 lbs. There is no noticeable takeup, slack or overtravel. It is very clear that this trigger has been worked over by the custom shop during the build and it is excellent! We really could not find much to comment about in regards to the trigger.
The forearm of the stock is fairly deep and has a beavertail style wide forearm for extra stability. There are two sling swivel studs up front to accommodate both a bipod as well as a separate sling if so desired. The forearm is not completely flat on the bottom so it handles a traditional Harris bipod mount very well and the wide beavertail makes for a stable platform when using sandbags or other rests. The entire stock has a very matte black finish that is commonly found on HS Precision stocks and the speckle style texture provides an excellent gripping surface as well.
The Schneider barrel is a straight taper, very heavy contour, perhaps a #8, and made of stainless steel and is 24″ long. When looking at the eleven degree recessed target crown on the barrel it is obvious that it was custom machined and done with care. The barrel is free floated the entire length of the barrel and as was common for that period of time, there is no muzzlebrake or threading for a suppressor.
All of the stainless steel surfaces are bead blaster to provide a matte finish, but they are still bare steel which obviously can provide a tactical problem considering how bright it is. The Sharpshooter I had matte bluing on the metal surfaces, but not the Sharpshooter II. This is where some spray paint or other higher quality finish, such as cerakote, could be applied to the rifle. Hydrodipping could also be done if the operator wanted a complete uniform finish on the rifle. As a whole the rifle is somewhat simplistic by today’s standards as there is no muzzle devices, no detachable box magazine, and the stock is fixed and non adjustable. But that simplicity is part of the rifle’s charm and character. It has all the right features and nothing more and we hoped to see some excellent performance from this classic rifle as well.
For our tests we elected to use the Leupold Ultra Mark 4 10x40mm fixed scope with M3 knobs and mildot reticle that arrived mounted to the rifle. This is the exact scope that is found on the original M24’s and it makes an excellent period correct companion accessory for this rifle. This is a scope that would have likely been used on a rifle like this in the 1990s before all of the current crop of fancy tactical scopes had come around. We knew the fixed 10x magnification would leave some of the ultimate performance of the rifle on the table when conducting the accuracy tests as a higher magnification is usually beneficial when attempting to get the tightest groups out of a rifle. But having the rifle configured the way it likely would have been in the 1990s is a more desirable option for us when performing these classic rifle reviews. Doing this allows us to get a real feel for how the rifle would have performed in its own day. The scope was mounted using an old set of semi-tactical rings on the aforementioned one piece base.
If you are not familiar with the way we test our rifles, please take a moment to read our how we test page to read about the details. For the Classic Sharpshooter we brought four different factory ammunition loads with us to the range that would cover a good range of available 308 ammo. Of course we always bring Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr as it has been the long time defacto standard of law enforcement sniping. We also brought some Hornady Tactical Application Police (TAP) 168gr which is a load specifically designed for Law Enforcement Purposes and loaded to a faster 2700 fps than standard match ammo. To cover the Military side, we used some HSM M118LR equivalent ammo with the 175gr Sierra Matchking bullet loaded in military brass and launched at 2600 fps. Finally the fourth loads was some Fiocchi 150gr M80 ball ammunition which we like to use to see how some lower quality, but affordable surplus style ammunition would perform. The accuracy tests were fired on a sunny, but chilly day. The temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit with little to no wind and the results of our 100 yard accuracy tests are listed below:
|Ammo||Average Group||Best Group|
|Federal GMM 168gr||0.551″ (0.526 MOA)||0.296″ (0.283 MOA)|
|Hornady TAP 168gr||0.876″ (0.837 MOA)||0.796″ (0.760 MOA)|
|HSM M118LR 175gr||0.915″ (0.874 MOA)||0.700″ (0.669 MOA)|
|Fiocchi M80 150gr||N/A (N/A)||3.794″ (3.624 MOA)|
As the results indicated, the rifle really preferred the Federal Gold Medal Match over the other loads. With that load, the rifle nearly averaged .5 MOA which is exceptional, even by today’s standards. The rifles carried a .5 MOA accuracy guarantee from the factory and it was obvious that this rifle was able to achieve that standard. The best group of the day was a very nice .296″ group which clearly shows the potential of the rifle. The group sizes opened up a bit for both the TAP and M118LR ammunition, but they both averaged under 1 MOA and the Hornady TAP was extremely consistent in its group sizes. You will notice with the M80 ammunition that the results are incomplete. After we fired the first group, which measured 3.794″, we determined it was of no value to continue firing groups with that ammo. The rifle was not going to like it whether we shot one group or twenty, so we stopped and moved on. Due to the impressive performance with the GMM ammunition, we elected to use that ammo for our 300 yard head shot test to evaluate the overall handling qualities and capability of the rifle with the three round rapid fire test. We were especially curious how this rifle and scope combination would perform as a complete system as it would be a good test of 1990’s capability in a simulated combat environment.
The recoil of the Sharpshooter was obviously more brisk than a sniper rifle with a muzzlebrake, but it was very manageable as the large, thick barrel helps to tame the recoil and keep muzzle rise to a minimum. The recoil pad and the center line of the barrel being aligned fairly low in the stock also helped to tame muzzle flip and these worked to the advantage of the rifle during this test. Additionally the very positive feeding and extraction from the internal magazine using the claw extractor of the Pre-64 Winchester action was of signification advantage for speed and bolt manipulation. There was never a hiccup during all of our tests and this precision allowed for a very respectable 21 second engagement time for the three head shots at 300 yards in our test. At 300 yards the 10x magnification of the scope certainly hurt the accuracy a little on the nondescript head target, but that is the purpose of this test and why we do it. As you can see in the picture above, it did not hurt the accuracy too much as the 3.722″ (1.185 MOA) group was nicely centered on the kill zone. We all concurred that a 21 second rapid fire 1 MOA group at 300 yards with a 10x scope was impressive and showed great capability for this classic rifle.
Honestly, doing these classic rifle reviews at Sniper Central is one of our favorite tests to perform. We are eager students of the history of sniping and to be able to get our hands on some of these rare and unique pieces brings great joy to us. What is our final conclusion with the Customer Classic Sharpshooter? As you might have figured, we are impressed and delighted with the package. It is a 1990’s sniper rifle that is simple with few of the modern features of today, but it is very capable, comfortable to shoot, and not too bulky. So to give it a final score I guess we will answer this question: If it came down to having to take this rifle into combat, would we do it? That turned out to be an easy answer. We would quickly grab a can of spray paint, throw the rifle in the drag bag, and get to work.
Sniper Central 2017