Field Testing Rifles: What journalists should be doing?

TokkieM

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I am not a journalist, I don’t get paid to run tests on rifles and I don’t get paid by any hunting/shooting related publication to fill their glossy pages. I am first and foremost a hunter, then a rifle lover and last but not least a Professional Hunter. I appreciate a beautiful rifle as much as any true hunter does, the perfect fit, balance and feel of a good rifle never gets old, it becomes reassuring and familiar, building trust that never wears down even if the bluing on the barrel does.

I have for 30 years read reviews on new rifles coming from various manufacturers and published by various publications, if you take away the rifle brand name you basically wind up with a generic test created by either the manufacturers or some journalist years ago. All of them describe metal to wood finish ( these days metal to plastic is more common) all of them sing the praises of how well the rifle looks or fits and how nice the trigger is set and how easy it was to fit a scope and get zeroed. Then the standard grouping test and scope repeatability test follow, if the journalist has the opportunity he will then take the rifle and hunt something to prove that the rifle ,scope and ammo are very effective and worth buying. They often end the article by stating “If I was looking for a new rifle this is what I would consider” or “I called them up and said I am not sending the rifle back”. I have only ever come across two articles that criticized a rifle properly and both were what I would consider a fair evaluation of a top end rifle. I am not going to mention rifles brand names, I am also not going to argue the advantages of push feed versus control feed, as far as my opinion on that never ending debate is concerned I will have a push feed rifle in any caliber right up to the but not including the .30 Magnum calibers, after that it’s a control feed for me, to each his own, I have seen both types work and both types fail at times.

What I would like to share my opinion on is the test and evaluation methods used by journalists, manufacturers and the average hunter or shooter out there. I honestly believe what is seen as the standard evaluation method used by them is as useless as a high power scope on a catapult. Your rifle of choice is up to you, including caliber, method of feeding, stock material and metal finish, there are few rifle manufacturers who build true all round rifles these days, and if they do, the shooter or hunter often screws it up by fitting the wrong optics. I use the term all round rifle in the sense that it is a rifle and not caliber that you can use for any type of hunting situation you may choose, close up in the offhand position, over a rest for a longer shot and to hit a fast moving target, this includes any weather and terrain you may encounter while doing so, caliber choice should obviously be sensible. Here is my take on what an evaluation test should be for this type of rifle.

1. Reliability testing.

No rifles fail this test when done the way journalists currently go about it. Feeding a rifle under controlled circumstances from a bench is useless and serves no purpose. The very first test I conduct on a new rifle is by no means conclusive but goes a long way to evaluating the reliable feeding of the rifle. This is my normal initial test, unpack the rifle and clean it, remove all lubricants from the action and if possible remove the firing pin and reassemble the bolt without it. Test feed every round you will use before moving on to the next phase, this eliminates ammunition error. Fill the magazine with a bullet type renowned for its poor feeding abilities, normally a flat nose bullet, or a very long for caliber bullet. Insert the magazine into the rifle, if I can, I put the rifle in a vice or something similar otherwise I put it onto a rifle cleaning station making sure I do not limit the bolt operation. I then work the bolt as fast as I can, closing it on push feed rifles, no need to close it on a control feed rifle. I repeat the test several times before I even consider going to the range.

As for hunting reliability, it can only be tested over time and under hunting conditions, dust, sand, rain and snow are their own tests and one outing does not make a rifle reliable. I do however think there should be some kind of pressure test for the shooter and rifle, shoot against time or make it physically harder, simple things like bolt handle position and size are fine from the bench, but play havoc under pressure shooting conditions. Sometimes just gripping the bolt in a different way puts torque in a different direction and freezes up a normally smooth bolt.


2. Accuracy

I have a simple test here, if you shoot anything under 25mm/1 inch from the bench, the rifle is plenty accurate enough for hunting, if you are shooting a big bore anything up to 50mm/2 inches is good enough, all at 100 meters off course. This type of accuracy should however be tested with at least 3 brands of ammunition, they should include dirt cheap ammunition as well as the premium brands, forget about hand loads, hand loaders will find their own dope for a rifle anyway.


3. Shoot ability/Fit

Any rifle journalist should be a capable shooter, capable to me means hitting a 6 or 8 inch target shot for shot from the offhand position at 100 meters or yards. If the magnification on the scope is greater than 3X it should be a 6 inch target, if it is lower or no magnification the target should be 8 inch, 4 shots should be fired within 20 seconds. If he really cannot hit these from the offhand position he should not be evaluating rifles! I am an average shooter with average ability and if I can do it so can they. Why the offhand position? Simple, how do you know a rifle is barrel heavy or butt heavy if you only shoot it off the bench, how do you know if the balance is nice and even between your hands or way out there on the tip of the barrel. Does the rifle/scope combination make it easy to pick up the target and shoot (fit) or is my cheek floating in the air because of a too large objective lens or too low a cheek piece? Does the silencer upset the balance of the rifle, or do low mounted scopes get in the way of the bolt? Is the bolt knob situated to close to the stock for a sure grip and fast bolt throw? Does the “crisp” trigger now feel like a truck handbrake making you throw shots right (right handed shooter), which it did not do at the bench? Can I operate the bolt without having to move my head? Can I reload without bringing down the rifle or can I remove the magazine while holding the rifle in the ready position and will a empty magazine drop free, can the safety be manipulated from the shooting position? Will a female shooter find the bolt operation easy and smooth? These are the questions I want answers to, not how nice the box was it came in.

Don’t tell me how well the scope fits on the rifle, tell me what the compromise or trade off’s are when I fit that particular scope, does it unbalance the rifle, is my cheek weld spot compromised, does it make bolt operation difficult?


4. General

Use a rifle to determine a baseline, something you will measure the test rifle against head to head, a middle of the mill rifle e.g. Remington or Tikka T3. Use the same scope on every rifle you test, scopes can have and should have different evaluation tests.

If a new cheaper rifle is launched or sent for evaluation I do not want to know that it’s a good rifle for what I am paying! I want to know what the manufacturer did to cut cost and if they cut some corners to make it cheaper! If a rifle action is a bit “rough” why don’t they call a spade a spade and say poorly finished or polished! Please make a effort and completely disassemble a rifle before making a statement like saying the general finish was good, because most rifles have areas that are poorly finished once completely disassembled.

If a stock is too long or too short or poorly checkered I want to know these things, not that the ergonomics will fit an average person! Take the rifle to a shooting competition or simulate real hunting conditions, if possible put it through its paces in a shooting simulator, fire at least 100 rounds through the rifle before writing your findings.

One seldom mentioned fact in these articles is client satisfaction and manufacturer service levels, surely with all the information available someone should know. I would also like the average journalist to stop using the phrase “ these rifles are used by most Professional Hunters in Africa” or “ Reputation build in Africa” the truth is most rifles used by Professional Hunters in Africa are as diverse makes as can be, you illustrate a complete lack of knowledge by doing this. The only common thing most of their rifles have in common is that they are control feed and live a hard life.


Hunters and shooters are the ones that buy magazines and rifles, not journalists and sometime sooner or later hunters and shooters need to up the game and insist on some useful information and unbiased reviews. Gone are the days of truthful and insightful journalism if we don’t start insisting on suitable information. I only have to open a magazine from the 1980’s to see that the evolution of rifle testing has nothing but deteriorated and has become a watered down advertising campaign to compliment glossy advertisements and generate advertising income.

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Pheroze

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Some very interesting and useful insight here, thanks! You hit the nail on the head as most gun reviews tell you nothing other than some chap had the opportunity to shoot someone else's gun.
 

BRICKBURN

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.......... most gun reviews tell you nothing other than some chap had the opportunity to shoot someone else's gun.

Exactly.
 

James.Grage

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I recently read where a gun manufacture took to court, a person who wrote a negative review on one of their products. If a gun journalist were to write a negative review on a rifle, they will find them self out of a job.

While it is nice to do some research on rifles before purchasing them. I try to find someone who owns one to ask them questions.

As far are cheap to real expensive rifle they can all have the same issues. Some custom rifle will not shoot out of the box. The reason i read for the custom made rifles not working , was the gun smith did not think it was going to ever be fired...

some of the same goes for scopes a person is interested in purchasing....
 

greyfox

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Manufacturers advertise in gun and hunting magazines, Advertisment pays the bills,
There used to be a short pamphlet from GUN TESTS, the did not advertise, they bought a gun off the shelf and ran it through paces and reported how that particular weapon performed, good, bad, and ugly.
 

Nyati

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About thirty years back, I tested two rifles from the same manufacturer, one in .375HH, which shot like a dream, and another in .270 which just did not group.

That´s what I wrote, and the editor refused to print. He was more concerned about advertising revenue.

They were either BSA or Parker Hale, I just can´t remember.
 

TokkieM

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That is the problem I have with todays rifle tests, they are nothing but paid for advertising campains. Manufacturers have become pretty clever, "press rifles" are gone through pretty well before the press even lay a hand on them, some are not even close to the standard quality they deliver.
I have put a few magazines and manufactors on my sh@t list, wont buy them or support them in anyway shape or form.
The problem is that we have let the scale slip into the factories favour, hunters and shooters should be the ones magazines cater for, not factories. I have no trust in a rifle review today, nothing. I have broken some " unbreakable" rifles too often to trust anyones opinion that makes a living writting about rifles instead of making a living useing a rifle or living because he can use a rifle.

Would love to see some independant side by side torture or long term testing of common makes and models.
 

Nyati

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You are right hunthardsafaris, but economics is the problem, as in most things in life. Without advertising magazines cannot survive, so they disguise facts, some more than others, but all do it.
 

Mekaniks

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That is the problem I have with todays rifle tests, they are nothing but paid for advertising campains. Manufacturers have become pretty clever, "press rifles" are gone through pretty well before the press even lay a hand on them, some are not even close to the standard quality they deliver.
I have put a few magazines and manufactors on my sh@t list, wont buy them or support them in anyway shape or form.
The problem is that we have let the scale slip into the factories favour, hunters and shooters should be the ones magazines cater for, not factories. I have no trust in a rifle review today, nothing. I have broken some " unbreakable" rifles too often to trust anyones opinion that makes a living writting about rifles instead of making a living useing a rifle or living because he can use a rifle.

Would love to see some independant side by side torture or long term testing of common makes and models.

I guess that is one of the reasons that pages such as AH have become popular. We can get real world unbiased (not paid for) reviews of products from a large cross section of people around the world who use them in real situations under real conditions and hopefully give accurate evaluations
 

TokkieM

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@Mekaniks I hear you, AH is a bottomless pool of knowlage:W A Rifle:. You unfortunately still have gentleman who will never admit that their rifle has a problem, sometimes they dont even know about it until someone else handles it or points it out. Then you have (example only) CZ vs Rem gentleman and neither would admit a problem to the other.
Some guys work a gun nice and easy and some(myself) try and make it fail everytime I take it out to the range. Broken bolt knobs, busted safeties, failure to feed, or eject, ripped up brass, and broken bolt guides are common for me after the first 10 range sessions. Yet you will never see me handle a rifle like I want to break it, I just work them hard and if they dont last, they are not worth owning. Unlike any other industry rifle makers dont give away their info when it comes to rifles sent back for repair within the 1st year of ownership or for the duration of the warranty period. I have sent back 3 new rifles before even going to the range.

I dont bad mouth the make, I simply do not support them and will advise against buying them:V Knife: Rifles are not getting cheaper and I for one have come to the conclussion that in the longterm it is better to own one my kids can one day shoot, so I make darn sure they will have one that I could not break:D

There is no easy way out, I just dont buy or advertise or support any publication that cant be straight up, so now I buy far less magazines every month;)
 

sestoppelman

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I used to do this for a while. I was for about 5 years writing, mostly review type articles for Gun World, some for Small Arms Review and a couple of other compilation type books and magazines. All in all about 30 pcs published. Its not much but its about 30 more than most hunter/shooters. I eventually (apparently!):eek: fell out of favor with some of the editors and finally gave it up without too much remorse. As to how we approached the subject, this of course will vary somewhat depending on who is doing the article. The editor at the time at Gun World was a very smart guy, and I believe an honest one. There were a couple of times I had problems with a loaner gun and asked his advice on how to handle it. He told me to be honest and list problems, but to not hammer the maker and if possible give them a chance to fix the issue or submit a replacement that hopefully would not fail. One gun I got for review failed in some way, I have forgotten how now, I sent it back for repair and never saw it or a replacement again:(. Another a major maker, had a safety that would engage every time the gun fired.:notworthy: They at least did offer to take it back for another gun but as I was confident of finishing the review safely, I just kept shooting it. I did write up the safety issue in the pc and further wrote that the company had offered another but I had chosen not to bother. Don't try to color all gunwriters as mere shills for gun makers, it just aint so. Some try harder than others to be honest in the review no doubt, I tried. But there is also no doubt that most of the gun glossies spill most of their ink on review type articles and of course its all very much about advertisers. I was told on more than one occasion when I broached an idea to various editors that one company or another "doesn't advertise with us", thus lots of ideas were turned down for that reason. Editors are a strange bunch of guys. When the new editor at GW came along, we tried at first to get along, but when he allowed himself to be run roughshod over by the advertising dept over not running a piece he promised to print for me, we locked horns and if we had been in the same room, I imagine blood would have spilled. Needless to say that ended my stint with them!:rolleyes: The advertise boys had told him my piece was about a rifle that could not be found at any gun stores and was thus unsuitable to write about!:mad: In other words, no advertiser, no article. That's kind of how it is now. But again, don't lump all the writers together, some are better than others and its more about the magazines policy than the writer.
 

TokkieM

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@sestoppelman, thanks for your input(y)
I am sure there are guys out there that do wha they can to give a honest oppinion about the rifles they test. As mentioned above I have only ever seen two reviews in which a rifle was slammed.
I dont just disagree with what is written about the rifles, but also in the way they are tested. As an example I will refer to a review of a 458Lott by a "well traveled" writter. He carried on singing the merrits of the maker and how the rifle was smooth and extremely reliable etc, I know for a fact that more than 90% of those rifles have major feeding and other issues, I owned two before I gave up on them.
As you rightly say, its about advertising and money now, gone are the days of true journalism and honesty:(
 

sestoppelman

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The editor at Gun World once wrote on his Back Page piece that calling gunwriters "journalists" was basically folly.:LOL:
 

Steve Steyr

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Check out the magazine "Gun Tests". No ads; guns bought, paid for, and tested by the staff, which includes Ray Ordorica, a big time double rifle guy. Also, they test more than just new rifles, handguns, and shotguns. I've subscribed for several years.
 

ZG47

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@hunthardsafaris

I agree with you.

There was a gun writer in New Zealand called Graham Henry, who passed away in 2002. If you have an older copy of Cartridges of the World you might know him as the first person to build and use a .338 Lapua Magnum hunting rifle, which he took up to the Wanganui area for some long range goat control! I suspect that he reverted to the .30-06 and 270 Win. for most of his alpine shooting after that. Graham was a keen hunter who used iron sight and scoped rifles in and also competed at our local NRA range out to 1,000 yards. He was a talented mechanical engineer who knew which jobs to leave to a gunsmith and was very good with new hunters.

Graham's reviews and specialist articles for NZ Rod and Rifle were honest and reliable. He called a spade a spade without being nasty about it. When Remington brought out their Viper .22lr semi-auto, several years before the M597, the local importer sent him a review sample and he told them that the kindest thing he could for them was not to write a review of it.

A newer magazine, NZ Guns & Hunting, published a flattering review but the Viper was such a piece of rubbish that the word got around very quickly and it disappeared from the market. They also gave a nice review for the M597 which, in my estimation, was released about six months too early, due to the impending release of Ruger's .22WMR version of the 10-22. I purchased a 597 and had to send it back three times, with accompanying documentation, on each occasion, of my experiences with that rifle, before they would replace it. Even then, I still had issues with some of the magazines!

Give me an honest gun writer, and an editor with integrity, every time and yes ... I finally gave up on NZ Guns and let my subscription lapse.
 
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375 Ruger Fan

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I frequent 5 online gun writers:
1. Realguns.com
2. ChuckHawks.com
3. RandyWakeman.com
4. Gunblast.com
5. Hickok45 (Youtube)

All are free websites, informative and often fit the description of "Never met a gun they didn't like." However, from time to time they will call out a gun maker and critize a lousy trigger or a poor fit and finish. Chuck Hawks and Randy Wakeman are probably the most critical (ie, honest, blunt, direct, opinionated). I actually think gun manufacturers pay these guys to write nice articles, Ruger in particular.

Joe D'Alessandro, the editor/writer at Realguns, probably does the best job of taking a gun apart, showing lots of photos of the inner workings and then tests for accuracy with a large number of factory and hand loads.
 

Pheroze

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Field & Stream and Chuckhawks both wrote nice things about the Rem 798. After a new trigger and some other work I wrote nice things too :unsure:.....but this failure to write objectively is not limited to gun writers. Being too close to an industry seems to have a warping effect.
 

Hank2211

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Field & Stream and Chuckhawks both wrote nice things about the Rem 798. After a new trigger and some other work I wrote nice things too :unsure:.....but this failure to write objectively is not limited to gun writers. Being too close to an industry seems to have a warping effect.
Agree absolutely. Every time you read a gun review in a magazine, the odds are that the manufacturer advertises in that magazine. Why would an editor run a negative review? Readers won't know, and he'd lose an advertiser. I know it's easy to say gun writers should be honest and write what they truly think (come on, not every gun is perfect). The economics of magazines are such that losing advertisers is the best way to go out of business.

So we have a conflict. How do we resolve it?

I would suggest that once a year, every magazine which has reviewed guns would be forced to rank those guns from top to bottom (I won't say best to worst!). No ties allowed. "Value" would be an integral part of the assessment - just like comparison reviews of cars in auto magazines. This way a rifle costing a few hundred dollars won't be disadvantaged against one costing a few thousand dollars. The car magazines have done this for decades, and car manufacturers still advertise in their magazines because their used to the format, and they know it's the best way to reach car nuts. Should be the same with guns.

The beauty of this system is that reviews would actually serve the two purposes they should serve - they should allow buyers (who don't get to buy a gun and then take it back after putting hundreds of rounds through it) to select a better gun, and they should give manufacturers the incentive to improve their products.
 
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