Field Testing Rifles: What journalists should be doing?

Rob404

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I don't know if I ever bought a gun strictly based on an on-line gun review, most of my purchases have been made on past experience with the particular brand, actual range testing or word of mouth from experienced hunters,
 

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Mine have mostly been based on either personal experience (which failed me when a brand new Rem 700 XCR II wouldn't function out of the box), since the last Rem 700 I had bought previously was in the 80s, or online reviews (real guns) or forums. My two cents is almost all of the gun writer's test rifles for accuracy, none of them test function, which for a DGR is paramount. This isn't the case with handguns, they do test for function. Thank God I have an excellent gunsmith within driving distance. Since myself and my sons all have 270s and big bores I'm out of the rifle market except for a 50 BMG, which will be a "just for fun" gun, unless the zombie apocalypse arrives.
 

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Tokkie you obviously put a great deal of time and effort into this thread. I want to thank you for sharing your insight.
 

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Well conceived thoughts Tokkie, thanks for sharing them. I typically buy a rifle with the thought that I'll be sending it to the Gunsmith to make it right. Therein is another area of concern. I've been thru quite a few gunsmiths, who all seem to have so much work they don't care about making things right.
 

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One reason I want to feel the rifle and prefer to shoot at least one before buying.

As far a scope fit. That is often the fault of the idiot buying the wrong scope for a certain rifle and its intended use. I tell people to test the fit of the rifle and the scope to hold the rifle low, close your eyes, quickly lift the rifle to your shoulder, then open your eyes. If you have to move your head to see correctly thru the scope then the scope is placed wrong. It may need moved forward/back, placed lower(usually) or even higher. You may need one with a smaller Objective lens---this is often the case with 50-56mm lens.
Also if doing the above the rifle hangs up on you or otherwise is not comfortable then the stock is wrong for you. It could also be the size/length of the barrel etc.

Get it all sorted out before you go hunting! I missed the biggest deer I have seen in 40 years because my Rem pump did not fit right when I had a snap shot. I changed the buttstock and scope and it has not missed since----and that was over 100 animals ago.

If it don't fit or function it is not for you no matter the brand/cost/reviews etc.
 

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One reason I want to feel the rifle and prefer to shoot at least one before buying.

As far a scope fit. That is often the fault of the idiot buying the wrong scope for a certain rifle and its intended use. I tell people to test the fit of the rifle and the scope to hold the rifle low, close your eyes, quickly lift the rifle to your shoulder, then open your eyes. If you have to move your head to see correctly thru the scope then the scope is placed wrong. It may need moved forward/back, placed lower(usually) or even higher. You may need one with a smaller Objective lens---this is often the case with 50-56mm lens.
Also if doing the above the rifle hangs up on you or otherwise is not comfortable then the stock is wrong for you. It could also be the size/length of the barrel etc.

Get it all sorted out before you go hunting! I missed the biggest deer I have seen in 40 years because my Rem pump did not fit right when I had a snap shot. I changed the buttstock and scope and it has not missed since----and that was over 100 animals ago.

If it don't fit or function it is not for you no matter the brand/cost/reviews etc.

I have been telling people the same thing for years. If they can learn from my earlier mistakes, including excessive trust of gunwriters who want preference for test items, they might as well do so BUT ... sometimes people just do not want to listen.

Over the last 15 years or so, and particularly in the last couple of years, there seems to be a growing trend in our local metropolitan area for young immigrants of Chinese ethnic heritage (and not the tall ones either) to purchase Remington VSSF and similar varmint rifles (typically chambered in .308 Winchester) as hunting rifles, i.e. bush-hunting rifles for use on deer and goats. Gun shop salesmen try to educate them as to the obvious problems with such choices but if that is what they really want, that is what they buy.

I do not know where this nonsense started. Maybe there are some Chinese bloggers who use similar rifles to hunt wapiti in Mongolia and the Northwestern border regions of China. An acquaintance of my mine took a trip there and subsequently organized several hunts, in cooperation with local guides. He told us that most shots are 200 meters or further and that the most popular centrefire sporting rifles in Mongolia were Brno ZKK 600s, chambered in 7x64 Brenneke.
 
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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.

View attachment 34537
@TokkieM
Gun writers have companies to please and can give rifles faint praise and read between the lines as to what is not written about the rifle. I rang one gun writer about a test he did on a scope and he told me it was better than a high end scope ha had tested but couldn't say that in his article. The cheaper scope wasn't as good in the glass department but beat the high end one hands down on adjustment and adjustability.
I wrote an article on A custom build I had done and mentioned a barrel manufacturer that stuffed up a simple rechamber job that much I had to by a new barrel from another maker.
The editor rang me and said that would be left out of the article as they were a major advertising contributer.
Take what you read with a grain of salt very few are willing to condemn rifle that isn't up to scratch.
Bob
 
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One reason I want to feel the rifle and prefer to shoot at least one before buying.

As far a scope fit. That is often the fault of the idiot buying the wrong scope for a certain rifle and its intended use. I tell people to test the fit of the rifle and the scope to hold the rifle low, close your eyes, quickly lift the rifle to your shoulder, then open your eyes. If you have to move your head to see correctly thru the scope then the scope is placed wrong. It may need moved forward/back, placed lower(usually) or even higher. You may need one with a smaller Objective lens---this is often the case with 50-56mm lens.
Also if doing the above the rifle hangs up on you or otherwise is not comfortable then the stock is wrong for you. It could also be the size/length of the barrel etc.

Get it all sorted out before you go hunting! I missed the biggest deer I have seen in 40 years because my Rem pump did not fit right when I had a snap shot. I changed the buttstock and scope and it has not missed since----and that was over 100 animals ago.

If it don't fit or function it is not for you no matter the brand/cost/reviews etc.
@Divernhunter
When it comes to scope mounting issues it's not just the scopes suiting the need of the hunter.
One thing no one has mentioned is mouth holes ou t of alignment or scope hole that are off centre. On a few occasions I have had to replace standard mounts for windage adjustable mount because there was no way the scope could be set properly using standard mounts.
This has been a problem with a few different brands of rifles including but not limited to Remington, Winchester, Ruger No1, Savage and even Tikka and others.
Bob
 

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