Get some bang for your buck

Four go head-to-head in .308 Winchester

The legendary .308 Winchester calibre along with the .223 Remington are arguably the two most popular calibres for hunting pest and game species in Australia. Their availability in a wide range of makes and models and easily accessible factory ammunition covering a broad range of bullet weights make them a natural choice for that first centrefire hunting rifle. But with so many choices it’s hard to decide what make and model best suits your needs. Con Kapralos takes a look at four contenders.

Rifle comparison

The .308 Winchester calibre was chosen for a four-rifle comparison. Even though retail prices for sporting rifles start around $600, it was decided for comparison purposes to look at rifles around the $1500 retail price point, give or take $100. It was a tough decision as there are some excellent rifles around the $1000 mark or less and some beauties from $2000 and above, but $1500 was decided as a figure most hunters would consider spending on a hunting rifle. Our four candidates are makes and models well known to the Australian shooter and hunter - the Remington 700 SPS, Tikka T3X Stainless Hunter, Browning X Bolt Stainless Stalker and home-grown Lithgow LA102.

Evaluation

From the outset this was not deemed a rifle review, merely a comparison of the four candidates side by side, taking into account technical aspects and how they compare. In no way is the SSAA recommending, grading or scoring the rifles as this is not the object of the exercise. Simply, we wish to inform readers how four popular hunting rifles can vary in their features. Each rifle was tested for accuracy at 100m, firing five 3-shot groups from four popular factory loads of differing bullet weights. An overview is given on the rifles’ features with pros and cons to ponder if considering one of these four models.

Tikka T3x Hunter Stainless

This is the only timber-stocked rifle in the comparison. It’s the lightest of the four at just over 2.8kg but the stainless steel barrelled action mated with the walnut stock gives it some classic ‘warmth’ as befits a general purpose or stalking rifle. The well-profiled American-style stock came to the shoulder nicely and the newly-designed T3x recoil pad certainly helped absorb recoil from the .308 Winchester chambering.

The silky-smooth action was evident and is something Tikka are renown for with the previous T3 and now T3x models. The rifle shot exceptionally well with the lightest and heaviest bullet weights tested, the single stack polymer magazine standard on the Tikka and available in either three- or five-shot capacity.

Minus points? Not many. The lack of any decent bedding was a disappointment, the front of the action bearing directly on the steel recoil lug which was inletted into a mortise in the floor of the stock and the rear of the action bearing directly on the walnut. Some glass epoxy around the recoil lug would have been ideal as a minimum. Nevertheless, the barrel was free-floating along its entire length and even with standard bedding the rifle shot above expectations.

Pros: Lightest of the four compared; walnut stock for hunters who prefer this; stainless steel barrelled action for ease of cleaning and maintenance; silky-smooth T3x bolt travel; king of after-market accessories and add-ons.

Cons: Factory-set trigger a little heavy but can easily be adjusted; bedding of action could have been improved (eg glass epoxy around recoil lug); three-shot single stack magazine capacity (supplied) a bit limiting - a five-shot as standard would be better.

Browning X Bolt Stainless Stalker

Just the ticket for hunters after a quality rifle with stainless barrelled action and quality synthetic stock. The 60⁰ bolt lift together with tang-mounted safety and safety over-ride button on the bolt handle shank all work beautifully with user ergonomics in mind. The well profiled synthetic stock with Dura-Touch finish is appreciated in any environment and the superb Browning Inflex recoil pad soaks up any excess recoil. The flush-fitting rotary magazine holds four rounds and is very easy to load.

This was the only rifle of the four which had additional work done on the bedding in the form of glass epoxy around the front and rear action screws and recoil lug. This is appreciated on any factory production rifle and something the owner need not think about. The glass bedding and free-floated barrel also made the Browning X Bolt share the spoils with the Lithgow LA102 in regard to accuracy, with all four test ammunition loads averaging around 1-MOA or less. A very nice rifle which has had some thinking put into it by the Browning design team.

Pros: Excellent stalking/general purpose rifle for hunters who like stainless steel metalwork and quality synthetic stocks; great ergonomics on stock with non-slip coating from factory; neat flush-fitting detachable magazine, easy to load thanks to rotary design; tang-mounted safety; nice trigger, easily adjustable; action epoxy bedded into the stock; superb Browning Inflex recoil pad.

Cons: Four-shot magazine capacity and no after-market options; scope base arrangement (four screw holes per base) - limited options when sourcing hardware.

Remington 700 SPS

This is another lightweight rifle thanks in no small part to the hollow polymer stock. Quality of the barrelled action is excellent and the traditional floor-plate magazine will be preferred by many hunters over a detachable box version. At the range the Remington 700 SPS cycled all the test ammunition well, with only a few instances where the steel follower would bind inside the steel magazine box. With use this should free up and pose no problems.

The rifle shot as expected, the polymer stock and lack of bedding for the barrelled action, not to mention the barrel touching the polymer stock along its entire length, giving noticeable shot stringing with the heavier 155 and 180gr loads. However average groups in the 30mm range for the 135 and 150gr hunting loads still make the Remington 700 SPS a very serviceable rifle for fans of the ‘big green’.

Pros: Excellent trigger in the X-Pro; superb fit and finish of barrelled action; four-shot floor plate magazine will be preferred by many hunters; huge range of after-market accessories; excellent recoil pad.

Cons: Polymer stock a big let-down; polymer trigger guard - floor plate surround; recoil pad fitting - sat proud of the stock surface.

Lithgow LA102

This is what’s termed a ‘crossover’ concept as the rifle can be used for both hunting and target shooting. The rifle here is the author’s own and normally sports a Hawke Vantage 4-12x50 scope, weighing around 4.2kgs, and even at this weight still carries well in the field. Overall fit and finish is excellent, the glass-filled polymer stock super-rigid and providing an excellent bedding platform for the barrelled action with aluminium pillars built into the stock.

The free-floated match grade barrel shot some superb groups with all hunting ammo tested and the titanium Cerakote finish mated with the matte black colour of the glass-filled polymer stock gives it a ‘business-like’ appearance. The three-shot polymer magazine worked well but this is a minus point as Lithgow don’t offer a five or 10-shot magazine as a factory-available accessory. Aftermarket options do exist in the Lucky 13 and Waters Rifleman and these are top-quality magazines.

Pros: Integral Picatinny rail fitted to receiver; superb fit and finish of barrelled action; super-tough glass-filled polymer stock; twin sling-swivel studs on underside of fore-end; threaded muzzle for accessories; trigger fully adjustable.

Cons: Polymer three-shot magazine is limiting - no five or 10-shot options offered; weight at 3.6kg at the higher end of the range for a hunting rifle.

Conclusion

For the hunter contemplating a new rifle in .308 Winchester the choice is naturally governed by the amount you wish to spend. But make no bones about it, there are some excellent makes and models below the $1000 price point and $2000 buys some very fine rifles indeed. The comparison of four makes and models around the $1500 mark with four well-known brands laid out side-by-side produced no surprises.

Any of the four will make an excellent hunting rifle in .308 Winchester with solid back-up from four reputable and well-known distributors in Beretta Australia, Raytrade, Outdoor Sporting Agencies and Winchester Australia.

Rifle comparison - .308 Winchester - sporter (hunting) rifles

Rifle model LA102 Polymer Cerakote Titanium T3X Hunter Stainless X-Bolt Stainless Hunter Model 700 SPS
Rifle make Lithgow Arms Tikka Browning Remington
Action Bolt - push feed Bolt - push feed Bolt - push feed Bolt - push feed
Overall length 1067-1087mm 1080mm 1065mm 1102mm
Overall weight 3.653kg 2.872kg 2.909kg 2.96kg**
RRP (retail) 1450 1450 $1650^ 1425
Distributor Outdoor Sporting Agencies Beretta Australia Winchester Australia Raytrade
Receiver material High tensile steel Stainless steel Stainless steel Stainless steel
Receiver finish Cerakote titanium H Series Stainless steel Stainless steel - matte Matte blued
Bolt configuration Three-lug forward locking bolt (push-feed) Two-lug forward locking bolt (push-feed) Three-lug forward locking bolt (push-feed) Two-lug forward locking bolt (push feed)
Scope mounting Integral Picatinny rail on reciever top Dovetail milled into receiver top to accept T3X specifc scope rings. Dovetail top drilled and tapped to accept Picatinny or Weaver style bases Browning X-Bolt System -four holes drilled and tapped per base - one each (fore and aft) of ejection port on receiver top Receiver top drilled and tapped - 2 holes (fore and aft of ejection port)
Safety Bolt mounted 3-position Model 70 rotating wing-style, thumb-operated with indicator 2-position, thumb-operated, rearward of bolt handle notch on right-hand side 2-position thumb operated sliding safety mounted on rear tang. Safety overide button on bolt handle shank 2-position,  thumb-operated, rearward of bolt handle notch on right-hand side
Trigger Three-lever style adjustable for weight, sear engagement and overtravel Single stage, fully adjustable Single stage, fully adjustable X-Mark Pro adjustable trigger
Triggerguard Integral with stock (polymer) Polymer - comprises of triggerguard and magazine well assembly Aluminium Polymer - comprises of triggerguard and magazine floorplate assembly
Magazine configuration Detachable box magazine, polymer triggerguard and magazine Detachable box magazine, polymer, single stack 3-shot capacity Detachable rotary box magazine, polymer, 4-shot capacity Internal box magazine - steel magazine well, steel follower and spring, aluminium floorplate on triggerguard 4-shot capacity
Magazine weight (if detachable) 53g 43g 62g N/A
Barrel material Proprietary military grade steel Stainless steel Stainless steel Carbon steel
Barrel finish Cerakote Titanium H Series Stainless steel Stainless steel - matte Matte blued
Barrel length 560mm 560mm 560mm 610mm
Weight - barelled action 2.527kg 1.898kg 1.888kg 2.06kg
Stock material Glass fibre reinforced polymer Walnut Polymer with dura-touch armour coating Polymer - matte black colour
Stock profile Tactical American sporter style American sporter style American sporter style
Stock weight 1.061kg 0.887kg 0.872kg 0.754kg
Chequering Embossed panels around grip/fore-end Laser cut chequering around pistol grip and fore-end Embossed panels around grip/ fore-end Embossed rubber panels around  grip/fore-end
Length of pull 337-357mm 358mm 350mm 335mm
Recoil pad Sorbothane 1" Sorbothane 1" Sorbothane 1" Sorbthane 1"
QD sling swivel studs Yes - three (two on fore-end, one on buttstock) Yes - two (one on fore-end, one on buttstock) Yes - two (one on fore-end, one on buttstock) Yes - two (one on fore-end, one one buttstock)
Glass bedding compound No No Yes - around front recoil lug and inletted surfaces surrounding front and rear action screws No
Free-floating barrel Yes Yes Yes No

Accuracy testing - 100 metres (average of five 3-shot groups)

Remington Core Lokt 150gr 22mm 54mm 28mm 34mm
OSA Buffalo River 135gr HP 25mm 26mm 30mm 36mm
Sako Hammerhead 180gr SP 29mm 29mm 29mm 52mm
Browning BXV 155gr 18mm 46mm 20mm 56mm

 ** - Overall weight is with Weaver scope bases attached.
^Browning X Bolt Stainless Stalker - price at time of testing.

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