Tackdriving, Varmint-Bustin' Accuracy from Ed Brown

Tackdriving, Varmint-Bustin' Accuracy from Ed Brown

Ed Brown's Varmint is a classic example of a genre of rifle that is purpose-built to punch tiny holes in targets and smoke varmints from afar.

I am a rifle guy first and foremost. Regardless of caliber or configuration, accurate rifles are guaranteed to pique my interest. But my absolute favorites are heavy-barreled, super-accurate rigs like the Ed Brown Varmint that is the subject of this review.


Such heavy-barreled rigs are a blast to shoot because they tend to be very accurate, they don't heat up too quickly, and they don't dish out a lot of punishment during extended firing sessions due to their added weight. As you will see here, the latest long gun offering from Ed Brown is a classic example of a genre purpose-built to punch tiny holes in targets and smoke varmints from afar.

Built For Accuracy
Introduced in 2006, Ed Brown's Model 704 Controlled Feed action is the heart of the new Varmint Model. Brown's actions are machined on CNC machines, in-house, from heat-treated 4140 steel. Each round-bodied action is scaled to a family of cartridges. In this case, the action is sized for what Brown designates as the "short group" of cartridges. This includes rounds up to the 6.5-284 Norma. Larger variants handle longer cartridges up to the .338 Ultra Mag and .458 Lott.


The M-704 Controlled Feed action is a mix of desirable features from several existing actions with a few new twists. A la Remington, the bolt has two opposing locking lugs and a 90-degree bolt lift. Cartridges from the magazine pop up into a recessed bolt head, which is similar to a Mauser in that it is open at the bottom to control the round throughout the cycling process.


Where it departs from both the Mauser and the Remington is its unique pivoting extractor. This robust extractor is spring-loaded and rests in front of and partially underneath the right lug. As an integral piece of the bolt, it rotates with the bolt, and combined with a stout ejector, the extractor ensures positive feeding, extraction, and ejection in any conditions.

It's an ingenious solution to the age-old Mauser issue of interrupted threads in the receiver necessary to accommodate a clunky claw extractor.

The M-704's bolt is machined from solid bar stock, and the bolt handle is welded in place. The bolt body is vented on the bottom to protect the shooter in the event of a ruptured case. Gas vents out a port in front of the ejection port. The bolt body has eight spiral flutes to allow tighter fitting and smooth operation, even with dirt and grit in the action. A simple push-button bolt release on the left side of the receiver allows the bolt to be removed for cleaning.

A three-position, Model 70-style safety sits on the right side of the bolt shroud. Forward is "Safe." The full rearward position locks the bolt and the firing pin, and the middle position locks the firing pin but allows the bolt to cycle so you can load or unload the rifle without disengaging the safety.

The rear of the ejection port is opened up slightly to facilitate ejection of loaded rounds. The receiver top is drilled and tapped for 8-40 scope-base screws for a more secure mount, rather than the smaller 6-48 screws used by most manufacturers. All Brown rifles come with Talley scope bases installed. The base is user replaceable with any Remington 700-spec base, though it must be drilled out to accept the larger screws.

The M-704 Controlled Feed action established a new benchmark in gun design. The recessed boltface is open at the bottom, and the beefy pivoting extractor completely controls the round from the magazine to ejection.

The Varmint feeds from a four-round internal magazine. A hinged floorplate and machined-steel, one-piece bottom metal with an integral trigger guard make up the rest of the magazine system. The release is situated in front of the trigger guard. A Jewell benchrest trigger is standard.

A good barrel is essential for the utmost accuracy, and the stainless-steel, button-rifled, Shilen barrel that comes on the Varmint is a darn good one. Brown uses Shilen's Select Match Grade barrels. To make Select Match Grade, each barrel's groove diameter must air gauge within 0.0003 inch of standard diameter, and the uniformity of the bore cannot vary more than 0.0001 inch for the entire length of the barrel. Qualifying barrels are completely stress-relieved before being hand-lapped.

The barrel on the Varmint is a fairly thick tube, which Brown refers to as an "RV" contour. I assume that stands for "Remington Varmint" contour, as the dimensions mirror the specs of the Remington Varmint barrel on the Shilen website. The 24-inch barrel measures 0.830 inch at the muzzle and has a recessed target crown. A stout 0.300-inch-thick recoil lug is sandwiched between the barrel and the receiver.

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Ed Brown Vermint:

Model:Varmint
Purpose: Varmints, big game, target
Manufacturer: Ed Brown Products
P.O. Box 492
Perry, MO 63462
573-565-3261
Action type:Bolt-action
Operation:Turn-bolt
Magazine type/ capacity:Hinged floorplate/4 rounds
Receiver material : Steel
Caliber: .308 Win (tested), available in most standard calibers
Barrel length: 24 in.
Rifling: Six grooves; 1:10 RH twist
Sights: None; drilled and tapped for scope bases
Metal finish: Matte
Safety: Three-position Winchester style
Trigger type: Jewell
Pull weight: Adjustable 8 ounces to 4 pounds
Stock material: McMillan synthetic/ varmint style
Stock finish: Matte
Drop at heel: 1/2 in.
Drop at comb: 5/8 in.
Length of pull: 13.75 in.
Checkering: Cut checkering
Recoil pad: 1 in. black Pachmayr Decelerator
Sling studs/ swivels: Fixed studs
Weight, empty: 10 lbs
Overall length: 44 in.
Accessories: Owners manual, warranty, lubricant, hard case, two trigger springs.
MSRP: $922- $1,120

The Varmint's stock is a fiberglass model made by McMillan exclusively for Ed Brown. It features a high comb for a sure cheekweld, even when using scopes with oversized objectives and the high mounts they necessitate. It has a slight palmswell; checkering on the pistol grip and fore-end; and a wide, flat, semi-beavertail fore-end. A textured paint job gives added traction. It is, of course, made to McMillan's high standards, which means the laid-up fiberglass stock is exceptionally stable and darn near indestructible.

My rifle came ready to roll with one of NightForce's 5.5-22X 50mm riflescopes in a set of Talley rings. The optic has a 30mm tube and crystal-clear, fully coated glass for optimum light transmission. The scope has NightForce's illuminated NP-R2 long-range reticle. The illumination feature is controlled by the scope's side-mounted parallax adjustment. For long-range varminting, the scope's 100 minutes of elevation adjustment are most useful.

Fit, Finish & Function
When I picked up the rifle from Fountain Firearms in Houston, the counter personnel were already gushing about it. A quick look was all it took me to see why. The quality of the piece was immediately apparent. The fit and finish were beautiful, and the feel of the gun was that of a finely made, well-balanced precision instrument.

The scope complemented the rifle nicely, and the rifle came to the shoulder easily for such a weighty piece. The high comb made for a solid mount and perfect sight picture, and the slight palmswell felt great in my hand. The rig was a bit on the heavy side, but that's okay with me--I knew it would shoot like a house afire the minute I held it in my hands.

A closer examination revealed that the bolt worked smoothly and positively with no hang-ups or rough spots, and it had only minimal play at the rear-most portion of its travel. The trigger was a sweet 1.1 pounds. Yes, I said 1.1 pounds.

The safety engaged smoothly and positively. The bolt release was also positive and easy to operate. The floorplate release was a bit stiff, but it opened easier after a few tries. It locked up solidly.

As these five-shot 100-yard and 200-yard groups show, the Varmint had no trouble holding half-minute accuracy at both distances.

The disassembled rifle showed obvious quality, too. The stock was perfectly inletted, and the bottom metal and barreled action were fitted tightly and evenly. The overall look and feel--both inside and out--was every bit as good as I would expect from a fine custom rifle like the Varmint.

I was anxious to shoot the new rifle, so I gathered up a supply of match ammunition from Black Hills, CorBon, Federal, and Hornady. I chose the four loads that have shot the best for me from other .308 precision rifles.

I can only assume the Varmint was sighted-in before it left the factory because my first shot landed 2 inches high and an inch left of my 3-inch Shoot-N-C target. A few clicks brought the second shot right down to the center of the bull, so I switched dots and began firing for effect.

My first group, fired with Federal's 168-grain Match load, measured close to a half-inch. Subsequent shots yielded velocities very close to those claimed by the factory and good accuracy, save for a few flyers. The flyers left me perplexed, but then I noticed t

hat I had my front rest positioned very close to the tip of the fore-end. When I moved the rest back a few inches, the flyers disappeared and the accuracy improved.

Though I didn't expect such an issue with a rifle as obviously well-made as the Varmint, the truth is, lots of guns throw flyers when you rest the gun too close to the fore-end tip. I should have known better. Fortunately, I caught on to the problem before I'd expended too many rounds.

With my problem solved, I restarted my 100-yard accuracy evaluation. Once again, Federal's 168-grain Match load performed very well, with a five-group average of just 0.44 inch and a best five-shot group of 0.38 inch. Black Hills' match ammo performed almost as well, with an average of 0.49 inch and a best group of 0.367 inch.

As impressive as those groups are, what really blew me away was the consistency of the rifle. My worst group, fired with Hornady's 168-grain TAP load, measured a scant 0.76 inch. Once again, that was the worst of 20, five-shot groups, all fired with factory ammunition. The average of all 20 groups fired with the four different loads measured an astounding 0.517 inch! Such amazing consistency is a testament to the quality of the work and the components used to build the Varmint.

Because the Varmint shot so well at 100 yards and because it was so darn fun to shoot, I returned to the range a few days later to see if the Brown offering could hold that level of accuracy at 200 yards and beyond. I am pleased to say that it did, indeed, shoot just as well from 200 yards as it did at 100.

It was very hot and windy that day, so mirage was a bear. In fact, I had to turn the scope down to 12X to see clearly. Even so, my five-group average with the rifle's favorite Federal load measured right at 1/2 MOA, and my best group was an impressive 0.78 inch. The wind and heat got worse as the day progressed, but I still managed to shoot close to 1/2 MOA with several loads, and my worst group measured right at 2 inches. My biggest average, however, was a very respectable 1.49 inches, well under 1 MOA at 200 yards in poor conditions.

The best components all come together to make one very accurate rifle.

I decided to take it to a friend's ranch where we have steel targets placed at distances ranging from 300 to 600 yards. Once again, conditions weren't great, but I had enough confidence in the rifle to do some 300- and 600-yard work. At 300 yards, smacking my 6-inch, MGM steel popper was as easy as pointing and shooting. Though I could have dialed in the correct elevation, I just held a bit high and even with the right edge of the target to compensate for the wind.

At 600 yards, the 6-inch target is a much tougher proposition usually reserved for my custom sniper rifles. But since the Brown shot about as well as my own custom guns, I dialed in the elevation I use on another rifle that launches the 168-grain Federal load at almost the identical velocity and let 'er rip. The wind had died down by that time, so I held dead center on my first shot. It hit the left side of the target, so I inched over a hair and emptied the magazine on the steel. Once again, if my hold was good and I kept an eye on the gusting wind, smacking the 1-MOA target at 600 yards was a breeze.

The Ed Brown Varmint is a really fun gun to shoot. It is heavy enough that it doesn't kick and is easy to shoot well, but it's not so heavy I couldn't tote it to the deer blind or use it in a sniper competition. It's accurate enough to be competitive, too.

The Varmint Model is as well-made as any custom rifle I've tested. It's well-conceived, too, with everything you need in a varmint rifle and no superfluous fluff. But as good as the rifle looks and shoots, Brown's action is the thing that impressed me most about the Varmint. Others have tried, but Ed Brown is the first maker I've seen successfully combine the best features of all the most popular bolt-actions into one beautifully made turn-bolt.

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Ed Brown Varmint Accuracy

Factory LoadVelocity (fps)100 Yard Accuracy (in.)200 Yard Accuracy (in.)
.308 Winchester
Black Hills 168-gr. Match 26010.491.25
Federal 168-gr. Match26340.441.06
Hornady 168-gr. TAP A-Max 2652 0.62 1.49
CorBon 175-gr. Match 25970.521.17
Notes:Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired from a Caldwell front rest and rear bag.Velocity is the average of 25 rounds measured by a Shooting Chrony chronograph placed 15 feet from the gun's muzzle.

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