In July of this year I had the good fortune of attending Lapua’s annual sniper competition held in Lohtaja, Finland. The home of Simo Hayha, the highest scoring sniper of all time (he dropped some 542 Soviets during the Winter War before being severely wounded), Finland is known for being a land of hunters and shooters. Covering the event for our sister magazine Shotgun News, I was interested in seeing just how true my perception of Finland remains. I was not disappointed.
Despite teams in attendance from Germany, France, and Norway, the Finns easily dominated the competition. Carrying SAKO TRGs and an array of custom-built sniper rifles chambered for flat-shooting calibers, they dusted the 950-meter targets despite a brutal 25+ mph crosswind.
Calibers? The favorites were the big .338 Lapua Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, and scorching hot 6.5-.284. Why no .308s? Simply because they wanted as flat a trajectory and as little wind drift as possible well past 1000 meters. Plus, to be blunt, they wanted to slap the silhouettes hard.
So what’s all this have to do with
Well, if long-range shooting with a .300 Winchester Magnum, or even bigger .338 Lapua Magnum, strikes your fancy, then one manufacturer to be aware of is
ArmaLite. When I, and I suppose many others, think of ArmaLite the first things that come to mind are AR10 and AR15 rifles. This is logical thinking because this type of rifle is ArmaLite’s specialty. However, that’s not all the company does.
In addition to the Stoner-based black rifles, they also offer a line of bolt-action rifles. The AR50 is chambered for the attention-getting .50 Browning Machine Gun cartridge while its smaller brother, the AR30, is chambered for the .308 Winchester, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .338 Lapua Magnum. These rifles are built on beefy actions that feed from detachable box magazines and feature ArmaLite’s trademark muzzlebrake.
|ArmaLite AR30 Bolt-Action Rifle|
|Caliber:||.300 Win. Mag.|
|Barrel Length:||26 inches|
|Overall Length:||48 inches|
|Weight, empty||12 pounds|
|Length of Pull:||13.5 inches|
|Rifiling::||6 grooves, 1:10-inch RH twist|
|Magazine Capacity:||5 rounds|
|Finish:||Matte black manganese phosphated steel, hard-anodized aluminum|
In my opinion, the AR30 is the more practical design (although the AR50 has a higher cool factor). So with this in mind I obtained an AR30 in .300 Winchester Magnum for a thorough shooting review. Rather than shipping me a standard rifle, ArmaLite gave me the chance to work with a rifle that had been slightly massaged and modified by one of ArmaLite’s engineers, Rick Clancy. Customers can also have any of the touches Clancy put on my rifle added to theirs upon request.
The AR30 is built on a hefty modified octagonal receiver some 9.5 inches long. Beefy is an understatement when referring to this heavy steel receiver. A long oval ejection port is machined into its right side, and a 15 MOA incline steel MIL-STD-1913 base is screwed to the top of the receiver.
Inside the receiver rides a 7.75-inch-long bolt with dual opposed locking lugs. The bolt head is separate from the bolt body and features a simple plunger-type ejector and SAKO-type extractor. On this example Clancy had squared the locking lugs and lapped them in. Like most turnbolt designs the AR30 cocks on opening. Other modifications made by Clancy to this rifle were to cut six coils from the striker spring and to extend the bolt handle approximately .5 inch. The handle was swept slightly to the rear to make it easy to grasp. Just to the rear of the bolt handle is a simple two-position safety.
Feed is from a detachable five-round magazine. A single-column design, the magazine is manufactured from heavy gauge steel and is fitted with a metal follower. The follower keeps the bolt from going forward when empty. Magazines lock into place w
ith a simple upward push and drop free by pushing the magazine release button located just in front of the bolt handle. To the rear of the magazine is a Schilen single-stage trigger. The AR30 uses a Remington 700-type trigger design, so most aftermarket triggers intended for a 700 will drop right in.
Mated to the front of the trigger is a 26-inch-long Lothar Walther chrome-moly barrel. It has 6-groove rifling with a 1:10-inch RH twist to enable it to stabilize a diverse range of bullet weights. To enhance accuracy the barrels are triple lapped. The barrel profile is rather light for a rifle of this type.
It measures 1.238 inches at the chamber but tapers quickly to just .69 inch behind the muzzlebrake. And the muzzlebrake is huge–although it is actually a scaled-down version of the brake mounted on the AR50. It resembles something fitted to a Soviet antitank rifle! Blessed with a distinctive “heavy metal” look to it, you either love it or hate it. Performance-wise it’s very effective and features dual baffles and a 30-degree blast zone to the sides.
The barreled action is dropped into an unconventional stock chassis fabricated from three sections. The forend is an aluminum extrusion, the grip frame is machined aluminum, and the removable buttstock is forged and machined. The action is mated to the chassis via a simple “V” block bedding system, and the barrel is fully freefloated.
The forend has a competition-style rail machined down its centerline to allow a handstop, sling, or bipod to be installed. An M16A2-type pistol grip is mounted along with a simple cheekrest. The simple butt is finished with a comfortable Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad. The rifle is 48 inches long overall and weighs 12 pounds. Steel parts feature a simple but durable manganese phosphate finish while aluminum parts are hard anodized.
|.300 Win. Mag. AR30 Accuracy|
|Factory Load||Velocity (fps)||300-yard Accuracy (inches)|
|Black Hills 178-gr. A-Max||3037||2.50|
|Hornady 178-gr. A-Max||2981||2.60|
|Black Hills 180-gr. AccuBond||3006||4.25|
|Winchester 180-gr. AccuBond||2951||4.50|
|Winchester 180-gr. Ballistic Silvertip||2938||2.75|
|Winchester 180-gr. XP3||2979||2.00|
|NOTES: Accuracy is the average of four five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 300 yards. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 10 feet from the muzzle using a PACT Professional XP chronograph at an ambient temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 100 feet above sea level.|
“Heavy Metal” Performance
As I said, the AR30 is offered in .308, .300 Winchester Magnum, and .338 Lapua. Between the .300 and .338 Magnums, in my opinion, the .300 Winchester Magnum is the smarter way to go simply due to the cost of ammunition. While the .338 Lapua Magnum is indeed a wonderful round, it’s very expensive to shoot.
For this review I chose six loads from Black Hills Ammunition, Hornady, and Winchester. Full details of those loads are found in the accompanying accuracy results chart. Four five-shot groups were then shot with each load off a sandbag rest at 300 yards. Velocity readings were measured 10 feet from the muzzle using a PACT chronograph at an ambient temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit at 100 feet above sea level.
Before touching off the first round, I just had to see how well that Gothic looking muzzlebrake performed. I mean, the .300 Winchester Magnum does have a reputation for hitting hard at both ends. So I loaded a magazine and pounded a round offhand. While the blast was pretty intense, I was shocked at the lack of recoil. So I emptied the magazine. Although the bark was very pronounced, the kick was barely perceptible.
Moving to the bench I proceeded to spend a very long afternoon behind the ArmaLite AR30. During my time with it I noticed a few things. Rounds loaded easily into the magazine and chambered smoothly, but the bolt throw was rather long. The safety on this example sported a number of sharp edges, but it operated easily.
I have never cared for the M16A2 pistol grip, and on this rifle I think it indexes the trigger finger too far forward. I would prefer a different pistol grip design more suitable to this type of rifle. The barrel is relatively thin, so it heated up very rapidly. Once the barrel was hot, a sea of mirage rose off it and made aiming through it a chore. Recoil was very mild. But despite this, the amount of blast coming off the muzzlebrake was uncomfortable. Call me a wuss, but after a long afternoon behind it my head began to hurt.
Accuracy-wise my AR30 shot best with Winchester’s 180-grain XP3 load. Pounding out at a respectable 2979 fps it averaged 2.00-inch groups at 300 yards. Not far behind was Black Hills Ammunition’s 178-grain A-Max load, which averaged 2.50 inches at 3037 fps, and Hornady’s 178-grain A-Max load, which averag
ed 2.60 inches at 2981 fps. Winchester’s 180-grain Ballistic Silvertip load averaged a very respectable 2.75 inches at 2938 fps. This rifle did not particularly like the AccuBond load.
From the bench I moved to shooting prone off a pack. A bipod is available for the AR30, but I did not receive one with the review rifle. No big deal–I just flopped with a pack. In this manner I shot reduced-size steel silhouettes from 100 to 300 meters. During this portion of testing I had a chance to evaluate not only the Meopta riflescope but also a Steiner 8.5x50mm Peregrine binocular. The Meopta performed very well and exhibited accurate color rendition, excellent resolution, and a bright image. Its adjustments were exactly what they should be dialing in both elevation and windage. All in all, it’s a very nice European scope.
The Steiner 8.5x50mm Peregrine also performed very well. Despite the large 50mm objectives this model is still a fairly light 30 ounces. Exit pupil is a fat 5.88mm, enhancing low-light performance. Field of view is 306 feet at 1000 yards, and eye relief is 19mm.
This model is fitted with fold-down rubber eyecups and well designed detachable objective lens covers. Plus, it will go from close focus to infinity in one knob revolution. Optically, the binocular performed very well with a crisp image providing accurate color rendition and very good resolution. Size-wise the 8.5x50mm Peregrines are not overly large and pack nicely. Steiner has stuffed a lot of performance in a comfortable size package.
ArmaLite’s AR30 performed well with zero problems or malfunctions. At 12 pounds it’s fairly light for a rifle of this type, and it fed and operated smoothly. Ejection was positive. Blast was fairly heavy, and the stock design was not the most comfortable I have ever used.