Can a classic bolt-action rifle be modernized without compromising the factors that made it a classic in the first place? Can it even be improved? Based on my recent experience with the new FNH USA Tactical Sport Rifle (TSR), I’d have to say, “Yes.”
The TSR series is a state-of-the-art transformation of the classic Winchester Model 70 Pre-’64 action into a high-performance master work that will satisfy all expectations of today’s demanding rifleman. Easy to handle, a pleasure to shoot, and super accurate, the TSR rifles are built at FN’s high-tech ISO 9001 firearms factory in Columbia, South Carolina, and they are available in a variety of chamberings and configurations.
Redefining A Classic
The FN TSR XP series is offered with a short-action magnum receiver in .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM) and feature a traditional Mauser-type Pre-’64 Model 70 controlled-round-feed bolt (CRF) with a claw extractor that secures approximately 0.25 inch of the cartridge base and fully controls the cartridge as it enters the chamber. This design also allows the cartridge to be extracted even if it is not fully chambered. The .308 Win. TSR XP chambering is available with either a 20-inch barrel or a 24-inch barrel. The .300 WSM is offered with a 24-inch barrel only.
Also available are two TSR XP USA models, which feature a half-inch shorter Ultra-Short action receiver that is similar to the Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) receiver originally developed by FN/Winchester/Browning for the WSSM family of cartridges. These are available in .223 Remington and 7.62x39mm with 20-inch barrels; they are 0.5 inch shorter overall than the 20-inch .308 Win. version of the TSR XP model due to their shorter receivers.
The TSR XP USA rifles have a controlled-round-push-feed (CRPF) bolt, which, like the CRF bolt on the longer-receiver versions, securely captures the base of the cartridge for straight alignment with the chamber when feeding from the magazine to protect the bullet point and allow for easy extraction even if the cartridge is not fully chambered. But at the same time, as with conventional push-feed designs found on other makes of rifles, the CRFP extractor also easily rides over the cartridge rim for manual, direct-to-the-chamber loading from an open bolt position. (For those who might wonder, this explains why the 7.62x39mm TSR rifle carries the USA designation, since the push-feed system was originated in America, as compared to the European-developed Mauser-type controlled-round system.)
All TSR rifles feature blade ejection and the three-position, Mauser-type safety of the classic Winchester Model 70. The controlled-round mechanism and the blade-type ejector allow full control when ejecting a fired case. When pulling the bolt back slowly, the empty case pops out gently, which is perfect for target shooters and varminters. Pulling the bolt back rapidly causes the empty case to clear the port with greater force. The blade-type ejector also helps to eliminate short-stroking mal-functions.
The TSR’s three-position safety has also been improved, eliminating the sticking point in the middle of the three-position movement that afflicted post-1964 Winchester Model 70 commercial-production generations manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut. With the safety fully engaged, the firing pin is moved out of contact with the sear, as in the previous version. However, in the current refinement, the firing pin needs to travel less to separate from the sear. Because the swing of the three-position safety is the same as it was before, and it is moving the firing pin less, it operates with greater mechanical advantage in its stroke, causing the operation to feel smoother. When the safety selector is in the middle position, the action can still be operated, allowing unfired cartridges to be cycled with the safety “On.”
Also new to the FN TSR series rifles is an adjustable, three-lever Tactical Sport Trigger (TST), which has a pull weight range from 3 to 5 pounds and is factory set at 3.75 pounds. However, because of the smooth, wider-than-typical trigger surface and 2:1 mechanical advantage created by the design geometry, it feels like substantially less. The TST is basically the same as the M.O.A. trigger system that FN/Winchester developed for the commercial reintroduction of the Pre-’64 Model 70 sport rifle in 2007. Operating on a simple pivoting-lever principle, this trigger mechanism was completely redesigned from previous Model 70 triggers to exhibit absolutely zero take-up, virtually zero creep, and perceptibly zero overtravel.
The actual trigger, called the “trigger piece” in FN/Winchester nomenclature, is a lever that bears against a pivoting “actuator” that supports the sear, which in turn retains the firing pin. As the trigger pushes against the actuator, the actuator is moved out of engagement with the sear, which then drops, allowing the firing pin to travel forward. One benefit of this design is that there is zero take-up (i.e., no slack) in the system. Likewise, although there is a necessary amount of trigger movement while the actuator is pushed the distance to the point where the sear drops free, it is so slight as to be virtually imperceptible.
An overtravel adjustment screw allows control of the amount of trigger movement and can be backed off to stop at just the exact point when the sear breaks free from the actuator so that no overtravel can be perceived. This is a remarkably efficient and clean design, better than the vast majority of custom aftermarket triggers now on the market. It is housed in a solid steel framework that makes tampering with the internal parts’ engagement impossible, except for what is accessible via the external pull weight and overtravel adjustment screws. Note that F
N warns that removing and replacing a TSR rifle’s barreled action from its stock to tune the trigger adjustments can affect accuracy unless the user fully understands what he’s doing, and the company recommends that trigger adjustments be performed by a certified TSR XP gunsmith or armorer.
All TSR rifles feature cold hammer-forged, mil-spec, fluted barrels. Hammer forging is a process by which a billet of steel is molded around a mandrel by being struck by a series of massive hammers. The mandrel has the rifling pattern on it, and during the hammering process, the lands and grooves are impressed into the interior surface of the barrel. The barrel is threaded, target-crowned, and installed on the receiver; the chamber is reamed; and the bolt is headspaced. The result is an exceptionally accurate assemblage, as my review shooting demonstrated.
The .308 Win. versions of the TSR XP are equipped with a four-round, detachable-box magazine; the .300 WSM TSR XP has a three-round, hinged-floorplate magazine. Hinged-floorplate magazines are also standard on the TSR XP USA rifles, with six-round capacity for the .223 Rem. version and five-round capacity for the 7.62x39mm. A one-piece, steel, mil-std 1913 optical rail with additional elevation built in for long-range shooting comes standard on all FN TSR rifles.
The TSR rifle receivers are mated to an FN/Hogue synthetic stock that’s covered with a textured, olive drab, overmolded rubber surface. Barrels are fully free-floated. On both the XP and shorter XP USA versions, the fore-end has a semibeavertail design, and the textured grip surface has a slight ambidextrous palmswell and a molded-in FNH logo medallion. The stock design features a full-length, skeletal, aluminum bedding block that is integrally molded into the stock’s framework during its manufacture and includes a premium, soft-cushioning recoil pad and dual fore-end sling-swivel studs as standard equipment. This, combined with the flat-bottomed receiver and integral recoil lug, which have always been some of the Model 70’s best features, makes for a bedding that is absolutely stable and is impervious to accuracy-destroying stock-pressure shifts from changes in climate, temperature, or humidity over time.
Performing Like A Superstar
The brand-new FN TSR XP USA rifle in .223 Rem. that Shooting Times received for review was clearly marked on the barrel with a 1:9 rifling twist (the current “standard” for factory-production, long-range .223 rifles of any configuration these days), and its modern “tactical” styling appealed to me greatly, as did its crisp, creep-free and overtravel-free 3.75-pound trigger pull. Generally, I prefer triggers of about 2-pound weight in a precision rifle, but FN is correct that the new TST trigger design “feels lighter than it is.” And I’m already a passionate fan of Hogue’s overmolded stocks. Plus, even with its slightly heavier-than-sporter, medium-contour stock, the rifle was very well balanced, quick and fast to handle, and easy to support, even throwing up to offhand. It just felt, well, good.
Though the rifle arrived mounted with Leupold’s lovely new Mark AR 3-9X 40mm scope—which comes standard with a ballistic turret calibrated for typical 55-grain .223 loads—I fitted it with a new Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30X 50mm riflescope and Warne mounts, which provided more magnification for accuracy testing. I then sat down at the PASA Park long-range rifle facility with six different varieties of .223 Rem. commercial ammunition from six manufacturers, in configurations from light-bullet field loads to heavy-bullet match loads, and I fired a series of reference groups at the review-standard 100-yard distance and then also reached out to 300 yards to see what the TSR could really do. (I’ve all too often reviewed gun and ammunition combinations that look great at 100 yards but fall to pieces when you get way out there.)
Full results are listed in the chart on page 52. Briefly, the combined average for all groups with all loads at 300 yards was well under a minute of angle (it came in at 2.79 inches, 0.89 MOA), and the best individual match-load average approached a half-minute. And that’s factory ammo, not handloads. At 100 yards, ragged, one-hole groups were common with the gun’s preferred loads.
The new TSR is a really good gun. For sport, competition, predator/varmint hunting, or professional tactical/law-enforcement applications, it is an exceptional tool.