September 23, 2010
In a bold move for a bigger grasp on the value-firearms market, Remington has turned to importing a distinct line of firearms from Russia called Spartan Gunworks.
Even though the Cold War was starting to thaw while I was growing up, I never thought I'd see the day when an American firearms icon such as Remington imported Russian-made firearms. But Remington (Dept. ST, 870 Remington Dr., Madison, NC 27025; 800-243-9700; www.remington.com) announced last year its new and very affordable line of guns called "Spartan" made by Baikal in Russia.
There are several advantages to an arrangement like this. Most obvious is the opportunity for Remington to reach the entry-level firearms owner who either isn't ready to make a Remington-size financial commitment or who simply can't afford to own a more expensive rifle or shotgun. According to Linda Powell, Remington's press relations manager, despite the low Spartan price tags Remington will continue to offer American-made value-priced guns such as the Model 710. The Spartan line simply complements that end of the spectrum by letting Americans put a well-made, brand-name gun in their hands at the lowest price possible.
(Left) A ventilated recoil pad helps to take the bite out of 3-inch and magnum loads. (Right) A full complement of choke tubes comes with the SPR310.
Another thing the Spartan line does is provide Remington with a production component able to respond more immediately to market demands or to float new concepts to American shooters without the kind of money and time it takes to tool up over here and put a new gun into production. For example, if Biathlon suddenly becomes popular with Americans, Spartan could theoretically get a straight-pull .22-caliber rifle on the market quickly and hold that market for Remington while the U.S. factory tools up.
Spartan Gunworks Model SPR310
Sporting 20-gauge Over-Under Shotgun
|Automatic tang safety
|Vent rib with red plastic front sight and gold mid-rib bead
|Blued steel barrels, nickeled receiver
But why Baikal, especially since it seems that every other importer in the country is looking to Turkey as their source for value-priced guns, specifically shotguns? Baikal should be a well-known name to most readers. Baikal has had its share of importers, and with each change in importer, the quality of its guns has improved. The greatest improvements came when European American Armory (EAA) imported Baikals beginning in the mid-1990s.
Early guns showed some of the indifference to detail Russian gunmakers were known for, and the wood lacked much in the way of quality. Early Baikal guns were rugged but were wanting in engineering finesse. EAA turned that around, and though a Baikal-made gun will never compete in a beauty contest against a Faberge egg, they've come a long way cosmetically. Mechanically, there was also considerable improvement, with some EAA guns even offering advanced features such as quick-removable trigger groups. That continuous product improvement was probably no small part of choosing Baikal.
As of this writing, a complete line of Remington Spartan shotguns is available, and rifles are promised for the near future. Early samples of those rifles have been break-open single shots, double rifles, and combination guns in a variety of calibers. Shotguns include single-barrel break-opens, side-by-sides, and outside-hammer doubles for cowboy action shooting. Various models of double-barrel shotguns are available with single or double triggers, and a broad range of gauges (including 16, 28, and .410) and calibers are offered.
Full Of Great Features
Recently, I received a Spartan 310 Sporting over-under in 20 gauge as a sample of what we'll see from the new line. Cosmetically, this gun is strictly business with functional hand-cut checkering, an oil finish that should adequately protect the wood from average exposure to the elements, blued barrels, and a plain, nickeled receiver--all of which should stand up well to normal use. Bores are chrome-lined for durability. The walnut stock is more American than European in style.
An automatic tang safety is engaged every time the top latch is pressed to open the action.
While it lacks features such as sling swivels so often encountered on Europea
n shotguns, its slight shad belly betrays the Spartan's origins. A ventilated rubber recoil pad will take some of the kick out of the gun, and barrel ports near the muzzle should tame muzzle rise and help keep you on target.
Functionally, the surprises come in the form of features I did not expect in this price range. The list ranges from a ventilated top rib complete with mid-rib bead to a single "sort of" selective mechanical trigger. I was expecting at best a single nonselective ejector and more likely a single extractor, which is why I'm impressed to find selective ejectors that are so easily converted to extractors.
Another surprise was the automatic safety. It's linked with the top latch so that when opening the Spartan 310, the safety automatically engages. There is no practical way for an owner to convert the safety to manual. There is also a full complement of interchangeable choke tubes rated for lead shot only--and, no, they're not Rem Choke pattern. Heck, the stock is even noticeably cast-off to better center the eyes of right-handed shooters to the boreline and has a palmswell.
As for that "sort-of" selective trigger, the Spartan 310 is manufactured so that the default configuration is the bottom barrel fires first. You can select the top barrel to fire first by simply pressing the trigger blade forward on a loaded and closed gun. There's no apparent way to reset the trigger back to bottom barrel first unless you open the action, so barrel selection is a per-shot proposition. Each time you open the action, the trigger automatically resets to the bottom barrel.
The SPR310's boxlock action incorporates coil mainsprings, an automatic tang safety, and a single selective trigger.
Lockup is the proven Browning style whereby a breech-width bolt extends from the bottom of the standing breech to engage a corresponding bite the width of the monobloc. A forward lug on the monobloc extends through the bottom of the receiver to help eliminate fore and aft movement. Instead of separate right and left trunnions, a full-width hinge pin serves as the pivot for the barrels. There are no apparent means to compensate for wear, though the hinge pin appears replaceable.
Conversion from ejector to extractor utilizes a method first seen from Baikal in the early 1990s on the Model IJ-27E-1C when KBI Inc. was the importer. Using a slotted screwdriver, simply rotate a pair of screws on the knuckles to change between extractor and ejector.
You can make the change even with the gun fully assembled and broken open. Rods passing through the bottom inside of the action body serve to cock the hammers as the barrels are lowered, or to trip the sears of the ejectors when the action is opened. Turning the knuckle screws parallel with the boreline prevents the rods from tripping the robust ejectors but allows the extractors to gently lift the shotshells from the chambers. The two rods/screws/ejectors/extractors are independent of each other, so if desired you could set one to eject and the other to extract, though I can't think of a possible reason why you would.
Recently, I had the opportunity to field test a variety of Spartan shotguns on pheasant and quail during a traditional Southern Plantation-style hunt. On these hunts, shooters are carried over hill and dale in a mule-drawn wagon. At various fields known to hold birds, a pair of shooters gets down from the wagon with a dog handler, and a couple of bird dogs are turned out to point birds. Though it's more a social event than a hunt, you still have to find birds, have good dogs, and be able to shoot. If you lack any of those things, you'd better have business to discuss in the wagon.
Pressing forward on the trigger selects the top barrel to fire first. Each time the action is opened, the trigger resets to the default setting to fire the bottom barrel first.
Fortunately, we had as much shooting as talking, so the shotguns got a good workout. If I had to choose an ideal value-priced upland shotgun from the Spartan side-by-side, single-shot, or over-under 20-gauges I tried on that trip, I'd have to go with the single trigger stack-barrel. For an entry-level gun I like its automatic safety, and shooting it is as intuitive as pulling the trigger. Really, the only thing you have to think about is where you point the muzzles when shooting and what chokes to install before leaving camp.
The Spartan SPR310 has a 14.5-inch length of pull, snaps smartly to the shoulder, is light enough to get on target quickly, and has enough weight to stay on target and follow it through for successful shooting.
My experience from that field test was backed up at home when I patterned the Spartan 310 Sporting at the Winchester, Virginia, Izaak Walton League's range using Remington's new STS Low Recoil loads. These loads are real powder puffs to the point that they may not reliably function in all autoloaders. But put them in a fixed-breech gun such as the Spartan, and they make great loads for teaching new or small-stature shooters. Don't let the low-recoil moniker fool you: These loads can shoot. You only give up 65 fps of muzzle velocity over Remington's Premier STS Target load as part of gaining the benefit of lower recoil.
Patterns from the Cylinder and Improved Cylinder tubes showed percentages on the low end for those constriction markings but still within industry specifications. While I didn't pattern the Modified or Full tubes, I measured them and found the Full choke tube ran a little tighter than Full specifications and that the Modified tube measured almost Improved Cylinder.
Firing Remington 20-gauge Game Loads, the Spartan SPR310 was a great performer in the field on quail and pheasant.
Considering the price range of the Spartans, I don't have a problem with its tubes being on the high or low end of specifications but would definitely want to pattern it with the loads I intended to use afield or on the range. That's something every shotgunner should do anyway, regardless of whether they spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a shotgun.
Patterning also showed that regulation of the barrels was not perfect but still exceptional. At 40 yards both barrels hit dead on as far as elevation was concerned, but the top barrel patterned slightly to the right. That deviation was not enough to matter when shooting clay pigeons, even when shooting at Champion Minis that dart from the trap and seem to
disappear almost instantly.
Through patterning and shooting several boxes of shells at clay pigeons, I didn't have any malfunctions with the Spartan 310 Sporting. During the shooting, I switched between ejectors and extractors, so they both got a fair workout, and I often switched to the top barrel to fire first. There were no obvious shortcomings, and performance was essentially unremarkable. The Spartan performed every bit as good as one could expect and never left me wanting for something like a Remington Peerless shotgun save for when I got curious looks from other shooters as I first uncased it or put it in a rack next to their Berettas or Brownings.
So what about the name "Spartan"? Well, I have to hand it to those crafty marketing types for that one. If you look up Spartan in the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the definitions includes "...distinguished by simplicity, frugality...." And so it seems with Remington's Spartan line of firearms. No obvious frills here, just pure functionality at bargain prices. Look deeper and you'll also find functional surprises to make the line an addition that Remington--and a Spartan owner--can be proud of.