September 23, 2010
By Scott E. Mayer
In 2009, Steyr introduced the SSG 08 bolt-action rifle as the answer to those requiring top accuracy from an out-of-the-box rifle. Clearly police and military agencies equipping specialized units benefit from rifles that are simply issued, sighted in, and deployed without needing any tweaks that might vary from one gun to the next. And while many of us civilians enjoy the process of tuning a rifle or finding just the right load, there are those who want a high performance rifle that works at its best, all the time, every time, right from the start--a rifle such as the SSG 08.
Design features of the SSG 08 were engineered to meet the specifications of Austria's EKO COBRA anti-terrorism unit. At the time of this writing, EKO COBRA reportedly has 449 men and one woman. Their specialized training includes tactics, shooting, rappelling and close quarters combat. Fail to qualify, and the candidate must leave the unit.
COBRA's response time to an incident anywhere in Austria is less than 70 minutes, so their specialized firearms must be easily portable and may have to fit into the cramped confines of a helicopter or armored vehicle. And once on the scene, COBRA members may need a rifle capable of surgical precision to stop a terrorist or hostage taker without endangering innocent bystanders from misses.
One of the biggest design features of the SSG 08 is its aluminum stock that folds down along itself at the wrist to instantly reduce the rifle's overall length from 46 ¼ inches to a more portable 38 ¼ inches. It also features a cheekpiece adjustable for height over a range of 1 ¾ inches with numbered indicator marks so different shooters can instantly and with repeatability adjust the stock height to center their eye in the scope while using a solid cheekweld. You can even adjust the side-to-side position and angle of the cheekpiece as much as ¼ inch by way of two setscrews at its top, and slide its base forward or back along the length of the buttstock to suit individual length of pull and eye relief.
More stock adjustment is provided by a sliding buttplate to customize drop, and spacers to adjust length of pull. Moving forward on the stock is a pistol grip with interchangeable front- and backstrap inserts. Three backstrap inserts range from almost flat to positively hand filling, while the three frontstraps include smooth, one finger groove and three finger grooves options.
All that may seem like a lot of moving parts on a rifle component most shooters want to be "rigid," but Steyr didn't skimp and use flimsy components on the SSG 08's stock. I used the sample SSG 08 over several months shooting from sitting at a bench and prone positions wearing everything from heavy winter clothing to shorts and tee shirt adjusting the stock accordingly for each condition and never experienced any parts slippage, and found the large hand knobs made adjusting between positions quick and easy.
The fore end is fully free floated and ventilated with several attachment points for accessory rails on either side to provide convenient attachment points for the gluttony of tactical and "tacti-cool" accessories currently on the market. The sample came fitted with a three-inch rail on the right side and a six-inch rail on the left. There is also a full-length UIT rail in the bottom of the fore end.
Accurate shots are best made from the prone position using a solid rest, and to that end the SSG 08 is fitted with a stud at the fore end tip for attachment of a Versa-Pod quick-detachable folding bipod. The supplied Versa-Pod Model 51 Short Prone Bipod elevates the bore height from seven to nine inches with five intermediate adjustments in between, and allows for cant and pivot as necessary to make your shot. On the SSG 08, the Versa-Pod works in conjunction with an adjustable monopod integral with the buttstock toe for solid three-point contact with the ground or shooting bench. All three legs are independently adjustable for setting up on uneven terrain, and the monopod can be turned by hand for fine elevation adjustments.
Like its stock, the action of the SSG 08 is also packed full of features. It's topped by a full-length Picatinny rail that provides a lot of longitude for positioning a scope for proper eye relief. Two conventional primary locking lugs are immediately backed up by another pair for added strength in the unlikely event of a ruptured cartridge.
There is a cocking indicator at the rear of the bolt that provides visual and tactile cues to that condition and at the action's tang is Steyr's version of a three-position safety. It has conventional "fire" and "safe" positions, and in the "safe" position the bolt can be operated to unchamber a cartridge. In its third position, the safety locks the bolt closed. With the bolt so locked, shooters can then rotate the bolt handle down an additional half inch where not only does the bolt remain locked, but the firing pin also mechanically locks to all but eliminate the possibility of an unintended discharge.
Steyr promotes this bolt/safety position as the optimum one when repositioning with a loaded rifle. Admittedly, the tang-mounted safety is inconvenient with a pistol grip stock, but so would any conventional safety short of a side-to-side sliding button in the triggerguard.
Additional safety is provided by way of a synthetic, two-position, detachable, 10-round, staggered box magazine. Fully seated, the magazine fits flush with the bottom and fully enclosed within the belly of the stock and cartridges are push-fed into the chamber. The magazine's dual, side-mounted locking latches have a secondary notch allowing shooters to drop and lock the magazine about ¼ inch so the bolt cannot possibly strip a fresh cartridge into the chamber. Don't sweat the magazine being made of polymer--it's damn near indestructible.
On the SSG 08, Steyr uses its positively fantastic direct trigger. There are several adjustment points, but they are sealed and the owner's manual states that the shooter must not make adjustments. The trigger on the sample rifle had ¼-inch of take-up, much like a two-stage military trigger, that broke at a crisp three pounds pull followed by about 1/8 inch of over travel.
The SSG 08 is available in either standard or compact configurations. The standard (reviewed here) has a 23.6-inch barrel while the compact has a 20-inch barrel. Both barrels are fully free-floated and cold hammer forged as indicated by the faint and attractive spiral flats remaining on the outside of the barrel from the hammer forging process. In that process, a short, thick barrel blank is placed over a mandrel that has reverse rifling impressions. Several, typically four, hammers then rapidly pound the blank to the mandrel. The pounding causes the blank to thin and lengthen into a barrel, and transfers the impression of the rifling from the mandrel to the bore. The process of hammer forging is reported to result in a very uniform, smooth bore, and at the very least is impressive (and deafening) to witness.
Barrels terminate with a trim muzzle brake with ports cut to direct muzzle blast to the sides. Venting the high velocity gases to the sides reduces the amount of dust blowing up in front of the shooter that could reveal their location, and if you've ever shot into a headwind with a brake having ports on the bottom, you know that the face full of dust is annoying at best.
I hope Steyr doesn't take this the wrong way, but its SSG 08 ranks high among the most boring rifles I've ever shot the range. Before going to the range, I cleaned the rifle's bore then mounted and bore-sighted a Nightforce3.5-15x50 scope. At the range, I set the SSG 08 up solidly on its 'pods and fired one sighter at 25 yards, adjusted the scope accordingly, and proceeded to shoot 15 consecutive sub-moa five-shot groups at 100 yards. Across the board group sizes were consistent and even the first shot from a freshly cleaned bore when switching ammo types landed in those sub-moa groups. The only thing I had to contend with was a little mirage.
Functionally, there were only two minor issues I encountered. Dealing with the bolt and cheekpiece for cleaning was one of them. With my individual stock setting, I couldn't remove the bolt because the cheekpiece was in the way, and even with the bolt removed the cheekpiece still interfered with cleaning from the chamber because the handle of my 36-inch cleaning rod would stop against the cheekpiece before the jag had cleared the muzzle.
Some folks might cuss the cheekpiece or go to all the trouble of removing it when cleaning, but for me the obvious solution was to simply take advantage of the folding stock feature and bend all of the buttstock business out of the way when cleaning. That worked perfectly, and allowed me to retain my stock settings.
The other issue I had was with the two-position magazine. While it functioned just as it was supposed to, it didn't function with the way I handle a gun. Indeed in its lowered position the bolt rode over the cartridges with plenty of room to spare. There is no doubt in my mind that you cannot chamber a round from the magazine with it locked in the lowered setting. However, the natural balance point of the SSG 08 is the belly of the stock, and I could not help but fully seat the magazine when lifting the SSG 08 when moving to a new shooting position.
There may be some advantage to having the magazine locked in the lowered position while at a stationary shooting position, but I'm the guy who would forget to fully seat the magazine, work the bolt, and hear the deafening "click" of the firing pin dropping on an empty chamber. Again, this was a minor issue. Most shooters won't even know that the magazine has two positions and will just use it as any other detachable magazine. Hopefully those who do know the magazine has two positions will also train to use it properly.
Overall, the SSG 08 delivered the goods in terms accuracy, durability and functionality. It offers shooters a rifle that is up to demanding accuracy requirement right out of the box. Its tough as nails construction and components leave little, if anything, that can break or wear out with normal use and probably even a little abuse. Admittedly, the SSG 08 is an expensive rifle. But for shooters or agencies who want top performance as-issued, Steyr's SSG 08 is a serious contender.
Steyr SSG 08
- Operation: Bolt-action repeating rifle
- Caliber: .308 Win. (tested), .300 Win. Mag., .338 Lapua Mag.
- Barrel Length: 23.6 inches
- Overall Length: 46 ¼ inches (38 ¼ inches folded)
- Weight, empty 12 ½ pounds
- Safety: Steyr three-position tang safety
- Sights: None: Picatinny rail equipped
- Stock: Fully adjustable folding aluminum
- Magazine Capacity: 10 rounds
- Finish: Matte Black
- Price: $5,899