It’s safe to say that the average factory rifle today is vastly more accurate out of the box than the average factory rifle of 1988—or even 2008. That, however, is about all that’s safe to say.
Recently, I received a new Mauser M18 in .270 Winchester. It is one of the most accurate factory rifles I have ever fired, with undoubtedly the best factory trigger. I say that on the basis of how it performed with one particular type of ammunition (RWS), on one particular day. With five other types of ammunition (two different makers and one handload), results were inconclusive.
The M18 is Mauser’s entry in the low-price, high-accuracy sweepstakes, and at a list price of $699, it certainly fulfills the former requirement. Compare that to the base price of the company’s latest Model 98, a traditional rifle in every way, starting at more than $9,000.
I tried not to compare the two in my mind as I was shooting the M18—that’s hardly fair—but one of the noteworthy things about the M98 is its absolutely superb trigger, and the M18’s trigger is every bit as good. Since trigger pull is the most important factor in shooting accurately (provided you have a basically sound rifle), that is no small thing.
As an experiment, I decided to try something different in test-firing the M18. I rounded up all the odds and ends of .270 Win. ammunition I had and took it to the range with the intention of shooting 10-shot groups where possible, smaller ones where I didn’t have enough ammo to do that. A completely random test.
One was my red-hot hunting load, developed for my prized Al Biesen custom rifle, which shoots it reliably under an inch. In the M18, it was not so good. Ten shots measured 2.15 inches.
Norma’s 120-grain Kalahari, which my Biesen rifle dislikes, put 10 shots into 1.8 inches—very respectable. If you have ever shot 10-shot groups, you know how good that really is. Few rifles outside benchrest can put that many shots into an inch time after time.
Where the M18 really sparkled was with two RWS loads: the 130-grain H-Mantel and the 154-grain bonded Evolution. I had only six rounds of each, so I shot two six-round groups. Incidentally, I did all this shooting by putting up seven targets and shooting three shots at each, moving down the line until all the ammunition was used up. Every load was at an equal disadvantage.
The RWS 154-grain Evolution load put six bullets into a 0.72-inch group; the 130-grain H-Mantel group was 1.1 inches. What’s more, if you lay the two targets on top of each other, the two groups are in the same place and together make a 12-shot group measuring 1.2 inches across. That, my friends, is superb performance.
That may sound more complicated than shooting three, three-shot groups and coming back to report that the rifle will group into half an inch, but such is the reality of accuracy testing. It is almost never that simple. Instead, you learn to interpret groups the way Egyptologists read hieroglyphics.
My interpretation of this is that the Mauser M18 is basically a very accurate rifle and that I should be able to develop some handloads for it that will be tackdrivers. Not only that, it obviously likes bullets of varying weights, which is all to the good. Years ago, as much value was placed on a rifle’s ability to shoot bullets of different weights to the same point of impact at 100 yards as on its ability to shoot tiny groups. Obviously, the trajectories will be different, but in this case I could sight-in with both RWS loads at 100 yards and have a good combination for hunting anything in North America or plains game in Africa.
My one remaining question is how can they sell a rifle this good for such a low price? With the M18, Mauser has raised—and lowered—the bar for everyone.