Having previously tested the LA101 rimfire, Stuart Wilson gets his hands on the centrefire version – it’s the Lithgow Arms LA102 Crossover in .308 Win
While I spend a lot of time outside, filming or general shooting along with associated photography, I do go stir crazy sometimes stuck inside trying to complete these rifle reviews. I have been determined to try and get myself into a box seat with facility to tap away on a keyboard enjoying the fresh air, and maybe even bag the odd deer or fox. After a quick rake through the workshop I discovered enough offcuts for a small drop-down table that now fulfils the role of my ‘desk al fresco’. It’s a real benefit to get extra time outdoors, and the ability to review a rifle while sat for a potential shot is great.
Two issues ago I reviewed the Lithgow LA101 .22LR, which was superb; this month I have been putting its big brother, the LA102, to the test. It’s sat by my side as I write, waiting for an obliging roebuck or careless fox. The model I was sent is the Cerakoted synthetic in .308 Win, along with a Nikko Stirling Diamond LR 4-16×50, which proved very good at low light, and an Aimsport moderator, which I chose to leave off for this test.
The stock is a solid polymer construction, featuring a butt stock design like the .22LR I reviewed last month. The forend is also very similar, sporting the grippy panels on both sides, as does the pistol grip. The forend is solidly built, filling the hand well, with the underside having three distinct angular faces – these faces support a bipod nicely and lend themselves to rested shooting very well, while remaining more than manageable if using sticks. With two bipod/sling studs upfront and the rear one neatly tucked into the butt hook, attaching a sling or bipod is a simple operation, and you can take advantage of the second sling stud allowing easy movement of a single bipod between guns without disturbing the sling. The relief channel inside the for-end allows for a fully floated barrel, and the clearance is ample to allow the barrel to remain floated even when different pressures are exerted with alternative shooting positions.
The trigger guard is also moulded into the stock, as is the magazine well, which is neat, simple and functional, with two action screws sealing the deal between barrelled action and stock. With a scope mounted onto the Lithgow I felt the comb was a touch low – or the scope was more likely a touch high – nothing major, but I’m very conscious of getting the best fit before you really get to work with a rifle. In the end, I decided the cheek weld was good enough and comfortable, and after several dry mounts I was looking forward to getting out for the initial zero session. One last feature of the synthetic stock is the butt pad and spacers, which, as you would expect allow the length of pull to be adjusted. As standard the Lithgow comes with two spacers installed, which gave a 14.25in length of pull, perfect for my needs.
The action and barrel are finished to look like they are stainless, but as with the LA101 rimfire they are Cerakoted with a titanium coloured coating. The action is machined from high tensile steel, complete with a pre-installed picatinny rail which makes for simple and secure mount solutions, from day scopes through to night scopes and anywhere in between. When you pop the action out of the stock you are greeted with a well-made synthetic stock, which includes a criss-cross of internal wall supports that save weight while giving the forend its rigidity.
The recoil lug is a loose metal tab that locates in the stock and, as the action is installed into the stock, the lug registers into a slot machined into the bottom of the action, neat and simple. The trigger group and magazine clips mechanism are both bolted to the bottom of the action and topped with a dab of blue seal to keep everything as it was when assembled. The front action screw threads into a threaded hole in the bottom of the action, and the rear action screw threads into a threaded wedge that is free to move in a dovetailed slot. Don’t panic when I say ‘free to move’ – this is a neat solution to keeping things central with the action locating in a captive recess in the stock, allowing a degree of movement as the action screw is tightened. Obviously when fully tightened the friction from the action screw will keep everything still and secure. The threaded wedge reminded me of some CZ rimfires.
On these, I have in the past installed a small grub screw beneath the reach of the tightened action screw to keep the wedge in exactly the same spot if this is of concern. The action itself looks like it started life as a solid round bar – it has then been exactingly machined for both form and function. The tapered faces either side of the action sport the company logo one side and ‘Australian made’ the other. Beneath the line of the stock there are slots milled that look to me as though they are for weight saving – one small point with these slots is that you shouldn’t try and full length bed this rifle unless you want the stock to be a permanent fixture!
The LA102’s action really is a joy to behold for anyone who appreciates machining. Lithgow has even machined a chamfer to the front of the action past the end of the rail to smooth the line from rail to action to barrel; aesthetics meets machining. The bolt is as solid as the rest of the rifle, a three-lug design with the associated low bolt lift to avoid any scope fouling. The bolt handle is topped with a nylon ball with several flutes cut into it to further aid grip. In operation the bolt is slick, solid and leaves you with the feeling of dependability when it really matters, and the ejector paired with the extractor claw launch spent cases out of the ejection port in a way that would make reloaders cry and greedy hunters rejoice – faultless. Bolt removal is effected by pushing the small button on the left-hand side of the action, and the same button also acts as a bolt guide running in a slot machined in the side of the bolt.
The magazine is a simple single stack-three capacity with faultless feeds, exactly the same as a Tikka T3, and interchangeable, so if you are stuck for a replacement or spare magazine this should be a formality in gun shops around the world. The magazine pops in securely and a positive clip is pushed for removal. The clip is recessed to help avoid magazine loss during crawling or hunting through tricky ground.
The safety catch is a wing type to the rear of the bolt – forward for fire, the mid position puts the safety on and locks the bolt in the closed position, and clicked a further step round, making the lever in line with the bolt, leaves the gun in safe mode but now allows the bolt to be cycled. The acid test is how the safety clicks off in the heat of the moment, when the biggest buck you have ever seen casually appears 40 yards from you as you have the rifle on the sticks patiently glassing a ride. The LA102 safety on test was quite stiff, and to be completely silent it required a finger and thumb to ease it forward to avoid the click of death. Of course, this is something that could ‘smooth out’ after more extended use of the rifle.
The barrel is also Cerakoted, 22in (560mm) long, factory threaded in 14x1mm and covered by a matching thread cap, so the choice is yours if you want to screw a moderator on. I chose to go loud and leave the Aimsport mod off for this test (it’s nice to have a good boom every now and again). The rifle handles nicely bare, and it is much handier in a box seat without the moderator. The barrel in .308 Win is a four-groove 1-in-11in right-hand twist, hammer forged, and I would describe it as semi weight – for me it’s the best of both worlds.
The trigger is different, broad, curved but completely smooth. I liked the feel straight away before even testing the break; the wider blade is always my preferred option for a hunting rifle as it allows you to keep a safe trigger weight while keeping the perceived weight from being a problem. The Lithgow website states that the three-lever design is adjustable for weight, sear engagement and over travel, though I could only see two screws that could be adjusted. In any case I’m pleased to report that the trigger’s performance did not leave me feeling like I wanted to do any adjustments at all, it wasn’t just a case of putting up with it as it was. Moreover, it broke clean and crisp – perfect.
In the field
Out in the field, I quickly pulled a zero. For ammunition I grabbed some Winchester 150gn Silvertips, and they grouped tightly enough at 100 yards. Quickly popping the scope turrets off to reset their zero, I completed a very pleasing test in record time. As I shot the rifle – and I nearly always do this – I cycle the bolt slowly and catch the empty case before it’s ejected. Once when I did this, the action stopped – the bolt seemed locked, but after dropping the magazine the bolt was free.
Curiously, the bottom lug of the bolt was catching the neck of the next round in the magazine. If I owned the rifle I would need this sorting before I put it to any serious use – I suspect it may be limited to the specific test model I had. The problem is only apparent when the rifle is loaded, something that would never happen in a gunshop. And the rifle cycles perfectly at speed, which is more important.
My final thoughts, after zeroing the LA102 and having a brief evening session in a box seat, are that despite the slow reload issue, I would like to do more with this rifle. While cycling the bolt I could only think what this rifle would be like for driven boar, thumping reds, or taking roe at distance in winter fields. I think the Crossover moniker is apt.