This rifle looks like it’s been dragged straight from Gears of War (sorry oldies, younger generation reference). But it’s built on an action that has stood the test of time and, although I am not particularly fond of a few aspects, millions of rifle owners tell us that it works and works well.
Despite the vast number of rifles that pass through my cabinet for testing, this was the first time a Remington had made its way to me – mainly because there wasn’t much that excited me about doing a review on a Remy. Not because of anything particularly negative about one of the most popular rifles in existence, but because there isn’t a lot that hasn’t been said already. I have handled plenty over the years, with a number of my good hunting friends furnishing their armouries with the classic model 700. However, when the VTR (Varmint Tactical Rifle) came along I couldn’t resist getting my hands on it – it’s not every day a rifle comes along that makes me do a double take.
The VTR, like most of Remington’s rifles, is based on the famous model 700 action. Launched in 1962, it became the biggest selling rifle of its time. Today the model 700 is the all-time best selling sporting bolt-action in the world. When it was originally conceived, the design concept focused on the rifle being easy to manufacture, which kept prices down. The round action is machined from a single bar stock, while the recoil lug is essentially a jammed washer held between the barrel and action. This allowed for a simple automated machining process, and the ability to mass-produce is one of the reasons for Remington’s runaway success.
At the time plenty of rifle enthusiasts laughed at the idea of Remington’s 700, tarring it with the ‘cheap and nasty’ brush. However, there was no denying it was a good-looking rifle and, being so competitively priced, it took the market by storm with its ‘three rings of steel’ – the recessed bolt face, chamber end of the barrel and front receiver ring all encasing the cartridge head. As well as reliability, the rifle gained a reputation for being accurate out of the box, and soon won over those who had shunned the new model.
The market was tough to crack, especially with favourites such as the Winchester model 70 imbedded in the hunting psyche. Remington had some luck, though, as two years later the much-loved pre-64 model 70 saw an upgrade that did not please gun critics or the market. Undoubtedly this helped the Remy 700’s takeover of the American market. It continued to gain popularity, and myriad after-market accessories followed as the number of Remy 700s grew. Today more ‘bolt-ons’ are available for the model 700 than any other rifle. It also found favour with those wanting to build custom rifles, using the action to build their dream hunting combo.
There is no doubt that the Remy 700 has fans and is a reliable rifle that serves millions of people around the world. But what would I make of the VTR now I had to cast a critical eye over it for a review?
The most striking part of the VTR is its futuristic triangular barrel. According to the Remington literature, the VTR is a “revolutionary system optimised for extended-range precision and mobility”. The explanation for the radical barrel profile is down to “years of rigorous research and development focused on reducing weight, enhancing rigidity and promoting rapid heat dissipation”. This is a useful design quality, and pertinent for shooting extended strings. It is easy to see that varmint hunters may find it particularly useful, but whether any of this makes a difference in the field is another matter.
The first point to investigate further is the claim of “enhanced rigidity”. There is a lot of maths that we could go into, and I am not going to bore you with screeds of formula here, but will try and help you visualise Remington’s assertions.
The formula for rigidity can be viewed (to the best of my understanding) as the formula for the moment of inertia, so shorter, fatter barrels will be stiffer. Anything that removes material from a standard barrel shape, such as fluting, will essentially reduce the stiffness of the barrel. So reducing the amount of material to bring a round barrel down to a triangle also reduces stiffness. However, what is important here is producing the stiffest barrel possible for a given barrel weight. You can look at this as triangles inside circles, or circles inside triangles.
The bull barrel has a lot more material, and therefore weight, than the equivalent diameter triangle barrel, and will be stiffer. But looking at it the other way round, a triangular barrel will be stiffer than the sporter barrel that could fit inside its dimensions. Essentially, for a given weight you are able to get a stiffer barrel with greater surface area from a triangular shape than a standard profile. This also takes care of the “promoting rapid heat dissipation” part of Remington’s marketing spiel. Here we have a greater surface area (constrained by weight, as we have already said), but further to that the triangular barrel offers a particularly useful quality when it comes to dispersing heat.
Varmint barrels take a lot longer to heat up than sporter profiles as they consist of more material. Warming up from the bore outwards, the heat takes longer to reach the external surface, and this is dissipated over a larger surface area. The flipside of this is that once a varmint barrel heats up, it takes longer to cool than a sporter. With a triangular barrel, three sides sit very close to the bore, allowing heat to travel quickly to the surface and cool, while also being dissipated over a larger surface area than a sporter profile. A fluted barrel works in a similar way – a triangular barrel is basically a form of fluting. It appears that Remington’s claims ring true on paper.
Any tangible benefit is difficult to test in the field because it would involve matching barrel weights perfectly to keep tests fair. I will have to provide a subjective evaluation.
The rifle handles nicely – its stock may be a fairly cheap injection-moulded affair, but it’s a nice compromise between a varmint and stalking profile. The rigid frame combined with rubberised inserts is pleasing, and functionally I can’t complain. Most people are familiar with the model 700 action, and there are no surprises here. I have never liked the ‘c-clip’ extractor on a Remy, preferring the sturdier sprung claw on a Howa, but it still works.
The bolt cycles as expected – neither particularly slick or noticeably restricted. The push feed and ejection is positive and the lock-up on the twin lugs is nice and snug without having to be forced. Not following recent trends, the safety is just a two-position, found at the right-hand side of the bolt shroud. It is noisy to operate unless you apply reasonable pressure and consciously release it softly.
Machined as a round receiver, the recoil lug is not an integral part of the action – this is my biggest grumble with Remingtons. Essentially, the barrel is threaded longer than the action, allowing a recoil washer to be jammed between the two pieces of steel. This is efficient from a manufacturing perspective, but not the strongest of designs – that said, many very accurate rifles have been built on the 700.
One of the biggest improvements over the years has been Remington’s triggers – historically heavy and pretty terrible compared to European competitors. The new X-Mark Pro trigger, introduced in 2009, is a marked improvement. Adjustable down to 3lb on the spec, it will turn down a little more with an external hex screw. I have to say, I was impressed. Nice and crisp with a wide trigger blade – thumbs up to Remington.
Returning to the barrel, it sits on a pressure band at the end of the stock instead of being free floating. I am unsure why, but assume Remington found it was required to tune barrel harmonics. I haven’t tested the rifle with a fully floated barrel, but noted a small reduction in accuracy shooting from a bipod compared with the sandbag.
Now we get on to how the rifle shoots. Very well is the short answer. I got lucky with bullet selection as it ate up the 50-grain Hornady V-Max on my initial firing. Consistently clustering three shots, there isn’t much more to say. It can definitely shoot.
This rifle looks like it’s been dragged straight from Gears of War (sorry oldies, younger generation reference). But it’s built on an action that has stood the test of time and, although I am not particularly fond of a few aspects, millions of rifle owners tell us that it works and works well. The only thing that will seriously affect its popularity in the UK is an aspect I have omitted until this point: the rifle comes with a built-in muzzle brake. As it should, it whips out some of the recoil, but not to the same extent as a good moderator – and, of course, fitting a moderator is not an option. This is the main hurdle the VTR has to overcome on British soil – but if there’s a rifle with the quality to overcome it, it’s this. BP
Model tested: 700 VTR in .243
Price range: Around £1,193
Contact: Remington UK 01206 795333 www.sportsmk.co.uk