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Sporting gunmakers roll out tactical updates - and one slick new six-shooter

Apr. 14, 2011 - 03:13PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 14, 2011 - 03:13PM  |  
Winchester Model 11/111 Featherweight Compact
Winchester Model 11/111 Featherweight Compact ()
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The firearms industry largely escaped the recent recession, especially in terms of sales of personal defense weapons.

Particularly remarkable is the seeming market glut of small-caliber, military-styled sporting and tactical carbines. The number of companies designing, manufacturing and selling automatic rifle carbine variants has grown exponentially in recent years. Most are chambered in NATO 5.56 (.223 Remington), but "plinkers" that fire inexpensive rimfire ammunition are increasingly available. An industry effort to brand these firearms "modern sporting rifles" seems to have gained solid traction.

The traditional sporting firearms market, however, has been relatively cautious in terms of rolling out new products over the last two years during a period of mergers, factory consolidations and scaled-back marketing efforts.

This year, some manufacturers uniquely combine features of traditional sporting firearms and military-styled carbines. And bringing back new editions of the guns of yesteryear is always fashionable.

A look at some of the most interesting offerings of 2011:

Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle

"Is it a jungle carbine or a Mini-14?" Ruger's vendor representative asked as I examined this relatively compact new rifle. Chambered in .308 Winchester, it's built around Ruger's popular M77 action with a stainless steel bolt assembly that uses a Mauser-type controlled feed extractor.

Ruger hails it as "a credible rendition" of late Marine Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper's Scout Rifle concept. "Cooper called for a relatively lightweight, hard-hitting, do-all rifle that, in the hands of an accomplished shooter, was able to place accurate, sustained fire out to long ranges, yet was quick-handling and light enough for all-day carry."

The 7-pound Scout Rifle has a black laminate stock with sling swivel studs and a 16.5-inch matte black oxide alloy steel barrel. It accommodates a five- or 10-round detachable magazine. It comes with a peep sight but also has integral scope mounts. Or, mount a scope or other favored accessory on the forward-mounted Picatinny rail.

The recoil pad comes with three buttpad spacers to adjust for the shooter's size or clothing requirements. The 5/8-24 muzzle threads accept most standard .30-caliber muzzle accessories flash suppressors, muzzle brakes and sound suppressors.

MSRP: $995

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Rossi Ranch Hand

This is another Old West-styled gun, reminiscent of the "Mare's Leg" Steve McQueen's character Josh Randall carried on the old "Wanted: Dead or Alive" TV series. This cut-down Winchester Model 1892 rifle could be worn in a large leg holster and fired with one hand.

Rossi's Ranch Hand is a very short 24 inches and has a 12-inch barrel. It's labeled a six-shot lever-action pistol. At just 4 pounds, it's designed to carry easily, stow easily in a short scabbard or vehicle, and be readily accessible. Available in .44 Mag., .45 Colt and .357 Mag., it has a Brazilian hardwood stock and blued finish barrel and receiver.

The lever loop is huge, designed for gloved hands. Some will surely debate the utility of this gun, but there's no denying it looks cool.

MSRP: about $525

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Chiappa 1886 Lever Action

This beautiful lever action adds no modern bells or whistles except for the better production and barrel creation enabled by modern machining. Other than that, the goal was to replicate the original Winchester Model 1886 created by John Moses Browning. Unlike some lever actions of the day that were designed to handle handgun rounds, this rifle was crafted to handle the heavier cartridges being developed then, such as the .45-70 Government.

The 1886 was said to have been a hunting favorite of Theodore Roosevelt.

Chiappa makes four versions, two in .45-70 and two in .444 Marlin. The rifles with octagonal barrels weigh 9 pounds, while the carbines weigh 8 pounds.

MSRP: $1,450

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Blaser R8 luxus

The German-made Blaser R8 bolt-action rifle is ingeniously modular. The magazine and trigger unit are merged into one compact, easily detached module, as is the bolt assembly. The magazine is actually atop the trigger, which allows for a more compact rifle. Add in an easily exchanged barrel and scope, and this is one versatile firearm. And it breaks down swiftly into a carrying case that doesn't so conspicuously identify it as a firearm.

The comfortable pistol grip enables smooth handling. The crisp trigger is set for 2.5 pounds in the rifles sold in America. The R8 Professional features a synthetic stock versus the fine walnut featured on the Jaeger and Luxus models. The Luxus comes with beautifully engraved side plates depicting sheep, red stag, boar or other motifs. The rifles are available in cartridges ranging from .223 Rem., all the way up to the dangerous game legend, the .500 Jeffrey.

MSRP: From $3,250 for the Professional to $4,745 for the Luxus

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Browning X-Bolt Micro Midas

Browning's X-Bolt rifle debuted a few years ago, and this line extension is another lightweight offering targeted to smaller-framed shooters such as children and women.

The gun weighs just 6 pounds, 1 ounce. The shorter, satin-finish, checkered walnut stock with installed sling swivel studs is balanced by the shorter 20-inch, free-floating blued steel barrel.

It comes chambered for short-action cartridges such as .22-250 Rem., .243 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., and .308 Win. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.

MSRP: $800

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Gamo air rifles

A Gamo promotional video leaves no doubt about the potency of the new hunting air rifles. Everything from foxes to small hogs dropped like stones from fairly close-range shots from high-velocity air rifles firing either .177- or .22-caliber lead pellets.

The Varmint Hunter HP delivers 1,400 feet per second, while the SOCOM Extreme can send the same projectile screaming at 1,650 FPS, and a .22 pellet at 1,300 FPS.

Both rifles have spring piston break barrel actions. The Varmint Hunter has a 4x32 air rifle scope with laser and light and a fluted, polymer-jacketed steel barrel and synthetic green stock. The SOCOM Extreme features a Gamo 3-9x50 illuminated scope, steel jacketed bull barrel and synthetic black stock.

The Varmint Hunter weighs 6.6 pounds, while the Extreme is a hefty 9.5 pounds.

Price: $290 for the Varmint Hunter; $490 for the Extreme.

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Marlin Model

1894 CSBL Marlin's 1894 lever-action cowboy rifles, chambered for handgun calibers, get an updated look with this new offering featuring XD Ghost Ring sights, a fiber-optic front post sight and a "Scout Scope Mount" rail atop the stainless steel barrel and receiver.

The CSBL is chambered for .357 Magnum and .38 Special. The SBL model handles .44 Remington Magnum and .44 S&W Special rounds. The lever loop is enlarged for gloves. Spent cartridges eject to the side. It has a gray-black laminate stock and weighs 6 pounds.

MSRP: $1,060

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4x4 The Mossberg 4x4 bolt-action rifle line is proven, and one measure of that is the continued expansion into additional calibers. Previously available in nine long-action and short-magnum calibers, Mossberg expands the 4x4 into some of the most popular short-action calibers: 22-.250 Rem., .243 Win., 7mm-08 Rem. and .308 Win. Arguably, there's a 4x4 now for everything from gophers to grizzlies.

The 4x4 has a 24-inch fluted barrel with a removable, ported muzzle brake, detachable box magazine and user-adjustable trigger down to 2 pounds. Short-action models are available with black, synthetic or sculpted laminate stock. The scope-rifle combo weighs about 8.5 pounds. The 4x4 has developed a reputation for out-of-the-box accuracy.

Price: About $400 at many retailers

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Savage Model 11/111 Lightweight Hunter

You may need only one shot at a high-country trophy, but you'll likely have to carry the rifle all day up and down the mountains to get that opportunity. One line extension worth taking a look at is Savage's lightweight addition to its popular Model 11 lineup. The short-action Model 11, chambered in several cartridges up to .308 Win., weighs just 5.5 pounds, and the long-action Model 111, chambered in .30-06, among others, is 6 pounds.

Weight is saved with the 20-inch light-profile, blued steel barrel. The rifle has a walnut stock and a four-round capacity with a hinged floorplate magazine. All of Savage's Specialty Series rifles come with the adjustable Accu-Trigger, which allows the gun's owner to easily adjust triggers to fire with as little as 6 ounces or as much as 6 pounds of pressure.

MSRP: $875

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Remington Model 597 AAC-SD

The semiautomatic Model 597 .22 rifle has been around a few years, but new this year is a model with a 16.5-inch barrel and -inch x 28 threaded muzzle that will accept Advanced Armament Corp. and other matching threaded flash hiders, muzzle brakes and suppressors. All Model 597 AAC-SD rifles are shipped with a threaded muzzle protector installed and a low-profile, 10-round magazine.

Remington touts the proprietary bolt-guidance system, with its set of twin, tool-steel guide rails for better stability, feeding reliability and accuracy.

Price: About $220

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Winchester Model 70 Featherweight Compact

With the same concept and caliber offerings as sister company Browning's Micro Midas, Winchester's shortened hunting rifle has a slightly longer length of pull (13 inches vs. 12.5 inches). The gun has the highly touted pre-1964 Controlled Round Feeding system, an easily adjusted trigger, 20-inch blued steel barrel and a checkered walnut stock.

MSRP: $899

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Chiappa Rhino

While looking at Chiappa's product line, the innovative Rhino, which debuted in August, stands out. It's a six-shot, .357 Magnum revolver that shoots through the bottom cylinder. This gun looks a little funny with its flat-sided cylinder and seemingly huge sighting rib atop the barrel, but the design is geared for ease of carry and to minimize recoil.

As the company explains it, the barrel position lowers the gun's center of gravity and yields a centerline of the bore more in line with the shooter's arm, allowing for the most natural "point ability" while engaging a target. This also drastically reduces both recoil and muzzle flip, which ensures that subsequent shots will be on target faster.

The Rhino is available in barrel lengths from 2 to 6 inches.

MSRP: $750-$940

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Perrotte is a Military Times outdoor writer.

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