When summer fades wildflowers courageously persist, witness these goldenrods near ATOTT Headquarters in early September. When summer has abundant rain, these blazing beauties flourish, and amateur ditch botanists like me are thrilled, for a short while. Now, the picture brightens a gray January day.
Down to business: Yes! I recently got a copy of the 2016 Gun Digest (Christmas, you know) so my gun information level is rising again. As usual, I can recommend this publication as long as you do not have to pay list price. I always look to see whether there are any articles for fans of plain, thirty-caliber rifles of any era. Not many, but I did like the article on plain (inexpensive) rifles made by Mossberg, Remington, Ruger, and Savage. Good descriptions of the rifles were given, and they were said to be very good shooters, but not one word on any groups obtained, even though the title page showed the author at the bench. Oh, well……
I always check the catalog section for models and current prices of favorite brands. Under bolt action rifles there are about 24 versions of the Remington Model 700. Some of them have been in the line a long time, to wit, the spiffy Models BDL and CDL. It caught my eye that the Model 700 VLS, that first appeared in 1995, is still available. I am gratified. The Model 700 VLS was one of the first modern rifles with which I pursued accuracy through handloading and bedding work. VLS = “Varmint, Laminated Stock,” and it is indeed a varmint weight rifle with a very sturdy, laminated stock. Indifferent at first, I have come to regard the laminated stock, with its light and dark brown tones, as being quite attractive. There is no question that it is also extremely strong and stable, very good for the maintenance of target accuracy. The MSRP is above $1,000, but getting a VLS in today’s market will cost a bit less. You will find a reasonable price for the performance delivered.
The Remington Model 700 VLS
is built around the rigid, tubular action that first appeared in the Remington Models 721 and 722 introduced in the late 1940s. The 700 dates from 1962 and so it has been thoroughly described in many places, including this site. In the VLS it carries a 26-inch
barrel of varmint weight, a pipe with a muzzle diameter of 0.82 inches and a concave, 11-degree muzzle crown. With the heavy stock and steel bottom metal the gun tops 9 pounds and then will eclipse 10 pounds with a good varmint scope attached. This is just fine for shooting accurately from a rest. The action, including the adjustable trigger, is the same as that of all other Model 700s.
The VLS getting consideration here was obtained in caliber .308 Winchester. Not exactly a varmint round in my thought, but I wanted to do some accurate shooting with a thirty, and the .308 is the choice for that. Considering that sporter-weight Model 700s are generally very accurate, the question is, what could I get with the heavy barrel and very rigid wood? Smaller groups and more consistency in successive groups, perhaps?
It is generally accepted in the shooting world that smaller calibers shoot smaller groups, given equal attention to accuracy requirements in rifle construction, handloading, and shooting technique. Thus, it has always been easier to get groups of less than ½” with a .22 or .24 than it has with a .30. Back in the day, Remington’s 40-X rifles in .308 Win were expected, and certified by Remington, to give groups of 0.75″ or better. Having said that, I note that Remington’s current guarantee assures groups of ½” or less for all 40-X rifles including those of thirty caliber. These rifles are now only available through Remington’s Custom Shop
I installed a Bausch and Lomb Elite 4000 6X24 variable scope to help me find out what my VLS could do. Absorbed into the Bushnell scope line some years ago, the B & L Elite was an example of the cream of scopedom in its time.
How many days at the range? I really do not know, but after many, many shots from the bench using loads assembled with IMR 3031, Winchester 748, Hodgdon Varget, and the like pushing Sierra and Hornady 168-grain match bullets I can say my VLS is a reliable 0.8″ (MOA) rifle that will do somewhat better on a good day. Groups of 0.5″ have appeared often enough to keep me interested over the long term.
This performance was attained with the action epoxy bedded and the barrel floated. Accuracy procedures were used for the handloads. Cases were sorted by weight. Flashholes were reamed and cases were neck-sized only and trimmed to consistent length. Bullets were seated with a Redding micrometer match bullet seater.
The following target with five consecutive, five-shot groups at 100 yards shows the results of a better-than-average day. The handload of 39.1 grains of IMR 3031 boosting a Sierra 168-g. Match king gave an average of 0.65 in. for the five groups.
The Remington 700 VLS .308 with Factory Target Ammo
Having given it a long rest while working on other projects, I felt the VLS needed some exercise. With ammo availability easing somewhat, I thought that investigating the accuracy of factory match ammo in .308 would be a good project. Almost all of my previous accuracy work had used my own handloads. I therefore acquired seven different brands of match ammo. A bullet weight of 168 grains is the most common bullet heft in these rounds, and four of them used the Sierra Match King 168-gr. Bullet. I think that tells us something about Sierra’s match reputation.
Federal Gold Medal Match 168 gr.
Hornady Match 168 gr.A-Max
Nosler Match 168 gr. Nosler Match
Norma Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King
PPU Match 168 gr.
Remington Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King
Winchester Match 168 gr. Sierra Match King
I took these seven worthies and the VLS to the range and shot groups of four shots at fifty yards. Groups of four shots give a better idea of a load’s accuracy than groups of three, without increasing the project cost very much. The tendency to throw a flyer is more easily determined in a four-group, and this is more economical than fives. A box of twenty will thus allow 4 groups of four, plus a few extra for sighting in and for barrel fouling after cleaning.
I obtained an overall average for 24 groups (included all ammo brands) of 0.64 In. (1.28 Minutes of Angle). The smallest groups were 0.29 in. (Norma Match) and 0.34 in. (Remington Match).
So, I found that my VLS would not, on average, break an inch with this assortment of factory ammo. How about shooter skill and technique? I would not claim to be at the top of the target game, but, if a rifle is able to shoot an inch I will usually get that result. The heavy VLS rested very solidly in a target front rest and bunny-ear rear bag. I strived for the same hold and trigger pressure for each shot. The trigger action was very good.
Relevant Info: My 700 VLS, like some other Remington rifles I have had, has a long chamber throat. Sierra recommends an overall length of 2.800″ when the 168-gr MK is used in the .308. The good handload groups shown in the pic above were obtained with cartridges using an OAL of 2.98,” nearly 0.20″ longer than the recommended value. Accuracy is improved when the bullet is closer to the lands. My advice, based on experience, is to check your chamber length when trying to get your Remington to shoot its best.
Back to the factory loads, could I present a subset of data so that the performance looks its best? Shooting writers have to know the tricks of the trade here. Since there was a slight tendency toward a flyer or two with almost every brand of ammo, let me figure the average on the basis of the best 18 (75%) of the 24 groups. That average is 0.55 in. (1.10 MOA). Note that this decision for weighting did not change the mean value very much. That is an indication that group sizes were uniform and that flyers were not very serious. And this is the result of uniformity of the factory ammo, which is a very good thing.
More importantly, perhaps, we should want to know which ammo brands did the best. The Remington Match (using the Sierra MK bullet) threw four groups that averaged 0.46 in. (0.92 MOA). The next best performance was given by the Norma Match (also using the Sierra MK bullet) with five groups averaging .50 in. (1.00 MOA).
Winchester Match gave 0.65 in. (1.30 MOA) for four groups.
Federal Gold Medal Match gave 0.66 in. (1.32 MOA) for two groups
Hornady Match (regular, not Superformance) gave 0.70 in. (1.40 MOA) for four groups
PPU Match gave 0.79 in. (1.58 MOA) for three groups.
The largest groups were given by the Nosler Match. Two groups averaged 0.86 in. I attribute this larger result to a higher than average velocity, about 2750 fps for the 168 gr. Nosler Bullet. All of the other brands fell right around 2550 fps. Previous experience has shown that this Remington VLS rifle does its best with loads giving around 2500 fps, and in other projects, Nosler match bullets have always been great, and I should pop a few more groups before making firm conclusions about this brand of ammo.
Summarising: The Remington Model 700 VLS gives consistent accuracy performance with a variety of factory ammo. One can find factory brands that give groups better than 1.0 MOA. However, I believe that carefully-prepared handloads will still give better performance than factory ammo. The heavy barrel and stock, with the smooth 700 action, is a pleasure to shoot at the bench.