Graphic Content Warning:
Some of the photographs accompanying the article depict a very dirty rifle.
PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!
I’ve spent over a year with one rifle, a Sako 75 30-06, and have gotten used to its idiosyncrasies. Probably most of you don’t have experience with that exact rifle, so in describing and comparing my new FN PBR XP, which is built on a Model 70 action, I’ll try to add in comparisons to a Remington 700 in .308 that I have some experience with.
Starting at the rear of the rifle, the FN rifle has a very soft, rubbery buttpad. It seems to adhere to the shoulder, which works well for shooting with the sling and keeps the butt in the shoulder while the firing hand is working the bolt. The Sako had a harder, reddish rubber buttpad which is slick. The Sako tends to fall out of the shoulder when cycling the bolt in sling supported positions. The slicker buttpad is better for snapshooting because it does not stick.
The Sako has a very long length of pull at 14.25”. The FN has a length of pull of ~13.6”, which according to the old “butt on the bicep” measuring method, is perfect for me. The Remington I’m using for comparison has a McMillan Baker Special stock with a ~12.6” length of pull. That’s very short, which makes for a cramped position and makes scope mounting/eye relief more complicated. The FN feels like it fits very well, especially in prone. In offhand there’s not much of a difference for me, but I might give a slight edge to the FN. I had thought that the shorter length of pull would make it possible to reach the bolt knob in sling supported positions without having modify my bolt technique. No such luck.
Speaking of bolts, the Sako bolt knob is smooth while the FN has a ring of knurling around the knob. Col. Cooper favored a smooth knob, because he grasped the bolt between the thumb and forefinger and “flicked” the wrist, meaning that the bolt knob had to move within the fingers. I never really grasp the knob, but catch it on the upswing with my index finger. I find the knurling to be of assistance.
Knurling. I like knurling.
Now that we’re on the subject of bolts, I have to admit to being something of a bolt connoisseur. The Sako has an unbelievably smooth bolt. This is the one thing over all other things which sold me on the Sako to begin with. It travels like ball bearings on glass. The FN’s bolt just does not compare overall for ease of use. I had gotten pretty quick with the Sako bolt. I’m probably not going to be that fast with the FN for a while.
In comparison to the Remmy that I shoot, the FN is smoother on the forward/rearward, but more difficult on the up and down. It’s not quite a fair comparison, because I believe the Remmy has been lapped. It also has a couple thousand rounds down the tube.
The downstroke on the FN bolt at this point is actually quite difficult. I believe the firing pin spring has something to do with this. When the safety is in the center position, it blocks the striker and holds it to the rear, actually pushing it slightly rearward, taking the spring out of the equation. Working the bolt with the safety on is very, very, very easy. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that working the bolt a whole bunch will probably smooth it (and me) up.
The FN has a three position safety, which I think is good. Forward is fire, center is safe, but allows the bolt to be cycled, and the rear position is safe and locks the bolt. The Sako has a two position safety and locks the bolt in the safe position, but has a button to override the bolt lock. The Remington I use has the old style “Walker” trigger and is a 2 position, locking the bolt closed in the safe position. Newer Remingtons are 2 position and don’t lock the bolt.
This safety is on FIRE!!!
The FN safety seems to be the safest of the 3 because it physically blocks the striker, rather than just the trigger or sear. The only fault of the FN safety in my opinion is that it makes a distinctly metallic “snikt” sound when moving from any position to any other. The Sako and Remington are more silent, the Remington having a slight edge.
My FN has a very simple trigger mechanism, which I think is good. There appear to be only 2 major components. The Remington and Sako trigger mechanisms are shrouded in mystery behind their housings.
A nice, simple trigger mechanism. It even works with a bunch of dust in it!
The Sako trigger is a marvel to behold in use; it is absolutely crisp with no takeup and very minimal over-travel. All of the advertising boilerplate is true in the case of the Sako. The Remmy is crisp, but you can almost feel some “flex” before the trigger breaks. Not creep, but some lack of stiffness in the parts, probably the trigger itself. The FN has no such flex, but a bit of pre-travel, then a bit of smooth creep which gives it a sort of “roll through” feel. It’s not a horrible trigger, but it’s not what I would consider great.
I can tell it’s from a molding, but is it a casting or MIM? Someone knowledgeable will chime up, then I will alter my post to take credit for his knowledge, then delete his comment. Please chime up if you know.
The FN being a .308, is a “short action”. I don’t know exactly what that means, and I’m not one to stop my train of thought because of a seemingly final label like “Jobs Bill”, “Women’s Health” “Federal Reserve”, “Great Society”, “Social Justice” etc… I decided to measure the difference of the FN, the Remington, and the Sako 75, which is a IV (again, for current wards of the public education system, that means “4”). I measured both the size of the ejection port opening and the bolt travel. Stats (I tried to get the columns to line up, but blogger is not very helpful):
Ejection Port Bolt Travel
Remington 700 Short Action: 2.381” ~3.990 “
FN Short Action: 2.838” ~4.010”
Sako 75 IV: 3.223” 4.285”
Just looking at the port openings, I had been thinking that the FN was more of a medium than a short action, the Remington being my frame of reference. The Sako IV is a little bit shorter than a true long action, as it was specifically designed for the cartridge family it’s chambered for.
Judging from the amount of bolt travel of each rifle, it seems that the actions of the FN and the Remington are actually very comparable in terms of function. I would guess that the FN port size favors reliability and ease of use because it is large enough to clear a loaded .308 round. The Remington design seems to favor strength and rigidity, as a loaded round will not clear the port without angling it in.
Remington 700 .308 Winchester with a Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain round for scale.
The effin ejection port. Large enough to clear a factory loaded round.
One ingenious feature of the Model 70 is the ease with which the bolt can be field stripped. Place the safety in the center position, remove the bolt, depress a small button, and turn the bolt shroud counter-clockwise approximately six time. The bolt shroud and firing pin assembly comes right out. Very nice and no tools are necessary.
The striker, spring, bolt shroud, and safety assembly can be easily removed for cleaning with the push of a button (not visible in photo) and about six counterclockwise turns. It’s easier than it was for you to read that sentence.
The action of the FN is forged, which I like because it sounds strong (like bull/muy fuerte). In reality I probably won’t notice a difference. The receiver has a flat bottom and a big, beefy, built in recoil lug. These attributes are supposed to be optimal for bedding.
Flat bottomed, beefy, and so dirrrrrty.
The bolt stop on the FN is different than what I am used to. Remember that I broke the bolt stop pin on my Sako, and read of this happening to others. The FN also uses a pin to secure the bolt stop. I’ll see if I can break it. I think it was the Norwegian bolt technique that popped my Sako’s pin. Maybe I’ll have to revisit it with the FN. The technique itself probably does not have much merit for most situations in the field, but getting acquainted with it put the afterburner on my bolt work in general.
The Model 70 bolt stop. We’ll see how it holds up over time and with some abuse.
The FN is equipped with a 4 round detachable box magazine. It seems very tiny and light in comparison to the Sako, which conveys a feeling of solidity, quality, and strength. The follower on the FN mag is odd, in that it has a saddle shaped piece which apparently supports the tip of the last round. It must work, because it appears to function well.
Just a tiny little magazine.
The Sako also has a flush fitting box mag. The Sako mag holds five rounds. The mag release is located in the same location on both rifles. The Sako clicks in and out very cleanly. The FN takes a little wiggling to seat and a bit of force to eject the mag. I’m not sure if it’s tolerances or workmanship, but it is just a bit more difficult to work with. In a practical sense the difference is in ease, and perhaps quickness of use.
The FN stock has an aluminum bedding block. I hadn’t seen one of these before. It seems like an interesting concept, and probably a practical way to give a factory rifle a slightly better and more rigid fit. There’s also evidence that some bedding was done to make the fit a bit better. I would hazard a guess that it is not as effective as a true pillar bedding job.
This is what an aluminum bedding block looks like.
Front pillar, lug recess, and accompanying bedding ooze.
One of the “nails in the coffin” of the Sako, as far as being my primary rifle, was that I had a hard time finding a 20 MOA rail that would utilize the factory dovetail system and keep the scope at a decent height. The height of the scope of the Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10×42 over the Sako’s bore (measured from the center of the scope tube to the center of the bolt diameter) was about 1.53”. I bought an SWFA SS 3-9×42 with the intention of putting it on the Sako. With the rail the I bought it increased the scope height over bore to just over 2”. That was too high for me to accept.
I figured the FN, which is a Model 70, being a commonly used platform, would have a scope mounting solution that would keep the scope height at around 1.5”. I’m using Seekins medium rings, which are still pretty low, being 0.87” from the top of rail to the ring center. I could have used lows, which are 0.82”. The rail, by the way, is made by Near Manufacturing. This is very smart on the part of FN, because Near makes stuff worth buying, and this rifle won’t be needing an upgrade. I bought a Near rail for my TRG a couple years ago. They cost $175 to buy them seperately. That means the net cost of my rifle without the rail was $575. That’s a darn good deal.
The only potential tight spot with the scope height was where the ocular housing is over the rail. This is where I was afraid of clearance issues and decided to be conservative just in case. My fears turned out to be totally unfounded.
To the left is the beginning of the ocular housing that I needn’t have worried about touching the rail.
I measured the edge to edge distance between them with dial calipers, then measured the diameter of both the scope tube and bolt body with the same. I divided both the tube and bolt diameters in half and added them to the distance between to get a center to center distance. I wanted a precise number to feed into my ballistic software, thus the fuss. I ended up with a scope height of 1.871. This is higher than I would have liked, but not so high that I consider it ridiculous.
I immediately bought another Triad Tactical “Slick Back” cheek riser. I played with the idea of getting one that actually had a stock pack, just to try something different, but I really like the function of that one and didn’t want to add more weight than necessary. When I tried my first one of these I noticed that it adds some girth, as opposed to a riser built into the stock, which does not. I wondered at that time if the Sako’s Monte Carlo profile exacerbated that girth. The answer is yes, but just in degree. The FN is also noticeably fatter with the cheekpiece present, which necessitates a slight head cant.
I’ll get more subjective next time I expound on the rifle. If there are any areas of the rifle you are curious about, let me know and I will post more information. Stay tuned…