The PBR-XP: A Month In

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-FN PBR-XP, .308 Winchester, 20” barrel
-270 rounds fired.
-3 cold bore shots with no meaningful deviation
-0 clean cold bore shots
-0 malfunctions
-Farthest target hit: 1060 Yards, first round hit, target size 16” (?)
A month is an insufficient time to learn what there is to know about a particular rifle.  A lot of people, including me, have insinuated or outright accused gunwriters of giving glowing reviews to please their advertisers.  I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but I’ve discovered that a simpler and more likely explanation is that they just don’t have enough time with any particular gun to discover all of its flaws.  It’s not much more time than the factory puts into quality control testing.
I spent one year with one rifle.  If you compared this description of that rifle, my Sako 75, with a more recent description of its attributes, you would see that I discovered a lot about it in that year.  A lot of the things were actually evident at the outset, but I thought they were less significant issues than they were, or just downplayed them until I could no longer continue to do so.  A lot of problems could be overcome with $1500 of custom work, but at some point one realizes that it hasn’t gotten done yet, and probably never will.
The FN is much more of a utilitarian rifle compared to the Sako.  It exhibits less in the way of fit and finish.  This affects feel, but not function. 
The Sako, as I’ve repeated time and again, has a super slick bolt.  There’s very little drag at all (a lot of this was caused by incessant dry fire).  It also has the surprising attribute of feeling almost identically whether it’s cycling a round or empty.  The bolt lift is short and the travel fore and aft is made to be as short as it can be due to Sako having several different action sizes.  The one thing I wonder about the Sako’s feeding is whether they compromised on robustness of reliability for ease of use.  The magazine is a staggered round feed.  The top of the mag is very open, which is to say the feed lips don’t capture much of the rounds.  It also gives the impression of keeping the rounds in the mag a little lower to keep the bolt from dragging on them. 
The FN mag is staggered, but feeds up to a single round, much like a pistol mag.  Each round is fed positively up into the breech face, is captured by the extractor and held.  The rounds are evidently held a bit higher, as the bolt shows a lot of brass markings from sliding across the waiting round.  You can definitely tell when it’s cycling rounds or not.  It’s a lot more like the Remington 700 in that respect.
The Remington 700 is a much more valid comparator to the Model 70 in many ways.  The cost is closer, the feel of the bolt cycling is similar.  I think that the 70 has a better extraction system, and the controlled round feeding makes it a little easier to work with if you like to do a press check.  Between the two I think that the Model 70 exhibits a slightly higher degree of fit, finish, and overall class than the Remington.
I believe the FN has a more reliable feeding mechanism, but I don’t have enough time with it to know for sure.  The only malfunctions I ever had with the Sako were my fault.  After I discovered and replaced the broken bolt stop pin, my bolt work lost some of its brutality and I short stroked it a few times.  That malfunction is a pain in the rear.  I don’t know if the FN can be short stroked quite so easily, but I will try it and report back.
The trigger seems to be getting a little better on the FN.  There’s one bit of consistent creep that can be treated like take-up in a 2-stage.  I think if it were a really good trigger some of the fliers would not be so “fly-ee”.  If I ever have a reason to have a gunsmith do anything to the rifle I will have the trigger tuned.
Apart from just a few things, the slickness of the bolt, the feel of the magazines seating, and the trigger, the M70 seems like a superior system.  It seems to favor reliability, and I believe accuracy, over an indulgent level of finish.  The 3 position safety seems, well, safer, as it actually blocks the firing pin.  The trigger seems to favor simplicity and reliability, and with some attention from a gunsmith can probably made to be pretty good.  Simple and reliable is more important to me than a complicated “glass rod”.  The aftermarket support for the FN, for those who like to “personalize” their rifles, is much more robust.  So far I have not have needed to change anything.  

The length of pull of the FN is a much better fit for me.  The long LOP of the Sako is good for some things, but it can be awkward for others.  The M70 is a good compromise for everything I’ve tried so far. 

The FN’s groups are tighter than the Sako’s, although the rifle does not seem to be a one holer in my hands.  The round placement seems to be more predictable as far as the rifle holding its zero on the FN and there’s not a funky cold bore shot.  This means that it seems to have a tendency to hit what I point it at.  I like that.
The bolt smoothness on the M70, in my opinion of the rifle thus far, does not live up to the hype it receives.  It’s a little clunky on closing, sometimes to the point of just about getting stuck, but it is getting better.  After a month, 270 rounds, and maybe a thousand or so dry fires, I have had 3 or 4 bolt cycles that felt almost like it used to with the Sako- that is to say fast and with much less effort- like the fingers throw it back, the thumb catches it and throws it shut.  Then I will get excited and try to show my wife and it clunks on the close again (stage fright?).  I have had maybe 100 bolt cycles that were decent and showed some promise.  Maybe 200-300 clunked on the close, and the rest were unspectacular either way.  It’s getting better.  I’m maybe a month or two out from racing the semi autos.
The extra two and a half pounds on the FN over the Sako and likely the change in ergonomics has brought my snapshot back to square one.  I need to get stronger physically.  I do believe that overall the FN comes up faster than the Sako, because of the length of pull and the balance, which I think may be almost perfect.  It just doesn’t come up where I think it’s going to and it doesn’t stay steady long enough for me to adjust.
The extra weight has also caused me to question whether to stick with my “modified offhand technique”.  That really worked well with the Sako, but again, I need to get stronger to make it work with the FN.  The standard version of offhand actually feels pretty good with it.  It could be an issue of length of pull again.  I’m going to keep trying the modified version, as I still believe that the extra edge in speed is worth a slight reduction in precision for offhand.
I’ve pretty much got the configuration of the rifle finalized unless I win a Manners stock or something.  The Atlas bipod is on.  While the Harris works, the Atlas works better and I think is a worthy addition.
I have a new sling on the rifle that I haven’t written about yet that’s lower profile, simpler, and easier to use.  The scope is just about a perfect fit for the rifle and cartridge, although it may be considered a bit “Spartan” compared to other tactical scopes.  At least it’s well executed.
I’m almost done with the “orientation phase” of my life with this rifle.  Hopefully I will be able to use it to good effect

6 thoughts on “The PBR-XP: A Month In

  1. So the honeymoon is over and now you will settle down to finding out if you will experience ‘Happy Endings’ on a regular basis or not.

    Have you started any load developement yet?

    I have found that the Nosler 165 gr Balliatic Tip on top of a charge of IMR 4064 works well in my (most accurate load) 30-06 , which is what the .308 wants to grow up to be anyway.

    Seriously , the Nosler BTs have proven to be the most accurate bullet in all my rifles. Even when compaired to the Sierra Match Kings..

    • I haven’t done any load development yet. Everything so far has been FGMM 168 grain except for 20 rounds of TAP and a Federal Bonded round that I chrono’d.

      When I start worrying about terminal ballistics I may work up a load for it.

  2. Hey RS, I’m very pleased – sounds like the new stick is working out well for you. I’m just a tiny bit concerned, however (from your comentary), that you’re becoming ‘desensitised’ enough (from the Sako) to be showing indications of becoming a Mauser affictionado. From one sufferer to another, good luck with that old boy.

    sincerely,
    jonno

  3. I’m thinking of picking one up to use as my everything bolt gun. I’d use it as I slowly fable into preciscuon shooting, as well as hunting. I think that though the rifle is a little heavier, the shorter length and better weight distribution would make the rifle quite handy. Your input would be appreciated. for reference, I’ve been using a sweedish mauser for hunting.

    • Well, that’s pretty much what I did, and I can’t say that I regret it at all so far. Give me a year and I can give you a better recommendation.

      I’ve never laid my hands on a Swede, but the cartridge seems very good. I think a .308 could feel like a step backwards to you, or maybe it would be an insignificant change. It depends on what you’re planning on doing with it I suppose.

      I think that the setup of this rifle is perfect for someone looking to enter into the precision shooting game. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty darn good, and can be made better over time. The action itself is a very sound choice.

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