Guns Bolt Guns – a Survey of Rem 700 Custom Actions Rob Curtis December 25, 2016 0 COMMENT A Survey of Custom Remington 700 Custom Actions to Stimulate Your Precision Build Muscle The first building block of a custom bolt gun is the action. It represents both the skeleton and the heart, holding all the pieces together and circulating ammunition and empty cases through the precision platform. With more than an estimated 6 million in circulation, no other action on the market comes close to the popularity of the Remington 700. Aftermarket support for the 700 is massive — and that alone is a good reason to build a custom bolt gun on the platform. For the builder on a budget who already owns a Remington 700 action, dropping a few hundred dollars on trueing and/or blueprinting might make sense. But, if pure performance is the goal, a custom 700-style clone will provide accuracy and reliability-enhancing features that Remington’s engineers couldn’t have imagined when they released the first 700 model in 1962. Don’t let the name fool you, though. The word clone implies a shared sameness with the stock Remington action, but these are next-generation, premium-quality evolutions that merely share the same dimensions as their forefather. GETTING STARTED Given its massive popularity, it’s fair to call the 700 action the bolt-gun equivalent of the AR-15. There are tons of parts available, the blueprints are practically in the public domain, and chances are good that within 15 minutes of your current location, there’s a guy with a beard, a lathe, and a six-week backlog of Remington 700 barreling jobs sitting on his workbench. But while the AR-15 analogy is close, it’s not perfect. Despite widespread parts compatibility, it’s typical to expect two parts made by two different companies to require some level of fitting for peak performance. As Russ Rosene of Stiller’s Precision Actions told us, “The only thing ‘drop in’ on a bolt action rifle is ammo — and that’s only 95-percent true.” It’s our intention to call out the features that set eight popular 700-style action clones apart from each other, while pointing out some of the pitfalls you might encounter on your walk through the thorny jungle of custom precision rifle building. If this is your first build, we urge you to go over your complete build sheet with an accomplished 700 builder or gunsmith. BUSINESS TIME For high performance, practical precision shooting — roughly meaning 1,000-yard headshots on command — a good action is machined true and has a few jobs; loading a cartridge, igniting the primer, containing the chamber pressure as the bullet does its thing, extracting the spent brass and ejecting it. It also needs to provide an earthquake-proof platform for an optic, resist movement in the stock under recoil, and enable the bolt to move as frictionlessly in the receiver as we imagine Maria Sharapova’s sweaty thighs move against each other on a hot day at Wimbledon. As you might expect with $1,500 actions, each of the custom actions in our roundup largely excel in these areas. Where they differ is in the way they do so. We linked up with a handful of respected military and competition shooters, and their insights inform a great deal of this article: Caylen Wojcik from Magpul CORE and a prior service USMC scout sniper; Robby Johnson, from Q, LLC, a former U.S. Army Ranger and standout member of the Army Marksmanship Unit; Lindsay Bunch also of Q, LLC; and former Special Operations Command sniper, Norm Houle, four-time National High Power champ and 2015 National Palma Team member; and Greg Hamilton, a fearsome PRS competitor and the guy who works on the PROOF Research shooting team’s guns. In talking with all of these guys, we assembled a master list of features that you should be aware of when shopping for a 700 clone. The importance of each varied within the group, so you’ll have to consider how you plan to use your gun and rank them accordingly. THE BASICS The 700 is a rotating bolt action. The lugs lock into the receiver and provide the backstop for the cartridge as the expanding gasses develop the tens of thousands of pounds of pressure needed to push the bullet out of the barrel. The back of the bolt lugs should mate well with the front of the action’s locking recesses. Good bolt lock-up provides consistent cartridge headspace and an “airtight” fit between the lugs and the lug seats; important if you want to keep your skin attached to your face. A poorly fitting bolt is a path to a broken bolt, and all the pain that comes with it. Bolt-action guys think ammo factories are good for providing two things, ammo for their semi-autos and a stream of ready-to-fireform brass for their Ackley cartridges. “Most people in PRS aren’t shooting factory ammunition,” Wojcik says, “But if you do have a brain fart in your loading process, you want to make sure the action is strong enough that you’re not going to eat a bolt.” Whether a result of uneven wear leading to broken parts or an overpressure event, bolt action shooters are always concerned with safety. In the event of a blow up, action makers want the bolt to stay in battery, versus shooting out the back of the action into the shooter’s face. Containing all the parts of the gun in an overpressure event is a product of strong materials and smart engineering. Generally, 700 actions can vent gas through bolt’s firing pin channel, a lug raceway, and out the ejection port or magwell. You might also notice small holes in the sides of some receivers; these strategically placed ports are meant to vent gases in a relatively safe direction in the event of a pierced primer, and may even help in the event of a full-on detonation. The barrel interface in all the 700 actions presented is 1 1⁄16-inch with 16, 18, or 20 threads per inch. 16 TPI is the standard Remington thread pattern; 20 TPI is the Savage thread pitch. A 1 1⁄16-inch 20 TPI threaded action can use small shank Savage barrels. With a Savage small shank and a barrel nut, you can install a pre-fit (aka pre-chambered) barrel with a Savage barrel nut wrench and a vise. You set the headspace by hand tightening the barrel on a go-gauge or a spent cartridge and then lock it in by torqueing the barrel nut. You might hear this mashup called a Ramage (or Remage) setup. If you go with the Ramage 20 TPI, you can still do a traditional barrel installation with a shoulder if the barrel nut setup scares you. With practice, a Ramage barrel can be swapped in 20 minutes. If your action has an interchangeable bolt head, you can even change calibers —bouncing, for example, between 6mm Creedmoor for mid-range and 7mm SAUM for long-range competition. Bolt faces are generally measured across the base of the root cartridge it’s meant to hold. A .470 bolt face is sized for .308 Winchester and like-sized cases; it’s known as a standard bolt face. Other popular bolt face sizes are .223 (.384), short magnum (.540), and Lapua (.585). Some makers will give you an exact measurement, but most call out the parent of the cartridge family with which their action is compatible. Variations in bolt face sizes between manufacturers for a given cartridge are one of the special ingredients in an action recipe. Adding a few thousandths can increase compatibility with more cartridges; tightening things can increase performance while possibly leading to reliability issues. In the original Remington design, the bolt stop is part of the trigger. If the bolt release lever gets dirty or frozen, it can stick in the unlocked position omitting the bolt stop. Further, when the bolt hits at the limit of its travel, all that energy is going into the rear trigger pin — and can cause consistency issues with your trigger pull.All of our custom actions have forgone the original design for some variation of an external bolt stop. Not all external bolt stops are created equal, though. The 700 action in the USMC M40A3 sniper has an external bolt stop using roll pins. The way the slot is engineered, all the energy comes back on the pins and they can be torn out of the action. “There’s an incredible amount of force on that bolt stop,” says Wojcik, “I ripped a bolt out of a gun while teaching a Marine Corps sniper class in 2002. I hit the bridge of my nose and saw stars.” A bolt stop design using some sort of broad surface interface that focuses the violence of the bolt stopping on the action wall, instead of the pin securing the stop, should prevent knocking yourself out. The two reigning standards for tactical magazines are the single-stack AICS pattern mag and the double-stack AIAW pattern mag. Magazine compatibility is determined by the cut on the action bottom. An action cut for AW mags will generally run AICS mags as well, but an AICS action will only run AICS-type mags. The advantage to the double-stack AIAW mags is that they’re about half the height of an AICS mag of the same capacity and can be topped off through the ejection port. Trigger hangers let you swap triggers using screws instead of punches. Handy for mid-match repairs. You may need to make room in your stock for the wider hanger base, though. An integral recoil lug is a benefit for the guy installing it, mitigating the need to line up and hold the lug in place during barrel installation. An integral lug also means fewer facets to machine and worry about squaring up. On the flip side, the holes drilled into the action to hold a dowelled lug in place can weaken the action in one of the most critical areas, just beneath the chamber. A free, unpinned lug might be better than a dowelled lug for strength, but clocking one during the barrel install is a PITA. Bolt handles can snap off. It doesn’t happen often, but banging on one to free a bolt that’s latched on to a stuck round can break it off. Some bolt handles are integral, meaning the bolt body and bolt handle base are carved from one piece of steel. Most are welded in place. None in our roundup are brazed or soldered; both of those processes should be avoided. The ejectors in these actions are either an AR style spring plunger or a mechanical affair. The plunger is a reliable system, sending brass on its way based on spring pressure. In mechanical systems, the stationary ejector is on the receiver wall and the cartridge base hits it as the bolt is retracted, letting you toss brass or just dribble it out. Nice, if you like to collect your empties, rather than go search for them. The original Remington C-clamp extractor is absent in all our custom actions. That might be a clue. Sliding extractors grab the cartridge rim with a small sliding claw, M16 and mini16 extractors operate as tensioned levers like the extractor in an AR, the Mauser-style in the Mausingfield is a huge claw with enough surface area that it may be able to pry the earth from its orbit, and the giant M16 style extractor in the Tempest can be adjusted with a little bend, similar to a 1911 extractor. Controlled feed means the rounds are fed from the magazine up the bolt face, under the extractor claw, and carried into the chamber. Traditional push feed has the round getting knocked forward from the mag and shoved into the chamber with the extractor snapping over the case rim as it bottoms out. Both work, and there is scant evidence that one has an advantage over the other. An integrated rail bridges the top of the action, increasing rigidity. But it limits you to a single rise, or requires the use of graduated rise optic mounts from the likes of Spuhr and LaRue. All the non-integrated rails feature stout recoil/indexing pins (or a taper fit as seen on the Mausingfield) to keep them in place. Most of you shooting standard cartridges will be looking for a 20 MOA rise on the action or in a mount. Take note, some actions can take an extended rail for larger optics or more flexibility in placement. We’ve tortured you enough with generalities, so let’s get to the metal. We’ll call out a few more key features as they apply in the following product notes. MAKE BAT MACHINE IMPACT PRECISION GA PRECISION AMERICAN RIFLE COMPANY KELBY’S INCORPORATED BIGHORN ARMS DEFIANCE MACHINE STILLER’S PRECISION FIREARMS MODEL VR Impact 737R Tempest Mausingfield Atlas Tactical TL3 Deviant Tactical Spectre MSRP $1,585 $1,325 $1,380 $1,600 $1,200 $1,325 $1,330 $1,300 LUGS/THROW 2/90° 2/90° 3/60° 2/90° 2/90° 2/90° 2/90° 2/90° WEIGHT (POUNDS) 2.15 2.18 2.20 2.25 1.81 1.98 2.19 2.02 MAG COMPATIBILITY (TYPE) AICS AICS AW & AICS AICS AICS & AW AICS or AICS & AW AICS or AW AICS & AW TRIGGER HANGER 2-Pin Hanger Hanger 2-Pin Hanger 2-Pin 2-Pin 2-Pin INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No RECOIL LUG (INCH) 0.24 0.25 0.245 0.185 0.25 0.25 0.23 0.30 INTEGRATED RAIL Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes RAIL LENGTH (INCH) 4.93 5.33 6.13 4.93 6.13 5.32 5.33 4.93 RAIL MOA OPTIONS 0, 20 20 0, 20 20, 30, 45, more 20 0, 20, 30 0, 10, 20, 30 20 INTERCHANGEABLE BOLT HEAD No No No Yes No Yes No No BOLT FACES .223, .308, WSM .223, .308, WSM .308, WSM .308, Magnum, Lapua .223, .308, Magnum .223, .308, Magnum .223, .308, Magnum, Lapua .223, .308 BOLT HANDLE Welded Integral Integral Integral Welded Integral Integral Integral SUPPORTED BOLT STOP No Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes EJECTOR Plunger Plunger Plunger Mechanical Mechanical Mechanical Plunger Plunger EXTRACTOR Sliding Mini16 Springless M16 Mauser 98 type Sliding Sliding Mini16 Mini16 CONTROLLED FEED No No No Yes No Yes Optional No ACTION LENGTHS S, L S S S, L S, L S, L S, M, L S, L WEIGHT 2.15 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS Pattern Only NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.5 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308, WSM BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 18 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Welded EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Plunger/Sliding CONTROLLED ROUND FEED No RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 17-4 SS/4140 CM FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Salt Bath Nitride/Melonite OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Firing pin vents to lug raceway MSRP $1,585 URL www.batmachine.com NOTES: BAT applies its considerable benchrest knowhow to the practical scene with the integral rail VR. Tightest (in a good way) feel of the group. The sliding extractor is built into the recoil lug for strength. Firing pin is removable without tools thanks to a slick bayonet design — rotate the bolt shroud an eighth of a turn and it pops out. Slick bolt movement on axis; steep lever angle and small knob make it unlikely that you’ll bind the action with upward pressure. Wide recoil lug; might need some fitting on a few stocks, namely older AIs. BAT makes a narrower lugged version exclusively for Wolf Precision called the BTA. Check out the Wolf’s Interchangeable Chamber Barrel System for the VR and BTA. The screw-in chamber means you can get your gun re-barreled in days instead of weeks. WEIGHT 2.18 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS Pattern Only NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.5 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308, WSM BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 16 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Plunger/Mini16 CONTROLLED ROUND FEED No RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 416R SS/4140 CM FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Carbon Nitride OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Vents from bolt port through right lug of receiver MSRP $1,325 URL www.impactprecisionshooting.com NOTES: Impact Precision is co-owned by Tate Streater, Robin Smith and Wade Stuteville. Stuteville was one of the guys that made Surgeon Rifles a household name in precision shooting. The 737R is created and toleranced as a single part; nothing needs fitting, including a replacement barrel. Impact’s replacement barrels are fully pre-fit and screw on without a barrel nut. Bolt stop is completely reinforced and protected in a protruding shroud. The stop bears on the wall of the action, not the pin. Short lever and steep angle puts it closer to your fingertips. The bolt is fluted on top where it can move debris, flat on the bottom for smooth contact. WEIGHT 2.2 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AW and AICS NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 3/60° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.8 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .308, WSM BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 16 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Plunger/Springless M16 CONTROLLED ROUND FEED No RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 4140 CM /4320 CM Bolt & 17-4 SS breech ring FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Raw/Nitride OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Vent through firing pin channel to ejection port and magazine well MSRP $1,380 URL www.gaprecision.net NOTES: The only 60-degree throw, three-lugger in the group. Brings short lever throw with double-stack AW mags to the 700 platform. It has a hardened replaceable breech ring (a J. Jongmans design later picked up by Accuracy International). Can replace the ring instead of the entire action when the lug seats wear out. Three-lug makes for larger, more durable bolt body. Increased diameter bolt head has more area to grab rounds from the AW magazine. In terms of safety, GAP says its action is 40- to 50-percent stronger than the original 700 action. Like all trigger hanger actions, be prepared to remove a little material from the trigger well to accommodate the hanger body. Comes with three trigger hangers that let you set the correct sear engagement for your trigger. WEIGHT 2.25 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS Pattern Only NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.7 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .308, Magnum, Lapua BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 20TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Mechanical/Mauser 98 type CONTROLLED ROUND FEED Yes RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 4340 CM/proprietary FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Raw/Raw OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Generous venting and flanged bolt shroud MSRP $1,600 URL www.americanrifle.com NOTES: Full featured doesn’t cover it. Remington action stuffed with Mauser and Springfield goodness. We’ve seen accomplished firearm engineers marvel at ARC’s ingenuity and execution. Savage small shank threads for a Ramage setup. Swap the bolt head for caliber changes. Beveled surface, swappable scope base is bombproof; many MOA options available. Mauser-style extractor is like having a grizzly paw working for you. Smooth operation stands out even among this crowd of outperformers. ARC says its toroidal lugs give a lap fit without lapping. Easy teardown with an Allen wrench. Cartridge has no contact with extractor (or ejector) while chambered, so nothing interferes with it sitting true to the bolt face. Bolt body and handle root made from a forging; bolt knob reverse threaded for unreal durability. Bummer — doesn’t like Magpul AC mags. WEIGHT 1.81 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS and AW NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 3 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG No BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308, Magnum BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 18 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Welded EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Mechanical/Sliding CONTROLLED ROUND FEED No RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 416R SS/4140 CM FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Nitride, Nitride OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Vents to ejection port, all components contained MSRP $1,200 URL www.kelbly.com NOTES: Non-integral and not shy about it. Separate 0.25-inch recoil lug located with two pins for easy barreling. Extended rail for big scopes. Lightest action, longest rail, and largest ejection port in the group. Unique ejector delivers controlled ejection without controlled feed. Extreme duty bolt stop available as an upgrade. Standard 700 firing pin setup keeps things simple. Black nitride treatment brings surfaces to 84 Rockwell hardness and allows operation without lubrication. WEIGHT 1.98 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS or AICS+AW (.308 based only) NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.8 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308, Magnum BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 20 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Mechanical/Sliding CONTROLLED ROUND FEED Yes RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 416R SS/4130 CM FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Raw/PVD Coated OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Gas vents in receiver and bolt body MSRP $1,325 URL www.bighornarms.com NOTES: Maybe the most advanced 700 action on the market. Floating, interchangeable bolt head, patent-pending fully enclosed mechanical ejector, tool-less bolt disassembly, Savage small shank available for a Ramage setup. Bolt stop pinhole is oval; stop bears on action instead of pin. Swap bolt head and barrel in a few minutes; compete with 6.5 Creedmoor and train with .223 Remington. Controlled feed limits the chance for double feeds. Action is machined after heat treating, then precision ground (not turned) for best strength and dimensional accuracy. Bolt handle and body are carved from one piece of 4130 chromoly steel. Can be ordered as AICS and AW magazine compatible, or AICS only for a stiffer action. WEIGHT 2.19 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS or AW NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.8 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG Yes BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308, Magnum, Lapua, customs BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 16 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Plunger/Mini16 CONTROLLED ROUND FEED Optional RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 416R SS/4340 CM steel FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Raw/Raw OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Multi-layered safety system includes a double-radius firing pin, back-bored area behind the barrel threads, and full seal at the rear of the action. Also, the integral cocking handle helps contain bolt if it’s blasted rearward. MSRP $1,330 URL defiancemachine.com NOTES: Defiance might take this the wrong way, but it’s absolutely perfected the original design of the Remington 700 action. No frills, just upgraded performance in every aspect. Fully trued, integral action with a proven track record of unflinching reliability. Slick as snot mirror polish for unreal bolt travel feel. Easy cocking and unlocking thanks to the angle of the bolt/body cam interface. Shipped unfinished. Can be ordered from the factory in nearly any conceivable configuration. Defiance welcomes calls to discuss your builds since they have so many options available. (When we asked what bolt faces the Deviant Tactical comes in they said “all of them.”) Popular configurations stocked by dealers; custom jobs from the factory can take 10 months. WEIGHT 2.02 Pounds MAGAZINE COMPATIBILITY AICS and AW NUMBER OF LUGS/BOLT THROW ANGLE 2/90° EJECTION PORT LENGTH 2.7 inches INTEGRAL RECOIL LUG No BOLT FACE SIZE OPTIONS .223, .308 BARREL THREADS 1 1/16″- 16 TPI BOLT HANDLE ATTACHMENT Integral EJECTOR/EXTRACTOR TYPE Plunger/Mini16 CONTROLLED ROUND FEED No RECEIVER/BOLT STEEL 416R SS/4130 CM FINISH RECEIVER/BOLT Black Oxide/Nitride OVERPRESSURE SAFETY MEASURES Vents to left raceway — shroud directs blast away MSRP $1,300 URL www.viperactions.com NOTES: The Spectre is a tank. Maybe a beast. Somehow it imparts a bulletproof feeling while it’s among the lightest in the group. Perhaps it’s the octagonal shape. (The action is machined, not turned.) Will fit many chassis; some stocks might need inletting for the corners. Action comes with a 20 MOA integral rail; no other options. Black nitride finish is very durable. Partial fluting saves weight/ejects trash on top, slick on the bottom for smoothness. The long bolt handle did feel a little bindy with hurried bolt operation. Cut for operation with AICS and AW mags. Rem standard two-pin trigger connector for wide 700 trigger compatibility. Vents overpressure down left side raceway, shroud directs blast away from shooter. According to a survey by the Precisionrifleblog.com, Stiller is one of the top five picks of the top 100 PRS shooters.