The Remington bolt action nosed out the Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint and Ruger’s KM77VT Target Rifle.
Anyone who appreciates rifle accuracy knows that varmint rifles are among the best-shooting guns in all of hunting. Those of us who have what we term “good shooters”—that is, 1-MOA guns, know that there’s a whole ‘nother level of performance needed to join the red-mist club. Marksmen who can nail woodchucks way out in the meadow need three-quarter or half-inch guns, and they usually have to have them built, or at least heavily modified. As an alternative, we set out to find affordable factory production guns whose accuracy would not embarrass us during a day of prairie dog hunting—and to our surprise, we found them. A family of heavy-barreled bolt guns, typified by Ruger’s KM77VT MKII Target Rifle, Remington’s Model 700VS Varmint Synthetic, and Winchester’s Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint, is closing the gap with custom guns. Recent testing we conducted with this trio of .223s showed remarkable accuracy with production ammo, which could likely be improved further with the addition of specialized handloads and case prep.
Of the set, we preferred the $705 Remington Model 700VS Varmint Synthetic, which outshot the $684 Ruger KM77VT MKII Target Rifle by a hair and was significantly lighter than the top-shooting Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint, $746. Even so, the margin between the guns was narrow; we shot half-inch groups with most ammo brands we used. That kind of accuracy will take even small varmints at large distances.
All range accuracy data was collected at 100 yards using a remote target roller. We shot the guns off a Ransom Master Rifle rest set on a solid concrete bench. We shot 10-shot strings to collect chronograph data on an Oehler 35P with the screens placed 10 feet from the muzzle. We cleaned guns with Pro-Shot Copper Solvent and then fouled between each load tested. Our selection of ammunition included PMC’s 55-grain hollowpoint boattail round, the Winchester 50-grain Silvertip load, Hornady’s 55-grain V-Max ammo, and Federal’s 69-grain boattail hollowpoint and American Eagle label 55-grain round.
Here’s what we thought of each product in this evaluation.
Our $705 Remington 700VS Varmint Synthetic test gun, catalog number 29703, came outfitted with a dark-textured DuPont Kevlar composite stock. The classic straight-stock design included a machined one-piece aluminum frame, milled to fit the bottom of the receiver. This metal-to-metal design, strengthened with pillar-style action screws, made this stock weather-resistant and reliable. However, glass bedding around the receiver and screws might improve accuracy further.
The most important performance feature on the Remington was its superb accuracy. The 700VS averaged 0.63-inch-groups across five test ammunitions—remarkable considering the variation in brands and bullet styles. The Remington’s overall group average was 0.05 inch smaller than the Winchester and 0.13 inch smaller than the Ruger. Our best group average (0.43 inches) with this test gun came with the Hornady V-Max 55-grain bullet.
The gun’s trigger broke crisply at 4.75 to 5 pounds and showed very little overtravel. To make the trigger more suitable for field shooting, we adjusted it down to 2 pounds and could have gone lower. The gun measured 46 inches in overall length, 26 inches of which was in the barrel. The receiver was drilled and tapped and worked well with Weaver bases and rings, which we supplied. The gun weighed 9 pounds 10 ounces without a scope.
Metal on the barrel and the receiver’s metal were blued steel with a black matte finish. The muzzle diameter was 0.61 inches; the barrel widened as it moved toward the receiver.
The 700VS’s forend bottom was 1.75 inches wide and rounded, which was a little harder to settle into a rifle rest. The stock’s length of pull measured 13.5 inches. There was no checkering on the gun, nor was it needed. The synthetic stock produced a sufficient grip surface. The butt had a 0.25-inch-thick black-rubber pad. Sling swivel studs were standard, but we found that removing the front stud worked better when shooting off a rest.
Winchester Model 70
Synthetic Heavy Varmint
Our Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint test gun, catalog number 12344, was the priciest gun in the test at $746. The classic stock design, similar to the Remington’s, also included pillar bedding and a full-length aluminum block, machine-cut to fit the receiver, and built into the stock. Glass bedding around the front and rear stock screw area of the receiver was included. The charcoal-grey composite stock had a 2.5-inch beavertail forend with a flat bottom. This improves stability and the ability to see through the scope to spot the bullet impact. Under ideal recoil conditions, the gun will move straight back with minimal disturbance in the sight picture. The flat forend keeps the gun upright during recoil, and after the shot, the shooter simply pushes the gun forward into the rest.
The Winchester’s overall accuracy groups averaged 0.68 inches with five test ammunitions. This overall group average was only 0.05 inch bigger than the Remington’s tally. Our best group average with this test gun came with PMC’s 55-grain HPBT bullet: 0.38 inches.
The Winchester’s two-tone metal finish made this a good-looking firearm. A satin stainless steel finish on the gun’s 26-inch free-floated barrel contrasted nicely with the blued receiver. At 10 pounds 4 ounces, this was the heaviest of the test guns. A 0.87-inch-thick muzzle diameter accounted for the extra weight.
Compared to the other guns, the Winchester’s trigger pull was disappointing. It broke crisply at 4.5 to 4.75 pounds and showed a little creep. This trigger is somewhat adjustable, but it will have to be broken down and honed to get a lighter, smoother pull. The receiver is drilled and tapped and accepted Weaver bases and rings.
MKII Target Rifle
Ruger’s successful Model 77 centerfire line contains several guns ranging from the .22 Hornet to the .416 Rigby. Our Ruger KM77VT MKII Target Rifle was tagged with catalog number 7890 and an MSRP of $684.
Three of our test ammunitions gave us half-inch-or-smaller average groups at 100 yards, with the best group average of 0.42 inch coming from PMC’s 55-grain bullets. Federal’s 69-grain boattail hollowpoint round and the American Eagle rounds didn’t shoot well in this gun, pulling its average up to 0.76 inch.
Also notable was the gun’s trigger pull, which drew a crisp 4 to 4.25 pounds out of the box. However, this rifle had a two-stage trigger with easily modified adjustment screws, which allowed us to drop the trigger-pull weight easily and quickly to 2 pounds. In our view, this feature gave the Ruger a leg up on the other guns.
The Ruger KM77VT Target had a full-bull barrel that gently tapered to a muzzle OD of 0.730 inches. All metal on our test gun was stainless steel with a matte target grey finish overall. The laminated hardwood stock had a nonglare satin finish and very good wood-to-metal fit, but no checkering at the grip or on the forend.
The barrel was set slightly to the left in the stock channel, but was free floated with no bedding. Pillar bedding is needed with this wood stock, in our opinion. Temperature and humidity can quickly affect wood and cause movement of the action within the stock. The stock’s 13.5-inch length of pull included a 0.5-inch-thick black-rubber buttpad. Quick-detachable swivel studs are included. The forend has a 2.5- inch-wide beavertail bottom with a slight curve that worked very well in our rifle rest. The gun measured 46 inches in overall length and weighed 10 pounds without scope or rings. Ruger’s integral scope-mounting system made adding a Leupold 36X scope easy and saved us the additional cost of bases and rings.
A three-position rear tang safety was smooth and easy to work with the right thumb. The safety will lock the bolt and trigger when in the rear position. The middle position allows the bolt to open while the trigger remains locked.
Guns, Gear & Game
We can only wonder how well fine-tuned reloads would shoot in these guns. Though the Winchester shot the best overall, a close reading of the accuracy data shows that with the right ammo, each gun shot plenty of 0.50-inch groups. In our experience, this is an unusual finding. Often, the best gun in a test will outshoot the others with nearly every brand of ammo, which makes picking an accuracy winner easy. Our results this time suggest that these guns are superbly accurate with the right load, and their downrange performance is only limited by the shooter’s ability to tune a handload for them. Thus, we felt compelled to make our buying recommendation based on features, carry comfort, and price.
• Pricewise, the $705 Remington 700VS Varmint Synthetic is nearly a wash with the Ruger. On the plus side, the Varmint Synthetic features a top-notch bedding system the Ruger lacks, and its stock shape was more appropriate for combo duties of shooting off a rest and making short trips on a sling. Also, the Remington trigger is adjustable, but unless you know your way around the trigger, it’s best to employ the talents of a trigger-savvy gunsmith.
• The Winchester Model 70 Synthetic Heavy Varmint shot well, has an appropriate forend design for shooting off a rest, and has a solid structural underpinning, including a bedding block and a glassed-in action. These additions could justify its $746 price. However, the trigger’s limited adjustability will take a competent gunsmith’s attention to make it competitive, we think. Also, the gun’s heavier weight and squared forend means it’s more trouble to carry than the Remington, if that’s a factor for you.
• The $684 Ruger KM77VT MKII Target Rifle would get our nod as a pure benchrest gun because of its squared forend and two-stage trigger. But we think the gun needs glass-bedding and pillars to realize its full accuracy potential and to be as weatherproof as the synthetic-stocked guns.