Fifty Years of the Remington Model 700
December 21, 2012
In both the 19th and 20th centuries, American gunmakers probably designed and produced more great firearms than any country on Earth. Some have had lasting impact and passed the century mark — Colt's Single Action Army, the Winchester Model 94 and the Browning-designed Colt 1911 come immediately to mind. Many more have passed the half-century mark and beyond. In 2012 two extremely important American bolt-actions celebrate important birthdays. The timeless Winchester Model 70, introduced in 1937, is now 75 years young. Remington's Model 700, introduced in 1962, celebrates its 50th.
Last month I wrote about the Model 70; this month it's the Model 700's turn. I will avoid direct comparisons as well as I can, except as absolutely essential. For instance, for most of its life the M70 has featured controlled-round feed, while the M700 has always been a push-feed design. I will not attempt to tell you which one is best, or even which I personally like best. For the former, I'm not qualified; for the latter, well, I'm not really sure. I like both rifles, but since the M700 has had longer and greater availability in left-hand action, I can say that I have much more experience with the Remington Model 700.
Remington sent me one of the 50th Anniversary Model 700s — chambered, naturally, for the great 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge, which was introduced in 1962 along with the new rifle. Opening the box was like taking a step back in time. No, I don't go back to the beginning with the M700, but I acquired my first one, an early used specimen, in about 1965. And this one was nearly identical to the rifle I owned 47 years ago.
As reported last month, Winchester went appropriately nostalgic but also fairly ornate with their 75th Anniversary Model 70, an appropriate tribute to Jack O'Connor. Remington went retro with the 50th Anniversary Model. It is, in most ways, an early 1960s version — a BDL with floorplate, 24-inch barrel with standard open sights, and the stock is pure 1960s: Fleur de lis impressed checkering, Monte Carlo comb, ventilated recoil pad and black synthetic fore-end tip (both with white-line spacers). From today's perspective, many may not appreciate the look — the Model 700 has gone through many cosmetic changes in the last 50 years — but my generation will recognize it instantly.
The rifle has Remington's newer X-MarkPro externally adjustable trigger rather than the old Mike Walker-designed trigger, and the two-position safety lacks the original bolt lock when on Safe, but externally, there are just three differences between this Model 700 and the one I had when I was a teenager: The wood is a whole lot better (nicely finished Grade B walnut) rather than the darker polyurethane finish of the 1960s. The floorplate is laser-engraved, clearly marking this rifle as a 50th Anniversary edition. By the way, both this rifle and my old rifle are both in right-hand actions; in 1965 it would be another 15 years before I made the switch to left-hand bolts.
The final difference is that my original M700 was chambered to .264 Winchester Magnum. This is of historical significance because Winchester's .264, introduced in 1958, was the cock of the walk in the late '50s and early '60s. Warren Page (longtime shooting editor at Field & Stream), among others, had long touted a fast 7mm. The 7x61 Sharpe and Hart had a following, as did Roy Weatherby's 7mm Weatherby Magnum. Page apparently convinced Remington's chief engineer, Mike Walker, and he and his team created the 7mm Remington Magnum and introduced it along with the new rifle.
The rest we know. The 7mm Remington Magnum is more versatile than Winchester's .264 (I like the .264, but facts are facts), and it wasn't as overbore capacity so performed much better in a standard 24-inch barrel. Apparently, the public quickly grasped this, because the .264 fell off quickly and has never recovered, while the 7mm Remington Magnum went on to become the world's most popular belted magnum. With all the newer 7mms, some faster, some shorter and fatter, some unbelted, Remington's Big 7 isn't as popular today as it has been for most of the last 50 years, but it remains a world standard hunting load and undoubtedly had much to do with the success of the Model 700.
But in 1965, teenaged Boddington didn't know any better. The .264's star was still shining, and the 7mm Remington Magnum's was just starting to rise. I did a lot of my early hunting with that BDL .264, and Dad had it restocked in a particularly beautiful piece of walnut that Jack Pohl at Bishop's had been hanging on to. I thought that rifle was magic, and in my hands it darn near was. I lost it — along with everything else — in a 1980 burglary. The real shame is that, although I've searched, I can find no useable photo of that rifle from my pre-writing days.
Three Rings of Steel
The Model 700 is essentially an update of Remington's M721/722/725 series, a postwar bolt action introduced in 1948 that was intended to be less costly than the Mauser-type rifles most common in the day. It was a push-feed action, which today is more common than controlled-round feed (not the case in 1948). This means that the bolt "pushes" the cartridge ahead of it into the chamber, rather than being picked up, trapped against the bolt face by the extractor and carried into the chamber. The extractor is a "C-clamp" on the bolt face rather than the long Mauser extractor, and the ejector is a spring-loaded plunger on the bolt face.
Although they don't look quite as robust as the Mauser/Springfield/pre-'64 Model 70 extractors and manual ejectors, they work just fine. The biggest difference, however, is that in order to perform controlled-round feed, the bottom of the bolt face must be left open so the cartridge can rise out of the magazine and be trapped against the bolt face by the extractor. The face of the Remington bolt is completely encircled by a ring of steel (that's one). Then there's the butt of the barrel (that's two), and then there's the forward receiver ring (that's three).
A half-century ago, Remington made much of the added strength offered by the "three rings of steel," and I see on their websites that they still do. The added strength is probably more theoretical than real, provided the shooter doesn't do something really stupid like mistake Bullseye pistol powder for IMR 4350, or attempt to shoot when there's an obstruction in the barrel.
However, it is true that the enclosed bolt face is a stronger design. It is also true that this feature provides greater and more consistent support to the cartridge, making the action more rigid and, all things being equal, resulting in a higher level of on-average accuracy. Our folks in the military shoot at the most dangerous game on Earth, and it's not just happenstance that the Army's M24 and the Marine Corps' M40 are based on the Remington M700 action. Obviously, the controlled-round-feed issue that we hunters make so much of doesn't seem to be such a big deal to our military snipers.
Some Personal History
Through 1980 I had a fairly random selection of rifles, some that I'd had since I was a kid. That .264 was my only Remington, but I had a small assortment of Mausers, Springfields and a Centennial-year Ruger 77, all in right-hand configuration. After the burglary I had almost nothing. Just a Winchester Model 12 and a Ruger No. 1 .243 (both of which had, fortunately, been locked in the trunk of my car) and not much else. I made a conscious decision to go left-hand, and although I continue to shoot a lot of right-hand rifles as part of my job, I don't think I've actually owned a right-hand rifle since then. Over the years I've used an assortment of Mauser clones and a couple of left-hand conversions, plus virtually all the commercial left-hand actions — Browning, Savage, Weatherby and others.
Some of these are push-feed while others are CRF. However, I can honestly say that I have owned more rifles with left-hand Model 700 actions, some custom and some standard, than any others. Consequently, I've taken more game with left-hand Model 700 actions than any others (and quite possibly more than all the rest put together).
I love the Remington action and have complete confidence in it. It will feed just fine upside down and sideways (try it, just don't baby it and you'll be surprised). I know that when mated with a good barrel, a Remington action will shoot. In fact I've never had a Model 700 — factory or otherwise — that had an accuracy problem. However, I am not stating a personal preference for Remington actions at all. It's simply as I've said: Remington has a long history of offering left-hand actions in a wide assortment of calibers, so a lot of the custom and semi-custom rifles I've owned and messed with have been based on Remington actions.
I've used them on everything from varmints to elephant and most everything in between. They work, they shoot straight, and despite their lack of CRF, I've never had a Remington fail to feed, extract, eject or cycle in the field. I will add one caveat: With all push-feed rifles, the rails or — on a detachable-magazine rifle — the magazine lips must be timed so that the cartridge feeds up at the proper point in the bolt's travel. I have rechambered or rebarreled Model 700s to a wide and wild assortment of cartridges, and generally they've worked. But if you stray too far from the dimensions of the original cartridge the rifle was designed to feed with, you may have to do some surgery on the rails.
The Popularity Issue
In the past 50 years more than 5 million Remington Model 700s have been sold. This makes it, arguably, the most popular bolt-action sporter in history. It has been offered in more variations than almost any other rifle imaginable. There have been some 900 "SKUs" (a manufacturing term for a variation that must be made, cataloged and sold). Many of these are simply different calibers (more than 40), but Remington has come a long way since there were ADLs (blind floorplate) and BDLs (hinged floorplate). There are synthetics, laminates, classics, custom shop versions, lightweight versions, long-range versions, detachable magazine versions, special purpose versions, tactical versions — even a muzzleloading version and an electronic ignition version. There have been short actions and long actions. And let's not forget the "almost clones," like the slick little Model Seven carbine, which owes most of its design to the Model 700.
Along the way the Model 700 has been the platform for the introduction of a great many cartridges — some have remained almost-exclusive proprietaries, while others have become universal favorites. A very partial list might include: .17 Remington, .17 Remington Fireball, .223 Remington, .22-250-Remington, .25-06 Remington, .260 Remington, 7mm-08 Remington, 7mm STW, 8mm Remington Magnum, .35 Whelen, .416 Remington Magnum and of course the quartet of full-length unbelted magnums introduced between 1998 and 2000 that really started our current magnum craze — the 7mm, .300, .338 and .375 Remington Ultra Mags.
On the Range with the Anniversary Model
I must admit that it had been quite a while since I'd shot a right-hand Model 700, but the rifle itself held no secrets. On the first shooting session, the canyon I use for a range was like an oven, probably over 110 degrees. The barrel is fairly slim, and it took a long time between groups for it to cool. Even so, it seemed like I was getting very rapid barrel heat. The first two shots would go right together; the third would wander fairly consistently to the left. I didn't have a wide selection of 7mm Remington Magnum loads to try, but while point of impact varied, this phenomenon remained. I finished that session on a big target with several aiming points, so while I was certain it was just barrel heat, I saved the target.
The next time I took it out it was just as hot weatherwise and things started out the same way. Then the groups started to settle down. Since I'd kept that last target, I stapled it up again, and the last few groups were round clusters running about three-quarters of an inch. I can't explain it; I fired maybe 30 rounds before the groups rounded out and tightened up, which isn't much of a barrel break-in, but since the temperature was the same and I didn't change ammo, that's the only explanation I can offer. Whatever the reason, by the end of the second session this Model 700 was shooting just like a Model 700 is supposed to.
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