Guns & Ammo was invited to attend the first open enrollment course at the U.S. Optics Academy. Located in Apple Valley, California, the facility offers the ability to train and engage targets from 100 yards to well beyond 1,500 yards. I set out to find a platform that would get me to that distance in a chambering that wouldn't cost me a fortune in ammunition.
The .300 Winchester Magnum was my cartridge of choice for this course. The .300 Win. Mag. is the blurred line when we need to increase ahead of the .308 Winchester to rival long-range monsters such as the .338 Lapua or .50 BMG.
The recoil of the .300 Win. Mag. is stout but manageable in the right rifle, and the round is very capable of smacking targets at the far end of the range. It also offers a high level of precision at more reasonable distances, those in the 300- to 800-yard range, where I expected we'd spend the majority of our training time.
Long-range marksmanship is a rewarding discipline and there is a reason why the majority of serious long-range practitioners reload their own ammunition.
They are minimizing variables. The performance of factory-loaded ammunition can vary greatly in your rifle and from lot to lot. This is one of those impossible-to-control elements that can wreck a day on the range troubleshooting only to find out the problem is with the ammo.
Fortunately, companies like Black Hills Ammunition (BHA) feel the same way we do. It ensures consistency in its match-grade rounds. I spoke with Jeff Hoffman, owner of BHA, who picks up the phone almost as regularly as his customer service operators do — which is all the time.
Hoffman reaffirmed my choice in the .300 Win. Mag. and recommended the 210-grain variant, which uses Berger's VLD bullet, a low-drag projectile that is resistant to wind deflection.
G&A reached out to Mike Nischalke of Steyr-Mannlicher, who is also a former editor of Shooting Times, and he made reference, albeit under his breath, to "Counter-Strike."
This is a video game that features the Steyr SSG 08, which is a modern precision rifle used by several elite European entities to include Einsatzkommando Cobra (or EKO Cobra), Austria's premier counterterrorism special operations unit. After explaining the U.S. Optics Academy's course requirements, Nischalke agreed to lend us an SSG 08. I say "lend" because the rifle costs $5,995.
The stock on the SSG 08 model is a work of shooting art. The engineers at Steyr did their research and worked extensively with intended end users to get it right the first time. The length of pull is completely adjustable by adding or removing sections of polymer spacers or "blocks," as Steyr refers to them.
The elastomer (i.e., rubber) recoil pad is also height adjustable, providing the shooter with perfect placement within the shoulder pocket. This is beneficial if the user is wearing body armor, a chest rack or heavier clothing that puts more distance between the torso and the ground, allowing the rifle to be ideally mounted to the body.
The cheek piece is vertically and horizontally adjustable and can be modified on the fly. Laser-etched witness marks are visible for repeatable comb height, which can be used to address specific shooting scenarios.
At the rear of the stock is an adjustable, gravity deployed monopod that, with a push of a button, extends and can be minutely adjusted like a screw with the support hand thumb and forefinger. A hinge at the front of the stock allows it to fold to the left, making for easier transportation.
The single-stage trigger is adjustable from 3 pounds, 8 ounces, to 2 pounds, and it breaks like a glass rod with no creep. The detachable double-stack polymer magazine swallows an incredible eight rounds of .300 Win. Mag. and features a unique two-stage magazine securing system.
The first stage locks the magazine in, but the bolt can be operated without stripping a round out of the magazine, allowing us to individually load rounds by hand while maintaining a full mag. Pressing the magazine upward again seats it, making it ready for auto loading.
The action is topped with a 20 MOA Picatinny rail, on which we mounted a U.S. Optics LR-17 3.2-17x44mm with an R&D Precision (RDP)-designed illuminated milliradian (mil) reticle in the first focal plane (FFP). The RDP reticle features a fine center crosshair for precise engagement of small targets or extreme distance shooting.
The vertical axis below the horizontal line has a total of 15 mils divided into half-mil increments.
The right and left sides of the horizontal axis are divided into 1-mil increments, for a total of 15 mils. A large elevation turret allows for easy and quick dialing, while the windage turret can be capped. While at the U.S. Optics Academy, I learned how to accurately call wind and hold the correction using the reticle instead of dialing.
The forend allows the user to position two short pieces of Picatinny rail at 3- and 9 o'clock to conveniently mount laser rangefinders, visible or infrared (IR) lasers, or other accessories. Two quick-detach (QD) sling swivel cups allow for proper sling placement, also. The .300 Win. Mag. model carries a 23.6-inch, 1:10 RH twist, cold-hammer forged heavy barrel that is free-floated for accuracy.
When you set an SSG 08 on a shooting mat or bench with its bipod legs extended, the rifle loads itself. The bipod is Steyr's creation, and there is no doubt it was designed for rapid deployment.
At extension, the legs align themselves at the 5 o'clock position, instead of the traditional 6 o'clock arrangement.
This means the rifle's bipod is already dug in and leaning forward on setup, allowing us to slide behind it and prepare to fire.
Bipod loading helps prevent the rifle from moving around during recoil and adds a level of consistency to our shooting position, reducing shooter input. It also allows us to put our weight against the rifle without it moving forward. Each bipod leg is adjustable for height and cant.
Steyr Arms guarantees its SSG 08 package will produce sub-MOA accuracy — and accurate it is.
My best group at 100 yards was .52 inch center to center. This was the level of accuracy I experienced from the SSG 08 after firing many groups and concluding my initial performance testing. It was further proven throughout training at the U.S. Optics Academy.
On my initial range trip, I took the time to adjust the stock to my preferences through trial and error. Going forward, all I needed to do was uncase the gun, unfold the bipod legs, press the monopod button and slide behind the gun.
Each time, I found that the SSG 08 fit my body. I used my thumb and forefinger to tailor the monopod's height, placed my crosshairs on the target, pressed the trigger and watched round after round impact exactly where I wanted them with boring regularity.
This was completely repeatable. The only variance was how much elevation I dialed or held, and my wind corrections. This rifle is a bench shooter's dream. However, it may be a field shooter's nightmare. An empty rifle without the hefty bipod weighs 12 pounds, 2 ounces.
Equipped with optic, bipod, sling and loaded magazine, my setup was pushing 19 pounds.
All that weight reduced felt recoil and provided a stable, surefooted rifle. It allowed me to make first-round hits from 200 yards out to 1,000 yards, with the exception of 800 yards, which took four shots due to a wild wind that bounced from wall to wall as it came through the canyon my class was shooting into.
The new U.S. Optics Academy was designed with the purpose of expanding the knowledge and experience with the U.S. Optics scope line. If you purchase a U.S. Optics scope, their instructors will teach you how to effectively use it.
Students gain a complete understanding of their chosen reticle, while gaining an education or reinforcement of marksmanship fundamentals. No prior training is required to enroll in the Long Range Precision Rifle I Course, and it is acceptable to show up with another brand of optic. For more information, visit usopticsacademy.com.
The Steyr SSG 08 is a superb choice for use from a fixed firing position, such as a shooting bench or prone position. Although the rifle was designed to fold up and be easily transported, the weight of the platform is not fun to lug around uncased in the field.
The ergonomics are second to none and rival any custom example currently available. Once the gun is configured to a person's body type and preferences, it is quick to set up and fire with extreme precision at long distances without much shooter input. This is one example of a rifle that anyone can shoot well.