Gun Review: Steyr SSG 69 PII K Rifle

Bored with your dime-a-dozen Remington 700 PSS? Looking for a sniper rifle that has some European panache, but without the price tag of a Blaser Tactical II, Accuracy International AW or Steyr SSG-08? Well, Steyr-Mannlicher is still producing the classic but now overshadowed SSG-69, and it’s still a competitive choice 43 years after its release. I was one year old in 1969 when legendary Austrian Arms manufacturer Steyr-Mannlicher released the Scharfschützengewehr 69 (literal translation: “Sharp Shooter Gun [19]69”).  While the hippies where dropping acid in the mud at Woodstock, the engineers at Steyr were creating what was, for its time, a revolutionary production sniper rifle . . .

With its iconic cold hammer-forged barrel, ergonomic and lightweight synthetic stock, detachable rotary 5-round magazine and double set trigger, the SSG-69 was the ZL1 Camaro of the gun world. Simply put, it set the standard for decades to come. Hell, the Steyr SSG-69 still turns heads when folks see one at the range. We tested the PIIK  (K = “Kurz” or short), which is the 20-inch bull-barreled version to see if it’s as good under the hood as it looks.

A Very Short (and Incomplete) History of Steyr-Mannlicher

The history of Steyr starts with Josef Werndl (b. 1831, d. 1899). Not only could young Josef rock a ‘stash, he was also a member of the lucky sperm club: his father owned an armaments factory. But Josef was an innovator who thought that dad’s business was stuck in the past. After a couple of  apprenticeships and a stint in the Austrian army, he went abroad in 1852 to tour and work at various German and American arms factories – including Colt and Remington. Returning to Austria a year later armed with new ideas, he started an arms workshop in Wehrgraben, Austria. In 1855, Josef’s father died, and 24 year old Josef assumed control of his father’s 500-person firm.

In 1864, Josef and his brother transitioned to a new firm that would eventually become Steyr-Mannlicher:  the “Josef und Franz Werndl & Comp. Waffenfabrik und Sägemühle in Oberletten” (Josef and Franz Werndl & Partners Weapons Factory and Sawmill in Oberletten). Despite the boring windbag name, the firm soon developed a historically significant rifle: the 10.7 mm “Werndl-Holub rifle, Model 1867.” The M-1867 was an innovative single-shot breech loading rifle featuring a moveable cylindrical breech block.

The firm scored a lucrative government contract to manufacture 100,000 of these rifles for the Austrian military. Cha-ching! Bolstered by its new street cred (and perhaps a new marketing department), the firm changed its name in 1869 to “Österreichische Waffenfabriksgesellschaft” (OEWG), which translates to “Austrian Arms-Manufacturing Company.” Foreign orders for the M-1867 started pouring in, and young Josef was on his way to fame and fortune.

In 1875, Josef again got lucky and began working with another dude with a cool hipster moustache (and a bad tie) – a 27-year-old German railroad engineer named Ferdinand Mannlicher (b. 1848, d. 1904). Despite his premature death at age 56, the highly talented Mannlicher would become the John M. Browning of his era.

Besides inventing some fugly-but-functional semi-automatic pistols, Mannlicher designed an en bloc clip and a long-stroke gas piston system which were inspirations for the M-1 Garand. Collectors of mil-surp rifles will also undoubtedly be familiar with the straight-pull Mannlicher M-95 rifle, which Steyr produced in vast quantities in WWI. And hunters know the Mannlicher name due to his signature full-length elegant stock designs.

By 1886, Mannlicher was working full time for OEWG. Capitalizing on his designs, OEWG became the leading European producer of small arms. The company expanded over the next 30 years and became well known for the manufacturer of light bulbs, dynamos, electric motors, and bicycles. By 1896, a Mannlicher protégé named Otto Schonauer was the CEO.

During the “war to end all wars” (until the next one), OEWG employed over 15,000 workers, and the firm churned out millions of military small arms – including the iconic straight-pull Steyr M-95. Unfortunately for OEWG, they were working for the wrong team, and after WWI, OEWG was prohibited from making firearms. So OEWG focused its production on trucks and automobiles. Eager to shake off the “loser” stigma, in 1924 OEWG renamed itself after its hometown: “Steyr Werke AG.”

But the gun-making bug never really died and Steyr eventually worked around those pesky Versailles Treaty restrictions by making military arms in neutral Switzerland, cooperating with the Swiss weapons manufacturer Solothurn AG. Solothurn had been purchased by the German firm Rheinmetall-Borsig A.G in April of 1929. Steyr became a subcontractor to Rheinmetall for the production of German-designed weapons, including the S2-100/MP34 sub-machine gun. Though somewhat obscure, the S2-100/MP-34 Steyr-Solothurn will be familiar to students of the sub-gun as an improved sibling of the MP-19 and MP-28 designs. Designed by Rheinmetall’s brilliant engineer, Louis Stange, the MP-34 is by far the most controllable and accurate sub-gun of the WWII era.

As a result of a merger that occurred in the early-1930s, the firm became known as “Steyr Daimler Puch AG.” Yeah, that’s the same “Daimler” as in “Daimler Benz” (i.e., maker of the Mercedes Benz automobile). And speaking of Germans, the krauts annexed Austria in April of 1938 – and Steyr was incorporated into the Hermann Göring Werke armament conglomerate.

As a result, Steyr began producing Mauser K98s and MG- 34s for that fat-ass, toenail-painting, cross-dressing, morphine addict in 1939. Steyr even got their buddies in the SS to loan them some slave labor from the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Today, Steyr’s BNZ-marked K-98 rifles are highly sought after by collectors, esp. when they are adorned with the single SS rune. Maybe less well known is the fact that Steyr was also a major manufacturer of the familiar Erma-designed MP-40 sub-machine gun.

The allies overran the Steyr factory in 1945, effectively putting it out of business.  Once again, being on the wrong team had severe consequences for Steyr Daimler Puch, and the post-WWII years proved to be difficult for the marque gun maker.  Nonetheless, in 1950, the Allies realized that the USSR was a bigger threat than Germans or Austrians, so it allowed Steyr to manufacture firearms again.  Relying on the start-power of their old designers, Steyr focused its production mainly on hunting rifles made under the name “Mannlicher-Schonauer.”  Although Austria has never been a member of NATO, by the late-1950s Steyr was back on the map and producing innovative military small arms to confront the “Red Beast from the East.”  Steyr also produced a licensed copy of the FN-FAL known as the Stg-58.  While perhaps best known for its iconic 1970’s-era AUG, Steyr’s line of SSG-69 sniper rifles cemented Steyr’s reputation as one of the world’s top manufacturers of precision small arms.  The Steyr SSG 69 P1 has been the standard sniper rifle of the Austrian Army for the past 40 years.

Overview


By 1969 standards, Steyr’s SSG-69 was state-of-the-art: it was the world’s first purpose-built, out-of-the-box sub-MOA factory police/military sniper rifle. All sniper rifles prior to 1969 were either based on modified hunting rifles or modified standard GI-issue infantry rifles. Prior to the SSG-69, if a civilian or police agency wanted a true sub-MOA sniper rifle, they had pay a gunsmith to fine-tune a hunting rifle.

Steyr wanted to produce a highly-accurate factory-built rifle in a lightweight package. To accomplish this, Steyr needed to forego the use of wood and non-essential steel in favor of lightweight synthetic materials. The SSG-69 featured a cold-hammer-forged barrel, an adjustable trigger, a high-impact Cycolac® ABS stock, a 5-shot polymer rotary magazine, dedicated quick release scope rings and integral scope rails dovetailed into the receiver to eliminate the need for scope bases and tapping.

The Barrel

One of the first things you notice when you pick up a Steyr rifle is the signature spiral hammering marks left on the exterior of the barrel.  A hammer-forged barrel is made by pounding a steel tube over a mandrel that has the lands and grooves imprinted into it. This process forms the barrel with a very high degree of precision and increased hardness compared to traditional cut rifling methods. Steyr’s hammer forged barrels have a reputation for long-life and ease of cleaning.

Some folks will tell you that hammer forged barrels are not as accurate as cut or button rifling. I’ve only been shooting for 35 years, so I don’t have enough experience to assess that claim. Maybe it’s true as far as the benchrest guys are concerned. But it seems to me that there are so many factors that go into the determination of barrel accuracy that it would take some very controlled studies to draw any apples-to-apples comparison. So in my estimation, the argument is merely geek-fodder for gun store commandos. Nonetheless, if anybody thinks that hammer-forged barrels aren’t capable of extreme accuracy, here’s a photo of a three-shot 100 yard group using factory match ammo with a 24-inch hammer-forged barrel made by Blaser:

Nuff Said?

On the SSG PIIK, the barrel is 20 inches long, and is slightly contoured. At the muzzle, the barrel is .862 inches in diameter. Rifling is a 4-groove, RH, 1 in 12 inch design. Contrary to internet rumors, the barrel is not chrome lined. A 25.6 inch version is also available, and is in fact the more commonly encountered version. The crown is recessed to protect it from accuracy-robbing dings and dents.

Good authoritative data on Steyr barrel life is hard to come by — even the good folks at Steyr USA couldn’t really give me a firm number. But anecdotal reports typically peg the number well in excess of 10,000 rounds. In reality, the figure is kinda useless, as it depends on what you consider to be acceptable accuracy. I have not put that many rounds through any one specimen, but the few thousand rounds through I put through one sample did nothing to affect its accuracy.

 The Action & Bolt

The receiver on the SSG-69 is copied from the proven Steyr-Mannlicher hunting rifle. It is similar to the Remington 700 insomuch as it is cylindrical in shape. But the Steyr receiver is much longer (8 & 1/2 inches vs. 6 inches) than the Remmy short action. And as they say, size matters.

On the other hand, the ejection port is rather small, which helps accuracy but makes it a bit difficult to access the chamber when you need to.

The long receiver serves a purpose: with the exception of the 16 inch SSG-PIV, SSG barrels and receivers are not threaded, but rather are press fit into place for a distance of 57mm (2 & 1/4 inches). According to Steyr USA, the receiver is heated and then the barrel is inserted into the receiver using a jig that ensures very precise alignment. This process makes for a very accurate rifle, but has the downside of being very difficult to re-barrel.

So once the barrel burns out (yes, barrels burn out, they don’t typically wear out), you’ll likely have to send the action back to Steyr in Austria.  As a practical matter, that means buying a new rifle, since the costs and permits associated with sending it back are prohibitive.  Although I’m sure a few intrepid state-side gunsmiths will re-barrel an SSG, I personally know of none.   Comments and referrals from anyone with experience in this area would be helpful.

The SSG-69 bolt reminds me, in some ways, of the British SMLE’s bolt, with its characteristic rear locking lugs. Unlike the SMLE, however, it’s a cock-on-open affair, and it lacks the SMLE’s ubiquitous removable bolt heads. A polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) (aka Teflon®) coating combined with first-class machining results in a very smooth action.

The length of pull is shorter than a Remington 700 PSS’s bolt, and in theory should be faster to cycle. I’m not sure that it makes much difference in practice. However, the 60° bolt throw is clearly faster and in all ways superior to the Remington 700 PSS’s 90° bolt throw.

The SSG-69 PI is typically found with European style butter-knife bolt handle, but the SSG-PII has a tactical bolt handle similar to what you find on high-end American tactical bolt guns.

According to David Fortier, the SSG-69 has somewhat of a reputation for breaking firing pins. (See D. Fortier, “Steyr’s Latest Sniper: the SSG-04, Shotgun News, Vol 59, Issue 27, Oct. 3, 2005, at p. 4). To be fair, however, I have never experienced a broken firing pin despite putting thousands of rounds through SSG-69s, so I’m skeptical that there’s a systemic problem. Mr. Einer Hoff at Steyr USA informed me that they don’t see many requests for SSG firing pins, and the requests they do get are usually from guys that just want to squirrel away a spare “just in case.”

The Double Set Trigger

Although the military and police versions of the SSG-69 are typically equipped with a standard trigger, an optional double set target trigger is available. This system consists of two separate “triggers.” The front shoe is the only trigger that can actually fire the rifle.  When used in isolation, it’s a two-stage trigger that breaks very crisply at an adjustable range of 2 to 6 lbs. More interestingly, however, is the fact that the rear trigger can be used to “set” the front trigger to break at 2 to 8 ounces…which means that the front trigger becomes a “hair trigger.” The trigger is adjustable for weight of pull.

Unfortunately, the manual that comes with the gun doesn’t explain boo about how to adjust the double trigger. I’ve tinkered with it a bit so I think I’ve figured it out – but don’t take my word as gospel. There’s a small screw located on the underside of the trigger assembly between the front and rear triggers. This screw controls the sensitivity/weight of the front trigger. There’s also a nut located on the front of the trigger assembly that regulates the trigger’s length of pull.

On the single trigger versions, there are two screws located on the bottom of the trigger well. The rear screw (located behind the trigger) adjusts the sear for sensitivity/weight of pull. The front screw adjusts the length of trigger travel.

The Stock

Although crappy Tenite stocks had been around since the mid-1940s, the 1960s saw the development of many high-quality synthetic stocked rifles, such as Brown fiberglass stock, the Armalite M-16 stock and even the decent Remington/Dupont Nylon 66 stock. The stock on the SSG-69 broke new ground because of its use of plastics for a precision rifle.

Experience from Vietnam had proven that wooden stocks weren’t cutting the mustard in that wet humid environment. While the U.S. military went with heavyweight fiberglass stocks, Austrian engineers decided to go with Cycolac,® which is a type of acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) thermoplastic resin. At the time, this material was commonly used in football helmets, boat hulls, and recreational vehicle bodies. Although more modern plastics now exist, it still is used in many applications.

The stock’s length of pull is adjustable from 12 3/4″ to 14″ via the use of four removable spacers in the butt. The stock also features a sling attachment point that is very similar to one found on the HK G3. The pistol grip doesn’t have a palm swell similar to what’s found on McMillan stocks. However it does have a very nice convex curve on the handgrip that ends in a vertical alignment. Opinions will vary, of course, but I fund this much more comfortable than the Remmy 700 PSS’s H-S Precision Stock. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi apparently endorses the H-S Precision stock, for whatever that’s worth.

The SSG-69’s stock has an integral UIT (Anschutz) rail: a rail system that is common on many European precision rifles. This system may be losing some ground to Picatinny rails, but the advantage to having a smooth bottom UIT rail on a sniper rifle should be fairly obvious.

Although rare, some wood stocks were made for the SSG-69. My guess is that they are impossible to find nowadays. Currently, the Cycolac stock is only replacement stock available from Steyr USA. Like all Steyr replacement parts, the stock is expensive:  $420.00. Nonetheless, the price includes the spacers, buttplate, UIT rail and sling swivels. Two colors are available for the heavy barreled version (PII): green and black. In addition, McMillan makes high quality aftermarket fiberglass stocks for the SSG-69, but its uber-expensive at $800(+).

One word of caution on the factory Steyr plastic stock, trigger guard and magazine: they are very vulnerable to many types of solvents, such as Birchwood Casey Gun Scrubber and Sweet’s 7.62 bore cleaner. Even Browning Gun Oil can do a number on them. So you do have to exercise some caution when cleaning your Steyr SSG-69. I usually just take the barreled action off the stock, and I try to use something mild like Hoppe’s No. 9.

The 5-Shot and 10-Shot Rotary Magazines

The SSG-69 is unique insomuch that it uses a Schoenauer-inspired flush-mount detachable rotary magazine. Detachable box magazines came into vogue in WWII, but for some reason the idea did not initially catch on for hunting and sniping rifles in the WWII era. The only common WWII bolt-action sniper rifle with a detachable magazine was the British SMLE No. 4, No. 1(T). Thus, when Steyr released the SSG-69, the detachable rotary magazine was a very big deal. Having owned a Remington PSS, I can say without any doubt that the SSG-69’s external magazine is a huge step up when compared the PSS’s annoyingly clumsy and hard-to-load 4-shot internal box magazine.

If you love your 10-shot rotary magazine on your Ruger 10/22, then you owe a bit of thanks to Mr. Otto Schoenauer. Unlike the Ruger mag, however, the SSG-69 mag has two spring-loaded buttons that can be pressed inward to release the mag from the stock/mag-well. It’s easy to load all 5 rounds into the magazine. The magazine is designed to protect the tips of match bullets from damage caused by recoil or other jarring.

The Steyr SSG-69 magazine is black with a clear plastic window in the rear that allows the operator to see how many rounds are loaded at any given time. It’s made out of a lightweight polycarbonate resin called Makrolon.® According to the research I have done, this material is supposed to be stable under any humidity or wetness variation, and over temperatures ranging from a minus 150° Fahrenheit to 275°F above zero. At $60-70 bucks a pop, however, I’m not about to test whether any of that is true.

Having said that, I’ve been shooting the SSG-69 off-and on for over twenty-five years, and I’ve never had a problem with the magazines. Admittedly, my usage has been under range and mild hunting conditions. I strongly suspect that the SSG magazines are somewhat vulnerable to sand, mud, and would not be as robust as steel magazines under hard combat conditions. There’s a fair amount of anecdotal evidence on various internet boards that both the 5-round and the 10-round SSG magazines have some vulnerabilities in this area.

Some shooters won’t like the rotary magazine because it’s not ideally suited to single-shot loading operation required on some ranges. At one time, Steyr (or somebody) made an adapter that allowed the 5-shot rotary magazine to more easily function in single shot mode, but I haven’t seen those around in quite some time. With a little practice, it’s possible to load one round at a time over an empty mag inserted into the weapon. YMMV, as they say. My personal view is that the ability to quickly jack a new mag containing 5 or 10 rounds into the rifle far exceeds any value of single shot loading.

Steyr also produces a 10-shot magazine for the SSG-69. It retails for $220, making it a very expensive addition. The 10-shot mag is easy to load to capacity, but it doesn’t share the rotary design of the 5-round magazine. Apparently, earlier versions of this design were not always reliable, but I have had no issues with the test sample. But for the price, I’d opt for 3 5-round magazines instead. I especially like the small size of the 5 round magazines – two extra mags will fit in a Blackhawk ammo cheek pad.

Two Position Safety

The ergonomic two-position safety is a definite high point on the SSG-69. It’s a large intuitive tactile safety that can be manipulated in bolt directions with the right thumb.  The weapon is on safe when the safety is toward the rear. It is smooth in both directions and can be found in the dark without any hesitation. It is a loud safety, but it can be moved quietly by adding inward pressure towards the receiver and move the safety forward slowly. The safety also locks the bolt down so that the action cannot be opened while the safety is to the rear on a closed bolt.  The detachable magazine can be removed while the safety is on, however.

The (Plastic Crap-tastic) Trigger Guard

Like all rifles, the SSG-69 is not perfect. In an effort to keep the weight down, Steyr engineers compromised on durability is a couple of key areas. In particular, the plastic trigger guard/magazine well is a flimsy, delicate part that is easily broken. In particular, the screw holes cannot handle very much compressive stress: I managed to break one simply by tightening the rear trigger guard screw too tightly. Replacements with reinforcing in the vicinity of the two screw-holes are available from Steyr USA, but like everything that carries the Steyr logo, they are expensive ($72, shipping included). If someone ever gets around to making an aftermarket part out of aluminum and can keep it around $150-250 or so, I think sales would be brisk.

Having dissed Steyr a bit, let me also point out that the standard trigger guard on the Remington PSS is fairly crappy as well, perhaps just not as crappy. Both manufacturers are clearly cost-cutting on the one part that they believe is not essential for good accuracy.  Aftermarket options are reality available for Remington 700, however, included an excellent replacement by Badger Ordinance.

The Factory Scope Rings

Back when SSG-69s were imported by Guns South, Inc. (“GSI”), they were often sold as a package that consisted of the rifle, a military-grade scope and scope rings with serial numbers matched to the rifle. Although these two rings looked the same, they aren’t. The front ring was engraved with the rifle’s serial number. In addition, the rings were intended to be mounted with the quick release levers facing the right side. If you reverse the rings or install them backwards, the rifle will not zero.

According to Steyr USA, the modern production SSG-69s do not come standard with factory rings included. Accessory rings fitting the dovetail are available in three sizes:  1 inch, 26mm, and 30mm.  From a visual standpoint, there is very little difference between the 1 inch rings and the 26mm rings, and I have seen instances where guys encountered problems because they were trying to mate a 1 inch scope to 26mm rings, and vice-versa.  Be advised.

 Accuracy

Although accuracy is important for a military sniper rifle, durability and repeatability are probably more important than – say – the difference between .25 MOA and .75 MOA groups. As an Army officer, I saw military sniper rifles suffer use (and, in some cases, abuse) in ways that no one would do to a gun if they actually owned it. So military rifles need to be bomb-proof. Most civilian and police shooters baby their sniper rifles, and so durability is not tested nearly as much. Thus, the focus for civilians tends to be on accuracy.

And out-of-the-box accuracy is where the SSG 69 really shines. I’ve shot at least 5 different sample guns, and every one of them was a .5 MOA shooter, or better, if the shooter does his part.  Some are .25 MOA guns.

The batch of test targets pictured above were shot using Federal Gold Match 168 grain BTHP at the 100 yard range at Tri-County Gun Club, in Sherwood Oregon. Wind was variable, with gusts between 5 and 15 mph, and I made no effort to time the gusts or dope for the wind. I tried a variety of different targets to see if that made a difference for my eyes.

As it turned out, accuracy varied a bit more that is typical for me, but the set trigger takes a certain amount of time to get used to if you don’t use it regularly. Some groups were simply spectacular (.19 in., .275 in, .33 in, center to center), but most averaged in the .5 in to .6 inch range.  A few groups were closer to the 1 inch mark, but even then, the first two shots were typically right on top of each other – and then I would choke and the third shot would open the group up to .90 in. and .94 in.  Grrr.

Overall, the 20-inch barreled Steyr SSG-69 PIIK is not as consistently accurate as my 24-inch barreled Blaser LRS II, but it’s more accurate than the Remington 20-inch barreled 700 PSS.

The Scopes

Most SSG-69s were sold with one of following scopes: (1) the Kahles ZF69 (6 x 40), (2) The Kahles ZF 84 (10 x 40); (3) the Hensoldt ZF 500 (10 x 40), or (4) the Hensoldt ZF 800 (10 x 40).  The Kahles ZF 69 scope was the scope originally issued to the Austrian army in 1969.  It was eventually replaced with the more powerful ZF 84.

The rifle being reviewed came equipped with the Hensoldt ZF 500 with Mil-dot reticle.  In its day, this scope sold new for around $1,000.00(+/-), depending on currency exchange rates.

The Hensoldt ZF series scopes employ a Bullet Drop Compensation (“BDC”) top turret.  The ZF 500 has hash marks labeled “1” through “5,” which corresponds to 100 meters to 500 meters. According to John Plaster’s book, “The Ultimate Sniper,” these scopes are intended to be used with NATO spec 168 grain BTHP 7.62 x 51 rounds. In my experience, those rounds have a somewhat different trajectory than factory 168 grain .308 Win BTHP rounds, and so in practice it can be tough to get the turret dials to work with surgical precision. If you are trying to hit an apple at 500 yards, the BDC turrets will often give you fits. If you are shooting big watermelons at 500 yards, it’s still a pretty fast and efficient system.

It had been many years since I had used an old-school BDC scope of this type, and I completely forgot how to calibrate the zero on the BDC turret. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an operator’s manual anywhere –even after exhaustive Google-fu. I called Zeiss/Hensoldt and they couldn’t even provide a manual. Or maybe they couldn’t be bothered. (Either way… WTF?)

I also posted on the “Steyr Club” net boards with no luck. Grrr. I finally figured it out on my own, and I’m embarrassed to admit how simple it really is.  All you have to do is shoot at a target, and then use that group as a reference to adjust the two turrets X number of clicks until you are shooting bulls at, say 100 meters. Then loosen the top screw and gently remove the turret cover and reposition it so that the “1” hash-mark is flush with the white dot on the scope tube. Re-tighten the top screw and repeat with the side turret. Viola- you are pretty much done.  To confirm that your scope is centered, run the turret up to the 5 hash-mark to make sure that you have the full adjustment range. Engage targets at 200, 300, 400 and 500 meters to confirm zero, and note any differences between scope setting and bullet strike.

If you want a scope that will be used as a shooter (as opposed to a collector), then these are really nice quality – if you can get them cheap. From what I can tell from my internet research, these scopes typically sell for 500-600 dollars. Honestly, for that kind of money I’d try to find a product that’s still being manufactured. Not only will Hensoldt/Zeiss not service these ZF 500/800 scopes anymore, they apparently can’t even provide you with an owner’s manual.  How lame is that?

And to be honest, the quality of the glass isn’t up to modern standards. Thus, the Hensoldt ZF series scope is more of a collector’s item for folks that are looking for period-correct glass. BTW, the logo’ed Butler Creek Scope covers are pretty cool:

Conclusion

Anyone considering buying a Steyr SSG-69 has to consider the alternatives. First, for $300-400 more, you can get a much more modern and superior Steyr SSG-04 (assuming you can find one). Second, for a $100 more, the CZ 750 is also a very nice rifle, although it lacks a weatherproof finish and doesn’t come with a 20-inch barrel. Third, Savage has a number of competitive choices in the $1000-2300 price range, including the Model 10 FCP-SR. Although Savages shoot really nicely and have excellent triggers, I’ve always thought that they have a rather cheap and unrefined feel to them.

Fourth, you can buy a Remington PSS for around $800. But with the Remmy, price is deceiving: it doesn’t come with scope rings ($50-200), scope bases ($50-100), an oversized bolt knob ($100), detachable magazine ($300 plus labor, $200), and the stock will likely need to be sent back to H-S Precision to add an extra inch or so to the buttstock if you plan to shoot it prone or from the bench ($125). The Remington is typically a .7 to .9 MOA gun with factory ammo, whereas the Steyrs and CZs are typically .5 MOA or better.  In my opinion, it comes down to weight and durability: if light weight and accuracy are big issues, then the Steyr wins hands down. If durability is the deciding factor, the Steyr probably loses.

I’ve owned both the Remington PSS and the Steyr SSG-69. Although I like the Steyr better for my current needs (recreational shooting, hunting, etc.), the Remington 700 PSS is a more durable rifle overall. The Steyr’s long-term durability is hampered by the use of the plastic for the stock and trigger guard. If you’re going to be careful with it, it should be good-to-go. If you’re going to jump out of airplanes with it (or you’re a klutz), opt for the Remmy. Maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath, but I remain hopeful that someone will design and market an aluminum trigger guard for the Steyr.

Specifications:

Caliber: .308 Win. The SSG-69 is also available in .243 Win and .22-250 Rem, although these are fairly rare.
Barrel: 20” heavy contour, 4 groove, with a 1 in 12 twist.  A 25 ½” version (1 in 12 twist) also available, as is a 16” version with a 1 in 10 twist.
Length: 39 & 1/4 inch overall length
Weight: 4.81 kg (10.6 lbs.) empty
Operation: bolt action
Finish: parkerized metal.
Capacity: 5 and 10 round detachable magazines.
Price (MSRP):   In the mid-1990s, the retail price for a SSG-69 was under a thousand dollars. Due mainly to the weak U.S. dollar against the euro, the current retail price is in the $1,900 range. Street price tends to vary quite a bit, so be sure to shop around.

Ratings (Out of Five Stars):

Accuracy: * * * * *
I’ve fired quite a few samples of this particular rifle and they were all .5 MOA shooters at 100 yards and beyond.

Ergonomics: * * * * *
Opinions will be all over the map on this rather subjective issue, but I think this is one area where the Steyr really blows away the Remington 700 PSS. The stock’s more comfortable than the H-S precision stock on the PSS, especially with regard to the handhold for the shooting hand. The Steyr has noticeably less felt recoil than the Remmy.

Reliability: * * * * *
There’s an element of durability inherent in the notion of reliability, but I have separated out these two categories to differentiate a gun that breaks from a gun that just tends to jam a lot even though no one part is broken. Viewed in this light, the Steyr SSG 69 is a very reliable firearm – it cycles ammo very smoothly and is less likely to jam as compared to a Remmy PSS. The Remington has a flimsy internal box mag that can be tricky to reassemble after cleaning: incorrect alignment will cause failures.

Durability:  * * *
This is the one area where the Steyr SSG-69 suffers. The rifle has a well-deserved reputation for having shockingly crappy plastic trigger guards. In addition, although I have not had any issues, the stocks are said to warp in extreme heat. Finally, the 5-shot polymer rotary magazines can break and seem to be more susceptible to jamming than a typical box magazine if subjected to sand or dirt.

Customization: * *   
There’s not much to “customize” on a typical bolt gun of this caliber.  Unlike the Remington 700 PSS, however, the Steyr does not need to be customized.  Nonetheless, aftermarket accessories for the Steyr SSG-69 are surprisingly lacking.  Factory rings and a 20 MOA offset picatinny rail are available. McMillan makes a nice heavy duty fiberglass stock for the SSG-69. However, I’ve had no luck trying to finding bolt-on muzzle-brakes, steel/aluminum trigger guards, which are two things that the Steyr could really use.

Overall Rating: * * * *
Virtually unchanged after 43 years, the Steyr SSG 69 is still top of the class in terms of accuracy. The detachable magazine, 60 degree bolt throw and double set trigger seal the deal for me. I deducted one star because of the polymer trigger guard and the stock. Price is also an issue. The weak dollar makes the competition, such as the Remington 700 PSS and Savage 10 FCP McMillan, worthy alternatives.

32 Responses to Gun Review: Steyr SSG 69 PII K Rifle

  1. avatarRokurota says:

    Beautiful photography there. I’d like to go shooting there.

    Great article, too. Worth my morning!

  2. avatarإبليس says:

    “As a result, Steyr began producing Mauser K98s and MG- 34s for that fat-ass, toenail-painting, cross-dressing, morphine addict in 1939.”

    You forgot fighter ace, hunter, and conservationist.

    Nice review though! I’m happy to see TTAG covering rifles more frequently. I’ve been wanting this rifle for ages after reading some mercenary sniper tales set in the Yugoslav war. True or not the SSG just has that look. Like M4s without aftermarket parts and MP5s. Shame about the plastic parts though…

    • avatarRokurota says:

      Göring may have been all those things, but let’s not diminish what he really was.

      • avatarEuropean American says:

        Re: Göring

        Don’t believe everything you read, unless, of course, you knew him personally. Did you?

        American war propaganda ran rampant during the war and still, to this day, molds the malleable minds of the American masses; PsyOps at it’s best.

        Aside from my opinion on human behavior, I love my SSG 69.

        My package deal did not have the scope mentioned. It was a Kahles ZFM 6×42 Z. I emailed Kahles and this is their reply: Hello and thank you for contacting Kahles Optics,

        This is a early scope and a great one at that. unfortunately regarding the manufacturing info, I can say that this scope was built in the early to mid seventies but that is as small of scope as I can produce.

        Great news however, I have attached a user manual for this optic that should greatly help with the setup and application. If this does not help or adds to the confusion, please let me know and we will take it from there.

        Regards, and have a great day,
        Ken

        Aside from Kahles, here is an operators manual that supposedly came with the rifle:

        http://www.scribd.com/doc/29057669/Steyr-PSR-Police-Sniping-Rifle

  3. avatarChris Dumm says:

    This article is so encyclopedic, it should have its own Library of Congress number! Wow…

    And BTW it’s also an extremely accurate and comfortable gun. It blows the test Remington 700 all to hell in those categories.

  4. avatarMilsurp Collector says:

    I adore my Steyr m95 Stutzen Carbine. 8x56r is a hard caliber to find, but the recoil and muzzle blast are like no other. No fancy buffer tubed stock; no muzzle break. Just the cold comfort of a steel butt plate giving your shoulder some love. This rifle looks just as awesome with those 2 triggers. So glad they brought that back.

  5. avatarAccur81 says:

    Great article.

    For the money, I don’t think this blows away a Remington 700 LTR, but that’s just my opinion. It certainly is a unique piece, and I appreciate the article and high level of shooting experience by the author.

  6. avatarCulpeper Kid says:

    It looks to me like the dollar is doing very well to the Euro right now. You may be a bit confused, but the Euro has been down vs the dollar since the financial troubles started in Europe several years ago. Outstanding comprehensive review.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      I was thinking about the issue from a long term standpoint. The Steyr SSG-69 used to sell for about $870 back in the 1990s. Now its $1899 MSRP. Maybe I’m wrong, I can’t think of any other reason to explain the difference – other than currency exchange rates.

  7. avatarAharon says:

    Joe,

    Thanks, I like how you mixed in the gun maker’s background history with your review. I think I’ve seen one of these guns somewhere…

  8. avatarRalph says:

    Brilliant article, Joe, and a great history lesson. My only complaint is that you wrote “I was one year old in 1969.” That made me feel very, very old.

  9. avatarMatt in FL says:

    For the record, this is the kind of article I come to this site for.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever own a rifle like this, but after reading this, I feel like I already do, or at the very least I’m qualified to shop for one. Absolutely awesome writeup.

    • avatarAharon says:

      Well said. I’m with you in that this is the type of quality article I come here for too. I also prefer articles that cover 2A issues with depth and intelligence.

  10. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    The trigger bow and magazine being made out of plastic have little to nothing to do with weight, and everything to do with reducing costs – same as the pressed-in barrel.

  11. avatarmtshootist1 says:

    I own both a PII and a standard SSG69, both have doubleset triggers, and once served as sniper rifles for a large city police dept. I know of one gunsmith who tried to rebarrel one of these, it was a major fail, and he ruined the action. It is my understanding that the barrel is supercooled in nitrogen, and then pressfitted into the action. The police dept. got rid of these rifles because they weren’t winning enough police competition matches, and wanted Remington 700′s custom built. ( I got them for a steal) I figured they were idiots. By the way, they both came with 10 rd mags, which proved to break easily. I have never regretted my purchase. Steyrs are beautiful weapons, in my opinion, and I own both the modern ones and the older ones.

  12. avatarChris says:

    I inherited my P1 when my best friend died in an accident. I would rather have my friend back, but I think of him whenever I take that marvelous rifle out to the range. I’m pretty unschooled in marksmanship yet sub-moa shooting is a breeze. I plan to attend an NRA workshop or Appleseed course or something to see the true potential of this rifle. I’m taking my trigger guard to the machine shop where I work to see how costly it would be to duplicate it in aluminum or steel.

    These rifles may be dated, but are still worth it if you can get your hands on one. I’ve never seen another one at the gunshows around here.

  13. avatarJT says:

    Best review I’ve encountered on the SSG 69. I have a pristine version without the accessory rail, vintage is 1982, green stock, Steyr mounts. It’s very accurate with Federal Match ammo. I plan to replace the Zeiss 3×9 with a Leupold tactical version, 30 mm, so I’m shopping for mounting solutions to avoid paying Steyr $275!
    I’ve actually spent a little time online regarding a replacement trigger guard. Some b/s about the company not being permitted by the feds to manufacture gun parts…. Guess I’ll keep looking. I think just about everyone who owns one would spend $150 for a new trigger guard!
    I just acquired some Lapua D46 bullets in both the 170 grn and 185 grn so I’m anxious to see how they do compared to the Federal Match. The 1:12 twist may or may not prove slow for the 185s. Just have to see. These bullets supposedly were some of the best available. Lapua. What else would you expect! FMJ with a rebated boat tail design.
    I have had to open the barrel channel slightly. Apparently the stock isn’t as stiff as new composite material so it flexed just enough to open a group. Easy fix.
    The double set trigger is about as good as you can get. Unset it breaks clean at 2.5#s Set it breaks at probably 2-3 oz! Basically you just touch it.
    Sometimes you’ll see an SSG 69 sold by an auction house that is liquidating an estate. One with the rare wood stock in about 98% condition sold for under $1000 about 6 months ago. These places usually specialize selling collectible firearms and the Steyr SSG 69s from the collector’s estate just did not have the right crowd bidding. I think the other version with the composite stock went for $1200! Both deals.

    • avatarInsolent Minx says:

      In your comment you mentioned the Lapua D46 170 and 185gr bullets. Every gun has it’s sweet spot and reloading will allow you to find this and fine tune it. When you do, the gun will settle down, the barrel whip will be resonant and the gun will shoot tight groups like you have never seen before. I used to own an SSG-04 and the sweet spot round was a Berger 155.5gr. BT Fullbore with 45.0grs. of Vihtavuori N540 at 53794psi pushing 2705fps seated .010″ off the lands. This round consistently put 10 rounds in a group .750″ at 300yds. all day long. It took almost 2 years to develop that load. The SSG-69 that I have now likes the D46 185gr. bullet even with a 1:12 ratio. This sweet spot load still needs further developing though to refine it. Right now I can consistently put 5 rounds in a 3/8″ group at 200 yards all day long. The load is as follows: .308 Win Lapua D46 185gr., Lapua Palma .308 win brass with 40.0grs. of IMR4895, Federal 205 Small Rifle Match primer, at 46088psi pushing 2447fps. seated touching lands. Gun headspaces at 1.630″ Extremely tight chamber dimensions. If you would like more load data, I have 5 years worth of load development for .243 Win, .308 Win, 45 ACP, 45 LC, and 44 Mag. Send me your email address and I will send you everything that I have so you do not have to re-invent the wheel. kvella@lexco.com

      Ken

  14. avatarAmerikos says:

    The Steyr SSG 69 PII is a wonderful rifle. I’ve shot several dozens of 1000 yard NRA F-Class Tactical Rifle matches with her. Using a Nightforce NXS 5×22, she gives me consistently 92% accuracy using 175 gr. Sierra BTHP using 45 gr. of Varget, 2645 fps. She is a standard rifle besides using a McMillan stock and a Picatinny rail mount.

    On the plastic issue, it states clearly on the operating manual that any exposure of solvents will make the plastic brittle. Avoid splashing around the Hoppes #9 you will be just fine. When Styria Arms exports their new trigger guard I will be happy to give it a try.

    Usings Frog lube will make your bolt as smooth as silk.
    The SSG 69 is far superior to any factory Rem 700, but it is on par with a high quality custom Rem 700 that has been well tweaked. If you require greater than 92% accuracy at 1000 yards (which is Sharp Shooter and not an Expert). If you want to make Expert (better than 92% accuracy) it is better to get a custom Rem 700 where you can get change out to a custom match barrels. It is virtually impossible to change the barrel on the SSG. Besides that I love my SSG.

    • avatarJT Turner says:

      I was wondering about trying F-Class Tac matches with my SSG 69. Did the switch to a MacMillan stock affect the accuracy in a significant way? I’m a little reluctant to spend the money as the accuracy of mine is already decent……..just like in the article, .5 to .6″ consistently.

  15. avatarAndy says:

    I have a 95 short rifle,with Hungarian crest,shoots really good from a rest,love that straight pull.Got lucky a few years ago,when a friend of mine had found two crates of ammo at a gun store,Nazi markings,approximately 2200 rounds in cardboard boxes like I said with Nazi markings year 1938,the wooden crates have German writing,and painted stencil eagle,with leather handles on both ends.Only paid $65.00 for both,now you have a very hard time finding it.Oh by the way only paid $25.00 for the rifle in 2000,in very good condition.Would like to install a rail and scope on it.Keep your powder dry.

  16. avatarJim McCall says:

    I have had a Steyr SSG P1 for a nunber of years now, It came as issued with the Kahles Helios 69 6×42 scope calibrated for the standard Nato 7.62×51 round which uses a 143grain fmj head. The bdc turret has double alignment marks which allow you to use a heavier bullet instead of the standard head, although this scope is calibrated to 800 metres I find that it will adjust beyond that and I regularly use it competitively at 1000yds with a 155gn Lapua Scenar vld, it shoots easily to within 1 minute of angle off a front bag or wrist rest. It has a shotgun style single set trigger which pushes forward to set or can be used as normal, there is no uit style rail under the forend so I’ve fitted it with a qd stud to accommodate a bipod. Drawbacks – I find that the issued scope while spot on for elevation with the right round has limited adjustment for windage being calibrated to 1 centimetre at 100 metres with no click stops, however you can zero this thing very easily by spotting the bullet strike and bringing the German reticule onto it, with practice it can be done in two shots. Some of the ranges in Scotland can have sidewinds which are very tricky, the Kahles isn’t always ideal so I adapted a BRNO one piece mount to fit the SSG it’s not hard to do and it means I have a choice of scope depending on conditions both of them on qd mounts that keep their zero. I could go on about how good the SSG is but I won’t; suffice to say that I’ve won my share with it. Btw it came with the manual (in German) and with a little suprise bonus hidden inside the buttplates this was an Austrian army knife something like the Swiss multi-tool thing but with sideplates in the same Green plastic as the stock and bearing the Austrian two headed eagle insignia (nice). Good article Joe; just one thing though, you missed the Enfield L42 issued to the Brits in 1970 – Enfield action, box mag; heavy barrelled tack driver in 7.62 nato easily capable of sub moa accuracy. Oh and I’m a fan of the 700 I would give my eyeteeth to get hold of an m40….Cheers

  17. avatarWolf says:

    Nice article.

    I’d take the Rem anyday as long as it’s a SSG.

  18. avatarJT Turner says:

    The company listed sells about the best chamber guide you’ll find for the SSG. Mine came just a tad too tight but with a little sandpaper work it fit perfectly. It will keep out any solvent used in cleaning from dripping onto the plastic parts. Cleaning solvent is claimed to be the culprit that results in the plastic trigger guard becoming brittle and cracking.

    http://www.originalbobsled.com/BoreGuides.aspx

  19. avatarBill Gaida says:

    I laughed all the way through this article. I am on my 2nd SSG. What I allways enjoyed, was taking it out of the case and guys saying WHOA! Then the Butt kicking would start.

  20. Pingback: Ssg-04 .308 review?

  21. avatarRobin says:

    Guess mine is a rare bird with the Walnut stock. Thought I missed out by not getting the Cycolac stock but the wood on this one is beautiful. Measured set trigger pull at 1.9-2 ounces. People think I’m full of BS. Oh Well ! It’s my favorite, even over my full autos.

    • avatarJT says:

      My SSG is so awesome I just can’t get tired of it. Currently I’m shopping for a new scope. Has anyone out there mounted a Leupold 4 x 14 50mm LR/T? If so which rings work. My current 30mm rings are medium height. Don’t know if they’ll work or if I need high rings.
      The SSG 69s I’ve seen on GB lately are being given away IMHO!
      Ken, thanks for your load data.My SSG LOVES the Lapua D46 in both 185 and 170 grn versions. Also you mention the Lapua brass. It’s worth every penny of what you pay!

  22. avatarRobin says:

    Are there any other types out there that put this one to shame? I’d like to know so I could buy one!

    • avatarJT says:

      I don’t think there are many that compare for the price. And at that, even the reviews I’ve read on the $5k+ rifles don’t impress me with consistently better accuracy or better triggers. Considering what the ones sell for on GB I’m tempted to buy a second one!

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