Basking in the cool relief provided by a newly installed central AC system, I found myself in a room pulling double duty as a combination office and gun room. I peered out the window of the newly constructed house at rows of other newly constructed houses in a newly constructed subdivision near my hometown. Sitting heavy in my lap is an Accuracy International AW chambered in .308, the first AI I’d ever seen in my life.
“Do you know who that is?” asks the young police officer standing front of me and pointing to a framed photo on the wall. The year is 2004 and I’m just returning from a day shooting with one of the local police department’s finest. The rifle in my lap is his duty rifle used in his role as one of the department’s snipers. The autographed, framed photo on the wall is of Carlos Hathcock. “No,” I replied.
What ensued was a collegiate level lecture on Hathcock and his Viet Cong-killing prowess at distances well past half a mile. While Hathcock wasn’t the most prolific sniper to operate in the Vietnam, he was certainly the most famous. How weapon of choice: a Winchester Model 70. The Model 70 — specifically the pre-’64 model — was utilized by Hathcock to win the Wimbledon cup and during his first tour of duty to put him on track to rack up an impressive ninety-three confirmed kills.
While Remington 700-patterned guns seem to be all the rage these days, something that started as early as Hathcock’s second tour, the pre – ’64 Model 70 still holds its place as own as a one of America’s greatest precision rifle actions. I certainly can’t speak for White Feather, but I have to imagine that FN’s Special Police Rifle (SPR) series of bolt guns would give him a moment’s pause.
Those in law enforcement should no doubt be familiar with the SPR series. The FBI selected the SPR A3G more than a decade ago as one of their go-to sniper rifles for HRT. All of the rifles in the SPR line feature the same action, hammer forged, chrome lined barrels, and built in 20 MOA Picatinny rails screwed down with oversized 8-40 screws. Every one is nestled in a McMillan fiberglass stock. Every SPR ships with a 1 MOA out-of-the-box guarantee (and that’s with factory ammo) along with the test target to prove it.
The SPR A5M XP pictured here seeks to expand on the capabilities of the SPR series by adding several features not present on the A1 or A3 series. Chief among those is the A5 stock from McMillan which sports the same vertical palm swell as the SPR A3 but with a wider forend…better for shooting off packs, bags, and barriers. Additionally, the A5M XP model features an adjustable-on-the-fly cheek piece. A spacer-based system changes length of pull. The stock is generously cut to allow the enormously thick barrel to be completely free floated.
Adjustment of the cheek piece up and down is accomplished with a simple thumb screw on the right hand side. The cheek piece can’t be moved fore or aft and the thumb screw can only be attached from the bolt side…sorry lefties. That leftie-hating screw holds the cheek rest extraordinarily firmly, and once set, is rock solid.
Keen-eyed readers will also notice that the A5M XP sports a thumb hook on the butt – a key differentiator from the A3 model which has a smooth transition from the heel of the stock to the bottom of the palm swell. The slight angle of the butt along with that thumb hook allow those shooters who “drive” the rifle off a rear sandbag to do so effectively.
Either McMillan or FN was thoughtful enough to relive the cheek riser enough to allow bolt removal with the riser locked in place. This allows you to set the perfect riser height, lock it down, but still remove the bolt for cleaning, transportation, etc.
The A5M XP’s stock is absolutely lousy with QD swivel points, featuring three on the butt and three on the forend. I found them to be expertly bedded, recessed perfectly, and stout as hell. Feel free to pop the QD swivel of your favorite sling in place, slip in the cuff, and torque down. There’s no flex or give in the stock, and the QD swivels hold tight. There’s a traditional sling swivel just forward of the QD puck bedded in the bottom of the stock, perfect for a traditional sling mount or bipod.
Like Henry Ford’s Model T, you can get an A5M XP in any color and caliber you want as long as it’s black and .308 WIN. The only choice you have here is barrel length, and even those options are minimal. Choose from either a twenty- or twenty-four-inch tube.
The model you see here is the long(er) barreled option. Like all of the SPR series rifles, the barrel is a cold hammer forged, chrome lined unit. Chrome lining a barrel is usually reserved for heavy duty machine gun use, something FN knows a thing or two about. Chrome lining is a great way to extend the life of a barrel, usually at the cost of accuracy. Given the A4M XP’s accuracy that FN advertises, it appears they’ve solved that problem.
And since we’re talking about accuracy, if you’re spending a touch under $3000 for a rifle, it really does need to shoot well. The good news: this one does. The group at the top above is the first I shot after a vigorous scrubbing with KG-1 and KG-12. The shot low and left is the cold bore shot. The rest of the grouping were the next three. Barrel properly fouled, I shot the five-shot group below, which measured a hair under 3/4 MOA. Many thanks to our friends at Federal for supplying the 168 gr. Gold Medal ammo used for this test.
These results were typical of what the SPR produces. My first five-shot group after a cleaning was almost always right at or a little bigger than 1 MOA, while all subsequent groups hovered around 3/4 MOA. This held true as long as I used quality match ammo like the Federal Gold Medal used above.
Just for giggles, I stretched the legs of this rifle a bit and had no trouble putting first-round hits on steel at 600 yards and below. Much past that, and I started running into the limitations of what I can do with the less slippery 168 gr SMK and my wind-reading ability. Those aren’t the rifle’s problems. The first one is more endemic to the cartridge. Slicker bullets like Berger’s 185 gr. Juggernaut can certainly sort it out.
Big, heavy, long bullets like Juggernaut need a lot of runway and a bit of twist to get going, and this’s where the A5M XP really shines. The twenty-four-inch barreled model certainly has the length to get the job done, as twenty-four inches seems to be the accepted industry standard for a barrel length that allows enough velocity while still being somewhat maneuverable.
Where the XP differs from the standard A5M model is the twist rate. The A5M uses a 1:12 RH twist in the .308 chambering while the A5M XP uses a 1:10 twist, better suited to the heavier, longer bullets that have grown in popularity since the original SPR was first fielded more than a decade ago.
The other major barrel-related difference is the muzzle threading. The A5M isn’t threaded from the factory so those looking to add a brake or silencer will have to send it off to the ‘smith to get properly cut. The XP model comes from the factory with 5/8″-24 threads and a knurled thread protector.
Moving back to the receiver, nostalgia is put to the side for pure, unadulterated function. As the A5M XP is geared toward the “tactical” crowd, it checks all the necessary boxes to satisfy those users. Up top, a Picatinny rail with 20 MOA of elevation built in is secured by oversized 8-40 screws. That should please the tactical cognoscenti as opening up receiver screws from 6-48 to 8-40 and adding a 20 MOA base is one of the more popular upgrades made to other precision rifles. The angled base ensures that shooters can maximize the elevation adjustment of their high dollar scopes while the larger screws are for strength and power.
FN has opted to dump their standard-sized bolt knob in favor of the much larger, embossed version you see above. In the field, this provides an easier target for fast moving hands as they eject spent cases and load fresh ones from the magazine. About those mags…
The SPR A5M XP feeds from a detachable box magazine that’s proprietary to FN. More on that in a second. My AICS magazine-fed bolt gun uses a magazine release reminiscent of an AK 47, something I find quite useful in the field or in a competition. Simply rock the lever forward, and the magazine fall free.
FN’s DBM system uses a push button located behind the mag well, but forward of the trigger guard to accomplish the same task. The button can be used from either side which should please lefties and those who prefer to maintain their firing grip whilst dropping a mag.
I’m not as big of a fan of this style vs. the CDI Precision unit on my other rifle as the button requires more fine motor movement. I find mag changes to be coarse and I like big, idiot-proof controls. Ultimately, that comes down to personal preference and FN’s usage of the push button is both well executed and crisp. Now about those magazines.
The A5M XP ships with one five-round magazine. My initial reaction to the news that FN elected to use a magazine of their own design was one of dismay. I hate proprietary mags as much as anyone else. They’re usually expensive, made of unobtanium, and somehow function more poorly than what’s available on the market.
After playing around with FN’s magazine a bit, I put the last worry to bed. The magazine they supplied fed and functioned flawlessly. For those who reload, you’ll be happy to know that FN’s mag allows you to stretch OAL a touch past SAAMI‘s max spec of 2.810″. I loaded up some dummy rounds and found that I could just barely squeeze a round loaded to 2.850″ and still have it function without issue. This length restriction is identical to what I’ve seen in the more popular AICS magazines.
Which brings up an important point. AICS magazines are usually pretty easy to find…but boy they’re expensive. Five-rounders run about $70 and ten-rounders are usually a couple bucks more if you go with Accurate Mag. Real deal Accuracy International versions are about $20 more. Magpul has certainly disrupted the market a bit with their polymer AICS versions, but I have yet to test their offering so I’ll hold off on commentary.
Extra magazines from FN are $54 for the five-round version and $60 for the ten-rounders. And they’re currently in stock on FN’s website. I’ve managed to find them in stock in various other places on the internet and usually for a couple bucks under MSRP. When you start thinking about keeping five or so ten-round magazines rattling around the shooting bag, those savings really start to add up.
For those of us who are already heavily invested in AICS mags though, you’re SOL. But if this is your first magazine fed, precision bolt gun, you won’t know the difference, and be ahead (financially) of your AICS-using friends.
Ergonomically speaking, the controls — especially the safety — are well situated and easy to use. The safety, similar to the Mark II on my Ruger hunting rifle, is a three-position style that allows for safe, load, and fire positions. On safe, the bolt can’t be manipulated, but moving it to the fire position is a snap. If the good Lord saw fit to bless you with Trump-like short thumbs, you rock your opposable digit up the nearly vertical palm swell a bit and give it a firm shove. There seems to be a bit of spring assistance getting it off safe, and it will easily bypass the load position to make your rifle ready to fire.
Moving the lever back from fire to safe requires a bit more effort and the use of your whole hand, which we can all agree is a bit safer. The ‘load’ position is located right in the middle, allowing the safe unloading of ammo as well as a truly smooth and effortless bolt lift.
Once you’re ready to fire, all that’s left is to rest the pad of your index finger on the nicely grooved, curved trigger shoe. The expectation is that there will be a clean, glassy break befitting a rifle this expensive. Unfortunately, I didn’t find that to be the case. There’s just a touch of travel and some grit before meeting that expected glassy break point.
My scale indicated that pull weight was right about three pounds, perfect for a workhorse precision or duty rifle. FN indicates that it can be adjusted, but I didn’t bother. Three pounds is just about perfect for me, and seems to be the accepted industry standard for this type of rifle.
Trigger quibbles aside, I had no problem stretching the practical limits of my own ability and the factory loaded ammo I used for this test. Off a bench or prone using a bipod and a rear bag, this is an eminently shootable rifle. Easily my favorite part of testing was laying out prone at Best of the West with the long range all to myself smacking steel shot after shot at 600 yards.
Moving and shooting with it is a different matter altogether. The twenty-four-inch barrel is a drag on maneuverability and the gun weighs almost twelve pounds before you slap a bipod, rings, and a scope on it. Fully kitted out for this test, the whole she-bang easily weighed fifteen pounds which creeps up pretty close on the weight limit for F/TR competition. Cutting four inches of barrel off with the twenty inch version of the A5M XP helps with the maneuverability piece, but only nets a quarter pound of weight loss according to FN.
All that weight is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re shooting off a barrier, the weight really does help minimize little twitches and cuts recoil down to basically nothing. The flat-bottomed forend of the McMillan shines here, and for those looking for a factory rifle to run in local PRS matches, know that you really can’t go wrong with a McMillan A5. I didn’t have to fight the rifle to shoot it from my weak side off a barrier or prone as the stock is a mirror image from one side to the other unlike some chassis I’ve used.
The weight becomes a major factor if any of your shooting is done offhand, even supported by a sling. Fifteen pounds of rifle and scope — a lot of it hanging nearly two and a half feet from your body — is a bear to muscle around. It should go without saying, but this isn’t a great walking and stalking hunting rifle. If most of your shooting is at things far away off a bench or prone using front and rear rests, opt for the longer barreled version. If you plan on getting in and out of vehicles, moving around a bit, and potentially shooting off improvised barriers, opt for the shorter version. If you’re looking for a lightweight hunting rifle, look elsewhere entirely.
Lately, as the ravages of a day job take their toll, I find myself drawn to guns that are ready to go out of the box. More often than not, I want to spend my time shooting, not swapping parts or sending guns off to my gunsmith to be tweaked. The problem is, what I want often isn’t available from any of the major manufacturers.
As I’m not really interested in chassis rifles like the Ruger Precision Rifle or the Bergara LRP Elite, my options really do come down to “call the gunsmith and have something built.” That’s not a knock on those rifles by the way. In fact, they’re really nice guns, and cheaper than the SPR as well. I just feel better behind a traditionally stocked rifle, and the A5 is one of my favorite stocks out there.
If, like me, you really like that stock and want a new rifle, your options include going the custom route or trying to assemble something yourself. Neither option is particularly appealing from a monetary or time perspective. You’ll likely spend every bit of four grand (or more) at a custom shop buying new or burn up dozens of hours and similar dollars trying to cobble something together yourself.
The A5M XP checks all the boxes for the modern bolt rifle buyer while squeaking in at just under $3,000. That seems to be the threshold whenever you start talking about really well built rifles. What “custom” money will buy you is a rifle that’s absolutely perfect out of the box, something the A5M XP doesn’t quite achieve. The trigger was a little gritty and the safety felt a little clunky. Those quibbles aside, this is a thoroughly reliable, accurate bolt action rifle.
Specifications: FN SPR A5M XP
Caliber: .308 Win.
Barrel: 20″ or 24″
Action Length: Short Mag
Overall Length: 39.5″ to 40.75″ (20″ barrel); 43.5″ to 44.75″ (24″ barrel)
Magazine: 5 rds. (TBM)
Weight: 11.5 or 11.75 lbs. (empty)
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit, Finish, Build Quality * * * *
This rivals everything else in the price range, and even some beyond it for workmanship and quality of assembly. McMillan’s stocks are a joy to handle, and everything they touched looks amazing. The FN parts are mostly good with even finishes, machining, and engraving. The safety engagement could stand to be a little crisper with a bit less muscle required to activate it. The grit in the trigger is a major disappointment. I’d expect it from a budget rifle, but people shelling out $3,000 deserve better.
Accuracy * * * *
I spent most of this test shooting up Federal Gold Medal loaded with 168 gr. SMKs. When you find something a rifle likes, you just keep doing that right? The A5M XP definitely prefers pricier food and if you’re getting serious about shooting longer distances, you’ll definitely need to feed it a high quality diet. I got consistent sub MOA groups using Federal Gold Medal with most groups hovering right around 3/4 MOA if I did my part. A star comes off as it almost always threw the first shot on a clean bore, something I haven’t seen on rifles with cut-rifled barrels. That out of the way, the accuracy never seemed to change on long strings of fire.
Function * * * * *
This is a high quality factory offering that wants for very little. Slap a brake and/or a silencer on the end if you please, buy a couple extra mags, and get to shooting. If you think that shorter range — and by that I mean under 600 yards — PRS style shooting will be the order of the day, opt for the shorter barreled version which is undoubtedly more maneuverable off barricades and out of vehicles. That goes double for anybody who plans to stick a silencer on the end as a twenty-four inch rifle with a seven or nine inch silencer on the end is an enormously long prospect. If the trigger bothers you, use the money you saved on magazines to send it to the ‘smith to get cleaned up. That’s all that need to be addressed.
Customize This * * * * *
I doubt that anyone really needs anything beyond an optic for this rifle, but the provision for multiple sling mounting points, a bipod, and a brake/silencer are all there. Everything else you’d ever upgrade on this kind of rifle has already been done from the factory. The McMillan A5 shines as it allows you to adjust length of pull as well as cheek riser height. Change nothing, shoot everything.
Overall Rating * * * *
If you really lust after a pre-’64 Model 70, you’re already looking down the barrel (so to speak) of a pretty spendy purchase. If you lust after one with a heavy barrel in a modern stock, you’ll end up spending more than the $2900 MSRP the gun costs to get there in parts alone. For those looking for the nostalgia or those plug ‘n play buyers looking for something a little different than every other Remington 700 clone out there, the FN SPR A5M XP is hard to beat. Now if they’d just chamber it in 6.5 Creedmoor….