By Lance Strahl
Let’s face the facts; Remington has fallen on hard times. From the R51 debacle to the rumored closing of several of its Freedom Group counterparts, Remington is not looking particularly sturdy. Of its many recent boondoggles, few stand out in the minds of avid shooters as starkly as the failure of the Remington 700 trigger. This failure is just another example of Remington bringing a product to market that was nowhere near ready. All of these mistakes could spell the end of one of America’s greatest rifles, but it shouldn’t . . .
What makes a rifle great? Is it accuracy? Reliability? Safety? How do we judge the greatest rifle? Clearly most rifles possess these features to some degree. What about availability? There are certainly some grail guns out there that truly embody these qualities, but very few can actually afford them. Is cost a factor? Certainly, but where do we draw the line? What are we willing to sacrifice or gain for a dollar? The truth is it really comes down to personal choice. What each man (or woman) values most within their means. Having said that I offer this: for over 50 years the 700 has offered the qualities we desire in spades at a price every man can afford.
A Brief History
While the Remington 700 first appeared on the market over 50 years ago in 1962, its development goes back an addition 18 years to 1944 when Remington began a project to revolutionize the sporting arms industry. Remington had completed its military contracts, and decided to take what it had learned during the war years to make the first truly modern bolt action rifle.
The 700 started life as the 721 and 722, less sophisticated, but no less important rifles. Many of the lessons learned on these early runs would lead to the perfection of the 700. The cylindrical receiver that is now used in most high quality actions started here; so too did the internally mounted extractor and ejector. Remington’s growth during the war years meant they had the ability to invest in new technology that put them leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. This advancement in manufacturing technology not only allowed Remington to produce more precise components requiring less hand fitting, it also drastically reduced the cost. A savings Remington would continue to pass on to the customer.
When in 1962 the 700 was introduced, the kinks of earlier models had been ironed out, and the 700 was ready to claim its place at the top as the best modern bolt action. The 700 had a stronger action (“Three Rings of Steel”), a better trigger (borrowed in part from the 40-x target rifle), a more advanced safety, and better aesthetics than any other rifle on the market.
Since 1962 the 700 has undergone several updates, most cosmetic or minor, and is now is available (depending on how you count) in approximately 40 variants and a dizzying array of calibers. This count does not include the left handed variants, which Remington brought to the market in 1972, another major accomplishment.
The most important factor for most marksmen is accuracy. What good is a rifle if it won’t shoot straight and true? Whether the shot is at a swamp donkey less than 100 yards away or a Dall sheep on the next ridge over, the shooter must have no doubt that his rifle is capable of making the shot. The 700 offers up the features that make this sort of certainty possible.
The accuracy starts with the 700’s receiver. While we all take the cylindrical action for granted its introduction is what has made many of today’s long range rifles possible. The cylindrical action provides a better bedding surface that the previous actions produced by Springfield, Mauser, and Winchester. This means the action has considerably more attachment to the stock making for a much more rigid system. Without going into too much detail, this ensures there is less chance for the bullet to be diverted as it goes down the barrel and each shot falls directly on top of the last.
The 700’s trigger is also another major factor in its accuracy. With the average 700 trigger breaking at 3 lbs. with nearly imperceptible over-travel, it is exceptional among out-of-the-box systems. Many other rifles in its price range feature heavy triggers without a clear break and a significant, spongy over-travel. Without a crisp, clear break, it is much easier to pull a shot, a devastating situation for any hunter and potentially deadly for military personnel. This can be cleared but at the hands of an adroit gunsmith and at considerable cost by polishing and truing the trigger ledge.
Remington engineered the solution at the factory; a simple trigger connector on the 700 that allows for a clean break without perfect surfaces. The sear may begin to slip on a typical rifle before the trigger is fully clear, resulting in an imprecise break. The 700’s spring-mounted trigger connector does not release until the trigger is clear and a simple over-travel screw prevents any further rearward movement. All of this can be adjusted by the user to achieve the perfect trigger break and weight-of-pull if it’s not 100% satisfactory out of the box.
What good is a rifle if it only fires once? True, that first shot may bring down the trophy buck, but what about when one shot is not enough, or a competition requires more than one bulls-eye? Again, the 700 has you covered. By machining clearance into its bolt lugs and lock ring, the action will not bind on dirt, hair, or an errant grain of powder. While these tolerances may seem to be the antithesis of accuracy, they are not enough to allow significant gas leakage. The “tighter” actions of other rifles may reduce gas leakage by a small margin, but do not demonstrate improved accuracy, and have a greater tendency to bind and fail to close, especially in harsher conditions (likely the places you expect your rifle to perform).
The Remington 700, unlike many of its predecessors and even some current competitors, operates on a push feed system rather than controlled feed. Both systems are reliable, and the biggest selling point on the controlled feed is its strong grip on a case. The Remington 700’s internal extractor bucks the trend for push feed systems and grips a case in the chamber with approximately 300 lbs. of force. On par with many controlled feed extractors. It also does not jam on short stokes, and is inexpensive to produce. Both shortcomings of controlled feed systems.
The 700 also offers more safety features than most other rifles on the market. This is particularly important with the continued growth of reloading and experimentation in the mainstream firearms communnity. Where many other rifles have sought to strengthen their firing pin stop to mitigate the blow back from a case failure, Remington instead created the three rings of steel. The 700 has a very deep counterbored bold head, nearly encompassing the entirety of a case head. From there the bolt goes into a counterebored lock ring, adding another layer of steel around the case. This lock ring is in turn set in a recess in the barrel, adding a third layer of steel between the shooter and a blown case. While other rifles try to reduce the risk of injury to shooters from a blown case, the 700 eliminates it.
It could be said that the clearances around the lugs allowing greater resistance to binding reduce this effect, however, the bolt head on a 700 is specifically engineered to expand in the event of failure and completely seal off the breech. This eliminates the need for a secondary firing pin stops employed by other actions.
The safety itself on the 700 is also superior to many other rifles. Many other actions use a trigger block system, which holds the sear in place. If the trigger is unable to re-set due to wear on this mechanism, the rifle may discharge when the safety is removed. The 700 lifts the sear completely off the trigger allowing for full reset of the trigger. This means that even if the sear slips when the safety is disengaged, it will still rest on the trigger, eliminating the risk of an accidental discharge.
As mentioned before, the 700 has over 40 variants not including left handed models or caliber options. This means that there should be something in the lineup for even the most particular buyer. Models vary from the most ornate presentation grade options to synthetic and Cerakoted options designed to hold up to the harshest environments and still bring home the bacon. All of these are available in a wide range of calibers.
What if you can’t find what you want in the standard lineup? The 700 is something like the iPhone of the gun world. There are a bevy of aftermarket upgrades and add-ons available for the 700. Triggers can by swapped for a wide variety of options including two stage target triggers. Stocks can be interchanged as easily as putting on your pants and are offered from the most simple wood or synthetic to the daunting Accuracy International aluminum chassis system. Bolts can be replaced with single-piece bolts like the ones made by Dave Kiff of Pacific Tool and Gauge. Even the bolt handle can be augmented with upgrades from companies like Surgeon. There is truly a smorgasbord of aftermarket possibilities for the 700 so it can be truly customized to the user.
Few rifles have the enduring legacy of the 700. Its revolutionary designs have been copied by most major gun makers in one form or another. Even before all of the customizable options, it had become a staple of the shooting community. Now, thanks to its wide acceptance and standardization of parts, many boutique and custom gun makers are using its exceptional design in their products.
Take a good long look at the rifles winning most shooting competitions. You will notice almost all have one thing in common: from the highest tech to the simplest rigs out there, most are variants of the venerable 700. GAP, Stiller, Surgeon, BAT Machine and many others have based their actions on the 700, and while many improvements have been made, they still retain the same DNA.
The Remington 700 has one of the most storied histories of any rifle on the market. Its history shouldn’t be enough of a reason to save it though. Plenty of once-fantastic designs have been overtaken by technology. The Colt SAA is one of the most iconic American sidearms, still few readers would trade in their GLOCKs for one as a daily carry. So does that mean the 700 should be relegated to the shelves as just another show piece or niche rifle? No. The 700 still offers more performance out of the box than almost any other rifle at its price point, and comes in enough variants and accommodates enough add-ons to satisfy even the most critical shooter.
And what about the recent hiccups? Let us not forget the lessons of the 721 and 722. They were revolutionary and successful, but Remington never stopped improving and the result of that improvement is possibly the greatest sporting rifle ever produced. So let’s not give up hope that the 700 is just experiencing some growth pains. If Remington continues to make improvements and work out the flaws as it has always done, there could be even better things to come for the 700.