Sinister Studies: Serious Scrutiny into Southpaw Shooting (Part VIII)
Hey boys and girls, you’ve had a few months to practice all of those techniques we talked about in Sinister Studies 1 through 6, and hopefully you’ve squared away your eye dominance as well like we discussed in Sinister Studies 7. This next installment isn’t going to address technique as much as it will be an equipment review.
My introduction to shooting was competitive riflery and despite my interest in other shooting disciplines, throughout the years I have always had a special connection with shooting at distance. Most of my competitive shooting was done with match-tuned M14’s and M1A’s, which can be excellent performers. When it comes to precision shooting however, there’s just no substitute for a scoped bolt gun. So in this installment, I would like to explore some options available for the left-handed rifle marksman.
A few years ago I signed up for some precision and long-range rifle classes and after months of weighing my options, actually decided on purchasing a left-handed Savage Model 10 (Police Model) in .308 Winchester. A Savage?! With all the other awesome bolt guns available?! Yes, and let me tell you why: First, it is a truism that most guns are more accurate than most shooters. That $3000 (before optics) custom bolt gun might guarantee 3/8” groups at 100 yds, but, can you or I really shoot that well? What I generally see is shooters wanting what they perceive to be the “most accurate” rifles and accessories which allows them to be the weak link in the chain. I understand the reasoning, and it is somewhat logical, but this concept can be taken to extremes.
Savages have great barrels and the model I purchased was already equipped with their patented “accutrigger” and “accustock.” At roughly the same price point as a basic Remington 700, That saved me the issues of purchasing $500 or more worth of custom trigger and stock just to make the rifle competitive. Savages are also available left-handed at no extra expense. So, I had less than $1000 invested in the rifle which gave me enough budget left over to put a high quality optic on it. I settled on a Leupold M5 ERT with Badger rings and mounts for a total optics investment of about $2000. The only other work I had completed was some threading and profiling to accept an Ops Inc. 3rd model sound suppressor.
Thus equipped, that Savage has outshot an assortment of Surgeons, AI’s, Remingtons, and GA Precisions in a number of classes. Ok… let’s be honest, comparing a Savage to a Surgeon or GA Precision is apples to oranges, so shooter skill (or lack thereof) may have had something to do with the performance I experienced. In any case, I more than got my money’s worth out of that rifle. The only issues I experienced with it were weakening ejection and eventual failure to eject after about 1000 rounds (which cost me a shootoff at TDI in an embarrassing incident that was probably divine providence thinking I needed a dose of humility after 3 days of some ridiculously good shooting on my part.) The addition of a precision bolt head from Pacific Gauge and Tool and new extractor/ejector components remedied that – for the most part. The other issue had to do with some of the aftermarket 10-round mags I was using. Sometimes they worked great, and sometimes they fouled, usually by getting clogged up internally, or by letting the round slip out of the feed lips on chambering and causing the shoulder or cartridge body to bind on the edge of the breech. For informal shooting this is no big deal, but for any serious work – be that hunting or even travelling to the other side of the country to take a class, that sort of thing won’t do.
Skip ahead to December 2014, some associates of mine had purchased XLR Industries Element Chassis stocks for their Remington 700’s and on investigation I discovered that XLR makes the Element Chassis stock for bottom bolt release Savages as well – AND a left-handed option was available! That made them good guys in my book already. They were responsive and cordial on the phone, so I busted out the credit card and decided it was time to give the old Savage an overhaul.
Shipping was fast and the rifle dropped into the chassis without any difficulty whatsoever.
One thing I noticed right away was that, with the Accuracy International pattern magazines, any feeding issues I had were instantaneously cured. The AI mags don’t choke and rounds now chamber smoothly without any binding. That right there was worth the price of admission.
The designers at XLR were pretty innovative with how they solved the problem of adapting AI mags to work in a bottom bolt release system: they moved the position of the bolt release 90° to get it out of the way of the magazine release lever.
The folding stock adapter needed to be flipped upside down in order to get the stock to fold to the right instead of to the left, otherwise the stock would crash into the bolt handle on the left-handed action. This moves the groove and setscrew to the 12:00 position instead of the 6:00 position, but it doesn’t interfere in any way with using the rifle so no biggie. The folding stock mechanism only locks in the open position. When folded, the stock doesn’t actually lock, so the primary benefit of this feature seems to be shortening the overall length of the rifle while carrying it in a case, or facilitating bolt removal by getting the cheek-rest out of the way.
Other than that, they couldn’t have picked a better name for this stock than “The Element.” It is solid with no frills, everything you need and nothing you don’t. Despite its Spartan simplicity, It is aesthetically pleasing and there is great attention to detail. For example, the beveled edges of the square forearm are a perfect fit for bipods such as the Harris Ultralights. That feature allows them to attach solidly without any risk of rotation around the mounting stud.
It uses AR-style grips and comes equipped with a generous rubberized grip that would be a little big for carbine use, but for precision rifle applications when one doesn’t wrap the thumb, it is just right.
The thin foam pad on the aluminum cheek rest is adequate for a few rounds of .308, but a prolonged shooting session or class leaves the shooter with a bit of a sore cheek. Thankfully, there is a very cheap and effective solution to that:
The Savage Accutrigger takes a little getting used to, but in addition to the safety feature it provides, and a light pull with crisp break, it forces the shooter pull the trigger straight back. You can’t get away with sloppy trigger finger contact on this trigger. If you pull to the side, you can activate the trigger safety and have to lift the bolt to re-cock the striker. The only drawback that accutrigger users seem to experience is inadvertently locking up the trigger safety if the bolt is run too vigorously. I have tried one of the aftermarket triggers to eliminate this. While it did give the rifle a light, crisp break, it was still prone to releasing the striker if the bolt was slammed down hard. That could actually result in an unintentional discharge, so the accutrigger was re-installed. I have found that with some fine adjustment, you can still achieve a light trigger that completely resists slipping when you run the bolt hard. I can’t be 100% sure, but after adding the XLR stock, it seems like the added rigidity of the aluminum chassis also helps prevent this. I have tried slamming the bolt down far harder than one would normally expect to do in the field, even when shooting fast under a little stress, and haven’t been able to get the accutrigger to slip.
There is nothing wrong with the Savage bolt handle, but some added leverage helps speed up bolt manipulations, as well as giving some extra clearance from the scope eye-bell while retracting the bolt, preventing a skinned up knuckle. Glades Armory offers a left-handed tactical bolt handle for the Savage that adds about an inch of length and has a nice knurled handle. When running the bolt forward, that extra long handle can cause the bolt to bind, so it is helpful to push the handle slightly in towards the center-line of the rifle as you push it forward. This technique works on 700’s too.
The Savage safety is in the center of the rifle, just behind the bolt, making it accessible bilaterally (or ambidextrously for those of you who didn’t read Sinister Studies part 1).
If you have a lot of money and not much to do with it, by all means, invest in one of the expensive, small shop-made rifles that are available. You will get what you pay for. Just know that you don’t need that to get good results in the precision rifle game. I am a fan of Savage rifles for several reasons: First, anyone can call the Savage custom shop, tell them what they are looking for, and for a very reasonable price get a rifle that is very accurate and capable. Second, with a few tools and gauges you can re-barrel them yourself without any machining required. Third, chassis stocks like the XLR are now available that can improve the ergonomics and functionality of these rifles. Lastly, all that money you save on the rifle itself can be applied to good glass, practice ammo, and training, which are what will make the difference in your long range or precision shooting results at the end of the day.
Now, let’s explore the other end of the spectrum:
In November of 2013 I went back to Thunder Ranch for the second level of their High Angle Rifle Training class, meant specifically for magnum rifles. In this class, all participants were using either .300 Win Mags or .338 Lapuas (You can read all about my experiences at that class here: High Angle Rifle II). Having enjoyed success with a Savage rifle at the first level of this class, I decided to go that route again and gave the friendly folks at the Savage Custom Shop a call. I asked them to build me a left-handed .300 win mag with a 26″ heavy varmint profile barrel, accutrigger, accustock, and detachable box magazine. They were only too happy to oblige and for less than $1000 they supplied me with a rifle that got me on target out to 1500 yards. The only issue I experienced with my Savage, was a complete inability of the magazine to feed reliably, consequently, I single-loaded rounds for all 3 days of that class. No great hardship, but an inconvenience. After I returned from that class, the win mag went into the safe, and there it sat. Sure, it was an accurate rifle, but the feeding issues just didn’t give me warm fuzzies.
Late in 2014, I saw that J Allen Enterprises was now making their Remington 700 pattern stocks in left-handed and long action. I have been a fan of theirs for years, and having put in some time behind their M14 stocks, I can tell you they think of every detail. I had been hankering for a challenging rifle project, and this was my opportunity. I called up Lisa at JAE and placed my order. The folks at JAE are good people, but you need to be patient with them, all that attention to detail means they build these stocks pretty much one at a time. Lead times are 6 months to 2 years depending on the type of stock and the features you want on it. Neither the wait nor the weight of these stocks are for the faint of heart, and they come with a bit of sticker shock, be warned …but they are worth it.
While I was waiting on the stock, I selected a Defiance Machine “Deviant” action to be the heart of this rifle. The folks from Defiance were good to work with too. They filled my order for a left-handed long action with no unreasonable delay. The quality of these actions isn’t something you can appreciate until you get to see one in the raw and manipulate it, they are just built like a tank.
Here comes the interesting part: I decided this was going to be a “Remage” build. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s like this: Remington actions typically have the barrel tenon threaded to a shoulder, which is torqued in place tight against the face of the action before the chamber is completed. Headspace is set by using a reamer to finish cutting the chamber. It’s pretty deep gunsmith work requiring a lathe and other specialized tools to perform. Savage ingeniously got around this technicality on their rifles by threading the barrel tenon and adding a threaded locking nut instead to take the place of the barrel shoulder. Headspace is set by screwing the completely chambered barrel into the receiver on a “GO” gauge. When the barrel is in place, the locking nut is torqued down, which holds everything in place. A “Remage” barrel is simply a barrel with a Remington thread pattern on the tenon that continues past where the traditional shoulder would be. This barrel is held in place by a specially machined barrel nut. The advantage is the end user can barrel and re-barrel the rifle by themselves, which appeals to the do-it-yourselfers out there. I purchased a 26″ Criterion, stainless, heavy varmint profile barrel from Northland Shooter’s Supply, then I waited.
Mounting the barrel on the action was simplicity itself. As long as you have a decent barrel vice to hold the barrel while you are torqueing on the barrel nut to at least 40 ft/lbs.
After I had the action assembled, complete with Timney Trigger (left handed safety model), I decided to bead blast and finish the rifle with tactical black and green Duracoat:
Finally, my stock arrived, I was able to mount the rifle in it and start the sight in/break in process.
So, in this article we have covered a few of the bases for left-handed precision bolt gun shooters. You can get into the game on a budget with very capable offerings by the Savage Custom Shop. When you are ready to upgrade, XLR can help you out with excellent and reasonably priced chassis stocks. You don’t need to spend a fortune to be competitive. If, however, you have some extra time and disposable income, the sky’s the limit, and J Allen Enterprises makes one hell of a piece of equipment.