Custom Remington 700 Rifle
My first centrefire rifle was a Brno in 223 Remington and I got a lot of use from it before I moved on to other rifles. Over the last 30 years I have owned and used a lot of different caliber rifles and, having gone full circle, returned to a project rifle in 223 Remington, a calibre I consider ideal for general hunting of small to medium game.
It all started a few years ago when my old mate Bazz offered to give me his shot out Remington 700 rifle in 222 Rem. This rifle had seen 35 years of hard, daily use on a central western Queensland sheep property. It was just another vital tool on that property and spent its life perched across the handlebars of a motorbike when it was not rattling around in the utility vehicle.
While that rugged lifetime may have removed most of the exterior finish from the rifle and scope, the big 8x Pecar scope kept its point of aim faithfully, and the rifle functioned flawlessly throughout, a testament to quality engineering and optics.
Over that 35 years Bazz reckons he put at least 20,000 rounds down the barrel. Due to declining grouping ability, hardly a surprise, the old Rem 700 was retired to the back corner of the gun safe, and Bazz bought himself another 700 stainless and composite job in 22.250.
I had long been harbouring a desire to build a specifically Aussie bush rifle from scratch, and the offer of my mate’s old workhorse precipitated some serious thought on that project. What I wanted was something designed for shooting off a vehicle, but still light and handy enough for stalking the scrub.
I would mostly be looking for wild dogs, foxes and feral cats. However, sometimes there would be a use for hares and rabbits, and the occasional encounter with pigs and goats as well. A prime function would be the harvesting of my permit quota of roos each year and culling a few deer off cultivation.
After a lot of thought, and consideration of many different choices of calibre, I concluded that the 223 Rem was as close to an all-round calibre as I would get. It was really a case of taking my own advice. When budding shooters ask me to recommend a caliber, I normally steer them towards either a 223 or a 243, depending on how much pig, goat or deer hunting they will be doing.
The advantage of both calibres is the availability of a wider range of reasonably priced factory ammo; very useful when on extended trips where handloading may not be an option. These are also mild, no-recoil calibres and are easy to reload, if you choose to do so.
The rifle would be essentially a light varminter but with some concessions to field use. This would take the form of a slightly heavier barrel, fluted for weight reduction and increased heat shedding, accurising of the action and a composite stock.
While it would often be fed factory ammo I still wanted a rifle capable of fine accuracy with handloads. I passed the rifle onto Phil Jones of Redback Precision Equipment for a complete makeover. Phil fitted a 24-inch Madco fluted medium barrel in stainless steel, trued the bolt and action, fitted a high speed firing pin, performed a trigger job and nickel plated the action and other metal fit tings. Glass bedding of the action completed the work.
Truing of the bolt ensures more consistent trigger pull and reduced vibration during the shot, which means tighter groups, particularly in regard to vertical stringing. Phil commented that the rifle had obviously done a lot of work and that in truing the bolt he had never had to fit a bigger collar. Phil also altered the sear ramp angle to give easier bolt lift.
Truing the action also lends itself to better accuracy by ensuring a uniformly straight axis from the back of the bolt through to the muzzle. A lightweight firing pin was fitted together with a heavier firing pin spring of 28lb force. A normal spring tension is 22lb. This modification gives faster lock time and better ignition. Phil also reworked the trigger for consistent, crisp and light pull.
I had Phil tune a batch of Lapua brass for handloading. This involved turning the necks to ensure uniform thickness and con centricity, and drilling the primer pockets for uniform depth and flash hole size. While I was confident of getting acceptable accuracy from factory ammo for field use, it would be the handloads that would provide the best measure of how effective the modifications had been.
The rifle was initially fitted with a silver Leupold Vari-X II in 3-9×40 with silver Leupold rings and QD mounts to match the new nickel finish of the action and other metal fittings; a very durable and impervious finish. This rifle is going to see a lot of field use and needs to be resistant to the wear and tear that comes from getting carted about in dusty conditions and all sorts of weather.
For similar reasons of durability, a composite stock was the preferred choice and, while I was still in the process of considering my options in that regard, an interesting development came into consideration.
Wild Dog Australia was just getting started and I had the opportunity to trial their prototype composite stock.
The stock was very close to what I had in mind, but with some additional, and very interesting, features. I particularly liked the longer forestock, mostly rounded as per sporter style, but with some flattening for accurate shooting off a rest; it was ideal for my purpose.
The stock is of carbon and glass fibre. Despite its light weight it has total stiffness and rigidity. Unlike other wellknown composite stocks this one cannot be twisted or bent with bare hands.
A unique feature was the QD sling swivel lugs, not conventional studs. These are solid titanium, integrally moulded into the stock with zero profile. I especially liked the extra fore-end lug that was provided for mounting a Harris bipod – no more protruding studs. Why did not someone think of this years ago?
Another sweet feature was an integrally moulded trigger guard of carbon fibre-wrapped titanium and an integral cartridge holder that folds out of the butt piece. I have never liked cartridge belts, those elastic slip-on cartridge holders or having loose ammo rattling around in my pocket. I can see this having similar appeal to many other shooters, especially tactical and varmint.
The barrelled action clicked snugly into the stock. No stock removal was necessary for an excellent fit. The pillar action screws, which are deep hex-head bolts, were tightened and the barrel floated nicely with a fine, uniform gap.
The completed rifle pointed nicely with a well-positioned cheek piece, straight comb of the correct height, slight cast-off of the butt and a gentle palm swell on the pistol grip.
I was eager to see how well this new creation would shoot. A hunting trip was arranged and there was only time for a quick sighting session before I left. I bought a few boxes of factory ammo and headed off to the local SSAA range.
The first and most important job was to shoot in the new barrel as per Phil’s instructions. That done, I settled down to shoot a few groups. I was more than pleased. A selection of factory ammo all shot comfortably sub-moa and all pretty much to the same point of impact. Working up suitable handloads would have to wait, but it did indicate a lot of promise.
The next afternoon I was on my way out to a sheep property where the shearers had only just finished. The owners had seen a few foxes hanging around the shearing shed a and there were a few feral cats and no shortage of pigs and rabbits scattered about on the property. I was travelling light and even though I arrived late in the evening it did not take long to chuck my swag onto one of the shearing quarter’s beds and unpack the rest of my kit.
It was late summer, but the nights were already nippy. A spotlight was rigged up to a battery in a shoulder bag and I went for a walk around the shed and yards. The back corner of the yards was where sheep were killed and dressed. A sweep of the spotlight showed the bright reflection of fox eyes at that spot, drawn by the smell of blood. A little manoeuvring by starlight had me in position for a shot.
The light was flicked on again, revealing two foxes. I neatly dispatched one with a well-placed shot. The other fox made good its escape. The 223 is a bit harsh if you are after skins. The fox had a pretty good pelt, given the season. Another few months would take us to mid winter and a return trip then with the 17HMR will yield some prime skins – but that is another story.
The next morning I was up at first light retracing my steps. In that same spot I was rewarded with another young fox that had stayed around a wee bit too long. During the day I had a little target practice up one of the gullies, walked a couple of other gullies, whistled a couple more foxes and also managed a late arvo session on the bunnies.
I did not get much chance to enjoy using my new rifle however. Soon after commissioning my new rifle, a sudden change in my working life saw me back in the Northern Territory where what little shooting I did was limited to big game calibres. I loaned the rifle to a buddy for a few years. When I eventually got it back my shooting had evolved to be much more stalking oriented and my go-to rifle had become a dainty little Browning single-shot in 223 Rem.
However, recent retirement to a rural environment has greatly opened up my shooting horizons and I now, once more, have lots of shooting opportunities where the tack-driving Remington 700 is ideal for the task. That is never more so since I replaced the original Leupold with a Nightforce 3.5 – 15 x 56 Varminter. The Nightforce with its razor-sharp optics and huge light gathering ability is perfect for culling small pests, particularly at night over a spotlight.
In the coming months as we complete a move into a new home and settle down, I will be dedicating some time to working up some handloads for my custom Remington 700 in 223 Remington.