FNHUSA Special Police Rifle


31 May 2003
Reviewed by Dave Bahde

Over the years I have owned a number of rifles. They have ranged from slightly to highly customized. I have owned a number of semi-automatic, and bolt rifles. Most of the bolt guns I have owned have been Remington 700 variants. I had read and heard all of the Remington versus Winchester arguments. The same was true of all of the push feed versus control feed arguments. I liked my Remingtons, and quite frankly had no issues with them. No broken extractors, no failures to feed, none of the evil things that are supposed to plague the Remington 700 series. The closest I had come was to see the perils of the Remington DM. I had tried the HS precision magazines in both the Remington and the HS precision action. Frankly neither worked all that well for me unless they were downloaded at least one round. In any case none of that mattered, as a police sniper is not likely to use more than a couple of rounds. I was happy in my little world until Steve Palano came along. I have mentioned Steve before. He is a good friend, and an experienced combat veteran. He had extensive experience with the pre-64 Winchester Action, and similar actions both in combat, and hunting. He finally convinced me to try the newest SPR (Special Police Rifle) by FNHUSA. This rifle is reportedly built in a shop all on its own by Winchester for FNHUSA. I decided to put this thing through some serious paces. This article will likely cover anything that anyone would likely do (and not do) to this rifle. I wanted to put to test the chrome lined bore, and the ruggedness of the system primarily. What follows are my exploits with this rifle.

FNHUSA SPR A4

This project started as an out of the box FNHUSA SPR with a 24" barrel. It had the McMillan A4 stock (without the adjustable comb). It came with one stud for the bi-pod, and places to attach the latest greatest "snap in" sling swivels. It was also equipped with a removable magazine. The removable magazine was not my first choice, but Steve had it in stock, and I was anxious to see if this system worked any better than the others I have tested. The magazine is supposed to hold four rounds. The rifle also comes with a test target, which showed three neatly clustered rounds a bit over half an inch apart. I used an IOR 2.5 x 10 power scope with a lighted reticle. I mounted it to the Badger Ordnance base, and a new set of Badger Ordnance Rings. I used a Harris Bi-pod, and a nylon carry sling.

This particular system has had many changes to it over the course of it's short life. Everything written here is pretty much in chronological order. I'll start with the out of the box experience.

Out of the box

This rifle has spent most of it's life at the FARM range. This was partially because that is my second home, and also because that is where I train both as an instructor, and as a sergeant. I started by reading the manual (can you believe it). I was interested in the recommended cleaning procedures. As it has a chrome lined bore, I was interested to see if it was any different. The manual actually recommends a cleaning regimen close to that of my sub machineguns. I found this surprising, but what the hell. I committed the supreme precision rifle evil! I did not break this rifle in. I zeroed it, and fired for groups cleaning only after the first 20 rounds. I cleaned it with the most precision of methods, a bore snake. I was using 175 grain Federal Gold Medal Match. I found the rifle to be very accurate. I fired a number of groups, all of them were well under an inch. When I buckled down and did my job 1/2 inch groups were the norm. Over the first couple of weeks I fired five or six true cold bore shots. All impacted within 1/2 inch of dead center. The confirming groups were all clustered around the cold bore. This rifle in this configuration was very consistent, and very accurate. I would only go through the normal cleaning procedure after every 50 rounds, other than that, only bore snake. I must also comment that this rifle shoots very "soft". Holding the target in the glass over subsequent shots is a cinch. That is mostly due to its weight, but either way it is a pleasure to shoot, and follow up shots are very easy.

To check it in this condition for reliability I had one of my team snipers use it at a one day training. This was a 10 hour day that was for our new snipers. It amounts to just basics, but there were well over 150 rounds fired that day. This particular shooter had just been placed on the unit as an alternate. He had not shot a rifle in over 10 years. He was and still is my best marksman on the team with a UMP and pistol, but not a rifleman. Once this rifle was zeroed to him, he was extremely accurate. Seldom throughout the training did he venture outside one inch as a system. There were no malfunctions, no inconsistencies, this rifle just flat out worked. This was also my first chance to see the extractor at work. As the Remington's were lightly placing the brass to the side of the rifle, the SPR was flinging it across the line. On a more serious note, it was very controllable. You run the bolt slow the brass falls into your hand, you run it fast it flings it about four feet to your right. But either way, THE BRASS CAME OUT! No failures to extract, no brass left in the magazine to set up a double feed. The magazines worked flawlessly and they always held four rounds. You could load the round over the top of an empty magazine with no change in accuracy. All in all I was very pleased.

The SPR Suppressed

First of all I must say DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME unless you don't care about warranties.

All of our team rifles are suppressed with AWC Thundertrap's. I had grown quite accustomed to shooting without ear protection, and to the recoil of a 22LR. So I took it to a local riflesmith in the area. His name is Roger, of Roger's Rifles. He was recommended by the owner of the FARM training facility. After a day with Roger it was now an 18" barrel, with threaded muzzle and muzzle protector. The fit to the Suppressor was incredibly tight. I was anxious to see how it works.

The next day I was again at the FARM. I re-zeroed the rifle and went to work. It did nothing but get better. Softer to shoot (heavier though), just as accurate, and a bit more consistent. All of the things that I have experienced when suppressing a rifle held true. I was only able to get a couple of cold bores out of it, but they were pretty much dead on for me. I had intended to test it even more, but work kind of got in the way. While teaching at our academy's rifle instructor school I had a chance to put it through some more paces. This class is for firearms instructors and armorers. I teach this with the owner of the FARM store, Ryan Nell. It has a two and a half day portion that deals with precision rifles. A sniper school it is not, but there is quite a bit of shooting and all the way out to 400 yards. Two of the students' department felt that the two of them could "share" a rifle. That would be why we have the class! In any case I gave him mine to use.

The rifle was zeroed to handle the 168's he had brought, and off it went. The result was pretty much the same. One of the things I notice with my other Remingtons that are suppressed, is a sticky bolt when rapid fired, or when fired a bunch. That is just one of the drawbacks of a suppressed rifle. There is more gas (crap) left in the action. That did not seem to occur as badly with this rifle. Once again, no feeding problems, the magazine was flawless, and it performed without incident. It held the typical "try dope" out to 400 yards with no changes. The only issue that did pop up was a possible concern about the cold bore. When the day would start the cold bore would be about one inch low. As I had not had a bunch of time with it suppressed I was not sure if that was the rifle, the shooter, or the ammunition. Once it was all said and done I fired a couple more true cold bore shots, and all were within a 1/2 an inch. Not sure what it was, but it worked fine. There seemed to be no issues with the suppressed version.

The Final Product

As I only have one Thundertrap, and that is devoted to my 300WM, I removed it from the SPR. This was going to be its final form, and the one I would deploy. So far it had been pretty flawless. That being said, I tried something I had not done before. I lately had been reading on a number of boards how people had been painting their rifles. I had also had a recent conversation with a marine just about to go to Iraq as a sniper. He indicated they painted their rifles as needed for the environment. So, once again, what the hell! I went to our local hunting / sporting goods store and acquired some camo-paint. The color I picked was of course OD GREEN! It is a good base color, and other than that, I like OD green, and it is my rifle. First of all lets make it clear - I am anything but a professional painter. My business partner will attest to that. He is a professional painter and he cringes every time I go near paint. So, I painted the snot out of it. It was definitely green. It took a week to fully dry, and yes I painted the crown! I wanted to see how that would affect the first shot. Well, let me tell you, it did.

Once the green rifle was dry I set about testing it again. The first shot was about 3" low and 3" left. I fired the next three shots and they were dead center. So, if you wondered about painting the crown, now you know. I fired several groups to confirm the zero and sure enough, accurate as all get out. As I intended to deploy this rifle I returned to a standard cleaning regimen. I use the bore snake after every ten or so, and clean it thoroughly after every session. Prior to going in the bag, it is cleaned in precisely the same manner, every time. Over the last couple of weeks I have fired about 10 true cold bore shots. None have impacted an inch from dead center, in conditions varying from snow and 25 degrees, to 70 degrees and sunny (welcome to Salt Lake in the Spring). Once I worked some of the paint out of the action it smoothed right out. No malfunctions no problems, just very consistent and rugged accuracy. It has been through our qualification, and many a hike up the mountain side. I have confirmed the "dope" out to 500 yards, and it holds exactly the same place it did before. It is pretty much right on with the standard elevation adjustments to that range. Don't know about 500 and out, I may find out later on that one, but this rifle will never see that so I was not real worried. All in all I am very happy with this system in its final configuration.

Conclusions

Now for the fun part. There are a number of questions I answered with this system, but they may or may not effect your decisions. Once again, it is just my opinion and my experience, take it for what it is. First of all the whole push feed / control feed thing.

What I know is that the magazine in this system works. What I also know is it was a complete pain in the ass to get the magazines. I essentially had to wait over a month and a half to get extra magazines. One guy asked me "why I need extra magazines". I guess that is fixed now, but it was damned irritating at the time. Once you get them, the only inconvenience I can see with this system is single loading on a full magazine. If you had to change to a penetrating round with a full magazine, it is a pain, and anything but fast. I must say that is not an issue on this model if you have a BDL. Other than that, the magazines work, and you can feed over the top of an empty magazine without any real change in accuracy. Another issue is the sling swivels with this stock. Either get used to having the sling on the side or you will have to install studs in the bottom. Also, if you want 1 1/4 swivels you are stuck with KMC stuff. Great, but they are $18.00 a piece (ouch). Uncle Mikes only makes 1" swivels, and don't expect to get any of that stuff from FNHUSA unless you order it with the gun. The truth is the customer service kind of stunk. The people were great, very nice, very professional, I just could not get anything I wanted for that rifle. I was basically told if I didn't order it as a system I was on my own. No slings swivels, no sling, only the magazines. I talked to five different people to get magazines. I finally got them two weeks after running into Rocky at Trexpo. Steve Palano finally got his stuff, it just cost him a $30,000.00 stocking order. If you want gadgets and stuff that goes on the rifle, Remington is all over it, FN and Winchester have some serious catching up do to on that side. It brought back HK nightmares.

Extraction is incredibly positive. It is also incredibly controlled. Run the bolt slow, and it falls out in your hand, run it hard and it is two houses down. In the POST class many of the Remingtons experienced double feeds (especially the DM's), that is simply not possible with this system. This rifle is just flat out reliable. I am not certain I have had a rifle more rugged. This thing is definitely built to last. It is built to withstand use in combat out of the box and I believe it. I had the privilege of talking to Gunny Owens who designed this rifle when I was at the IALEFI conference last year. He said it was built to last a lifetime, and I have no doubt. It took everything I threw at it and just kept shooting! It had it's barrel removed and cut to 18" and re-installed. It had been removed from its action and re-installed twice. It was fired with a suppressor, and without. It was fired using a 24" barrel and an 18" barrel. It was fired by an experienced shooter, and two completely new shooters. It has been fired from 25 to 400 yards in every condition. It was painted in a very "field expedient" manner. Short of dropping it off of a tank (cause I couldn't find one), it has passed every test with flying colors. If this rifle is anything it is rugged and reliable.

The chrome lined bore was kind of a non-issue for me. As a working police sniper I need to make certain I put that gun away in the proper condition. For me, that means a clean cold bore. That being the case, I clean it just like I clean every other rifle I have. Where it may come into play is down the road. The barrel life is reported to be substantially longer than the typical precision rifle barrel. Time will tell on that one. If you are one of those anal types that spends the first three months breaking your rifle in, this is probably not for you. I cleaned this rifle every fifty rounds (or so), with a bore snake, for the first hundred or so. After that I added a thorough cleaning after every session. Now that I am back to my normal routine, it fouls no more or less than any other rifle I have. As the rifle is still very accurate, it sure didn't hurt anything there. Since I have never done that with any of my Lilja barrels I am not sure how to compare. I'll leave that choice to you.

Now for the biggest issue, the price. Is it worth the $1600.00 or so in this variety. You can get the A1 variety for about $1200.00. Well that depends on who you are. I have paid twice that for rifles not as solid, and half that for rifles that shoot as well. If you want a system you literally take out of the box, and do nothing to but shoot (if you get everything you need ), this is a good bet. If you don't have a competent riflesmith to turn to, but need an accurate "working" rifle, this is a great choice. You simply cannot go wrong with this system. For a department I think this is a good choice as well, but get the whole system. Rounding up accessories can be an issue. It is most definitely SWAT cop proof! If you are on a budget I am not so sure. An out of the box LTR will likely shoot about as well. With bedding and a trigger job it will most assuredly shoot as well. Will it be as bullet proof, no. You can put together a pretty good LTR or PSS for under a grand, and even less. Will the LTR need more attention, probably. That depends on you, and the person you have working on it. It is generally best to be as "out of the box" as possible as a police officer. You could buy this rifle, deploy it, and never have a smith look at it. There simply is no comparing an out of the box LTR with an out of the box SPR. I have no doubt you could equip your sniper unit with these guns and retire before you had to do something to them. So once again, it depends! For me this is the ticket. It will be my primary deployment rifle, next to my 300WM that I have spent over $4000.00 making as reliable.



Now read the follow-up - six months later...


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