FNH USA Special Police Rifle
Part Two


03 March 2004
Reviewed by Dave Bahde

It has been quite some time since I wrote about this rifle, and it has gone through a couple of changes since the original review. There is at least one thing in particular that I think is important as it pertains to the modifications that I have had performed. Although this is anything but long term, it is certainly past the honeymoon stage. I will cover the problems I encountered first, then the solutions, and the ultimate outcome.

The Cold Bore

As I have indicated in the past the cold bore is the most significant shot in my opinion that a police sniper will take. At the end of the last article I pointed out that there had been a possibility of a deteriorating cold bore with this rifle. It was as a result of a student who had borrowed the rifle for a class. He was experiencing a difference of about one inch at the start of the day. I tried a few cold bores, and did not experience the same issue, so I thought I was fine.

Enter Stuart Meyers and Operational Tactics. I attended two weeks of training with him in Sunny San Diego. I had fielded one of my other rifles as a primary, and taken the FN as a back up rifle. Well it turned out I needed the FN, as my primary weapon experienced a problem. Although not serious, I felt it best the rifle be put to bed for the remainder of the training. It did well on the last day of the first week, in fact I qualified with the FN without issue. I should mention that I did not use the suppressor, and before anyone thinks about it, yes everything else was tight. For whatever reason, I decided to leave the can at home, and the rest of the rifle is solid as a rock. In any case, the fun started at the beginning of next week of training. The first shot out of the rifle, having been zeroed two days prior, was not even in the ball park. I kind of wrote it off as "operator headspace and timing issues" and moved on. The next cold bore not only was not even close, but was in a different spot. In short, the problem continued throughout the training, it would shoot pretty consistently after the cold bore, but the cold bore was several inches off at any given time. I completed the school, and upon my return home I tried again at my home range. I could not get a cold bore to impact within three inches of the rest of the shots. For whatever reason, something was not right. I tested the scope on a different rifle, it was dead on. No issues with the rings or base, or anything else on the rifle. It seemed that the barrel was just shot. I took it to my local rifle expert, and the results will be covered later on.

Magazines

This particular class involves a great deal of crawling through whatever Mother Nature has to dish out. In San Diego, that is often dirt, dust, and some mud. I felt this would be a great test of the magazine system. As this was my backup rifle, I only had taken two magazines with me. As the class is geared towards the ubiquitous Remington 700, there was no real "need" for a removable magazine. Everything started out fine, then we performed the first long low crawl. As would be expected there was some dirt and other stuff in and around the rifle. As we completed that portion and started to shoot from the line again I noticed that the magazine would start to hang up. As things got dirtier, it got worse. Towards the end of another very long day, I was single feeding the rifle. It simply would not feed. Once back at the hotel I proceeded to take the magazine apart. It was caked with that fine dirt that is everywhere in a coastal town. It was pretty easy to get it apart, and I was able to clean it up pretty well. For the next day I tried to keep one of the magazines as clean as possible. The one that had faltered the previous day worked for the first part of the day, and started to hang up again. The second magazine by the time I was done had the same issues. It was clear at this point I needed more magazines. Thanks to Steve Palano at Tac Weapons, in Salt Lake City, I was able to get more magazines shipped to me, and they arrived the next day AM. Throughout the course of the training I was able to pay very close attention to the magazines, and make certain I cleaned them at the end of the day's training. Once able to maintain that regimen I had few issues.

Solutions

Magazines

Let's start with the magazines since I just finished that story. I am no engineer, but here is what I was able to determine I think the issue was. In this particular instance, the dirt and grit was getting in between the follower and the magazine body. As the dirt and grit would accumulate it would prevent the follower from moving up, and feeding the next round. It required me to make certain that what had accumulated was not there at the start of each day. As long as I kept that to a minimum there were few issues. The best bet for me at least was to keep the magazines in a pouch and out of the elements as much as possible. Were you to have compressed air at your disposal this would be an easy fix, I just didn't have that available, and am not sure a troop would or not.

Now, for most police applications I doubt this will be an issue. You are not generally "swapping" magazines in the police world. The only thing you may do is change magazines to insert a barrier penetration round. If the magazine is in the gun, and the bolt is closed, it is not open to the elements, and should not be an issue. Part of the safety protocols for this school required me to remove the magazine, and open the bolt, whenever I was not attached to the rifle. That opened them both to the elements continually throughout the day. Once again, if you are a police sniper, maybe not even an issue. If you are a military guy, it may be an issue. Since I am not, I will never know for sure. But it is something to take into consideration. For me at least, and this is completely a personal preference, I will never deploy a magazine fed bolt gun again. For my application I simply do not need a ten round magazine, and the problems they present are just not worth it to me. I am perfectly happy with a bottom drop metal plate, and no removable magazine for my bolt guns. I know that there are systems out there that most people have little issues with. I hear the newer HS Precision magazines work well, and I know the Sako magazines work. The AICS stuff seems to work just fine, as do the AI rifles. For me at least it is just another gadget to fail, when you need it the most. They are convenient for training purposes, where as a police sniper I may actually have to go through a ten round string. As to the real world, if I am swapping out magazines on my .308 bolt gun, on a police sniper operation, something else went very wrong. As to the need for changing ammunition, I just have not been able to really justify the need for a magazine. For the police sniper, I get one shot. I download my rifle one round; if the need arises I put the barrier round in the gun, and BANG, job done. In every instance I can do that faster, with less chance of a malfunction, and less chance of dropping anything with my drop plate rifle. I can do so without changing my cheek-weld, and I am never off of the gun. For the most part, from prone, that is not a possibility with a magazine fed rifle. For me at least, the real world dictates that the drop plate bolt gun is more practical, and less troublesome than a magazine fed bolt gun. As this is one of those subjects that seem to bring out lots of "passion" please just remember this is one man's opinion.

Barrel

As I had indicated in the previous article, since I had certainly altered the rifle, the warranty was not intact. That being the case I took the rifle to Roger's Rifles here in Salt Lake City. Roger has been building benchrest rifles for 20 odd years or so, and he is a great guy to deal with. The best being he is incredibly fair, and looks not to spend your money unless he absolutely has to. The other benefit is his turnaround time. After some discussion we decided to try another barrel. Not knowing exactly what it was, I was hesitant to fork over the cash for a premium barrel, and this was a training rifle, so I did not want to spend a ton on it. So, Roger located a Remington take-off barrel, yes it was a take-off barrel from a Remington Varmint rifle. Roger indicated he would re-chamber it, cut it down to 22 inches, and re-crown it. Once that was done we would shoot it, and see if it fixed the problem. Two days later (told you he was fast) I picked up the rifle. I painted the barrel and off I went. The first group out of this barrel was a three shot 100 yard group that measured under 1/2 inch! I took the next few weeks and fired several cold bores, and this rifle was right back to where it was. It has had about 1000 rounds fired through it since, and it still puts them in the same hole at 100 yards. My alternate sniper is using the rifle, and the cold bore is consistent as can be, and the rifle is incredibly accurate at least to 400 yards. It certainly seems that the barrel was the issue.

I have had two rifle smiths look at this barrel now and both have indicated that the chamber has been shot out. The rifling was pretty much gone at the throat, and the throat was out of specification. I have also had a couple of other smiths tell me that since it is a hammer forged barrel, cutting it to 18.5 inches may have thrown off the vibrations of the barrel. The truth is I don't really know, and likely don't really care. The lesson here is these barrels may not lend themselves to cutting and threading. I have had "experts" tell me there should not have been an issue, I have had them tell me I should never have cut the barrel, but replaced it As is the case with experts, none of them really agree. I have cut a number of stainless barrels over the years with no problems however, so the jury is still out. The bottom line though, is with the factory Remington barrel this thing is still a 1/2 moa rifle, out to 400 yards, and that is pretty damned good no matter how you look at it.

Conclusions

Well for me at least I have come to a few conclusions. I will always have bolt guns without removable magazines, and have since done just that. My primary deployment rifle is the FNHSPR in 300WSM that is in another article on this site. My only other bolt gun is a 338LM that GA Precision built, and it has a bottom metal. I have since dedicated the DM rifle to the alternate sniper position on our team. I do have an M1A that is a DMR and yes it has a magazine.

Although I am a big proponent of Suppressors, they do present their own set of issues, and when deciding to go that route you need to take them all into account. Take this information and file it wherever necessary if you decide to cut one of these down and install a suppressor. Hindsight at least would indicate at least that I would have been better off buying another barrel and keeping the original intact.



Acknowledgements

Roger's Rifles
Salt Lake City, Utah
801-250-0698

Operational Tactics
P.O. Box 725
Gaithersburg, Maryland 20898


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