Steyr-Mannlicher SSG-PII rifle

6 May 2000
By Stephen Buddo

The first thing that you notice about the Steyr-Mannlicher SSG-PII rifle when you extract it from its box is that this is not a "Sniperized" sporting rifle. This rifle was built from the ground up as a sniping rifle. Steyr-Mannlicher really did their homework on this design; this rifle, derived from the SSG 69 (ScharfSchutzenGewehr or sharp shooter's rifle), incorporates many features we now take for granted on sniping rifles. A rifle's success as a whole depends on the quality of the individual parts and how they interact with each other. In this respect, Steyr-Mannlicher has succeeded.

The barrel

The barrel is 26 inches in length and features a heavy contour along with a target crown. Internally, the rifling consists of four lands and grooves. The twist rate is 1 turn in 12 inches. The interesting thing about the rifling is that it is rotary-hammer forged over a mandrel. Barrel blanks are placed over a mandrel and then a rotary hammer forges the barrel both internally and externally, which explains the unique "spiral" external appearance of the barrel. I've been told that there is a slight taper in the bore from breech to muzzle, but this I cannot discern nor quantify. Another unique feature is the longer than usual barrel shank-to-receiver fit. The barrel screws into the receiver for a distance of 57mm, which is longer than most rifles; furthermore, once the barrel has been screwed into the receiver, a concentric press exerts ten tons of pressure around the area where the barrel meets with the receiver. Needless to say, the long barrel shank coupled with the concentric pressing makes for a very rigid barreled action. Changing the barrel however, may be next to impossible.

The receiver

The receiver seems to have been designed with rigidity in mind and consequently, it is quite massive. Its beauty lies in its simplicity, as it is cylindrical in form. The recoil lug is unconventional in that it is located on the aft end of the receiver and consists of an abutment that engages a corresponding recess in the stock. One feature I like is the milled dovetail that accepts the proprietary Steyr-Mannlicher scope rings. No scope bases are required, thus eliminating a variable from the equation.

The bolt

The bolt is of the rear-locking type, featuring six locking lugs, two in a row and 120 degrees apart. This multiple lug setup, while strong, is not necessarily conducive to good accuracy, as mating the numerous lugs to their respective recesses is all the more difficult to achieve as compared to a conventional two lug design. Given that the bolt is rear locking, bolt compression becomes a factor, which is not necessarily detrimental to accuracy but renders expended brass somewhat more difficult to reload. The bolt does feature a large bell type handle, which affords a good, firm purchase and thus makes for quick cycling; furthermore, the bolt is Teflon coated, which makes bolt operation really smooth. The extractor is of the "hook" type and the ejector is of the plunger type. A cocking indicator provides both tactile and visual feedback as to whether the rifle is cocked or not.

The safety

The safety is of the two position sliding type and resides on the right hand side of the receiver. When the safety is in the "On" position, the bolt cannot be operated, which is somewhat annoying. A nice feature of this safety is that it is silent in operation, ergonomic in design and can be engaged whether the rifle is cocked or not.

The trigger

Having never owned a rifle with double set triggers, I decided to give these a try, as the SSG-PII is available with either a double set trigger or a conventional trigger. I must admit that these take some getting used to as the position of the trigger and the kickoff differ greatly from that of a conventional trigger. Furthermore, the dual triggers really crowd the trigger guard. I do like the fact that the trigger is easily adjusted. The rifle's modular design enables switching trigger assemblies easily. A second trigger assembly however costs around $300.00.

The magazine

The detachable 5-round magazine is made of plastic, stores the cartridges in a rotary fashion and features a see-through window on its rear face, which allows one to see how many rounds are left in it. Unlike most quincunxial magazines with detachable floorplates, the rotary-loading nature of this magazine ensures that cartridges are directly on top of each other and are retained during recoil by a shoulder, which precludes bullet tips from being damaged. Unfortunately, topping up a magazine from the ejection port is impossible. A 10 round magazine does exist, but it protrudes noticeably from the rifle.

The stock

The black-colored stock is molded out of "Cycolac" ABS plastic; it features an Anschutz type fore end rail, which can accept either a hand stop, a Harris bipod adapter or a Parker-Hale bipod. Ergonomics have not been neglected as buttstock spacers are provided such that the length of pull can be easily adapted to individual shooters. The stock is not without its shortcomings; it is not rigid enough in my opinion and appears to be flimsy when you factor in the overall cost of the rifle. The sling swivels are 3/4 inch in width, which is too narrow for my liking; furthermore, the rear swivel is embedded in the left-hand side of the buttstock.

The scope rings

As mentioned earlier, these are a Steyr-Mannlicher proprietary design and are quick detachable via levers. They do not come with the rifle and you will have no choice but to buy the 1-inch, 26mm or 30mm set. They do not afford any froward cant whatsoever. I have heard that EAW may make scope rings that afford some forward cant, which will allow one to gain some MOAs at longer ranges. Mounting night vision devices could be a real challenge in that most NVDs employ either a Picatinny or STANAG mounting system, which simply doesn't interface with the dovetail on the rifle. I've heard that Leatherwood at one time made a rail that allowed interfacing this rifle with various NVDs.

The finish

A firearm's finish is often neglected in rifle reviews, but has a big part in determining its service life. The PII is nicely parkerized to a dull matte gray finish on both the receiver and barrel. This is a finish we have come to expect on sniping rifles.

The owner's manual

The owner's manual is poorly translated from German into English; however, it does have a good Illustrated Parts Catalog and comes with a test target attesting that the rifle meets the requisite Quality Assurance / Quality Control checks. In my opinion, all rifles should come with such a test target.

Results

The SSG-PII incorporates many elements which are conducive to accuracy, but the actual proof of concept resides in holes punched in paper down range. I installed a Bausch & Lomb 10X tactical scope and headed to the range. This rifle did not disappoint. Using Remington .308 Winchester match ammunition (168 grain HPBT bullet) I was able to achieve 0.410-inch five-shot groups at 100 yards consistently. I can hardly wait to try Federal .308 GM ammunition as well as various handloads.

The following table depicts the various positive and negative aspects of this rifle:

Positives aspects Negatives aspects
Accurate
Cost
Good, adjustable trigger
Proprietary scope rings, no forward cant possible
Well designed
No after-market goodies like the Remington 700
Well made
Stock not rigid nor massive enough

Conclusion

The Steyr-Mannlicher SSG-PII is, at worst, an out of the box 0.5 MOA rifle using factory ammunition. Bear in mind that this is anecdotal evidence. A larger sample of rifles would need to be tested in order to be statistically significant. I am sure this rifle can do better using handloaded ammunition. In my opinion, this rifle represents a high-end factory out-of-the-box rifle and achieves what it was designed to do. Using the Remington 700 PSS as an industry "baseline", the SSG-PII lies between the Remington and the various offerings of custom rifle builders. The answer to the bottom-line question: "Is it worth the money?" is no. I am certain that you could take a Remington 700 PSS, work the trigger over, set the barrel back a bit (Lawyers be damned) and you could achieve identical accuracy for a lot less money. Another factor in the Remington's favor is the fact that everybody and his brother makes something for the 700. Try finding a tapered scope base/ring or an aftermarket stock for the PII.


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