FNH USA Special Police Rifle - .300WSM

11 January 2004
By Dave Bahde

I have been experimenting on and off for years now with the 300 WM cartridge. Although I do some shooting at long range (500 and beyond), I spend most of my time at 0-500 yards. Although the .308 is likely more than adequate at those ranges, it can get tricky from 300 and beyond with the addition of wind. What I wanted was a cartridge that would pretty much ignore the wind out to 500 yards. The 300WM certainly fits that bill, but there were other issues that made it less "user friendly". I have altered my 300WM Remington 700 a number of times over the last few years. It has been suppressed with and without a 20"barrel, and the same with an 18.5" barrel. It started in a Sendero stock, and spent some time in a HS Precision PST25. It has been to Robar, and a couple of other custom smiths for bolt work, and the like. It has ended up with a 24" tube, and a McMillan stock, put together by a local smith by the name of Roger (Rogers Rifles.) That is the condition it will stay in as it is now dedicated to true long-range work. In any case, in my quest for the wind cheating 30 caliber there turned out to be a number of issues with that arrangement. With the suppressor and the short barrels (18.5" or less) there is a significant cold bore change. I was generally getting 1.25 to 1.5 inches difference depending on the actual temperature. There is a bunch of powder, and thus, a bunch of heat. After that first shot things heated up, and the POI changed. The rifles worked pretty well in both configurations without the suppressor, but they were essentially flame-throwers. I also found that with those short-tubed 300WM rifles you are essentially shooting a very loud, heavy recoiling rifle that is not much more useful than a 175 grain .308. At 18.5 inches I was getting about 2700 FPS with the 190-grain bullet, and little more with the 178 / 180 grain bullets. My 24" barreled .308 with 175 grain Gold Medal was getting 2650 without the recoil, the cost, or the flame. To me at least, that makes the short-barreled 300WM pretty much an experiment for those with time I don't have. The last issue I had at least was the barrel life. Unless you are hacking up a long Krieger, or Mike Rock, or K & P or similar, you are not going to get much in terms of barrel life, and that is a bunch of money to spend on a 1500 round rifle.

Enter the 300WSM (Winchester Short Magnum) rifle. When the cartridge first came out it looked very promising. The only problem was the lack of ammo, rifles, and much of anything else. The rifles were either hunting rifles, or very custom jobs, that were very expensive. Until recently there was not even a true match grade round available. As a working police officer, loading your own is another problem, and discussion in and of itself. In any case I had not the interest, the time, or the equipment to put together my own loads. I wanted a 300WSM "sniper rifle". My interest was first peaked two years ago at the IALEFI conference in San Diego. I had the opportunity to speak to FN about their SPR in 300WSM. They indicated it was still in testing. I was advised it would not be released, until it was reliable, and accurate, and tested. Well, it has been released, and it is all of that and more.

A brand spanking new A3 arrived at my local gun shop, where my friend and colleague Steve Palano is the manager. I worked out a deal, and in November I walked away with what I had been awaiting for years. I have had extensive experience with the SPR in .308, so I knew it would be built well, and work. What I really needed was some ammunition. Enter again, Steve Palano. Steve had specified some ammunition to a pretty well known manufacturer in Montana. The Hunting Shack Inc. had loaded several hundred rounds of ammunition to his specifications. Before you ask, yes it is proprietary, but yes you can buy it. I will list where at the end of the article. In any case I left with 40 rounds to try in the rifle. This load contained a 178-gr AMAX bullet, which is my favorite for medium to large critters. After I went through the first 40, I ordered another 500 and went to work. And as an aside, both lots shot the same. That is pretty consistent.

The Rifle

The rifle I purchased was an A3 that came with the bi-pod, sling, 20MOA one-piece base, and Badger Rings. For those that are aware of the "deal" on these bases, this is NOT a Badger Ordnance base. It has the McMillan stock with the push button swivels, the adjustable comb, and length of pull. This rifle has a 24" barrel, and the magazine holds three rounds. You can put one in the tube and force the bolt over, but it is a very tight fit. I would not recommend it. It weighs, well, a ton. But that is of little concern to me, as I am a police sniper, and a 10k hike would put me in another jurisdiction. I do more stalking of four legged critters than the two-legged variety, so the weight is simply not an issue for me. Despite what you see in the pictures, it started life very black, and that is the only way you can get it. The camo job is all mine, and an artist I am not. However, it works as I have stalked with it a couple of times. It would have some of that green in the three-desert camo, if I could find it anywhere, so for now, it is brown and tan. The scope is a brand new IOR 4-14 50mm tactical with the lighted reticle and side focus. Great scope, if it were not for the reticle in the second focal plane. It seems IOR has bowed to those that can't handle a reticle that moves. Where that is coming from I don't know, as even Premier offers the Gen II mil-dot in the first focal plane, in the Leupold scopes now. It seems Leupold made the change, and IOR has jumped back a step. I hope it works for them; they were doing well, what no one else did for less money. Now there is not much difference. This keeps up and I may have to actually get another Leupold.

Break In / first groups

This particular configuration was all new, so it was going to be an adventure. The rifle was new, the scope was new, and the ammo had never been fired before. It was a load put together in Steve Palano's head. Boy was I in for a surprise. Here is how it went.

Recoil

The first thing I noticed was the recoil, that is, there really is none. I frankly can tell little difference between this rifle, and an un-suppressed .308 rifle. The muzzle does "jump" more, but the felt recoil is very manageable. Clearly less recoil than a 300WM with no break. It is quite comfortable to shoot, and I had no problem completing the 40 round break in.

Accuracy

After doing the obligatory "clean- shoot, clean- shoot etc." I commenced to shooting three shot groups. The first group out of the rifle about dropped me. It measured right at inch measured from center to center. This was at 100 yards, from prone. I cleaned and continued the process. Every single group measured inch or less, with at least two more honest to God inch groups. It was pretty clear from the start that this thing is accurate.

Reliability

If I can say anything about the reliability of the rifle, is that it only sends the brass a yard or two, and not a football field or two from the shooter. In truth, I have had a couple just drop next to the action, but run hard the ammo flies forward and to the right about three feet. I have yet to have any double feeds, or any malfunctions at all. As is the case with the FN rifles, they work, and work well.

Cold Bores

If you have read my reviews before you know that to me the cold bore is where the rubber meets the road. In my business I only get one shot so it better go where I expect it to. Well, once again, FN has done a great job here. When I started logging cold bores through this rifle on 11-9-03 it was 50 degrees. One of our qualifications requires a cold bore into a one-inch square, so that was the target I used most of the time. Since that first day I have fired 8 honest cold bores. That means rifle cleaned, put in the bag, and been there at least overnight. The rifle is removed from the bag, I take the shot, from prone, with the ammo that has been in the rifle since the last cleaning. The temperatures with those cold bores ranged from the 50 degrees I started with to as cold as 15 degrees. Most are in the 25 to 35 degree range. From the initial zero, all impacted inside the one-inch square. Over the course of the last 8 cold bores I have made one final adjustment to put it dead center. I confirmed that one just yesterday. This rifle holds a cold bore as well as any I have seen. Along with this, the cold bore deviates little to none from the confirming group. In each instance the cold bore is fired, it is followed up by a four shot group. In every instance all five shots have stayed within the one-inch square. In at least two instances the first three shots I could cover with a dime. The forth and fifth could just as easily have been the operator, and in fact probably were. As the rifle only holds three rounds, I have to single load four and five. I have used some very expensive rifles that did not even come close to this level of consistency, and that is with a .308 caliber. To have this level of consistency with a 300 magnum cartridge of any kind is impressive at least. There is no doubt in my mind this rifle is more than suitable for duty use of any kind.

Distance

As I was looking for a 0-500 yard rifle, I spent some time working out elevation and such at those ranges. As I stated before this cartridge is a 178-grain AMAX. I was curious to see if this rifle would hold the accuracy at these ranges. Again, no disappointment here at all. The first three shot group at 200 yards after establishing the proper elevation measured inch from center to center. My best group at 300 yards measured one inch. I even had one group at 500 yards that measured 1.5 inches center to center. When I did my job, this rifle held MOA out to 500 yards. I don't know how you get any better than that. The worst I could manage was a couple of groups that would measure just outside 1 MOA. It was clear the rifle was more capable than I am, and more than capable for any real work.

Ammunition   (The 300WM is there for comparison)

Clearly a big part of the consistency here is the ammunition. At the writing of this article the only other manufacturer of 300WSM match ammunition I am aware of was Black Hills. I have heard good things, but I have also heard that they are not loading this ammunition as a regular course of business. Not sure, but what I know is I cannot get it here in Utah anywhere, and after using this stuff I don't know why the hell I would. For those that are interested here is what I was able to chronograph with this rifle with the HSM.

The temperature at the testing was 25 degrees, with 85% humidity at 5500 feet. I used an Oehler 35, with three screens, and the first screen was 24" from the muzzle. In this case all shots were fired from a seated position. I will do this again in the summer and see if there are any differences. But for comparison purposes those were the parameters, and here is the average over the two strings.

Hi 2908 Lo 2886 Average 2895 Standard Deviation 6

There are two things that came to my attention with using this ammunition. The standard deviation of 6 fps is pretty incredible. I fired my 300WM with 190 GM300M side-by-side, same day, and the standard deviation was 25 fps. That is about as "match" grade as you get. The other was the clean up. After a 30 round string (I know, but it is chrome lined), by the third dry patch it was clean. This stuff shoots great, and cleans up great as well. I am not really here to sell stuff, but if you are really interested in this cartridge, you can buy this ammo from either Tac Weapons USA or Operators Practical Systems listed below.

The only thing I have left to do with this rifle is to develop a barrier penetration round. I have shot up a bunch of glass and other with the 300WM 190 BTHP, and it does the same thing in glass as the .308, only faster. HSM is loading some 180 grain XLC's with the same specs as this ammo, and I am going to give that a try. I'll let you know how that goes.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let's make it clear that none of this equipment was "given" to me to test. After the last one of these reviews I wrote I was asked who "gave" me those items. I am no magazine writer, and I pick what I want, buy it, and see how it works. Every item was paid for, albeit at closer to cost than most, out of my pocket. The only thing purchased from the manufacturer was the ammo. I write these because I hope I can help someone save some money, and I like to write. That being said, here are my two pennies for what they are worth.

I have used a bunch of rifles over the years, and none has been any more accurate, more reliable, or more fun to shoot than this rifle. I thought I had found my "favorite" when I came across my TRG 22, that is one of the most accurate and consistent rifles I have fired. However, the accuracy of this FN coupled with the 300WSM ballistics is hard to beat. The overall rifle package is the same as any 24" barreled .308. It fits in a normal drag bag, and you don't have to be 6'5" to hide it. All of this in a factory rifle, and with FN's lifetime warranty, on everything. It breaks, send it back, they repair it. You wear out the barrel, send it back, they replace it. No need to go to a gunsmith to get "custom rifle accuracy". Pretty hard to beat that. If the 308 SPR is any indication, it is rugged as well. That rifle just keeps shooting about as good as you can expect no matter who shoots it.

I believe that most of these are going for about 1800.00 with the A3 package, and all you need is a scope. If you already have the rings, bi-pod etc, you can shave off a couple of hundred bucks. You can spend a whole lot more money, for not any better accuracy or reliability. But this is still America, so spend as you would like, you earned it. But if you are a PD, or an officer having to buy your own gun, this is very hard to beat, and a great buy.

As to my whole 500-yard rifle dream, this rifle is pretty close. It is a no "brainer" out to 300 yards, and you can pretty much ignore the wind. My elevation at 300 Yards was 3.25 U putting you about 9.75 " low on a 100 yard zero at 300 yards. For those with mil scopes, one mil is 3.5 MOA so you are dead on at 100 and low at 300 on a one-mil holdover. If you really do engage targets at long range a 200 yard zero would put you even closer. This is an honest to God 500 yard sniper rifle, that bucks the wind pretty close to the way a 300WM does, in a .308-sized package. As long as you stick to the 180-grain bullets or smaller you are good to go with this system. In my opinion, if you are going to go with 190 or larger, you should probably stick to the 300WM (that is another article).



Acknowledgements


Steve Palano                            The Hunting Shack
Tac Weapons USA                  Stevensville MT 59870
4715 South 4075 West
Salt Lake City Utah 84118
(801) 967-8005

Operators Practical Systems
545 West 9460 South
Sandy Utah 84070
(801) 910-4142


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