I read the recent review of the Steyr SSG PII (hereafter referred to as the SSG) with a great bit of interest. In the not too distant past (okay - its longer ago than I care to admit in a public forum), I was a user of the SSG system and felt that the review did not give the rifle a fair assessment. This is particularly true when one looks at both the historical and legal factors surrounding law enforcement use of the rifle. The purpose of this article is to give a new shooter a quick lesson into the history of the SSG, and why it is still a great choice as a duty weapon for law enforcement snipers.
Historically (i.e. pre-Accuracy International), the SSG was the finest "out of the box" sniper rifle an agency could purchase. It was a .5 MOA shooter (with the appropriate ammo and a trained operator) and did not need any modifications or gunsmithing before being put into use. An officer could literally take the gun out of the box, break in the barrel properly, attach and zero the scope, determine his dope for expected engagement distances, and be ready for a "real world" deployment or call-out. Earlier Remington 700s (in the pre-PSS days) needed to be restocked, rebedded, and trued in order to get consistent .5MOA accuracy. The SSG offered all of this without the added cost of gunsmithing work. Even with the advent of the PSS, a lot of the rifles need to be tuned in order to give true .5MOA performance. The up-front cost of the SSG was higher than Remington, but once you added gunsmithing costs onto the initial purchase price, the SSG wasn't that much more - particularly if your agency purchased the rifle. My agency purchased the SSG and rings for $850.00, when a comparable 700 was being sold to law enforcement for $500-$600, depending on your supplier. Once you add $200-$500 in gunsmithing/restocking costs, the price of the SSG was comparable.
One strong selling point was that the SSG functioned with magazines, while the Remington 700 did not. Magazine feeding capability made reloading much easier and smoother, while allowing snipers to quickly change ammo load as the tactical situation required (i.e. you could easily switch between your standard match load and a glass penetrating "tactical" load.). Remington finally wised up to this several years later and introduced the 700 PSS DM model.
From a legal standpoint, our lawyers were much happier with the SSG. I realize that it is indeed sad that lawyers have to be involved in the process of choosing what weapons your agency should purchase, but this is a fact of life that law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have to deal with in our overly litigious society. Our lawyers were happy because the SSG was "good to go" right out of the box. Some less than honorable attorney would not be able to file a lawsuit against the agency or operator claiming that gunsmithing caused the weapon to be unsafe, faulty, etc. It also meant that some poor gunsmith would not be getting sued in a civil court for aiding a LEO in making a rifle that is "only meant to kill people". Don't laugh at the last remark because I have personally seen some lawyers try to argue this. Anyway, because it was not modified, we were covering ourselves from frivolous lawsuits by questionable attorneys.
The SSG remains a good weapon system for duty use. In recent years, the cost of the SSG continues to fall, while Remington raises the price of the 700. Remington 700 PSS DM's are now in the $800 ballpark, while the SSG has been advertised (for civilian purchase) for $950-$1000. I consider the SSG to be a bargain at that price. I agree with the initial reviewer's comment that there are not a lot of aftermarket accessories available for the SSG. You probably can't buy elevated scope bases to give you a few more minutes of elevation on you scope. (Webmaster note: There are such bases now becoming available, unfortunately I cannot now remember the maker.) However, this point is moot for a law enforcement shooter who will probably never fire his rifle in a real world engagement at a target more than 200 yds away. The beauty of the SSG is that you don't need aftermarket doo-dads; the system is well designed and does not need significant improvement.
One fair argument against the SSG is that it is difficult to rebarrel. According to GSI (US importers of the SSG) the barreled action has to be sent back to the factory for replacement. I logged over 7,200 rounds of Federal Match through my SSG before I got an AI AW for duty use. The SSG was a consistent .5 MOA shooter for 4,700 rounds. My group aggregates started to open up after that, and eventually were around .9-1.0 MOA at the 7,000 round mark. However, my cold bore shots always were within .75MOA of my point of aim, even after 7,000 rounds. This is still acceptable performance, as your cold bore shot is what matters most.
Another fair argument against the SSG is the Cycolac stock. It is not the strongest or most attractive stock on the market, but it is strong enough for duty use, and does the job. It is impervious to most climate change, however the Cycolac did (possibly) warp slightly on one occasion. I was using the SSG during a training exercise in the South Florida region on a very hot and humid August day. The rifle was exposed to direct sunlight for approximately six hours, and I noticed a consistent .5MOA shift to the left in my zero during shooting. The rifle was thoroughly inspected, and I was taking weather conditions into account, so the only thing I could blame the zero shift on was warping in the stock. Other shooters shot the rifle in the same conditions, and the zero shift remained. The following morning (in cooler and less humid conditions), the rifle shot back to POA. This experience is completely anecdotal, but it may be one time where the Cycolac stock warped.
Overall, the SSG is a good value for the money. Out of the box it shoots comparably with higher dollar modified (i.e. Robar, AWC, McMillan) Remington 700s, and costs less. It is now close in price to the Remington 700 PSS DM, and generally shoots better (in my experience, anyway) than unmodified 700s. As the price for the gun continues to fall (which is a rare occurrence in today's world), the value of the SSG continues to grow. It's a quality system that is more than capable of surgical accuracy in a trained operator's hands.
The views presented in this article are solely the author's, and do not reflect any official views or endorsements by the United States Government.
Scott (not Powers) is a Federal LEO with extensive tactical and military experience