Stevens combines performance, value
|Photo by GORDON HUTCHINSON|
The 7MM-08 version of the Stevens Model 200 holds four rounds in the closed-box magazine. In keeping with its no-frills design, there is no floorplate for bottom access to the magazine well.
“Didja see what they put on that rifle? That cheap scope? Can you believe that?”
This was accompanied by expressions of amazement and disgust, and a pronounced shaking of the head.
Carlos has a lot of kids — seven, to be exact. Five of them are boys. All of them are taught to hunt, and all of them, as they grow, need rifles. Carlos works a lot, so he has little time for testing rifles. Between helping run the family-owned jewelry store in Baton Rouge, and Vargas Enterprises, his painting contractor business, he stays on the run. But each year, he takes time off to hunt with his kids.
So every year, a new boy reaches the age and size to require a deer rifle of his own, and Carlos has to spring for new armament and optics. And almost every year, I have to mount a scope on a rifle and sight it in, or check the sights on a couple of old rifles for him.
Over the last several years, he has bought two used Remington Model 7 Youth rifles in .243 Winchester and .260 Remington. Both came with scopes already attached, both grouped (to my extreme pleasure) at or under one inch.
This year, he called me over to a local gun store, where he had located a new Stevens Model 200 bolt action in 7MM-08.
He knew I thought highly of the cartridge, having bought the same caliber for my daughter. The .308 necked down to .284 caliber is extremely flat-shooting, extremely accurate, and offers a standard load with a 140-grain bullet that I consider in the optimum weight range for whitetails.
I’ve never liked the .243 Winchester as a beginner’s deer caliber; I consider it an expert’s cartridge. The 7MM-08 offers the same short action in small rifles, and acceptable recoil for kids and ladies. And the heavier bullet makes for fewer crippled deer — never a pleasant result for any hunter of any age.
But I was unfamiliar with the rifle. I knew Stevens was an old, respected name in the firearms industry, and now represented the base models in the Savage manufacturing line. When the rifle carries more bells and whistles, it sports the Savage name, and will generally have the highly popular Savage AccuTrigger.
The Model 200 Stevens does not offer the AccuTrigger, nor highly polished finishes, muzzle porting, left-hand bolts or wood stocks. What you get with a Model 200 is a base model in matte-blued steel, and a gray synthetic stock with a powder-coat like finish. A handsome, utilitarian gun that B.J.’s Pawn and Gun in Denham Springs had given the very attractive price point of $299 — under the factory recommended retail of $327.
The short-action version such as this one carries a 22-inch barrel, and weighs in at 6.5 pounds. It has dual pillar bedding, which means it has lugs located both on the receiver in front of the magazine and on the rear tang that transmit the recoil directly into the bed of the stock, tremendously enhancing its accuracy potential. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts.
What diversity the gun carries comes in the caliber choices. There are five short-action chamberings including .223, .22-250, .243, 7MM-08 and .308. Long-action choices include .25-06, .270 Winchester, .30-06, even 7MM Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum.
I walked in the store, and he stuck the rifle in my hands.
“Here. What do you think?”
I took a dollar bill from my wallet, and pulled it down the channel between the forearm and the barrel, sliding it back and forth as I worked it down to the recoil lug just in front of the magazine. The bill slid freely all the way down; the barrel was completely free-floated, with no pressure points.
The polished bolt exhibited two heavy steel locking lugs, and the Stevens name was imprinted on the chrome. This was the highly regarded and time-tested Savage Model 110 action — strong and accurate. The rifle had a tang safety easily reached and engaged by the thumb.
The magazine was what is known as a “closed-box” type. In other words, you loaded and unloaded the magazine from the top — there was no releasable magazine floor plate to dump the bullets. In fact, as a cost-cutting device, there was no floor plate at all.
“I don’t know, Carlos,” I said. “It’s a good-looking gun. The barrel’s free-floated. It’s a nice size; it should shoot O.K. It certainly is an attractive price.”
All those factors came into play — that he could get into a quality rifle for another son for about $300, almost unheard of these days. So he bought the rifle, and I did a little research.
Savage has managed to keep the price down by the aforementioned methods and an interestingly frugal move at the factory. The company bought a new stock mold for the Savage line, and the old mold became the standard for the base model 200 — an effective use of resources and materials that reduces manufacturing costs.
I found a gun magazine article on the rifle that detailed some of these facts, and showed it to Carlos. The field editor in the big gun magazine had mounted a cheaper model scope on the Stevens to conduct his accuracy and functioning tests, which led to Carlos making snide comments about cheap glass. I guess he had conveniently forgotten one of his other rifles carried the same brand scope at which he was now sneering. I had finally won him over.
Carlos had followed my advice, and bought a low-end 3-9x40 Leupold, sort of an old standby from the Leupold line, and one you can easily find for near $200.
“Look,” I told him, “everybody tries to run out and save money on the scope — the worst place in the whole system to cut corners. A cheap rifle can always be made to shoot better, but a cheap scope is nothing but a poor piece of glass.
“Why go spend $150 on an upper-end cheap scope when for $50 more, you can have a Leupold? And then you’ve got a quality piece of glass.”
It didn’t hurt that fresh in his mind was the memory of the adjusting knobs on the cheap scope he had mounted on one of the Model 7s. That sterling example of the optics industry had lost part of the dials, and the directional decal had fallen off the tip of one knob. So he bought the Leupold from Hebert’s Guns in Prairieville, and had them mount it with their usual quality of work.
He was proud of the gun when he called me over to see it, and snide in his assessment of what the gun writer for the big magazine had done to the test rifle.
I had told him to buy three boxes of shells, all in 140-grain bullets. The whole idea was to break the barrel in, sight in the gun and discover which brand of factory ammo it liked best.
Unfortunately, being the end of the season, the ammo choices were limited, and he was able to only locate Remington Core-Lokt. So I took the rifle and the two new boxes of shells out to my range.
A few years ago, I did a full column in this magazine on breaking in new barrels, and interviewed several well-known gunsmiths, including David Reynerson, Eduardo Chahin and Pete Underwood — all Baton Rouge area gunsmiths, and all highly respected rifle makers.
As was to be expected, each of them had a different set of methods and materials they used to break in a new rifle barrel — “seasoning” the barrel it’s called.
“Black Arts” might be another term considering the variety of mysterious goos, concoctions and methods each ’smith used in his own personal practices of the rifle occult.
The idea behind breaking in a barrel is that no matter how perfect the lands and grooves are cut within a new barrel, there will be microscopic imperfections that shave pieces off the copper jacket of a bullet, leaving these trace shavings in the barrel.
The more the barrel is fired, the smoother it becomes as the bullets “lap” the barrel. But the barrel has to be cleaned frequently to accomplish this — removing the excess materials that are picked up by the minute imperfections — otherwise they will build up, and cause the travel by the bullet in the barrel to be skewed, affecting the accuracy.
I didn’t go to some of the extreme methods described in that article, but I used a basic method of Kroil and good copper brushes and cloth pads, and cleaned the barrel well after each group of three.
First, I set the target at 25 yards, and adjusted the sights until the bullets struck 1/2-inch low at that distance. Moving the target out to 100 yards, I was very pleasantly surprised to find the rifle consistently grouping inside of 2 inches, and the center of the group right about 2 inches high.
The little rifle gave me several groups this way, sometimes with a slight flyer after I would clean the barrel, leaving a coating of Kroil to work into the pores of the metal.
After two groups exactly the same, I figured I wasn’t going to get any better with this batch of ammo, scrubbed the barrel one more time, and pushed a cloth soaked in Kroil through it.
I feel sure, with a little trigger work, easily accomplished by any competent gunsmith, some experiments with other bullet manufacturers and handloads, and some more test-firing, the rifle would easily produce minute-of-angle (1-inch) groups. As it was, with only one load tested, it produced more than adequate accuracy for hunting use.
I found it to be a handy, light, well-balanced rifle, and the Leupold lived up to its reputation for excellent clarity and light transmission. All in all, a great medium-sized combination to fit a young man coming into his own as a hunter, a lady hunter, or a grown man looking for a lighter, versatile rifle/cartridge combo as adept on the side of a tree in the heavy woods as in a box stand on a right-of-way, shooting a couple of hundred yards.
You could spend a lot more money and gain a fancier look and a few admittedly handy extras. I particularly missed having a quick-release floor plate to dump the magazine, but the spirit of this rifle isn’t to be a high-end race model.
This is your old dependable pickup. It runs good, it gets the job done exceptionally well, and it’ll get you there. Not a lot more a fellow can ask, is there?
For more on the Savage/Stevens Line of firearms and accessories, go to www.savagearms.com, or call 413-568-7001.
Gordon Hutchinson’s best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks with the youths of a farming family, can be ordered at thequestandthequarry.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355.
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