The Barrett M98B bridges a big gap. Small arms carried by most operators have to fit parameters that make it possible to conduct CQB missions or engage enemy infantry across a battlefield. Barrett accomplished this with their hard-hitting REC-7 in 6.8mm SPC. Then you have specialized marksmen that must detonate IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from a safe distance, stop smugglers on the open water, counter vehicular threats or penetrate enemy snipers hiding behind cover. And for these circumstances, the Barrett .50 caliber M82 has accomplished these missions for more than 25 years.
The gap lies between these two roles. Many law enforcement agencies and military units have dreamed of obtaining a rifle capable of hard target interdiction that is also practical for anti-personnel activities. Competitive shooters and hunters alike continue to search for another accurate rifle, or one capable of providing effective standoff firepower in a lightweight package. Barrett has responded with the new M98B chambered in .338 Lapua Mag.
The M98B goes down as one of the most impressive examples that I’ve ever fired. Both fit and finish is top notch. For a rifle of this caliber, it only weighs 16 pounds (gun, bipod, scope and empty magazine), making it suitable for carry during extended stand-off situations. The aluminum receiver contributes to its lightweight handling quality, and the anodized finish is a tactical matte black.
The edgy and angular shapes on the M98B are true to the Barrett heritage but the reduced dimensions, components and weight only borrow in concept from other Barrett weapon systems. The forend and Picatinny rail are cut from the same piece of metal as the receiver. An inherent advantage is that the barrel is truly independent of contact or stress that the receiver endures. Cuts and recesses throughout the receiver and the barrel not only shave weight, but are functional in many places. Oval slots in the forend encourage air circulating the breech-end of the barrel while venting heat. I’ve never seen the need for flutes on small caliber semi-automatic rifles or barrels on bolt actions but the .338 Lapua Mag can generate quite a bit of heat. The flutes help cool this barrel while contributing to the shaved weight of the overall system.
The muzzle brake does just what it is designed to do. Once the bullet has exited the muzzle, gases behind the bullet escape and hit the walls of the muzzle brake, changing direction with great force. The muzzle brake not only protects the crown of the muzzle, but also pulls the rifle in the direction that the bullet travels, away from the shooter. Recoil felt by the shooter is reduced to something similar as a 20 gauge shotgun, making it easy to recover, engage or identify other potential targets.
The bolt assembly is a well-thought-out design. When looking through the naturally positioned scope, the right hand comes up and finds the bolt handle naturally and lifts, unlocking the bolt. When pulling the bolt to the rear, exposing the chamber, it rides very smoothly atop the remaining cartridges in the magazine and seems as if it only moves to the rear a few inches. It strips a new cartridge from the magazine seamlessly and locks it into the chamber without having to slap the bolt handle down.
The adjustable trigger is possibly Barrett’s most significant innovation to the M98B. It is a first for Barrett in a production rifle. The trigger is ideally shaped for a straight rearward pull and it broke exactly at 1.5 pounds with each squeeze. Although this measurement may seem light, I felt that it required deliberate activation while shooting without disturbing sight picture. Two nuts prevent the adjustment screws from moving and can be accessed from the top with the receiver broken down shotgun-style.
The grip is unique to Barrett and ergonomic to the hand with finger grooves and pebbled traction for a moist hand. A subtle shelf for the thumb and arch for a high grip makes the relationship of the trigger finger to the arch of the trigger shoe ideal. If an operator has a different grip preference, the design of the receiver accepts aftermarket AR grip assemblies. Conveniently located near the shooting hand is the selector that features a white tick mark on the right side of the receiver to indicate what status (safe or fire) the rifle is in. Keeping consistent with the ergonomic theme, a downward push on the shelf of the selector takes the rifle off safe for single-shot operation.
The triggerguard has a slight downward slant towards the muzzle, illustrating that Barrett considered a gloved shooter might operate this rifle. In front of the triggerguard is a paddle-latch that captures and releases the polymer magazine. Inserted in a straight upward motion into the magazine well then pulling the rear up locking it into place, the rounds in the magazine are in perfect relationship to the ramp into the chamber making for reliable feeding. Unlike an AR magazine, which is locked in from the side of the magazine, this design means that a shooter pulling back on the front of the magazine with their support hand will not effect the reliable feeding when charging a new round.
The tested rifle came with a Harris bipod that featured spring-loaded, adjustable legs and permitted easy magazine changes in the prone position with a 45-degree cant to the right or left. This cant also proved beneficial when trying to look through the scope while shooting with a vest or helmet.
The stock of the M98B is very special. Like many adjustable stock systems, it has a rubber buttpad helping in the felt recoil department and a soft cheek rest for a comfortable cheek weld, even during long surveillance missions. A clover-like knob can be loosened on the side to adjust the height of the cheek piece, secured by tightening it. All edges of the stock are smooth and beveled with a skeletonized aluminum construction to keep weight to a minimum. This system has an adjustable vertical pod that can be operated naturally with the support hand while a shooter looks through the scope and dials in the target. When I was shooting the M98B beyond 500 yards during testing, this adjustment pod helped support the rear weight of the rifle and allowed fine adjustments as I compensated the target’s range utilizing the scope’s mil-dot system.
The rail systems on the M98B were well researched and constructed. The top rail extends from the stock to the end of the forearm. This design permits the attachment of any size scope, night vision devices, laser sighting systems or magnifiers in front of the standard optic’s bell. Two smaller rails came attached to the right and left sides of the forearm, allowing accessories such as a sling attachment point or high-intensity illumination tools.
Testing was done at one of Blackwater’s KD (known distance) ranges in North Carolina with a group of police officers on hand for input. The testing became extreme by early morning with temperatures climbing to 105 degrees with 90 percent humidity. After 200 yards, heat waves had to be considered when looking through the scope during accuracy testing as they radiated and distorted part of the target.
Often times I use circular targets for accuracy testing but for longer ranges and testing of weapons that could be used by the military, I like to use silhouette-type paper targets. In this case, the mil-dots referenced perfectly with the head of the silhouette when compensating for bullet drop out to 800 yards.
We started the morning off confirming the factory zero at 100 yards. Each of us that fired these first shots stood up with a smile and said, “I want one.” Walking down to the pits, we were very impressed with our 3-shot groups, averaging 0.75 of an inch (center-to-center) among four different shooters. I took notes and pasted up our holes before driving back to 200 yards. At 200 yards, the average group size increased to just 1.30 inches and I adjusted the zero for this range. It was time to jump back.
The 27-inch match grade barrel is nonchrome lined with a twist rate of 1-in-10 inches helping to stabilize a variety of bullets that can travel in excess of 3,000 feet per second (fps) beyond 1,000 yards. Zeroed in at 200 yards, the .338 Lapua Mag cartridge only dropped 32.5 inches at 500 yards while holding an average group of 3.7 inches at that range. The best group fired came from a box of Hornady Custom .338 Lapua Mag 250-grain ballistic tip hollow points. The muzzle velocity of this ammunition measures 3,100 fps and held a group of 1.95 inches at 500 yards.
From testing in this heat, I discovered that the M98B just began to show its potential at 500 yards. I particularly enjoy shooting at this range because this is typically where the gap exists begins between infantry-style rifles and long-range, hard-target rifles like Barrett’s M82 .50-caliber. Shooting ammunition from Lapua and Hornady, my groups hovered near 3-inches with both brands. I activated Barrett’s BORS system and easily programmed the ammunition I was using according to the manual supplied with the scope. The tick on the screen became helpful at this range while I tried to level out the rifle for each shot. Although there was a no-value wind or inclination angle with respect to my targets, the BORS did compensate for the extreme heat. A click to the elevation turret kept my rounds impacting near the center of the target at every distance.
The M98B performed flawlessly at 600 to 800 yards. The barrel was too hot to touch, thanks to the direct sunlight and internal barrel temperature, but I couldn’t perceive a thermal effect on accuracy. At 800 yards, our best of five 3-shot groups measured 4.05 inches center-to-center. I second-guessed the BORS sighting system on the scope and dropped the aiming point one mil-dot at 800 yards. Driving down to inspect the targets, this proved to be a mistake as the rounds impacted the hip-region of the silhouette. Although this drew some criticism from my counterparts, a shot to the hipbone will take anyone out of a fight. That was my defense.
This rifle was performing like a tackdriver. Although it is very capable of effectiveness beyond 800 yards, the effect of the extreme temperatures were taking a toll on the shooters and we had to cease testing as most of us were showing signs of an oncoming heat stroke. It was time to clean up.
The overall rifle and barrel prove simple to clean with a shotgun-like break down. The upper receiver pivots with the barrel on a single pin just forward of the trigger guard and is separated after a latch under the receiver near the stock is depressed. The bolt assembly just pulls right out. This is as far as we needed to break it down. After running patches and solvent through the bore, a close inspection with a Hawkeye borescope revealed no serious scratches to the rifling. Even after shooting for eight hours in extreme heat, the barrel still looked new.
As a cartridge, the .338 Lapua is ideal for any entity, whether it be military, law enforcement, hunting, or recreational uses. It can take on any medium-to-large size game, enemy personnel and, with the right cartridge it can serve as an effective tool for hard targets. The weight and handling characteristics of the M98B make this the perfect platform for the .338, bridging the gap that many agencies and units face in today’s tactical world.