There are two Steyr bolt-action rifles that have become benchmarks in recent rifle history: the Steyr Scout all-around rifle and the SSG 08 sniper rifle. The Scout, designed by the late Col. Jeff Copper, has been with us for more than two decades and has proven to be the design to use when things get tough and you can only have one rifle. In those extreme conditions, it will serve its owner with foolproof reliability, incredible versatility and Steyr’s legendary accuracy.
On the other side of the spectrum, the SSG 08 was designed from the ground up to be an all-out sniper rifle. It’d be tough to come up with any critical flaws in its design, despite being a tad heavy, but that is a burden most sniper rifles possess in order to offset recoil. The SSG 08 has taken all the military sniper contracts it has participated in by storm, with a winning combination of accuracy, ruggedness and tactical features. Mixing these two dynamic Steyr rifles could not bring anything other than what I consider the best all-round, lightweight, law enforcement sniper rifle in the market.
Personally, I always loved Col. Cooper’s minimalistic approach to rifles. In the numerous conversations I had with him about the Scout, we always agreed on most issues, but differed on some, too. The area of scopes was one of them. He liked optical scopes placed up front, and I wanted my Aimpoint there. I know we could have agreed on the Aimpoint issue, eventually, but not on the other controversy we had: For me, 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) was too light for a .308 bolt-action rifle.
I don’t mean that I need any more weight, or that I like to carry those extra pounds for any obscure, masochistic tendency. It is simply because I am spoiled by so many years of shooting heavy sniper rifles and .50s. Every time I shot a Scout I loved it, but it felt too light. After every Scout experience, I called my good friend Oliver Bauer at the Steyr factory in Austria and told him, “I love the Scout and it shoots lights out, but if only you could fit my 20-inch SSG 08 barrel into it.” And he answered the same thing every time: “That’s exactly the Elite.”
So, when I was asked for a test and evaluation of the Elite, all these conversations came rushing to my mind and I accepted in no time. I wanted to know if my dream “if-I-were-only-allowed-one-rifle” really existed.
Behind The Dream
The Elite is based around the Safe Bolt System (SBS) from Steyr Mannlicher, which is one of the safest rifle bolt systems ever designed. In case of firing an overpressured cartridge or even with an obstruction in the barrel, the shooter is always protected from injuries and the rifle will survive the shot and be capable of shooting again. When I wrote about the SSG 08, I had not seen this test myself, but this has changed and I can now testify it was true! Now I know that you can fire proof rounds with extreme overpressures and feel safe. As a blown-rifle survivor myself, I believe that, with the extreme charges some shooters like me are loading in their .308 Win. rifles, having an SBS action can be a lifesaver. Shooting some of the old two-lug designs with such extreme charges, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster. Other new action designs offer three or four bolt lugs, but the SBS does so with a multi-lug bolt and a safety bushing that fully encases the bolt lugs and the extractor. Combined, the two protect the shooter from the escaping gases and protect the action and bolt of the rifle from the overload.
The bolt has six massive front locking lugs located directly behind the cartridge case. This design is a departure from the older SSG 69 bolt design that had rear lugs. At the Austrian factory, they knew that, even considering the legendary SSG 69 accuracy, there was room for improvement. To do so, they redesigned the bolt and moved the locking lugs up front. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the new SSG 08 is simply the most accurate sniper rifle I have shot in my life. And I have shot or owned most, if not all, the sniper rifle designs on the market.
The Elite SBS bolt has some additional features that would make most rifles envious, like the ice, mud and residue grooves machined into the bolt that guarantee reliability under the most extreme environmental conditions. The grooves act as cutters that remove the crud and channel any particles that could get trapped between the bolt and the receiver during its operation.