It has been called the “rifleman’s rifle” and is commonly considered one of the best bolt-action rifle designs of all time. I’m referring to the classic “Pre-64” Winchester Model 70, of course, and while rifles bearing the Winchester name are still available, the Winchester factory closed its doors in 2006 and production rights were acquired by FNH USA, which manufactures all Model 70 type rifles. FNH USA markets several Model 70 type rifles for law enforcement under its own name, including the Patrol Bolt Rifle (PBR) and FBI Rifle. The latest FNH USA Model 70 is the FNH Special Police Rifle (SPR) in its A5 M version.
There are no less than eight different versions of the SPR available, so the potential buyer should be able to find something to suit their precision rifle requirements. The FNH SPR is essentially a version of the Winchester “Pre-64” Model 70 that most consider superior to the Model 70s made between 1964 and 1992. To save on production costs, Winchester made some modifications to the Model 70 that went into production in 1964. Most rifle shooters considered the changes to be anything but improvements. The bottom line is that in 1992 Winchester reinstituted “Pre-64” versions of the Model 70 and that is what FNH manufactures today. The biggest difference between “Pre-64” and “Post-64” Model 70s is that the latter had push round feeding and the Pre-64 rifle had controlled round feeding. Since all FNH SPRs have controlled round feeding, it bears explanation.
In controlled round feed, the cartridge is grabbed by the extractor as it leaves the magazine and held against the bolt face as it is literally pushed and guided into the chamber. The Model 70’s large Mauser type claw extractor also ensures positive extraction and the receiver mounted blade ejector allows the shooter to control ejection by simply varying the bolt’s rearward speed. Fast bolt manipulation throws the spent casing far away, while slowly opening the bolt allows the shooter to positively control the ejection. Both features are considered vital.
The overall excellence of the Model 70 design is one reason that the FBI selected a version of the FNH SPR as its precision tactical rifle several years ago. The FBI’s requirements that led to the selection of a FNH SPR are instructive. The receiver had to be guaranteed for 50,000 rounds and the barrel for a minimum of 5,000 rounds. The FNH USA SPR candidate for the FBI’s new rifle passed a 10,000 round reliability test while maintaining 0.5 MOA accuracy. The barrel was to be either stainless or chrome molybdenum steel. FNH’s cold hammer forged barrels are chrome lined, a feature that is not normally considered conducive to precision accuracy. We have shot several of these superb rifles over the years and all have performed to the highest standards of accuracy.
Our test SPR tips the scales at a fairly hefty 14.5 pounds with scope and bipod, which definitely keeps it out of the lightweight class, but other precision tactical rifles aren’t much different. The US Marine Corps’ M40A3 outweighs the SPR by 2 pounds and the Army’s M24 weighs about the same with scope and bipod. Precision tactical rifles aren’t lightweights. Part of the reason for this weight is that precision tactical rifles are built to take extreme abuse in the field and maintain their accuracy under the harshest conditions imaginable and in all kinds of weather, from freezing cold to extreme heat.
Moreover, these rifles must be capable of maintaining accuracy under sustained fire conditions. Barrels are necessarily heavy for consistency between shots and heat dissipation. Our SPR’s fully free-floated 24-inch barrel is fluted along its forward surface, adding to the barrel’s stiffness and increasing the surface area for better heat dissipation. The muzzle has a deeply recessed match type crown. If the user wants a shorter barrel, a 20-inch non-fluted version is also available. The test rifle’s overall length was 45.5 inches, although the butt spacers would alter this if some were to be removed. As it was, my arms are long enough that the 14.5-inch length of pull was about right. The cheekpiece is fully adjustable so getting the proper eye relief wasn’t an issue.
The test SPR was equipped with the standard hinged floorplate with a release at the front exterior of the triggerguard for an “ammo dump” capability. For those who wish to have a detachable box magazine, that is also available. The McMillan A5 stock has an adjustable cheekpiece that moves up and down over about 2 inches. Unlike some such devices, this one has two hefty retaining bolts and grooves in the stock to ensure that the cheekpiece doesn’t work loose and drop. A built in cheekpiece notch allows the bolt to be removed with the cheekpiece in an elevated position. As mentioned, the length of pull is adjustable via spacers.
The test rifle’s broke crisply at approximately 4.5 pounds, which met the FBI requirement previously mentioned, but I prefer my personal precision tactical rifles to have a lighter trigger pull in the 3- to 3.5-pound range, which is generally accepted for military snipers and law enforcement sharpshooters.
The SPR’s safety was standard Winchester Model 70, which is one of the best in our opinion. The forward position is “fire,” while the intermediate position locks the trigger and firing pin while allowing the bolt to be manipulated to load or unload. The rearmost position locks everything. The scope base is MIL-STD-1913.
Although the A5 M is available as a “system” that can be taken from the box and deployed tactically once zero is confirmed, we chose to set our rifle up based on our personal preferences. Remember that any precision tactical is a shooting system that comprises not only rifle and scope, but other components as well. I began our SPR set up with a Leupold Mark IV 6.5–20 scope with Horus Vision H25 reticle.
In addition to our Leupold tactical rifle scope, we opted for three other Leupold optical products that we consider essential to any precision tactical rifle team. First is Leupold’s 750-meter/yard RX II laser rangefinder. Although most marksmen are trained to use MIL-Dots, several active duty Army individuals have told us that in operational conditions, they use laser rangefinders because they are just more accurate and faster on target. Laser rangefinders like Leupold’s 750-yard/meter RX II and 1200-yard/meter RX III rangefinders do much more than just indicate range, though. These state-of-the-art pocket-size rangefinders also calculate true ballistic range when shooting on a slope, either up or down. Leupold’s RX rangefinders display this critical information instantly, which is especially valuable in operations where slope shooting is required. In fact, every operational precision tactical marksman we know uses a laser rangefinder to determine target distance.
We also used a Leupold Mark IV 12-40x60mm tactical spotting scope with the H25 reticle. The matching reticles make second shot corrections a breeze. Finally, no team is complete without a pair of quality binoculars and Leupold’s Olympic 10x50mm binoculars are an excellent choice. These binoculars can be adjusted to just about eye relief and are lightweight, rugged and waterproof.
I also added Optical System Technology’s AN/PVS-22 Universal Night Sight (UNS), available from Advanced Night Vision Systems, is probably the best all-around piece of image intensifying (I²) night vision equipment available because it can be used as a handheld night vision optic or as a small arms sight. The UNS is about half the size and weight of a SIMRAD, but has similar performance. Although the AN/PVS-22 is only slightly larger than an AN/PVS-14, it overshadows the AN/PVS-14’s performance in every way. The AN/PVS-22 has absolutely zero “sparkles,” “blooms” or “lines,” and when used as a night sight, mounts ahead of the day optic. The advantage to forward mounting is that the day optic can be used in darkness without illumination and unlike night vision optics such as the AN/PVS-14 that must be mounted behind the scope with an adapter clamped to the ocular, eye relief with the AN/PVS-22 is the same regardless of whether or not the night vision device is in use.
As good as the AN/PVS-22 is, it must have some ambient light in order to function. Thermal imagers, on the other hand, work in total darkness and function by measuring the differences in IR heat or what is called “black body radiation.” Essentially, everything emits radiation in the IR spectrum, with differences determined by the temperature of the object in question. With a thermal imager, the higher the temperature, the brighter the object appears. Unlike I² night vision optics, thermal imagers aren’t affected by smoke, fog or other environmental conditions that would interfere with I² function. To complement our AN/PVS-22, we obtained an Insight Tech-Gear SU/PAS-232 military thermal imager designated Individual Weapon Night Sight-Thermal (IWNS-T). The IWNS-T can be mounted to any rifle or carbine with a MIL-STD-1913 rail. Like the AN/PVS-22, it can be mounted ahead of the day optic, in this case on the LaRue Tactical STOMP Mount so there are no issues with eye relief. Because it is compact, the IWNS-T can easily be used as a handheld thermal imager as well. The unit features adjustable focus, external video jack and focus from one meter to infinity. The IWNS-T runs for eight continuous hours on four 123 batteries and is waterproof to 66 feet.
Because our SPR was not equipped with a MIL-STD-1913 rail forward of the receiver to ac- (Please turn to page )commodate state-of-the-art night vision, we used a LaRue Tactical Sniper Total Optical Mounting Package (STOMP) mount that has a MIL-STD-1913 rail cantilevered over and ahead the day optic to accommodate an AN/PVS-22 or similar night vision sight that mounts ahead of the day optic. The STOMP mount facilitates mounting the AN/PVS-22 or IWNS-T without affecting zero and is especially designed for rifles such as our SPR that lack the ability to mount the latest night vision sights as standard equipment. The STOMP mount also provides a protective “cage” that surrounds and protects the scope from getting banged up during tactical operations, possibly affecting zero. This is about the only criticism of the SPR as a precision tactical rifle, I’d like to see an extended MIL-STD-1913 rail to accommodate a NVD in addition to the scope sight.
Finally, I obtained one of Keng’s Firearms latest Versa-Pods that I mounted to the rifle using the Uncle Mike’s forward sling swivel. I have always preferred Versa-Pods over others because the length of the bipod legs can be changed beyond the variable leg adjustment almost instantly. For example, if one goes from a prone position to sitting, Versa-Pod legs to support the different position can be installed in seconds, unlike others that require the entire bipod be removed to change leg height for different shooting positions. The new Versa-Pods are even better than earlier ones, with infinitely adjustable tensioning knobs for both the side-to-side rotation and front and rear leg angle. The shooter can set the tension for the bipod’s movement to any level they wish.
With our SPR set up for duty, I headed to the range to put it through its paces. According to FBI statistics, the average law enforcement precision tactical distance is 51 yards. When I was a student at Blackwater Training Center, the instructors told me that as a law enforcement precision shooter, I would never get authority to engage a target over 100 yards due to liability issues. But the rifles are usually tested at longer distances. In fact, the measure of any precision tactical rifle is the capability to put every round into an inch circle at 100 yards, so that is the test distance chosen for these rifles.
Military snipers engage targets at far greater distances, but their mission is quite different from law enforcement. The FNH SPR delivered sterling performance with groups well within the accuracy necessary for law enforcement consideration. As mentioned, the trigger was heavier than I prefer, but obviously it had no effect on accuracy. Best accuracy using Black Hills 168-grain HPBT match ammo, but the difference all brands tested was small and within the margin of error.
The bottom line is that for any department seeking a reliable precision tactical rifle, FNH USA’s Special Police Rifle should be one of the first considered.
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