August 04, 2015
It was a typical Kansas winter afternoon, a mite cold and windy. I was peering down the bore of the rifle I was zeroing. Lifting my head slightly I glanced through the 3-9X scope and made another windage adjustment. Satisfied, I slid the bolt back into place and thumbed three rounds into the magazine.
Taking a couple deep breaths I settled in behind the Remington and became comfortable. I relaxed while keeping track of the wind gusts, centered the reticle and finally broke my first shot. Running the bolt, I repeated the exercise two more times and was rewarded with one ragged hole on the 100-yard target.
Considering they were my first three shots out of the rifle, and conditions were not the best, I immediately knew this rifle was a shooter. Some days everything that can go wrong does during testing. Not today, though. Despite the cold and the wind, it was a good day spent alone on the range with a very interesting rifle and optic.
At first glance you might mistake the rifle I was behind as a classic USMC M40 sniper rifle, complete with green Redfield 3-9x40mm scope. The 7.62mm M40 is the iconic sniper rifle from the war in Vietnam. With its wooden stock, it is a traditional-looking piece from a different time. Developed to hunt "Charlie" in a far-off land, it proved capable of a level of precision earlier sniper rifles lacked.
Rather than being a mundane infantry rifle with a lower magnification optic cobbled onto it, the M40 was a purpose-built precision rifle. Adopted in 1966, it provided USMC snipers with the step forward they badly needed. It would soldier on until 1980, when it was replaced by the improved M40A1. Today an original USMC M40 is a highly sought-after collector's item.
The sad truth is very few shooters and collectors will ever have the chance even to handle an original USMC M40 sniper rifle. So there has long been a market for nicely built reproductions. Some custom gunsmiths have built them and even Remington did a brief run years ago.
The fly in the ointment of building a proper-looking M40 clone has never been about the rifle, but rather the scope. Trying to find a proper original green Redfield 3-9x40mm Accu-Range scope is the deal breaker.
Well, it was the impossible-to-find Holy Grail until Hi-Lux/Leatherwood Optics recently introduced a very nice quality reproduction. Suddenly the missing link of the M40 puzzle became available with the click of a buy button.
Hi-Lux Optics provided Shotgun News with a first look at this new optic when it was introduced. The problem then became finding a suitable rifle to test it on. The 66 Company solved my dilemma with the loan of one of their 7.62mm M40-66 rifles. A good-looking blend of walnut and steel, the M40-66 is not an exact reproduction of the Vietnam-era USMC M40 sniper rifle. So if you are looking for a clone thatÃs correct in every small detail, The 66 CompanyÃs M40-66 is not for you.
So then what exactly is the M40-66? Here is how The 66 Company describes it: "Patterned after the 1966 original M40 Sniper Rifle as commissioned by the United States Marine Corps, the M40-66, offers the classic look of the original, but hand built with 100 percent match grade components. Hand fitted and beautifully oil finished walnut stock is carefully bedded giving both old school elegance and practical function. Each rifle is test fired and guaranteed to shoot inside 1/2MOA with factory match ammunition."
As you would expect, each M40-66 is built on a Remington 700 receiver. Introduced in 1962, the M700 push-feed action has become the most popular receiver to use for a custom rifle build. The 66 Company machines each action to improve alignment and blueprints them.
They are then fitted with a match-grade Krieger barrel. Machined from stainless steel, each barrel is hand-lapped and features a 1:10 twist. The 66 Company claims a maximum bore variation of .00001". The barrel is cut with an M852 Match chamber and finish reamed by hand to 0 headspace. While barrel length is the proper 24 inches, the profile is slightly heavier than the originalÃs. I measured the tube on my review rifle and it is .870" at the muzzle.
The barreled action is dropped into an American walnut stock. This features a hand-rubbed oil finish with a glare-free dull luster. The stock is pillar bedded and the barrel channel is sealed and bedded. Plus the stock's interior is sealed against the elements.
The most obvious difference between the M40-66 and an original M40 is the addition of a recoil pad. In place of the original M40's aluminum buttplate is a one-inch Pachmayr Decelerator pad. While not original, it does make the rifle very soft and pleasant shooting. Another obvious departure from the original is the use of sling studs in place of the original sling swivels.
Poking about inside I noticed a milled and polished follower in place of the stamped unit used on the M40. Magazine capacity is five rounds. Bottom metal is a heavyweight stainless steel hinged assembly. This provides added strength, while maintaining traditional lines.
The Shilen match-grade single-stage is tuned to provide a crisp 2.75-pound release with no creep or overtravel. Plus a precision ground stainless steel heavy weight magnum recoil lug is installed. This is a nice upgrade from the standard Remington piece.
If you wish, The 66 Company will install a conventional optics mount with a MIL-STD 1913 rail. This will allow easy mounting of modern optics. However, if you prefer an original look, they will fit the rifle with an original style mount.
The USMC M40 sniper rifles were fitted with Redfield Junior scope bases with 1-inch split rings. I noted the M40-66 receiver is not slotted for a clip. but the reproduction mount they use does have a shoulder to bear against the receiver. The front ring twists into the mount and the rear ring is locked into place by two large screws which provide gross windage adjustments when aligning the optic. Like the rifle, this is a classic old school mounting system from a different age.
Two sniper scopes became famous during the war in Vietnam. The first was the US Army's 3-9X ART fielded on XM-21 and M-21 sniper rifles. The second was Redfield's 3-9X Accurange fielded by the USMC on M40 sniper rifles.
The Redfield was a commercial off-the-shelf product that was good enough to meet the needs of Marine snipers. The famous ART was developed by Capt. Jim Leatherwood specifically for US Army snipers. Both played an important role during that conflict.
Today Hi-Lux/Leatherwood still produces rifle scopes using Jim Leatherwood's ART system. However, along with a host of modern tactical and hunting designs, they also offer a few reproductions of classic designs.
These include 3X and 6X Malcolm type scopes with external adjustments for muzzleloaders and blackpowder cartridge guns, an 8X Unertl reproduction as fielded on USMC target and sniper rifles and an M73B1 reproduction as used on US Army M1903A4 sniper rifles. These reproductions from Hi-Lux are good-looking pieces that have performed well in competition, including the Vintage Sniper match held at Camp Perry.
The latest addition to their vintage line is their 3-9x40mm M40 USMC which is a reproduction of the Vietnam vintage Redfield 3-9X scope built for the Marines. Over the years there have been a couple feeble attempts by different manufacturers to produce an optic which kinda sorta looked correct on an M40 type rifle, if it was dark out and you were far away.
The Hi-Lux M40 USMC is not one of those. Not only does it look correct externally but more importantly the reticle and ranging system functions like the original. It is the ranging system of this optic, after all, which makes it so interesting.
The reticle consists of a traditional duplex style crosshair. Nothing too exciting here. However, towards the top of the field of view are two horizontal stadia utilized for ranging. In the lower right of the field of view is a clear "tombstone" with distance markings in 50-yard increments from 200 to 600 yards.
The magnification zoom ring is used to determine range. How does the system work? To range an 18-inch target, you merely bracket it between the two horizontal stadia as you dial the magnification in or out. Once the target is correctly bracketed, the range to the target will appear in the FOV on the "tombstone." You simply read the range, zoom to the desired magnification (likely 9X) dial in the proper elevation or simply hold over while adjusting for windage/lead and fire. The system is simple in concept, easy to learn and quick to use.
Examining the optic, you'll notice a 40mm objective lens and a traditional American three-fold magnification increase from 3X up to 9X. This generates a 4.4mm exit pupil at 9X and a 13.3mm Exit Pupil on 3X. Eye relief is 3.25 inches.
Low profile capped adjusters are fitted with slots for a coin or cartridge rim. Elevation and windage adjustments are in º moa clicks. Adjustments are both audible and tactile with 15 moa of adjustment per each full rotation.
I found the Hi-Lux to be a noticeable improvement over the old Redfield design. While outwardly the Hi-Lux resembles a Vietnam-era Redfield, the optics, coatings and sealing are noticeably improved. While Redfield used a plastic ranging "tombstone" that degraded in sunlight, Hi-Lux uses a much improved etched glass tombstone which performs better while appearing the same.
To find out how the 7.62mm M40-66 rifle and Hi-Lux Optics M40 USMC combination performed I gathered together a few different match loads. These consisted of my personal favorite, Black Hills Ammunition's 175-grain Match, as well as three others: Federal's highly regarded 175-grain Gold Medal Match, Hornady's 168-grain HPBT Match and Lapua's 185-grain Scenar.
I then went to work firing five-shot groups from the bench at 100 yards. This was done off a rest in conjunction with a rear bag.
I found the M40-66 to be both very pleasant and easy to shoot. To me, the rifle is comfortable and familiar-feeling. Rounds load easily into the magazine, the bolt operates smoothly and rounds chamber with little effort. The trigger is light, crisp and an aid to accuracy. Recoil is soft and the rifle is very comfortable to fire, thanks to the recoil pad.
One hundred yard accuracy proved excellent with three of the four loads. Top accuracy went to Hornady's 168-grain HPBT Match load, which averaged an impressive .4". Right behind it was Lapua's 185-grain Scenar, which averaged .45" and Black Hills' 175-grain Match load, which averaged .48".
For whatever reason Federal's 175-grain Gold Medal Match load was not to this rifle's liking, and it opened up to .75". I will say that I think I could shrink groups further with more time behind the rifle and better conditions. I had a number of groups with four rounds into .2-.3 inch.
Keep in mind though, this isn't a bench gun. Neither is it a great big heavy axle shaft limited to the prone position. One of the great strengths of this model is its weight and sporter style stock. It can easily be fired offhand or from various field positions. So I immediately moved from the bench to shooting from field positions on LaRues.
Here the M40-66 proved right at home, especially using a shooting sling. The rifle/scope combination shot very well out to the limits of my testing, 800 yards.
Hi-Lux's 3-9x40mm M40 USMC is a classic-looking scope that performed very well during testing. Optical performance is surprisingly good, with accurate color rendition, very good resolution and contrast. The scope tracked accurately and returned to zero properly.
I dialed in elevation, taking me all the way out to 800 yards, and then back to my original 100-yard zero. I was actually a bit surprised by the groups I was able to shoot with it both on paper and steel. Plus the unique ranging system proved simple to use on stationary targets.
Was the original 7.62mm M40 sniper rifle perfect? No, not really. On a fighting rifle, controlled round feed, rather than push feed, has its advantages. Remington's extractor system was not as reliable as the one utilized on the Springfield or pre-64 Winchester Model 70. Neither is the plunger ejector ideal. Plus Remington's recoil lug can be improved upon.
The most obvious weakness, though, was the wood stock which was affected by changes in climatic conditions. The barrels rusted badly in Vietnam if not properly maintained. The Redfield Junior scope mount also gave problems and various solutions were tried to prevent the front ring from twisting. Plus the Redfield scope proved insufficiently rugged for hard use and abuse and lacked certain features.
But it should be remembered how great a step forward the M40 was at the time. It signaled a change in thinking and the dawn of a new age for Marine sniping. Yes, it was cobbled together using mostly commercial off-the-shelf parts and pieces. The heart of the system was a sporting rifle action. The scope and mount were commercial pieces for deer hunting. Even so, the M40 proved effective and it eventually evolved into an even better and more effective sniper system.
The 66 Company's M40-66 rifle proved to be both accurate and fun. No it's not an exact clone, but neither was it intended to be. Here is a rifle with the flavor of the original, but that is guaranteed to shoot into 1/2 inch at 100 yards with match ammunition.
Is it cheap? No, it carries a rather hefty price of $3,395. Plus you can add another $185 for the reproduction scope mount and rings. The Hi-lux Optics M40 USMC scope retails for $419. If youÃve ever wanted an M40-style rifle that shoots like a house afire, the M40-66 rifle definitely rates a look.