Out of the Mountains: The SAWS Sniper Rifle
September 08, 2014
Earlier this summer I traveled to the small town of Whitefield (population 2,306) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire to discuss sniper rifles with Bill Lauze, the owner of SAWS Manufacturing. Bill is an experienced rifle manufacturer who specializes in precision rifles built on Savage actions. I was interested in the reasons behind his choice of the somewhat unorthodox components that go into SAWS tactical rifles and how they were assembled.
When someone mentions the words "sniper rifle" what image pops into your head? For a lot of people it would be an M24-like weapon: Remington 700 action, 24-inch heavy barrel, HS Precision stock. That is surely a proven formula, but what if you started from a blank sheet of paper with your goal being the most accurate repeating rifle possible using current production components for under...say...$2,000 or so. What components would you choose?
Bill's picks are interesting. What follows is a list of his choices and why he used them:
Action: The Remington 700 action common to many precision rifles was designed for deer hunting. There is nothing wrong with that but we're looking for the most rigid production action available so we can hang a fat, heavy, free-floated barrel on the end of it without causing the receiver to flex.
The Remington was designed for top loading a blind magazine, requiring much of the steel roof of the receiver to be cut away, reducing rigidity. Loading from the bottom with a detachable magazine eliminates the need for all that metal removal and requires only a small ejection port to spit out fired cases.
Bill's solution to this dilemma was the Savage single-shot target action. The only hole machined in this beefy stainless steel tube is the small ejection port on either the left or right side (your choice).
Now, obviously, this rifle will be a repeater, so the bottom of the receiver must be opened up just enough to accept a magazine. The action is hard and high quality cutting tools are required. Don't try this with a Dremel.
Once we have the hole for the magazine cut, we'll need a feed ramp. The calculations required to figure feed ramp angles are surely beyond the capabilities of your humble correspondent so we'll just say Bill figured it out.
This is a factory action built to a specific price point so it is blueprinted by SAWS to eliminate any variables. The bolt lug seats, barrel threads, bolt face and the receiver face are trued to a perfect 90 degrees to the bolt tunnel. Bolt lugs are lapped for 100% contact.
Some commercial tooling attaches to the receiver at the barrel threads for lapping lugs, etc. But what if the threads aren't exactly parallel to the bolt? Bill designed and manufactured his own tooling that runs through the bolt tunnel to eliminate any chance of runout. A friend of mine described Bill as "meticulous" when blueprinting actions.
These actions are supplied with a Target AccuTrigger, barrel nut, trigger guard and recoil lug.
Barrel: A Krieger 5R 1:10 twist stainless steel barrel was chosen for this demo rifle, but there are many options. The barrel was finished at 17 inches, which some readers might find a bit odd. After all, conventional sniper rifle barrels are usually 24 inches or at least 20 inches minimum.
Measuring velocities with a chronograph, I found that only 200 fps was lost comparing this barrel to a 24-inch tube. From a law enforcement perspective, in an urban scenario at 100 yards or less 200 fps is negligible. The short barrel allows a reasonable overall length when a suppressor is mounted. The muzzle was threaded for a suppressor, but testing was done without one since I didn't have an appropriate can on hand.
Stock: To utilize all the accuracy inherent in a custom barreled action like this one, we need to install it in a rigid stock. You're thinking maybe McMillan? H-S Precision? Probably the name "Choate" didn't cross your mind. Choate Machine and Tool has been around a long time as an OEM parts manufacturer for the firearms industry as well as a vendor of their own firearms accessories.
Their tactical stock chosen for this rifle is constructed of polypropylene and fiberglass molded around a stiff aluminum spine, including CNC-machined bedding blocks that extend from the rear tang screw to the front swivel stud.
The barreled action only makes contact with the stock at the V-blocks and recoil lug. Aircraft grade stainless steel socket head cap screws torqued to 65 inch-pounds secure the rifle to the stock.
Length of pull is adjustable from 12 inches to 13 inches with the included spacers and up to 14 inches is possible with additional spacers. Bipods are attached to a rail in the forend, allowing operators to secure them at any point up to 7 inches back from the forend tip. A bipod adapter is included with the stock. Another nice feature is the side-mounted sling swivels for transporting the rifle flat across your back. All this for around $200 if you shop around on line.
Bottom metal/magazine: One of the most interesting features (to me) of the SAWS rifle is the detachable magazine. The bottom metal is manufactured by Pacific Tool and Gauge of White City, Oreg. It drops right into the precision machined opening in the Choate stock, but it did have to be adjusted by milling the top surfaces to align rounds with the chamber at the proper height.
The PTG product is designed to fit OEM synthetic stocks and five- or 10-round mags are available from Accurate Mag or Accuracy International.
One of the major advantages of a detachable mag for LE applications is safely unloading the weapon without cycling rounds through the rifle, avoiding any chance of an accidental discharge. The mags feed a bit differently than a blind magazine rifle requiring more force to disengage the top round from the tensioned feed lips.
Trigger: The Savage target actions come equipped with the excellent Target AccuTrigger adjustable from 6 ounces to 2 pounds. I can't think of any other production trigger offered on a factory action comparable to it.
Accuracy: I tested the SAWS rifle at 100 yards from a bipod rest with Black Hills 168-grain BTHP ammo and handloads consisting of a 168-grain Sierra bullet over a charge of RL15. Accuracy was awesome; consistent sub-3/8" three-shot groups when I did my part. It was obvious that shooting this one was more a test of my personal ability rather than the accuracy of the rifle.
Final thoughts: An often overlooked advantage of Savage actions and the barrel nut system is the option to change calibers with nothing more than a barrel nut wrench and a headspace gauge or dummy round.
The owner of this SAWS rifle could easily swap out the .308 barrel for one in .260 Rem., .243 Win. or .22-250 using the same magazine. Or he might have two bolts fitted, one in .223 and one in .308, so with a simple bolt/barrel/magazine swap the same rifle is capable of firing our two most popular calibers without the expense of buying two complete rifles.
Contact: SAWS (Special Application Weapon Systems) can be contacted at 207 754-4577 or email SAWSmfg@yahoo.com .
Norcross fired several groups similar to this one, measuring .328" center to center, with 168-grain BTHP ammo. People are prone to think an accurate rifle needs a long barrel: not so.
Note the solid top of the Savage
Target Action. A small port is located on the left side but left or right hand ports are available for bench-rest or F-Class competition.
This view of the left side reveals the small ejection port, which allows a stiffer action to accommodate a very heavy barrel. The entire rifle is finished in FDE Cerakote.