Elite rifle, elite shooting

     Testing a firearm is a lot like getting to know someone. The longer one spends with it, the more acquainted one becomes. Steyr Arms let Law Enforcement Technology test its Steyr Elite for about a year. Firing hundreds of rounds through it, testers gathered a significant amount of data in a variety of weather conditions, shooting the rifle hot and cold. The rifle was even entered into a benchrest competition. By the time testing concluded, testers knew the Steyr Elite intimately -- this is a rifle worth knowing.

     The Steyr Elite is a medium-weight law enforcement precision rifle with a hammer forged match barrel, one of the longest, most usable picatinny rails in the business and a unique synthetic stock. The Steyr Elite has features similar to the Mannlicher Scout, designed after Col. Jeff Cooper's "Scout Concept" rifle.

     Steyr Arms Inc. entered the firearms industry while military arms were still being loaded from the muzzle. Founded in 1864, Steyr Mannlicher provided one of the first military bolt-action rifles and autoloading pistols in the industry. Both patents are more than 100 years old, preceding the 1900s. Currently, Steyr Mannlicher has a commanding presence in two markets: sporting firearms under Steyr Mannlicher, and firearms manufactured exclusively for law enforcement under Steyr Arms Inc.

     Where the Scout is 6.6 pounds, the Steyr Elite is 9.1. Placed on a bench at 200 yards, it holds stable like a 13-pound benchrest rifle. The synthetic stock proves effective in dampening vibrations. When allowed to recoil freely, the rifle directs its energy straight back, rather than causing the muzzle to rise.

Materials and profiles
     The stock is made of a stippled non-reflective material. Several anchor points for sling swivels are included, one can simply push them into the spring-loaded anchor points and twist lock. There is a central rail underneath the barrel that can hold standard rifle fixtures like a tripod or a window mount.

     The Elite has a easily recognizable profile, due to the fully adjustable stock. The cheekpiece is adjustable for height, using a large thumbscrew. The buttplate adjusts for length of pull and offset. This feature doesn't just allow the rifle to fit anyone, it accommodates the full range of shooting positions for any build. If anything was to be changed about this stock, testers would have put clicks in the adjustments.

     The five-round box magazines fit into a recess in the stock, unlocking by a squeeze on both sides -- 10-round magazines are optional. During tests, magazines fed reliably and functioned smoothly, providing excellent fire continuity. The ejection port is too small for single feeding, which is unnoticeable due to the magazine design.

     The Elite comes with an integrated bipod. If this was not illustrated in the manual, no one would know. It flips out readily and stows invisibly, using clever recessed levers. Testers rarely used it, the rifle was steady enough for a clean shot but deliberate positions called for sandbags. If needed, the bipod is there, however, they were ideal for keeping the bore steady for cleaning.

Parts and ammunition
     The bolt throw is about 90 degrees, which is a fairly wide arc compared to similar bolt action rifles. It has the signature gearshift-like bolt knob with a tapered bolt cap and two-lug bolt. The lugs have a center channel machined to add additional locking surface. What sets it apart are the features designed to protect the shooter from overpressure. Steyr not only over-engineered the rifle, it appears a channel was designed to redirect gases in case of cartridge failure.

     The extractor is a pivoting type with an unusual loop spring that holds it in place. It looks similar to extractors on the latest model handgun, with the fulcrum set back a little further into the action. Testers attempted to stress it by reloading the same fired brass dozens of times. After hundreds of law enforcement cartridges, they came to the conclusion that this rifle will extract any cartridge reliably. Additionally, whether one worked the bolt -- quickly or slowly -- it always felt smooth.

Safety positions and a test
     The three-position safety sits on the center of the stock behind the bolt cap. It's tactile confirmation allowed officers to maintain visual contact with the target at all times. The safety looks like the tuning dial on an old transistor radio with added color coding. Rotated all the way forward, a flag pops up. Pushing the bolt handle down a few degrees then locks the action.

     The "safe" position displays the same color, but not the flag. The bolt is unlocked, but the rifle will not fire. For police work, this is ideal. A cartridge can be cycled in and out of the chamber without the risk of firing. When clicked to "fire" the safety displays a red dot.

     The Steyr Elite has a heavy bull barrel with subtle spiral fluting and a recessed target crown. It free floated off the stock while the picatinny rail encompassed the top of the barrel all the way to the forend. This had a hidden benefit: The barrel resisted the mirage effect.

     The 22.4-inch long and 1/12-inch barrel favored the lighter 165- to 170-grain .308 cartridges, although it had no problem stabilizing heavier rounds. Rather than publish group sizes based on cartridge brand, testers prepared an easily duplicated demonstration: Using a Black Hills 175 GR BT-HP, Federal 165 GR TRU, Hunting Shack Munitions 168 GR Glass Punch and Cor Bon's 168 GR HPBT, testers fired two eight-round groups, two bullets each at 100 yards. The results were both groups could be covered with a quarter. When moved out to 200 yards, multi-brand groups rarely strayed more than 1.25 inches. Throughout the test, the rifle consistently averaged .52-inches at 100 yards and 1.1 at 200 yards. Several sessions produced five-round groups that were only slightly larger than its caliber.

     The Elite shows an inherent lack of vertical stringing. The holes appear in a vertical line, rather than a tight radiating group. There are a lot of reasons that would cause vertical stringing, but the most critical for a police precision rifle is when the rifle fails to resist changes in temperature. As the rifle heats up as it is fired, higher temperature causes changes in expansion and flexibility.

     If the barrel is of good design and material, temperature has less of an effect. All rifle barrels shoot differently as they heat or cool. The best ones handle this so subtly changes are unnoticeable.

     The Steyr Elite easily held the less-than the 2 MOA standard during 40- to 60-round sessions. For example, one 40-round, 20-minute session did show signs of vertical stringing, but the lengthened group still had nearly every bullet touching.

     A police precision rifle must be robust enough to survive rigorous training. It must be engineered to shoot consistently, regardless of weather conditions. It must have predictable and repeatable accuracy. Its design, including attached fixtures, must agree with the current training and doctrine of the department.

     The Elite can handle prolonged incidents or prolonged training sessions. It is not a product designed to save in production costs. Rather, it is a precision instrument that obviously handles abuse and puts bullets downrange wherever commanded. Do the Law Enforcement Technology testers recommend the Steyr Elite? Yes. In fact, testers rate this rifle in the top 1 percent of tactical rifles worldwide.

Rifle optic testing
     It is impossible to test a rifle without reliable optics and accessories. Law Enforcement Technology selected Nikon's Monarch UCC dual illuminated Mildot 6.5-20x44 rifle scope for this test. Testers felt that this scope was perfect for several reasons. First, it has an adjustable objective, which compensates for parallax, beginning at 50 yards. This meant the rifle could be used at the average law enforcement engagement distance and still provide accuracy to extreme distances. Second, it had a mil-dot reticle that could be illuminated either red or green. This guaranteed a high contrast reticle on anything sighted. Third, the one-piece main body tube gave reliable service while testers pounded it with full recoil tactical loads all day long. It was a perfect rudder for the Steyr Elite ship.

     The Nikon Monarch UCC Riflescope was mounted on the Steyr Elite using Precision Reflex Inc. tactical rings, designed especially for law enforcement/military use. These rings are two to three times as heavy as hunting rings. Once mounted, the scope becomes a permanent part of the tactical rifle. This is exactly what a police agency needs.

     Additional information on Nikon's Monarch UCC dual illuminated rifle scope can be found at www.nikonsportoptics.com.

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