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Last month I had the opportunity to shoot a Steyr SBS Pro Hunter in 300 Win Mag....

this rifle was dressed with a camo stock and a unique-looking barrel.

This was the first Austrian-made modern rifle I'd had the opportunity to critique, and right away I saw it was much different from the hundreds of other rifles I had pawed.

The Steyr SBS Pro Hunter has soft, smooth edges with a degree of refinement you would expect in a high-dollar, way-out-of-reach-for-me rifle, but this one was not that much when you consider how it shot and looked. Maybe I am trying to say it is ergonomically designed.

The Stock is one-piece, molded synthetic material that has the trigger guard incorporated with the stock and appears to be almost impervious to the normal knocking around most of our hunting guns are subjected to.

It comes in five stock colors – black, carbon, brown, timber and the one I have, a real neat-looking camo pattern. The stock from the magazine to the sling stud is flat. I thought this was a great idea for those of us that hunt from stands.

I have a couple of rifles that have sort of round foregrips, and when I am trying to hit the dot in the "I," the rifle does not want to sit on the shooting rail perfectly flat. The sling studs are a novel idea, as they are easily removable.

Press them down and turn them 1/4 turn and they come out of the stock. I like this because most of the time when I hunt from a stand, I remove the sling once I get up in the tree. When I have a rifle with conventional studs that are not easily removable, I have to leave them in the stock once the sling is removed.

The two screws that hold the stock to the action are recessed and have Allen set screw heads. Why aren’t these Allen head screws used by all gun makers? I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen either Phillips or slotted screws all buggered up on nice guns. The Allen heads would surely eliminate this problem.

The magazine is also made of a synthetic material. It comes in a four-round capacity for non-magnum calibers and three-round capacities for magnum calibers. The magazine well is also made of a synthetic material and allows for an effortless insertion of the magazine.

When fully inserted into the well, it is almost flush with the bottom of the stock. Another neat feature with this rifle is the magazine can be fully inserted to perform like all rifles we are used to. Or, it can be inserted to the first locking tabs so when the bolt is cycled it will not allow a round to feed into the chamber.

THE TRIGGER - This rifle comes from the factory with a “direct trigger.” As an option, you can get a forward set trigger. Steyr Pro Hunters have an adjustable trigger that is adjustable by the user – even though the owner’s manual advises against it (probably a lawyer thing). It is easily adjustable using a small Allen wrench. The trigger on my test rifle is smooth with no creep and breaks at 3.5 pounds. It is nice and wide with smooth, contoured edges.

THE SAFETY – American gun makers need to look at this safety. It has two functions. The obvious (safe and fire selection), and you roll it all the way back for the bolt removal selector. It is located where it needs to be, on top of the pistol grip, and naturally accessible to your thumb. It has a big, red dot on it for fire, a white dot for safe, and it rolls all the way back so you can remove the bolt. Did I forget to mention that when it is engaged from fire to safe or safe to fire it does not "CLICK?" No noise when you go from safe to fire. You know what I mean. You are in your stand, a deer appears, you raise you rifle and as you move your safety to fire, it goes “CLICK,” and the deer runs off.

THE RECEIVER AND BARREL – Let’s start from the business end and work back. The muzzle has a slight crown to protect it from whatever we might bang it on as we tromp through the woods. I love the look of the barrel. As I mentioned earlier, it has a unique look, as if the rifling has made its way to the outside of the barrel, a sort of a twisted-steel look. It looks pretty neat, and it is free-floating. The receiver is just like the rest of the rifle with no sharp edges, and all of the metal has been treated with an anti-reflective, 99%-corrosion-free coating. The bolt handle is tapered and contoured to fit nicely out of the way when closed. The firing pin protrudes out of the back of the bolt about 1/4 inch as an indicator that the gun is cocked. It sticks out far enough so you see it – or feel it, if it is dark – another great safety feature.

RECOIL PAD – Did I say recoil pad? This is the only thing I would do differently if I were in charge of this company. Maybe if I were not such a big sissy, it would not matter. There is no recoil pad, even though at first look it appears to have a nice, big, flexible, accordion, shock-absorbing, pad. Wrong! There is no shock absorption other than your shoulder. What appears to be a flexible pad is nothing more than spacers to adjust the length of pull. I am not really a big sissy, but on the day I spent at the range with this rifle I had left my Caldwell Lead Sled at the house, and after about 100 rounds through this .300 Win Mag, I was flinching on every trigger pull. Let me go back a tad and state that it did not take 100 rounds before I was flinching. After about 50 or 60, I was experiencing a new adventure in pain every time I pulled the trigger. This rifle really does not thump you any harder than any large magnum, and in a hunting situation, I cannot remember ever feeling the rifle kick. BUT, the next time I go to the range for an extended shoot, you can bet I will have my Lead Sled.

HOW ACCURATE IS IT? Damn ACCURATE, with almost all of the factory loads I ran through it. It has been many moons and a bunch of rifles since I have seen a rifle that was not particular about what ammunition it fired.

I ran 11 factory loads through it, and the largest 100-yard group was 2-1/2 inches. The smallest (even with me flinching) was less than 1/2 inch. It is pretty hard to find a rifle that has such a wide range of ammo that shoots so accurately.

When you see the results keep in mind that during the last 30-40 rounds I was flinching in anticipation of being thumped. By the time I got to the last 30 or 40 rounds, my shoulder was telling me to put this rifle down and GO HOME.

I am pretty sure this rifle would have performed much better if I had brought the Lead Sled. Out of the 11 loads I ran through this rifle, I would not hesitate to use the eight best to hunt with, as long as my shots were not over 300 yards. But there were five loads that would work really well out to 700 yards in the hands of a good shot.

BOTTOM LINE – This is a very nice rifle and would be a prized addition to anyone’s collection. The only thing I would change would be to add a soft, cushy recoil pad. The rifle is extremely well made, shoots great, is resistant to the beating we all give our hunting rifles, looks like a million dollars, and shoulders and handles well. I might keep this one, at least for a while.

These rifles come in a slew of calibers from .222 Remington to .300 WSM and several color combinations. I like this rifle so much I am thinking of getting another one in a different caliber. Maybe .243, or what do you think about .22-250?

I will have to keep an eye out and see what happens. This is without a doubt one of the finest rifles I’ve ever shot.

CALIBER – .300 Winchester Magnum is all you will ever need for any game in North America and several of the plains game in Africa. I found factory offerings from 130-grain bullets with a velocity of 3,500 fps all the way to up to 220-grain pushing 2,800 fps, with bullets ranging from target type to solids.

So, with such a wide range of ammunition, this caliber is capable of long-range target shooting and as well as targeting varmints to big game animals.

SHOOTING RESULTS –

Range Conditions: Temperature: 75 degrees. Wind: 12-15 mph from right to left. All shots were from a bench with the forend and butt resting on a bag. Distance: 100 yards.

Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe and Remember: If all guns were treated as if they were loaded, there would be NO MORE accidental shootings.

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Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”