Over the past ten years the trend for custom tactical rifles has been to add ever increasing features and customization which has led to excellent, but very expensive rifles, routinely costing $5000 USD or more. While these rifles are exceptional rifles with all kinds of the latest gadgets and design elements, they are also priced out of the reach of the small to midsize police agency or average long range shooter. At the bottom end of the spectrum is the mass produced tactical or varmint rifles from Remington, Savage, Tikka and others. These rifles are more affordable and typically will run from $500 - $1200 but they lack some of the common required features on a duty quality tactical rifle. Now the number of rifles available in the $1500-$2500 price range are not many. There are a few options from Kimber and FN, and possibly the Steyr and Sako TRG options could be included as well, but that is about it. It is this market that Snowy Mountain Rifles, located in Montana, is looking to compete in with their Paladin rifle.
The Paladin is a blend between an off the shelf production rifle and a semi-custom built rifle. Snowy Mountain Rifles (SMR) offers an off the shelf production rifle that is available in a few different barrel lengths and caliber options, but you also have the ability to call up the guys at SMR and order one just the way you like it as well. The rifle we have here is one of their off the shelf rifles in 308 Winchester with a 24" barrel. This would probably be considered their bread and butter standard version of the rifle. The price is $2200 (2013 USD prices) and as you might imagine, ordering one up to your specs will drive the price up a bit and of course have the requisite wait time while it is being built. For an agency on a budget or a shooter looking for a bit more than a basic factory rifle, we thought this might be a good option and wanted to do a full review on one.
For the Paladin, SMR uses the Bell & Carlson Model 1000 stock for their short action rifles, and the model 1001 for the long actions. This stock is referred to by Bell and Carlson as their "M40" stock, as it is similar in design to the McMillan HTG stock which was used on the USMC M40A1
rifle. The stock is actually fairly simple in regards to what features it offers. It has a slightly raised cheek comb, but not a full monte-carlo cheekpiece, and a semi-vertical pistol grip area. The stock is refinished in SMR's own unique texture which in this case has a black base color with an OD green speckling. The finish provides a good gripping surface and does have a unique look. The forearm area of the stock is a bit wider than a McMillan HTG and is fairly flat on the bottom with a slight forward taper. The little extra width to the forearm provides some additional stability when shooting from a sandbag or other rest. There are also two sling swivels up front to allow the attachment of both a bipod and a sling. There is no additional texture up front beyond the already mentioned painted epoxy texture over the entire stock. The stock utilizes Bell & Carlson's aluminum bedding block and no additional glass bedding has been done.
SMR produces a large majority of the parts they use on their rifles on their own CNC machines. These parts include their own actions, floorplates, recoil lugs, scope rails, and other items. Their rifle action chambered in short action cartridges is known as the model 3600 and like many custom actions used for tactical rifles today, it is a Remington 700 "clone". This means that it is designed to fit the Remington model 700 foot print. This allows the actions to immediately be able to use Remington after market parts, primarily stocks. If a stock is inletted for the popular Remington 700, then it will work with the model 3600, or other actions built to fit the Remington 700 footprint. The 3600 action is fully CNC machined to very tight tolerances and also has its own differences versus the Remington action. The 3600 has a similar shaped rear tang but it is slightly thicker with beveled edges. The thickness of the tange gives the rifle a nice solid mounting point and helps firm up the stiffness in the action as well. The bolt release is a press button on the left hand side of the action and requires just a simple press and hold when the bolt is to the rear to release it.
The top of the action is more closed than the Remington 700, which provides some additional stiffness, but the ejection port area is still open enough to allow worry free ejection as well as the ability for an operator to get their fingers inside of the action to covertly cycle the bolt and finger extract the spent casing, as is taught at various sniper schools. The ejection port actually extends further back and is longer than a Remington 700 which means it is not a perfect drop in fit to any stock that has cut outs for the ejection port of the Remington action, which would be a good percentage of the stocks available. The bolt body is also SMR's own bolt body that appears to use a Remington firing pin and rear shroud. The bolt body has spiral fluting which will save a little bit of weight and some say it helps keep foreign debris from jamming up the bolt. The bolt handle does not rake back as steeply as a Remington bolt, but it does have some sweep back to it and is machined rather than injection molded metal like the Remington bolt handles. Our test rifle had the hunting bolt knob which is a smaller size than what is popular on tactical rifles today and without any texturing. The bolts are threaded so changing the bolt knob is easy and there is a larger tactical bolt knob available as standard on the Paladin rifles as well. The bolt itself cycles smoothly, even with the brand new, and unbroken-in rifle that we tested. A nice departure from the Remington design is the extractor. The SMR 3600 bolt uses a M-16 style extractor that offers a lot more confidence than the standard Remington "C" clip design. Another nice feature on the Paladin is the default use of Timney triggers, which is a nice improvement over the factory Remington triggers.
The practicality of a Detachable Magazine has been discussed on these pages a number of times and it still holds true here. Being able to quickly reload or change ammo types for things such as penetrating a barrier, is a valuable option for the sniper to have at their disposal. The SMR floorplate is another one of their own designs, though it is similar to the Badger Ordnance or some of the other Detachable Box Magazine (DBM) tactical floorplates that are on the market. The one commonality between the Badger Ordnance, Tactical Rifles, SMR, (as well as others) floorplates is the use of the Accuracy International magazines. The AI magazines are not cheap, but they are indeed very good magazines. The Paladin rifle comes with a 5 round magazine standard, though the 10 round AI magazines work with no problem as well. The floorplate itself is made of aluminum and is robustly designed with a wide and oversized trigger guard, and as is typically standard with these types of floorplates, there is a magazine release lever protruding down in front of the trigger guard. This lever is easily operated with the trigger finger and when pressed, the magazine drops freely away from the floorplate. The magazine inserts into the floorplate effortlessly but does require a bit of force to get it to snap in place. The Bell and Carlson stock has a slight contour change where the floorplate is, so it does not fit totally flush along the whole length of the floorplate.
Between the action and the barrel, SMR uses a precision machined recoil lug that is .312" thick and in front of the recoil lug is the Benchmark barrel with the standard Remington Sendero/Varmint barrel contour. The base Paladin rifles are offered with either a 20" or 24" barrel and our test rifle had the 24" barrel length with a 1:10" rate of twist. The barrels also come standard with 5/8”-24 tpi threading for a suppressor and a protective cap as well. The crown is a standard 11 degree target crown and they also offer a muzzlebrake that uses the standard 5/8"-24 threading as well. All of the external metal work including the barreled action, floorplate and scope rail are finished with matte black Cerakoting for additional weather protection and durability. The bolts are finished with standard bluing.
The overall impression of the rifle is one of a compact design with very practical features. The lighter and smaller stock makes the rifle easy to lug around in the field and the unique paint and texture on the stock gives the rifle a distinctive and purposeful look. The rifle appears to be designed for practical use instead of designed for show. As such, every feature that has been added was added for a practical purpose, such as the M-16 extractor, side action bolt release, DBM floorplate, threaded barrel, and timney trigger. Yet when you look at the rifle it is not one of the super "flashy" rifles out there. It looks simple, purposeful, and capable, much like the M40A1 did. We like the design philosophy, but the real question is, how would it perform?
The Paladin rifle includes one of the SMR 20 MOA canted rails from the factory which helped with easily mounting a scope. For our evaluations we decided to use one of our trusty Leupold 6.5-20x50mm Vari-X III scopes that we have been using for many years for rifle reviews. It has been around the block a few times but it has served us well over those years and we could trust it. Using a set of Leupold Mk4 30mm rings we were able to mount and boresight the scope without any issues and then prepared to head out to the range.
For our shooting evaluations we decided to use the standard Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr ammo that we use for all our rifle tests, the HSM 175gr Sierra Match King load which is a good performing heavier weight load for 1000 yard shooting, and the lighter HSM 155gr Hornady AMAX ammunition which offers fast muzzle velocities combined with good mid-range performance. These three loads would provide a good sampling of what the rifle can do with various bullet types and bullet weights. The faster 1:10" twist barrel should favor the heavier bullets but we wanted to also test some of the lighter weight 155gr bullets as well.
For the short range 100 yard accuracy tests, the shooting conditions were between 45 and 55 degrees (Fahrenheit) with sunny skies. All tests were fired from the bench with a sand bag up front and a sand sock at the rear of the rifle. We do not clamp the rifles in a vise or other device but rather shoot them as they would normally be fired while in the field. The results of the 100 yard accuracy tests with our three chosen loads spanning the several shooting sessions can be seen below:
|Federal Gold Medal Match 168gr
|HSM 155gr AMAX
|HSM 175gr HPBT SMK
As you can see the rifle absolutely loved the HSM 175gr SMK ammo, firing several sub .25 MOA groups and with excellent consistency. Anytime a rifle averages sub .5 MOA no matter what the shooter is doing, we regard it a good shooter. The 175gr Sierra Match King bullet is an excellent choice for 1000 yard shooting and the ammo combined with the 24" barrel make for an excellent long range 308 rifle, as was proven on our longer range shooting tests as well. The rifle is a bit lighter than many modern long range rifles and as such there is a bit more recoil and muzzle flip than some other rifles, but with the 308 the recoil really is not bad at all and this was considered an acceptable sacrifice for a light and handy rifle. The rifle actually shot all three of the ammo types very well as can be seen by the very tight best group on the Federal GMM ammo and the very consistent 155gr AMAX ammo, with all of its groups being right around .5 MOA. There would be no problem deploying this rifle with any of the three ammo types we tested.
During the shooting sessions the stock was comfortable to shoot with and the textured paint provided a good minimal slip surface for the rifle, though it was perhaps a bit slick when sweat and face paint are introduced. The comb on the B&C 1000 stock has a slight rise to it, but some scopes with larger objectives that are mounted higher than normal might need a strap on cheekpiece or other means of raising the shooters head to properly align with the scope. For our tests here, it was not a problem. The SMR DBM setup worked well and the magazine release was easily operated and more importantly the rifle fed from the magazines very well with no binding and smooth feeding throughout our testing. The five round magazine does not hang too far below the rifle, but if an operator did opt for the ten round magazines, it could potentially be a problem with bumping, snagging and generally getting in the way.
The Timney trigger, a model 510 in this case, has a very wide trigger shoe which we prefer and it broke very clean and crisp with no creep or overtravel. SMR claims that the triggers are set to 3 lbs at their shop, but when we measured ours, it was 4 lbs exactly, which was a bit heavy, but they are fully adjustable and can be adjusted as needed. We have always been a fan of the Timney triggers, and we continue to be so on the Paladin rifle as well. When I contacted SMR and asked them about the 4 lb trigger pull they informed me that they recently discovered a problem with their trigger pull gauge and it was not reading the correct value. They have replaced it with a new gauge and all the current rifles are indeed shipping with a 3 lb trigger pull.
Overall this rifle was a nice little surprise, both in its good basic design and in its performance. It is compact and handy and has plenty of capability for a $2200 rifle. It is easy to handle in the field and light enough for prolonged deployments. The performance was very good with all ammo we tested, and excellent with its favorite load. When an operator goes down the checklist for desired features, the Paladin has most all of them, and not much more. Yes, there are some things that could be improved such as a higher end McMillan or Manners stock, or glass pillar bedding, or larger bolt knob, but those items add cost and weight. For what this little rifle was intended to do, it does it very well. Throw a good 4.5-14x50mm scope on it, a solid bipod, paint it up, and it is ready for action. Not a bad choice at all.