It usually takes me about 90 minutes to drive to my favorite deer hunting spot west of Nashville, so I had plenty of time to discuss a host of topics when Staff Sergeant Jim Gilliland joined me for a December hunt a couple of seasons ago. On the ride over, Jim kept talking about one of his new rifles, a bolt-action, medium heavy-barreled rig made by Tactical Rifles. Now, when an active-duty Army sniper gets excited about a rifle, I tend to pay attention. A passionate deer hunter and long-range shooter, Jim is credited among the elite few who have scored enemy kills. According to some, he still holds a record 1,250-meter kill on an Iraqi enemy sniper with a .308.
Soon thereafter, I received an assignment to test a Tactical Rifle 6.5-06, and was pleased with the results. When the following deer season approached, I once again got the nod to put another Tactical Rifles design, the Classic Sporter, through its paces and try to fill a deer tag with it.
Subsequent conversations with company owner David Rooney led to his suggestion that I try a 7mm-08 he had just finished for his personal collection. If you guessed that this rifle might get some “special” treatment, it did. Always up for a challenge, Rooney built the rifle with a somewhat traditional wood stock, which is a departure from his usual routine of selecting ultra-stable synthetic stocks.
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Unavoidable delays prevented me from being able to work up several loads for the 7mm-08 prior to deer season, so I picked a reliable load with another favorite rifle. I loaded 39.5 grains of IMR 8208 behind a 140-grain Berger Hunting VLD. I wanted a bullet that would expand at longer ranges, since I knew that I would be hunting with the rifle in a special place. I mounted a Trijicon AccuPoint 2.5-10x 56mm scope with a mil-dot reticle, but didn’t have time to do much more than sight in the rifle at 100 yards. I was pleased with the few groups I was able to fire, one putting five shots into a 0.4-inch group.
After loading for 7mm-08 for the past 18 years, I made an estimate that the muzzle velocity would be approximately 2,600 fps. I entered the bullet and velocity data into my RCBS.Load program to produce drop tables. Using the mil dots in the Trijicon set at 10x, my estimates would place the first dot dead on at 265 yards, the second dot at 375 yards, the third dot at 475 yards, the fifth dot at 565 yards and the top of the post at 650 yards. The forecast for the first morning’s wind was north at 6 mph, which would produce a crosswind. At the ranges corresponding to each mil dot, I calculated that wind drift would be 2.4, 6, 10.6, 16, and 22.9 inches.
This would come in handy, since I would be hunting with long-time friend Gary Cook in one of his favorite spots. Cook has honed his long-range deer shooting skills on a long field near his home. He placed two adjustable shooting benches in a hedge row 610 yards from the far tree line and waited for deer to cross the narrow field. Other features are steel gongs at 400, 450, 500 and 600 yards, as well as a wind flag at 500 yards.
The first morning, we pulled our trucks up behind the hedgerow and parked a few feet from the benches. It is indeed a special spot, owing to the relaxed nature of the hunting atmosphere. Having to only walk a few feet from the truck, we set up our own benches with sandbags, poured a cup of coffee and waited for the sun to rise.
By 9:15 a.m., 30 minutes has passed since the last of 13 deer had crossed the field between 100 and 620 yards. Several small bucks trailed does, but no bucks big enough to warrant taking a shot. Since Cook had an appointment at 10:00 a.m., I asked him to spot for me as I placed the third mil dot with its top edge even with top edge of the 8-inch, round, 500-yard gong. Letting out half a breath, the trigger broke clean and the bullet struck within 1 inch of the center of the steel target.
Out To 1,000
Even though I didn’t connect on a mature buck with this rifle, it was no fault of the weapon. I’ll have to admit I got excited and made a mental mistake. The day I stop getting excited by an encounter with a trophy whitetail I’ll quit hunting these magnificent animals.
The positives associated with hunting with this rifle are that I proved that it was capable of putting round after round on target at extended ranges time after time. Asking company owner David Rooney about his reasoning behind building such a beautiful rifle for long-range work, he shared some of his inspiration.
“There are several gunsmiths out there who specialize in building beautiful XXX-grade bolt-action rifles, and you typically think of synthetics stocks on sniper rifles,” Rooney said. “What we were trying to accomplish was a combination of both worlds. The rifle started out the same—Krieger barrel, zero head space, truing of the bolt face and the other treatments found in our sniper rifles—but completed in the context of a wood-stocked hunting rifle.”
To accomplish his goal, Rooney incorporated an element that bridged his previous builds with that of a wood-stocked hunting rifle. “The bedding block we built inside the stock gives good harmonics in the context of building a wood-stocked rifle that’s more organic and susceptible to environmental changes than a synthetic stock,” he said. “I selected XXX-grade English walnut, which isn’t as dramatically figured as Turkish walnut, but it’s got a grain density that is finer. My thoughts were that a tighter grain would provide a more stable stock.” His self-designed stock profile is unique to Tactical Rifles. “I wanted a cheekpiece that is set up for optics,” Rooney said. “The way that the stock is designed the stock is made to come away from your face at recoil, so it has a lower felt recoil.”
Many of Tactical Rifles’ designs are chambered in .308, but Rooney deviated from the norm with his latest creation. “The .308 always seems to take center stage for a hunting cartridge and long-range rifles, but the .308 is a Jack of all trades and master of none,” he said. “Why not reduce the bore diameter and use bullets with a better BC? The 7mm-08 has all the benefits of the .308. It doesn’t have the throat erosion of the 7mm mag, and the recoil is equal to a .308.” He continued comparing the two cartridges, saying, “The .308 really struggles with wind beyond 800 yards, while the more slender 7mm bullets of the same weight have a higher BC and can buck the wind better out to 1,000 yards.”
Examining the rifle closely, it was evident that the action has the same footprint as a Remington 700, but in stainless steel and tuned to benchrest tolerances. A close look at the bolt revealed a very reliable M16-style extractor. Beneath this rifle’s beautiful exterior, the barrel is precisely mated to a trued action. The chamber gets special attention, holding tight tolerances.
Another critical aspect to a Tactical Rifle is the attention to the recoil lug. A precision-ground recoil lug assures that the bearing surfaces between the action and the shoulder of the barrel meet squarely. And last but not least, the trigger is set up to break at precisely 2.5 pounds with no creep or overtravel.
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