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Hunter's delight: S&W's new hunting rifle is affordable, accurate and dependable.

Smith & Wesson is best known for its excellent array of fine revolvers and autopistols, and now the firm is adding sporting rifles and shotguns to its line. Although S&W previously sold hunting rifles by other manufacturers, such as Howa, the new i-Bolt is manufactured by S&W. It is a cleverly designed, accurate and reliable rifle worthy of an illustrious name. S&W has packed a lot of performance in a moderately priced package.

In functional terms the i-Bolt is quite conventional and its operation will be second nature to anyone familiar with current sporting rifles. It is a bolt-action feeding from a staggered Mauser-type magazine. Cartridges are loaded from the top by pressing one round at a time into the magazine. A hinged floorplate with release in the front of the triggerguard can be used for unloading the magazine.

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Receiver construction follows the well-proven design of the Remington 721-722 series which appeared after WWII. Basically the receiver is a steel tube with cuts for the magazine and the loading/ejection port. The recoil lug is a steel plate sandwiched between barrel and receiver.

The simplicity of the design reduces manufacturing costs, a boon to both maker and purchaser. More importantly from the shooter's viewpoint, it also enhances accuracy. Receivers made this way are rigid, very strong, concentric and easy to bed in the stock. All these features are beneficial in obtaining accuracy. Sometimes simple is best.

The bolt locks into the receiver with three forward locking lugs. The bolt body is the same diameter as the locking lugs, similar in concept to that of the Weatherby Mark V. (I've seen these referred to as "fat bolts"--not a bad description).

The bolt has a recessed bolt face and its hook-type extractor gets a good bite of the case rim. Ejection is via a spring-powered plunger ejector built into the bolt face.

Using a full-diameter bolt means there is no need for locking lug raceways in the receiver. Nor is there any need for bolt guides such as slots in one of the locking lugs. Instead there is simply a round steel bolt operating in a steel tube just slightly larger in diameter. It makes for smooth, non-binding bolt operation.

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The only downside is the bolt is slightly heavier than a bolt of conventional design. The bolt from the S&W i-Bolt consigned for testing weighs 17-3/8 ounces, exactly the same as the bolt from one of my Weatherby Mk V rifles. By way of comparison a Remington 700 long-action bolt from a 7mm Rem Mag rifle weighs 13-3/4 ounces while the bolt from a Ruger 77 Mk II in .300 Win. Mag. weighs 13-5/8 ounces.

With the three-lug design, bolt lift is considerably shorter than with a conventional two-lug design, I'm a bit ambivalent about short-lift bolts. I like the fact there is plenty of clearance between bolt handle and a low-mounted scope, even one with a large eyepiece. On the other hand the angle of the cocking cam has to be more aggressive in order to compress the firing pin and cock the firing piece with less bolt rotation. It takes a bit more effort to cock a short-lift bolt making it bit more difficult to work the bolt with the rifle shouldered.

However theory is one thing and practice another. In reality ! don't have any difficulty operating short-lift actions such as my Mk Vs or Browning A-Bolts from the shoulder, and the i-Bolt is no different. I'm not as young as I was, but the day of being too feeble to lift a bolt handle still seems far off. When it happens I'll have to hunt with semiautos (and have an assistant chamber the first cartridge for me).

There is no conventional bolt release for removing the bolt from the receiver. Trying to find the bolt release in order to remove the bolt might be just the incentive we need to actually read the instruction manual.

On the bottom of the full-diameter bolt is a channel running almost the full length of the bolt, riding over the sear that holds the cocking piece in cocked position. This sear is a solid block of steel and should prove more than adequately strong and durable for the task.

Near the front of the bolt is a short channel at right angles to the full-length channel. It then makes another right angle turn to a channel which goes right to the front end of the bolt. I hope I'm not making this sound complicated because it is actually very simple in function and operation. Simple is good.

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In normal operation the sear acts as the bolt stop to stop further rearward movement of the bolt when it is retracted to eject a fired case. Should the shooter wish to remove the bolt, for barrel cleaning for example, first fully retract the bolt. Now move it forward a short distance, about 3/8", move the bolt handle down slightly, then slip it back out of the receiver. Simple, last and reliable.

I was concerned the shooter might inadvertently move the bolt so the sear catches the bolt-removal channel during the ejection/reloading process. You could make it happen, but only by deliberately putting downward pressure on the bolt handle as you start moving it forward from the fully retracted position. In short you would have to deliberately do something wrong to make the bolt hang up. If you set out to do it you can make most any rifle malfunction.

A small pin extends from the back of the cocking piece shroud to indicate the rifle is cocked (it is not a loaded chamber indicator). The safety, conveniently located on the right side behind the bolt handle, is a 3-position type. Fully to the rear it locks both sear and bolt handle. In the middle position the sear remains locked but the bolt handle can be raised to load or unload. Fully forward is the fire position. Safety operation proved convenient and positive.

Trigger

The trigger on the S&W i-Bolt, which they call a Tru-Set trigger, is really nice, of a quality we once thought was lost forever just a few years ago. For decades factory trigger pulls were draggy, creepy 5- to 6-pound affairs. We were told this was necessary "for insurance purposes" and we should just get used to it or plan on an aftermarket trigger.

An aftermarket trigger brand I've used on several rifles is Timmey. I've always found their products well designed and of high quality. It turns out S&W consulted with the Timney company in designing the i-Bolt trigger. The trigger pull on the test rifle was supposed to be three pounds. Ten tries with the Lyman electronic gauge gave an average of 3 pounds, 4 ounces. Moreover the pull hardly varied more than an ounce either way from the average.

The trigger is externally adjustable with a supplied wrench and can be set over a range of 3 to 6 pounds. Frankly it is just fine right out of the box. Full marks to S&W and Timney for an outstanding job.

Barrels

Making rifle barrels requires a substantial initial investment. Many rifle makers acquire barrels made to their specifications by outside sources. S&W found a source of quality barrels from Thompson-Center, and as the saying goes they liked the quality so much they bought the company. This was a smart move on their part as Thompson-Center is a highly respected company with a reputation for quality. T/C button-rifles its barrels and they sure enough know what they are doing.

The barreled action is finished in a tough, non-reflective finish called matte blue. It's a practical and attractive finish. The barrel is free-floated right back to the recoil lug. Stock is synthetic and on this camo model, the stock design is Realtree AP. Stock dimensions are standard and the rifle handled well. ! initially thought the pistol grip looked a bit small in diameter but it actually proved to feel pretty good.

Currently the i-Bolt is offered in three fine long-action calibers: .25-06 Rem., .270 Win., and .30-06. I requested the test rifle in .270 Win, one of my all-time favorite cartridges. For a stretch in the '70s I used the .270 almost exclusively. I read somewhere the .270 is "marginal" on big northern deer and darn near choked on my coffee. I don't believe a better deer/antelope cartridge exists, though l could easily list 20 or 30 about as good.

The i-Bolt is factory fitted with a full-length scope base with Weaver-style slots. The base attaches to the receiver with four husky 8-40 screws instead of the 6-48 screws generally used. It is a very strong setup indeed.

I used Weaver rings to attach a Sightron 3-9x42 scope. I've used several of these Sightron Big Sky series scopes now and have been very impressed with their quality. The 3-9x42 is an ideal match for a handy, light .270 such as this i-Bolt. Field of view is sharp and clear, reticle adjustments (1/4 MOA clicks) are dependable and repeatable. It's an excellent scope.

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Accuracy proved very good with a variety of 130-, 140-, and 150-grain loads from Black Hills, Federal and Winchester. Cartridges loaded with Nosler Ballistic Tips (and the similar Nosier/Winchester Ballistic Silvertips) gave best accuracy, but not by a big margin. No surprise here. Accurate rifles (by hunting standards at least) are really no mystery these days. Start with a rigid, concentric receiver, fit a decent barrel, float it, tune the trigger, bed the receiver if necessary, fit a decent scope, and use quality ammunition. If it doesn't shoot the first variable to check is the shooter.

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Accuracy

Considering this is a light hunting rifle, 1 fired 3-shot groups. Actually, it would have done about as well with 5-shot groups, as I got the barrel very hot in shooting multiple groups with no evidence of shifting impact as the barrel heated. With a floating barrel there's no reason why it should. Of 20 3-shot groups smallest was 13/16", largest an even 2", average 1.46".

All the shooting was done by loading the magazine to capacity rather than by single-loading cartridges into the loading/ejection port. This serves as a check on feeding. Cartridges fed from both sides of the magazine reliably and with no discernible difference in "feel", whether feeding from the left or right. Functioning was completely reliable, with relatively easy extraction and positive ejection.

I was struck by how moderate recoil felt. This is likely a function of good stock design and the thick, soft recoil pad. The .270 isn't a hard kicker but in my light .270s, which mostly have hard plastic or metal butt plates, long strings of fire while wearing a light summer shirt can make recoil become unpleasant. Recoil is largely subjective. Prior to shooting the i-Bolt, I had been doing quite a bit of shooting with a .300 Win Mag, so maybe it's just the contrast.

Rather than use sling swivel studs, holes for swivels are molded into the stock. It's different but it works. Esthetically I don't care for the appearance of the triggerguard but that is just a matter of personal preference.

The bolt-action hunting rifle market is a crowded and very competitive one. S&W with its high degree of name recognition, reputation for quality, and marketing and financial resources is well positioned to compete in the field. None of these things would be enough without supplying a good product.

The i-Bolt appears to be a good quality and reliable rifle at a competitive price. The price becomes even more attractive when you factor in what you don't need, namely a trigger job or replacement trigger. Letting customers try the trigger on store samples is likely going to result in a lot of sales! Expect additional calibers and possibly a short action version to appear in the future.

I-BOLT

MAKER: SMITH & WESSON

2100 ROOSEVELT AVENUE

SPRINGFIELD MA 01104

(800) 331-0852

WWW.SMITH-WESSON.COM
CALIBER: .270 Win. (tested), .25-06, .30-06
CAPACITY: 4+1
BARREL LENGTH: 23"
TWIST: 1:10", RH
LENGTH OF PULL: 13-5/8"
DROP AT COMB: 7/8"
DROP AT MONTE CARLO: 1/2"
DROP AT HEEL: 1-1/4"
LENGTH OVERALL: 43"
WEIGHT. EMPTY: 7 pounds
FINISH: Matte blue
STOCK: Synthetic Realtree AP
PRICE: $637


SIIB 3-9X42MM

MAKER: SIGHTRON, INC.

100 JEFFREY WAY, SUITE A

YOUNGSVILLE, NC 27596

(919) 562-3000, WWW.SIGHTRON.COM
MAGNIFICATION: 3X-9X
OBJECTIVE LENS DIAMETER: 42mm
EYE RELIEF: 4.1" (3X), 3.9" (9X)
CLICK VALUE: 1/4 MOA
OVERALL LENGTH: 126"
TUBE DIAMETER: 1"
FINISH: Satin Black
WEIGHT: 13.4 ounces
RETICLE: Hunter Holdover
PRICE: $460.67


SIGHTRON HHR RETICLE

Several riflescope manufacturers have introduced reticles with additional aiming points below the main crosswire intersection. Examples are the Swarovski TDS reticle, Leupold's Boone & Crockett and Varmint Hunter reticles, the Zeiss Rapid-Z reticle and Sightron's new HHR, or Hunter Holdover Reticle.

With these systems it is possible to sight the main crosswire intersection at (for example) 200 yards and use the lower bars for longer shots. Current systems place the reticle in the second focal plane. With variable scopes the spacing between the sighting bars changes as power is changed. This feature can be used to match the sighting bars fairly closely to the trajectory of the load you are using.

Some of the reticles are fairly complicated with bars of different length to assist holding for crosswinds, but Sightron opted for a clean, simple, uncluttered reticle. The HHR reticle on the 3-9x42 SIIB scope has a central dot, and two short horizontal bars located beneath the dot.

In this case it shows at 100 yards, set at 9X, the first bar is 2.5" below the central dot, the second 5.5" lower. Dial the power down to 3X and these spacings triple, to 7.5" and 16.5" respectively.

At 9X the spacings chosen by Sightron match quite well the trajectory of popular hunting loads such as the .30-06 with 150- to 165-grain bullets. Zero the dot at 200 yards and the first bar will be on or very close at 300 yards, the second on or very close at 400 yards.

For more arching trajectories you can set the scope at a lower power, increasing the spacing between bars to match trajectory. For flatter shooting cartridges, while you can't increase power past 9X with this scope, you can zero the dot at longer range. With a 130-grain .270 Win load (such as the Remington Bronze Point) for example, you could zero the dot at 250 yards. The first bar should then be on at about 360 yards, the second at about 450 yards.

In all cases with the HHR or similar reticles sighting must be confirmed on the range. Calculating trajectories is all very well but actual velocities and even ballistic coefficients don't always agree with published figures. If you anticipate 400 yard or longer shots in the field you should know from actual shooting exactly where the lower bar is zeroed.

Just a personal choice, but I don't shoot at big game animals much past 300 yards, the exception being if the animal has been wounded. That shouldn't happen but if it does, it's nice to have the capability of hitting at longer ranges.

Visit www.sightron.com for detailed measurements for each scope model and reticle and "HHR ballistic charts" for ballistic data for popular hunting cartridges from the catalogs of several major amino manufacturers.

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Article Details
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Author:Anderson, Dave
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Dec 1, 2008
Words:2605
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