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Lead Head Bullets
Rifle Magazine
November - December 2000
Volume 32, Number 6
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 192
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If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was deja vu. Now for the second time within three weeks I was at the Rapid City, South Dakota, airport; the previous trip was a disaster. That first trip, as guests of Tom Houghton, president of H-S Precision rifles, the weather never cooperated out on the flat prairies. The wind constantly gusted to 50 miles per hour plus, the sky was always overcast, and a front moved in bringing rain and snow squalls during the daylight hours for the better part of two days. While we all tried to make the best of it, even getting prairie dogs to show themselves was a major feat.

A few weeks later, under the host status of Mike Slack, Leupold had arranged a “seminar” in New Castle, Wyoming. Since H-S Precision was near, they again supplied the rifles in an effort to gain some lost ground during the previous event. Leupold supplied the optics and mounts, and in fact topped all the guns with its new Long Range 6.5-20x50mm scope plus a host of binoculars, spotting scopes, mounts, rings and lunch in the field after a grueling morning workout on the plains.

Chambered in the .220 Swift, this H-S Precision/Leupold varmint rig would certainly prove its worth in the field. This time the weather was more willing, the sun was out, and by the time we got to our locations out on the ranch, the prairie dogs were busily making their rounds among neighbors. For experience, nothing beats field work, and it looked like we would get plenty of it!

For some background, the H-S Precision rifle is about as modern as one can get. While some home-based manufacturers depend on outside sources or vendors for their custom rifles, H-S Precision makes everything in house. A tour of the up-to-date facility suggested everything is first class throughout, including the manufacturing of chamber reamers, barrels, stocks, actions and, yes, even precision trigger components. Houghton, a chemist by profession and a benchrest shooter by avocation, purchased the Atkinson Barrel Works in the late 1970s and has steadily built his business from this modest foundation.

Starting out with the heart of any rifle - the receiver - it is machined from heat-treated stainless steel that finishes up on the Rockwell scale around 42 to 43. Both action lengths are made, one called the 2000SA (Short Action), the other the 2000LA (Long Action). They span just about any cartridge available under the SAAMI umbrella, from petite varmint calibers up to and including the heaviest African type offerings. All actions are drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and to assure the best possible concentric union between barrel and receiver, barrel threads are cut into the receiver via a single-point machine cutter.

Looking much like a Remington-styled bolt, this one-piece affair is machined from heat-treated 4142 steel chosen to prevent galling between a stainless bolt and receiver. The bolt handle is silver soldered to the bolt body, and according to Tom Houghton, the firing pin is made from aluminum and uses a steel tip to reduce lock time. Twin locking lugs form a close fit between bolt and breech.

On the bolt face there is a spring-loaded, plunger-type ejector. A wide claw extractor also sits inside this bolt face, and in the course of all the hot and heavy shooting done in those two days, it never failed. The bolt knob is lightly checkered and hollowed out to save a minute amount of weight from the entire action.

The three-position safety is located on the bolt shroud itself. When it is positioned to the rear, the firing pin is locked, and the bolt is locked in its most downward position. Moving this swinging type safety to midposition, the firing pin is still locked, but the bolt is allowed to operate to remove a cartridge or unload the rifle. Moving the safety completely forward allows the rifle to be fired. On the other side of the receiver is the bolt stop. Pushing this lever down allows the bolt to be taken out of the rifle for cleaning, maintenance or shipping.

To complete the rifle, a 24-inch barrel was attached. Termed a varmint weight, this barrel has six flutes to save weight and enhance cooling during sustained shooting sessions. Muzzle diameter measured .840 inch on my rifle and the in-house trigger broke at a crisp 2.5 pounds.

On the hunt I had a dark green fiberglass stock complete with a thumbhole, which is just right for either bench or prone shooting. A sand-colored stock was requested for this article; you can, upon request, pick a color from almost 20 variations to include standard colors (black, olive green, brown, gray, tan, spruce green, sand, yellow) with various colored webbing to camouflage colors (green, green/tan, desert, winter, urban, Black Hills and Prairie Grass) for your particular rifle or type of hunting. H-S makes all its own stocks - along with contracts for other outside companies - and uses a basic combination of Kevlar and fiberglass combined with a unidirectional carbon fiber and an epoxy-based gel coat, all held together with a tough laminating resin for a very rigid stock. An aluminum bedding block is standard equipment to give a very stable platform for the barreled action.

Finishing off the stock, H-S includes (on this thumbhole varmint stock) twin sling swivel studs (one for sling, one for a bipod) and a black recoil pad. On this particular stock there is no cheekpiece, and the forearm is wide to help accommodate any improvised rest in the field. For weather resistance, the action is coated with DuPont Teflon in a satin finish.

A Leupold Vari-X 6.5-20x50mm scope was used on both hunts. Normal hunting duties on a mule deer hunt may bring the scope up to eye level once or twice with the final shot being the last look of the day. Prairie dog hunting, on the other hand, has one looking through the scope all day for literally hundreds of shots. Not only did this scope make the grade, but thanks to quality optics and that side-mounted focusing knob, switching from 100- to 400-yard shots and beyond was not only convenient in execution but also quick, easy, deadly and all without eye strain.

For absolute adjustments in both elevation and windage, target-styled knobs allow the end user to monitor bullet placement and its potential zero at 100 yards to within 1/4 inch with each click of the dial. To complete the package, Leupold 30mm rings and QR (Quick Release) mounts help remove the scope from the rifle for shipment or travel in a matter of seconds. Lens hoods are available in 2.5 and 4 inches (and both mate together to form a hood 6.5 inches or longer if need be) to help keep glare and reflection at bay.

Shooting over long distances with the .220 Swift proved to be a real joy on both outings. On the first foray, winds were gusting so badly that even at moderate distances (100 to 200 yards) holding to the right in feet - not inches - was the only way to score. Even my shooting partner Bill Bynum remarked as we were shooting, “Stan, I guess we’ll just have to come back another time!” And come back we did.

With just a mild wind to contend with on the second outing the .220 Swift was right on target even when shooting at greater distances. Holding right on the neck of the prairie dog gave instant hits out to around 200 yards, placing the crosshairs about level with the head netted one-shot kills out to 300 yards. Beyond that, a little more elevation proved the .220 Swift had the power and range to stretch my daily quota to the limits.

If you’re looking for a controversial cartridge to work and shoot with, you’d be hard pressed to find anything more debatable than the .220 Swift. Semi-rimmed in design, Winchester introduced the Swift to the shooting world in 1935. Fred Ness penned the first piece on the Swift in the May 1935 issue of The American Rifleman, and when shooters read how this .224-inch cartridge could reach velocities in the 4,000-fps range, the die was cast. Even with that, the cartridge was only chambered in the Winchester Model 54 and later Model 70 until the 1970s. Ruger would follow later; Remington added it to its Classic series, then Savage entered the race. Presently other makers, in the production and custom class, have added the Swift to their stables. Obviously the rest is history.

Because time was at a premium when we arrived in South Dakota, our H-S rifles were already in the truck and ready to go. On the plains with Hornady Varmint Express moly-coated, 50-grain ammunition, this high-tech rig did its part if I fulfilled my part. One thing became apparent with this varmint rig as the day(s) wore on. Despite the sun, temperatures to around 80 degrees and the continual shooting hour after hour, the rifle and scope held their point of aim even when the barrel become hot to the touch. The trigger on my rifle stayed remarkably consistent in both feel (let-off) and trigger pull. All this combined with the anti-fatigue factors of that Leupold Long Range scope made this outing most enjoyable.

Not satisfied with prairie dog-sized groups, a rifle was requested in the same configuration used in Wyoming for some casual range testing back home. The results are attached. All groups shown were taken at 100 yards on a cool morning.

For factory ammunition, I picked six from all the major manufacturers and included bullet weights from 40 to 55 grains. With commercial ammunition all groups were under an inch - way under. The largest of the day came out of the Winchester package in the form of a 40-grain Silvertip screaming along at near that magical 4,000 fps. Winchester’s 50-grain pointed softpoint actually turned in just about 100 fps less with an almost 50 percent reduction in group size. The Hornady and Federal selections did more than can be expected. Remington Premier Varmint with its ballistic tip went under .5 inch while its more common everyday pointed softpoint registered 3,823 fps with a group size of .315 inch.

Handloading brought out the best in both the rifle and cartridge. From my files on the Swift, I culled groups that were fired in a Ruger Model 77 and a Remington heavy barrel 40XB. As you can see under the “previous best” column, the H-S rifle outdid (with one exception) these prior sessions by quite a bit. You’ll also notice the difference between IMR-4064 and H-380, which gave the Swift an added boost in some instances of over 300 fps.

The all-time winner of the day was the combination of a Hornady V-Max 55-grain bullet over 37.1 grains of IMR-4064 in a Remington case with a CCI BR-4 primer. Seated at 2.670 inches and scoring 3,523 fps on the Oehler rig, we wound up with a perfect cloverleaf measuring .235 inch.

A few issues back in Handloader, Editor Dave Scovill talked about credibility. Well, I’m about to put mine on the line. In all the years I’ve been hunting, shooting and testing small caliber centerfire rifles, this   H-S Precision rifle is the most accurate ever to lie across my shooting bench. Sure, there have been more than my share of deadly rifles, but when it comes to downright consistency - shot after shot, be it factory or handloads - this field rifle is the most accurate I’ve ever tested. In fact, aside from one group, all the rest had to be measured with the aid of a micrometer laid out in decimal points, not parts of inches! One after the other, three-shot groups were printing near cloverleafs even as the barrel started to gain temperature. That’s consistency.

What it really boils down to is that if you are looking for a top-notch hunting or varmint rig, turn all your attention to this H-S Precision/ Leupold combination. While the monetary requirements are lofty, the final results in accuracy make the end justify the means.

For more information contact H-S Precision, 1301 Turbine Drive, Rapid City SD 57703 or Leupold at Box 688, Beaverton OR 97075-0688.

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