By Leszek Erenfeicht & Jaroslaw Lewandowski
The SSG 08 is a new marksman bolt-action rifle intended to replace the aging Austrian sniper legend Scharfschützengewehr 69, or SSG 69; a weapon still shooting true and in demand world-wide despite 40 years since its debut.
The new rifle has nothing whatsoever in common with its famous predecessor, except maybe for a cold-hammered free-floating barrel and the fact that the magazine is of an exchangeable type. The new SSG 08 is actually a further development of the SSG 04 developed four years previously and, contrary to the martial name, the SSG 04 was more of a hunting rifle than a military or law enforcement weapon despite the all black furniture and a Harris bipod capability. Technically, both the SSG 04 and 08 are almost identical, and both stem from yet another of Steyr’s hunting rifles line; the Pro Hunter. The difference between the two is mostly in the furniture, which is side-folding aluminum for the SSG 08. The receivers and magazines are identical and perfectly interchangeable. This was proven true during testing at the shooting range at Kleinraming, Austria where the world famous Steyr-Mannlicher GmbH is now located. Both SSG 04 and 08 rifles do shoot - and very precisely at that - with exchanged bolts and magazines. The other difference was a new muzzle device; but recently the SSG 04s are also available fitted with the new model muzzle brake.
Safe Bolt System
In contrast to the SSG 69, the new rifles are built around the modern Safe Bolt System actions, deemed one of the safest bolt-action systems available worldwide. It’s been over-engineered to the point of providing absolute safety to the shooter even with catastrophic failures brought about by brass failure or shooting with an obstructed bore. The massive bolt head not only supports the case head, it encompasses it. Along the bolt a long, spiral gas-ditch is cut, also serving as a scrub-groove, or space into which debris can fall from the bolt-way in the receiver to avoid hindering the bolt.
Both the SSG 04 and SSG 08 feature the same roller-style manual safety, patterned after the earlier Steyr hunting rifles. The safety control is a plastic roller set on an axis perpendicular to the bore and placed on top of the stock, behind the bolt, within easy reach by the firing hand thumb. The roller is easily turned, but at the same time, protected against accidental releasing from SAFE to FIRE. There are three safety settings: FIRE, SAFE and LOCKED. Each is marked with a highly-visible mark. At LOCKED, everything is shut off, - neither bolt handle nor trigger can be moved. At SAFE, the bolt can be handled and the rifle can be loaded and unloaded, but the trigger mechanism is blocked. Only at FIRE can the trigger can be pulled and the cartridge fired.
Tailor-Suited to the Customer’s Demand
The Steyr-Mannlicher SSG 08 is obviously an important step towards creating an optimal precision rifle; not only for military or police marksmen, but also for civilian precision-shooting competitors as well. The folding stock offered also on the civilian market offers them at long last the opportunity to fit the long rifle into a somewhat shorter case, better suited to the average trunk width. However, even with the longest, 600-mm (23.62 in.) barrel, the folded rifle would be under 1 meter (3 ft) long. Only with the precision-crafted aluminum furniture can one trust putting a folding buttstock on a precision rifle. The butt itself is fitted with a variable-height monopod, and both the cheek-piece and butt plate are fully adjustable in both height and angle - all that comes as a standard feature. Additionally, the pistol grip is fitted with recently fashionable exchangeable portions, adjusting the size and shape to the shooter’s hand. The SSG 08 has a pistol grip with exchangeable front and back straps. There are three of each in the set, as well as an insert to plug the internal cavity, converting it into a handy compartment for small items like spare batteries for reticle illumination.
Contrary to the SSG 69 with its rotating Schönauer-type exchangeable magazine, the SSG 08 has a simple staggered row box-type magazine for 10 rounds (or 8 rounds of .300 Winchester Magnum). These are fully interchangeable with 10-round magazines offered earlier for the SSG 04 or Pro-Hunter - but will not take their shorter magazines.
Today, accessory rails govern the usefulness of a rifle and the SSG 08 addresses this quite admirably. The European variant has a 280-milimeter long UIT-style bipod slot rail on the bottom, and there are four strong-points at each side for bolting additional shorter Picatinny-compatible rails on the sides. There are two rails (one shorter, one longer) in the set and four points each side to attach them, which gives plenty of room for placing needed extras along the fore-end.
There is also a Picatinny rail for sight attachment on top of the receiver. The shorter barreled version features an extended monolithic receiver with an extra-long Picatinny rail on top, reaching the front limit of the fore-end. This type of receiver (even forged out of aluminum instead of steel like in SSG 08) would make the weight excessive with the longer barrels, so the long-barreled model has a different receiver along the classic lines with a shorter rail on top.
This rifle is fitted as a standard with a US-made Versa-Pod bipod, which can be mounted using two alternating methods: either with an integral bipod mounting pin imbedded into the front part of the fore-end and protruding under the barrel, or - using a special adapter - anywhere along the UIT rail slot in the fore-end’s bottom. The rifle is delivered with an abundance of extras and add-ons, including a full-length plastic case and ergonomics kit.
During tests at the company’s shooting range in Wiener Neustadt near Vienna, the accuracy was very impressive. This rifle shoots straight. A big leap towards that impressive accuracy is the barrel manufacturing method: these barrels are cold-hammered on a mandrel. This makes the metal internal surfaces at the same time harder and smoother than after traditional rifling, making it less corrosion-prone and enhancing the friction-resistance. All of these make for a longer barrel life. Some people say that hammering barrels is not a good idea, that cold-hammered barrels are strained and therefore unpredictable. These people should have a go with this rifle - we did and the results speak for themselves.
The SSG 08 is very handy, and can be tailor-suited to the shooter, but one should take care not to overdo it. Before one starts to loosen the myriad of screws keeping all the jig-saw parts together, one should read the manual first and consider the influence of each adjusted parameter on the accuracy. This would be a long read (the manual is a thick, very nicely edited book), but it would help to spare oneself an embarrassment. At the least, don’t try to adjust more than one thing at the time. It would take much time to find the factory settings anew.
The receivers of the SSG 04 and SSG 08 are identical, but the furniture is different - classic rifle stock with no separate pistol grip for the SSG 04, and much better handling folding butt aluminum furniture for the SSG 08. The latter also offers better bolt handle and safety roller handling. The magazine is quite long, and the magazine well is rigidly mounted in the stock. The SSG 04 had a replaceable magazine sleeve, enabling it to alternate between use of 10-round and also the shorter 5-round magazines. Both magazines, short and long, are held in the weapon by small plastic hooks integral with the magazine bottom, and hooked into recesses in the magazine well (or magazine well sleeve) mouth. The SSG 08 has a long magazine well, and therefore it would not take the short magazines. Actually, to be more precise, it will take the magazine, but the cartridges in it would be halfway down the magazine well, out of reach of the bolt.
The SSG 04 has a Harris bipod and the new SSG 08 has standardized the Versa-Pod model. This looks like a move in the right direction, especially with the addition of the bipod pin in the fore-end face. It moves the bipod axis closer to the bore and the rear monopod stabilizes the rifle even further. The only annoying thing with this stock is the ultra-stiff swivel catch springs. The sling swivels are ambidextrous and can be mounted on either side of the rifle, but the springs keeping them there are so stiff that it takes a considerable amount of hard labor with both hands to tear the swivel out in order to replace it - and then some more to hammer the thing against the pressure of the catch again. But, you only change it once in a lifetime so that’s really quite a desperate attempt at finding something (anything) fundamentally wrong with this rifle. The Steyr-Mannlicher SSG 08 is one of the best tactical rifles money can buy. A lot of money, to be sure, especially as the dollar plunges against the Euro making the price skyrocket up to $5,899. But there’s plenty to be had for that money, and this is a really cost-effective buy, with many extras included in the price. The metal stock is a unique design, very functional, and a rock-solid hinge is able to withstand a great amount of abuse. For handling ease in transport it can only compete with bull-pups - while offering much better handling in firing trim.
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