Least-favorite family of rifles still have contented owners

I’m about to write about my least-favorite group of rifles.
I believe a couple of decades of experience dealing with the various makes and models will enable me to report on the few strengths and many weaknesses of the semi-automatic sporting rifle.
I’m not talking about the “Modern Sporting Rifle” exemplified by my the AR-15, M1A, M1 Garand etc., but rifles specifically designed for hunters.
The first, and most popular, are the models: 740, 742, 7400, FOUR, 74 and 750 produced by Remington. The earliest versions (740/742) were the most problematic but also the most accurate. These rifles had multiple locking lugs on their bolt which caused a long-term problem for their users.
There are two bolt guides in the upper side of the receiver that keep the bolt located in the upper hemisphere of said receiver. When the bolt unlocks from the barrel extension it is oriented with the locking lugs in line with these guide rails and it chatters against them.
Eventually, the lugs eat corresponding grooves into the receiver which impedes the bolt’s smooth travel back and forth in the receiver.
The only “fix” is to grind/sand down the burrs the problem arises when eventually there is no longer enough rail for the rifle to operate properly and the only repair option is receiver replacement. The receivers haven’t been produced for about 40 years or so and it is the “firearm,” since it contains the serial number.
In other words, if you can find a receiver it is costly and sought after.
In my experience there is a perfect storm brewing with self-loading sporting rifles in general. Most (but NOT all) buyers of these hunting rifles are the less experienced hunters/gun owners and they think their lack of experience or expertise as a hunter will be made up for by having a very fast follow-up shot.
That usually is not the case, but more importantly these owners also tend to be more neglectful of rifle maintenance. A rusty or extremely dirty chamber will hold onto a fired high powered rifle cartridge casing like crazy.
The rifle’s gas system doesn’t know that the case is stuck in the chamber so it just throws the bolt back with considerable force and something has to give.
Sometimes it’s the case’s extraction rim, sometimes it’s the entire case head, other times the extractor and in a worse-case-scenario it’s the bolt.
When the bolt gives up the extractor rips the whole retaining lip off of the bolt head itself. The repair for this is a replacement bolt. As they also haven’t been made for 40 years or so they are about impossible to find anymore as well.
What I have always found most curious about these rifles is that the only caliber they are chambered for that just absolutely refused to operate is 30-06 Springfield. The thing that makes that strange is that the rifle was designed to be a 30-06!
As a little bit of trivia the .280 Remington was specifically designed for the Remington 740/742 rifles. As such, it was set at a lower chamber pressure limit than the .270 Winchester which it was made to compete directly against.
Because of that, the .280 cannot reach its potential with factory ammo and why the .280 Ackley Improved is so much better than its ancestor.
The improved model 7400 isn’t that much different than its predecessors, and in fact most parts are interchangeable.
I have worked on many 7400s but their problems seem to be less terminal. I have never had one that was very difficult to repair. The locking lug problem was addressed by eliminating the rows of multiple small locking lugs and replacing them with three large ones.
Mechanical twins of the 7400 are the spartan version called the 74 and the fancier version named FOUR. I would recommend looking for one of these latter models if shopping the used market.
The newest version is the 750 model (which appears to have been discontinued in 2015 or so).
I’ve only had to do minor repairs and cleaning to any of these. I think there are a few contributing factors to this phenomenon.
One is that they are just simply newer. Also, I believe hunters and gun owners have just become more responsible for the upkeep of their arms over the years.
I would also like to think that when “Big Green” brings out a new version it is actually better than the former one. It’s also possible that the older rifles fired a lot of older, dirtier, more corrosive ammo which did them no favors in the long run.
About 20 years ago I decided to give the Remington semi-auto a fair chance in the deer woods.
I took a used 742, fully stripped it, reblued it, installed synthetic stocks and a Burris Fullfield 4x scope. I test fired it extensively with known quality factory ammo and never had a problem.
The opportunity came to harvest a deer with it, LUCKILY, with the first shot. After the deer was down, I applied the cross-bolt safety and walked up to the animal.
It had definitely expired so I proceeded to make the rifle safe by removing the loaded round from the chamber. That was unnecessary as there was no loaded round IN the chamber.
The fired casing had not fully extracted and was jammed in the action/ejection port. I’m sure that these rifles somehow know when they are needed and choose that exact moment to malfunction as I’m not the only one who has noticed this.
Now for an exact opposite experience from the norm.
One of my best friend’s dad had a 742 he had used for decades. In fact it was his only hunting rifle and had accounted for many a head of game with nary a problem.
What was the secret to the flawless operation of this remarkable rifle? First: never clean it. Second give it a good dousing of WD-40 every couple of years.
Every experienced gun owner is reading this right now with their mouth hanging open. The reason for that is that this is a recipe for disaster but for some inexplicable reason it worked for this rifle and its owner.
Guns in general like to be clean and WD-40 is a terrible firearms lubricant. Most people probably know by now that the WD in the name stands for Water Displacer and the 40 is for the formula sequence number.
As a water displacer it works great, try it in a wet distributor cap sometime, but as a lubricant it’s not so great. Ask anyone who regularly lubricates their vehicle door hinges with it instead of a proper oil.
In the gun-repair realm I call it WD-Sticky. If left on metal it creates a yellowish, sticky varnish that literally gums up the works. Look at enough old guns and you’ll see this film on them. It looks like someone put varnish on the metal parts and it’s just about as hard to remove.
If you’ve followed my writings over the years, you’ll notice that I will point out the bad features of a certain family or brand of firearm and then state that I own multiple versions. However, that’s not the ending here.
I don’t own a Remington “4” family of rifle but I’m looking for a Model 750 Carbine in 35 Whelen, preferably with a synthetic stock to use as a brush country elk rifle on occasion.
My paternal grandfather used them before I was born and so did multiple of the older members of my family. I had never heard anyone of them bad-mouth their Remington self-loader.
However, in my lifetime I never saw them use anything but a bolt-action either, except for my Great-Uncle Earl and his wife, Aunt Francis.
There are three other major contenders in the sporting semi-auto rifle arena: the Browning BAR, Winchester 100 and Benelli’s R1.
In my next article I will tell you what I don’t like about them. If you own and love one of these we’ll just have to chalk it up to personal preference. Since I have never received a red cent from any gun manufacturer to promote their wares I can call ’em like I sees ’em.
And you, good reader, can choose to think I don’t know a good thing when I see it.
– Jeff Hutchins writes regularly about firearms-related topics for Lebanon Local. He operates Rangemaster Gunworks at 1144 Tangent St. in Lebanon.