Remington Model 700, while a favorite, has flaws

First of two parts

The Remington Model 700 has been one of the darlings of target shooters, military and police snipers and counter-snipers, as well as hunters, for almost 50 years now.
In reality, it’s been a couple of decades longer than that, since the 700 itself is an evolution of the earlier 721/722/725 models.
In fact there is very little difference between the earlier and later rifles, most component parts are even interchangeable.
I can’t understand why this rifle is so well thought of. The legend is not supported by reality.
Luckily, most, if not all, of this rifle’s inadequacies can be remedied.
The single biggest fault of this design is its extractor. It is the result of the “Three Rings of Steel” that its manufacturer used to tout heavily in its advertising. The innermost “ring” is a fully enclosed bolt face/nose. To make this possible the more robust and reliable extractors every other rifle has cannot be used.
There is a tiny clip type of extractor inset into this bolt nose that is really inadequate. The next ring is the recess in the breech end of the barrel (which is the mouth, or beginning, of the chamber). Since the bolt nose is inset into this recess when it is in battery, it becomes the second (middle) of the three rings. The last ring is the receiver or action itself.
There is some merit to this system. The bolt nose is thin enough that if there is a catastrophic failure of a fired round, it will expand outwards and pretty much seal off the chamber so that nothing, or very little, gets back to the shooter.
I have seen a few Remington rifles with this feature “blown up.” Two were done by reloading/hand loading inattention or just flat out stupidity, and one was fired with a cleaning rod in the barrel.
In the latter case, the shooter is a very accomplished reloader and target shooter, which goes to show that anyone can make a stupid mistake. I will not mention him by name as he might decide to “take me out” and he can do it from about any distance he chooses…
I have also seen Mausers, Springfields, Rugers, Savages, Winchesters and probably some other makes/brands I have forgotten about suffer the same extreme conditions and no one received anything more than small particles “peppering” them.
Bolt-action rifles are tough!
To be fair, most of the extractor problems encountered with this system have been due to varying degrees of abuse by their owner(s). The most common is to not clean the rifle properly and most specifically, the chamber. In our humid climate, rust will accumulate at an alarming rate, which exacerbates the problem.
All of these issues contribute to a chamber that becomes rough. The firing/chamber pressure of modern rifle cartridges can easily reach over 60,000 PSI. When you mix those kind of pressures with a pitted, rusty and/or dirty chamber the relatively soft brass casing expands in the chamber and gets hopelessly stuck in the gun. Most owners will then try to force the stuck casing out.
Unknown to most bolt-action rifle owners, their pet turnbolt has what is called a Primary Extraction Cam. Grab your pet bolt rifle and slowly open the bolt, you will notice as you bring the bolt handle most of the way open/up it pops back a little bit.
At the rear of the bolt, just in front of the handle is a ramp and a corresponding one on the receiver/action. This camming action is what gives the bolt-action rifle its incredible extraction power that no other action type has and is one of the things that has made the turnbolt “King of Rifles” for the last 100 years.
This piece of technology is also what dooms many of the Remington extractors. The force the shooter can apply in the extraction of the hopelessly stuck case can easily overpower the questionable Remington-style extractor (especially with the aid of a hammer or block of wood) and rip it right out of the bolt face – usually ripping that inner/first “Ring of Steel” apart, as well. (By the way, this happens often with poorly maintained Remington 740/742/7400 automatics also and the older guns are getting very hard to find replacement bolts for).
As I stated, many owners go after the bolt handle with their preferred “beating tool” and find the next weak point of the design: the bolt handle falls off!
The bolt and its handle are not bolted on, splined on or, even better, forged in one piece, as most other rifles are. Remington has chosen to silver-braze a separate handle onto the bolt body.
Usually this is not a big concern unless the rifle is abused and I only see about one or two rifles with this problem per year.
But… I was standing in the now-defunct G.I. Joe’s some years ago when an employee took a brand new Remington 700 out of the box after extolling its virtues and sniper rifle history to the customer he had just handed it to.
Said customer opened the bolt (which is always a good idea to do when handed a firearm) and the handle parted ways with the rest of the rifle. As he stood there with two pieces of the same rifle in his hands the sales clerk couldn’t think of anything to say in the time it took me to quietly walk away, suppressing a snicker.
Bless their souls but most (not all) “Mart” store gun clerks are very amusing until you realize there are people taking their advice seriously.
Not all extractor failures are because of abuse; some are the result of simple use.
My cousin had a 700 Mountain Rifle in .280 Remington that had shot so many deer, elk, jack rabbits and ground squirrels that it simply quit working.
Since it was a wear issue a new extractor got it up and killing again, but the older-style extractor that uses a rivet, such as his rifle had (and as all magnums do), it is the most difficult one to replace of any firearm I have yet encountered.
Another rifle was a U.S. Army Reserve’s M24 Sniper Rifle. This rifle was very well maintained, as is the case with most such rifles that are actually used in real life for their intended purpose. Luckily, this soldier found out about the problem stateside in competition and not in the “sand box.”
To put it simply and bluntly: This rifle’s bolt handle and extractor will not tolerate abuse.
There is one other minor problem that can develop with this firearm that I have touched on in previous articles about other rifles because it is a feature of many, regardless of make, and that is the plunger-type ejector.
The mechanism that ejects spent casings, or loaded cartridges, out of the rifle is a spring-loaded plunger pinned into a blind hole in the face of the bolt.
Little bits of dirt, primers and especially brass can get in around this extractor and bind it up. It usually gets stuck flush with the bolt face and it is a nightmare to get out of the aforementioned blind hole it resides in.
As I said, though, this is not a problem unique to Remington; in fact, most bolt actions use this type of ejector.
There used to be another, less- publicized problem with the use of the 700 in very cold weather.
The striker (firing pin) spring was not strong enough to reliably set of primers in very cold temperatures.
I have a friend/customer who had this happen to him in Alaska and the words “Remington Seven Hundred” will understandably put him into a fit of rage.
This is an easily preventable problem by replacing the spring with an extra power one from Wolff and brings the added benefit of reduced lock times. I will touch on that in my next column.
Lest you think I’m full of hot air, pay attention how many times you see a professional hunter in Alaska ,or especially Africa, carrying a bolt action not based on the controlled-round-feed Mauser/Winchester design with its huge extractor and blade/fixed ejector.
Next time I’ll go into a little more detail on some of the problems I’ve experienced with the Remington 700, and I’ll deliver a final analysis on this line of rifles.

– Jeff Hutchins writes regularly about firearm-related topics for Lebanon Local. He owns and operates Rangemaster Gunworks at 1144 Tangent St. in Lebanon.