Years ago I preferred Winchester rifles to Remington. I still do a little bit, but not because Winchester rifles are superior, but because I prefer controlled round feed to push feed actions. Not because I’m a dangerous game hunter, but because I think big claws on actions are the way to go. That being said, of all the commercial rifles I’ve purchased, neither has been a Remington or a Winchester. I’ve purchased several Savage 10 and 110 rifles over the years because of where they intersect on the price to performance data sets.
Savage rifles are made as cheap as possible, fully round receivers, barrel nuts, and if you ever tried to tune a Savage trigger before the introduction of the Accutrigger you’d know how cheap those things were (seriously, flat springs should not exist in a modern rifle trigger design). But they were shooters. The bolt lift was tougher than it needed to be, but I couldn’t argue with the tight groups on target.
A big part of the Savage cost savings comes from the barrel nut meaning that barrels can literally just be spun on, headspace set, and then passed down the line instead of the traditional installation of a short chambered barrel. Barrel Nuts have been around since long before I was born. The Savage 340 is a post WWII product and the first commercially successful bolt action rifle with a barrel nut of which I know succeeding in the American market.
Now the barrel nut is well represented in the entry level bolt action rifle price range with Savage and Marlin X7 making up the bulk of the low cost entries. Remington, Winchester, and Howa all make a fine traditional rifle, but price is higher and accuracy is no better. The only entry level rifle that is seriously bucking the trends is the Ruger American.
So why hasn’t everyone gone the way of the barrel nut? Simply put because factories are already set up to built Rem700s, Win70s, and Howa1500s that don’t need retooling any time soon. Remington did introduce the Rem783 with a barrel nut, so evidently it is spreading quite nicely as a feature and not a bug for American shooters.
All of the entry level rifles are two lug bolt actions, except the Ruger American (and Rugers M77 line is still a two lug design). The RAR 3 lug design isn’t new at all either, but it is done well. Interestingly enough the twin lug Tikka is the budget rifle from Sako, and the three lug Sako 85 is the “premium” rifle in the lineup, the exact opposite of the current Ruger offerings.
The Remington 700 has undergone only minor revisions since introduction, the Winchester M70 was changed in the 60s to be more like a Remington, then changed back into a “Classic” form, and the Ruger M77 is on its second variation essentially mimicking the same features found on the classic M1898 Mauser action.
Despite over a century of advances in metallurgy and manufacturing, we are still creating and selling rifles that would be familiar to the Boers, or the Spanish soldiers defending Cuba against the Americans. Little things like a 3 bolt lug or barrel nut are inconsequential to the basic operating of the rifle.
I guess you could say that bolt action rifles are at an evolutionary dead end now. At this point the technology exists to make them cheap and accurate, and configured in nearly any configuration from iron sighted Palma Rifle to Ruger Scout Rifle to big bore sniper weapon, to ultra light mountain rifle. And you can do it all on the same Savage action if you like, or Winchester, or even old Mauser 98. At this point we are talking more about rifle configurations than rifle action features, and this is a good thing for consumers.
I’d really like to get my hands on one of the new Ruger Precision Rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor, it looks like a hoot to shoot. I’d be happy to test out a Ruger American Predator in 6.5 Creedmoor as well, it looks like a poor man’s version of the old Steyr SSG-69 sniper rifle with that green synthetic stock.
It’s a good time to have so many options on the market so affordable.