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7mm WSM -- High-Country Hunter
Rugged Hunting Rig with Long-Range Benchrest Accuracy
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When we heard about Ric Horst's new 7 WSM we were excited. Here was a hunting rifle (with tactical trappings) that performed as well as many purpose-built benchrest rifles, delivering half-MOA ten-shot groups at 1000 yards--from bipod no less! That was noteworthy in itself. But Ric's rifle, built to take game in Wyoming's backcountry, also proves the viability of the 7mm Win Short Mag as a true precision cartridge. With the capacity to drive hard-hitting, ultra-high-BC bullets, the 7 WSM looks like a bonafied rival to the 6.5-284 and the big 30s. With this gun, Ric, and gunsmith Chris Matthews of LongShot Rifles, have set new standards for long-range hunting rigs.

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The Challenge: Creating the Ultimate Long-Range Hunting Rifle

Q: Tell us how you got interested in the 7 WSM and how you got started on this project?

Ric Horst: Chris Matthews and I were invited to help out with a new hunting show on a cable network. We wanted to showcase a rifle that wasn't typical for the TV program which was about Antelope and Mule Deer hunting in Wyoming. We considered a variety of calibers, but then Sierra announced their new 175gr (.284) MatchKing and that got our attention. In Wyoming, the key thing in choosing a caliber is the availability of good high-BC bullets--the wind will own you out here. After seeing Sierra's projected BC for the 175s this seemed to be a no brainer. So I told Chris to make the rifle a 7mm WSM.

Q: What were your objectives with this project rifle? Sounds like you wanted to build a state of the art long-range hunting rig?

Our goals were simple--we wanted a tack-driver with long-range capabilities, from 400 to 1000 yards. Really, at the time, the choice of the 7 WSM was easy--no one else was really doing it, and if they were, they weren't talking about it. So we wanted to be the first make it work, one way or another. There were actually no real surprises or problems along the way, other than it was the first time I was shooting a 7mm and the accuracy of the 175gr bullets was better than I expected. I have total faith in Chris's gunsmithing abilities. This 7 WSM is the sixth rifle he's built for me--and they've all been tack-drivers.

Q: Give us your perspectives on living and shooting in Wyoming. What makes it such a great hunting ground? How do the game mix and terrain dictate your selection of a rifle?

My requirements for my rifles are, I guess, unique. I like tactical-style rifles. This "style" seems to fit my type of hunting here in Wyoming--tough, rugged terrain where you need to be able to make the long shot should one present itself. Living in Wyoming? Well, if you choose to live in the "out of town" places you need to be well-prepared and tough. Going to town means a 50-mile trip. You don't just run to the convenience store if you need something. Plus the weather is hard in the winter and always windy. We joke that we have just two seasons, three months of summer and nine months of winter. Our spring and fall are each about two weeks long.

Despite the weather, Wyoming is a great place for a hunter. Game here is second to none: deer (whitetail and mulies ), antelope, elk, sheep, moose, plus varmints galore. What is great about my location is that I can shoot just about anytime I want. I have the ability to shoot as far as 3500 yards out my back door if I choose. Here's a shot of my playground.

Putting It Together: Exceptional Components and Accurate Ammo

Q: Your 7 WSM has logged 10-shot groups at 1000 yards that could win many 1K benchrest matches. What kind of components does it take to deliver this kind of accuracy?

There is nothing super-exotic in this rifle, but it IS fitted out with some of the best components on the market. We did start with a factory action, however, a Remington 700 short action. Chris trued the action, added an SSG over-sized bolt knob, and fitted the action with a Broughton 5C, 9-twist #7 contour barrel finished at 24". To reduce recoil we added a Badger brake. The stock is a fiberglass McMillan HTG (General Purpose Hunting) stock in Desert Camo. (This McMillan stock design replicates the original M40A1 Marine Sniper Rifle stock.) Since this is a repeater we added a Wyatts Mag Box. The gun features Badger bottom metal, Badger scope rail and Badger Rings. The Scope is a 4-16 Nikon Tactical, which, so far, has proven to be excellent. All the metal is Teflon-coated in Mil-Spec OD Green. I have a bubble-level mounted on the scope rail. I use the handy Angle-Cosine Indicator (ACI) from SniperTools.com for up or down shot-angle correction.

Q: To achieve the results you're getting you must have exceptional hand-loads. What is your reloading procedure and do you have any "secret tips" to share?

I use Winchester-brand brass and Winchester Large Rifle Magnum primers. My current load is 64.0 grains of H4831sc for the Hornady 162s (2950 fps) and 61.0 grains of H4831sc for the Sierra 175s (2830 fps).

The only sizing dies I have used are the Basic Redding FL dies--I have since started using the Forester Ultra-Seater and used it when I shot the outstanding groups. My reloading technique is pretty basic. I full-length size and trim all to length. I use the RCBS powered Trim Mate™ station to do most of the brass prep. I do use the VLD case mouth deburrer. I uniform the primer pocket and chamfer as well. I then fire-form those prepped cases. I've noted that the new brass usually shoots just as well as fire-formed cases. I then use the FL die to bump the shoulder back .002". I haven't really noticed and major difference between Forester and Redding dies except price. I don't have any "special" secret loading techniques. If you use quality components, I've found that you don't need to weigh this weigh that etc. I tried that for years and it never really showed results to justify the time and effort. I quit doing all the weighing ( except for bullets ) and I shoot just as well. The two things I am anal about are the powder charge and seating depth--these all have to be exactly the same for each round!

I do take time to uniform the brass. First, when I get a bag of brass, I'll check to make sure all the flash holes are centered, and I'll pitch the ones that aren't. Then I'll measure the shortest case and trim all to that length (after ensuring that fits my chamber). Next, I'll uniform the primer pockets, and debur and bevel the flash hole on both sides. Beveling both sides is one trick I think helps keep ES down. By beveling the flash side it basically takes the flash and tapers/funnels it to the hole. I think you get more consitency with the primer flash this way. Finally I'll debur/champfer the inside and outside of the neck using a VLD chamferer.

After firing the cases once, I clean them all up and make one pass on the neck turner just to "clean" the necks to a consistient diameter. Note, I am not necessarily turning for a specific diameter because I have enough clearance to start with. I do this light turn just for consistency. Sometimes the neck turner might only shave a bit off one side.

Q: What's your load-testing procedure? Do you have any special methods to evaluate/tune your loads?

Again, my methods are pretty simple. I start with the Sierra Load Manual, select the bullet weight, then find the max load for a recommended accurate powder. I like Hodgdon powders, so I start with an "H" powder with an appropriate burn rate, drop the "max" load about 0.5 grains and start there. Typically there is a sweet spot within half a grain up or down from that starting point. I usually seat my bullets to touch the lands or seat just in a bit. I feel this makes up for any bullet-run out when seating them.

When load-testing, I try to get 100-yard groups to be half an inch or less (quarter-MOA is pretty good for me, but not something I can count on regularly.) I then go to the 300- and 500-yard steel plates to see if the load holds its accuracy. If it does, then the load is good to go. However, I will shoot a 5-shot group every now and again to see if I am still in tune. In fact I was re-testing the 162gr A-Max and 175 gr SMK loads the day I shot the screamers at 1013 yards. Two great groups back to back.

Q: How does your 7 WSM perform in terms of recoil and accuracy? Has it met your expectations?

This rifle is by far one of the most fun rifles I have ever had. The recoil is very minimal with either of the loads and the rifle just plain flat-out shoots. The break-in took all of 21 rounds I think. This rifle shoots sub-2" groups at 500 yards all day every day (often closer to 1"). Note that I don't do any shooting from a bench and rests except for the initial load work up. The rest of the time I shoot from a bipod. I would really like to stress that I shoot exclusively with bi-pod and "sand-sock". So many guys out there think that you have to shoot from a bench to get outstanding results. This simply isn't true. If you are a disciplined shooter and have correct shooting techniques you can do amazing things from any shooting position. Long Range doesn't have to be from a rest or bench!

What makes this rifle special is that it has an identical twin, built by Chris for my hunting partner Steve. Both rifles shoot exactly the same--same accuracy, same velocity, same trajectories. I never shot a 1K group with Steve's gun, but at other distances, including 500 yards, it has performed identically to mine. I shot a sub-moa group of 12 shots one day with the Twins. I shot six shots from each rifle, alternating rifles between shots. Remember this is from the prone position and off a bipod--same load, two different rifles--and it produced a single, sub-MOA group. Now that's consistency. Both these rifles I call point and shoot rifles--point them on target and they'll shoot it.

Q: What technique do you use when shooting from bipod?

I basically do Froggy's technique when shooting from a bipod. I get my natural point of aim, then push forward a bit to pre-load the bipod legs. In gripping the stock, I use just my two middle fingers to apply firm pressure straight back into my shoulder. I'm careful not to torque with the thumb or pinky finger. With my focus on the intended point of aim, I'll let the cross hairs blur a bit and gently press the trigger until it goes boom. Then follow through, watch for the impact, and chamber the next round.

Looking Out to 1000 Yards, and the Results from Ric's 7 WSM

Bottom Line: Is the 7 WSM the Next Great Long-Range Cartridge?

Q: How does the 7 WSM stack up in your mind? Will we be seeing more of these in the future? Does it really have an advantage over a 300 WM or 300 WSM?

Well, the jury is still out on this. On paper the 7 WSM with the 162 A-Max or 175 SMK really out-performs both the 300 WM and the 300 WSM, two of my favorite calibers. I am a huge fan of the 300 WSM and will always be, but this 7mm is really starting to change my mind. The 7 WSM offers a flatter trajectory and the high-BC bullets carry energy out to long range really well. And the accuracy--well that is the real kicker, since accuracy is really where it's at. To steal a quote from a friend I met on the 2005 Antelope Hunt: "Fast is fine, accuracy is final."

Prior to getting this rifle, my favorite calibers were the .308 Win and 300 WSM. I thought there wasn't anything that could beat the 300 WSM for 800-yard accuracy. But now I think the 7 WSM shooting the 160- to 180-grain high-BC bullets could be unstoppable--time will tell. The 6.5-284 took off like a rocket and is one accurate caliber. But most of those shooters really have a hard time in wind. Maybe the 140gr-class bullets don't have the weight to properly buck the wind. The big 30s are accurate but I think the 7mm, being the middle road, may really may combine the best of both worlds--the accuracy of the 6.5-284 with the wind-bucking ability of the big 30s. I think when people try a fast 7mm with the new high-BC bullets, they will be impressed.

1000 Yards, Wyoming Style (Who Needs Benches?)

Well, when things go right, things go very right I guess. Even I can have a real good day now and again. Or maybe all my Zodiak stars were in alignment this morning. I'd like to think it has a lot to do with the guy who built the rifle. Anyway, here's the story of the 7 WSM that shot half-MOA at 1000 yards off a bipod.

10:30 a.m., up the mountain I go to my 1000-yard spot. I often go up there for long-range "plinking" at the sandstone rocks. I wanted to keep in tune for a mule deer hunt I'm planning. Lay out the drag-bag shooting mat and open the bi-pod. Set out the bean bag and get comfortable. Then, for fun, I started whacking away at rocks at ranges between 945 and 1026 yards. Bang--poof, bang--poof. The stick was hammering so after a while I thought "Hmmm...maybe I'll shoot some groups."

So I set up my portable target stand, drew one of my "high-tech" specialty custom targets (a big "X") with the magic marker, and go back to the little nest area. Then I range the target--it's 1013 yards. OK, close enough to my tables. I take an estimate of the wind. It's 5 mph gusting to about 7 or 8, left to right. Let me try 5 rounds of the Hornady 162 A-Max. Inhale...release...inhale...half out--bang! Do this five times, then I hop on the 4-wheeler and off to the target I go.

Well Holy Moses. I'm staring at about a 5" group with less than 2" of vertical (That's .2 MOA of vertical). Pretty Amazing. Time to make another exclusive custom target with the magic marker. Then I hop back on my trusty Polaris and putt-putt back to my little nest area. On the trip back I got lots of bugs in my teeth cause I'm smiling so wide. Ptooey--damn grasshopper.

Back at the nest now. I haven't done much work with the 175s I have loaded up. I wonder how they'll do. I do a quick read of the conditions. The wind is just about the same, but I re-adjust the elevations for the heavier bullet. OK, here we go again. Inhale...release...inhale half out... bang! I did this 5 times and the dust clouds seemed real close together. Hmmm, I'm thinkin'--those Williamsport guys shoot 10. So I better try 5 more. Yep, that felt pretty good.

After shot 10, I jump on the wheely buggie and putt-putt-putt to the target I go. I get to the target board, take one look and say, GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!! What the heck is going on here? This time I put the ten SMKs in about 5 inches. Say what you will about luck, good fortune, divine intervention, it takes one heck of an accurate rifle to deliver these kind of results--off a bipod no less.

Comments from the Gunsmith

Ric and his long-time hunting partner Steve are like peanut butter and jelly, so I wasn't surprised when they wanted identical rifles. After a couple of lengthy phone conversations between Ric and I, the specs for the two rifles (now dubbed the "Twins") were finalized and an order was placed. The photo shows Ric and Steve with their twin 7 WSMs after a successful antelope hunt.

The order was simple--identical rifles that were tough enough to handle anything but be capable of handling long-range situations. Even though Ric had great success in the past with a 300 WSM that I had built, the 7mm WSM was the caliber of choice for the Twins. With high-BC bullets like the Sierra 175gr MatchKing, the Hornady 162gr A-Max, and Bob Cauterucio's 176-grainers, the 7mm was an easy decision.

The finalizing of the specs included the the best blend of components for the rifles' intended purposes. I expressed to Ric that the most important component is the barrel. It is the very heart and soul of a rifle. Being that it is the first and last thing to determine a bullet's destiny, I chose to use a pair of Broughtons. These benchrest-quality barrels were then fitted to trued Remington actions modified to handle the 7 WSM cartridge, bedded into McMillan stocks and topped off with Badger Ordnance hardware. I felt that this would be a perfect blend of benchrest accuracy and tactical toughness.

Another key component is consistency. I build every rifle with the same precision and care. The individual parts may vary a little; but a lightweight hunting rifle gets the same attention, down to every last detail, that a 1000-yard benchrest rifle gets.

This consistency is what brings us to the final chapter in the saga of the Twins. Ric initally took delivery of the Twins to do break-in and load development. I received an email shortly after they were delivered with a target that was almost unbelievable. He had fired a 12-shot group that was about 1/2 MOA. What's so unbelievable about that? It was done by alternating shots between rifles. Ric would shoot one shot, lay the rifle down, pick up the other and fire a shot out of it until six had been fired out of each gun, completing the group. Same load, same point of aim, and same point of impact. He told me the velocities clocked within 4 fps of each other! Needless to say there was a big thank you at the bottom of the email. But I can't take all the credit, good shooters like Ric are what really make a rifle accurate! — Chris Matthews

Ridin', Ropin' and Shootin' -- the Real Western Lifestyle
In real life, Ric Horst runs D & R Outfitting (hunting guides) and the DNR Guest Ranch near Cody, Wyoming. That's why he's able to shoot 1000 yards right in his "backyard". The DNR ranch at Rand Creek is located in the heart of what Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed "the most scenic 50 miles in America". Named after Dollie -N- Ric Horst, the owners, and Rand Creek, which runs through the property, DNR Ranch is a small, family-owned and operated guest ranch facility located 23 miles west of historic Cody, Wyoming and 27 miles east of Yellowstone National Park. The main lodge was built back in 1905 and is presently the oldest homestead on the Yellowstone Highway. The ranch was the original halfway stopping point between Cody, WY and Yellowstone Park. Many people, including Buffalo Bill Cody himself, stayed here on their way west! Click on the photo below to learn more.

McMillan HTG stock photo Copyright © 2006, McMillan Fiberglass Stocks, used with permission. Other photos Copyright © 2006 Ric Horst or DNR Ranch, All Rights Reserved. All other content and design Copyright © 2006, 6mmBR.com, All Rights Reserved. No reproduction of any content without advanced permission in writing.

Topics: Precision rifle, hunting, 1000-yard, 1000 Yards, Wyoming, Cody, DnR Ranch, Yellowstone, 7mm, 7 WSM, Seven, Win Mag, Winchester Short Mag, LongShot Rifles, HTG stock, M40A1, elk, antelope, caribou, hunting. long-range, rifle shooting, rifle accuracy, WSSM, .284, RUM, deer hunting, Remington, Ackley Improved, Hodgdon, H4831, 4831sc, Varget, IMR 4064, McMillan stocks, Remington, actions, Krieger barrel, muzzle brake, Polaris 4x4, reloading, powder selection, Winchester Brass, Lapua Brass, Hornady bullets, Sierra bullets, moly coating, Cheek Piece, Harris bipod.

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