Steyr SBS Tactical .308s

by Gary Paul Johnston

Over the years I've been fortunate to handle and test many of the world's bolt action rifles, and in doing so I've been able to form some rather strong opinions about what works and what works best. One of the most innovative rifles of my experience has to be the new Safe Bolt System (SBS) from Steyr Mannlicher and imported by GSI, of Trussville, AL.

A revolutionary bolt action design, the SBS represents the next generation of Steyr precision rifles, and should be a pace-setter for future bolt action rifles. The heart of the Steyr SBS is its action. Totally rigid, the high strength steel receiver houses its unique Safe Bolt. Boasting four locking lugs, the SBS bolt is stronger than necessary, and only a rotation of 60 degrees is needed for it to be unlocked. Grooves in the bolt body guarantee reliable function under adverse conditions, and the bolt field strips in seconds without tools. Totally new, the SBS' receiver features a patented safety bushing that encases the extractor, thus providing an additional safety margin in case of unexpected excessive chamber pressures. As a proof-test of this safety bushing, Steyr has fired special high pressure proof rounds of 120,000 pounds per square inch (PSI) in the SBS without any damage. For comparison, conventional high pressure proof loads produce only up to 70,000 PSI. Steyr's high quality cold hammer forged match grade barrel is screwed into the receiver. The SBS' special smooth trigger is adjustable, of two-stage military type and comes set at just over 3 pounds (50 oz.) from the factory. Even with th safety in the FIRE position, no amount of slamming the butt on the floor will make the SBS fire. Drilled and tapped to accept the same scope bases as the Browning A-Bolt, the SBS is the first Steyr to accept American mounts.

Unprecedented Safety

Because of the human factor, no mechanical device is 100% safe, and firearm safety is ultimately the responsibility of each of us. However, Steyr has incorporated safety design features into the SBS that dramatically enhance safe handling and usage. The SBS ambidextrous roller tang safety has three positions: FIRE, LOAD/UNLOAD and SAFE. Logical in design, when the safety is forward, bullets can go forward (fire), and when rolled back, bullets stay back (safe). In the middle (loading position), rounds can be loaded or removed from the chamber, but the SBS cannot fire. However, this Steyr's SAFE position is like no other.

In this rear, or SAFE, position a white dot and gray safety catch are visible. Here the rifle cannot be fired and the bolt is locked, but this is only part of the equation. As an added measure of safety, the bolt handle may also be pushed down about 1/8 of an inch to the Double Lock-Safe position where the firing pin is cammed out of alignment. When the tang safety is moved off SAFE, the bolt handle moves back up to its normal position.

To remove the bolt, put the safety on the unload position and lift the handle. Then put the safety ON, and simply pull the bolt out. As an added safety feature, when the bolt is re-inserted and closed, the SBS automatically goes to Double Lock/Safe.

DBM Loading

Like other members of the Steyr family, the SBS features a detachable box magazine (DBM). Holding 4 rounds (3 in magnum), it represents a departure from earlier Steyr rifles in that it is a double column, two-position feed magazine. Dual opposing locking tabs secure the magazine in place, and a second locking notch allows the magazine to be lowered about a quarter inch to a drop-lock position. This position allows one to unload the chamber and close the bolt without feeding another round. Here, the SBS can also be single loaded. Easy to load and smooth in operation, this new magazine is also totally reliable.

A 10-shot magazine kit (8-shot in magnum calibers) is optional. With all the features of the standard magazine, this one offers higher capacity while not extending below the trigger guard.

A New Synthetic Stock

With its tough new revolutionary synthetic stock, the SBS ProHunter series has a startling effect in reducing felt recoil. With less felt recoil than any other factory bolt action of my experience, the SBS makes a muzzle brake all but unnecessary in any caliber. Special features include an integral trigger guard and beavertail style grasping grooves on the forend. To protect the fingers, the rear of the trigger guard is angled even though there is little felt recoil. To facilitate handling the SBS while wearing mittens, the area behind the pistol grip is hollowed out. For changes in length of pull, the butt stock features Steyr's new spacer system. The butt pad itself is rounded to assure shoulder placement under stress. Pach-mayr Q.D. sling swivels are standard.

New SBS Tactical

When I tested the Stery SBS ProHunter several years ago, I found them totally ergonomic, reliable and superbly accurate, and purchased one each in .308 and .300 WIN MAG. In the short time since, my SBS ProHunters have proven themselves many times over and I knew it was only a matter of time until we'd see a tactical version.

The summer of 1999 saw the introduction of five brand new Steyr .308 SBS Tactical rifles. With a model that anticipated most every scenario, we have the SBS Tactical, the SBS Tactical Heavy Barrel (HB), the SBS Tactical Heavy Barrel Carbine (HBC), SBS Tactical McMillan and SBS Tactical CISM.

As distinguished from the standard SBS ProHunter, all SBS Tactical rifles feature a large, round bolt handle instead of Steyr's traditional butterknife type, and will come with black stocks. Let's take a closer look.

Designed to meet a broad range of requirements, the lightweight Steyr SBS Tactical takes into account the demanding needs of outdoorsmen, hunters and law enforcement. Easy to handle and compact, the SBS Tactical comes with the 10-shot magazine and weighs only 7.25 pounds. Even with these features, this rifle sacrifices neither durability nor accuracy.

Fitted with a 25.6-inch heavy match barrel, the Steyr SBS Tactical HB continues the Steyr tradition, consistently grouping within one MOA or better at extended ranges with match ammunition. With its 20-inch barrel, the Tactical HBC meets the requirements of the urban police marksman who requires a short overall length, ultra accurate rifle. The SBS Tactical, Tactical HB and Tactical HBC rifles all come with Steyr's ProHunter type synthetic stock.

The Steyr SBS Tactical McMillan is essentially the 25.6-inch SBS Tactical HB with a new custom version of the world class McMillan Fiberglass A-3 stock. Featuring an adjustable cheekpiece, this stock utilizes Steyr's SBS type removable buttspacers. A forearm rail is provided for the attachment of bipods, handstop assemblies or special sling swivel attachments, and this special McMillan stock will also accept the SBS 10-shot magazine conversion.

Last but not least is the SBS Tactical CISM. An adaptation of Steyr's ultra accurate 300-meter Match CISM rifle, the Tactical CISM features a black laminated wood stock, a fitted forearm rail with handstop and an adjustable cheekpiece and buttplate. The receiver has an integrated rail accepting Steyr's proven QD SSG Match scope mount, and the Tactical CISM comes only with the SBS 10-shot magazine.

As this is written, there are but two pre-production samples of Steyr's new SBS Tactical rifles in the U.S. and I have iust received both of them for testing and evaluation. They are the 20-inch barreled lightweight SBS Tactical and the full length SBS Tactical HB. This heavy-barreled model came in a fifted polymer carrying case like the Steyr Scout Rifle.

Kahles ZF92 Scope

Our test SBS Tactical HB came with a Kahles ZF95 lOx42mm Tactical Scope already installed. This one-inch diameter scope features a 42mm objective lens, adjustable eye piece, low-mounted target-style knobs and a Mil-dot reticle. With crystal clear optics, it also boasts a sharp range estimation crosshair and Mildots. These milradian dots and the spaces in between allow estimating range and hold-off, to acquire and hit long range targets with facility.

To mount a Harris Bipod on the SBS Tactical HB, I removed the Q.D. swivels and replaced them with Millett's flush mount Harris bipod adapter. By simply pushing and twisting the flush mounts, I was ready to install the bipod, which took about one minute. The Millett flush mounts also allow installation of the D.D. Ross marksman sling, either by itself or with the Harris Bipod.

Steyr Optical Platform

On the lightweight SBS Tactical carbine I installed a pre-production sample of the D.D. Ross optical platform. A full-length #1913 Picatinny rail, this one-piece Milspec base has a forward declination of 8 degrees. This extra high base extends from the rear of the receiver to 1-1/4 inches forward of the receiver ring, which allows use of lower scope rings and will accommodate virtually any sight system including all NATO STANAG night vision scopes.

On the Tactical Carbine's optical platform I mounted an IOR 6x42mm Sharp-shooter Scope from Valdada Enterprises. Of exceptional quality and brightness, this scope's reticle has Mil hashmarks instead of dots. I mounted the IOR scope using brand new Milspec 30mm rings also from D.D. Ross, and the full-length track system of the Ross base allowed me unlimited latitude for eye relief.

Shots Fired

As I'd shot more than a dozen SBS rifles of various types and calibers, I wasn't expecting any surprises from these. With the advanced design of the SBS stock, even my .300 WIN MAG SBS shoots like a .30-06, and in .308 caliber these rifles have very liffle felt recoil.

With a Harris bipod on each rifle, I shot them prone off the bipods from 100 yards with several brands of .308 ammo. Although there were several 3-shot groups that measured over one inch, the majority were well under one minute of angle (MOA), and a number of them hovered about the 1/2-MOA mark.

Both rifles functioned flawlessly. As they came from the factory, the two-stage trigger pull of each was outstanding. Especially noteworthy is the large round bolt handle that makes operation faster and more positive under stress. To put it simply, when the chips are down, the SBS will perform.


Because most of the SBS Tactical family will surely be used with a bipod, these rifles will need something like the Millett flush mount to accommodate this accessory and a precision rifle sling. Although these mounts are not furnished, they can easily be obtained from Millett.

Steyr has an outstanding, almost invisible gray synthetic stock in its standard SBS ProHunter series. Why it is furnish-ing its Tactical SBS rifles with the same stock in black is probably due to the SWAT hype in the U.S. that dictates "black for SWAT." In my opinion, the gray stock would be a better choice.

In addition, being a serious sharpshooter's rifle, the SBS Tactical deserves the most rugged scope mounting system available-one that should meet Milspec #1913 Picatinny NATO STANAG specifications.

In my opinion, the Ross optical platform that I tested is the best available. However, as this is written, the pre-production base I sampled is nearing full production status with full cooperation from GSI/Steyr. The Steyr optical plafform will be installed with #8 screws and a hardened dowl pin to ensure optimum anchoring even with the most punishing recoil and heavy optics.

The Steyr SBS is one of the most advanced bolt action rifles to come along, yet it's both simple and affordable. If your agency is looking for a thoroughly modern tactical rifle of exceptional quality that's safe and accurate, check out the new Steyr SBS Tactical rifle family from GSI...

First published in the April 2000 edition of Guns & Weapons For Law Enforcement