To the Austrian army it's the Scharfschutzen Gewehr 69; the
Sharpshooter's Weapon Model 1969. To the rest of the world it's simply
SSG or the Green Gun. But whatever you call it, Steyr-Mannlicher's popular
sniper-competition piece may well be the most accurate .30 caliber
production rifle in the world.
Chambered for .308 Winchester (7.62mm NATO), the SSG offers a variety
of options and accessories ranging from single or set triggers, five- or
ten-round magazines to exotic Kahles scopes. None of these items are
cheap, but most serious shooters by now will have arrived at the decision
that you generally get what you pay for. Bargains do exist, of course,
but in the Iong run "you pays your money and you takes your chances."
The SSG's accuracy has become almost legendary. This is due to a
variety of factors, but the superb hammer forged barrel and synthetic
cyclolac stock are both partial explanations. The 25-1/2 inch barrel is
fully free-floated, and of course the plastic stock is immune to warping.
Its faded green color seems well chosen for blending into a variety of
topographical colors, and the flat black finish of all metal parts (except
the double triggers) adds to the SSG's concealability.
Some shooters don't like a set trigger, and Steyr Daimler Puch of America
offers a trade-in option to replace the factory trigger group with a
single-trigger setup. Personally, I don't mind the set-trigger option.
Though I seldom use it, the hair's breath release is a nice choice when
extreme precision is required.
And the SSG is certainly capable of extreme precision. The factory
claims routine minute-of-angle groups at 300 yards, but this is
conservative when compared to some results achieved by proficient
riflemen using carefully developed handloads. Early in my experimentation
with the SSG I fired three-round groups from prone at 300 and 500 yards.
Normally I'd never publish the results, but since there were witnesses,
I'll state that the 300-yard spread was 1-1/4 inches and the 500-yard
group was 1-1/2. Now I've never approached either result in the 900-plus
rounds since, but the SSG is one of the few off-the-shelf rifles which
can truthfully be described as a tack-driver.
For practical purposes, a three-inch group at 500 yards is possible -
and that's a lot more accuracy than anybody needs in the real world.
All my experimentation was conducted with Hornady 150-grain FMJ BT,
and no doubt a 168- or 190-grain bullet would hold up better at ranges
for which the SSG was intended.
A curious thing about the SSG's accuracy - it seems to improve with
distance. At ranges under 200 yards the Green Gun does well, but nothing
significantly better than many other .308 bolt actions. However, from 300
back - say, to 600 or 700 - the MOA figures usually tighten up. I've never
had occasion to group on paper at over 600 so I can't draw any definite
conclusions. However, in the advanced rifle course at Gunsite, the angular
Austrian was throwing dust on an orange one-gallon can at about 700
yards once the elevation was corrected.
A Superior Piece of Optics
Which raises another point. To realize the SSG's potential requires a
scope with external elevation adjustments. The Kahles 10-power is a
superior piece of optics, but is calibrated in meters which causes obvious
complications in the U.S. It's also extremely expensive. My rifle is fitted
with a Weaver T-6, which has performed most satisfactorily to date.
The only glitch (aside from operator error) occurred during the API
course while potting at the 1,000-yard gong. After ranging in, one
perfect squeeze registered a beautiful six o'clock hit below the suspended
orange dinger. A one-minute elevation adjustment should have yielded
an impact with the next round, but my elevation dial setscrew had
worked loose. That's been the only mechanical failure with the scope.
However, the factory rings are 26mm, which is a smidgen oversize
for American one-inch scope tubes. A satisfactory shim may be improvised
with emery cloth, which provides a more solid and consistent binding
between scope and rings thar) adhesive tape.
Incidentally, the factory fixed sights are often neglected among SSG
owners, but they deserve mention. Certainly they're no substitute for
a quality scope, but they afford a crisp, fast sight picture should the glass
be removed for any reason. At least one competition
shooter I know
intends to install them on a shotgun.
That's the good news. But for all its virtues the SSG, as the Arabs would
say, has a serious flaw in that "it is not perfect."
The main drawback is the bolt, both in design and manipulation. The
sketchy instructions which come with the rifle are apparently translated
from German, and they're a devilment to decipher when trying to
disassemble the bolt. There's probably a good reason for manufacturing
the bolt the way Steyr does, but I've not been able to figure it out. It
seems unnecessarily complicated. And a setscrew in the bottom which
retains tension on the firing pin has become a regular item on my pre-firing
inspection. My first firing pin broke after 213 rounds because the screw
worked loose. Steyr Daimler Puch replaced the pin free of charge,
but it was still a hassle.
Bolt operation is stiff, and in fact this problem remains my main criticism
of the rifle. Accustomed to the butter-smooth operation of more
conventional Mannlicher bolts, the SSG's came as a considerable
disappointment. Of course, the SSG is not intended to be operated in
an environment requiring fast follow-up shots. But even so, for a
hunting or combat rifle a slick bolt should be designed from the outset.
The other problem is lack of an integral bipod. My rifle is modified with
a standard sling-swivel mount secured in the conventional location on
the stock. The factory's front sling swivel is at the extreme front - no
particular problem. But a Harris bipod on the SSG requires the U.S. swivel
stud modification. Were Steyr-Mannlicher to produce an integral,
self-leveling bipod similar to Heckler & Koch's, we'd really have a fine
Ten-round magazines are popular if pricey. In early 1982 they ran $66
new. That's a lot of money for a plastic mag of marginal reliability. My
personal ten-rounder and one borrowed on long-term loan have both
failed to feed on occasion, including (naturally) when I could least afford
it. The brand new mag, apparently having ingested some grit during the
course of an extraordinarily windy practical rifle match, completely gave
up. It was easily remedied by disassembly and cleaning, but that was of
little consolation since it probably cost me the Oregon practical rifle
championship. (Though in fairness I'm bound to admit I didn't help myself
any in a previous match by neglecting to return my elevation dial all the
way to zero after an 800-yard stage!)
The five-round magazines have functioned flawlessly, nor have I heard
of any problems with them from other SSG owners. A plug comes with
the rifle which allows conversion of a five-rounder to a single-loader,
and while few shooters apparently bother with this setup, it is a reasonable
So what may we deduce from all this? The main lesson seems to be the
obvious one: don't expect to make a barrel racer out of a cart horse.
Employed within the limit's for which it was designed, the SSG is a superior
instrument in the hands of above-average riflemen. Average shooters will
certainly enjoy shooting the Mannlicher, and may well surprise themselves
on occasion. But the SSG performs best at long range for marksmen who
have taken the time to learn their weapon and dedicated themselves to
making one-round hits. If you're looking for ammo capacity and rapid fire,
get a CAR-15 with a few 30-round magazines.
Fortunately, interchangeable magazines allow a dandy intermediate
brush gun in the Mannlicher gun line. The lightweight, handy Model L in
.308 accepts the SSG ten-round mag, and when fitted with a four-power
scope becomes a viable option for the increasingly popular scout rifle
configuration. The Model L's drawbacks: price and heavy recoil. There's
also some indication that the full-length stock leads to heat retention
which causes groups to open up to almost marginal utility at ranges
approaching 300 yards. However, this latter point is probably not as serious
as it sounds because in most circumstances a rifleman will seldom have
reason to fire more than two or three consecutive rounds.
Having accepted the SSG's specialized nature, a realistic owner can
better appreciate the price for the exceptional product it really is.
Aside from its almost spooky accuracy potential there is the historical
background of Germanic firearms tradition. We Americans sometimes
forget that Germany and Switzerland are the ancestral homes of the
rifle, and even today there exists a touch of mysticism surrounding the
origins of the weapon. In the SSG we have perhaps the highest expression
of the Teutonic concept of the Gewehr, both in design and
execution. And whether or not the rifleman makes the subtle distinction
between Jaeger and Scharfschutzer, if he masters the SSG,
he is still heir to a centuries-old tradition.
first published in the Fall 1983 edition of Special Weapons