Self-loading rifles have always been popular amongst sambar hunters, however the events of the past 12 months have seen a significant decline in the number of self-loaders being purchased. Hunters are preferring to play ‘safe’ by opting for a bolt action rather than being caught out with a totally prohibited firearm sometime in the future should another Hoddle or Queen Street occur. The introduction of Remington’s Model 7600 Pump Action Centre-fire in hard-hitting .35 Whelen calibre is certainly a timely one and an option well worthy of consideration in the current firearms climate.
Sambar hunters seeking a hard-hitting cartridge capable of throwing a bullet heavier than the popular .30’06, but without the expense and additional recoil of a magnum, have in recent years turned to the wildcat .35 Whelen. The .35 Whelen has gained popularity with both stalkers and houndhunters alike with its only drawback until now being the necessity of a custom-made rifle and the use of handloaded ammunition. Quite a number of Browning BARs, Remington Woodsmasters and various Mausers were converted to the big .35, a conversion which turned out to be ideally suited to sambar hunting.
The need for an expensive custom-made rifle has recently been eliminated following the introduction of two rifles by Remington chambered for the .35 Whelen calibre, the Model 700 Classic bolt action and the Model 7600 Pump Action. Factory loaded cartridges by Remington in two bullet weights, 200 and 250 grain Corelokts, are readily available, placing the .35 Whelen in the same category as other non-magnum sambar calibres. The fast handling Model 7600 should be an ideal alternative for the sambar hunter, with the .35 Whelen calibre making it even more attractive, so it was with much enthusiasm that I accepted the invitation to field test the rifle and calibre this winter.
The rifle, brand new and still in the box, along with several packets of factory and handloaded ammunition were supplied by Jon ‘Sparky’ Martyn of Melbourne Firearms Centre in Ringwood. Jon’s a long-time supporter of ADA and was happy to make the rifle available for a lengthy test knowing well that when it was finally returned, that ‘brand new, still in the box’ look would be long gone! The instructions from Mark Blundell were simple enough … “You’ve got it for the winter, put it through the mill. See how it feels and shoot a big stag with it!” Simple as that!
I’ve always had a sentimental association with Remingtons; my first sambar rifle was an ancient .30’06 Woody with a four-digit serial number. It served me faithfully for 10 years and now resides in Reini Strecker’s gun cabinet. It’s been a good rifle for him as well and there’s probably a big stag ot two left in the silky-smooth action somewhere. The new Remington 7600 is still much of the mould of the earlier 742s and 760 pump-actions; the differences are slight and the result is a very functional, no-frills hunting rifle.
Pump-action centre-fires are few and far between in deer hunting circles and I, for one, had not used one apart from an old ‘trombone actioned’ .22 many years ago. My initial reaction to the pump-actioned, heavy calibre centre-fire was one of doubt and uncertainty. Would the action handle high pressure handloads? Would it be reliable under harsh field conditions? Could a hunter used to self-loaders and bolt actions adapt easily to a totally different type of rifle action? After using the 7600 for the past four months over a total of 100 hunting hours, the answer to all the above questions is a categoric YES!
Out of the box, the rifle had the ‘old, familiar feel’ about it; the 7600’s action has the sleek, low profile contour of the self-loader, the 22-inch barrel is of light/medium contour carrying the standard issue Remington open sight … a wide vee rear sight fully adjustable for windage and elevation with the front sight a large white-faced bead. A tried and proven combination. All metal parts were well finished and deeply blued with the finish remaining deep and unmarked throughout the test period. The four shot box magazine snapped positively into place while the magazine release button was well located on the lower right side of the action just forward of the trigger housing, constructed of lighter alloy, is held in the action by two large drift pins which are easily removed for access to the trigger mechanism, firing pin and slide lock for cleaning.
The two-piece walnut stock was fairly plain, the dark timber finished in Remington’s durable high gloss clear epoxy which fully waterproofs the timber and protects it from minor scratches and abrasions. The timber also wore the traditional, although rather dated and ineffectual pressed pattern chequering common to the Remington autoloading rifles and field shotguns. The rifle would have been far more efficient with a generous amount of the excellent machine cut chequering similar to that used on the 700 Remington bolt actions, as the pressed pattern on the 7600 did little to aid the grip with wet and slippery hands. Stock furniture was completed by a thin plastic butt plate with plastic caps on the pistol grip and fore-end. Overall, I was a little disappointed with the stock finish; I feel a dull-oil timber finish, a quality ventilated recoil pad along with sharp hand or machine-cut chequering would have added greatly to the concept of a rifle designed solely with hunting in mind.
The 7600’s action is very strongly constructed, the massive locking lugs on the rotating bolt-head lock securely into recesses in the breech and the action locks up positively aided by twin action bars in the fore-end. This is an action designed to handle high intensity cartridges and is well suited to rounds in the .270, .30’06 and .35 Whelen class. During the test period the rifle was fed a variety of factory and handloaded ammunition with feed and ejection being trouble free at all times. Hand-loaders however will need to full-length re-size cases after each firing as the action does not have the powerfull camming features of the bolt action where an over-sized case is concerned.
The .35 Whelen is an interesting calibre and one I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more of now that Remington are producing the rounds commercially. Essentially, the .35 Whelen is the standard .30’06 Springfield necked up to .35 calibre; it is capable of firing a 200 grain projectile at around 2700 feet per second and the 250 grain projectile around 200 fps slower. It’s a round well suited to 300 kilogram sambar stags, a round that carries plenty of close and mid-range authority while still being mild to shoot. Those hunters that have BARs and 742 Woodsmasters re-bored to .35 Whelen report excellent accuracy, often MOA at 100 metres. The .35 Whelen is an inherently accurate round and this proved to be the case also with the 7600 Pump.
I prefer a low power variable scope on a sambar rifle so I attached my Bushnell Scopechief 1.5–4.5 in low Weaver mounts and bases to the Remington. The Weaver system allows easy removal of the scope in wet weather while the bases are low enough not to obscure the open sights when the scope is off, an ideal combination.
Recoil proved to be quite pleasant, even over the sandbags, the trigger crisp and free of creep and after eight precious rounds had been expended the rifle was sighted-in, spot on at 100 paces, my normal practice for sambar hunting. I found manipulating the action easy to get used to, the rifle locked up positively, the empty cases were ejected well clear of the action and the next round fed up cleanly from the magazine. The four cartridges sat in the magazine in staggered formation with sufficient clearance in front of the projectiles to prevent any damage to the soft points during recoil.
After a few minutes were allowed for the barrel to cool, five shots were deliberately fired to see how the 7600 would group. I was more than pleased with the result — a five shot group of around one inch. Excellent, considering it was an un-tined rifle, new, using factory ammunition and a 4.5 power scope. I also had some handloaded 250 grain Speers which Jon Martyn had loaded with Mulwex 2208 (Melbourne Firearms Centre operates a custom handloading service). The 7600 printed four of these in a very tight cluster just to the left of the five shot group of 200 grainers and exactly the same elevation, certainly good enough to mix them up as hunting rounds without needing to worry about which bullet weight was up the spout. Recoil with these 250s was considerably heavier, indicating that ‘Sparky’ had them going pretty hard and the Remington lifted these cases out with ease as well. I left the range very impressed with the pump thus far. It’s well put together, handles nicely and it certainly shoots like a well-tuned bolt action. My only addition to the 7600 prior to field use was the fitting of a pair of detachable sling studs as the rifle comes without any. I procured a pair of ‘Uncle Mike’ studs, the most suitable being their barrel band model made specifically for the Remington 7600. The barrel band was mounted mid-way between the muzzle and the fore-end providing a very low barrel height when the rifle is slung, essential to a hunter when thick, steep country is encountered. The 7600 was now fully set-up on the surface — it appeared pretty close to what a sambar rifle should be. The acid test was yet to come; how would it perform in the field under the harsh hunting situations usually encountered while seeking sambar in the mountains?
I resolved to temporarily retire my old BAR .30’06 and Ruger .338 this winter and use the Remington 7600 exclusively, thereby giving me a chance to get really familiar with it and hopefully put the cartridge to the test on a sambar or two.
Fully loaded, one in the chamber and four in the magazine, Bushnell scope and mounts plus sling, the Remington weighed in at a shade under eight pounds. The point-of-balance for one-handed carrying was just forward of the magazine. This caused the carrying hand to miss the short fore-end and instead I was clasping the rifle around the slide rails and magazine area with my thumb naturally falling on the timber on the rear edge of the fore-end. This proved entirely satisfactory and comfortable, although somewhat unconventional and more than a trifle cold on frosty mornings! The blue on the metal parts in this area showed no wear during the test period although some would be expected with extended use. I found the rifle carried well and was quick to point.
The thin plastic butt plate caused the rifle to often slip on the should straps of my ‘Terry Allen’ style daypack when it was hastily mounted, which is generally the case in most hunting situations. This slipping on shouldering actually cost me several chances of quick shots at sambar during the winter. Therefore, the first task for a 7600 purchaser should be the removal of the factory butt plate and the fitting of a rubber non-slip recoil pad. This would instantly cure the ‘slippery butt’ syndrome of the factory butt plate.
The high gloss lacquer stock finish, apart from highlighting the grain of the timber, is not suitable for use on a purely hunting rifle, the sheen was found to be very reflective with the rifle; giving off unwanted flashes on sunny days. This type of finish, while protecting the timber from minor scratches, does not lend itself to hard use as the inevitable knocks, bumps and major scratches common to all sambar rifles are impossible to remove from such a glossy finish.
These are my only criticisms of the 7600; both are of a minor nature and would probably be attended to at any rate by most purchasers before taking the rifle into the field. Once in the mountains, the rifle quickly gained an ‘old familiar feel.’ It felt as though I’d been carrying and using it for years and I was quite confident that, should the moment of truth arrive, the rifle would be up to the task. The first few outings with the rifle produced fleeting sightings of sambar but a shot was never on, although the .35 was shouldered expectantly on numerous occasions. The rifle’s moment of truth did finally arrive though; on outing 10, with 16 full days ‘logged’ hunting sambar.
I’d been tracking a large-footed stag for about an hour and he’d led me a merry dance — to several recently used wallows, through blackberry choked feed areas and finally to the icy, snow-melt filled river. The crossing was deep and painful — up to the short ribs — and flowing hard as well. Numb from the waist down I emerged to follow him through groves of stinging nettles and more blackberries. Up a dogwood covered spur he’d gone and then onto a steep, shale face covered in feed bush; I expected an animal at any step when suddenly that ‘being watched’ feeling hit me.
A quick glance around, ahead and above — nothing. A rolling rock below me and a wet black nose and two massive ears rose above the blackberries. The safety was slipped off instinctively as the rifle was quickly shouldered to reveal a massive hind at a range of around 15 metres. A quick scan around failed to locate the stag and being eager to test the potency of the big 35, I centred on the hind’s shoulder and fired a split second after she honked then crashed off around the steep face. The bullet smacked harmlessly into the river below as I bent then straightened my left arm, reloading in an instant while keeping the animal in the scope as she dashed off around the pad.
A second chance presented itself as she cleared a deadfall but the shot went astray. As she plunged down the face and crossed the river, another deer dashed from a narrow gut below me and bounded down the face towards the river, the rifle had already been quickly reloaded following the second shot and at the sound of the third I was pleased to see the deer tumble spectacularly from a solid hit at around sixty metres. All this action had taken but a few seconds and upon reaching the animal I noted that I had already recycled the action and re-applied the safety. The whole system works virtually ‘automatically’ it seems.
The deer had been taken squarely through both shoulders by the 200 grain Remington factory round. Penetration was complete and both shoulder bones had been extensively damaged for an instant, humane kill. The rifle performed admirably during this typical sambar encounter — reloading had been rapid, with second and third aimed shots delivered in quick succession. The cartridge had performed well and the animal taken cleanly. Nothing more could be asked nor expected of a hunting rifle.
In summary, I feel that the Remington Model 7600 in .35 Whelen is well suited to the needs of a deerhunter; it handles extremely well, points positively and is strongly constructed. The pump-action should be considered on a par with the bolt and self-loader for it is equally strong and reliable given reasonable care and attention. Speed of operation of the pump is surprisingly quick and the hunter would adapt to this mode of operation readily. The test rifle delivered accuracy straight from the box that would put many bolt actions to shame and this high level of accuracy was maintained throughout the period. The .35 Whelen calibre is ideally suited to sambar. It pushes a heavy bullet at moderate to high velocity and is itself inherently accurate.
I would highly recommend the Remington 7600 Pump Action in .35 Whelen calibre to the deer hunter seeking a fast handling, accurate and well-made rifle. The test rifle was all this, and then some. My only regret is that I’ll have to give it back at the end of the winter! Pack a pump in 1990, you’ll love it!
Although this review was written thirty years ago, the Remington 7600 in .30’06 or .35 Whelen is still selling strongly, particularly to hound hunters, who usually team it with a red-dot or low magnification variable scope. In this configuration it comes into its own as a reliable killer on moving sambar in heavy cover where a quick follow-up shot is often essential.