Redefining The Hunter
The Colt Cooper .308 WIN Borrows Technology
From Tactical Models To Create A New
As anybody who’s read much of Theodore Roosevelt’s writing knows, hunters have always pushed the limits of their shooting. But the modern trend called long-range hunting began with the introduction of hand-held laser rangefinders for the civilian market in the 1990’s.
Before then, the most effective way of estimating range was to compare a scope’s reticle (or even a front sight) with the size of an animal in the distance. This actually works pretty well as long as the animal in question comes in reasonably similar sizes, but the laser rangefinder allowed ranging within plus-or-minus 1 yard, no matter the size of the animal, at well beyond guesstimating distances.
This changed both the scopes and rifles some hunters use today. The most common long-range hunting rifles are essentially lighter versions of military and law-enforcement sniper rifles, designed specifically for deliberate shots at longer ranges. This differs from the traditional all-around hunting rifle mostly in weight and stock design, though other features such as bolt handles, detachable magazines, muzzlebrakes and scope-mounting systems have also been borrowed from “tactical” rifles.
One of the latest is a hunting version of Colt’s M2012 rifle, based on the Cooper repeater bolt action and made by Cooper in their Montana factory. It comes in two chamberings, the .260 Remington and .308 Winchester, and the rifle tested was the M2012LT308G, as opposed to the M2012LT260G. (Italics mine—apparently abstract model designations are part of the deal in long-range hunting rifles.) I requested a .308 instead of a .260 partly because my tastes in modern 6.5mm rounds run to the 6.5 Creedmoor and .264 Winchester Magnum, so there wasn’t any .260 ammo on my shelves—but there was a bunch of Black Hills Match .308 loaded with the 175-grain Sierra MatchKing.
Instead of the synthetic stocks on the tactical M2012’s, the stock is a gray laminate differing from the average hunting stock primarily in the nearly right-angle, palm-swell pistol grip. The fore-end also has two sling swivel studs typical of tactical rifles, one for the sling and the other for a bipod. The buttstock has a 1-inch black Pachmayr Decelerator pad with a basketweave face.
The chrome-moly Wilson barrel is 22 inches long, measuring 0.790-inch just behind the Cooper muzzlebrake. (Brakes are favored among long-range hunters to reduce muzzle flip so they can spot their own shots, since unlike snipers they don’t always have a spotting partner.) The barrel has 6 flutes, theoretically allowing a heavier, stiffer barrel while saving some weight, but these were only 0.025-inch deep. I calculated the weight savings as less than 0.5-ounce, but they do look cool. The inside of the 1:10-inch-twist barrel looked equally nice in my bore-scope, with a very smooth surface and only slight machining marks in the chamber throat.
The Cooper bolt has three locking lugs. This not only promotes accuracy through more even distribution of bolt thrust, but the 60-degree bolt lift prevents conflicts between the bolt handle and the large-diameter eyepiece bells on many of today’s tactical scopes. The bolt handle isn’t nearly as large as those true tactical rifles, but plenty long enough for extra leverage. Like the barrel, the bolt body is fluted, but spirally, reducing friction, partly because the grooves allow any field-gunk someplace to go.
The ejector’s a typical spring-loaded plunger, and the extractor a toggle-type—as is the bolt stop. The Accurate-Mag single-stack detachable magazine holds 5 rounds (a 10-rounder is optional), and feeding, extraction and ejection were flawless throughout the test. A cocking indicator tab is attached to the cocking piece and the red dot on the tab is visible when the rifle’s cocked.
John found the comb a little low for his liking, and the weight with scope, bipod and ammo (above) a little high at around 11+ pounds. A grey wood laminate stock was provided instead of a synthetic. The Caldwell gong is 10 inches in diameter, about the same size as the vital area on a buck pronghorn. Rocks were necessary to keep the gong upright (below).
The 2-position safety is attached to the Timney trigger, with the lever located on the tang of the action, along the right side of the bolt shroud. Typical of modern safeties, when “on” it does not lock the bolt handle down. From the factory the trigger pull was crisp, averaging 2 pounds, 11 ounces, plus or minus an ounce, but the trigger’s also easily adjustable. There’s a M1913 Picatinny rail on top of the action attached with four Torx screws. Except for the shiny bolt body all the metal’s finished in matte black, though exactly what the finish consists of isn’t listed in Colt’s specifications.
The rifle’s weight is listed at 8.5 pounds, and the test rifle weighed 3 ounces more. I mounted a 30mm-tube 10×40 Leupold Mark 4 LR/T scope with .025-MOA (not 0.25-inch) adjustments in Precision Reflex steel tactical rings. While there are a bunch of fancier variable “tactical” scopes on the market these days, the 10×40 Mark 4 has a fine reputation for rugged reliability and very good glass. This particular scope has been on several rifles over the past few years, and the adjustments have proven to be dead-nuts, even without running the adjustments a little beyond the spot required. Instead you just turn the required number of clicks, and there it is.
Once loaded, the 5-round magazine fed perfectly.
Loading the magazine required some minor gymnastics with the left thumb.
Otherwise the previous round popped up and out of the magazine.
The 3-lug bolt has a plunger ejector and toggle extractor.
The bolt body is spiral fluted.
The rifle comes with a long Picatinny rail
Torx-screwed to the top of the action.
The first test took place on a nice winter day on a 100-yard range off a benchrest. After getting on paper, three 5-shot groups with the Black Hills ammo averaged 0.72-inch. This wasn’t a surprise, but it’s always good to know. I adjusted the scope so the groups landed 1.4 inches high, allowing for a dead-on hold out to 200 yards.
Instead of shooting more groups at longer ranges, I decided instead to use the rifle to field-test a new Caldwell Magnum Rifle Gong from MidwayUSA. The gong itself is 10 inches in diameter and 3/8-inch thick, made of AR550 steel and comes with a light steel frame for setting up in the field. Since the Colt/Cooper is a hunting rifle, it seemed more appropriate to shoot it like a hunting rifle and a 10-inch target is all you need to hit to cleanly take any big game in North America, even pronghorns.
The test took place in late April, on a big chunk of public BLM land within 15 minutes of my home. A rainy cold front came through the day before, leaving the ground damp and the air cool and almost calm, with a 1-2 mph breeze barely cooling the left side of my face from 10 o’clock.
This was awhile after the 100-yard bench test, so the first shot was taken at 200 yards to confirm the rifle was still sighted in. It was—but I hadn’t weighted the gong’s frame enough, and when the steel plate flipped back and then forward, the frame also tipped forward. Luckily, the ground (typical of BLM land) had a lot of rocks, and it only took a couple minutes to place more mini-boulders on the frame.
Instead of a bipod I used the same front rest as at the range, to make sure there wasn’t any slight change in point of impact. I next shot the gong at 300 yards, then in 50-yard increments out to 600, adjusting the scope the required number of clicks as indicated on Bryan Litz’s Point Mass Ballistic Solver computer program. This shooting simulated actual hunting more realistically than groups on paper.
The first three shots at 300, 350 and 400 yards all resulted in solid clanks, but the first shot at 450 missed, due to the jerk behind the trigger, but the second shot was a hit. So were the first shots at 450, 500 and 550, where I was holding just off the left edge of the gong due to the slight breeze.
At 600, however, both the first and second shots were misses, with the same windage hold, and due to the wet ground I couldn’t see the impacts. The misses puzzled me, so I sat up to stretch my neck and think before taking another shot. Instantly I felt more breeze, something that sometimes happens when rising from prone. The air was too cool to produce visible mirage through the 10X scope and the grass too short to bend in the light breeze, but it had definitely picked up to maybe 5 mph and shifted close to 9 o’clock. I lay back down and held almost a full gong into the wind. Clank! That was so much fun I shot again, and clanked again.
The nine hits were spread across the gong, due to the breeze, but vertically all but one landed in less than 5 inches. All would have cleanly taken a pronghorn, and probably even the misses would have taken an elk. While 600 yards isn’t considered very long range these days, some handloads tuned to the rifle would probably shoot even better. (The gong, by the way, held up very well. Only paint was missing on eight of the shots, while the ninth shot hit the very edge of the gong, chipping off a pinhead fragment of steel.)
The biggest negative was the low comb of the stock. This could easily be fixed by strapping on an after-market pad, but the scope could only be mounted maybe 0.25-inch lower and there was still plenty of airspace between my cheek and the comb.
Also, I’ve tested a lot of tactical-style hunting rifles and just don’t get the “need” for a detachable magazine, especially one that can’t be loaded from the top. Plus, like a lot of detachable magazines, the Colt’s wasn’t exactly easy to load. While Accurate-Mags are used on many rifles, with the .308’s magazine I had to use my left thumb to keep the rear of the top round down while sliding the next round inside. This wasn’t exactly complicated, but in a hunting rifle I still prefer a magazine easy to load from the top while it’s still inside the rifle. Yeah, an extra detachable magazine quickly provides more rounds, but is something extra to carry, and hunters already have enough to carry—and hopefully will have even more to carry out of the field. I also have an inherent distrust of anything that can fall off a hunting rifle, especially in the backcountry. This might seem unlikely, but the magazine release lever extends 0.25-inch below the triggerguard.
On the other hand, it’s probably unrealistic to expect a company to change the magazine system on a tactical rifle adapted to hunting, and a lot of long-range hunters prefer detachable magazines. But even with detachable magazines, several European companies make models possible to reload from the top, though a full-length Picatinny rail makes top-loading difficult on any bolt action.
I’m also not sure all the weight of the Colt/Cooper is needed for long-range hunting. Add a light 12-ounce bipod and 5 rounds, and it weighs around 11-1/2 pounds. Yes, a heavier rifle is easier to shoot at longer ranges, but in my experience a 10-pound rifle, all up, is plenty steady for 500+ yard shooting at big game or larger varmints.
But despite those nitpicks, this rifle will appeal to a bunch of today’s hunters, and at the suggested retail price of $2,795 it’s a good deal on today’s market.
By John Barsness
MAKER: COLT MFG.
P.O. Box 1868, Hartford, CT 06144
Action Type: Bolt
Black Hills Ammunition
Caliber: .308 Winchester
Overall length: 43-1/2 inches
Weight: 8.5 pounds
Finish: Black Matte
Sights: None (Picatinny rail on action)
Stock: Gray laminate
P.O. Box 3090, Rapid City, SD 57709
Black Hills Ammunition
Leupold & Stevens, Inc.
P.O. Box 688, Beaverton, OR 97075-5790
5875 West VanHorn Tavern Road
Columbia, MO 65203
Precision Reflex, Inc.
710 Streine Drive
P.O. Box 95
New Brennan, OH 45869