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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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