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Back To The Bolt

Back To The Bolt

Photo credit: Allison Earnest

Obviously, any affection lavished on a good bolt-action is easily justified. The first example drew the attention of marksmen with the von Dreyse Nadelgewehr (1824) and was utterly solidified by Paul Mauser’s M98 at the end of the 19th century. Ubiquitous in both military and civilian use by the 1920s, the simplicity, strength, reliability and potential for positively astonishing accuracy—especially in the right hands—became the type’s hallmark. 

And quite a type, too: The Remington 700, Springfield ’03, Winchester Model 70 and British Enfield—to name just a familiar few—have soldiered, hunted and enforced the law the world over. They’ve been manufactured in the tens of millions. Only in the past 10 years have decades of experimentation, innovative gunsmithing and improvements in materials brought the average autoloader remotely close to a usurpation. But pound for pound and parts-count for parts-count, when accuracy is the sine qua non, bolt guns still reign.The proof is very much in this particular pudding: Despite its light weight, this is a notably pleasant bench rifle.

It would be understandable to think there was nothing left to do. And then—as so often happens—ingenuity and inspiration combine, and a rifle like Legendary Arms Works’ 704 Closer comes along. 

In an interesting twist, the 704 was originally the brainchild of noted pistol expert Ed Brown (of world-class 1911 fame). The rightly esteemed Brown produced the 702 and 704 versions for a decade beginning in 2000, causing our friends at Guns & Ammo to proclaim it “the most significant advance in bolt action rifle technology in over 100 years,” due largely to its “controlled round feed” bolt and follower. But design brilliance and commercial viability can be frustratingly different things, and Brown had ceased production by 2011. 

Resuscitation of the 704 was fortunately not long in coming. Noted riflesmith Mark Bansner had long been making superbly accurate Bansner Ultimate Rifles and High Tech Specialties stocks. In conjunction with David Dunn of Trop Manufacturing LLC, Legendary was born and the 704 reborn. About a year after design rights were acquired, the latest version debuted at SHOT Show 2015.

As Production Manager James “J.D.” Diehl told us, “The Brown design is truly superb, but moving to a ‘production’ rifle without sacrificing quality required small geometry changes to almost everything.” Messin’ with the Ed Brown design at all might normally have given us pause, but by the time Diehl said this, we’d already shot the law 704. “Wow,” therefore, was much more on our minds than, “Wait a second …” Granted, it hadn’t hurt any that the externals were so good: A tactical grey Cerakote treatment on the barrel, action and bolt seems the perfect complement to tri-color speckle treatment of the hand-laid fiberglass stock. Pre-fitted Picatinny sight rails, sling studs, Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and a one-piece aluminum trigger guard are quick reminders of things you won’t need to add before getting to work. 

That the beauty was more than skin-deep was clear from the outset. Our scope mount and bore sight took less than 10 minutes—a great indication of how “true” the factory-mounted sight rails were to the line of the bolt and bore. 

Our subsequent range work followed a similarly expeditious course. We shot five projectiles ranging from 147 grain to 175 grain, and all with good-to-excellent performance from the 1-in-10 twist, 416 stainless barrel. In terms of groups, we printed both three- and five-shot strings, although five, we think, slightly overwarms the #3 profile. Slight stringing of groups appeared then, though they stayed under an inch. Our best three were a dab under half a minute of angle. 

We attribute a large part of this accuracy to the law factory tune of the excellent Timney trigger—yet another thing you won’t have to add or change (or, at least, we wouldn’t). At just a smidgen over 3 pounds, it’s plenty safe for the field and a pleasure on the bench. A Winchester-style three-position safety is welcome, too. We shot five projectiles ranging from 147 grain to 175 grain, and all with good-to-excellent performance from the 1-in-10 twist, 416 stainless barrel.

Our favorite feature of the 704, however, requires a little context. We confess to being crotchety un-fans of “lightweight” rifles; the quest for ever-lighter kit has many potential problems. Choppy recoil is the first. While you should always make that first shot count, good luck on any sort of follow-up with a light, badly-out-of-position rifle. Next is the punishing nature of that recoil (especially beyond our .308 exemplar). It’s a great way to acquire a flinch, and thereby blow that crucial first chance. Lastly, those featherweights get most of their lightness from thin-walled barrels, which you can perhaps steady up. But we sure never mastered it. 

So we cut to the chase here: The 704 has none of these annoying attributes. With the excellent Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10x32 FFP and sling, we had an 8.8-lb. combo with enough glass to shoot easily and precisely to 400 yards. When we asked Diehl about this, he said the “feel” was a principal design goal, and mainly attributable to the stock design and the mating of it to the action. “The lug configuration, high comb, trim stock ‘wrist’ and woven fiberglass stock layers are what sets the recoil signature apart,” he said. “Spreading the recoil impulse over time literally does reduce it.” 

The proof is very much in this particular pudding: Despite its light weight, this is a notably pleasant bench rifle. You’ll want to practice with the 704, and you will thereby be far more likely to shoot it well when it matters most.

All things considered, we don’t care whether it’s design brilliance, gunsmith mojo or pixie dust that contributes to the end product: The Legendary Arms Works Model 704 rifle is a superb achievement.

Nuts and Bolts

The LAW 704 Closer is a rare joy in these complicated times: “Out of the box,” it wants for nothing. Well, practically nothing: obviously you’ll need a sling and optic. The point is that fiddling (and the often-associated expenses) doesn’t crop up before you can get to the fun, useful part: shooting the darn thing. 

One fiddle we did is evident in our photographs: The Bushnell “Elite Tactical” HDMR 3.5-21x 50mm is a first-focal plane, 34mm dreadnaught that is an unlikely candidate for the 704. At 32.5 ounces (less rings), we concede that it would be at cross-purposes for lightening up prior to your deer, elk or (especially) your goat hunt.

But an absolute thrill on the LAW nonetheless? You bet. If you want to learn this lead/hold-over methodology and mechanics (the ins and outs of FFP and the “Horus” style of reticle), .308 Winchester is simply the best cartridge there is. “Why” is simple: It’s the most widely available, sufficiently accurate and inexpensive cartridge with the “legs” for the job. 

We took a chance on some new ammunition for our LAW evaluation too. Or maybe “chance” is the wrong word. As far as we can tell, very little indeed is left to chance with the Gorilla Ammunition 175 grain “Match.” Built up from Sierra MatchKings©, Federal cases and match primers at a veteran-owned, Florida company, it just plain out-shot everything else we tried in the 704. 

MSRP for the Model 704 “Closer” is $1599, and is available in 18 standard calibers. Contact Legendary Arms Works at www.legendaryarmsworks.com/.

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