Since 2010, many experts have considered the Steyr SSG 08 in .338 Lapua Magnum to be one of the top sniper rifles available. This quality comes with a price, but if you have the budget, the Steyr SSG 08 family is one of the best options for a no-limits sniper rifle.
Steyr Mannlicher is based in Austria, but the United States affiliate, Steyr Arms, is located in in Bessemer, Alabama. The company’s top-quality, American-made AUG is taking the market by storm. In my opinion, it is even superior to its Austrian brother, with a U.S.-made precision trigger. But Steyr’s hunting, varmint and sniper rifles are a different story; they are all built in the same Austrian factory that manufactured the mythical SSG 69 and Colonel Jeff Cooper’s renowned Scout rifle.
In 2004, Steyr moved its factory from the village of Steyr, Austria, to a state-of-the-art facility in Kleinraming, just a few miles away, which added new machinery and workers to the engineering department. This added some fresh ideas to the company’s centuries of experience in precision rifle building. One of the first developments at the new factory was the SSG 08 in, you guessed it, 2008.
Steyr is one of the few manufacturers (along with FN) that offer sniper rifles with cold-hammer-forged barrels. Cold-hammer forging is a process in which the barrel is forged over a mandrel that has the lands and grooves imprinted into it. This forms the barrel with incredible precision and increased hardness compared to traditional rifling methods. SSG barrels are known for their superb accuracy, ease of cleaning and long life due to this ultra-fine interior barrel finish.
I recently got my hands on the .338 Lapua Magnum SSG 08-A1, which comes standard with a 27.2-inch barrel. However, the factory also offers .308 Winchester and .300 Winchester Magnum versions with 20-, 23.6- or 27.2-inch barrels.
Having a folding stock makes the transport of a long-barreled gun a little easier, so I would have even gone for a barrel 2 inches longer on the .338 Lapua Magnum rifle, up to 29 inches, but it seems that the market does not follow my advice, as most manufacturers are offering shorter barrels instead of longer ones.
It is clear that for most users, shooting beyond 1,500 meters is rare, and the .338 Lapua Magnum really shines at those ranges. For 1,000 meters, I would just use my trusty .308 Winchester, which is lighter, cheaper to feed and just as accurate as any .338 Lapua Magnum can be. Of course, you’ll see more energy and less wind drift with a 20-inch-barreled .338 Lapua Magnum rifle even at 1,000 meters, but it will not be a huge improvement over a long-barreled .308. I know I am a rare bird by being against the short-barreled tide, but for me, a .338 is designed to shoot far. And shooting far requires high muzzle velocities and long barrels.
With this particular rifle, Steyr chose a medium-heavy, non-fluted barrel with a 1-in-10-inch twist rate. The muzzle comes with M18x1 threading, the same as many other European rifles. The included muzzle brake is super efficient and compatible with STANAG suppressors, such the B&T Rotex or Ase Utra. Actually, I like it so much that I use the same muzzle brake on my custom rifles, too.
One feature that I love about Steyr rifles is that their barrels have the iconic hammer-forging spiral marks on the outside, which are accented even further by the black Mannox finish. Those marks, a Steyr trademark since the SSG 69, may not be a feature that improves accuracy, but they surely add a unique touch.
The barrel is threaded to the Safe Bolt System (SBS) action at the rear. This is a quick barrel change system, meaning you can swap barrels with a barrel vise, but without having to headspace the new barrel, as all of the barrels are indexed the same. Steyr believes that, with current barrel attachment systems, until a better solution is found, any tool-less barrel change will degrade its rifles’ mythical accuracy. Something the company will never compromise.
The SBS bolt has four front locking lugs in two rows of opposed sets. In case of a blown casing or shooting with an obstruction in the barrel, the shooter is always protected from injuries by the SBS insert, and the rifle will survive the shot and be capable of shooting again. It has some additional features, like the ice, mud, and residue grooves machined into the bolt that guarantee the SSG 08-A1 will operate reliably under the most extreme weather conditions.
To my knowledge, the SBS action is one of the most advanced systems out there, allowing the shooter to select various modes of safety and trigger operation. In the “safe” position, the weapon can be loaded and unloaded, but the trigger is locked to prevent accidental discharges. When the shooter is ready to engage the target, just roll the noiseless safety wheel forward, to “fire,” and the rifle will be ready to shoot. If the shooter decides not to engage, then a lock button on the safety wheel prevents the unintended rolling of the safety into any other position from this one. The trigger and bolt are now locked.
One lesser-known SBS feature that is particularly convenient for snipers is what I call the low-crawl bolt. While in “safe,” you can depress the bolt lever into a position closer to the stock so that the handle protrudes less. In addition, this locks the firing pin.
The SSG 08-A1 stock comes in a distinctive tan anodized finish and is completely new. The chassis sports a fully adjustable buttstock and an 18-inch-long, one-piece, 20-MOA STANAG 4694 rail. Another unique feature on the SSG 08-A1 is the ejection port cover, which will keep sand and other debris out in the most adverse conditions.
The old stock was 6 pounds, and this new one, fully CNC-machined from 7075-T6 aluminum with its longer rail, maintains the weight. Both sides of the forend are slotted for more rails, and there is a rail on the bottom nearly 10 inches long. All of the side rails are held in position with slots, not just screws. This adds stiffness for any accessory mounted to the sides and contributes to the low overall weight.
A CNC-machined bipod was also added. Similar to the beautifully machined unit mounted on the HS50-M1 but with shorter legs, it is attached to the stock with a Versapod arbor. This allows the pivot point of the bipod legs to be very close to the bore, a feature I find critical for recoil management. It is fully machined from 7075-T6 aluminum, and at 19 ounces, it is nearly as light as a Harris bipod while being impressively sturdy.
At the rear, the standard SSG 08 monopod is included. This was a wise decision because it is the quickest- adjusting unit on the market. The rear rubber buttpad is fully adjustable for both height and length of pull without tools. The pistol grip is AK-47 compatible, so there are myriad options out there to change the grip angle.
The trigger is the best unit I have tested on an out-of-the-box rifle. You can adjust the trigger’s engagement, travel and pull weight. It leaves the factory at 3.5 pounds, but it can be adjusted to a lighter pull weight if so desired. I adjusted it down to 2 pounds, which is as light as I go with a sniper rifle.
The six-round magazine can accommodate .338 Lapua Magnum rounds up to 3.75 inches in overall length. It is made of PA 6.6 GF30, a synthetic much more durable than old composites and requiring zero maintenance. The rifle also has a unique two-position latch that allows you to load specialized rounds through the ejection port while having the magazine on the rifle and ready. I find this feature very practical and one that is lacking on many competitors.
The barrel’s 1-in-10-inch twist rate makes it perfect for 250- to 300-grain rounds, even solids like Cutting Edge’s 250-grain Lazer HPs. With commercial loads, I could create three-shot groups between 0.45 and 0.6 MOA at 300 meters with the old SSG 08. The new SSG 08-A1 shoots just as well or even better.
Just two days after receiving the SSG 08-A1 for testing, I had to travel for work as a guest instructor at the NATO ISTC special operations school. Therefore, I didn’t have any time to zero the rifle beforehand. At the school, I tested some of the loads with various sniper teams hailing from different countries. And the Italian spec-ops snipers’ Fiocchi 250-grain Perfecta load made the Steyr SSG 08-A1 shoot like it was on a benchrest. This ammunition is nothing new, as it uses the 250-grain Sierra MatchKing BTHP, but the performance was awesome. I could shoot 0.2-MOA, three-shot groups at 500 meters fairly easily, with the average group measuring an impressive 0.46 MOA.
I can’t guess what the SSG 08-A1’s accuracy potential would be with reloads, but I have shot nearly 500 rounds of factory ammo through the gun over three months, including Nosler 300-grain Custom Competition rounds, RUAG 262-grain Swiss-P target rounds, Lapua 250-grain Scenars and my standard round, the RUAG 252-grain AP, and they all created groups measuring 0.5 MOA or less. After many years of military sniping and competitive shooting I don’t feel you can do any better with commercial loads.
The 2017 SSG 08-A1 is not just a 2010 model with a long Picatinny rail. It is a refinement on an already superb rifle to make it ready for inline optics, and it add lots of tool-less adjustability for better ergonomics. The updates add top-notch accessories and leave the barreled action nearly untouched. Why change what was already the best?
I commented back in 2010 that the only flaw on the previous model SSG 08 was the price. In 2017, there are many rifles out there built around inferior two-lug designs costing just as much. This has made Steyr more affordable by comparison. With the SSG 08-A1’s extremely precise barrel, superb SBS action and upgraded chassis, you are getting what may be the best sniper rifle ever for a competitive price.
Steyr SSG 08 A1 Specs
- Caliber: .338 Lapua Magnum
- Barrel: 27.2 inches
- OA Length: 49.6 inches
- Weight: 16.19 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Adjustable, folding
- Sights: None
- Action: Bolt
- Finish: Matte black, tan
- Capacity: 6+1
- MSRP: $8,495
Steyr SSG 08 A1 Performance
|Fiocchi 250 Perfecta Sniper
|0.35 (average), 0.18 (best)
|Lapua 250 Scenar
|0.57 (average), 0.35 (best)
|Nosler 225 AccuBond
|0.73 (average), 0.41 (best)
|Nosler 300 Custom Competition
|0.50 (average), 0.22 (best)
|Remington 250 SMK
|0.76 (average), 0.32 (best)
|RUAG 252 AP
|0.52 (average), 0.25 (best)
*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in MOA for three 3-shot groups at 300 yards.
For more information, visit steyrarms.com.
This article was originally published in the February/March 2018 issue of “Tactical Weapons.” To order a copy and subscribe, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.