A few built-in glitches aside, though, what a fine shooting iron! The reason we know about the problems is the 700 has seen use everywhere, doing everything, for a long time. It is well established as a target rifle and a hunting rifle, and has long served as the sniper's rifle of the Army and Marine Corps. Millions of 700's have been sold. Because its flaws have been exposed through long hard use, I tend to trust this rifle more than some others. It's as in the old saying: "Better the devil you know."
It is typically an accurate rifle and it works smoothly--most of the time. In its usual sporter configuration, it is slim, well balanced and handles well. You can put a yard of bull barrel and two tons of fancy stock on it and it will handle like a plank, but that is true of any rifle.
Now, as to the downside: As with any machine, the works can get gummed up. Parts can wear and fail and things can break. There are three places where the Remington 700 is particularly inclined to mischief: the extractor, the magazine and, on a small percentage of older models, the trigger and safety--potentially a very serious matter. (If you have one of these troublesome older models, Remington will put things right at very little expense to you. I give the details below.)
The Dinky Extractor
Where riflemen to gather to talk shop, the Remington's extractor is the first thing mentioned as a weak point of its design. It is said to be the rifle's weakest link. It is a small spring steel semicircular affair that sits inside the bolt face. It snags the cartridge rim when you close the bolt. It drags the cartridge out again when you open the bolt.
It is a very small part, to be tasked with such an important job. The Mauser, and similar actions, use a massive claw. The comparison is inevitable.
It isn't as if Remington did not know about the Mauser extractor. Before they came up with the spring clip type, they had made a great many rifles with Mauser extractors, including Springfields for the military. Presumably they knew all about the advantages. What they came up with instead is more compact, simpler, lighter and, yes, also cheaper to make.
This part occasionally breaks or becomes distorted. In the few incidents I have been able to track down that have all the facts available, the failures have happened at high round counts--over five thousand in one case, above ten thousand in two others. A small number of extractors have failed in brand new rifles--bad tempering, apparently. Always try out a rifle before you trust it.
You should carefully inspect the extractor every time you have the bolt out of the rifle. Gently clean any filth from on or beneath it, with solvent and a toothpick. Examine the part for any signs of cracking or distortion. Replace it if it looks wrong. You may wish, as a precaution, to change it out every few thousand rounds, just to be on the safe side. This is more rounds than the normal hunter shoots through his rifle in his entire life. Still, there are people who shoot that much and more, and lots of them have Remingtons.
There are two styles of extractors used in Remington 700's. The older style is riveted to the bolt face. The newer style does not use a rivet. Remington discovered that the rivet was not really needed; spring pressure was enough to keep the part in place. Unfortunately, the newer rivetless design is not interchangeable with the older, riveted extractor and cannot be used to replace it. If you have a riveted extractor, that is the kind you are stuck with.
Replacing the new rivetless extractor is easy, just pop it in. Extractor, Rivetless F93712 '06 Bolt Face. Replacing the riveted extractor is not difficult, exactly, but it is a bit of a fiddly procedure. You have to buck over a rivet while supporting it from inside the narrow rim of the bolt face. Brownell's replacement kit includes instructions. I find it telling that the kit includes the extractor and two rivets, while only one rivet is needed. What that says to me is a lot of people miss on the first try. The kit: Remington 700-Style Riveted Extractor Kit . (Be sure you order the right size for your caliber.)
To make the installation go more smoothly, there is a tool to make it easier to smack that rivet right: Remington 700 Armorer's Kit Remington Extractor Rivet Anvil. You can do the job without the special anvil, but it may require some ingenuity on your part.
If you're not at all a gun hobbyist-tinkerer, consider taking the riveted style to a gunsmith if you need it replaced. It's a quick and easy job for someone who has the right tools and has done it before.
There is a scheme for replacing the Remington extractor with the extractor from a Sako rifle, or from an M16. I am not convinced of the benefits. When Marine armorers build the Corps' sniper rifle, they use numerous custom made or specially adapted bits and pieces, but they keep Remington's extractor, and this is on a rifle being tuned up for life and death use. Fitting a different extractor would be an unnoticeable added bit of time and expense, in crafting what is in effect a hand built rifle, but the Marines decided the Remington extractor would do. Nobody knows more about rifles than the jarheads; if you doubt it, you can ask them.
My own verdict on the extractor issue: Keep the extractor and bolt face clean, watch the extractor for signs of trouble, and if you fire off a whole lot of ammo, replace the thing periodically as a precaution. And stop worrying about it.
Magazine And Feeding Issues
Here is a common occurrence: It's difficult pushing the rounds into the magazine, and perhaps not all of them will go in. When you shoot, rounds fail to feed, sticking in the magazine so that the bolt rides over them instead of pushing them into the chamber. If the rifle worked before, the likely cause of this misconduct is that the magazine box is cockeyed in the rifle--pinched somehow or in crooked. Take the gun apart and put it back together again, making sure the magazine box is undistorted and installed just right. A less common cause for misbehavior is foreign material or rust interfering with the function of the magazine. The solution there is obvious.
If the magazine system is put in right, unobstructed and unrusted, any feeding problems are ordinarily limited to rough, sluggish or incomplete feeding. A new, strong magazine spring should help. If that doesn't completely solve the problem, perhaps a slight smoothing of the feed rails will help. Polish don't reshape. (Crocus cloth not sandpaper.) Reshaping rails is a factory matter, or something for a good gunsmith with lots of Remington experience. The amateur is well advised to leave it alone.
A few people have reported feeding failures on brand new rifles. In this case, why fool around? Send the thing back to Remington and tell them coffee break's over.
These remarks apply to the models with internal magazines, which you fill from the top of the rifle. They do not apply to the detachable magazine models. I have no experience with those, as yet. On other detachable magazine arms, in my experience, anyway, the solution to most feeding issues is a new magazine, and I suppose it would be the same with the Remington DM.
The Trigger and Safety Matter
Remington will convert the bolt locking safety on older model Remington 700's to non bolt-locking operation, for $20. At the same time they will replace your trigger, at no additional charge, if it is not working to spec. The link is here and more information on the retrofitting program is here. To quote:
Remington is extending through December 31, 2010, its Safety Modification Program to remove the bolt-lock mechanism from certain Remington bolt-action centerfire firearms made prior to March, 1982. (Post-1982 bolt-action firearms were not manufactured with bolt-lock mechanisms). To determine whether your firearm has a bolt-lock mechanism and is subject to the safety modification program, click on the model listed below and follow the directions included.
The unloading process for most bolt-action firearms with a bolt-lock mechanism cannot begin unless the manual safety is placed in the "F" or "Off or Fire" position. If you participate in the program your firearm will be modified to eliminate the bolt-lock feature and you will be able to unload your firearm while the safety is kept in the "S" or " On Safe" position. The operation of your firearm will not otherwise be affected.
Unless they extend this program again (they have before), you have till year's end to get the modification and a complimentary hat; see the web site for details. There is a bit of history behind this program; some 700's, it now appears, have fired when the safety was taken off, without the trigger being pulled. There was quite a media circus about it years ago; here is what CBS said. Although any accidental shooting is tragic, and I do not at all wish to detract from the seriousness of the accidents or the anguish caused by them, shooters well know that you must never trust a safety and always apply the rules of proper gun handling. Furthermore, the off-safe-and-bang malfunction is not unique to Remingtons.
But since we know there is a possible issue here, why not send in your rifle, if you have an '82 or earlier model? As I read the factory's announcement, they will convert your safety so you can leave it engaged while you unload, as on the current model, and if there is anything amiss with your trigger they will put in another. Amiss, in this case, no doubt includes any amateur slob job trying to make a field trigger into a hair trigger. The trigger is a bit of precision workmanship and does not like to be messed with.
Here is what a wrongful death and personal injury law firm has to say about the Remington trigger; I include this link to round out coverage of the subject. As you may suppose, what it says is not positive, but careful reading between the lines may suggest, to the gun-savvy, something about the true nature of the controversy.
I have an older 700 with the bolt lock that I am going to send in, simply because I am telling other people to do so. Its operation appears to be all correct, but I cannot expect others to take my advice if I do not take it myself. I haven't had any trouble with this rifle, but that may be due to foresight. When I bought it used, I found it was pretty well gummed up with congealed oil, so I rinsed that out before I tried to use the rifle. The pull weight, when I got it, was set at about 3 1/2 pounds, not unreasonable for the design, possibly the way it left the factory, and the sear engagement screw was untouched under its factory seal. Of course, grime or gunk, and unreasonable trigger settings, will contribute very much to unsafety, on this or any rifle.
It may be that there are Remington 700's out there that have triggers that were never quite right in the first place, even among those made after the 1975 revision of specifications, and the 1982 elimination of the bolt lock, for no manufacturing process is error free, but the last line of defense, in rifle safety, is the thoughtful and well informed rifleman.
A quick field check you can do on any 700, old or new, is as follows. Gun UNLOADED and pointed in a SAFE DIRECTION, gun cocked and safety on, move the safety halfway between Safe and Fire. Pull the trigger. Take your finger off the trigger and move the safety to Fire. The striker should not fall. If it does, do not fire the gun, or load it, until it is professionally repaired. I repeat this check a few times before each outing.
Beginning in 2007, Remington began shipping the 700 with a new trigger mechanism called the "X-Mark" and in 2009 the X-Mark gained an external adjustment screw for pull weight, on its trigger face; the 2007 version had all the screws inside the gun, like the previous model. I have no experience with this trigger unit myself and am trying to sort out how this change is working out for people. If you have some firsthand input on the subject, please leave it in the comment box.
So In Summary...
The Remington 700 reminds me a little bit of the Jaguar automobile. They do not look the same, and they only occasionally sound the same, but with either one there is the feeling that here is a high performance machine with some maintenance related peculiarities. The 700 has the particular virtue of wanting to shoot straight. It is ordinarily a good shooter right out of the box and with tuning it can be phenomenal. Its vices are few in number and easily dealt with once you know what they involve.
If that doesn't seem persuasive to you, that's fine. Some situations, and some people's preferences, are better served by designs where toughness and endurance were the main criteria. (A Dodge 4x4 serves better for some trips than a Jaguar.) But, if you ask around, trying to find out which rifles never give any trouble, the answer, you will find, is "None of 'em!"