Issue 35 4 x 6.5CM < $2,000 Rob Curtis Join the Conversation Once upon a time, bolt-action chassis rifles were rarely seen outside the military or well-funded law enforcement agencies. It took a while for the larger civilian market to see the benefit of the big, heavy, bolt-fed rifles and the configurability they provide. Even with the relatively recent availability of high-performance, large-frame semi-autos, there are still plenty of people who covet the ballistic efficiency, simplicity, and reliability of the bolt gun, but want to utilize modern shooting accessories. And for those people the chassis gun is just the thing. There may have been a hard and fast definition of a rifle chassis at one point, but in the days since Accuracy International introduced the concept, the term has evolved. A chassis generally distinguishes itself from a traditional bolt-action rifle stock in a few ways. It’s a drop-in platform that requires no custom bedding, provides the host action the capability to run from a detachable magazine, has a modular accessory attachment system, features an adjustable stock, and is often made of machined aluminum. All of these characteristics appealed squarely to the tactical shooter at the turn of the century, but the Safari Club set still held sway as the alpha influencers of the high-end bolt gun market. It’s hard to believe, but 25 years ago there was a good chance a collar-popping, square-range-mustachioso would call into question the manhood of anyone who used a bipod to steady a shot. Slowly, from about the time Brad Pitt asked Morgan Freeman “What’s in the box?”, sentiment evolved and the benefits of the chassis system won over cops and competitors. Now, we have a wide range of affordable, accurate, and configurable chassis rifles that suit snipers, practical rifle series shooters, and even some hunters. WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR Contemporary chassis guns are, first and foremost, adaptable and accurate. All the guns we’re looking at easily shoot better than 1 MOA groups. The beauty of the chassis system is having a single rifle that can feed a family, clear a farm of predators, ring steel, and even protect a community without incurring a significant penalty in any area of performance. Sure, the truly loaded can afford to have a quiver of purpose-built firearms, but the rest of us need to be very satisfied with a single rifle that’s capable of performing just about any mission. The current crop of 6.5 Creedmoor chassis guns appeal to those looking for bolties that bulk up to win PRS-style matches in the summer and downsize to efficiently fill the freezer in the fall. If you’re an LE-type looking for a precision duty rifle and your agency isn’t at the cutting edge of the caliber wars, nearly every chassis gun that comes chambered in 6.5CM is also available in .308 Winchester. While chassis guns aren’t known for being particularly light, they’re scalable. Starting with a barreled action and chassis that weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 11 pounds and adding a scope and mount, you end up with a 13- to 14-pound rifle. That kind of weight isn’t an issue for practical shooting, as the weight dampens recoil and improves follow-up shots. But ounce-counting shooters need to weigh the benefits of such a highly configurable rifle against its chief disadvantage: weight. We’ll pick apart four modern chassis guns, pointing out key components, features and how each relates to the rifle’s performance and value. Whether you’re ready to buy a chassis gun, kicking tires, or just killing time while waiting on an oil change, a critical look at these rifles provides some insight into the direction the modern bolt gun is moving. Ruger Precision Rifle The RPR is credited with kicking off the mainstream chassis rifle movement, and it’s still ahead of the pack thanks to its combination of performance, features, and price. It’s the least expensive option for a chassis gun, likely thanks to Ruger’s massive manufacturing advantage. We’ve been to the factory and watched molten metal formed into firearms. Insourcing leads to cost savings, as well as tight quality control. The biggest news for prospective (and existing) RPR owners is Ruger’s 2018 release of an update to the RPR that replaces the Key-Mod handguard with an M-LOK compatible handguard. The underlying barrel nut is updated to fit the new shape, so if you’re reading this and thinking the swap is just a couple of bolts, sorry. If you want to swap to the new factory M-LOK handguard, you’ll have to go through 80 percent of the barrel swap process. The barrel interface is AR-like, but there’s no attached barrel extension or shoulder. Instead, Ruger uses a Savage barrel nut-like system to set and lock the headspace — great news for anyone who wants to switch their own barrel. The RPR’s action is a major departure when it comes to the chassis designs we’re familiar with. Instead of a drop-in chassis for a barreled action, the RPR is an inline chassis. This means the stock, action, and barrel are connected in a direct line rather than the Remington 700 way, where the barreled action is screwed down into an inletted stock. Ruger chief engineer Jonathan Mather explains the benefit. Instead of a zigzagging path for the recoil forces to follow, “The RPR directs recoil forces straight back, giving a more consistent recoil load back to the shooter. So, you’ve got less variation there, which is the enemy of accuracy in long-range, precision shooting.” The 70-degree bolt throw offers positive control, a solid feel, and some ingenious engineering, but it’s not the smoothest feeling action. The bolt has three lugs, instead of the two normally found in mid-level bolt guns. The third lug leads us into another unique aspect of the RPR’s design, its ability to switch seamlessly between AICS (single stack) and AR10 (double stack) style mags. The narrow, third bolt lug fits between the feed lips of the narrow AICS mag and the wider Stoner mag. And the lower is set up to accept, retain, and release both styles. Very slick. The RPR’s three lug bolt allows seamless feeding from AICS and AR-10 mags. The only control upgrade we suggest for the RPR is a Catalyst Arms mag release extension. The RPR’s mag release is adequate, but the $30 upgrade makes it easier to operate from a firing grip. The folding buttstock is notable for its wide range of positive adjustment. It can also be replaced with an AR stock, but we’re not sure why anyone would bother since the factory stock leaves little to be desired. PERFORMANCE: The RPR shot nobly. It posted its best, 0.78 MOA group with Hornady’s 140-grain ELD-Match. Groups with Hornady 140-grain American Gunner were about an average of 0.12 MOA wider. We experienced no malfunctions over 200 rounds swapping between AICS mags and Magpul P-Mags. Accuracy between strings was consistent, and we credit the Ruger designed muzzle brake for fast follow-up shots. OVERALL: Ruger’s dominance in the chassis field is well deserved. The RPR gives the budding precision shooter a tool that’ll out-shoot them for a long time while still offering room to grow when the tables turn. We like being able to run mags from two different families, the 20 MOA scope base provides lots of reach and scope mounting options out of the box, and the folding stock makes traveling with the 22-inch 6.5CM a little less of a hassle. Ruger’s ever-expanding line of accessories shows a strong commitment to the rifle, though high demand means Ruger isn’t offering some parts for sale as accessories, namely barrels. When worn out, shooters will have plenty of aftermarket barrel options, though. Best 5-Shot Group CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor GROUP SIZE: 0.78 MOA AVG. MUZZLE VELOCITY: 2,558 FPS S.D.: 26.5 TRIGGER: 2.25 to 5.0 pounds (set to 2.8 pounds) BARREL: 24 inches, 5⁄8 x 24 muzzle thread TWIST: 1:8 inches SCOPE BASE: 20 MOA MIN. OVERALL LENGTH: 43.75 LOP ADJUSTMENT: 12 – 15 3⁄8 inches LENGTH FOLDED: 36 inches WEIGHT: 11 pounds 2.1 ounces (no mag, no optic) MAGAZINE: SR-25 or AICS pattern (2x PMAG10 LR/SR incl.) MSRP: $1,599 INFO: www.ruger-firearms.com McRee Rifles 6.5 Creedmoor Production Rifle (Fixed Stock) When diagnosing a grumpy Remington 700 series bolt-action rifle that doesn’t want to print groups as tight as we think it should, one of the first troubleshooting steps is to pull it from its stock and plug it into a McRee chassis we keep in the vault. There’s something about the stock’s V-bedding that seems to whisper to barreled actions. We used it to diagnose a bad bedding job on a high-end, custom rifle. It works. So, when RECOIL heard McRee had a production rifle in the works, we were piqued. The company starts with an off-the-shelf Remington 700 barreled action, pulls the barrel, and makes library lawn artwork out of these castoffs, we suppose. The bone-stock actions are mated with custom profiled barrels from PAC-NOR, a well-regarded barrel house among bench rest shooters. The profile is a turned-down version of McRee’s 1,000-yard benchrest barrel with a Savage shank. The 24-inch, stainless steel barrels run a four-groove, 1:8 twist, and the sample rifle we shot produced the tightest groups of the guns in this article — by a wide margin. This goes to show you that a bog-standard R700 can do good work out of the box, when mated to a capable barrel and stock. Now, we won’t deny the benefits of an extractor upgrade, a stronger bolt stop, and more ergonomic bolt handle — all things the McRee Rifle lacks. But it seems each of those upgrades are likely to have a more meaningful impact on the gun’s performance than anything spent on blueprinting or truing. McRee’s G10 stock is the basis of this rifle. It’s a rigid AF aluminum chassis that offers M-LOK attachment points up front, screw holes for custom Pic rail lengths or sling studs on the squared bottom of the fore-end, and screws to mount an optional night vision saddle on top. There’s also a short length of Pic rail in front of the magwell that provides a great tripod or temporary bipod interface. There’s nothing special about the stock Remington action and bolt, but it’s fed from AICS mags. The chassis attaches like a regular stock using two captured screws that tension the action down into a V-block channel and lock the recoil lug into a machined pocket. The whole affair provides a rock solid interface between action and chassis that free-floats the barrel. Barrel swaps are gunsmith free, thanks to the Savage-style setup; all you need is a vise, some plywood to protect the finish from the vise jaws, a Savage barrel wrench, and go/no-go gauges (or a spent shell that was shot from the rifle with the original barrel installed). Thankfully, McRee ditches the Remington trigger and uses an adjustable, single-stage Timney 510 with a wide-faced trigger shoe, which adds a feeling of control, pulls straight back, and breaks cleanly. It also has adjustments for pull weight, overtravel, and sear engagement. The gun is available with or without a folding stock. The folding mechanism locks with a cam and opens by lifting. It’s held open by the same cam and stays put without a lock, meaning when it’s go time you just flick it into the ready position without messing with a release. The stock LOP adjustment is coarse, using screw holes instead of locking rods, but once set, you’ll never have to wonder if someone flicked a lever and messed with it. The aluminum cheek riser slides up and down and cants fore and aft. McRee includes a cheek pad with a tool pocket that creates a more comfortable cheek interface on the cold/hot/hard metal plate. We suggest using it. PERFORMANCE: The McRee outshone the competition, printing 0.35 MOA groups at 100 yards with Hornady’s 140-grain 6.5CM American Gunner ammo. A muzzle brake would be a nice addition for the general public, but honestly, we’d just run it with a can, tossing any included muzzle device in a drawer. OVERALL: We dig this gun. The money is in the trigger and the barrel, two places that contribute directly to accuracy. The MOA-per-dollar ratio on it is already outstanding. But McRee also offers this rifle in a complete kit form, saving you $200 if you don’t mind assembling the gun yourself. And, as easy as that is, we’d go with that option. The only downside to the kit; only the stock is Cerakoted, the reason being you’re going to bone the finish when installing a barrel, no matter how careful you are. Best 5-Shot Group CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor GROUP SIZE: 0.35 MOA AVG. MUZZLE VELOCITY: 2,655 FPS S.D.: 17.3 TRIGGER: Timney #510 Adjustable 1.5 to 4 pounds, set at 2 pounds 4 ounces BARREL: 24 inches, 5⁄8 x 24 muzzle thread TWIST: 1:8 inches SCOPE BASE: 0 MOA or 20 MOA MIN. OVERALL LENGTH: 42¾ inches LOP ADJUSTMENT: 11¾ – 14¼ inches LENGTH FOLDED: 34 inches WEIGHT: 11 pounds 4.8 ounces (w/cheek pad, no mag, no optic) MAGAZINE: AICS pattern (x1 5-round Accurate-Mag incl.) MSRP: $1,992/fixed, $2,059/folder, $1,800/fixed kit INFO: www.mcreerifles.com Tikka T3x TAC-A1 Tikka might be a little late to the chassis party, but they brought the hookers and blow. There’s no ignoring the smooth running, unquestioningly reliable Tikka action. Add a hammer-forged, threaded barrel and ice the cake with low-profile, double-stack CTR magazines, and you’ve got a turnkey precision rifle fit to fulfill any tactical request. The front of the gun features an M-LOK fore-end with a full-length Pic rail on top that gives shooters night vision capability right out of the box. Accordingly, the scope base is 0 MOA, so be prepared to shell out for a scope mount if you’re looking for that 20 MOA lift. The handguard locks up to the action and includes a flange that bridges the handguard to the mid-chassis, adding rigidity to the system. There are lots of small things that add up to a premium experience on the TAC-A1. For one, we figured out the oddly shaped cheekrest is shaped to allow the bolt to pass out of the action without needing to lower it or fold the stock. The safety has a secondary lever that allows the bolt to run with the safety engaged. There’s a storage compartment in the grip, and the action is secured to the stock using Gucci level Nord-Lock locking washers. They work really well to prevent bolts backing out, but they can be over torqued since it’s hard to avoid the tendency to crank them down ‘til they feel tight. Once the camming faces engage, they create a mechanical lock that can be tough to overcome. The Tikka’s broached action is smooth, and the long bolt handle offers plenty of leverage to run the bolt with authority, even with gloves. The trigger is an adjustable two-stage that breaks as cleanly and consistently as a custom trigger. The short first stage gets you to the second stage wall, giving you time to prep the trigger for a deliberate pull. Tikka offers a tantalizing hole in the magwell that supposedly lets you adjust the trigger pull weight without removing the action from the chassis. In reality, you need the dexterity of a surgeon and the patience of martyred saint to connect a hex key with the pull weight screw through that hole. Luckily, the factory 3-pound setting suited us fine. The magazine release on the TAC-A1 is our favorite. It’s easily reached, protected from accidental activation, and drops mags without hesitation. The folding stock mechanism locks up as solidly as any and accepts AR-style stocks. The stock features tool-free comb height adjustment, but the shimmed length of pull system requires the removal of the buttpad. The shims are stackable in a way that allows you to angle the butt pad from top to bottom. PERFORMANCE: Getting behind the gun and running the action inspires confidence before your finger even enters the trigger guard. Once on a bipod or settled into a barrier, the gun balances well, feels stable, and recovers quickly thanks to the included muzzle brake. It printed the third tightest groups of the test, 0.58 MOA at 100 yards with Hornady 140-grain ELD-Match, while we were able to fill one hole with 3 rounds with a different TAC-A1 we shot last year. So, we suspect there’s untapped accuracy here for anyone with the patience to develop a custom load or test more factory ammo. OVERALL: The T3x TAC-A1 presents a compelling package for anyone who wants the just-add-scope tactical performance experience. It’s a little pricier than its competitors, but it also comes with two CTR mags (three, if you buy it before the end of Tikka’s free magazine offer ends in late February 2018), and features a long-lasting, hammer-forged barrel, excellent ergonomics, and that lubricated-glass-on-glass Tikka action. Best 5-Shot Group CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor GROUP SIZE: 0.58 MOA AVG. MUZZLE VELOCITY: 2,564 FPS S.D.: 21.9 TRIGGER: 2 to 4 pounds (set to 3.2 pounds) BARREL: 24 inches, 5⁄8 x 24 muzzle thread TWIST: 1:8 inches SCOPE BASE: 0 MOA MIN. OVERALL LENGTH: 45 1/4 inches LOP ADJUSTMENT: 13 5⁄8 – 14¼ inches LENGTH FOLDED: 36½ inches WEIGHT: 11 pounds 5.1 ounces (no mag, no optic) MAGAZINE: Tikka CTR (2x 10-round incl.) MSRP: $1,899 INFO: www.tikka.fi Bergara B-14 BMP Bergara might be a new name in the rifle business, but the Spanish company’s been a long, long-time maker of aftermarket and OEM barrels for companies whose names you will undoubtedly recognize. The company’s B14 BMP combines a Bergara-made 700-style action and button-rifled barrel with their drop-in, aluminum chassis. It’s the second most accurate rifle in our test behind the McRee, and it’s also the second least expensive. The fore-end is M-LOK adorned on the sides and bottom with an interface for Bergara’s forthcoming proprietary night vision optic saddle. The chassis fore-end connects to the chassis midsection with a beefy, interlocking interface that leaves little doubt about the stock’s rigidity. And, if there was any doubt, the gun’s ability to print tight groups erases it. In a clear cost-cutting measure, the BMP doesn’t include a scope base, instead leaving the end-user to choose from the wide variety of Remington 700 action compatible mounts. In theory, it’s good that Bergara doesn’t presume to know what cant you’ll want. In practice, scope base selection can be confusing to new shooters, and there’s something to be said for a gun that arrives ready to be scoped and zeroed. The gun runs from AICS-style mags and includes a PMAG AC to get you started. The action is a slightly modified 700 action with an upgraded Sako-style extractor. Sadly, the extractor was a weak point on this rifle, as the gun failed to extract from the first zeroing shot. It turns out Bergara got a shipment of bad extractor springs (photo below, right) from a vendor that made it into several hundred rifles. We got one. Sad Trombone. A conversation with Bergara’s customer service was quick, pleasant, and without excuse. They knew the problem, apologized, and offered to fix the rifle or send a new spring. There was no hesitation, deflection, or infuriating request to see the gun; we appreciated the quick mea culpa. Extractor performance notwithstanding, the action runs as smoothly as any stock 700 action, and the elongated bolt handle provides improved ergos and leverage. Perhaps too much leverage, as we did bind the action a few times while running the bolt aggressively. This B-14 BMP shipped with a bad extractor spring. Bergara made their own trigger for their B-14 line of rifles, and it works. The trigger shoe features an exaggerated curl that adds leverage and decreases the feel of the trigger pull weight. The non-folding stock’s tool-less adjustment is a solid benefit, and the BMP’s unique, single knob adjustment system was the fastest and easiest to use. We also liked the ability to rotate the butt pad without tools. PERFORMANCE: Bergara’s barrel manufacturing pedigree is evident in the 0.54 MOA groups it produced with Hornady’s 140-grain ELD-X. While this was the tightest group, it also required the most concentration, as the BMP’s trigger was the least consistent of the bunch. On the scale, it presented pulls ranging from 2 pounds, 9 ounces to 3 pounds, 10 ounces. This translated into a bit of a guessing game on the range. We can’t comment on extraction, since the extractor spring gave up on the first round. OVERALL: The gun checks a lot of boxes: The non-folding stock and in-house components make the gun a tempting value, as does its impressive accuracy. And we can forgive the company for shipping a gun with a bad extractor, but we have to fault them for their quality control … and the funky trigger. Bergara’s still a young company, and they’ve told us they plan on continuing to develop the BMP line, so we look forward to rounding back up with them as the platform matures. Best 5-Shot Group CALIBER: 6.5 Creedmoor GROUP SIZE: 0.54 MOA AVG. MUZZLE VELOCITY: 2,587 FPS S.D.: 27.8 TRIGGER: 2.8 to 4.4 pounds (set to 3.7 pounds) BARREL: 24 inches, 5⁄8 x 24 muzzle thread TWIST: 1:8 inches SCOPE BASE: Not included MIN. OVERALL LENGTH: 43¼ inches LOP ADJUSTMENT: 13 – 14¾ inches LENGTH FOLDED: N/A WEIGHT: 10 pounds 13.8 ounces (no mag, no optic) MAGAZINE: AICS pattern (1x PMAG 5 AC incl.) MSRP: $1,699 INFO: www.bergarausa.com Explore RECOILweb:Beyond's Titan Conversion SystemThe Ashley Update: Rare Assault RiflesRECOILtv DIY: Fitting a 1911 Thumb SafetyPOF 308 Video NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOILFor years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. 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