Guns Accuracy International AX Covert Iain Harrison June 24, 2018 From the archives: RECOIL Magazine Issue 19, July/August 2015 Photos by Kenda Lenseigne GOOD THINGS COME IN SMALL PACKAGES What’s in the box? Camera equipment, tools, an extravagant lunch for you and that girl you’ve been trying to impress? Certainly nothing about it screams, “Insanely accurate sniper rifle that will quietly shoot the ’nads off a gnat at 800 yards.” Accuracy International has been around for four decades now, representing the last vestiges of a once-thriving gun industry in the country that used to be Great Britain. If you’re not familiar with names like Armstrong, Vickers, Whitworth, and BSA (no, not the crappy Chinese scope company), then you owe it to yourself to check out their achievements. Located in the gritty, northern part of England, proud companies such as these armed an empire with everything from handguns to warships and had an inordinate effect on both geopolitics and firearm development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Entering British service in 1982, the Accuracy International weapon system was unique in that it was designed from the ground up as a sniper rifle, rather than being an adaptation of an existing sporting rifle. This allowed the creators to endow it with a few unique features, such as user-replaceable barrels, an enormous barrel tenon, and, of course, that chassis. Although many manufacturers have since jumped on the bandwagon, AI was the first to attach their action to an aluminum chassis system, eliminating the need for stock bedding and resulting in long-term, repeatable accuracy — day in and day out. It’s also created its own niche in the aftermarket, with drop-in chassis models available for both Remington and Savage barreled actions. So much for the history lesson. How does this one shoot? UNCASING THE JOINT Hold your horses there, old chap; let’s not go straight for the main course. Like on any date, it pays to get to know each other first and unwrap the goodies before consummating the deal. And in this instance, the wait is well worth the tease. Undoing a pair of clasps with a practiced flick of the wrist, the AI’s outer garments open up to reveal a glorious pair of…er…magazines. These are your standard Arctic Warfare model (AW) double-stack, two-position feed mags that allow topping off through the ejection port, rather than the single-position versions found in the Accuracy Enforcement and AICS chassis systems. (The AW evolution of the original rifle featured a few refinements suited to life in northern climes, such as recesses in the bolt to prevent it from freezing solid, as well as oversized bits to make use with mittens possible.) Removing the action from the case, you’ll notice that the stock swings to the right and has a well thought-out recess for the bolt handle. There’s absolutely no wobble or slop in the hinge, and it smoothly clicks into place with a reassuring thunk, reminiscent of closing the door on an Aston Martin. The buttstock is CNC’d from aluminum plate stock and offers numbered adjustments for comb height, as well as five lengths of pull options via a locking detent on the left-hand side. Buttpad cant and height is also adjustable by means of a thumbwheel, and there’s a removable hook for the support hand that can be replaced with a monopod if the shooter desires. It’s a very slick system, and can be tailored to fit the user like a Saville Row suit — we’d be surprised if there’s anyone that can’t be accommodated by it. The shooter can further adapt the rifle to his or her physique by adjusting the trigger, tweaking take-up, pull weight, and reach — the trigger blade can be moved forward or backwards to ensure the proper portion of the index finger’s pad makes contact. Comparing an AI action to one that started out as a sporting rifle (for example, the ubiquitous Remington 700), you can’t help but notice that the Brit rifle has a lot more meat on its bones. From the outset, the 700 was designed with ease of manufacturing as the primary objective, being spun from off-the-shelf, 13⁄8-inch round bar. Like a true American success story, it overcame humble beginnings to achieve status as the most successful rifle design ever — but it betrays its everyman origins when asked to perform at the extremes. Accuracy International approached their design process without cost constraints, and it shows. The AX action starts out as huge chunk of square stock hewn from the Earth’s crust by Saxon druids, before being thrown into a pit of elves who gnaw it into its final shape. Oh, alright then — it’s actually machined to very exacting tolerances on machining centers, which doesn’t sound nearly as dramatic. The results, however, are quite dramatic. At its thinnest point, the sidewall on the 700 action measures 0.185-inch, compared to the AI’s 0.245 inch — an increase of 32 percent. The barrel tenon (the part of the tube that fits inside the receiver) is about ¾-inch long in the case of the Ilion product, while the AI’s is more than twice this dimension. Both rifles are perfectly adequate to handle any short-action length cartridge, but it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out which one’s stiffer. And stiffness, in this case, equals accuracy. Moving on to the “bolt” part of “bolt-action.” The original Arctic Warfare bolt flutes are still present in the AX, but the number of locking lugs has increased from three to six. Quite why this was deemed necessary is a mystery — apart from the obvious reason of more is better — as we personally know of one AW action that has sent 96,000 rounds downrange with only one part failure; the roll pin securing the bolt release catch broke. Still trying to impress that girl? The whole “stiffer is better” concept is continued to the barrel, which in this case is made by Proof Research. Despite being 2 pounds lighter than an all-steel tube, they claim its carbon-fiber wrap is just as rigid and will dissipate heat more efficiently. In testing, we saw no reason to doubt this, after passing the rifle around our team. One guy would shoot while the other would charge a magazine and swap positions — in this manner we burned through 80 rounds faster than any precision rifle should be shot and experienced no change in zero. One of the cool features of the Accuracy International AX (and AW) actions is their user-changeable barrels. In the case of a typical bolt gun, the barrel is mated to the action and its headspace set by a gunsmith, either through the use of a finish reamer or by cutting back the barrel shoulder. Because AI holds such very tight tolerances, any AI barrel will fit any AI action within the same family — just unscrew the old tube, thread in the new one, and torque to the recommended setting. This is great for those of us who don’t have a gunsmith in our backpacks. The interchangeability is taken to its logical conclusion in the Covert, where it’s exploited to reduce the overall length of the package to a bare minimum. Instead of needing a torque wrench, the barrel is simply hand tightened, then a set screw turned to lock the barrel in place. At the range, we found that the barrel would stay in place even without help from the set screw, but it’s better to have it and not need it… Both 7.62mm NATO and 6.5 Creedmoor barrels supplied with the Covert kit arrived with SureFire suppressor adapters already installed, so we took the opportunity to test their claim that the rifle’s zero would remain the same with or without a SOCOM 2 can attached. Bottom line — it did, and we were able to smack 300-yard targets with ease. Lying beneath the action in the hard case and attached to it via a pair of 4mm Allen headed bolts is the forend, adorned with Keymod slots and a 12 o’clock Picatinny rail, which continues the 20 MOA slope of the scope mount rail. Our sample came with additional Pic rail sections at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, each of which sported QD sling pockets and were complemented by a bipod adapter for the supplied Harris swivel model. The rifle can be shot offhand without attaching the rail, but it’s worth taking the time to twiddle a wrench in order to take advantage of the increase in practical accuracy afforded by it. Rounding out the ensemble is a Schmidt and Bender 3-20×50 PMII Ultra Short with H59 reticle in a Spuhr mount. In just about any other review, this would be considered as saving the best ’til last, were it not for the quality of the rest of the setup. Instead, it’s entirely congruent with the package and looking through it, you can just about see the aforementioned Saxon druids from an ocean away. ROUNDS DOWNRANGE Every AI we’ve previously shot was capable of 0.5 MOA groups, and while we might wish for the sake of novelty that we could report that this newest version grouped like a shotgun, it followed down the same well-trodden path. The .308 barrel is compact, stiff, and benefits from readily available ammo, while the 6.5 allows the user to engage 1,200-yard targets with confidence. We were surprised to find that at 100 yards, groups from both barrels fell almost on top of each other. Given the difference in muzzle velocity and ballistic coefficient between the two calibers, this state of affairs will quickly change as distance increases, but it’s an interesting reflection of the meticulous care taken in the rifle’s manufacture. For the record, 175-grain OTM .308 ammunition from Barnes and Federal was used for testing, with a very slight edge going to the Barnes product, while Hornady supplied their 140-grain A-MAX load for the 6.5 Creedmoor barrel. Due to the role this rifle is supposed to fill, its ability to return to zero after barrel removal is critical — there’s no point, after all, in spending time and resources to get a low-vis team into place, only to have the rifle fail to send its projectile to the desired spot. In order to test consistency, we took it to the range on four separate occasions, completely disassembling and returning it to its case each time. On trips two through four, the rifle was put back together and without a check zero, warm up, or sighter, used to make head shots on IPSC steel targets at 300 yards. That’ll do Pig, that’ll do. 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