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Review: Barrett Fieldcraft Rifle

This article originally appeared in CARNIVORE Issue 1

Bridging the Gap Between Ultralight Custom and Off-the-Shelf Hunting Rifles
Photos by Kenda Lenseigne

When Barrett announced their new Fieldcraft line of rifles at SHOT Show in 2016, it caused more than a few raised eyebrows. What was the company, famous for its .50 BMGs and AR-pattern rifles, doing dabbling in the hunting world? Perhaps the question should have been, “What took you so long?”

Now that everyone who wanted an AR has an AR, companies who are one-trick ponies are finding the wind in their faces. The market for .50 BMG rifles was always a small one, even if it carried with it some degree of notoriety, so diversification for a manufacturer that already builds some of the best big-bore precision rifles makes a whole lot of sense. In order to both maintain the company’s reputation for quality and shorten the learning curve when it comes to building bolt guns for the woods, they reached an agreement with Melvin Forbes to use his designs.

While Forbes isn’t as widely known as he perhaps should be, in the past 30 years he’s almost singlehandedly redefined what a lightweight rifle should be. His company New Ultralight Arms, or NULA, makes some of the featheriest (and expensive) hard-core hunting boomsticks out there, to order, one at a time. In order to bring the price tag into reach of us mere mortals, the company of Forbes Rifles was created and offered, for a short time at least, NULA rifles without the options available in a custom build. It folded in 2015 after various QC issues but established that there was indeed a market for an off-the-shelf, lightweight, and high-quality rifle. And this is where Barrett steps in.

Based on a Forbes action, the Barrett Fieldcraft is about as pared down as a bolt gun can get. Just long enough for the cartridge it’s designed around, there’s no excess metal in the action. There’s no magazine floorplate and catch either, another couple of ounces that could be saved. The bottom of the stock serves to keep the mag spring where it’s supposed to be, and if you want to unload, well, cartridges come out of the ejection port just as easily as they go in.

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Two barrel lengths are offered in each caliber, both stainless and produced in-house at Barrett. The first, a No.1 profile that’s about as skinny as it’s possible to turn on a lathe and still contain the pressure of firing, is 21 inches long. With it, the rifle tips the scales at 4.75 pounds. The second option is shorter, stiffer, and heavier by about 5 ounces. Why would anyone burden this flyweight with the equivalent of a stick of butter? Simple. It’s threaded for use with a suppressor, so there’s extra meat to ensure POI shifts are minimized and give sufficient integrity to support both 5/8×24 threads and the can that hangs from them. Smart folks, these guys from Tennessee.

Another good idea was to offer these barrels in faster-than-usual twist rates, across the board. For example, the 22-250 has always been handicapped by the factory-standard 1/12 twist, which means that in varmint-’sploding form, it can send .22-caliber, 40-grain bullets toward burrowing rodents at a mind-boggling 4,100 fps. But these days, we’re no longer limited to the cup and core projectiles of our grandfathers. Heavyweight monolithics such as the Barnes 70-grain TSX are phenomenally effective killers and elevate the deuce-deuce into a tool for taking medium game. But unless they’re spun quickly, they’ll be going sideways shortly after they leave the muzzle. The Fieldcraft’s 1/7 barrel will spin them, and heavier pills, just fine.

For those who handload, the combination of fast twist barrels and a 3-inch magazine box is uniquely appealing. Oftentimes, we hit a wall when exploiting a cartridge’s full potential, as heavyweight bullets with high ballistic coefficients have to be seated deeply into the case, if they’re to be fed through a typical magazine. This limits the amount of powder that can be crammed in. More powder, more power, more better. With a 3-inch mag box, bullets can be seated forward in the case, freeing up more volume and letting our freak flag fly. Note that if you want to take advantage of this extra capacity, you’ll need to run a throating reamer into the barrel. We checked, and our 140-grain Nosler BTHPs couldn’t be loaded longer than 2.810 without jamming into the lands.

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6.5 CREEDMOOR, OR LESS

Our sample Fieldcraft came chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, and you may detect a .264 diameter theme running through this issue of CARNIVORE. Although it’s only recently become a thing in the U.S., 6.5mm caliber bullets have been stacking bodies since 1891 and have a long history of effectiveness on animals up and including moose. The Creedmoor is a ballistic equivalent of the 6.5×55 Swedish Mauser cartridge, but able to take advantage of modern propellants to achieve the same performance in a shorter case — and therefore a shorter, lighter action.

Both it, and the near-identical .260 Rem, are in the running to become SOCOM’s new sniper round. They handily curb stomp 7.62 NATO when it comes to making hits on man-sized targets out to 1,000 yards, offering a flatter trajectory, more retained energy, and less recoil. Having witnessed first-hand a novice shooter use a 6.5 Creed to drop a zebra at 450 yards, we have no doubts as to the effectiveness of the latest generation of high-ballistic coefficient bullets. Zebras are way tougher to kill than any North American game species, as anyone who’s been to Africa will attest, so we’d have no hesitation using it on elk.

The Fieldcraft’s bolt features a few improvements over the industry benchmark of the Remington 700. A Sako-style extractor is one of them; positioned further forward in the bolt head, it allows the cartridge case to sit deeper into the barrel, giving additional support to the case web. Sako extractor conversions in M700 actions have gotten a bad rap due to the way they compromise the action’s ability to handle ruptured cases, but in this instance, gas is vented through the bolt’s extractor cut and into the magazine well.

Any debris blown into the left raceway will be channeled out into the ejection port by spiral flutes cut into the bolt body, and although the bolt shroud lacks the huge flange typically seen on Mauser actions (or for that matter, the smaller one found on original NULA rifles), it fits tightly into the action to limit any gas exposure. We’re slightly concerned by the lack of a vent hole in the right side of the receiver ring, though there’s one present at the 6 o’clock position on the bolt body.

One other improvement is in the manner by which the bolt handle is attached to the bolt body. In most middle of the road guns, it’s simply silver soldered in place, which is fine until the user encounters a stuck case. Tapping the bolt handle with a soft mallet (or a chunk of firewood, if we’re being honest) can result in the two parting ways. But in the case of the Fieldcraft, the union is made by means of a mechanical joint, secured by a pin. While we haven’t verified it, there’s a good chance the bolt handle will bend long before it separates from the body. Stripping the bolt requires a 1/16-inch punch in order to hold the cocking piece back against mainspring pressure, but is otherwise straightforward.

Keeping the bolt in place at the end of its stroke is a bolt stop modeled after the Winchester Model 70s. Pressing down on the tail located to the left of the bolt shroud allows the bolt to be removed for cleaning, and we found it to be sufficiently robust for its intended purpose. Despite slamming the bolt against it several times as hard as we could, there was no perceptible peening, and the pivot pin held up without murmur.

In keeping with the original design, as much thought has gone into the stock as the metal components. A carbon- ber shell is hand-laid into a mold and filled with resin compound to produce something that’s as lightweight as it’s indestructible. It’s then full-length bedded to the barreled action; it’s probably a good thing that you’ll almost never need to separate the two, as the joint between them is about as tight as that on a S&W revolver’s lockplate — i.e., hermetic.

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Doing so allows use of an ultralight barrel, without the finickiness normally associated with them, as it’s stiffness is plussed-up by the very rigid stock — during testing at 200 yards, we found that all three of the 140-grain loads we used impacted the same place on the target. Some groups were bigger than others, ranging from 2.1 inches for Hornady’s 140-grain A-Max to 4.5 inches for Federal’s Fusion, but all hit in the same area, which isn’t something we’re used to when testing whippy, sportier weight tubes. If there’s a downside to this anti-free oat approach, it’s in its resistance to mechanization. Full-length bedding requires the intervention of a skilled craftsman, and they’re not known for working for free.

TAKING STOCK

Overall, the stock follows Jack O’Connor’s prescriptions, featuring a straight comb and narrow pistol grip. It’s minimalist, in order to save weight, but doesn’t scrimp where rifle and shooter make contact, with a generous cheek- piece and full-sized fore end. There’s plenty of space to avoid jamming the middle finger against the trigger guard under recoil, the two-position safety can be accessed without shifting the master grip, and its 13.75-inch length of pull will fit the majority of male users. Although there’s nothing in the way of palm swells or fore end at spots, we had no problems shooting off of our pack out to a lased 640 yards, making first round hits on 10-inch steel plates.

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Normally, shooting ultralight rifles requires a change in technique, as they’re not as steady on target and can shift in recoil while the bullet is still in the bore; off a pack, we usually drape a hand over the scope in order dampen things out, especially with .30 cals. The 6.5 Creedmoor doesn’t generate nearly as much recoil in a flyweight gun as the ubiquitous .30-06, making for both pleasant range sessions and something else that caught us off guard. Instead of making allowances for the Field- craft’s lack of poundage, we just shot the damn thing like a regular rifle and didn’t notice until our ammo had gone that no change in approach were needed.

While we liked the Fieldcraft, it’s not without its niggles. Regarding performance, we managed to get the bolt to bind at the end of its throw, so a little more polishing in the raceways under the rear receiver bridge wouldn’t go amiss. And at an MSRP of $1,700, it’s a big chunk of change for such a little rifle. Still, as with most consumer goods, losing weight costs a lot of money, and it’s certainly cheaper than paying a ’smith to come up with an alternative.

The closest factory option to our test model in terms of specs is probably the Remington Model Seven stainless in .260 Rem. In order to fit a suppressor, its barrel would need to be cut back and sleeved, assuming you were to thread it 5/8-24. Figure on a bill of around $250. After all that, you’d still wind up with a rifle that was a pound heavier and wore an ugly Tupperware stock that feels like it’s made from 72 cents worth of plastic. Because it is.

Although you’d try to convince yourself life was just fine, you know that living a lie would eventually wear you down, and you’d have to replace it. Figure another 500 bucks for a McMillan, add 50 for the Talley rings that Barrett includes, and you’ve doubled Remington’s asking price. In fact, you’re now within range of a decent lunch of what Barrett charges without the wait.

We’d consider this rifle to be a “one and done” affair. You could buy it, hunt with it for the next 30 years, and not ever feel like you’d need to upgrade. The 6.5 Creed is capable of taking any species in North America up to brown bear, and in the Fieldcraft, it’s as close to a one- gun solution as you’re likely to find.


AS SHOWN
Rifle: Barrett Fieldcraft
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
Barrel Length: 18-inches
Overall Length: 38-inches
Weight, empty: 5.1 pounds
Magazine capacity: 4
MSRP: $1,700
URL: www.barrett.net

Accessories
Scope: SIG Tango4 4-16×44 Scope
MSRP: $1,100
URL: www.sigsauer.com

Price as featured: $2,800


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