Guns The One Gun: Building a Bolt Action Rifle Iain Harrison December 29, 2021 Join the Conversation Can you use off-the-shelf components to build a Bolt Action Rifle that covers all the bases? Sometimes, you just have to roll up your sleeves and do things yourself. If you had to assemble one rifle to cover all your intermediate to long-range needs, what would it be? If you asked this question to 100 gun nuts, you’d probably come away with just as many different answers. But there’d be a few common threads running throughout the discussion. Just like if you posed the conundrum regarding choices for putting together your ultimate AR, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely situationally dependent, but it’s a great mental exercise and worthy of late-night campfire discussions involving brown liquid and burning plant material. Living in the desert southwest poses different firearm challenges and needs than you might find in New England, where shots longer than 300 yards are going to be in the minority and the availability of common calibers is a more important factor than wringing out the last bit of advantage when it comes to reduced wind drift. Hunting the Rockies while humping an extra couple of pounds of steel and glass means that you’re going to be breathing out of your asshole with greater vigor than if you’d carried the same rifle to a Midwest deer stand. Like we said, it’s situationally dependent, and your choices might be entirely different than your buddy’s. Running through a personal decision tree, our one rifle had to check the following boxes: The ability to hit multiple, torso-sized targets out to the maximum distance they can be observed in our backyard, which realistically is 1,100 yards or thereabouts Able to hit the kill-zone on deer-sized animals out to a self-imposed ethical maximum of 700 yards, which equates to an 8-inch diameter circle and a projectile energy of at least 1,000 ft-lb (though more is definitely better) Reliable, detachable magazines for multi-target engagements, or for missing a lot Light enough to carry for days at altitude, in an environment where there’s 25 percent less O2 available than at sea level Capable of accepting common, accuracy enhancing shooter aids, such as tripods, bipods, barricade stops, rear bags, etc. Decent aftermarket support in the event of requiring replacement parts Reasonable barrel life of at least 2,000 rounds Suppressor-compatible Able to be custom fit to personal preferences regarding length of pull and comb height — turning a couple of Allen wrenches to get the gun to conform to our body shape is A-OK Future proof, as far as possible Some of these criteria are antagonistic, and compromises are going to be necessary. For example, the ability to hit multiple targets at extended ranges is exceedingly difficult with a lightweight rifle, while toting a PRS gun in the mountains is a nonstarter. Weight is currency, and you have to scrimp in some areas in order to spend it in others. Toothpick-diameter barrels are great for saving ounces, but after a couple of shots, groups tend to open up and point of impact shifts are noticeable, even close-in. Lightweight stocks typically lack any adjustability needed to fit the rifle to the shooter, sacrificing comfort and making you contort behind the gun — again, not great for making good hits at distance. When it comes to choosing components for this rifle, some hard choices are going to have to be made. Action: Defiance Machine AnTi-X The Remington 700 action has been the go-to for many years, whether from Big Green itself or the many clones developed to address its shortcomings. Yes, there are better choices, but aftermarket support isn’t as widespread for them and we’re at the point where the 700 footprint has been sufficiently refined that it’s plenty good enough. Defiance Machine, located in Columbia Falls, Montana, makes some of the best 700 pattern receivers on the market, and their AnTi-X model offers significant weight savings. Why the name? According to Mike Lee, Defiance’s head of special projects, they wanted to create an action with all the benefits of titanium, but without the drawbacks. “Titanium isn’t an ideal material for a bolt action receiver, as it’s prone to galling, particularly at the lugs,” explained Lee. “It’s also hard on tooling, which makes getting a perfect finish that much more difficult, and there’s issues with thread failure due to fatigue.” There’s a lot to admire in the Defiance AnTi-X action where every fraction of an ounce has been whittled away without compromising its integrity. Instead of using Ti, the AnTi-X action uses good ol’ American steel and has been skeletonized everywhere that isn’t subject to stress — even its integral recoil lug has been whittled down to minimize weight — but it still feels smooth when the bolt is cycled. Scope bases are machined as an integral part of the action, which means there’s two fewer points of failure, and more weight savings are realized as they’re hollowed out also. We opted for a zero-degree cant, as our gunsmith puts in the effort to time the barrel, but 20 MOA bases are an option for anyone who feels they might run out of adjustment on their elevation dial. An M16-style extractor is standard on the AnTi bolt, which is deeply fluted, both as a weight-saving measure and to give dirt and grit somewhere to go instead of binding up the action. All major bearing surfaces are polished and finished with a nitride surface treatment, making them very slick and impervious to rust. We opted for a short, rather than long action due to magazine availability. If you want to go long, then five-round mags are pretty much your only option unless you feel like springing for a genuine Accuracy International 10 rounder, which will set you back about 150 bucks a pop and dangles out of the action to unacceptable degree. Think Ron Jeremy doing the breaststroke. The AnTi-X action is cut to accept both AICS and AW pattern mags, and more options is a good thing. Barrel: Helix 6 If noodle tubes are out, how do we get a light barrel without sacrificing rigidity? Carbon fiber has entered the chat. Although they’re not exactly new, there have been some advances in carbon-wrapped barrels since their introduction last millennium, resulting in better resistance to wandering and less point of impact shift during extended strings of fire. We’ve seen carbon barrels that pattern like shotguns after a couple of magazines, and we’ve shot others that held tight groups longer than our ammo supply lasted, so they evidently aren’t all the same. Helix 6 carbon wrapped barrel is threaded 5/8-24 to accept the AB Suppressors Raptor can. Reflex baffle section is optional, but lowers tone and dB levels. Helix 6 was born from the fishing industry, where millions of miles of carbon fiber have been used to create poles since the UK firm of Hardy’s made the first carbon rod in 1967, and given the volume of material spun, you’d imagine that particular market would have a pretty good handle on how best to adapt its use to rifle barrels. “We use a combination of longitudinal, axial, and diagonal fibers in our lay up — not just filament winding,” explained Jon Beagle from Helix 6. “This means that the barrel harmonics are flatter, making it easier to find a factory load that’ll shoot well, and if you handload, then nodes will be wider.” According to Beagle, there’s considerably less resin in a Helix 6 composite, which leads to greater strength and thermal conductivity. Does all this marketing-speak translate to results in the field? Read on and find out. Stock: MDT HNT26 There’s a pretty strict divide between hunting and target shooting when it comes to stocks, and there aren’t that many people who’ll head to the woods or mountains packing a chassis. You’ll find even fewer lightweight hunting stocks on the line at a match. Although there are many advantages in terms of adjustability and accuracy, a chassis’ weight penalty usually overcomes any inclination to lash one to a pack, and in a shooting sport where mass is used for stability, there’s no advantage in giving up its better ergonomics. The NRL Hunter series may change this, however. With an all-up limit of 12 pounds in Factory and Open Light divisions, it could just spur innovation in both stock types. Shown in its heavy configuration with buttstock and forend weights, the MDT HNT26 chassis offers plenty of adjustment options, including distance from the shooter’s palm to the trigger face. The button above the pistol grip is for the folding mechanism. In order to split the difference between ringing steel and busting lungs, we went with MDT’s HNT26 chassis, opting for the model incorporating both a folding stock mechanism and an ARCA rail. Although these features add a few ounces, they’re worth the weight expenditure and are valuable additions to the base model, which admittedly, isn’t very basic. We like folding stocks a lot, and once you’ve used one on a hunting rifle, it’s a tough feature to give up. Starting off with a magnesium center section, which carries the folding mechanism, action, and magazine, carbon-fiber bits are bolted onto each end to give you somewhere to stick your paws and face. The forend has plenty of M-LOK slots for mounting accessories, including a Picatinny rail, should you want to run a clip-on night vision device, while the buttstock is adjustable for length of pull and comb height. We wanted the ability to max out the NRL’s weight limit, so added a pair of M-LOK weights to our shopping cart, along with a heavier pistol grip and a brass length of pull spacer. Doing so damped out recoil considerably when teamed with our can. Trigger: Timney HIT In terms of quality, the last trigger we got on a factory R700 before Big Green closed its doors in 2019 — how can we put this delicately? — sucked monkey balls. It’s hard to wring out any sort of decent performance from a precision rifle when wrestling with an inconsistent, heavy, and gritty pull. So in keeping with our build’s potential, we wanted a trigger that was as crisp as a new hundo, broke at around 2 pounds, and allowed us to play with overtravel to match our personal preferences. Although it’s geared toward the PRS market, Timney’s HIT unit when cranked up to its maximum poundage checks all those boxes, so was an easy choice to make. We needed mags without binder plates in order to accommodate the longer-than-SAAMI-spec handloads. Note the custom serial number. Optic: Leupold Mk5 If the divide between traditional versus chassis stocks is entrenched, it’s nothing compared to the optical split separating first and second focal plane scopes. Hunting scopes — lighter, simpler, and easier to use — have almost always used second focal plane reticles, whereas for military users or anyone playing in the PRS field, it’s FFP or bust. Having enough information in the reticle to make an instant correction in the event of a first round miss led us to Horus. And for the scope in which to house it, we wound up at Leupold’s door. The Mk5 3.6-18×44 gives everything you might need to hit long-range targets, including an illuminated, info-rich Tremor reticle, wide magnification range, and excellent optical clarity. It checks the box regarding future-proofing, as unlike dedicated BDC reticles and dials, no matter what ballistic solutions are called for by newer cartridges and projectiles, they’re supported, so long as you take the time to learn the system to get the most out of it. The Mk5 also hits our weight goals as although it’s not exactly feather-light, at 26 ounces it packs way more features on board than could be dreamed of only a decade ago. Suppressor: AB Suppressors Raptor Choosing a can for this project was one of the toughest decisions we had to make. There are so many great designs on the market right now, and customers, as a whole, are better educated than ever before, nudging manufacturers to keep improving their game. Because the host rifle has a 25-inch barrel, we weren’t too concerned about the erosive nature of its powder charge — if this was a can destined for a 10.3-inch M16, we’d want a heavy Inconel blast baffle — but lighter weight materials were higher on the priority list. Drawing from previous work in the automotive turbocharger field, AB Suppressors baffle designs allow for a fully welded tubeless can, in a variety of lengths and weights. Using a direct-thread end cap mount, their hearing safe, six-baffle Raptor can weighs just under 7 ounces and should you opt to screw on the included reflex blast chamber, you can shed a couple of dB at the cost of an additional quarter pound. With the reflex chamber in place, it has one of the lowest tones we’ve encountered. Bipod: Strasser While the rest of our build’s components were being sourced, we were contacted by our friends in Austria. With us being huge fans of the Strasser line of rifles, they wanted to let us know about a side project they’d been working on and offered to send over one of their new bipods, which was at the time only available in Europe. Machined in-house from 7075-T6 aluminum and carbon fiber, its featherweight construction seemed tailor made for this project, while sacrificing nothing in terms of ruggedness or functionality. One of the features we really appreciated in the field was that with the legs at 90 degrees, the bipod flexes to allow the shooter to pan left or right to track a moving target. Definitely a quality piece of kit. Caliber This question usually provokes the most heated argument, and it could be argued that it’s the least important factor, so we left it till last. There are plenty of short-action calibers, which will fulfill our criteria, and if we were to just press the easy button, then a 6.5 Creedmoor loaded with factory 142-grain ELD-X loads would just about suffice. But what if we wanted more? Elk can be tough critters, and African deer-sized animals are notorious for their unwillingness to shuffle off this mortal coil. 6.5 PRC would be an obvious upgrade but would require a magnum bolt face to accommodate its fatter case head, ruling out any option down the road of simply rechambering in the multitude of 0.473-inch diameter cartridges. While we’re big fans of the PRC, we’re also aware of reports where users have roached barrels at the 1,000-round mark — further evidence if any were needed that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And with advancements such as .277 Fury and 6.8 TV coming down the pipeline in the foreseeable future, this didn’t seem like such a great idea from the perspective of future-proofing the build. Is there anything here and now which would allow the use of a standard bolt face in a short action and yet still give us a leg up over more mundane calibers? We’re glad you asked. 308 Win, right, 284 Shehane, left. More powder, higher velocities and better BCs — what’s not to like? Well, apart from the whole, no factory ammo thing … The .284 Winchester was introduced in 1963 and was a classic case of the right cartridge in the wrong gun. Had Winchester introduced it in a short-action Model 70 bolt gun, it would’ve lit up the shooting world like a downed power line in a California forest, but they didn’t have a short-action Model 70, so instead dropped it into the mediocre Model 100 semiauto and an odd-looking lever action, which split the difference between tradition and modernity, finding favor with no one. Because it was fielded in crap rifles, the cartridge itself was downloaded way under its potential, so the gun-buying public greeted it with a yawn. After wandering in the wilderness for decades, it’s found favor with F-Class shooters as a well-balanced 1,000-yard cartridge when loaded with 175-grain bullets and shot out of long-action target rifles. While we can’t load it to the same OAL in our project rifle, we can use the internal dimensions of AICS mags to load it to 2.95 inches, which leaves enough room for powder to make it more worthwhile. And besides, who doesn’t like a bit of cartridge nerdery? Taking the geek factor to the next level involves blowing out the case walls to gain about 3 grains of capacity while maintaining its 35-degree shoulder, in order to form the 284 Shehane. Normally, we’d steer clear of wildcats but as we have to handload anyway in order to get any kind of worthwhile performance and can still use the parent cartridge without issue, we figured what the hell and ordered a reamer from Dave Kiff at PTG, who moved heaven and earth to get us it on time. Comprising some of the best components we could find to fit our build criteria, we’re pretty happy with the result. It’s a beaut, Clark. Our barrel was chambered and head-spaced by gunsmith and RECOIL contributor John Brooks, and everything was bolted together before being shaken out in the Arizona desert. The final load recipe involved Lapua cases, Vihtavuori N165 powder, and a Berger 168-grain Classic Hunter, which were assembled after fire forming with a low-end load of A4350 under a 120-grain Sierra soft point. While we can’t divulge the final charge weight due to it being off the charts, it did turn in a muzzle velocity of 2,920 fps and a five-shot group size of 0.75 inch. At 300 yards. Ready to hunt and in its lightest configuration, our rifle weighs a hair over 8 pounds, all up. Adding the can in its reflex setup, along with a heavier pistol grip, bipod, M-LOK buttstock, and forend weights brings its total mass up to 11.5 pounds, ready to ring steel out to 1,400 yards. Assembling this project was admittedly a pain in the dick. When you can walk into a gun store and find any number of superb bolt guns right off the shelf available in the amount of time it takes to fill out a 4473, why bother going to the effort of piecing together something that’s admittedly only marginally better? Like building race cars or bikes, the last bit of performance is always the most expensive in terms of both time and dollars. We think we’ve assembled the cream of the crop in terms of what’s currently available in mainstream, off-the-shelf components, without getting into the realm of F1 or MotoGP-level, one-off prototypes. It’s a rifle to check all the boxes we came up with, and it exceeds those criteria in a number of places. Job done. [Photograpy by Kenda Lenseigne.] Multi Suggestions Welcome Caliber: 284 ShehaneWeight: 8.1 pounds (light configuration), 11.5 pounds (heavy configuration)Overall length: 42 inchesBarrel length: 25 inchesMagazine Capacity: 10 Resources:absuppressor.combergerbullets.comdefiancemachine.comhelix6precision.commdttac.comstrasser-usa.comtimneytriggers.com More on Bolt Action Rifles Strasser RS14: A Different Kind of Austrian Perfection. DIY Bolt Action Gunsmithing. SIG CROSS: Sig returns to the Bolt Action Game. Explore RECOILweb:Italian Gun Grease Copper and Lead Fouling CleanerRECOILtv Training Tuneups: Movement and Position With JJ RacazaSmith & Wesson M&P 5.7: Best Gas Piston Pistol?FLIR: a couple devices for the masses 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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