I own a number of tactical-style precision bolt guns from high-end manufacturers like PGWDTI and SAKO and I also own some excellent custom rifles built by some well-known Canadian shops. Like many of us who are – dare I say it – “addicted” to the sport of precision / tactical / long range rifle shooting, I’ve long wished to have that ‘ultimate build’ rifle; that one rifle that was built without any compromises being made, using the best of components and assembled by people who are known for the quality of their work. This article is basically the story of that journey – a trail that goes from an idea in my head through to the taking delivery of the rifle and to putting rounds down range.
My journey towards having my rifle built actually started with the building of another rifle – a new custom F-Class (F/TR) rifle – which was built by Chou Brothers Precision out of Ontario, Canada which is a business owned and operated by Will and Kevin Chou who are not only builders of very fine rifles but are World-Class shooters themselves. Readers interested in F-Class can see that build here :
I was so pleased with every aspect of my F/TR rifle that I asked Messers Chou if they would assemble for me a tactical-type precision rifle. In keeping with the outstanding customer service ethos that infuses their business Will and Kevin confirmed that they would be happy to accept such a commission and so the hunt began for components.
When searching for components and visualizing a build I recommend that shooters figure out what they are likely going to use the rifle for – obviously little is to be gained by building a 20 lbs. rifle if one is planning on using it on a sheep hunt but more nuanced than that somewhat silly example is consideration of whether you are going to be a prone or offhand shooter, mobile or not, shooting off bipod, front rest or improvised etc. etc. I decided that this rifle would be used in the prone position and shot off a bipod with rear bag; with strings of shots being fired from a fixed position mobility would not be an issue and, while convenience dictates that most of my shooting is done within 500m, I have access to distances in excess of 1000m.
Caliber (or calibre for my UK friends) selection is usually determined by the application the shooter has in mind and what other chamberings a shooter already has. I have precision rifles in a variety of calibers from .223 to 338 Lapua but the 6.5 caliber is one that I am particularly fond of – great bullet selection, decent barrel life, 1000 meter plus capability and moderate recoil makes the 6.5 hard to beat. The question was “what 6.5?” I already own a .260 Remington and my reading led me to consider the relatively new 6.5-47 Lapua which was introduced in 2005. This cartridge has good brass availability (Lapua), long brass life, is easy on barrels and is one of the more popular cartridges on the very competitive Precision Rifle Series (PRS) in the USA. As an added bonus the 6.5-47L is thought to be easy to load for and not at all finicky or temperamental so that settled it – my new rifle was to be in 6.5-47 Lapua.
The literal and metaphorical heart of any rifle is the receiver and while I really like the Barnard actions for my single-shot competition guns I prefer other makes for my mag fed repeaters. While a trued Remington 700 can be an excellent, and cost effective, choice I determined in the case of this build to use a custom action and while other brands can be considered contenders the choice for me came down to either of a Defiance or a Surgeon; both are excellent receivers and, like as in the case of caliber, are especially popular on the US PRS circuit. I’d previously had a very nice rifle made using a Defiance which I found to be super smooth but the integral rail of the Surgeon and the reputation of Surgeon actions for reliability in all climates and conditions tipped the scale – especially as I am a year around shooter and temperature can vary from -30 C to + 30 C. Really though there is no bad choice here and a future build may well see me revert to using Defiance.
While I have commonly used Krieger barrels for my builds I have also used Broughton, Shilen and Rock Creek and while some may disagree my sense of it is that all of the premium makers produce a good product and, regardless of the maker, sometimes one barrel will be a stand-out and the chances of a dud are pretty darn remote. So with these thoughts re barrels in mind I went with a barrel that the Chou Bros had in stock which was a 1:8 twist Bartlein – single point cut style of course as are all Bartlein barrels – and, since weight is not an issue for me with this rifle, I chose a M40 profile.
Though not at all necessary with a rifle chambered in 6.5, I nevertheless decided I wanted a muzzle break and my reasoning was threefold: I usually shoot alone on my own land and so noise isn’t an issue; a break allows me to spot my shots easier and, lastly, I simply like the look of a brake-equipped rifle barrel. At this point I must inform readers in more enlightened countries ( including many with much stricter gun laws ) that suppressors are prohibited in Canada so the idea of running a can – as nice as that may be – simply isn’t an option for me.
In the marketplace of today there is quite a wide choice of muzzle brakes and a shooter may easily find him or herself somewhat overwhelmed. Fortunately a very good test was done by Cal Zant of the Precision Rifle Blog who analyzed over 20 different brakes and so I allowed Cal’s work to guide me and went with the APA Little Bastard brake that performed very well in Cal’s tests regarding recoil reduction, ground signature and staying on target and was also easily available in Canada. Two downsides to the Little Bastard are that it is really loud ( shooting on own property is likely not an issue but going to the range ….mmmm, you may be less than popular ) and feedback from other shooters is that it can work loose – easily remedied by judicious application of appropriate threadlocker of course. The post that summarizes the PRB test can be found here: http://precisionrifleblog.com/2015/08/21/muzzle-brake-summary-of-field-test-results/
With the barreled action sorted out the next big decision often faced is Chassis or Stock ? I have both and there are merits / demerits no matter what you choose. I have a particular fondness for the chassis systems from Accuracy International (AICS) and Cadex and have used others as well but, at heart, I am a bit of a traditionalist and have always liked the McMillian stocks and, in particular, the A5. There are others of course – the Manners comes to mind – but selection in Canada isn’t what it is in the US and a I was reluctant to try something new on this build so I stuck to what I knew and what I liked; McMillian A5 with three way adjustable butt-plate, integral thumb-wheel adjustable cheekpiece and, up front of the sling swivel, a Seekins 3″ rail for mounting my bipod of choice. I ordered the stock to be colored in “Urban Spectre” which is a fairly new molded-in camo from McMillian.
I am very happy with the stock coloring as well as the overall quality, fit and finish etc. but there was a long wait for delivery – I ordered in April 2016 and it didn’t arrive until November. Had I gone with a slightly different stock that was in inventory somewhere the build time would have been significantly shorter but, like I wrote at the outset, I didn’t wish to compromise on this build only to end up thinking “Mmm, that’s nice but I wish….”
I had determined from the outset to use AICS mags; in my opinion they are the best aftermarket magazines one can use and are bettered only by the Accuracy International double stack and the Sako TRG magazines. Trying to save a few bucks by the use of magazines made by Accurate Mag or MDT is, in my view, a false economy. Having decided to use AICS mags the search was on for suitable bottom metal and while I’ve previously used a variety of makes I was drawn on this occasion to the bottom metal offered by Seekins Precision who offer AICS compatible gear that is ambidextrous and whose trigger guard – while not overly pretty – is large enough to use with heavy winter gloves – where I live that’s pretty important. A link to this particular item is here:
Of course a rifle won’t work too well without a trigger and this is one component where I expect people to criticize my selection. I opted to use the simple and inexpensive Timney 510. I decided upon this trigger as I have it on a number of other rifles and I like the way it feels and have found it super reliable in all weather. I have a Jewell, Barnard and Trigger Tech on other rifles and while the Jewell in particular is more fine none feel as nice to me as does the Timney. Canadian readers may note that I was an early proponent of the Canadian-made Trigger Tech and may wonder why I didn’t choose that trigger and the answer is that over time I have found them to loose consistency which is unfortunate but I need to have confidence that my trigger will work and work the same every time all the time.
Since this rifle will be shot from the prone with the use of a rear bag the selection of a suitable bipod is very important and bipods are pieces of equipment that I’ve reviewed endlessly. While there is nothing wrong with the ubiquitous Harris it is bettered by the Atlas and significantly bettered by the LRA bipod. Regardless of what you read on the Internet (and certainly from those with a vested interest is selling stuff) trust me on this: the LRA is the best tactical type bipod available – period.
The last piece of the shooting system boils down to the choice of glass – over the past year I have been engaged in a process of upgrading my scopes from SFP MOA/MOA to FFP MIL/MIL – and so I have a number of quite new and very nice scopes to hand. Initially and as can be see in the pictures that accompany this article I mounted the latest NF ATACR F1 in 7-35×56 using a SPHUR 34mm mount. This scope – which it would be an understatement to describe as really rather nice – will be the subject of my next review during which I will compare it to the classic S+B Pmii 5-25×56 and the current favorite amongst PRS shooters; the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56.
Of course anyone reading this story would – I suppose – like to know how the rifle shoots. Well, with the components used and the assembly undertaken by people like ChouBros Precision it would be simply shocking were the rifle to be found to be in any way inaccurate. I am still playing with some load development but the rifle is now printing a trial load of virgin Lapua brass, 42g H4350 and 123g Lapua Scenars consistently in the .4’s at 200m which is my preferred load development range. This shooting has been done prone in the snow in -12 and -16 deg C with a cold and getting colder shooter so I am very pleased with the results. It is simply a joy to fire this heavy (19.2 lbs as pictured) gun – there is of course zero recoil – and everything looks and feels just about perfect to me.
Obviously a huge thanks must go to Will and Kevin Chou who have done such a nice job on building this rifle for me and whose attention to detail and outstanding customer service simply cannot be bettered. I would also like to mention the following Canadian suppliers and retailers who made this project a success: Hirsch Precision (stock), RPS International (Action, bottom metal and trigger) Prophet River Firearms (brake) PGWDTI (LRA bipod) and, of course, my good friend Omer at Plainsight Solutions for the great deal on the NF ATACR.