"Britactical" Rifle for Euro Comps
British-Built 6.5x47 Lapua Tactical Rifle with all the Goodies
Other Guns of the Week >
Since its debut in the spring of 2006, there has been great interest in the new 6.5x47 Lapua cartridge. Though originally developed for 300m shooting, the 6.5x47 is well-suited for Tactical competition rifles. The 6.5x47 offers ballistics rivaling the .260 Remington, with high-quality Lapua brass and Lapua factory-loaded ammo. Recognizing the potential of this cartridge, Vince Bottomley and his fellow Brit Rob Hunter have put together a tactical rifle with all the finest components--from a Surgeon action to a $2500 U.S. Optics scope. The rifle showcases the "latest and greatest" tools for Tactical Comps.
UPDATE: Rob, shooting his new rifle for the first-time ever in competition, finished Third Overall in the 2007 Pan-Euro Sniper Competition held in Czech Republic, held in October. There were over 30 competitors, most of whom were active military or police marksmen. Rob's podium finish certainly demonstrated the viability of the 6.5x47 Lapua for tactical competition.
The Ultimate Tactical Rifle
by Vince Bottomley
|In the UK, we can only read about your popular and innovative American tactical rifle competitions. Nothing quite like those matches are offered over here. There is, however, a European competition for police and military personnel that is held annually in the Czech Republic. The inspiration for this project was to build a rifle with the Czech sniper competition as the ultimate goal. It would be a joint effort between myself (gun-smithing) and Rob Hunter (everything else) though I should make it clear that Rob is funding the project and thus ‘calling the shots’.
Rob would be competing in the Czech match, which was only two months away when he first approached me. With time short, the first step was to explore the options for our project.
Choice of Caliber
The .308 Winchester (7.62x51 NATO*) would always the first choice for a true tactical rifle, due to the availability of ammunition. But we are not in the theater of war, our task is simply punching holes in paper, so are there better options than the old .308? I can think of several alternatives, such as the 260 Rem. Improved or even the 6BR, but we eventually settled on the new 6.5x47 Lapua cartridge. I’ve had good results with this cartridge already in my own tactical rifle, and ballistically, the 6.5x47 beats the .308 all the way to 1000 yards. The cartridge is slightly shorter than the .308 Win so it will load from a standard .308 magazine and, should the need arise, good-quality loaded ammunition is readily available from Lapua in a useful variety of bullet-weights from 100 to 139 grains.
*The .308 Win and 7.62x51 are not identical in all respects. There are differences in chamber specs and maximum pressures. The SAMMI/CIP maximum pressure for the .308 Win cartridge is 62,000 psi, while the 7.62x51 max is 50,000 psi. Also, the headspace is slightly different. The .308 Win "Go Gauge" is 1.630" vs. 1.635" for the 7.62x51. The .308's "No-Go" dimension is 1.634" vs. 1.6405" for a 7.62x51 "No Go" gauge. That said, it is normally fine to shoot quality 7.62x51 NATO ammo in a gun chambered for the .308 Winchester. For more information, see our 308 Cartridge Guide.
Action Choice -- Surgeon Offers the Right 'Feature Set'
In choosing an action for this project, a key consideration was that the rifle must feed 100% reliably from a detachable box magazine (DBM). That means that the action will have a large cut-out in its base for the magazine. That cut-out can compromise the general stiffness of a rifle action that's not designed to perform with a magazine. Also, as this is a ‘field’ rifle, which could be dropped, submerged and dragged through the undergrowth, we wanted a bit more ‘bolt to body’ clearance than we would find in a custom benchrest action. We could have used a standard Remington 700 action. I know some great guns are still built on these actions, including many successful American tactical rigs. However, after looking at the options, and considering the special requirements for this gun, Rob chose the Surgeon action. See www.SurgeonRifles.com.
The Surgeon was designed from the ground-up as a tactical action. How so? Well, Surgeon realized that it would have that great big cut-out for a magazine, so they compensated by stiffening the action with an integral, tapered Weaver-type scope rail on top. This rail is part of the action-forging, not a screwed-on accessory. The Surgeon's tapered rail boasts +20 MOA "up" elevation--a very nice feature for long-range shooting, that lets you stay more centered in the scope's elevation range.
The Surgeon action also features an integral recoil-lug. I prefer this to a separate pinned lug trapped between barrel and action. The integral recoil lug simplifies barrel swaps and bedding though I do not envisage Rob changing barrels in the middle of the competition. The extractor, however, is the same old Remington spring-type--which I personally don’t like. I prefer a proper, Sako-style claw. In the front of the receiver, the Surgeon emulates Remington’s "ring of steel" design. However, the Surgeon's tenon is longer for better barrel support. Finally, the action offers a near identical "footprint" as the short Remington action so it fits nicely in any of the ‘drop-in’ tactical stocks currently offered.
Trigger -- Jewell HVR Set at One Pound
The Surgeon action is designed to take the Remington-style triggers but Rob wanted something a bit better than a standard Remmy. Yes, the Remington can be re-worked to give a lighter, crisper let-off but we need a reliable trigger built from the ground-up to these standards so it’s definitely a Jewell--not the 2 ounce benchrest variety but one of the HVR models set at around a pound. Yes, the Jewell could be a problem with dust or water but it will best compliment the accuracy potential of this rifle, particularly when shooting off-hand.
Stock -- Adjustable McMillan A5 with Custom Camo
The stock is a critical part of any project and this rifle is no exception, as it will be used in a variety of shooting positions including prone off-hand, prone with bipod, sitting, standing supported, and standing off-hand. I really like my own McMillan A5 and both Rob and I also have the older McMillan A2. I still think the A2 is a great stock but I concede that the A5 offers superior ergonomics so the A5 was our choice. Rob's stock features McMillan's trademark molded-in camo with a three-color blend of military green, pale gray, and tan highlights.
Barrel -- 27" of Premium American Steel from Krieger
Almost any quality, stainless-steel barrel from a premium barrel-maker would work well on this gun. However, in the UK we often have to select a brand based on availability. Thankfully, Rob was able to get hold of a Krieger. From the machining point of view, I’m very glad that Rob lined up a Krieger--you can count on a quality blank from this company. The 28" blank finished at just short of 27" with a 1:8" twist rate to stabilize the 123gr Lapua Scenars. [Editor's note: A 1:8.5" twist is sufficient for the 123 grainers, but a 1:8" lets you shoot the 139-142gr bullets as well.]. Rob also likes sound moderators (you Yanks call them "suppressors" or "cans"), and he has a new one to try from Stealth. This is a "reflex"-type moderator made from aluminum and stainless-steel. It can be dismantled for cleaning and replacement of components, should that be necessary. For more information on Rob's Stealth suppressor, visit TheWholeShootingMatch.co.uk.
Scope -- Rob Selects a Top-of-the-Line 5-25x58 U.S. Optics SN3
Both Rob and I have plenty of experience with the Leupold MkIV, the Nightforce NSX, and the Schmidt & Bender PM2. Any one of these fine scopes would perform very well but Rob has a bit of a thing about U.S. Optics, so he chose to top his rifle with a U.S. Optics SN3 T-PAL scope. This 5-25x58 scope features a 35mm body tube and handy 2-turn EREK elevation knob with 1/4-MOA clicks. This is a fantastic scope with a really useful Mil Scale reticle offering accurate range-finding in the field. The big 58mm objective collects lots of light. Optically, the SN3 is second to none, and build-quality is legendary. What's more, the SN3 T-PAL boasts a superb green anodized finish which perfectly compliments our tactical theme. The scope rings are also from U.S. Optics, they don't come any tougher. The SN3 is not cheap at $2500 but, like the man said, buy the best and cry once!
Load Development and Accuracy
The rifle more than lived up to expectations when we took it to the range. After a couple of zeroing shots at 100 yards, Rob kindly allowed me to shoot the first group. My first shot hit the tiny red spot (see photo) that Rob was using as an aim-point. Shot two touched the first and the third shot made a nice clover-leaf which, as you can see from the photograph, measured about three-tenths of an inch. Rob took over and not to be out-done, fired a five-shot group under one-half an inch. Off the bipod, with no load development, I thought that this was an excellent result and accuracy may improve once we have played with the load and run-in the barrel.
Our loads were based on work done by Darrell Jones for his 6.5x47 bench rifle (see Gun of the Week 72). Darrell tested many powders and bullets, and he worked up some good loads using Vihtavuori N550. We used this double-base powder, moly-coated Lapua 123gr bullets, and Federal primers. I’ve already built my own 6.5x47 and I must thank Darrell for sharing his very thorough load development. With a brand-new cartridge such as the 6.5x47, the "official" load data is very limited. Being able to follow Darrell's recommendations saved us a whole lot of time and money. Availability of American powders varies in the UK and the supply of Vihtavuori is much more reliable (and cheaper!). This influenced my decision to go with the N550.
Darrell’s load for this powder is very accurate but, as he warns, fairly hot and you need to work up slowly. Lapua’s brass is, as always, excellent and very consistent in the neck-area. That is very important since we are running a "no-turn" neck.
|Focus on Gunsmithing -- Details of the Project
As I explained earlier, Rob's rifle needs to work with a detachable box magazine. For reliability, the super-strong Accuracy International 10-round magazines will be used with a Badger Ordnance floor-plate/trigger guard. The McMillan A5 stock comes ready-inletted for the Surgeon action. Because the Badger bottom metal provides a large, load-spreading floor-plate, there’s no need to install any pillars. Consequently, a light skim of Devcon bedding-compound is all that’s necessary to ensure a good bed for the Surgeon. Of course, a proper pillar-bedding job would be ideal; should we detect any deterioration in accuracy, we always have this option. Not all fiberglass stocks are dense enough to work without pillars but time was against us. Since my own A5 is working well with a simple skim-bedding, we decided to take the chance. Two of my own tactical rifles have "dropped in" McMillan stocks (without pillars), and both are performing well. One is over ten years old.
Chambering and Barrel Fitting
Although we are looking for half-MOA accuracy, this rifle has a "no-turn" neck. We are not using a tight-neck chamber. That would not be appropriate in a field rifle where care and cleaning may need to be neglected. Still, our reamer from Pacific Tool & Gauge is "min spec." and throated for the 123gr Lapua Scenar bullet.
The integral recoil lug of the Surgeon action makes it easier to remove the barrel, when that proves necessary. I know that removing the barrel is an unlikely event but it happened to me quite recently. I pierced a primer and the tiny disc of metal found its way into the bolt--as it usually does. When I attempted to fire the next shot, all I heard was "click". I was in the middle of a competition and of course when I opened the bolt, the bullet was jammed in the rifling and powder spilled into the action. It’s almost impossible to remove every grain of powder without removing the barrel. Sooner or later, a granule of powder will find its way onto the bolt-face then … lock-up!
After machining, I left the barrel with its natural external-ground finish as Rob elected to have it Dura-Coated. American shooters will be familiar with this process but in the UK, it’s relatively new. Fortunately, a guy by the name of James Clark, of Jager Sporting Arms, has just set up a coating facility nearby in the West Yorkshire area and he was keen to help out. Although Dura Coat could, in theory, be applied by anyone with spray-painting experience, having seen James’ set-up and the quality of his work, I left it to the professionals.
First step is a thorough immersion in the degreasing tank, followed by grit-blasting to remove any existing finish (if necessary) and provide a foundation for the Dura Coat. Four base-coats are then applied, followed by two top coats. The resulting finish is now cured with a low-temperature bake and the final finish can be matt, satin or gloss. There are over seventy colors to choose from but Rob wanted a color as close as possible to the drab-green anodizing of the U.S. Optics scope and James has done a fantastic job matching the color (though maybe the pictures don’t do it credit). Rob had all the metal-work coated, including magazines, bipod, swivels, suppressor--everything. I think the end result is stunning.
Conclusion -- Czech Republic Here We Come!
Once load-development and running-in is complete, Rob’s final job is to establish zeros at all range distances out to 1000 yards. In the Czech competition, Rob will be shooting at unknown distances, so range estimation is critical and the U.S. Optics reticle will be a great help here. Hand-held laser range-finders are not allowed! I wish Rob well (he just left for the Czech Republic on 10/16/2007) and hope that the new rifle performs to his expectations in the field.
Copyright © 2007 Vince Bottomley and PrecisionRifle.co.uk, All Rights Reserved, used by permission.
Additional Copyright © 2007 (USA Version), AccurateShooter.com | 6mmBR.com, All Rights Reserved.
No reproduction of any content without advanced permission in writing.
Topics: Tactical, McMillan, Rob, Vince Bottomley, Robert Hunter, U.S. Optics, SN3, 35mm tube, T-Pal, Czech Republic, Police and Military, Barrel, Krieger,6.5mm, 6mm, 6-6.5x47 Lapua, 6.5x47 Lapua, Scenar, 123 grain, Vihtavuori, N550, Lapua Brass, no turn neck, A2 stock, A5 stock, fiberglass, molded-in color, Camo, Camouflage, Surgeon action, 20 MOA, Picatinny rail, Recoil Lug, .308 Winchester, 7.62x51, 308, Dura Coat, Metal Coating, 6.5 mm, 6.5-08, Rem 260, 6.5-284, Switch-barrel, bipod, load development, UK, United Kingdom, Britain, Britactical.