Lithgows, and Merkels and Barretts – New Classics On The Rise

There was no shortage of new guns introduced at this year’s January SHOT Show, but as is always the case, most were simply line extensions of little consequence, such as adding a different stock or a new caliber to an existing model. Of the few truly new rifles that were rolled out, the fat bolt tri-lug design continues to gain adherents, as exemplified by the new Lithgow and Merkel bolt action rifles that we’ll be looking at here, along with a few newsworthy others.

Barrett’s Fieldcraft

From the Barrett people who are best known for their large-caliber military and law enforcement weapons used by civilian sport shooters, law enforcement, the U. S military and 73 State Department-approved countries around the world, comes a new bolt action sporting rifle. Called the Fieldcraft, it is built on what is basically a Remington 700-type action, which means it has twin opposed locking lugs forward in a tubular receiver with a separate washer-type recoil plate sandwiched between the barrel shank and receiver. A two-position side safety completes the picture. Both barrel and action are 416 stainless, and the spiral-fluted bolt is NP3 coated. Though there are many 700-type actions out there, no one has copied Remington’s indirect linkage bolt stop/release arrangement, and Barrett didn’t either. They borrowed from the Winchester Model 70 in that it’s a direct actuated downward-pivoting lever on the left side behind the receiver bridge.

Barrett says that light weight was the goal in designing this rifle and they’ve achieved it by going to a carbon fiber stock and an internal four-round magazine. Available in short and standard-length RH actions, weights range from 5 to 6 pounds. depending on caliber. Short action calibers sport 21-inch barrels; standard length actions, 24-inch spouts. Calibers offered are .22-250, .243, 6.5 Creedmoor, 7mm-08 and .308 Win. in short action; .25-06, 6.5×55 Swede, .270 Win. and .30-06 in standard length. MSRP has been set at $1,799.

At this writing the Fieldcraft is just getting into production, so the only ones I was able to check out at SHOT were pre-production examples. Based on that, the Fieldcraft is one handsome, well-crafted rifle that should appeal to weight conscious hunters.

E.R. Shaw’s Mark X

E.R. Shaw, the big gun barrel manufacturer that began manufacturing complete rifles nearly a decade ago with its Mark VII bolt action, has introduced its evolutionary successor, the Mark X. Based on a Savage 110-type action, the Mark X differs in that it has a massive, integral recoil lug, a flat-sided receiver, an integral Picatinny scope mount rail, and controlled-round feeding. Also, the highly acclaimed AccuTrigger is standard, as is a five-round detachable polycarbonate magazine with a tactical-style rear lever release.

What makes this rifle so noteworthy is that it sets new standards for custom rifle affordability. Consumers can order online or in person at the company’s retail store what is essentially a custom rifle in their choice of barrel lengths 16-1/4 inches to 26 inches in two different contours, and more than 100 calibers ranging from .17 to .458. No other gun manufacturer I know of offers such an extensive choice of chamberings.

The E. R. Shaw Mark X offers a high degree of customization, yet its MSRP starts at $1,399 for the basic blued chrome-moly version. Additional cost options include stainless steel barrels and actions, left hand actions, Timney trigger, high polish or matte metal finish, a Grade 5 checkered walnut stock, barrel fluting, and Shaw’s patented spiral fluting.

Lithgow’s Model 102 With synthetic stock

Legacy Sports, long-time importer of the popular Howa line of bolt-action rifles, is now importing the Australian-made Lithgow line of rim and centerfire rifles. Lithgow is both the name of the company and the city where it’s located in New South Wales. This company has been supplying Australia’s military small arms since 1912, but this is their first venture into civilian rifle manufacturing.

The example sent us for T&E is the Model 102, which is their centerfire model being offered in three short-action calibers: .223, .243 and .308. Two identical-looking stocks are offered, one in walnut, the other in a black polymer. The latter is adjustable for LOP via spacers; the walnut stocked version is not.

Lithgow’s Model 102 in walnut

As already stated, this rifle joins the growing ranks of “fat bolt” tri-lug actions like the Ruger American, T-C Venture, Browning X-Bolt and Winchester XPR. The receiver, which like the barrel and bolt handle, is Cerakoted, is tubular, but flats milled into the side dispel that impression. The ejection port is just large enough to do the job, so this is a very stiff receiver. There is virtually no lateral play in the bolt when in the fully withdrawn position, and its glide is exceptionally smooth. Feeding is courtesy of a single stack detachable polymer magazine that holds five rounds in .223, four in .243 and .308. The catalog copy says the 15-slot Picky rail is “integral,” but it is not. The 3-position safety is on the bolt itself — like on a Model 70 or 98 Mauser — but this one is unique in that its middle position locks the bolt rather than fully rearward. The modular three-lever trigger is fully adjustable for pull, sear engagement and overtravel and on the sample gun broke crisply at 40 ounces. Very nice, as is the gun itself. Surely more calibers will be added in the future. The poly-stocked model has an MSRP of $1,255, and $1,390 for the walnut version.

Merkel’s MHR16 in walnut

To me the most impressive rifle of the group is the Merkel MHR16 (Merkel Hunting Rifle) primarily because it’s made in Suhl, Germany and it has an MSRP of $799! That’s is the same factory where the RX Helix straight pull bolt action comes from that starts at around $4 grand, to say nothing of all the other great double rifles and shotguns that carry the Merkel name and are very expensive.

Here again we have a tri-lug action based on a tubular receiver with a tri-lug bolt resulting in a short, 60-degree bolt rotation. The lock time is extremely fast because the firing pin fall is only .200-inch, and the trigger breaks at just under three pounds . When engaged, the two-position side safety exposes a button immediately behind the bolt handle that allows the action to be cycled. The staggered column detachable magazine fits nicely flush with the belly of the stock, and its release lever that straddles the front of the trigger guard bow is of the tactical style where pushing forward release the box.

Merkel’s MHR16 with synthetic stock

Being a Merkel, and offered at the price it is, the MHR16 is quite a bargain. Calibers being offered are .243, 6.5×55, .270 Win., .308 Win., .30-06, 9.3×62, 7mm Rem. and .300 Win. magnums.

SCI members may just be the largest group of H-S Precision rifle owners extant. As such, most of you are aware that Tom Houghton, who founded the company, passed on recently. The company is internationally known for building highly accurate sporting, competition and tactical rifles, so in tribute to Tom and the many contributions he made to the shooting sports, the company has announced a limited production rifle of which only 50 will be made. Tom founded the company in1978 and as a passionate benchrest competitor set three world accuracy records using his own cut-rifled barrels. This Limited Production Tribute Rifle replicates the one Tom used in setting those records.

The stock, which is done in a red, white and blue color scheme, is of course an H-S Precision Pro-Series consisting of fiberglass cloth reinforced with Kevlar and unidirectional carbon fiber, hand-laid around an aluminum bedding block chassis that extends into the butt and forend — a concept Tom developed for the U. S. Army’s M-24 Tactical Rifle and since copied by other stock manufacturers both here and abroad.

The stainless Pro-Series barreled action sports a newly designed receiver with a minimal ejection port and a tactical bolt handle. Each rifle will be embellished with a limited edition engraving and a one-of-a-kind “Tom Sr.” serial number. Making this rifle truly unique is that, unlike other limited editions/commemorative guns which are generally chambered in only one caliber, this rifle can be ordered in any commercial caliber for which H-S Precision chambers.–Jon R. Sundra

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