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. Continue reading Lithgows, and Merkels and Barretts – New Classics On The Rise
For its 150th anniversary, Steyr Arms gave itself a new US Headquarters and showroom in Bessemer, AL. Steyr is the US importer of Steyr-Mannlicher, Merkel and Anschutz firearms, and with respect to the new headquarters, Steyr CEO Scott O’Brien explained that the company was looking to own a “long-term home in the US,” and at the same time help its dealers by providing a place where they can bring customers to see the various Steyr, Merkel and Anschutz firearms.
The 33,000 square-foot facility features a 3,000 square-foot showroom where the company displays all of the firearms it offers and highlights its premium wood-grained guns. It’s something of a Continue reading New Steyr Showroom Lets You Try Before You Buy
The newest rifle to come out of Germany, the Merkel RX-Helix, debuted at this year’s SCI Convention in Las Vegas. This rifle belongs to the straight-pull genre, members of which include Blasers, the mercifully discontinued Mauser Model 96, the Heym SR-30, and the delightful little Browning T-Bolt .22 rimfire. Though each of those guns differ in the details of their locking systems, all require just a simple back and forth movement of the bolt handle to reload, which reduces the motions required from four to two.
Straight-pull actions are far easier to reload without lowering the gun from the shoulder than conventional bolt actions. With the latter, your arm is outstretched and at shoulder level, where most of us have very little strength. In that position, lifting the bolt handle is resisted by the forces required for primary extraction–which often involves a sticky case–and the cocking of the firing pin spring. It is so much easier to simply pull back on the bolt handle instead of first having to lift it against all that resistance. The same applies when closing an action, especially one with an abrupt lug engagement. That’s why most hunters lower their rifle to reload because in that position we all have the strength to cycle even the stickiest actions.
The RX-Helix also has barrel/cartridge interchangeability. The RX-Helix allows switching barrels and bolt heads, so one can not only switch between cartridges within the same family, but from three families–.223 Rem., .30-06, and belted magnums. This multi-personality is made possible by the fact that this rifle, like most others of its type, employs a bolt head that locks directly with the barrel rather than the receiver. Because that
arrangement reduces the stressed components to just the bolt head and the barrel, the receiver can be lightweight aluminum alloy instead of steel.
Switching barrels/calibers with this gun is the quickest and easiest of any system I know. You can literally change out from, say, a .223 Rem. to a .300 Win. Mag. (or vise-versa) in less than a minute. Honest! Depressing a button recessed in the
bottom of the forend allows it to be pulled free of the receiver. Doing so exposes a forward extension of the receiver, which helps support the forearm, and a barrel lock lever. Simply rotate the lever 90 degrees downward and the slip-fit barrel can be pulled free of the receiver. No tools required. The whole operation can be done in 20 seconds, and reversed with the new components in another 20.
If you’re just changing out the barrel to a different caliber within the same cartridge family, the bolt should be unlocked, so that the bolt head stays with the bolt carrier. If you’re changing out the bolt head as well, you simply make sure the bolt is in battery when the barrel is pulled free, and the bolt head comes with it. It is ingenious to say the least.
Naturally, changing to a different cartridge family also requires the appropriate magazine, all of which are interchangeable, but of course differ in internal length and the width of the feed lips.
The other really cool feature about this rifle is that it employs a rack and pinion gear system that provides a nearly 1:2 ratio of handle-to-bolt movement. The full back and forth movement of the handle is only 2 1/2 inches, yet the bolt carrier moves 4 1/8 inches. Unlike both Blasers, which have a short handle rotation to unlock the bolt before moving rearward, the RX-Helix has no such rocking of the bolt handle; it is a true linear action whereby the handle does not change its attitude as it moves back and forth. Moreover, the bolt on this gun is completely enclosed within the receiver. In other words, it does not protrude from the rear of the receiver when the action is open.
Another feature this gun shares with several other Teutonic rifles is its manual cocking. All guns made here in the U. S. must first be cocked before we can engage the safety. That means that, assuming there’s a cartridge in the chamber, the gun is ready to fire; only the safety prevents it from doing so if the trigger is pulled. With this rifle you can chamber and extract a live cartridge without having to cock the action, which is the most foolproof
system of all as I see it. Though it is possible to uncock any American-made bolt action with a cartridge in the chamber by raising the bolt handle, then slowly lowering it back down while the trigger is pulled, in so doing, the firing pin is resting on the primer, and that’s not an ideal scenario.
With the Helix, and the few other German guns sharing the same
manual cocking system, the gun can have a round in the chamber, yet be carried in perfect safety. The gun can be cocked only when the time to fire a shot presents itself. To do so, using one’s thumb, the cocking slide must be forced up an incline at the back of the receiver against the power of the hammer spring. It takes a good bit of pressure; that’s why the thumbpiece is deeply serrated and has such an upsweep to it. Once cocked, the gun can be uncocked by pushing a small release button atop the thumbpiece and allowing the thumb to back it down against the pressure of the uncoiling hammer spring.
The specimen sent for T&E was the bare bones version of the RX-Helix chambered in .308 Win., which carries a starting price of $3,495. This particular gun, however, was first destined for display at the trade shows, so it was fitted with a very fancy walnut buttstock and forend. The top surface of the receiver has an integral and beautifully machined quasi-Picatinny-type scope mounting rail, which makes one’s choice of rings a lot easier. I think that was a smart move on Merkel’s part, because so many German rifles have their own scope mount systems, all of which are more expensive and complicated than they need be.
|Load||Largest Group||Smallest Group||100-Yard Average|
|Federal 165 gr. High Energy TB||1.90″||1.25″||1.75″|
|Hornady 165 gr. SST||2.15″||0.78″||1.45″|
|Federal 168 gr. Gold Medal Match||1.10″||0.53″||0.85″|
|Black Hills Match 175 gr. BTHP||1.35″||0.80″||1.15″|
For testing, I mounted one of the new Redfield Revenge scopes, a 4-12×42, using Weaver rings. The rails allow three ring positions forward and two aft. As it came from the box, the 22-inch barrel test gun weighed but 6 lbs., 13 oz. With the Redfield aboard in Weaver rings it weighed 7 lbs., 14 oz. I used four different factory loads to exercise the RX, two of which were match loads. All four averaged less than 2 inches for five 3-shot groups, with the Federal Gold Medal Match fodder putting 15 shots into an average of .85-inch. The Revenge scope, incidentally, was quite impressive in both its optical quality and mechanical performance, especially in view of its very reasonable price tag of $199.95. I suspect, however, that that’s not the kind of scope that will be mounted by those who purchase an RX-Helix.
The test gun was a joy to shoot; it functioned flawlessly, and its 2 1/2-pound trigger, though a bit mushy, was extremely smooth. The action cycles so fast that getting off an aimed follow-up shot can’t be appreciably more than it takes to get a semi-auto back on target. Like all German guns, not many Plain Jane versions like the test gun will be sold in Europe; they love engraving and spectacular walnut over there. For this first year of availability the following chamberings will be offered: .222 Rem., .223 Rem., .243 Win., 6.5×55, .270 Win., 7×64, .308 Win., .30-06, 8×57, 9.3×62, 7mm Rem. and .300 Win. magnums. You can find out a lot more about this exciting new rifle by going to Merkel’s website.–Jon R. Sundra