I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the rifle actions those elite shooters were using in 2015. The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.
Custom Rifle Actions
Here is a look at what actions the top 100 rifle shooters were running this year:
You can see actions made by Defiance Machine continued to dominate again in 2015, with 82% more actions represented than the nearest competitor. Half of the guys in the top 20 were running Defiance actions!
Defiance is led by Glen Harrison, a well-respected veteran in the industry. Glen’s work began as a dinner table conversation talking about the dramatic improvements he believed the emerging technology of computer-aided design and manufacturing could have if it was applied to rifle actions. Today the Defiance shop features dual Kitamura 5-axis CNC machines, and proprietary software that automates billions of variables. Glen has a background in competitive shooting, and his desire to always improve has kept him continually chasing closer tolerances for two decades. The machining process they’ve developed is well beyond anything I’ve ever seen or heard about.
Keep in mind the numbers for companies like Defiance and Stiller include actions from them directly as well as OEM actions they make for other companies. OEM is a term used when one company makes a part that is used in another company’s end product. For example, if you were a gunsmith that really liked to build rifles on the popular Defiance Deviant action, you could partner with Defiance Machine to have that action made with your logo on it, and you could rename it whatever you thought sounded cool. Here is an example of that:
The past few years I’ve been grouping all those actions together, because many of these actions were identical except for the name on the side. However, in recent years there is starting to be slight variations in those OEM configurations. So if I do this type of survey again next year, I may break these out into more specific models.
The 2nd most popular action was the Surgeon 591SA Repeater action. Almost 1 in 4 guys who finished in the top 100 were using a Surgeon action, including 3 shooters who finished in the top 10 and another 3 in the top 20. The 591 is a legendary action that is trusted to continue to function in the toughest conditions. I’ve heard some of these shooters say one of the big reasons they like running Surgeon actions is because the action is tight, yet designed with enough clearance to allow it to continue to function smoothly through sand and grit that might cause other actions to lock up. They feature an integral rail and integral recoil lug, which many precision shooters prefer.
Accuracy International had the next most popular action. AI actions are only available when you buy a full AI rifle build. So unlike the rest of these actions, you can’t just buy an action for your gunsmith to build a custom rifle around. The AI action has an iconic blocky look with a square bottom, instead of a rounded cylindrical bottom like most actions. AI actions allow you to use AIAW magazines, which are true double-stack magazines. These are much more compact than the AICS magazines other custom actions are designed to use.
Behind those three is the Stiller action. Like Defiance, Stiller makes many OEM actions which are custom branded for the shop that builds the rifle. One of the most popular actions for this type of shooting is the Stiller Spectre action, which includes an integral rail. I’ve heard rumor that Stiller is also working on a new action that will include an integral lug, but they don’t have that feature at the time this post was written.
Rounding out the top 5 is Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Action. Kelbly’s is best known for the Stolle Panda action, which is popular among the benchrest crowd. But a couple years ago they designed a tactical action, and a few of these shooters were running that action. This action has a pinned rail and recoil lug, where most of the other top actions have integral parts. It does feature a mechanical ejector that can help with chamber pressure and eliminates the need for springs that can get gummed up and stop working.
Those represent all the actions used by 5+ shooters among the top 100, and they represent the bulk of the actions used among this crowd. But there were several other custom rifle actions used by 1-3 shooters, and those are also very capable actions:
- Big Horn Rifle Action – 3 shooters
- Badger M2013 Rifle Action – 2 shooters
- Desert Tech – 2 shooters
- Impact Precision Rifle Action – 2 shooters
- Bat Tactical Rifle Action – 1 shooter
- GAP Tempest Action – 1 shooter
- Hawk Hill Custom Rifle Action – 1 shooter
Historical Trends Among Top 50
Here is a look at the historical trends in actions being used by the top 50 shooters since the inception of the PRS in 2012.
Honestly, this is one of the most boring charts I’ve made, because there isn’t a lot of change since last year. Defiance and Surgeon actions continue to represent 65% of the shooters … just like they did last year. Accuracy International made up 10% … just like they did last year. So most of the big numbers on the chart stayed about the same.
There were a couple new actions represented in the top 50, including:
- Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Action
- Impact Precision Rifle Action
- GAP Tempest Rifle Action
- Badger Ordnance M2013 Rifle Action
The most interesting data point could be the complete disappearance of Remington 700 actions from the top 50. In the past, there have always been a few trued or blueprinted Remington 700 actions among the top 50 … but there weren’t any in 2015.
Other “What The Pros Use” Articles
This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:
- Calibers & Cartridges
- Scopes & Reticles
- Rifle Actions
- Rifle Chassis & Stocks
- Rifle Suppressors & Muzzle Brakes
- Shooting Bags
- Bullets, Brass, Primers & Powders
- Special Bonus Post!
Meet The Pros
You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.
The PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring an small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.
There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.
Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.