I recently surveyed the top 100+ shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the actions those guys were running on their custom rifles. For those not familiar with the PRS, it’s an organization that tracks how 2,000+ competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. PRS matches are tactical/practical long-range rifle matches shot in the field conditions. Typical ranges for steel targets are from 300 to 1200 yards, and they are engaged from prone and improvised positions, often under extreme time pressure. It is one of the fastest growing shooting sports, and has attracted some of the best riflemen in the world. So to land in this group of the top 100 you have to be an exceptional competitor. (More Info on the PRS)
This is one of several posts based on a gear survey of the top PRS shooters. Want to be the first to know when the next set of results is posted? Sign-up to receive new posts via email.
Most Popular Rifle Actions
In the precision rifle world, we demand a lot from our actions. The obvious one is it must be capable of delivering precision … but plenty of benchrest actions already do that. What makes tactical actions different is they must be magazine-fed for engaging multiple targets quickly, and they must provide bullet-proof reliability in adverse field conditions. So on one hand, we demand actions with tight tolerances that are machined square and true, but on the other hand we must have clearances that allow them to continue to cycle through sand, grit, and grime that could easily lock-up a benchrest action. Oh, did I mention it also needs to be a bomb-proof platform for your optics?
The action is the heart of the rifle, and we expect a lot from it … which is why you can expect to spend $1000+ for any of the popular custom actions. When you’re dropping that kind of cash, you want to make sure you’re investing in something that will serve you well for years to come. So let’s look at what the best precision rifle shooters in the world are using:
Defiance Machine was the most popular action among the top shooters for the 3rd year in a row! Defiance offers actions with virtually every configuration imaginable. They’re made with the most advanced computer-aided machining techniques and held to ridiculously tight tolerances. 30% of the top shooters were running Defiance actions.
Surgeon Actions were the 2nd most popular action this year. Surgeon and Defiance have been the top two brands since the inception of the PRS, with Surgeon taking the top spot the first 2 years and the 2nd spot for the past 3 years. While Surgeon doesn’t offer as many configuration options as Defiance, what they do offer are actions that run like butter in the toughest environmental conditions imaginable. 18% of the pros were running Surgeon 591 actions.
Impact Precision jumped up to the #3 spot this year. Impact’s 737R short action is the newest design on this list, so it’s impressive they’re already so popular among this crowd. There were only a couple of guys running prototypes of this actions last year, and they’re still only available in limited numbers (i.e. you’ll be waiting a while if you want one). Impact Precision is led by a couple of the top PRS shooters, Wade Stuteville and Tate Streater, so they’re purpose-built from the ground-up with these types of matches in mind. 12% of the top shooters were running Impact Precision actions.
Accuracy International continued to have a strong showing again this year. Most actions on this list are Remington 700 clones, meaning they share most of the same dimensions and basic design as the original Rem 700 action, but are held to much tighter tolerances and often improved or packed with more features. That may be both good and bad. It’s good because there is a huge aftermarket community around the Rem 700 action, so you have a ton of interchangeable stocks and triggers to pick from. But it also means you may be stuck with design decisions the original Remington engineers made in 1962, which some believe are less than ideal. The AI action is different. It’s not a Rem 700 clone, so it has a few unique design characteristics compared to the rest of these. For example, the safety on most Rem 700 clones is part of the trigger and works by blocking the sear, and the full load of the cocked firing pin must be maintained by the trigger when the safety is engaged. In contrast, the safety on the AI is part of the bolt, and when engaged it mechanically blocks firing pin and is delinked from the trigger. Also most Rem 700 actions have a cylindrical design, compared to the beefy AI actions which are made from square bar stock … which makes them a natural fit for true, double-stack magazines. 11% of the top shooters were running AI actions.
Those 4 brands represented the actions used by 70% of these top shooters, but there were a few other excellent options among this group:
- Big Horn Actions
- Stiller Precision Actions
- Kelbly’s Atlas Tactical Actions
- American Rifle Company’s Mausingfield Action (check out my review on the Mausingfield)
- Badger Ordnance M2013
- Remington 700 Actions (likely trued and blueprinted)
RECOIL magazine recently published a great article that compares most of these actions. It provides some great “Actions 101” content, and explains the wish list features most of us are looking for. It also has a ton of details and pics of most of these actions. If you’re thinking about buying an action, I’d highly recommend checking out that article. Honestly, I found it to be a great resource recently when picking the action on my new match rifle. Here is an excerpt from that article:
Defiance also makes the Stryker Ridge action for Brownells (A Rebranded Defiance Rebel Action)
Cool. Hadn’t seen that one yet, but I know Defiance makes a TON of OEM actions. The companies have the ability to spec the exact configuration, and I think they sometimes tweak a few things … but it’s the same great action.
I see mostly high precision tried-and-true bolts here. Great bolts but little change from the Mauser or Remington 700.
The new “The Fix” from Q, LLC has about a15 degree bolt lift and (for a rifle) innovative grooved bolt shroud among other things like cocking roller bearings. “The Fix” is a good rifle to keep an eye on.
Personally I prefer 3 lug (or more) bolt lugs for faster cycling.
Thanks, Eric. I saw that action in an article from RECOIL magazine. It looked very interesting. I can appreciate when someone tries to come out with something original, and they certainly did.
Here’s a little excerpt from the RECOIL article for those who might be interested:
They have lot of pics to help explain it better than words can alone. But it’s a pretty cool design. Thanks for mentioning it, Eric.
Someone there should look at the Barnard actions, best action I’ve ever used period.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Matthew. I haven’t had a chance to handle a Barnard action yet. I did read John Whidden won the 2016 Long Range National Championship using a Barnard Model P Action, so it’s obviously capable of world-class precision.
they are very good, there is also the Model 07 and 10 rifles Barnard now make, have a look at them on line, very nice kit.
Thanks Cal. Another fine article.
Cal – Great article. I know long-actions aren’t used by the Pros, but was wondering if you come across them at all?
I don’t think I have, Ken. I can’t recall any at least. I know a guy who built a 6.5 SAUM on a long action, just to give him room to seat the bullet out … but he doesn’t compete with it (or hasn’t yet). I’ve never seen anyone competitive in precision rifle competitions running a long action, unless it was an extended long range (ELR) match. I’m running a 300 Norma in the Wyoming ELR match next week, and I’m sure lots of others will be running long actions in that one too. 50% of the targets are 600-1300 yards, and the other 50% are 1300-1900 yards … so that is a little different match than most PRS competitions. I’d bet 90% of the shots for most competitions are 300-800, with a few falling outside that. When you step beyond 1200 yards much, you will probably start seeing long action and/or magnum cartridges.