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Best Custom Rifle Action for PRS

Best Custom Rifle Action: What The Pros Use

I recently surveyed the 200 top-ranked shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) to learn what gear they’re running in long-range rifle matches. This large sample size represents the best long-range rifle competitors in the country.

This post will focus on the rifle part that is the absolute foundation of any rifle: the action. Perhaps no piece of gear can derail a match faster than an action. They just have to work every time without fail! So what are these guys at the very top putting their trust in? (View other What The Pros Use articles)

Let’s dive into the data!

Best Precision Rifle Action for PRS Matches

Best Rifle Action for PRS

On the chart above, the various colors represent where a shooter landed in terms of season rank in the PRS. For example, black indicates shooters who finished in the top 10, the darkest blue is people who finished 11-25, and the lighter the blue, the further out they finished in overall standings. The chart legend itemizes the ranks each color represents, but basically, the darker the color, the higher the shooter’s overall ranking.

Impact Precision Action

Impact Precision Action

57% of these top-ranked shooters are using an Impact Precision 737R action! That is over 3 times as many as any other brand. Impact Actions had almost as many shooters represented among the top 50 as any other brand had over all 200 shooters.

5 of the top 10 shooters were running an Impact action: #4 Austin Orgain,  #5 Austin Buschman, #6 Kyle Mccormack, #8 Ken Sanoski, and #9 Chris Kutalek. Impact also had 13 actions represented among the top 25. So, they represented 50% or more of the top-ranked shooters at every level.

So what is so compelling about an Impact action? Here are two big reasons:

  • Have become the de facto standard for shouldered, pre-fit barrels. Impact holds very tight tolerances, even on assembled parts, which means you can buy pre-chambered barrels off the shelf that are ready to ship. No more sending your favorite match rifle off to be rebarreled. They were one of the first actions to guarantee that pre-fit barrels would headspace correctly on their actions, back to the original release of the 737R in 2015. Other high-end, Rem 700 based action manufacturers came out with guaranteed headspace actions around 2019, which gave Impact a significant head start. Today, pre-fit barrels for Impact actions are more common than any other action. If someone is making high-end, pre-fit barrels, you can bet they offer Impact Pre-Fits. (Learn more about pre-fit barrels)
  • While Impact actions are held to tight tolerances, they also have appropriate clearances for reliability in dusty, field-style matches. Many high-end actions have minimal clearances between the bolt and the receiver, and dusty matches can cause them to run poorly or even lock up. Impact actions were designed by two veteran PRS shooters, Wade Stuteville and Tate Streater, from the ground up to be reliable in dusty, field-style PRS matches. 2022 PRS Champion Austin Buschman says, “The absolute top priority for my competition rifle and gear is reliability.”
2 Time PRS Champ Austin Orgain Usings Impact Action

Like almost all of the actions on this list, the Impact Precision 737R is a short action based on a Remington 700 footprint. That means you have a ton of options in terms of chassis/stocks and triggers that are compatible with it.

Since Impact was so popular, I’ll point out the list of features you’ll find standard on an Impact 737R action:

  • One-piece receiver with integral recoil lug and integral 20 MOA picatinny rail. (The 20 MOA rail helps more of your scope’s elevation travel be useable. Learn more.)
  • Receiver is rough machined, heat treated, bolt races electric discharge machined, and finish machined to ensure exacting dimensional tolerances
  • One piece bolt is designed with proper geometry and clearance to allow smooth operation under field conditions
  • Fluting on top and sides of bolt body carry dirt away while a smooth bottom portion ensures smooth cycling
  • Based on Remington 700 footprint, so it’s compatible with with most stocks/chassis and you have a wide range of trigger options
  • Rugged bolt stop design can take abuse while not requiring modification to stocks or chassis
  • Trigger hanger allows simplified field maintenance to the trigger
  • Black carbon nitride finish improves operation by increasing surface hardness and lubricity
  • Compatible with both AICS and AW magazines, meaning you have the option to run a true double-stack AW magazine in them. (AW magazines are slightly shorter than AICS magazines, which can sometimes be convenient when shooting from various barricades. You should check out the new AW magazines Gray Ops just released!)

There were 5 brands of actions that had at least 5 or more of these top-ranked shooters using them, and the Impact Precision 737R short action is one of the lowest-priced options among that group with an MSRP of $1,470.

One interesting stat is that 42% of those top shooters running Impact actions said they were using a pre-fit barrel. At the end of this article, I’ll provide a breakdown of what % of each action said they were using a pre-fit. (Learn more about pre-fit barrels)

Lone Peak Arms Fuzion Action

Lone Peak Fuzion Action Review

The second most popular precision rifle action was the Lone Peak Arms Fuzion, representing 16% among this crowd of elite marksmen. That did include 3 of the guys who finished in the top 10: #2 Andy Slade, #3 Morgun King, and #7 Jeff Guerry.

The Lone Peak Fuzion full-rail short action has many features that are similar to the Impact 737R. However, I’ve noticed that some of the manufacturers making pre-fit barrels for Lone Peak Arms actions, like PROOF and Front Range Precision, have this disclaimer on their Lone Peak pre-fit barrels: “Some older actions (made before Fall 2019) do not have timed threads and headspace may vary slightly. It is recommended to double-check headspace after the barrel is installed.” So, it seems like Lone Peak made the changes necessary for their actions to accommodate pre-fit barrels around Fall 2019. (Learn more)

Morgun King with his Lone Peak Fuzion Action

The Lone Peak Fuzion short action has an integral recoil lug and 20 MOA picatinny rail. The short action is also cut to accept either AICS or AW magazines. It features an M-16 style extractor and a lightweight 0.060” diameter firing pin that they advertise as providing “the fastest lock time.” (Note: Lock time is the time between when a trigger is activated and the firing pin hits the primer. It can range from 2.6 to 9.0 milliseconds in conventional bolt-action rifles, and faster is generally considered to be better.)

The Lone Peak Fuzion action has many options and variations, including a medium-length action. However, only the short action version with the full rail comes standard with the receiver body having a nitride finish. Nitride is a custom option on other Fuzion models.

TS Customs Bedding Job for Lone Peak Fuzion Action with Multi-Flat Bottom

One unique aspect of the Lone Peak Fuzion is the bottom of the action isn’t simply cylindrical like most Rem 700 based actions, but is what they call “multi-flat.” Basically the same faceted design that you see on the top half of the action continues on the bottom half. Brian at Lone Peak Arms told me some shooters like that feature because of how it imprints in the bedding. You can see a 5-star bedding job by TS Customs in the photo and how the multiple flat angles on the bottom of the Lone Peak action imprint into the bedding.

The Lone Peak Fuzion has an MSRP of $1,450, which is the lowest-priced option of any of the actions used by 5 or more of these top-ranked PRS shooters.

Defiance Actions

Defiance Actions were the 3rd most popular action among this group of top-ranked shooters at 9%. That included Nick Gadarzi, who finished 10th overall in the 2023 PRS Season Standings.

Defiance has been one of the most popular actions among the top PRS shooters since the PRS was founded in 2011. It was the 2nd most popular action on the very first set of “What The Pros Use” articles I published based on data from the 2012 PRS season (see the data), so Defiance actions have been represented since the very beginning!

Defiance Ruckus Tactical vs Deviant Tactical vs Defiance Deviant Elite Action

Defiance has a ton of different model actions, but the models that are common to see in the PRS are pictured to the right, each with an integral recoil lug and an integral picatinny scope base. I did reach out to Nick Gadarzi specifically to ask which model he was running, and he told me it was the Defiance Deviant Tactical.

The Defiance Ruckus Tactical action is the latest addition to the lineup, released in late 2019. It is very similar to the Deviant, but the Ruckus has guaranteed headspace – which means you can buy pre-fit barrels for it. The Defiance Action comparison page says the Ruckus features a “One-piece bolt machined in one operation enabling guaranteed headspace tolerance of +/- .001 inches” – but the Deviant models don’t have that headspace guarantee.

What is interesting is that the Ruckus Tactical is priced $150 lower than the Deviant Tactical ($1,595 vs $1,745). I read all kinds of opinions online about why that was, but I simply called Defiance and asked them directly. They said it’s simply because the bolt on the Ruckus was moved to a more modernized machining process, and it is made in one machining process – compared to the Deviant bolt, which is an 11-step process. Of course, even at the lowered price of $1,595, the Ruckus Tactical action is still the most expensive action that 5 or more of the top 200 ranked shooters used.

Defiance actions have more customization options and variations than any other brand, which can be nice – or confusing. The short-length action (Rem SA) is offered with an AW magazine cut. They also offer two different sizes of medium-length actions plus a long action. If you want to customize an action to have some niche features, Defiance seems to have endless options. You can customize the bolt knob, the bolt nose, the bolt fluting, the bolt shroud, how heavy the tang is, multiple length options, different magazine cuts, and more.

Terminus Zeus Action

Terminus Zeus Action

5% of these top-ranked shooters were using a Terminus action, including the guy who took 1st overall, Kahl Harmon.

Kahl said that he was using a Terminus Zeus action, which is their flagship model. They describe it as “an over-engineered tactical one-piece action.” This one is a 3-lug design with a 60° throw on the bolt. Terminus does say that their Zeus action has “receiver headspace tolerance and timed threads allow pre-fit barrels to be installed by the customer.”

Kahl Harmon with XLR Envy Pro Rifle Chassis

One unique thing about the Terminus Zeus is that the receiver and bolt are both DLC coated (Diamon-Like Carbon Coating), whereas most of the other actions and bolts on this list are nitride-coated. I called Terminus to ask about that, and Joel told me that they originally used a nitride coating on their actions. He said DLC coating is about 5 times the cost of nitride, which is why you rarely see a complete receiver that is DLC coated. DLC coating produces a higher lubricity (lower coefficient of friction) and is better at protecting the action from premature wear. He also said they saw some very slight movement in some parts as a result of nitride coating. Joel explained that the parts were checked to meet certain specs, but when dipped in the 1100° nitride bath, they would move slightly. He said the application temperature of DLC is 312°, which isn’t hot enough to move or change any of the parts. Joel did add the disclaimer that he’s not claiming nitride coating affects or moves all parts, but that was their experience and why they moved to DLC – despite the extra expense.

Terminus Actions Threaded Trigger Pin

Another novel feature of Terminus actions is their patented threaded trigger pins, instead of the older hammered-in style pins. The Impact action features a trigger hanger, but these threaded pins seem to be another solution to simplify field maintenance of a trigger. Terminus also says they have a quick change barrel option, or you can get the Zeus with standard, full-length barrel threading.

MSRP on the Terminus Zeus is $1,575, which makes it one of the more expensive actions on this list – but not the highest.

Curtis Custom Valor Action

6 of these top 200 ranked shooters were running a Curtis Custom action. That included 3 shooters in the top 25, but there weren’t any in the top 10.

Curtis Customs Valor Short Action

The flagship competition action from Curtis Customs is the Valor Short, which is another 3-lug design with a 60° bolt throw and has an integral recoil lug and scope rail.

Here is Curtis Custom’s summary of the Valor short action: “The VALOR is a culmination of 4 years of Development with competitive precision rifle shooting at its heart! Improvements made from past models are: Improved feeding with a proprietary Magwell design, which all but eliminates any magazine binding or interface with the bolt. Allowing both AI and AW magazine systems to work in conjunction without modification. Internal tolerance and different machine methods help improve overall bolt lift and cycle. The ejection port is lengthened to allow for longer COAL. The cocking piece is a new design that is also black nitrided for incredibly smooth operation.”

Curtis says they hold headspace dimensions within 0.001” on this action, which means you can order shouldered, pre-fit barrels for it that a customer can install (learn more). Similar to the Zeus, Curtis Customs advertises that you can get the Valor Short with a quick change barrel feature or full-thread tennon option.

Chase Curtis, the owner of Curtis Customs, told me they recently moved all of their finishing in-house, and they use a proprietary process to apply a DLC coating. Previously, Curtis actions had a nitride coating. Chase said their cost per action for the DLC coating is more than double what nitride was costing them, but he believes it’s a better finish.

The Curtis Customs Valor Short Action has an MSRP of $1,474.

Side-By-Side Spec Comparison of Top 5 Brands

Those 5 brands represent all of the actions used by 5 or more of these top 200 PRS shooters. These actions are similar in many ways, but there are also unique features or options. Several years ago, RECOIL magazine had an article with this type of side-by-side action comparison, and I found myself referencing back to it several times. So, I thought it’d be helpful to see a side-by-side comparison of the pricing and specs for each of those. You can’t find all of these specs online, so I called each manufacturer to fill in any of the blanks.

Best Precision Rifle Action

Now, I’ll share the additional action brands a few shooters said they used in my “What The Pros Use” survey.

BAT Actions

BAT actions are legendary in the Benchrest world, and 3 of these top-ranked PRS shooters use them, with 1 of those finishing in the top 50.

BAT TR Action

BAT offers so many different models of bolt actions that I wanted to be able to share with my readers which model the top BAT shooter was running. So I reached out to John Indellicati, who placed 45th in the 2023 PRS Open Season Rankings using a BAT action. John said he is using the BAT TR Model with a 308 bolt face and nitride finish. I asked what he liked about it, and John said, “They are very robust and of very high quality. I like that they have an adjustable trigger hanger and have a nice tight lock-up feel. I use AW magazines, and they run very smooth once you get the mags tuned.”

I also saw BAT released the BAT Hammerhead action in January, which is their newest repeater action that is purpose-built for competition. Corson Piper, who finished 20th in the 2023 PRS Open Division Season Rankings and is currently ranked 2nd in the 2024 standings, said he recently started using the BAT Hammerhead in matches.

Here is BAT’s description of the Hammerhead: “Faster operating than ever before with our renowned BAT Precision. Featuring a shorter 75 degree bolt lift that doesn’t compromise action strength or feel. The Hammerhead includes a standard length bolt stop or a short travel bolt stop for BR/Dasher length cartridges. The shorter position reduces travel by .350″ thus improving cycling speed. An adjustable and removable screw is fitted to the magazine port to allow for the use of AICS magazines without the feed-lips contacting the bolt.

BAT Machine Hammerhead Action

So, the BAT Hammerhead action has a few unique features:

  • It’s a two-lug action that features a 75° bolt lift (most two-lug actions are 90°). Some people prefer a reduced throw angle because they believe it’s faster to operate – which is part of the draw of a 3-lug design that has a 60° bolt lift. But there are other cons that can come with a 3-lug action. So, it seems like BAT has introduced a third option that may have the benefits of both.
  • Comes with two bolt stops: standard length + another one that is reduced by 0.35” to cut down on how far you have to run the bolt for the shorter BR and Dasher cases.
  • Adjustable stop to optimize the use of AICS without the feed lips contacting the bolt (while still being compatible with AW double-stack magazines)

While lots of these actions are very similar to one another, I can certainly appreciate someone bringing some novel features to the table – especially those that seem very relevant to PRS shooting.

The BAT TR model that John uses has an MSRP of $1,785, and the BAT Hammerhead has an MSRP of $1,885. That makes those the most expensive actions out of this whole list.

Zermätt Arms/Big Horn Actions

3 of these pro-level shooters said they were using an action made by Zermätt Arms (formerly known as Bighorn Arms). That included 2 in the top 100 but none in the top 50. Big Horn Actions has been a mainstay on this list of actions the top shooters have been using since the very beginning of the PRS in 2012.

Zermatt Arms Big Horn TL3 Action

These actions are controlled round feed and feature a mechanical ejector, which seems to be unique among the other actions on this list. They also feature a floating, interchangeable bolt head, meaning you can change from one size bolt face to another by simply replacing the head of the bolt. All of the Zermätt Arms actions feature a pinned picatinny scope rail instead of an integral rail, which is different from virtually all of the other actions on this list. The Zermätt Arms flagship action, the TL3 action, does feature an integral recoil lug.

The TL3 action is priced at $1,300, which makes it one of the lowest-priced actions in this lineup.

Billet Precision Rifles LS1 Action

2 shooters were using an action made by Billet Precision Rifles. That includes the owner of Billet Precision Rifles, Lane Shelley, who placed 29th overall.

Here is the description of the LS1 action: “A precision-built bolt action receiver based upon the 700 footprint. Short action caliber cut for AICS magazines with an integrated recoil lug and a 20 M0A pic rail. Finish coating available in a polish or gunmetal gray.”

Billet Precision Rifles LS1 Action

MSRP on the LS1 action is listed at $1,250 on their website, which means it’s the lowest-priced action in this lineup of actions that was used by more than 1 of these top-ranked PRS shooters.

Falkor Defense Seven Action

2 shooters said they were using a Falkor Defense action, and one of those specifically noted it was the Falkor Defense 7even Short Action.

Falkor Defense Seven Action Review

The Falkor Defense Seven short action is priced at $1,499.

Other Actions With 1 Shooter Represented

The brands mentioned above represented 95% of these 200 top-ranked PRS shooters, including any action used by more than 2 or more of the top 200 ranked shooters. But, there was a pretty long list of other actions that 1 of these shooters said they used on my survey, and those are shown below.

A few of these were competing in the Production Division, which means they were using a factory rifle that was under a specific price point – and they still shot well enough to place in the top 200 in the Open Division. That just shows how capable some of the factory rifles are these days. Nobody is claiming a factory action is as good as an Impact action, but these are clearly capable of precision!

How Many Are Running Pre-Fit Barrels On Different Actions?

Most of these actions are guaranteed to headspace correctly on shouldered, pre-fit barrels. Not sure what that means? Read this article.

So now let’s look at how many of these top-ranked PRS shooters were actually using pre-fit barrels based on what action they were using.

First, the chart below shows every brand of action that had 5 or more shooters represented, along with what percentage of each said they were running a pre-fit barrel.

% of Top Shooters Using Pre-Fit Barrels

That is very interesting! 42% of the top-ranked shooters using an Impact action were using a pre-fit barrel, but the other brands have a much lower percentage of pre-fits represented.

The chart above is one view, but it doesn’t give you any insight into where those shooters using pre-fits finished. Were only the lower-ranked shooters running pre-fit barrels? The answer depends on what action you’re talking about. The chart below shows all of the people who said they were running a pre-fit barrel (not one that was custom-chambered for their action), and this chart is color-coded so we can see where they ranked.

Shooters Using Pre-Fit Barrels By Action

You can see Impact Precision had 3 shooters in the top 10 and 5 in the top 25 that said they were running a pre-fit barrel on an Impact action. However, the only people running a pre-fit barrel on a Lone Peak action were ranked above 50th. There were 6 shooters using a Lone Peak action in the top 50, but none of those people were using a pre-fit barrel.

There was 1 person using a pre-fit on a Terminus, who finished 39th overall on the season, and 1 person using a pre-fit on an LS1 action from Billet Precision Rifles, who finished 29th. Other than Impact, Terminus, and Billet Precision, there weren’t any other top 50 shooters running a pre-fit on any other action.

The charts above show such a sharp difference in terms of both the % of shooters using pre-fits and the ranking of those who are that I have to wonder if these top shooters simply have more confidence in pre-fit barrels made for Impact actions than those made for other brands. Of course, that is conjecture, but I’m not sure what else to make of the trends. If you have thoughts on what might be behind this, please share those in the comments!

After I published my last article on pre-fit barrels, I can tell you this is undoubtedly a hot topic! There are lots of intelligent people with strong opinions on both sides. Clearly, these action manufacturers have taken notice and come to market with new products to support pre-fit barrels. If nothing else, it will be interesting to keep an eye on this trend over the coming years.

The Brands That Fell Off

surgeon rifles

There are a few names that were on this list of actions the pros were using for years that went missing this year. When I first published the data after the inaugural 2012 PRS season, Surgeon actions were the favorite among the top shooters. “Surgeon” is one of those old-school names that new shooters may have never even heard of at this point, and this is the first survey where there wasn’t a single one of the top riflemen who said they were using one.

Stiller Actions

Stiller Actions is one more name that was on the original list of actions and was well-represented among the precision rifle community for many years. They had fallen down the list quite a ways and only had a couple of shooters represented the last few times we looked at the data, but this marks the first year they’re no longer represented.

Accuracy International

Accuracy International also typically had quite a few shooters represented and had since the very beginning. However, none of these top shooters said they were using an AI action this year. AI rifles are certainly capable of competing at this level. My guess as to why AI might have fallen off the list is that AI’s complete rifles are fairly expensive (starting around $6500), and they have very limited chassis/stock and trigger options. Unlike almost all other actions on this list, AI actions aren’t based on a Remington 700 footprint but are a proprietary design.

Coming Up Next

If you enjoyed this content, there is more to come! Over the next few months, I’ll be publishing a ton of data on what the top precision rifle shooters are using. Check out the other “What The Pros Use” articles that have already been published.

Be the first to know when the next What The Pros Use article is published by signing up for email alerts.

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About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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15 comments

  1. Excellent information Cal

    If I were building a rifle, I would look seriously at Impact action first and go down the list until I found the one that I figured would work best.

    It’s articles like this that take the guess work out of the project..

    Paul

    • Thanks, Paul! That’s what I’m going for! This game is too expensive to buy the wrong thing, and then have to change to something else.

      Honestly, I’d bet you wouldn’t be disappointed with any of the actions on this list – and definitely none at the top. The fact is, there is A LOT that aren’t on this list that wouldn’t be a good option. I’ve seen guys try to run really tight Benchrest-style actions in these types of matches, and that never goes well. The bolt clearance and coatings really play into how reliable the action is, plus how quickly you can run the bolt … all without disturbing your sight picture. If you ever watch these guys shoot and run the bolt, it’s so smooth. It looks like there is zero resistance on the bolt when they feed a round and close it. That’s because they’re using an amazing action!

      Thanks for taking the time to drop the comments! Articles like this one take me 40+ hours to write, so I appreciate the encouragement. Helps me know that I’m helping people!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  2. Hi Cal

    I have been waiting for this article for years! Thank you for sharing it.

    I do have two questions:

    1. Do most PRS shooters prefer AICS cut or AW cut receivers?

    From what I gathered, here are the pros and cons of each when compared:

    AICS:
    + Removes less material, thus makes for a stiffer receiver.
    + More reliable and can feed a much wider range of calibers.
    + Easier to source magazines.
    + Wide variety of magazine manufactures to choose from.
    + Way more affordable options to choose from.

    – Magazines are about 40% longer for a 10 rounder.
    – Does not feed as smooth.

    AW:
    + Magazines are about 40% shorter for a 10 rounder.
    + Feeds very smooth with a proper designed action.

    – Removes more material from receiver, thus reducing receiver stiffness.
    – Does not work with a wide range of cartridges.
    – Less reliable in most small diameter bolt actions.
    – Needs a full diameter bolt with a lug at 6 O’clock to reliably feed.
    – Harder to source and not many options available.
    – A lot more expensive.

    I only have experience with an AICS and BDL cut receiver in a Remington 700 footprint action. From what I can gather, it does not seem like the benefits of the AW magazine out ways the negatives. However, it seems most of the aftermarket action manufacturers are offering the AW cut as a default. I do understand the logic that an AW cut receiver can take both AICS and AW magazines, where a AICS cut receiver can only take AICS magazines, thus a AW cut allow more options for the user, but at the cost of reducing receiver stiffness and increasing the risk that a AICS magazine will not work properly.

    As a side note, for a general action I prefer a BDL cut receiver since it allows for AICS magazines and internal box mags. Hence you can build anything from a light weight simple hunting rifle all the way to a heavy weight PRS rig on the same receiver.

    2. You mention: “However, many of the 3-lug actions can be tougher to tune so that they pick up a round from the magazine as reliably as a 2-lug action. So, it seems like BAT has found a third option that might have the benefits of both.” Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the big problem is full diameter bolts vs small diameter bolts and not 2 vs 3 lugs?

    Full diameter bolts by default needs a locking lug at 6 O’clock to strip the cartridge from the magazine. This makes them very well suited to double stack magazines like the AW magazine. However, because of the narrow feeding lips of the AICS magazine, the full diameter bolt is at high risk of dragging on the feed lips. To counter that, the receivers with full diameter bolts has to be designed so that the AICS magazine sits a lot lower, hence why they require tweaking the magazine catch.

    Another down side of a full diameter bolt in Remington 700 footprint actions are that they reduce the number of active threads on the rear action screw. It is also this screw that needs to counter the barrel weight force which can be significant with ELR barrels that are long and heavy. I think the reason why we are seeing so many full diameter bolts despite the compromises that come from them in Remington 700 footprint actions is because they have one big benefit over small diameter bolts, they are cheaper to manufacture because they don’t require very expensive Wire EDM cut raceways.

    3. Not a question, just more considerations on DLC vs Black Nitride.

    DLC has a lower coefficient of friction, thereby making the action smoother. The process is also done at a lower temperature, reducing the risk of part warpage and tempering the parts to lower hardness. Lastly, when using the right supplier, the color does not scratch off as easily as the Black Oxide of Black Nitride (I have experience with one action brand with DLC that came off super easily and another that was extremely scratch resistant). The down side of DLC is that it is not applied uniformly on the part’s surface. It mostly covers the outside surfaces and internal holes and bores are mostly uncovered. Thus, when you have parts working in these holes and bores, they do not reap the full benefits of DLC.

    For Black Nitride, there are various treatment methods, but mostly Salt Bath and Gas Nitriding are used. I only have experience with Gas Nitrided parts. With this process the supplier can very accurately control the treatment depth and most importantly the whole part surface is treated uniformly. So even the parts working in holes and bores take advantage of the reduced coefficient of friction and abrasion resistance. The treatment depth is also more than double than that of DLC. This does however result in more part growth and needs to be taken into account in parts with tolerances less than ±0.020mm / ±0.0008”. The growth is very consistent and thus can be compensated for when designing the parts. The down side of Black Nitriding is that the black color wears of easier than DLC. It must be noted, it is only the Black Oxide and not the surface itself, so function is not compromised. It is just an aesthetic thing. Because Nitriding is usually done at a higher temperature, materials have to be carefully selected for certain parts. As for part warpage, I have not experienced it with Gas Nitriding.

    Information that I was not able to find is the corrosion resistance of DLC vs Black Nitride. The Black Oxide greatly improves the corrosion resistance of Chrome Molly steels. I wonder if DLC has the same effect?

    I like both treatments as long as it is done properly.

    Thank you once again for this amazing blog!

    Hanno

    • Thanks, Hanno! I appreciate the enthusiasm. This was an interesting one for me, too. This is one of the areas where a lot seems to have changed since I last published this “What The Pros Use” data on actions back in 2018. Well, I guess Impact was in the lead then, too … so lots has changed besides that.

      1. I think you hit most of the points there. The only one I’m not 100% sure about is AW mags feeding smoother than AICS. I’m not refuting it, I just don’t have experience with it and don’t know that I’ve heard people mention that. It certainly may be true.

      Honestly, I bought one of the early Impact actions. I think I have serial #137 & #138 of their right-handed actions. It was definitely within the first year they started making them. Back then the actions were AICS only, but they’d occasionally do a special run of actions with an AW cut. I’m not sure when Impact switched to cutting all of their actions with a AW cut, but that’s what they’re doing today. But I haven’t personally had experience with AW mags, honestly. I did order some recently, and will probably buy a pair of AW cut actions soon.

      I’ve heard lots of guys talk about an AW cut affecting the stiffness of the action, but I’m not sure how much our little 6 Dasher cartridges are stressing our actions. I might guess that is a theoretical compromise and may not result in a measurable difference.

      What I know for sure is sometimes it is an advantage to have a shorter magazine when shooting from certain barricades. So I’ll make a bold prediction that we’ll start seeing a trend towards AW magazines. In fact, I think it will be a trend towards the new Gray Ops BR/Dasher AW 12-Round Magazine. I bet there are a ton of these top guys running those 12 months from now. That’s why I mentioned that in the article. I think that has a few clever ideas and that product will catch fire. They are expensive, but I bet Dave Preston has a hard time keeping them in stock!

      2. You might be right on that one. I thought the industry guys and pro shooters I’ve heard talk about the 3-lug actions were saying they could be tougher to tune magazines for … but maybe I misunderstood. That’s part of why I enable comments on my articles. It is a natural way to be peer-reviewed, so I don’t accidentally misrepresent anything. I went ahead and reworded that paragraph to read a little differently:

      It’s a two-lug action that features a 75° bolt lift (most two-lug actions are 90°). Some people prefer a reduced throw angle because they believe it’s faster to operate – which is part of the draw of a 3-lug design that has a 60° bolt lift. But there are other cons that can come with a 3-lug action. So, it seems like BAT has introduced a third option that may combine the benefits of both.

      3. Very interesting. Honestly, I had a few conversations with these action manufacturers and machinists over the years about coatings, but I’m not sure I’ve ever had an overview like that. I know there are tradeoffs, but that was a helpful summary.

      I can say that I’ve owned two Impact actions as my primary match rifles for 8 years now and I’ve burned out a dozen barrels on them. I’d bet I have 10,000 rounds on each one. You can see some minor spots where the color is getting thinner in a few places, but they still run super-slick. I’d bet any of these custom actions run slick, but I don’t think I’ve given up anything since I bought them in terms of how smooth they run. So my anecdotal experience fits your explanation that “the black color wears off easier than DLC. It must be noted, it is only the Black Oxide and not the surface itself, so function is not compromised. It is just an aesthetic thing.”

      Like everything in life, there are typically trade-offs! There aren’t many “magic bullets” that are all upside with no downside. I guess the coatings are just one more way these guys are each trying to make decisions on what bringing the best product to market involves.

      I really appreciate you sharing!
      Cal

      • Hi Cal

        I appreciate the time for the detailed reply and information.

        Looking forward to the next one!

        Hanno

      • While adjustable height mag releasees ,new mags and AW cuts on actions are conducive to AW mag resurgence, would be surprised if AW becomes the norm anytime soon particularly if 6BR based cartridges dominate.
        AICS patern has seen years of development to make 6BR work , and newer MTD mags also considerably reduced in ‘height’ (took them long enough ,hint -> SAKO TRG mags are near AW size and still single feed) ,single feed is magnitudes easier to make work in most actions , number of mag options vs AW………..

      • You certainly might be right, Mr. T. MDT’s magazines certainly gave us some of the advantages of more compact magazines, with their 12-round magazine basically being the same height as AI’s 10-round mag. I’ve certainly enjoyed using the MDT 12-round mags for the last 2 years or so. But, the Gray Ops AW Mag is specifically made for the BR/Dasher and have a spacer kit built-in. They also have an adjustable steel mag catch on the magazine itself. Plus the windows for the round indicators seems helpful, too. Without the release of that new Gray Ops magazine in the last couple of weeks, I probably wouldn’t bet on AW mags. But, I think we all see the merit of a more compact, double-stack magazine … and these actions all accommodate them.

        I probably don’t have enough confidence in my prediction to put money on it, but we’ll just have to wait and see how this shakes out by the end of the season. Some of that might depend on Gray Ops ability to turn out enough magazines.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  3. So they are all crappy round-bottom actions with the exception of Lone Peak?

    • Well, they are all based on a Remington 700 footprint … so yeah. Even the Lone Peak is based on a Rem 700 footprint, and is very close to cylindrical. If you connect the peaks with an arc along the bottom of the action, it makes the same size cylinder as all of the other actions.

      These manufacturers are all adhering to the Rem 700 footprint so their customers can take advantage of the huge selection of stocks and chassis that third parties have brought to market around that action. Accuracy International uses a square bottom action, but notice they aren’t on this list. That’s because the only option for that action is an AI chassis. You can’t use an MPA, MDT, or Foundation Stock if you want to run a square bottom action.

      I certainly wouldn’t describe these actions as crappy – and I don’t think these 200 pro-level shooters would either. But everyone is entitled to their opinion!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  4. I haven’t tried the ARC Coup de Gras but I have the Nucleus and the Archimedes. Both are very nice but the Archimedes is the smoothest action I have ever felt.

    I haven’t felt a ton of high end actions but the handful I have were not as smooth. With that said, the pivoting bolt handle feels a bit different but it’s an easy adjustment and worth the super smooth and light bolt throw.

    It also is a great action if you push the pressure high because that pivoting bolt handle gives an incredible amount of leverage on primary extraction if you have a stuck case and the extractor grabs almost as much of the rim as a full Mauser claw style extractor. So it’s very smooth until you get a stuck case, then it has the leverage and extractor to get it out if it can be gotten out.

    It has a host of other features like a floating three lug bolt design (with toroidal lock up), Springfield style mechanical ejector, integrated recoil lug and controlled round feed.

    Lastly, all of the ARC actions are built precisely enough that shouldered or barrel nut style pre-fit barrels work and headspace just fine so it’s a DIY build possibility that can save a lot of money.

    At a high level of competition it is probably personal preference and sponsorship that go in to action choice. The ARC actions aren’t specifically marketed to PRS shooters except the limited class but I think they could go head to head with anything out there if you combine a really good pre-fit barrel, a really nice trigger and an excellent stock/chassis with a top level shooter.

    We will just have to see if that ever happens. Or maybe it has since there is one ARC shooter.

    It would be interesting to see how much the accuracy and the consistency of the particular gun matter in the PRS rankings and then rank the individual guns for accuracy and consistency.

    I think a lot of the guns are chosen to keep up with the Jones’s rather than actual advantages.

    • Thanks, Dan. I am a big fan of American Rifle Company’s product. They are truly innovative, where many of these other actions are extremely similar. And I personally believe they offer the best value on the market right now in terms of actions. That is why MPA uses ARC actions them on their production rifles. I guess they came to that same conclusion.

      I actually was the first one to write about American Rifle Company (that I was aware of), back in Jan 2015 when I found them in a small booth in the basement of SHOT Show. I instantly recognized the innovation and merit of Ted’s designs. You can find that article here, and it itemizes a lot of the same innovative features that you mentioned: https://precisionrifleblog.com/2015/02/03/american-rifle-company-mausingfield-rifle-action-review/

      I talked to Ted (owner of ARC) recently, because I was thinking about using his action to build a dangerous game rifle on. I like a controlled round feed for that, and virtually all of the actions here are push feed. I also like the mechanical ejector and a bunch of other things about the ARC action for that application. I asked Ted which action he’d suggest, and I figured it’d be the Mausingfield or Archimedes – but he said he doesn’t know why it’d be anything but the Coup De Gras. He said that action design is almost perfect, so that might be what he used. That kind of floored me.

      I agree with almost everything you said, except that sponsorship goes into the decision. I think there are 5 people or less in this group that are sponsored by an action company or got a free action. And really, those people wouldn’t be using the action if they thought another one would give them 1% more in terms of performance. I’m friends with a lot of these guys and you just wouldn’t believe how competitive they are. Virtually none of these guys are making a living at this, unlike world-class shooters in other disciplines. We are all hopeful that will change over time, but it isn’t that way today. Clay Blackketter is a PRS Champion and top competitor and he shared with me the math he’s done in terms of what all his costs are related to competitions (travel, hotels, replacing barrels, components, match fees, etc.) and he’s way in the red every year. He pays out of pocket for most of this stuff! He may get a discount, but it’s pretty insignificant compared to the total cost. He said he would never change gear unless he truly believed it would add to his score – and he gives that advice to other shooters, too. So even if something was free or someone offered to pay him to use it (which is EXTREMELY rare), he wouldn’t even consider switching if he didn’t think it would add to his score.

      We actually talked about that in a JTAC podcast a few months ago. PRS Champ Austin Buschman and top 20 competitor Justin Watts were also on there and they offered some insight to the sponsorship thing, too. You can listen to that here: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/jtac-precision-rifle-podcast-s2e5/id1542080963?i=1000635700965

      I do agree that the ARC actions could go head to head with any of these. I’m not claiming they are better, but I feel like they’re in the same class and they’re a huge value in terms of what you get for the money.

      I did find out after this post that the MPA Elite action is actually an American Rifle Company action. That is what is used on the MPA production rifle. Keith Rudasill placed #22 in the overall PRS Open Standings in 2023 with an MPA production rifle with a “MPA Elite” action … so I guess ARC already broke into the top 25. That kind of proves the point in my view that they are capable of competing at this level.

      MPA Elite Action is American Rifle Company ARC Action

      I do think the accuracy and consistency of the rifles matter. I hear guys say you just need a 1 MOA or 3/4 MOA rifle to compete in the PRS. That isn’t true at this level. All of these guys laugh at ignorant comments like that. Now, did the guy that place 1st do that because his rifle shot the tiniest groups. Nope! He’s a better shooter. But if his rifle didn’t shoot tiny groups, he would have finished lower. The top guys I know say they want a rifle that groups under 0.5 MOA at long range (like 800-1000 yards). Most don’t fire groups at paper at 100 yards regularly. They could care less about that. But they do have pretty high accuracy standards.

      I think you’d really find that podcast interesting. It was one of the most fun conversations I’ve had with a group of these guys, but I also feel like it will help you better understand how these guys think about gear.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments! I certainly have a high view of American Rifle Company. I tried to keep the article objective and keep my personal opinion out of it, but I always feel free to share my thoughts in the comments. So thanks for the opportunity!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  5. How do you feel about using a factory action to build a custom rifle? I have a Remington 700 factory action that my build is currently shooting 0.5 MOA or better consistently. I am new to precision rifles so iw ant sure if I needed a custom action for it to shoot better or not.

    • Jacob, if you have a rifle that is shooting 0.5 MOA or better … it is probably not holding you back. I have several custom rifles and they don’t shoot much better than that, if any. So don’t feel pressure to change it out or need to upgrade. I’d say if you already have a gun that is that precise, one of the only big benefits from a custom action would be how smooth it runs. If you watch videos of these guys shooting, you can see how smooth they are when they are running their bolt. It looks like they could do it with just their pinky finger. That keeps them from disturbing the rifle between shots. Most factory actions I’ve ever used aren’t silky smooth like that. There is some chatter as you run the bolt, although how much chatter varies from one brand to another and even action-to-action.

      The other benefits of a custom action fall into what I’d consider an “academic” or “theoretical” category – and they are pretty small. These custom actions virtually all have integral scope rails and recoil lugs, which means there is less of a chance that anything will slip or move during recoil or rough handling (like hitting the barrel as you are moving in and out of windows). And there is other stuff like the bolt stop on most of these is more robust than a Rem 700, so they’re less likely to fail if you are really running your bolt hard. And the extractor on most of these are a more beefed up extractor than what a factory Rem 700 has. Do those things really matter? There are scenarios where they might, but they are relatively niche. That’s what I say they’re academic. They “might” matter in certain scenarios, but my bet is you could compete for more than a year and not run into any of those issues in reality.

      So the overall draw of these is smoothness and improved reliability in number of small ways. Don’t get me wrong, they are nice to have. But it’s not a must-have for most people. And the benefit of pre-fit barrels is also a nice-to-have. Buying barrels off the shelf for a lower price than what you can get a barrel custom-chambered for is a benefit that some people would consider. Pre-fit barrels are a hot topic, so I’ll just leave it at that. Some people believe in them and some people still think you should custom-chamber every barrel.

      I’d say you should always be thinking about what is the weakest link, and what is costing you points. I don’t know if you compete or what level your shooting ability is, but I’d bet the Rem 700 action might not be the weakest link or the thing holding you back.

      “Is it worth it?” is a tough question. I actually wrote a systematic answer to that question that might help you think through it: https://precisionrifleblog.com/is-it-worth-it/

      Hope that is helpful!
      Cal

  6. We need more posts like this please, it’s been stale for far too long!

    • Glad you like the content, Will. I’m publishing as I can find time to create the content. It takes more time than you might think. For example, I bet I spent close to 40 hours writing this article alone! I’m also the president of a $500M business with hundreds of employees as my primary job. So this website and writing articles will always take a backseat to my primary responsibilities to both my family and the business I lead. I also enjoy actually shooting competitively and not just writing about it, so there is that commitment I’m trying to balance, too. In fact, my goal for 2024 is to become one of these pro shooters by qualifying for the 2024 PRS Finale as one of the 150 top-ranked shooters in the Open Division. I’m well on my way to that goal already, which I think will help my content carry more authority on these topics. But, I do invest considerable time into this as I can and hope to do that for the foreseeable future. As far as increasing the pace of these articles, I’ll give you a polite, “No.” I hope the context helps you understand everything I’m trying to balance.

      Thanks,
      Cal