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Eric Conn

New Rifles: 6 Top AR Rifles From 2017

The AR has come a long way since it rolled off Eugene Stoner’s drawing board. Find out what’s the best of the best when it comes to black rifles from 2017.

The hot new AR options this year:

SIG Sauer M400 Predator

SIG Sauer has been expanding its reach into optics and suppressors the past couple of years, but it’s never lost sight of its ability to craft some of the best firearms on the planet. The M400 Predator is a case in point. Chambered in 5.56 NATO, the M400 Predator AR is equipped with an 18-inch barrel with 1:8-inch twist, two-stage match trigger and has an overall weight of 7 pounds. An M-LOK accessory rail makes attachments for predator hunting a walk in the park, while ½-28-threading makes for quick, easy attachment of a suppressor. On a coyote hunt in the Sandhills of Nebraska, the M400 proved exceptionally reliable in the cold and highly accurate even with fast follow-up shots. For a high-quality build with a great trigger, the M400 comes in at a relative bargain. MSRP: $1,582

Savage MSR 10 6.5 Creedmoor

Savage has built a solid reputation in the bolt-gun world with its highly affordable, highly innovative designs that the company is now rolling over to its new MSR line. Built explicitly for hunters and long-range enthusiasts, Savage’s MSR 10 Long Range is available in .308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor. The Creedmoor variant features a 1:8-inch twist in a 22-inch, fluted heavy barrel with QPQ finish, Magpul PRS Gen3 buttstock and free-float M-LOK handguard. The rifle also utilizes a non-reciprocating side-charging handle and Blackhawk’s two-stage target trigger, which makes for one highly accurate rifle. MSRP: $2,284

Noveske/Nosler Varmageddon in Nosler 22

If there’s one manufacturer that stands out in the world of cartridge development during the last couple of years, it’s Nosler. Pioneering new commercial loads such as the 26, 28 and 30 Nosler, the company is working hard to perfect the high octane, hot rod cartridge. The newest addition is the 22 Nosler, which is available in a Noveske-built Varmageddon AR and offers an incredible 300 fps increase in velocity over the .223 Rem. The rifle features an 18-inch barrel with 1:8-inch twist, MOE pistol grip and Super Badass charging handle. An NSR-15 FDE handguard features Key-Mod attachment points and matches the FDE finish on the rest of the rifle. Perfect for extending the range on predators, the Varmageddon AR in 22 Nosler is a tack-driving machine. MSRP: $2,869

S&W M&P 15 Tactical M-LOK

Smith & Wesson’s line of M&P AR-15s has long been a benchmark in the AR world, and the newest iteration, the M&P15T, certainly lives up to that reputation. The M&P15T features a 16-inch barrel with a 1:8-inch twist and 13-inch M&P slim, free-float modular rail system with M-LOK attachment points for maximum accessorizing. At just 6 pounds, the M&P15T is ideally suited for home defense and doubles as a fantastic truck and coyote rifle. Highly accurate, reliable and incorporating a lightweight, contoured barrel for maximum maneuverability, the M&P15T is also incredibly affordable. MSRP: $1,189

Alexander Arms .50 Beowulf Tactical

Let’s face facts: a .50-caliber AR with a name like the Beowulf immediately garners attention. And rightfully so. Bill Alexander has been a frontrunner in new AR designs and concepts, and the new .50 Beowulf Tactical is no exception. Featuring a Bravo Company B5 Systems SOPMOD stock, Geissele SSA or Alexander Arms Tactical trigger and Manticore Arms Transformer Rail handguard, the .50 Beowulf Tactical is no doubt one of the heaviest hitters ever built on the AR platform. The rifle comes in FDE, OD green or black, and features a flat-top receiver and 16.5-inch barrel with 1:20 twist rate. MSRP: $1,750

Rock River Arms Predator HP in 6.5 Creedmoor

I had the chance to shoot Rock River Arms’ newest AR, the Predator HP in 6.5 Creedmoor, during a long-range shooting class at The Site in Illinois, and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Featuring a forged LAR-8M lower receiver and A4 upper with Rock River’s crisp two-stage match trigger, the Predator HP performed exceptionally well on steel at 400 yards and was dead-on when we switched to shooting moving targets. The trigger is excellent, the operation is flawless and the barrel produced pin-point accuracy all day long. The rifle features a 20-inch fluted, stainless-steel barrel with 1:8-inch twist, low-profile gas block and RRA Operator Brake, as well as a Hogue rubber grip. Paired with Copper Creek loads in the 6.5 Creedmoor, the Predator HP proved to be a dependable, highly accurate rifle even at extended range. MSRP: $2,000

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

5 Questions To Ask Before Buying An AR

A lot of options on the tried and true AR can be both a blessing and a curse.

What to consider when buying an AR:

During the past decade, there has been an explosion in the number of manufacturers and, as a result, the production of AR-type rifles. Thanks to an anti-gun presidency that lasted almost a decade and a firearms market that grew in response to it, for a while it seemed there were as many different AR options as there were garages to build them in.


This growth has been seen not only with specialty, custom-type shops that design and build premium rifles, but also among larger manufacturers that are now producing cost-friendly versions in both AR-10 and AR-15 platforms. Traditional long gun makers such as Savage and Mossberg, for example, have even jumped into the fray with a wide variety of ARs, from tactical models to long-range predator thumpers.

On the plus side, it means there have never been more calibers and configurations of the AR-type rifle than there are today. There’s literally an AR for every budget and intended use, from 3-gun competition and 1,000-yard steel banging to predator hunting and home defense.

The downside? There’s an awful lot of options to sift through when putting together your next rifle budget or build, and it can be altogether confusing to know where to start. To help with your next purchase, here are the top five questions to ask before you buy your next AR.

What Is My Intended Use?

AR-type rifles have come a long way during the past decade, making them capable of nearly every task imaginable. Buying or building one to suit your needs is the simple part — deciding exactly what those needs are is often the challenge.
AR-type rifles have come a long way during the past decade, making them capable of nearly every task imaginable. Buying or building one to suit your needs is the simple part — deciding exactly what those needs are is often the challenge.

The most important question you need to ask and answer before purchasing your next AR is what you intend to use it for. While some rifles are inherently more versatile than others, there isn’t really one rifle that can cover every application. As a result, it’s best to narrow down intended use to a couple of categories.

Do you intend on using your AR for home defense? If so, you’re probably going to want a carbine- or mid-length gas system, which will allow you to run a shorter barrel (roughly 10-20 inches) and overall rifle setup, a definite benefit for close-quarters rumblings. Lighter, generally more compact, and more recoil friendly, the AR-15 is going to be the most likely platform of choice for home defense.

The same will be true for competition rifles, in which lightweight maneuverability is a non-negotiable and the AR-15 excels. Competition guns, which typically run on custom or match ammo and feature higher-end triggers, are ideally equipped with an adjustable gas system that maximizes accuracy and minimizes recoil for fast follow-up shots. While competition guns are equally well suited for predator hunting, they generally require fine-tuning for different loads and cost quite a bit more.

If you plan on hunting with the rifle, you’ll likely want to go with a mid- or rifle-length gas system, which gives you a barrel generally between 14-24 inches. It also depends which type of hunting you want to do — while the AR-15 is great for predator and small deer hunting, the big game and hog hunter will probably consider the AR-10 for larger calibers, most prominently the .308 Winchester. Since the AR-10 is heavier, it’s not as ideal for maneuvering in a house-clearing, home-defense situation, and bullets tend to over-penetrate through walls and human targets at close ranges.

Long-range competitors will likely settle on an AR-10, too, because weight is less of an issue and caliber selection is everything. The AR-10 can house the .260 Rem., .308 Win., and the hot new 6.5 Creedmoor, among many others, all favorites among the long-range crowd.

Which Caliber Best Suits My Needs?


Related to the decision between AR-10 and AR-15 is caliber selection. One of the reasons the AR-15 is well-suited for home defense, for example, is that the .223 Rem./5.56 NATO round is available in many home defense loads that are highly effective on target and minimize penetration through walls and other in-home barriers. That same rifle, depending on twist rate of the barrel, can generally double as a good coyote gun because there is an endless supply of high-quality loads for hunting in the .223 Rem.

If you do want to hunt larger-bodied game with the AR-15, there are some great options by way of caliber selection. One is the 6.5 Grendel, which can capably take larger game out to several hundred yards and was pioneered by Bill Alexander of Alexander Arms. Hornady produces the 6.5 load with a 123-grain SST bullet, which is ideal for deer and bear.

There is a wide variety of AR-15 chamberings that will do the trick, including 6.8 SPC, .300 BLK and, for small game, several rimfire variants such as the .17 Winchester Super Magnum (WSM) and both the .22 long rifle (LR) and magnum (WMR). If you’re looking for something outside the box and want to stretch your distances, the 22 Nosler might just be the ticket. With 25 percent more case capacity than the .223, the 22 Nosler is 300 fps faster and is available in several different 55-grain loads.

Built with a beefier bolt carrier group and buffer tube components, the AR-10 can handle the abuse of larger rounds such as the .308 Win. and is better suited for larger animals and longer distances. This is where most long-range shooters will live, given caliber choices that go all the way up to .300 Win. Mag.

What Can I Upgrade Later?

Modularity is the best part about any AR-style rifle. From upgrading handguards to adding flash suppressors, you can buy low and build your dream gun.

Just like vehicles, AR-type rifles go up or down in price based on the quality of accessory packages and components. The chassis itself is more or less always the same — either a direct gas-impingement system, as Stoner envisioned, or a slightly modified gas-piston design, with upper and lower receivers, a buffer tube system, bolt carrier group and handguard. One of the key points of the AR design, after all, was modularity and interchangeability of parts. This means, if you’re working with a tight budget, you can buy a base AR and upgrade parts — of which there are literally thousands of different designs — and upgrade down the road.

Your base model AR will come with the world’s grittiest Mil-Spec trigger, generally in the 5- to 9-pound range, and is usually the first thing I’d swap out. A good drop-in trigger will run you $150-200. For competition, this is an absolute must. The same is probably true for hunting, whereas you can get away with the standard trigger for general home defense purposes.

Beyond the trigger, you can add handguards that are lighter and more accessorizable, pistol grips, adjustable gas blocks, muzzle devices (suppressor/compensator/brakes) and buttstocks. And you thought women were bad about accessorizing — just hang out with a diehard AR aficionado. You can spend hundreds of dollars on the accessories alone, but that also means you don’t have to spend all your money right away.

One thing to keep in mind is that the AR-15 is generally much more standardized than the AR-10. As a result, a lot of AR-10 parts won’t fit on different models, a problem generally not had with the AR-15. The one standardization for the AR-10 you can kinda sorta rely on is the “DPMS” designation, which most retailers will list.

Which Components Are Functional vs. Cosmetic?

Depending on the use of the AR, one man’s necessity might be another’s luxury. Regardless of duty, the right optics and a high-quality trigger are a must — handguard accessories generally less so.
Depending on the use of the AR, one man’s necessity might be another’s luxury. Regardless of duty, the right optics and a high-quality trigger are a must — handguard accessories generally less so.

Of all the AR rifles I’ve tested, I can honestly say the biggest difference between a $2,000 gun and a $1,000 gun is, in many cases, cosmetic. Spiral fluted barrels, artfully machined billet aluminum receivers, flared mag wells and posh paint jobs.

While I’m as much of a sucker as the next guy for something that just downright looks cool, it’s important to realize that most of these cost-heavy features don’t actually add anything to the functionality of the firearm.

If you have the extra cash and the cool factor is a good enough justification, great — feel free to dump your dollars into a custom paint job or spiral fluted barrel. But realize that your gun isn’t necessarily going to perform any better than a plane Jane, black barrel. Also in the cosmetic category goes CNC-machined billet receivers.

Yeah, sure, they might be slightly more durable after the 50,000th round, but that is negligible for something like 99 percent of shooters. In all reality, they look nice.

Other components, however, greatly impact the actual functionality of the rifle and are, in my opinion, the things I’d upgrade or add to my build first. As I said before, the first is the trigger. Timney and Geissele are two names that come to mind for excellent drop-in, match-grade AR triggers. A good trigger will make for improved accuracy and is imperative for quick follow-up shots. A good barrel with an adequate twist rate to match your intended bullet weight is second to none, while a high-quality adjustable buttstock will greatly improve accuracy, too, especially for the long-range shooter or hunter. And yes, most standard A2 buttstocks are wobbly and worth replacing.

Which Type Of Optics And Shooting Aids Do I Intend To Use?

Most ARs will come with a Picatinny top rail that’s adequate for mounting any number of riflescopes, red dots or ACOG-style combat optics. Beyond that, there are a number of options for scope mounts — two piece, one piece, quick detach, lightweight and different height options for more or less elevation (helpful for the long-range guys). There’s also a case to be made for the full-length Picatinny rail on the top of the handguard, which gives you even more mounting options.

For home defense or predator hunting, I prefer a handguard with 3, 6 and 9 o’clock attachment points, either in M-LOK or Key-Mod, for whatever light and laser combinations I want to add. The same handguard will work just fine for the long-range or hunting rifle, and allows for the addition of things such as a bipod or sling attachments. If you don’t intend on adding lights or lasers, you can also find a handguard without attachment cutouts.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

How To Upgrade Your Muzzleloader’s Open Sights

Using Brownells parts, we show you how to extend the range of your muzzleloader with open sights.

The process for upgrading a muzzleloader's open sights:

Whether it’s because of preference or state restrictions on optics, many hunters rely on iron sights for muzzleloaders when heading afield. While most muzzleloader manufacturers offer the choice of fiber optic sights, they often don’t optimize longer-range shots. Instead, the fiber optic bead, which is usually pretty large, covers the target and makes long-range accuracy a difficult proposition.

Muzzleloader Sight Parts

There is an alternative way to extend your accuracy with an open-sighted muzzleloader, however, and it’s both quick and easy. With only a few parts ordered from Brownells, the right sight setup is right around $100 and a few minutes of installation away from becoming part of your future. The only tools required are a screwdriver and a tube of Loctite, and the whole process takes just minutes (minus the time spent sighting in your smoke pole). For the purpose of this article, I upgraded the sights on a CVA Accura V2, which comes pre-drilled and tapped for either iron sights or optics.

Brownells Parts & Components

First, you’ll need a Lyman globe sight, which will attach to the front of the barrel, and a Marble Arms dovetail front ramp to mount it on. The front ramp attaches with a single screw, and the Lyman globe sight (with dovetail base) slides into place. While the Lyman globe sight comes with several inserts, I find them to be too large for my preference. To get smaller cut crosshair lines, I went with Lee Shaver’s globe sight inserts (10 total options for you to choose from). Finally, you’ll need a rear sight; I went with the Williams Gun Sight, which also attaches with a single or double screw setup (whichever your muzzleloader is drilled and tapped to fit). The Williams sight runs $35, the Lyman globe sight $40, Lee Shaver inserts $22, and the Marble Arms front ramp $12. If my high school math serves me right, that’s $109, before tax. Not bad, especially when you consider how much time and money you’ve likely invested in preference points and statewide draws to get that coveted muzzleloader tag.

Attaching The Front Ramp

First, you’ll want to start by attaching the Marble Arms front ramp to the barrel of the muzzleloader. Here’s where I’d recommend Loctite or a similar thread locker to prevent screws coming loose.

Placing The Sight Insert

You can now turn to the Lyman globe sight. Unscrew the front of the sight, and then remove the insert that it came with. Take a pair of wire cutters or tin snips and remove the Lee Shaver insert you’d like to use on your muzzleloader. For this review, I used the classic cross-shaped crosshair — it’s simple and effective, and the fine lines won’t cover your target even at considerable ranges. Once the insert is in place, simply screw the cap back on the globe sight.

Attaching The Globe Sight

Once your insert is secured in the globe sight, you’ll want to attach the sight to the front ramp via the dovetail base. Here’s where things got interesting for me. When I went to slide the globe sight into the base, it was too loose to lock securely in place. What to do? Call the Brownells Gun Tech hotline, that’s what. After a minute or so on hold, I spoke with a friendly gentleman who informed me that Lyman had stopped making front ramps years ago, which means that some of the bases (produced by Marble Arms) don’t have an exact fit. But there’s an easy enough solution that I employed — a piece of duct tape and super glue. With tape in place the fit becomes incredibly tight, and the glue holds everything in place. This probably fits the definition of redneck engineering, but it hasn’t failed me yet (at least in this instance).

Attaching The Rear Sight

Once you’ve got your front globe sight mounted on the front ramp, it’s time to focus your attention on the rear sight from Williams. First, remove the side screw that allows the aperture to move up and down the base of the sight. Simply slide the aperture until it comes off. This reveals a setscrew, which you can now secure to the barrel of the muzzleloader. If your barrel doesn’t have adequate screw holes, a gunsmith can hook you up in no time. Loctite, secure the base, and then reattach the top portion of the sight. This slides up and down to make elevation adjustments at the range.

That’s it. Now that you’ve got your sights in place, it’s time to head to the range and see what the ol’ smoke pole can do. I think you’ll find, as I did, that it’s well worth the $100 and 15 minutes spent installing sights. I’ve successfully extended my range with iron sights well past the 100-yard range, something I was apprehensive to do with fiber optics. That means when the preference points add up and I’ve got a trophy bull or buck in my sights, I won’t have to question my ability — or that of the CVA Accura V2, which is a tack driver in its own right.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: YHM’s Hunt-Ready Carbine

Yankee Hill Machine’s new Hunt-Ready Carbine is a scoped and zeroed rifle, ready to shoot straight out of the box.

How this Yankee is ready for the hunt:

  • The Hunt-Ready Carbine is field-ready, with a 3-9x40mm Bushnell Trophy scope.
  • The scope comes already zeroed at 100 yards.
  • The rifle is available in three chamberings: 5.56 NATO, .300 BLK and 6.8 SPC II.
  • The carbine is accurate, with the average overall group at the range at 1.02 inches.

If there’s one thing I hate in life, it’s all the purchased items that I’ve got to assemble, configure, or, worst of all, consult the instructions about. IKEA be damned, I’m a fan of anything that requires little-to-no assembly, saves me time and allows me to enjoy the activity for which I obtained the item in the first place. It’s really no different when it comes to hunting — although I’m as big a fan as anyone of tinkering with my gear, I’d rather spend time actually hunting than trying to assemble, sight in and adjust the finely tuned components on a firearm.

YHM Hunt-Ready Carbine - 1

That’s where Yankee Hill Machine’s (YHM) new Hunt-Ready Carbine comes in handy. Chambered in several popular and effective hunting calibers — including 5.56 NATO, .300 BLK and 6.8 SPC II — the rifle comes topped with scope, sighted in at 100 yards, sling already attached and ready to rock. The rifle, which carries an MSRP of $1,579, comes topped with a 3-9×40 Bushnell Trophy scope featuring a mil-dot crosshair reticle.

One of the most obvious features on the new Hunt-Ready Carbine is a Kryptek Highlander coating, which covers buttstock, receivers and handguard, and is well suited for coyote country. The rifle also comes with a Grovtech adjustable sling, which features a wide shoulder strap with plenty of padding for extended walks afield. The rifle is fairly light, however, coming in at right around 8½ pounds with scope (unloaded).

YHM Hunt-Ready Carbine - optic

While the particular rifle I tested came with a 1:9-inch twist rate, YHM also offers the Hunt-Ready Carbine with a 16-inch barrel with a 1:7-inch twist, perfect if you’re trying to stabilize heavier hunting bullets. For coyotes and anything I’d use the .223 Remington for, however, the mid-sized bullets — say around 40-55-grains — are more than adequate, as is the 1:9-inch twist rate.

The heat-treated steel barrel is diamond-cut to help cut down on weight, and it also features a low-profile gas block. A rifle-length handguard with M-LOK compatibility is ergonomically well suited for hunting, having no jagged or rough edges, and offering plenty of different setups afield.

YHM Hunt-Ready Carbine - muzzle device

YHM conveniently provides a forward assist with standard right-handed controls and a six-position M4 buttstock. The barrel is topped with a Phantom 5C2 flash hider/compensator that allows for rapid follow-up shots on game, something that’s particularly helpful if you’re trying to grab more than one coyote in a set or polish off an entire prairie dog town.

The Hunt-Ready Carbine comes with a Bushnell scope, as stated above, which is more than adequate for the range of the .223 cartridge. The scope comes with a YHM-246 one-piece scope mount, made from aircraft-grade aluminum and hardcoat anodized. Offset, the scope mount allows users to mount farther forward on the rail, optimizing eye relief for a wider variety of shooters.

YHM - Hunt-Ready Carbine - 5

For the sake of testing multiple optics on the rifle, I also included a Burris XTR II 1-8x24mm scope in the review. For mounting, I used a Burris P.E.P.R. mount with 30mm rings. With 11 different illuminated reticle settings (adjustable on the lefthand turret) and a milrad elevation turret, the XTR II is easily and quickly adjustable (all dials, including magnification, feature aggressive texturing for a no-slip grip) and makes an extremely useful long- or short-range optic for the AR.

At the Range
To see just how well the rifle lived up to the Hunt-Ready claim, I took it straight from my FFL to the range, loaded some mags and went to work with the Bushnell scope. I accuracy tested the rifle with three different loads and bullet types, including Hornady’s 40-grain V-Max, American Eagle’s 50-grain JHP and Nosler’s 55-grain, tipped Varmageddon load.

YHM - Hunt-Ready Carbine - target

Hornady’s V-Max load is one I turn to frequently for predator applications, as it’s always a top performer. It lived up to its reputation with this rifle, producing a best group of .599 inches from a Caldwell B.R. Pivot shooting bench and Lead Sled. The average group, taken from three, three-shot groups, was an impressive .885 inches — more than enough to slay ‘yotes or other predators out to 300-400 yards. Nosler’s 55-grain Varmageddon produced a best group of .647 inches, with an average group of .877 inches — quite respectable, and better than MOA at 100 yards. Finally, for a budget-friendly load, I tested Federal’s American Eagle 50-grain JHP. I’ve killed numerous predators with the load in .223 and .22-250, and have never been disappointed with accuracy, especially for a bulk load. Testing proved that anecdotal evidence true, with AE loads producing a best group of .487 inches, the best among the day’s accuracy data, and an overall group size of 1.02 inches.

With a good trigger and a respectable scope, the Hunt-Ready rifle from YHM is clearly more than capable of producing game-stopping accuracy, and more. I’d certainly have no hesitation about taking it afield and stretching the distance on predators.

Parting Shots

YHM claims its new rifle is ready out of the box, and I have to say I concur. It has a good trigger, produces repeatable accuracy and aptly handled a number of different loads, all without fail. Per YHM’s claim, the rifle really was zeroed at 100 yards, and the Bushnell Trophy 3-9x40mm scope was more than adequate for the job at hand. With a fairly reasonable price tag given the package ($1,579), this is a rifle every hunter should seriously consider.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Gunwerks RevX Long-Range Rifle

Gunwerks’ RevX in 7mm Rem. Mag. proves that it’s fully capable of delivering 1,000-yard performance out of the box.

  • The RevX is a highly capable long-range rifle that's great for the range but also excels when taken afield.
  • Gunwerks' RevX proved incredibly accurate, with the author achieving a remarkable .301-inch best group.
  • The RevX is loaded with features, including a 2-pound TriggerTech trigger; a Shilen hand-lapped, match-grade barrel; and an ultra-lightweight fiberglass stock.

One thousand yards out of the box. That’s the Gunwerks promise, which has intrigued me for years but has until now gone untested, at least by me. Given all the variables in bullet loads, triggers and barrel construction, to name just a few factors that greatly alter the long-range equation, I’ve always been skeptical of yardage or accuracy claims from manufacturers. Can any rifle maker honestly live up to that hype — not in a hyper-controlled range environment, but in real-world hunting scenarios?

To put the Gunwerks claim to the test, I took its newest rifle, the RevX in 7mm Rem. Mag., on a three-day backcountry excursion in the rugged wilderness of Idaho in search of spring black bear. The country is unforgivingly steep, with rock faces and slopes that replicate sheep and goat terrain. It’s in this type of country the long-range rifle becomes absolutely essential — a bear spotted across a canyon might be 700 or 800 yards and a makeable shot with the right setup, but in order to close the distance to 300 yards with a standard rifle, a hunter would have to hike down and back up the other side, which could take hours.

What makes the Gunwerks platform so extraordinary is that the company has literally built an entire package to eliminate as many variables as possible and give the shooter the best odds at conquering their go-long dreams. The RevX shipped to me with a Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x scope already installed and sighted in, paired with a custom G7 turret that matches yardage with a G7 BR-2 rangefinder, also included.

Gunwerks RevX Review - 1The folks at Gunwerks had already test fired the gun with custom loads they’d developed for the 7mm, which featured a 168-grain Berger VLD (Very Low Drag, BTHP) projectile. The VLD is an accomplished long-range bullet, with scores of fans in the long-range hunting community to testify to its greatness. As the name implies, it shoots flat and retains impressive velocities out to extended range. According to Gunwerks, the VLD they’ve loaded leaves the muzzle at 3,010 fps and has about 220 inches of drop at 1,000 yards.

After sending the rifle my way, Gunwerks’ marketing director, Landon Michaels, assured me the rifle was grouping reasonably well. Looking for hard data to verify his claim, I headed out to the range, hung targets and set up my Caldwell BR Pivot shooting bench at 100 yards for accuracy testing. I’d forgotten my Lead Sled, so I was relegated to using a pair of sandbags and a hoodie to brace the buttstock.

The TriggerTech trigger, the first thing I noticed, is an absolute dream, with an incredibly clean, crisp break that’s right around 2 pounds. The fiberglass stock, which features a flat forend for optimal setup on bags or in the prone position off a backpack, is as well weighted as any I’ve shot.

I squeezed off three rounds, rested and then repeated two more times to collect data from three different three-shot groups. As I shot, the groups just kept tightening up.

Gunwerks RevX Review - 2The first group came in at .6 inch and the second at .5 inch. As I settled into my comfort zone with the rifle, I fired the last three shots. That was the group that made me a believer — three shots in one tiny little hole, .301 inch on the digital caliper. Without question one of the best groups I’ve ever shot through any rifle.

Next, I wanted to test the range-and-shoot capabilities of the G7 BR-2 rangefinder, which Gunwerks has conveniently matched with yardage markers on the G7 custom turret out to 1,000 yards. The other great feature on the G7 is that it’ll give you MOA windage estimates at whatever distance you’re ranging, with 5 mph increments that you can select from. I set up a steel target and, with only a backpack for a rest, ranged the target at 617 yards; I then set up in the prone position from a distant hillside.

Dialing my G7 turret to 620 yards, I held just below center of target and squeezed off a round. Concussion, followed by the unmistakable wallop of bullet hitting steel. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an ear-to-ear grin plastered across my face, the kind you’d get that first time you mash the pedal and feel the raw horsepower of a performance engine. This long-range game is addictive to say the least.

Gunwerks RevX Review - 3Built for Distance
The anatomy of a high-performance long-range rifle is actually pretty simple to figure out, though never easy to deliver on. It starts with a quality barrel and trigger and ends with a precisely crafted and properly bedded stock, not to mention an impressive piece of glass.

At the heart of the Gunwerks RevX is a standard sporter contour Shilen barrel (with other contour options available), among the finest in the industry. The rifle features aluminum bedding blocks and a fiberglass, lightweight stock that is perfect for the all-day carry of places like Idaho’s wilderness. The hand-painted stock features a front-mounted Picatinny rail for bipods and a sling swivel point. The rifle comes with a slender yet sturdy Gunwerks sling, rubberized and textured on one side, which attaches at either side of the buttstock via push button sling swivel mounts.

As I said earlier, the rifle balances beautifully, making prone or freehand shots incredibly stable. The TriggerTech trigger is, as stated, remarkable, and the Nightforce NSX offers tremendous magnification and clarity, something that’s absolutely essential when shooting at 1,000 yards and dealing with thermals, sun glare and varying light conditions. You don’t have to go with the Nightforce scope, however, and Gunwerks will zero whichever scope you prefer, but I can’t say I’ve ever been disappointed with Nightforce’s performance and build quality.

The one-piece bolt and handle function smoothly and are aesthetically appealing, while a two-position safety rests perfectly at the rear of the action, allowing you to right thumb it without changing your grip position. Speaking of grip, the vertical contour of the stock is the equivalent of a shooter’s La-Z-Boy, helping you to keep a stable yet comfortable grip for optimal trigger press.

Gunwerks RevX Review - 6Parting Shots
Although I personally didn’t have any black bear success in Idaho — tough bears to come by in even tougher country — I came away absolutely enamored with Gunwerks and its rifle builds. Looking for some action at the end of the hunt, my friend David worked the spotter’s role for me, ranging a large white rock at 850 yards with the G7 rangefinder. A quick turn of the turret and one shot, direct hit. An absolute shooting aficionado and lifelong skeptic, even David was impressed.

“So where can I get one of these rifles?” he asked, grinning.

The RevX is a dealer exclusive rifle, offered through Cabela’s, Scheels and EuroOptic.com, and as such represents a lower price point rifle than the company has previously produced. While the rifle I shot was chambered in 7mm Rem. Mag., the RevX is also available in 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. It’s not exactly cheap, starting at $4,000 (without scope), but it is much cheaper than other Gunwerks models, which start at roughly $10,000. And worth every penny, I might add.

If I was going to get into the long-range hunting world and didn’t have endless hours to tinker with loads and gear, the RevX would be my go-to option. It is quite simply one of the most impressive rifles I’ve ever shot, and that includes many custom-type builds. Phenomenal accuracy, top-of-the-line trigger and barrel, and the genius of a completely configured system — all of this forces me to give it an A+. For open country that demands long shots, there’s no other way I’d rather go. Let the revolution begin!


Gunwerks RevX Rifle
Type: Bolt-Action
Caliber: 7mm Rem. Mag.
Action: RevX GRB, Wyatt Length
Bolt: One-piece bolt & handle, field strippable
Stock: Natural hold, vertical grip; aluminum bedding blocks; ultra-lightweight fiberglass
Barrel: Shilen hand-lapped, match-grade
Scope: Nightforce NXS 5.5-22x, custom G7 turret
Rangefinder: G7 BR-2
Trigger: Trigger Tech
Case: Custom cut hard case
Manufacturer: Gunwerks; dealer exclusive at Cabelas, Scheels & EuroOptic.com

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the June 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: The Turnbull Ruger Mark IV

The Turnbull Ruger Mark IV leaves a unique mark on the iconic rimfire pistol.

  • The Turnbull Ruger Mark IV marries the iconic rimfire handgun design with a truly recognizable firearms finish to create an instant classic.
  • As custom as the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV looks, it's actually pretty easy on the pocketbook — only $30 more than the MSRP Ruger lists its Target model.
  • Outside of Turnbull's aesthetic touches, the Ruger Mark IV is identical to the Target model and comes with all the usual accoutrements.
  • For shooters searching for a unique firearm that performs as good as it looks, and doesn't break the bank, the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV nails the bullseye.

The legacy that Bill Ruger left behind at Sturm, Ruger, & Co., Inc., has had an incredible amount to do with his Ruger Standard pistol, which was originally introduced in 1949 and has seen several updates that endure to this day. Designed by Ruger himself, chambered in .22 Long Rifle and based off the WWII-era Japanese Nambu pistol, the Standard has gone through several iterations, first as the Mark I, II, and III, and most recently as the Mark IV. Nothing qualifies as a classic firearm like a design that’s endured over a span of almost 70 years and continues to be one of the most popular firearms ever made.

Turnbull Ruger Mark IV on target.

But what happens when you take a legendary brand like Ruger, with the latest version of perhaps its most quintessential firearm, and pair it with one of the most recognizable gun restoration and finishing companies around? You get the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV, a pistol that joins two iconic looks for a finished product that is sure to turn heads at the art gallery or the shooting range.

Make Your Mark
Although Doug Turnbull’s New York-based Restoration & Manufacturing Co. does a full scale of restoration and finishing of firearms, it is best known and most easily recognizable for its color casehardening. Not surprisingly, that’s what sets the Turnbull Mark IV off from a standard Ruger-issued firearm, and boy does it make a difference. While Ruger offers several models of the newly released Mark IV, the Turnbull edition plays off the Target pistol and is, of course, chambered in .22 LR.

One of the biggest questions I’ve gotten so far about the pistol on the Gun Digest Facebook page is how much more expensive it must be than a standard Ruger Mark IV. After all, for a pistol that sexy, most people assume there would be a hefty price tag to match. Interestingly enough, the Turnbull version comes in at $595, just $30 more than the MSRP listed on Ruger’s website for the Target model.


Turnbull engraving on the barrel of the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV.

Along with the color casehardening, the Turnbull Mark IV also features a Turnbull engraving on the right-hand side of the barrel, while maintaining all the standard Ruger engravings. Outside of the casehardening and the engravings, all other features are identical to the Mark IV Target model.

The Mark IV comes with two 10-round magazines and features a bull barrel that measures 5.5 inches in length. The barrel has a 1:16-inch twist and an overall length of 9.75 inches. Total weight of the pistol is right around 36 ounces (unloaded), while height measures 5.5 inches and width is 1.2 inches. The Mark IV features an adjustable rear sight, checkered synthetic grip and fixed front sight.

In terms of controls, the Mark IV is designed with an ambidextrous, manual thumb safety, contoured side ejection port and rear bolt operation. Ruger also gives you the option of converting the safety to left side only. The bolt features grooved bolt ears that are easy to grasp, gloves or not, and a left-side magazine release. The pistol will not fire without the magazine, and the mag drops free when released. The frame is a one-piece, CNC-machined, aluminum design, with alloy steel barrel and receiver. Conveniently, the receiver is drilled and tapped for a Weaver-style rail, perfect for optics mounting.

Disassembled Turnbull Ruger Mark IV.

The huge change from the Mark III to the Mark IV is the ease of disassembly for cleaning and maintenance. With the Mark III, introduced in the early 2000s, disassembly seemingly required an entire gunsmithing toolkit, which made field stripping a nightmare. Ruger listened to its customers, however, and the Mark IV now features an incredibly easy push button takedown procedure. The takedown button is located at the rear of the grip frame, just below the bolt. To disassemble, simply lock the bolt back, flip the safety up, and push the takedown button. The rear of the receiver will release, and as you push the barrel/receiver forward it disconnects at the front of the grip frame. The bolt slides out. It’s really that simple; no tools required.

While it seems like a relatively minor upgrade for some folks, those of us who burn through countless rounds at the target range know how important the takedown and cleaning process is. I’ve hated certain vehicles I’ve owned simply because the oil was a nightmare to change — similar issue with cleaning the older Mark pistols. Now that Ruger’s simplified the takedown and maintenance process, there are going to be a lot of happy campers in the .22 pistol world.

Accuracy and Function
At the range, the Mark IV did not disappoint. Sure, it’s a head-turner, but it’s also a tack-driving workhorse. I fired 100 rounds as quickly as I could reload two 10-round magazines, utilizing CCI’s 36-grain, copper-plated .22 LR Hollow Points, and had exactly zero feeding or function issues. As it’s always been — and hence the longstanding popularity of the design — the Mark IV is exceptionally well built, functions flawlessly, and delivers pin-point accuracy.

Fully adjustable rear sights of the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV.

For testing, I shot from 20-yards at the Caldwell B.R. Pivot bench from sandbags, with average five-shot groups coming in between 1.5-2 inches. I also shot two 20-round groups in as rapid succession as I could muster while maintaining accuracy, and all but a pair of holes hit within a 5-inch circle. The trigger is decent, with an audible reset. Overall, the Mark IV is extremely fun to shoot, produces little recoil (making it great for teaching new shooters proper pistol mechanics), and is highly accurate.

Parting Shots
It’s hard to imagine a more winning combination of companies than Turnbull and Ruger. At one level, you could say Turnbull’s take on the Mark IV is merely cosmetic, and in a sense that’s true. But it’s such a riveting, eye-catching makeover that it drastically turns a mass-produced pistol into a standout work of art. From the gun store to the range, and Instagram to Facebook, the Turnbull Ruger Mark IV has had folks drooling over keyboards and glass counters, and rightly so.

The Turnbull Ruger Mark IV striking a pose.

Not only does the Mark IV function well and produce stellar accuracy, it’s now got a simple takedown procedure thanks to a friendly little button at the rear of the gun. It’s optics ready, and it features Turnbull’s iconic color casehardened look. The pistol gives shooters the rare opportunity to own a relatively inexpensive handgun with a custom look and feel. Definitely worth the price of admission.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Mossberg 590 Shockwave

Paired with Aguila’s Minishell, the new Mossberg 590 Shockwave is taking the personal defense world by storm.

What makes the Mossberg 590 Shockwave so exciting?

  • It has a 14-inch barrel but avoids NFA classification by being factory produced with a pistol grip instead of a stock and because it's just above 26 inches in overall length.
  • With the addition of an OpSol Mini-Clip, a rubber adapter, the gun reliably feeds Aguila's Minishells.
  • At its heart, it's still Mossberg's utterly reliable 590 pump action, just in a much more compact package.

The name of the game is not only to be the best, but also to be first. Mossberg can check both items off its list for 2017, having introduced its Mossberg 590 Shockwave into the marketplace as really the first of its mass-produced kind: a super compact shotgun, perfect for personal or home defense, that features a 14-inch barrel but conveniently avoids classification as a National Firearms Act (NFA) firearm.

Since its introduction at the 2017 SHOT Show, the Mossberg 590 Shockwave has taken the gun industry by storm, and other manufacturers like Remington — which introduced its own Model 870 TAC-14 at the NRA Show in April — have been forced to follow suit. When Gun Digest editors first shared news of the new Shockwave on our Facebook page, the hum of online chatter immediately went through the roof, signaling the widespread popularity and rapid cult following the compact shotgun was to receive.

And all for good reason. The beauty of the 590 Shockwave is its simplicity: As the name implies, it’s built around the legendary and ultra-reliable 590 platform and features a 14-inch barrel with Shockwave Technologies Raptor grip, giving it an overall length of 26.32 inches.

How does it avoid classification as an NFA-governed item? According to the BATFE, an NFA shotgun would be classified as one having a barrel less than 18 inches in length, or an overall length less than 26 inches. For such NFA items — which include short-barreled rifles (SBR), machine guns and suppressors — there is of course the $200 tax stamp and a mountain of bureaucratic red tape tall enough to warrant the interest of serious alpinists.

Because the Shockwave is fitted with a pistol grip at the factory instead of a shoulder stock, however, it is considered a Pistol Grip Only (PGO) firearm, and as long as the overall length remains greater than 26 inches the barrel can be shorter than 18 inches (hence the 26.32 inches of overall length provided by the Shockwave Raptor grip). Per Mossberg’s website, this means the buying age is 21 years and state laws still apply, so do your research.

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Review - 1I first got my hands on the 590 Shockwave at the SHOT Show 2017 range day, and my first thought was that it’d be a perfect fit for Aguila’s Minishell. The problem with the Minishell, as I’ve discovered with previous reviews of the pint-sized load, is that it doesn’t function well in pump or semi-auto shotguns — because of its length, the shell has a tendency to flip over in the action, creating an obvious functionality problem.

I’ve also used it in sporting clays competition in Mexico with a Benelli over/under shotgun, though, and in that capacity it is phenomenal for its ability to minimize recoil, something that’d obviously come in handy with a small-sized firearm like the Shockwave. If only, I had postulated at the time, there was an adapter that would fit a receiver and keep the shell from tumbling.

Mossberg really did think of everything on this project, which is why the Shockwave is compatible with an OpSol Mini-Clip, a rubber adapter that turns your 590 into a Minishell-loving machine. The rubber block ($15 on Amazon) presses into the rear underside of the loading port and is angled to function as a feed ramp for the Minishell.

For review, I rapid-fired 40 rounds of 1¾-inch Minishell buckshot loads without a single failure to feed. Not only did the Minishell function flawlessly, the recoil difference between it and the 2¾-in. shells I also fired through it was astounding.

After six shots with the full-size loads, my left hand, placed inside the nylon forend strap, screamed for a cease-fire. There’s no way I would have shot 40 times with full loads — it’s simply that uncomfortable to shoot, and all the more reason, in my opinion, that this particular platform works precisely because of the pairing with Aguila’s Minishell.

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Review - 2Shotgun Features

The Shockwave is, at its core, a 590 Mossberg pump action, so all controls and features are the same except for the barrel length and Shockwave Raptor grip. The shotgun, which has been tested and proven true by military and law enforcement personnel, features dual extractors, positive steel-to-steel lockup, twin action bars, and an anti-jam elevator for smooth, reliable operation. The 590 also features a top-mounted safety for ambidextrous functionality.

A strapped forend helps keep your forward hand from clearing the muzzle, while sling studs are attached to the magazine tube and grip. The Raptor grip is designed to minimize felt recoil, though for my money the greatest aid to recoil mitigation is the Minishell.

In terms of capacity, the Shockwave holds eight plus one of the Minishell, five plus one in 2¾-inch shells, and four plus one if you’re brave enough to shoot 3-inch loads, in which case a good pair of shooting gloves would be highly advisable. The Shockwave also comes with a rugged, black case and carries an MSRP of an unbeatable $450.

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Review - 3Range Ready

While it does obviously lack a typical stock for shouldering the shotgun, it’s a common myth that you can’t raise a pistol-grip shotgun like the Shockwave to eye level and use your sights. After all, there’s a front brass-bead sight for a reason. Even with 2¾-inch loads and the increased recoil, the shotgun is not going to hit you in the face (unless you seriously and intentionally noodle arm the thing for the sake of a viral YouTube video).

That said, with just a little bit of practice you can make hip shooting an effective tool in your defensive shotgun craft, especially at close range. The general tendency is to shoot high, so training with a steel target will help you lower your aim. Once you shoot a few rounds it’s easy to get the hang of it.

As I said earlier, the Minishell is the perfect pairing for the Shockwave. Without it, I’d probably opt for a different defensive shotgun option or forend, but with the 1¾-inch buckshot I’m simply in personal defense heaven. At standard defensive ranges, the buckshot loads are absolutely lethal, making the Shockwave the ideal bedside or truck companion. As it so happens, the Shockwave and Minishell are also lethal on kamikaze ground squirrels, albeit completely overkill.

The 1¾-inch buckshot Minishell grouped admirably at 10 and 15 yards, as did the 2¾-inch sporting loads, both excellent products from Aguila. I had exactly zero functionality issues with either load, and the OpSol Mini-Clip worked 100 percent as well as advertised.

Mossberg 590 Shockwave Review - 4Parting Shots

As far as I’m concerned, the 590 Shockwave from Mossberg, when paired with the Aguila Minishell and OpSol Mini-Clip, is an absolute home run. Not only does it make for an extremely compact, lethal personal defense shotgun, it can also be had without going the death-by-paperwork route of a typical NFA governed item. Now that I’ve reviewed it, I can’t imagine a better bed- or truck-side companion. Or, for that matter, a better price.

This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: The Mossberg Patriot Rifle

The Mossberg Patriot in .270 Winchester conquers mule deer country.

Mossberg Patriot Review Snapshot:

  • With an MSRP of $421, the Mossberg Patriot is a highly affordable, field-ready rifle.
  • Equipped with Mossberg's (2- to 7-pound) Lightning Bolt-Action (LBA) Trigger, the Patriot is highly accurate.
  • Other features include a Kryptek Highlander camo synthetic stock and 22-inch barrel.
  • Chambered in the classic .270 Win., this rifle proved plenty capable for mule deer.

A life of hunting is so often a war of attrition against a series of emotionally draining obstacles until, at long last, hustle and circumstance converge in distinct moments that will define not only the hunt, but also the hunter. So many times, despite our best efforts, that opportunity never arises, which only fuels the hunger that drives us in search of game. When a particular leg of our journey finally ends with meat for the table, a story has been written that will remain with us always.

I’d spent the entire month of September exhausting myself in pursuit of elk, to no avail. Then came first rifle elk season, which ended just the way it began, meatless. So crushing and consistent were the blows — like when another public land hunter walked into my set and drove off a nice 5×5 bull just before I could take the shot — that I began to question my why. Why am I out here? Why do I deprive myself of sleep, camp out in rainstorms, trek through double-black-diamond terrain, and go scouting in the truck at 4 a.m.? Driving down to the grocery store, or buying a side of beef off a local rancher, is a hell of a lot easier, and probably cheaper, too.

In the end, hunting is in my soul. I can’t shake it. So I did what I always do — I loaded up the truck, grabbed my rifle — a Mossberg Patriot in .270 Winchester, with Kryptek Highlander camo stock — and shooting bench, and went to get sighted in for Colorado’s mule deer season. As long as you’re fighting, there’s a chance. Focus on the process. Control what you can control. Failure isn’t going home empty handed; failure is giving up. Character is about what you do after you get knocked down.

Mossberg Patriot after harvesting a Colorado mule deer.

Nothing gets me re-energized like the smell of gunpowder from a rifle that produces tight little clusters of punched paper. I call it “aromatherapy,” and it works every time. For one thing, the Patriot features Mossberg’s Lightning Bolt-Action (LBA) trigger, which is adjustable to between 2-7 pounds, breaks evenly and crisply, and is a huge part of the accuracy equation. The other major factor is the barrel, which on this rifle is 22 inches long, fluted and features a matte-blued finish. My first three rounds, which happened to come with Hornady’s 140-grain InterLock bullet in the American Whitetail lineup, produced a miniscule cluster of holes on the target, set 100 yards distant. Measuring less than .80 inch, that first group was a harbinger of great things to come for the Patriot and me.

Not only is the Patriot sleek and comfortable to shoot, it now comes in Kryptek’s Highlander camo. As much as I love a finely crafted wood stock, I’ve got to admit I’m a sucker for the pattern on this rifle. The Kryptek variant is also available in other standard calibers, including .243 Win., .30-06 Springfield, .308 Win. and .300 Win. Mag. Length of pull (13.75 inches) is a little long for my short stature (5 feet, 8 inches), but it was still manageable to shoot, and I did not experience any problem with recoil as a result. The rifle retails for an almost unbelievable $421, which is why the fine folks at Mossberg are never going to see this one again.

I topped the rifle with Leupold’s new VX-6 2-12x42mm CDS illuminated reticle scope, which retails for $1,559. I know, I know. That’s a lot of scope for a $400 rifle, but the old adage, you get what you pay for, is never more true than with premium glass. An absolute champion of low light, the VX-6 has an adjustable, push-button, red-dot illumination system that optimizes accuracy in any light. The Custom Dial System (CDS) turret allows you to send load data to the Leupold Custom Shop, which will build you a yardage-marked elevation turret for quick and easy ranging on targets. We included the scope in our annual Gear of the Year issue in 2016, because it really is that spectacular.

Mossberg Patriot on a Primo's tripod.

The Patriot comes with Weaver-style mounts, which have to be removed for use with Leupold’s Dual Dovetail bases and rings. It’s a simple swap: All you have to do is remove two Allen screws on each base, then install the new bases, which are Remington-700-style in the case of this Patriot rifle. Once the new bases are attached, Leupold rings are locked into place with a wooden dowel; you can then secure the scope with the top portion of the rings.

Loaded for Bear…and Muleys
I put several other loads through the rifle, including Hornady’s 130-grain GMX and SST Superformance loads, as well as Federal’s 130-grain Fusion, 150-grain Nosler Partition, 130-grain Copper, and 140-grain Trophy Bonded Tip. The largest group came in at 1.10 inches, while the consistent average was well under the 1-inch standard. That’s pretty impressive, but highly expected from Federal and Hornady, two ammo manufacturers that never fail to impress.

While any of these loads would perform on mule deer, especially in the tried-and-true .270 Winchester, I opted for the 130-grain GMX when it came time to head afield. I’d never killed an animal with that load and I wanted to see whether it lived up to its billing. Not that it’s always necessary, but I personally feel most comfortable with a bullet that’s going to deliver premium accuracy, reliable expansion and incredible penetration, and solid copper will certainly do that. The GMX is a tipped copper-alloy bullet that leaves the barrel at 3,190 fps and in .270 Win. retains sufficient energy and manageable drop out to 450 yards.

The other load that happens to be one of my favorites is Federal’s Trophy Bonded Tip. I’ve seen it blow through shoulders, penetrate remarkably well and yet still retain a considerable portion of its mass. It’s a highly accurate round, features a bonded jacket/core, and solid rear shank for unparalleled penetration. When I work as hard as I do to find game, I don’t want to worry about the bullet coming apart or failing to penetrate through the vitals — a confidence I’ve gained in the Trophy Bonded Tip.

On to Greener Pastures
I parked the truck and climbed over the first hill I came to. It was an unusually warm morning for late October, and before the sun ever crested the ridge to my back it was nearly 50 degrees in the high country. As I reached the top of the hill, my heart now beating in my chest, daylight crept across the blackened horizon. Cloud cover cast an extra layer of insulation upon the hill country and blocked out the stars. I knelt down amidst the sea of sage and watched as the world awakened.

Mossberg Patriot in profile.

As soon as there was enough light to make anything out, I spotted several does working the bottom of the valley below me onto the next hillside. I ranged them with my Swarovski 8×42 EL Rangefinding binos at 350 yards. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted something that gets every deer hunter’s blood moving — running does. If there’s a running doe in the rut, there’s a buck not far behind.

Sure enough, a 4×4 came darting across the scene, does scattering in every direction. As quickly as it began, the buck disappeared over the horizon. My heart sank, but I forced myself to stay focused. Control what you can control. I crept closer, shrinking the gap between me and the remaining does down to 215 yards. I sat there for 15 minutes. Nothing happened.

Finally, thank God, he reappeared, working the hillside in a hyperactive frenzy. I quickly dug my Primos Trigger-Sticks tripod into the slope, located the buck in my scope, and prayed for just one pause in his erratic stride. He cleared two oak brush and, for a split second, stood still. I squeezed the trigger, heard the impact. The blast echoed down the valley. Clean press, clean hit. He darted off, maybe 20 yards, then dropped. Blood trailing wasn’t necessary, but there were enormous chunks of lung strewn about his escape route. I later discovered that the bullet had vaporized both lungs and blown the back of the heart off—pinpoint accuracy with phenomenal bullet performance.

Mossberg Patriot specs.

I could hardly control my elation. The jagged road of disappointment had led me to this fine moment. Later, when my three sons were helping me field dress and skin the deer, my 9-year-old said, “Isn’t it amazing, Dad? It just takes one moment to turn everything around. And you never know when that’s going to be.” How right he was.

Parting Shots
Maybe the best thing I can say about the Patriot in .270 Win. is that I’m buying it rather than sending it back. The trigger is not just good, but outstanding. Same with the barrel, which is a tack driver. It’s an unbeatable package for a rifle with a price tag south of $500. It’s everything you’d expect — and more — from the Mossberg name.

Editor's Notes: This article is from the January 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: NULA Model 28 is King of the Mountain Rifles

NULA Model 28

Tailored to fit its user and boasting cutting-edge materials, the NULA Model 28 is at the summit of lightweight rifle designs.

This year marks the 30th anniversary since Melvin Forbes introduced his first ultra light rifle, the Model 20, back in 1985. Since then Forbes has built a formidable reputation as the premiere lightweight rifle manufacturer in the business, thanks in large part to his build-from-scratch approach and groundbreaking stock designs.

That first Model 20, which was based on a Remington 700 action, weighed just under 5 pounds without a scope and was, for several years, most frequently chambered in .284 Winchester. It got its name from the 20-ounce action, which was scaled down from the 700 version to save weight. At the time Forbes started Ultra Light Arms, which he ran until 1999 when he sold the company to Colt. After a bit of a debacle, he got the company back in 2000 and changed the name to New Ultra Light Arms (NULA), which is how it remains to this day.

Forbes now builds a number of different models, each of which is designed around a particular cartridge. By tailoring the action to fit the cartridge, Forbes is able to reduce weight, so even the Model 28 — which is built around medium-action magnums — reviewed for this article weighs just 6 pounds. Each of NULA’s rifles feature a Timney trigger and Talley scope rings.

At the heart of Forbes’ ultra light rifle design is his innovative rifle stock, which weighs just about a pound. As he said, sometimes success comes when you start from scratch and head out against the grain of popular opinion.

“I looked at what other manufacturers in the industry were doing with their stock designs, and I decided there had to be a better way to do it,” Forbes said. “So I march to the beat of my own drum. It really comes down to physics, which a lot of people just ignore.”

NULA Model 28

Forbes’ stock is a thing of beauty. The initial design came from his collaboration with two friends in the aerospace industry and features Kevlar and graphite composite material with full-length pillar bedding. The stock is extremely rigid and allows for almost perfectly consistent pressure along the entirety of the barrel, thus stabilizing barrel harmonics and creating supreme accuracy.

Interestingly enough, the stabilized barrel harmonics also means that different sized bullets shoot to the same point of impact, which is not the case for other rifles designs. Typically even a change from 165- to 185-grain bullets requires an adjustment on the scope dials, but with Forbes’ bedding technique and stock design those two bullets will shoot to the same point of impact every time. The rifle I reviewed was the Model 28 in .300 Win. Mag., and one of the main questions I posed to Forbes was about how you deal with that kind of recoil out of a 6-pound rifle. My assumption was that it’d be about like getting kicked by a mule.

“Again, it goes back to the physics of recoil and stock design,” Forbes said. “Recoil is the force moving from the center of the bore in a rearward direction. Most stocks fail to deliver that recoil directly to the body because of the angle of the buttstock design, and this makes recoil more severe.”

Forbes’ stock, however, lines the bore up directly with your shoulder, allowing the body to absorb recoil head on, which actually softens the blow. The other major factor is length of pull, which is why Forbes takes your physical build into consideration when making a custom rifle. According to Forbes, proper stock design makes a .300 Win. Mag. feel more like a .30-06 in terms of recoil, which is pretty impressive for a 6-pound rifle. The other concern I shared with Forbes was how difficult so many lightweight rifles are to shoot accurately; even a light breeze makes it hard to keep such a rifle steady. That issue, he said, is really about balance.

“That was the benefit of not starting with someone else’s rifle and trying to force it to work with what I wanted,” Forbes said. “I intentionally built a rifle that would be perfectly balanced in hand. From the action to the stock, barrel and scope, the weight is all distributed so that when you put the gun to your shoulder it’s a natural, solid fit.”

Field Ready
As a Western hunter, what intrigued me most about Forbes’ rifle was the promise of a lightweight rifle for mountain excursions that would actually shoot with accuracy. I’ve handled so-called “mountain rifles” in the past that wouldn’t shoot 2-inch groups at 100 yards, and while fine to carry didn’t exactly leave me feeling confident I could make a 250-300 yard shot. Likewise, most mountain rifles are offered in .308 or smaller, which is passable, but for elk and larger game I’d rather have the stopping power of a .300 Win. Mag., even if there’s a bit more recoil.

NULA Model 28

I also liked the potential of the Model 28 because it’d be equally well suited for any North American big game hunting, including Midwestern whitetails or black bears in the Pacific Northwest. If I was going to buy one rifle to hunt them all—God and my wife both know I could never be a one-rifle man—the Model 28 in .300 Win. Mag. would definitely do the trick. And at $3,900 it’d probably be the only rifle I could afford, so I’d need something that could do it all.

At the range and in the field, Forbes’ rifle did exactly what he said it would. It is by far and away one of the best balanced rifles I’ve ever shot, which makes offhand or shooting from sticks relatively easy. Recoil was really not that bad. I shot 10 rounds consecutively offhand and didn’t want to curl up into the fetal position, so I’d call that a win. Obviously the rifle is great to carry afield because of its slender dimensions.

Range Data
I tested the Model 28 at 100 yards using four different loads: Hornady 180-grain SST Superformance, Hornady 165-grain GMX Full Boar, Federal Premium 200-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and Federal Premium 180-grain Trophy Bonded Tip. Accuracy was measured from 3-shot groups taken from a Caldwell Lead Sled from Brownells. Winds were generally in the 10-12 mph range. The optic used for testing was a Leupold VX-3 3.5-10x40mm.

The best group of the day came with Hornady’s 165-grain GMX Full Boar, which measured .47 inches with the digital caliper. The same load had an average group of 1.12 inches. The Model 28 also seemed to like the heavier Federal Premium 200-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw loads, which had a best group of .74 inches and an average of 1.01 inches. As Forbes claimed, regardless of bullet weight, the loads hit at the same point of impact, so no scope adjustments were made from load to load.

Parting Shots
Melvin Forbes has been building rifles for as long as I’ve been alive, and the man knows what he’s talking about. With superior stock design and a production scale that allows for quality over quantity, Forbes’ rifles really are among the best in show. The Model 28 offers a magnum-size action in a platform that weighs right around 6 pounds and delivers MOA accuracy or better, depending on load selection. At $3,900 it’s certainly not the cheapest rifle on the market, but the old adage about getting what you pay for holds true.

NULA Model 28

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gear Review: Stuck On Clinger Holsters

Clinger Holsters - 1

With sturdy Kydex construction and an innovative design, Clinger Holsters more than delivers on its promise of absolute concealment.

Carry holsters are, it sometimes seems, like opinions — everybody’s got one. From Kydex to leather, and everything in between, it seems there’s an almost unlimited supply of options from an ever-increasing number of manufacturers, which makes it hard to know where to start. A recent review of two holsters from Clinger — the V2 No Print Wonder and the Stingray — hit the sweet spot for carry rigs, whether you’re toting around a full-size or compact handgun for personal defense.

The Clinger Holsters V2 No Print Wonder is designed to handle heavier loads like the Springfield XD 4-inch 9mm that I test drove the carry rig with for a month. It features a Kydex shell with two tabs, one a Kydex Cling Tab, the other a leather tab.

Both tabs feature belt clips, and when you tighten your belt, the Cling Tab, located on the lower grip side of the holster, pulls the grip in tight to your body. The leather tab flexes with your waistline, adding to the comfort you need with daily use. The No Print Wonder, which is adjustable for cant, keeps a full-size handgun parallel with your torso, keeping the grip from pointing away from your body and eliminating the concealed part of your carry gun.

In terms of everyday carry, I found the No Print Wonder to be extremely comfortable, and it works as advertised — it leaves a minimal footprint on your side, even with a larger handgun. I dress business casual often, so the fact that the V2 is tuckable is an absolute must.

The holster is incredibly stable, even with a lot of activity and movement. At the same time, it’s comfortable in the truck or at a desk when worn at the 3 o’clock position, and after a full day’s wear, I was still comfortable. One concern was how the Cling Tab had a tendency to push the belt outward, sometimes adding bulk, but I found this to be consistent with holsters of this type, and the tradeoff with creating a small footprint was well worth it. The V2 No Print Wonder retails for $70.

Clinger Holsters 2

The second holster, the Clinger Holsters Stingray, features a Kydex shell with a single belt clip on the rear side of the holster. It is ideally designed for smaller handguns that require less support when carrying. For this wear test, I utilized Ruger’s new American Compact handgun in 9mm.

Like the No Print Wonder, the Stingray also keeps a low profile on your side. The main difference is a single belt clip rather than two, which does create a bit less stability when carrying for some shooters. I did not notice an appreciable difference in comfort, however, with the Stingray.

Both holsters can be adjusted for retention pressure, and the V2 can also be converted to a Stingray holster (keep that in mind if you want one holster to fill both roles). The Stingray carries an MSRP of $39.99.

In terms of recommendations, the Stingray is great for smaller-framed handguns in the sub- and compact categories, although lots of shooters carry large handguns in it. The Stingray rides with roughly a 0-15-degree cant (adjustable) and offers slightly less stability, in my opinion, something I’d be concerned about with a full-size handgun (though some people aren’t bothered by it at all). I also like the Cling Tab for a full-size, as it helps keep a small footprint and improves concealability at just the right angle.

As far as versatility in carry positions, I’d go with the Stingray — you can wear it at the 3 or 5 o’clock positions, or appendix carry if you so desire. Both of these Clinger Holsters are great and would likely meet your needs, depending on preference and handgun selection.

Editor's Note: This article is from the May 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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Gun Review: The Fine .475 Turnbull Rifle

475 Turnbull rifle review - 4The .475 Turnbull lever gun from Doug Turnbull and his talented staff is a jaw-dropping and highly functional piece of art.

No firearm stands out quite like a Turnbull. In a world of synthetic stocks and sub-$500 rifles, the company bearing Doug Turnbull’s name is well known for making what he calls functional art, replete with top-shelf wood stocks and the classic look of color case hardening. It’s the one firearm that, without fail, produces prolonged stares and jaw-dropping admiration at the gun store and on the range.

Turnbull Restoration & Manufacturing, Co., as the name implies, was started several decades ago with the restoration of fine firearms in mind but has since grown in the production of original works of fine art. Doug now produces everything from .470 and .475 lever guns to the new and stunning Ruger Mark IV and a host of 1911s, all with iconic looks and impressive functionality. While some carry price tags in the thousands, others, like the Mark IV, bear incredible value at less than $600.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 3What’s even more impressive, perhaps, is that Turnbull’s guns function and shoot as well as any I’ve ever handled. The .475 Turnbull, which is built off the Winchester 1886 lever-gun platform, is no exception.

Featuring a high-quality wood stock, color-case-hardened receiver and octagonal barrel, side load and top ejection ports, the .475 produced highly impressive accuracy results and ran like a champ when we recently reviewed it. Pretty to look at and even better to shoot—that’s my kind of rifle.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 1Form Meets Function
Winchester’s original 1886 was designed by none other than John Moses Browning and built to withstand large calibers of the time like the .45-70, .45-90 WCF and .40-82 WCF. Since then it’s been adapted to take on other big bores, like the .45-90 Sharps and, in the slightly modified Model 71, the .348 Winchester.

Over a century after its introduction, Turnbull modified the 1886 to accept his new cartridge, the .475 Turnbull. The .475 relies upon a blown-out and necked-up .348 Win. case with a .475-caliber bullet, a caliber that is widely available for reloading purposes. It’s a great round for reloaders, as dies are available from Hornady and RCBS, as well as a host of bullets from Barnes and Nosler. Turnbull also sells many of these components on its website.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 5Turnbull also produces and sells ammunition for the .475, which is what I utilized for this review. Accuracy testing was conducted with 425-grain lead bullets leaving the muzzle at 1,700 fps, though bullet options are available from 350-500 grains, with load velocities varying from 1,900-2,500 fps.

I also utilized the 350-grain Barnes TSX loads, which hit like a freight train and are supremely accurate, especially given how poorly I typically shoot iron-sighted rifles. Shooting freehand at 50 yards to simulate an actual field hunting experience, the 350-grain bullets came in right around an inch, and from a bench rest and Caldwell lead sled were much better even at 100 yards.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 6The 350-grain TSX load produces a muzzle velocity of around 2,300 fps with a whopping 4,110 ft.-lbs. of energy, which is why the .475 is considered a major player in the big and dangerous game category. Of course more energy and larger bullets mean serious increases in recoil, which is why I appreciate the plush rubber recoil pad rather than the standard brass butt plate.

The .475 Turnbull features side loading and top ejection ports, which is why the rifle comes standard with iron sights. The 26-inch octagonal barrel bears the resemblance of the original 1886, though newer steel advancements allow the rifle to handle the increased pressures of the .475 cartridge (generally between 40,000-42,000 psi).

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 8The original 1886 action can handle the newer load, but the old barrels could not, which is why a restored and converted 1886 gets a new barrel. To put things in perspective, a 350-grain bullet in the .475 Turnbull produces velocities roughly 900 fps faster than the .45-70 Government with a 300-grain bullet, with about 2,800 ft.-lbs. of additional energy. Again, recoil is greater, but so is your “stopping power.” With the right bullet, you can do some serious big and dangerous game hunting with the .475 Turnbull.

Doug also makes a .470 Turnbull, which offers very similar ballistics: The 350-grain Barnes TSX leaves the muzzle at 2,300 fps with a shoulder-pounding and beast-stopping 4,110 ft.-lbs. of energy. The main difference is that the .470 is slightly shorter and fits in the Marlin Model 1895 action. The parent case of the .470 is still the .348 Win., though the .470 case measures 2.55 inches instead of 2.78 for the .475. The .470 features a shoulder angle of 10 degrees, while the .475 has an angle of roughly 17 degrees. For the sake of comparison, the .470 is more or less ballistically equivalent to the .450 Marlin.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 9Parting Shots
The .475 from Turnbull is hardly inexpensive, carrying a price of $5,650, and depending on your reloading skills, the ammunition isn’t exactly what I’d call cheap, either. The rifle is a hog to carry in the field, hardly like your grandfather’s old .30-30 that you’d carry into the deer woods. That being said, it’s still relatively affordable as far as large-caliber dangerous game rifles go, and it’s stunning to behold.

Doug builds an extremely accurate rifle, too, and from our testing, the lever-action ran smoothly and without issue. Most freehand groups at 50 yards were around an inch, and just above that at 100 from the bench. Realistically I’m not going to be shooting buffalo at 500 yards with an open-sighted lever gun, so as long as you keep your own limitations and application in mind, this is a fantastic rifle.

.475 Turnbull rifle review - 2Recoil obviously increases depending on bullet selection and load, but a good shooting bench and lead sled will mitigate a lot of discomfort, at least when you’re getting dialed in. With 350-grain and 425-grain loads, I was actually surprised by the recoil — it really wasn’t that bad.

Many of the fast magnums I’ve shot in the past left me feeling much worse, and as others have pointed out, the big bores are more of a heavy push than a snappy punch to the upper torso. Once you move to a standing position or from sticks, recoil becomes even less worrisome.

Fine and functional art, the .475 Turnbull is among the best the company has ever produced. And that’s saying a lot.


Turnbull Model 1886 – Turnbull 475
Caliber: .475 Turnbull
Action: Lever
Barrel Length: 26 in.
Barrel Type: Octagonal
Butt Plate: Rubber Recoil Pad
Finish: Turnbull color case hardened finish
Price: $5,650

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the April 2017 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: Springfield XD-S 9 FDE

Springfield XD-S Review - 1The 3.3-inch Springfield XD-S 9 in Flat Dark Earth might just be the unsung hero of concealed carry handguns.

Springfield’s XD series of pistols has been around since 2001, but the latest iteration, a 3.3-inch XD-S 9mm in Flat Dark Earth (FDE), is perhaps the X-factor when it comes to compact carry handguns. Right out of the box, the XD-S is loaded with value, featuring a highly functional design and quality barrel that delivers supreme accuracy in a carry-friendly package.

My confidence in the XD-S has only grown over the years, especially with the number of defense contractors or personal protection professionals who’ve told me it’s their go-to firearm when duty calls. To me it says a lot when someone who puts their life on the line everyday, and who could quite frankly choose any gun they wanted, opts for a gem out of the Springfield Armory.

Springfield XD-S review - 2Design And Features
The goal with the design of the XD-S was to provide the feel and control of a full-size handgun in a compact package, a shootable carry gun. With that purpose in mind, the XD-S is a polymer-framed pistol of the single-stack variety, giving you seven rounds, plus one in the chamber, with the flush-fitting magazine and 8+1 with the Mid-Mag X-Tension mag. The trigger is what you’d expect to find on a carry gun, which means relatively heavy, and has a crisp, audible reset and a grip safety for added security.

Springfield XD-S review - 3The heavily textured grip helps in controlling what is a power-packed handgun, fully capable of leaving those same grip marks indented into your palms after a few boxes of ammo at the range. The rear portion of the grip comes with an interchangeable grip panel to accommodate different sized hands, while grip width itself is .9 inches—small enough to promote concealability but big enough to give you a solid purchase on the firearm. Extremely important for carry, the height is 4.4 inches with the flush magazine and 5 inches with the extended mag.

While other manufacturers leave you with a set of standard front and rear white-dot sights, Springfield provides a fiber optic front sight right out of the box that provides easier target acquisition. The other nice feature is an ambidextrous magazine release that protrudes just enough to make no-look mag swaps easier. As opposed to the XD 3-inch sub-compact, which holds 13+1, the XD-S holds, as mentioned earlier, either 7+1 or 8+1, which means you’re trading a bit of concealability and width for a few extra rounds.

Springfield XD-S review - 4Carry Friendly
I’m of small to medium stature, so handgun height is the critical dimension when it comes to avoiding major printing under clothing—it’s always the longer grip that sticks out. The extended magazine is a nice addition, however, since it serves as a backup for carry or as your best choice when emptying cases at the range. The extra .6 inches allows you to get that pinky finger on the grip, giving you substantially better control.

Even in 9mm, the XD-S packs quite a punch without that added grip extension. A fairly short barrel (3.3 inches) and light weight (23 ounces, unloaded) mean you’re hands are eventually going to feel it at the range, but for the purpose of carry it’s an easy trade off to make. It’s still an enjoyable little gun to shoot, especially with the Mid-Mag X-Tension and a 9mm chambering. Unlike some of the smaller “micro nines,” the XD-S still has a full enough frame and grip to provide impressive accuracy and control. Dimensionally it’s similar to the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield or Glock 43.

Springfield XD-S review - 5In terms of everyday carry, the XD-S hits the sweet spot. I carried it around for a few weeks with a CrossBreed Mini Tuck, which is the scaled down version of the SuperTuck Deluxe, and it quickly became one of my two favorite carry rigs. I’ve also found it works great for appendix carry, in either the CrossBreed Appendix Carry holster or a Blade-Tech holster with Laserguard green laser from Crimson Trace. I carried it primarily on the hip at the 3 o’clock position with a CrossBreed magazine holster at 6 o’clock, and it was both comfortable and remained easily concealed.

Springfield XD-S review - 6Range Performance
Anytime you opt for a compact handgun, you’re generally sacrificing some measure of accuracy and/or controllability. But after firing at least 80 rounds at the range with no issues, the XD-S proved that it’s more than capable of delivering supreme accuracy in a carry platform. All range data was collected from a distance of 20 yards from sandbags and was based on multiple three-shot groups.

The XD-S handled a wide variety of ammunition, from HPR’s 85-grain Black Ops OTF to SIG Sauer’s Elite Performance 147-grain V-Crown JHP, and had no malfunctions whatsoever. The 147-grain bullets performed the best, with Winchester’s Train & Defend JHP producing a best group of 1.24 inches and SIG’s V-Crown coming in at an equally impressive 1.31 inches.

Springfield XD-S review - 7Considering most defensive shooting scenarios will occur far closer than 20 yards, the XD-S is more than capable of delivering adequate accuracy and beyond. Likewise, the extended magazine serves as a range-friendly option to give you greater accuracy and control when your main goal is not concealability. There is some loss in velocity with a 3.3-inch versus 3.8-inch barrel, but in the 9mm it’s somewhere between 20 and 50 fps—not enough to lose sleep over.

Springfield XD-S review - 8Parting Shots
With an MSRP just south of $500, the 3.3-inch XD-S 9 mm in FDE is a tremendous buy. It’s a fantastic carry gun and offers impressive accuracy and control for a compact, single-stack 9mm. Reliable, good looking and highly accurate—what’s not to love about that? Springfield has proven itself to be a leader in innovation and delivering what the consumer wants, and the XD-S 9 in FDE represents another homerun.


Springfield XD-S 9 FDE
Type: Semi-auto, striker-fired
Caliber: 9mm
Barrel: 3.3 in., hammer forged steel, Melonite finish, 1:10 twist
Overall Length: 6.3 in.
Weight: 23 oz. (unloaded)
Height: 4.4 in. (compact mag); 5 in. (Mid-Mag X-Tension)
Grip Width: .9 in.
Slide: Forged steel, Melonite finish
Sights: Fiber optic front, dovetail rear
Magazines: 7-round flush fitting; 8-round with Mid-Mag X-Tension, stainless steel
MSRP: $499
Manufacturer: Springfield Armory

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the March 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Gun Review: The LWRCI M6IC-A5 Rifle


Boasting a patented short-stroke gas-piston operation, the LWRCI M6IC-A5 is a rugged-built rifle ready to answer the call of duty.

They say competition breeds innovation, which couldn’t be more true than it is for LWRC International (LWRCI). The company was founded to pursue the development of a short-stroke, gas-piston-operated firearm that would replace the M4 as the main service weapon for the U.S. Army.

Although the Individual Carbine competition was cancelled in 2013, that original research and development led to a whole family of LWRCI rifles that are produced under the Individual Carbine (IC) nomenclature and sold to everyone from warfighters and law enforcement to hardcore civilian shooters.

One of the latest rifles from the manufacturer is the LWRCI M6IC-A5 chambered in 5.56 NATO and available in OD Green, which, like the Incredible Hulk, is a highly evolved and technologically advanced version of a Bruce-Banner-like classic, Eugene Stoner’s AR-15/M16. As with the original Individual Carbine design, the hallmark of the A5 is LWRCI’s patented short-stroke, gas-piston operation, which is designed to improve upon the original direct gas impingement system developed by Stoner in the 1950s.

The short-stroke, gas-piston system is constructed with aerospace-grade superalloys that can withstand extremely high temperatures without losing their strength or becoming fatigued. This makes the LWRCI M6IC-A5 highly reliable even in the worst conditions. Because the A5 is duty built for tip-of-the-spear military personnel around the world, durability and functionality are non-negotiable.


Piston Driven
One of the known issues with the direct gas-impingement system developed by Stoner is that hot gases and carbon from the discharged cartridge are dumped into the action of the rifle where they strike the gas key, pushing the bolt carrier rearward against the buffer spring and thus cycling the action. This causes carbon buildup in the action and eventually contributes to functionality issues. If nothing else, this necessitates more regular weapon cleaning.

The beauty of the short-stroke, gas-piston operating system, however, is that gases from the spent cartridge move through the gas block where they strike a piston—the piston then drives the bolt carrier rearward while the dirty gases exit the firearm clear of the action itself. Combined with LWRCI’s nickel-boron coating and the superalloy components used in the piston system, this means the action stays cleaner, longer, thus reducing carbon buildup that leads to malfunction.

The tradeoff, of course, is that piston-operated platforms typically cost more than their direct gas-impingement counterparts. Some have pointed out that the piston system increases felt recoil, but the difference is negligible, especially with the 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem. cartridge.

For some people the increase in cost is worth it, particularly when the mission profile includes the discharge of high volumes of ammunition and minimal time for cleaning. For the warfighter, reliability is obviously paramount, and the cost is often negligible in comparison to the value gained. For the weekend shooter, the cost may not be necessary but could nonetheless be desirable.


Historically, the other problem has been the way in which the piston operating system has been applied to the AR platform. Early on, several manufacturers tried to take Stoner’s design and modify it for use with a piston system, but without considering the effects this would have on components that weren’t designed for that purpose. Ultimately this led to issues like carrier tilt and damage to the lower receiver.

What LWRCI and others have done, however, is engineer the AR concept and components specifically for use with a short-stroke, gas-piston operating system. Rather than being an afterthought, the short-stroke piston operation is foundational to the LWRCI M6IC-A5.

The AR Evolved
Among the standout features on the new A5 is a machined Monoforge upper receiver with an integrated rail base that is lighter and stronger than previous two-piece designs. The rail comes pre-drilled for a host of rail segment configurations to meet the user’s needs and preferences, including the option to install a quad rail via the retaining screw holes.

The upper also eliminates the need for a standard barrel nut, and instead is secured by a proprietary non-indexing torque ring. This ring system provides even pressure around the barrel for optimal fit. Not only is the upper and rail design functional, it’s also visually appealing. Available Cerakote finishes include Flat Dark Earth (FDE), Olive Drab Green (ODG) and Patriot Brown (PBC), and then of course as Henry Ford always said, there’s black.


LWRCI prides itself on providing the customer with top-tier quality parts in its firearms, according to Jeff Clemmer, vice president of product development, which is why it manufactures its cold hammer-forged barrels in house. The barrels are forged from 41V45 steel alloy and are treated with NiCorr surface conversion technology, which the company claims is more resistant to wear, heat and corrosion than hard chrome.

The LWRCI M6IC-A5 features eye-catching spiral fluting to provide a barrel that’s 20 percent lighter than those of similar diameter. The barrel is pretty damn sleek to look at, but the spiral fluting also allows the barrel to cool faster and, according to LWRCI, provides greater accuracy. Featuring a scallop-cut design on the front of the handguard, the A5 also has an easy-to-access, two-position gas block for use with or without a suppressor and includes a standard A2-style flash hider.

As a duty-built rifle, the LWRCI M6IC-A5 is fully ambidextrous, allowing the shooter to manipulate the firearm from a number of different positions and/or around, over or under barriers. This includes ambidextrous safety selector, charging handle and mag release.

The bolt and carrier group feature LWRCI’s patented nickel-alloy coating, as does the trigger unit. The nickel-alloy coating, according to the company, provides a permanently lubricated surface that never rubs off or attracts debris. Two barrel length options are available, either a 14.7- or 16.1-inch configuration, with not even half a pound of weight difference between the two. The rifle tested was the 16-inch version.

Range Tested
Accuracy testing was conducted at 100 yards from a bench with a Steiner M5Xi 3-15x50mm Military optic, while close-range target work was performed with EOTech’s HHS II EXPS2-2 with G33.STS magnifier. Velocity was measured with a Competition Electronics ProChrono chronograph from Brownells.

The first load tested was the Nosler Custom 69-grain Match Grade, which posted an average velocity of 2,507 feet per second (fps), a standard deviation of 15 fps and an extreme spread of 27 fps. The best group of the accuracy testing came with the Nosler Custom, which produced an uber-impressive group of just .254 inch. The average group was 1.28 inches.


The second load tested was Hornady’s 55-grain V-MAX, which is quite typically a top performer. The 55-grain V-MAX posted a miniscule best group of .361 inch and an average group of .80 inch. The average velocity was 2,793 fps, with a standard deviation of 27 fps and an extreme spread of 49 fps.

Third and finally, HPR’s 62-grain Black Ops was tested. Packaged to perfection, the Black Ops load produced a best group of 1.38 inches and an average of 1.67 inches. The average velocity was 2,694 fps, with an extreme spread of 32 fps and a standard deviation of 21 fps.

Parting Shots
LWRC M6IC-A5 performance
One of the main advantages with the LWRCI M6IC-A5 is that you get a highly-advanced, highly-functional, short-stroke, gas-piston operated AR right out of the box for $2,749 (MSRP). Sure, you could make similar upgrades yourself, but let’s face it — not everybody wants a do-it-yourself AR build. Even then, very few DIY builds would rival the A5.

The A5 also comes fully loaded with Magpul pistol grip and magazines, as well as a nickel-boron coating on the trigger, bolt carrier and group, and barrel. Flip-up sights come standard, while a continuous top rail provides a great number of day and night optic configurations. The rifle is also fully ambidextrous, incredibly ergonomic in design and functional to operate. Color options match an already sleek design, and you know you’re getting an aerospace-grade gun with unsurpassed longevity.

Editor's Note: This article appeared in the July 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Review: Mossberg’s MVP Scout Rifle

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 1The Mossberg MVP Scout shows it can hang with the best the firearms industry has to offer in terms of scout rifles.

To say it was a momentous and historic event would be a gross understatement. In July of 2016, Gunsite Academy, near Paulden, Arizona, hosted its second-ever Scout Rifle Conference, the first being in 1984 when Col. Jeff Cooper gathered the ranks to display the capabilities of his scout rifle concept. I attended the most recent event alongside several industry writers, manufacturers and Gunsite students in order to put the latest scout rifles currently in production to the kind of field test Cooper himself would be proud of.

The mastermind behind the conference was scout rifle aficionado and Gun Digest contributor Richard Mann, who has studied Cooper perhaps more than any other current gun writer. We spent three days going through field drills with scout rifles from Ruger, Steyr, Savage and Mossberg, while one student wielded a Winchester Model 70 customized in Cooper-fashion by gunsmith Jim Brockman. For the duration of the three days, as well as the fourth and final day of scored competition, I’d be using a Mossberg MVP Scout chambered in .308 and firing Hornady’s Custom Lite ammunition with 125-grain SST bullets.

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 3
The author shooting Gunsite's famous scrambler.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend
Many folks have argued over the definition of the “true” scout rifle ever since Cooper himself began developing the concept over three decades ago. And a development, after all, is the best way to describe Cooper’s thoughts, since even in published writings he seems to have bounced between different positions. Fundamentally, however, Cooper’s goal was to come up with one rifle that would be the answer to almost any shooting situation. It wouldn’t be the best at any single discipline, but it would be versatile across a spectrum of scenarios encountered in the field. Cooper was looking for that one rifle to rule them all.

What he more or less ended up with was a rifle shorter than 39.37 inches in length; chambered in either .308 Win., 7mm-08 Rem., or .243 Win.; built on a short action; having an 18- to 20-inch barrel, or 22 inches in .243; a good trigger; and weighing between 7.71 (good) and 6.61 pounds (best). In addition, the scout rifle would feature a low-mounted, 2- to 3-power, long eye relief scope with a ghost ring rear sight and post front sight. Because it was built to be carried afield, the scout rifle would feature a Ching sling (named for a former Gunsite instructor), or as we used in the course, a Rhodesian sling made by Andy’s Leather (AndysLeather.com).

The whole point of this design was to produce a rifle that was easy to carry over long distances and periods of time, could be quickly brought to the shoulder for snap firing, and would be deadly accurate from close range out to 300 yards. It would have both an optic and iron sights as a backup.

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 4The Mossberg MVP Scout
For the four-day crash course, I’d be carrying the Mossberg MVP Scout, which is built around the MVP platform and features a detachable magazine of the Magpul type. With scope and sling the rifle weighed roughly 8.5 pounds — more than Cooper would have ideally liked, but much better for consistent, balanced shooting, in my opinion. Combined with the Hornady Custom Lite ammo, the extra weight saved my shoulder from taking the same kind of beating doled out by the 6- and 7-pound rifles in our group. After the final competition, I had the chance to shoot some of the lighter rifles, and I was immediately appreciative of the lavish recoil pad and extra pound and a half of the Mossberg rifle.

The Mossberg MVP Scout features a Picatinny rail for easy scope attachment, and the rail runs to the rear of the action to allow for either long or traditional short eye relief scopes. The rear ghost ring sight and fiber optic front post are easily visible in broad daylight, and this particular rifle came as a combo with Vortex’s 2-7x32mm optic. Barrel length is 16.25 inches with a 1:10-inch twist with matte finish. The rifle features a flash hider and Picatinny rail sections at the front of the synthetic black forend for light or accessory attachments.

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 2
Instructor Il Ling New shows the class how to setup in the prone position.

The first three days of training, headed up by Il Ling New and Mario Marchman, were designed to put all these features to the test. We drilled on snap shooting, as well as short-, intermediate- and long-range work. We shot Gunsite’s famous Scrambler—a speed-based drill on steel targets fired from multiple obstacles and positions—as well as the timed big game walk, which forces you to locate and hit multiple steel targets from various field positions (sitting, kneeling, rested on an object, etc.).

The first thing that stood out to me was the trigger on the MVP Scout; it was remarkably crisp and carried a pull weight of roughly 3 pounds. The Lightning Bolt Action (LBA) trigger is adjustable from 3-7 pounds, built in the same style as the Savage AccuTrigger or Ruger Marksman. A crisp trigger is essential for snap shooting and steady long-range work, and this was proven true again on the course.

For those used to resting your trigger finger along the stock of the rifle underneath the bolt handle, this proved to be an adjustment (every gun has them). There is no three-position safety, and hence no way to lock the bolt down, so if you rest your finger under the bolt and nudge it ever so slightly, you’ll get a click instead of a bang. That’s also a serious consideration when carrying your gun afield. What I and the other Mossberg shooters had to learn was to keep the trigger finger on the top of the bolt, which was slightly awkward when trying to simultaneously manipulate the safety with your thumb, or constantly push down on the bolt handle in between shots to verify the closed position. The upside is that the bolt runs smoothly, allowing for fast follow up shots. More than anything, it’s just something you have to be aware of in the field.

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 5The Grand Competition
The fourth day was a competition designed by Mann to test the rifles and each of the various features. There were five stages altogether, with scoring based on time and—most of all—hits on target. Cooper was adamant that misses counted for nothing, so a 20-second penalty was allotted for every miss.

On the first stage, we were timed and had to place three shots in the vital zone of a camo/man-shaped paper target at 25 yards; this drill was repeated three times. The second test was with iron sights at 50 yards, on paper and repeated thrice. Third, a shoot-and-load stage in which we fired one round from the seated position, then reloaded a single shell from the top of the action (again, rinse and repeat three times). Fourth, the standing shooter drops to prone and fires three times at the vitals from 100 yards. Fifth, shooters walk a timed field course, locating and hitting steel targets placed at various unknown distances.

At the end of the day, an engineer from Steyr flew in from Europe and won the deal (that’s what we Yanks call a “ringer”), but the top five positions (out of 20 participants) were all separated by only a few points. Jeremy Stafford of Guns & Ammo placed fourth, while I placed fifth; both of us were using the Mossberg MVP Scout. Two students, using Ruger and Steyr rifles, placed second and third. Monte Long of XS Sight Systems shot the entire tournament with irons and a Mossberg and placed a very respectable seventh place. All in all, a very strong showing for team Mossberg.

Mossberg MVP Scout review - 6Parting Shots
There’s so much that goes into marksmanship afield, and the Gunsite instructors are as good as anyone at drilling those habits into you. Likewise, you need a rifle capable of performing when your life or hunt is on the line. For around $900, the Mossberg MVP Scout scoped combo is one tough deal to beat. It shot MOA or better all week, functioned perfectly (I had exactly zero issues with feeding or loads all week), and was lightweight enough to carry and shoot for four days straight. The Hornady Custom Lite loads were also flawless and saved my shoulder from undue recoil trauma.

This was my first intensive exposure to the scout rifle platform, but I have to say I’m a believer in the concept. While I’d opt for a bit heavier of a rifle than Cooper preferred—the Mossberg being in my sweet spot at almost 9 pounds, fully outfitted—the concept simply works. Mossberg’s MVP Scout, chambered in the ever-versatile .308, is a great platform for hunting, personal defense, or whatever the wild world throws at you. The rifle is affordable, versatile, and highly dependable—everything you’d expect from a company like Mossberg.


Mossberg MVP Scout
Type: Bolt-action
Caliber: .308 Winchester
Barrel: 16.25 in.
Twist Rate: 1:10
Weight: Approx. 9 lbs. (with scope)
Sights: Rear ghost ring, fiber optic front post
Optic: Vortex 2-7x32mm
Stock: Synthetic, black
Trigger: 3-7 lbs.; Lightning Bolt Action (LBA)
MSRP: $962
Manufacturer: O.F. Mossberg & Sons

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Fall 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Review: YHM Model 57 Specter Burnt Bronze

YHM Model 57 Specter - burnt bronze - 1Yankee Hill Machine goes for gold with its new burnt bronze Model 57 Specter.

While it has been manufacturing dependable AR-type rifles and parts for the last couple of decades — often for other big name manufacturers and military contracts — Yankee Hill Machine (YHM) introduced the burnt bronze Model 57 Specter in 2015, showing that it’s ready to go for gold.

YHM has developed a reputation for making some of the best AR parts in the industry, and in the mid-90s decided it would produce complete rifle builds distinct to its name and unique style of machine work. In addition to AR-type rifles, YHM manufactures handguards, rail and optic mounts, muzzle devices and suppressors. The Model 57 Specter is a sort of crowning achievement in the company’s line of ARs, with a fitting burnt bronze Cerakote finish to give it that golden look of AR royalty.

The Model 57 was originally introduced in a black finish at the 2014 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, with additions like a new KeyMod-integrated, SLR Slant hanguard and YHM tactical charging handle latch added in 2015. The Model 57 is available in several chamberings, including 5.56 NATO, .300 Blackout and 6.8 SPC II. This review featured the 6.8 SPC, which comes with a 16-inch barrel and 1:10-inch twist. The most eye-catching addition is obviously the industry-standard burnt bronze finish, while the foundation of the rifle is the artfully machined receiver set.

YHM Model 57 Specter - 2Built for Gold
The Model 57 Specter features billet 7075-T6 aluminum receivers that are machined at the company’s Florence, Massachusetts, facility and have matching grooves on the receivers and handguard. Those stylistic grooves run along the sides of the 9.5-inch SLR Slant handguard, on the front of the magazine well and on the sides of the upper receiver.

While billet aluminum receivers are considered to possess slightly less strength than their forged counterparts, they are still tremendously tough. One of the biggest advantages with a billet receiver, however, is the customization that can be applied through machining into the design. And that’s exactly where the YHM Model 57 Specter shines — the lines and grooves crafted into the burnt bronze rifle are head turning, to say the least. Fresh out of the box at the local gun shop, a group of onlookers swarmed around the rifle with oohs and aahs. It was much the same at the range, as other shooters congregated to inquire about the gold-looking AR.

YHM Model 57 Specter - 3The upper and handguard feature a continuous top rail for plenteous optic mounting options, while Picatinny rail mounts are positioned at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions at the front of the handguard. The handguard also comes pre-equipped with YHM Q.D.S. flip up sights and has a slanted front section to match a Slant muzzle brake. The brake, which is really a brake/compensator hybrid that works to reduce recoil and limit muzzle rise, is an especially nice option for the 6.8 SPC chambering, which carries a bit more punch than the 5.56 NATO/.223 Rem. The forward rail sections are great for accessories, though they do not provide the most ergonomic or comfortable hold for those who prefer a forward grip.

The beauty of the Model 57, however, is that its stunning exterior is equaled by its well-made integral parts. The Specter features a 16-inch barrel in the 6.8 SPC chambering, as well as a 1:10-inch twist. The barrel is heat treated, 4140 steel with YHM’s exclusive ball-cut fluting to improve rigidity and aid in barrel cooling. The barrel is also threaded for various muzzle products, including the standard Slant compensator/muzzle brake.

The rifle also utilizes a two-stage, 5-pound, drop-in trigger that makes it enjoyable to shoot and highly accurate. The aforementioned flip-up sights come stock, as does the tactical charging handle latch and low-profile gas block. The Model 57 comes with a Magpul CTR buttstock and MOE pistol grip, as well as two PMAGS (the 6.8 version comes with two standard metal magazines). The overall weight of the rifles is 7.6 pounds, which makes it well balanced to shoot but light enough to provide added maneuverability.

YHM Model 57 Specter - 4Range Tested
The Model 57 Specter was tested for accuracy with two loads: the 115-grain American Eagle FMJ from Federal Premium and Nosler’s 90-grain Defense Bonded Performance. Accuracy testing was conducted from a bench at 100 yards with Steiner’s uber-impressive M5Xi 3-15x50mm Military optic. Accuracy data was based on five three-shot groups. Close-range target work was also conducted with Trijicon’s RMR and the stock YHM Q.D.S. flip-up sights.

With a rated velocity of 2,675 feet per second (fps), Federal’s American Eagle 115-grain FMJ produced an average group of 1.37 inches and a best group of 1.25 inches. For everyday range work, the American Eagle FMJ is accurate and cost effective, running you about $16 for a box of 20.

The second test load was Nosler’s 90-grain Defense Bonded Performance, which has a rated velocity of 2,840 fps. The best group produced by the 90-grain bullet was 1.10 inches, with an average group of 1.29 inches.

YHM Model 57 Specter - 6Parting Shots
Yankee Hill’s Model 57 Specter is visually appealing and made for long-term reliability. Its components are made in the U.S. and produced by one of the most skilled machine shops in the country. For an upgraded rifle straight out of the box that sets you apart from the crowd, the Model 57 is just the ticket. It comes in all the hot AR-15-platform calibers, including the rising stars like the 6.8 SPC and .300 BLK. And if burnt bronze isn’t your color, you can always go with a Henry Ford classic: black. For a price of $2,635, you do pay more than you would for a bargain basement build, but you also get a lot more, too.


YHM Model 57 Specter Burnt Bronze
Type: Semi-auto, direct gas impingement, carbine-length gas system
Caliber: 6.8 SPC
Barrel: 16 in., 1:10 twist
Weight: 7.6 lbs.
Handguard: SLR-Slant 9.5 in.
Stock: Magpul CTR
Grip: Magpul MOE
Trigger: Two-stage, drop-in, 5 lbs.
Capacity: 25 rounds
MSRP: $2,635
Manufacturer: Yankee Hill Machine, Co.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the July 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Review: Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 1The Vortex Razor HD spotting scope proves it’s sharp enough to run with the big dogs.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the decades as a hunter and shooter, it’s that big, open country demands high-quality glass. When you spend dozens of hours each year picking the right hunting unit, putting in for points, stretching the maximum effective range of your rifle at the range and glassing high-altitude ranges for that trophy animal, poorly made optics are simply an unacceptable strain—and a waste of time.

I’ve done my time afield with cheaply made binoculars and bargain-basement spotting scopes, and I’ve also had the opportunity to tour the wild backcountry with some of Europe’s finest optics. The great tension, of course, is that we’d all like to own the Bugatti of glass, but many of us simply can’t afford to drop four or five grand on a spotting scope. If you’re facing that dilemma, one of the best solutions comes from Vortex Optics.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 2Based out of Wisconsin, Vortex has built a solid reputation in the optics industry by offering premium quality glass at a price point that’s significantly less than the European bigs. With the help of a well-crafted marketing and social media strategy, a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty, and the knack for building performance optics that don’t crush your bank account, Vortex has carved out a strong following with long-range shooters and hardcore hunters alike.

One of its best new spotting scopes is the Razor HD 20-60x85mm, which features premium high density (HD), extra-low dispersion glass that is precision crafted to produce outstanding clarity, resolution and color fidelity. The Razor HD carries a very reasonable MSRP of $2,000 (which means you can find it on the street for quite a bit less) and has the optical horsepower to hang with the big dogs. Ruggedly built to stand up to the worst elements, the Razor HD is also backed by the famous Vortex lifetime warranty—unlimited, fully transferrable, no receipt needed—which makes it an extremely tantalizing option for the serious hunter or shooter.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 3Features and Design
The Vortex Razor HD comes in a few different setups and represents the top-of-the-line for Vortex spotters. The scope comes with the option for either straight or angled eyepieces and is available in variants of 11-33x50mm, 16-48x65mm, and 20-60x85mm (reviewed here). Magnification is obviously one thing to consider when choosing which scope you’ll invest in, but weight is the other. The 85mm version weighs 4.1 pounds, which isn’t a big deal if you’re scouting by vehicle, but it gets bulky if you’re packing that sucker on your back. On the other hand, I prefer the 85mm for Western hunting and the many times I’m watching elk at 1,200 yards or more. The 85mm also allows you to make out bullet holes in paper at considerable distances, certainly at 100 yards.

The Razor HD features a Porro prism design that provides excellent optical capabilities without sending the price to the moon. Invented by Ignazio Porro around 1850, this particular prism design, recognizable by the dog-leg design of the tubes, incorporates at least one triangular prism that transmits light and turns an upside down image right side up for the viewer. Porro prism optics generally offer a robust, sharp viewing experience for less cost than roof prism designs, which are characterized by straight, long tubes and a more compact design. Roof prism technology has come a long way over the decades and prices have fallen as a result, but binoculars and spotting scopes of this make are still generally more spendy because they require greater precision in manufacturing. In terms of quality, both styles offer premium-quality optical performance, all other things being equal.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 4The Vortex Razor HD features a dual focusing ring, with the base ring providing macro adjustment and the smaller, outer ring providing micro adjustment for fine-tuned precision viewing. The dial is located at the top medial position, which enables you to easily adjust focus without taking your eye off the viewfinder. Once focused, only minor adjustments on the micro dial have to be made when alternating between distances. To change magnification, the eyepiece turns left or right and features 20x, 30x, 40x, 50x and 60x setting designations. A 20mm eye relief adjusts easily and smoothly at the end of the eyepiece, perfect for use with or without glasses.

The Razor HD also features a built-in sunshade that extends out roughly 43 millimeters. A permanent tripod mount with standard-sized mounting screw is attached to a band around the middle of the scope, while a small knob allows you to rotate the body of the scope in its base. The scope comes with a zippable carrying case that helps keep it from getting dinged in the truck or a pack.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 5Straight or Angled?
Like most spotting scopes, the Vortex Razor HD comes with the option of a straight or angled eyepiece. Neither option is necessarily superior, but each offers a different set of benefits and more or less comes down to preference. The straight eyepiece (reviewed here) is ideal for use from a truck window and works well from the seated or standing position from a tripod, though you’re in for some serious neck strain if you’re looking upward at a steep angle, as you would be for sheep and goat hunting. Some people also feel the straight eyepiece makes it easier and quicker to acquire a target. The downside is that you have to raise your tripod higher, especially when standing, which makes it more susceptible to shaking in the wind and is less desirable for keeping a low profile when stalking animals. The angled eyepiece is great for tripod viewing and steep angles and allows you to keep a shorter profile with the tripod, but would be difficult to use from a car window. Since I do most of my viewing from a tripod in the field, I lean toward an angled eyepiece.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 7Performance
I put the Vortex Razor HD to the test this spring in Colorado during what has been a particularly wet year. It’s also a time of year when temperatures and weather change rapidly, so it’s t-shirts and sunshine one moment and jackets and snow the next. The Razor HD performed exceptionally well in all those conditions, and I never had a problem with fogging up or fading out in sunshine, heavy fog or cloud cover. The Razor HD is argon-gas-purged to prevent fogging in a wide range of temperatures, and that feature certainly came in handy. The XRPlus Multi-Coated lenses provide premium light transmission, anti-reflection and improve use in midday sunlight.

Light transmission was impressive, and I often found myself with elk in clear view at full magnification well after sunset. For comparison’s sake, I pulled out a $5,000 European spotting scope for late evening glassing and found, not surprisingly, that the big difference in optical capability comes at low light. The European optic was a clear winner in clarity and light transmission, but not by as much as the price disparity would indicate. For $3,000 less, the Razor HD still handled low light incredibly well and produced sharp picture clarity out to 1,000 yards.

Vortex Razor HD Spotting Scope - 8Parting Shots
The Vortex Razor HD offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck, pairing premium quality glass and scope construction with a very reasonable price point. The scope is a homerun for Vortex, which continues to bring superb optical quality down to the range of the workingman’s budget. After reviewing the scope in all weather and light conditions in the vast spaces of the Rocky Mountains, there was nothing the Razor HD couldn’t handle. It’s backed by the legendary Vortex lifetime warranty, which as I’ve personally experienced is as good as advertised. At four pounds it’s not exactly lightweight, but that’s very typical of even the high-end 85mm scopes. If you’ve been holding on to that old clunker of a spotting scope for too long or have simply gone without because the price tag has always been too great, the Razor HD is your excuse to make one of the best purchases yet. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Vortex Razor HD 20-60x85mm
Magnification: 20-60x
Objective Lens Diameter: 85mm
Glass: Premium High Density (HD), extra-low dispersion
Construction: Porro Prism
Body Type: Straight
Waterproof: Yes
Focus: Dual focus ring
Eye Relief: 20mm
Length: 15.8 in.
Weight: 65.7 oz. (4.1 lbs.)
MSRP: $2,000
Manufacturer: Vortex Optics

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the Summer 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.