Manufactured to exacting standards and as classy as come, the Merkel K3 is truly rifle royalty.
Why The Merkel K3 Is A Cut Above Other Hunting Rifles:
- Single-shot with a Jeager tilting block action.
- Generally sold in a kit with a Swarovski Z3 scope and compact case.
- Comes chambered in 223 Remington, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 8X57IRS, 6.5X55SE, 7X57R, 7X65R and 6.5X57R.
- Stock is high-grade walnut, with a hog-back comb and Bavarian cheekpiece.
- Receiver is machined for a Suhl one-piece scope mount.
- The rifle is also a takedown, disassembling in fewer than 10 seconds.
Real riflemen know many rifles, but in truth, love none. They’ll bear the sorrow of some, and with others, have fun. Eventually, they’ll always find and run home to one they truly trust. Rifleman are all different, skipping among rifles like a gypsy moves from place to place, looking for that perfection that always seems to be just past the next crossroads.
But, sometimes, that special rifle will fall into their hands. For many, it never happens. For most, it takes half a century or more.
My son was lucky: He found his at the tender age of 19.
The Merkel K3 is a single-shot rifle with a Jeager tilting block that’s manufactured by Merkel Jagd- und Sportwaffen GmbH, which is located in Suhl, Thuringia (in Germany). Merkel has been manufacturing weapons since 1905. They’re currently distributed in the United States by Steyr Arms of Bessemer, Alabama.
K3s are generally sold in kit form for about $5,000. The package includes a Swarovski Z3 3X10-42mm riflescope and a rugged compact case from Americase. The rifle, itself, retails for about $3,700. Yes, that’s pricy, and you’re probably wondering why I’m so excited about a single-shot rifle that expensive. Let me explain.
Merkel K3: All the Details
The standard chamberings available in the Merkel K3 are .223 Remington, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 8X57IRS, 6.5X55SE, 7X57R, 7X65R and 6.5X57R. Others are available on request. The rifle is equipped with an adjustable titanium-nitride trigger with a pull weight that can be set at 14, 21 or 28 ounces. Overall weight is a nominal 5.3 pounds. Overall length is 1 meter, and the barrel measures 20 inches. The stock is carved from a gorgeous piece of high-grade walnut, and it has that distinctive European hog-back comb and Bavarian cheekpiece. It’s also fitted with a rubber butt pad and can be had in the left-hand configuration.
There are four basic versions. The standard model, the Extreme and Lady DS all come with a short forend. The K3 Stutzen has a two-piece, full-length Mannlicher-style front stock. The standard and Stutzen offerings are fitted with high-profile, highly visible fiber-optic open sights, and the Lady DS and the Extreme come without sights. The receivers for all versions are machined to accept the unbelievably precise Suhl one-piece scope mount.
More On German Rifles:
- Early German Bolt-Action Sporters Set a Standard
- The All-Un-American Straight-Pull Bolt-Action Rifle
- Mauser M18 Bolt-Action
- The Mauser Model 98
- Mauser: The Most Important Rifle
The K3 is a takedown rifle and can be disassembled in fewer than 10 seconds. The rifle and scope fit inside a 28×9.5×3-inch Americase. The one-piece Suhl scope mount has two locking levers. Swing these levers 180 degrees, and the scope mount releases from the barrel. There’s a slide lock on the bottom of the forearm. Depress this lock, and the forearm comes off. Then, the last step is to push the action lever to the right, thereby unlocking the barrel from the action. For the traveling hunter, this is an ideal, compact, easy-to-carry and exceptionally secure setup. The combined weight of the cased rifle and scope is 16 pounds.
At the Range With the Merkel K3
I’m sure by now you’re wondering if the rifle will shoot. I wondered the same thing, because even though single-shot rifles can deliver excellent precision, takedown rifles are notorious for a wavering zero and often require re-zeroing every time they’re put back together. Full-stock—Mannlicher-style—rifles also have a reputation for poor accuracy. So, on my first trip to the range, I figured I’d best establish just how precisely the K3 would shoot.
After mounting a GPO Passion 3X 3-9x42mm riflescope in the Suhl mount, I fired three three-shot groups with three different loads from a sandbag rest at 100 yards. The average group size for all nine groups was an impressive 1.22 inches. The 165-grain AccuBond load from the newly established Federal Custom Shop averaged 1.04 inches.
Inspired, I went to the next step in the evaluation process to see how reliable the Suhl scope mounting system was.
I fired three more three-shot groups using the Federal Custom Shop load, and I removed and reinstalled the scope after every shot. The average group size was 1.39 inches! More importantly, there was no point-of-impact shift. In fact, the smallest group I fired (0.77 inch) was one of the three for which I removed and reinstalled the scope after every shot.
I still needed to establish if accuracy and precision would remain after the rifle was disassembled. I fired three-more three-shot groups; however, after every shot, I removed the riflescope and took the rifle apart. Unbelievably, the average for those three groups was 1.35 inches! Practically speaking, this was amazing; I’ve tested custom bolt-action rifles—rifles that aren’t takedowns—that won’t shoot this well.
A Must-Have for a Roan Hunt
Beyond the wonderful mechanics of this rifle, I must mention how well it handles. It’s a joy to carry and snaps to your shoulder quickly. With an upcoming month in Africa, I couldn’t resist taking it along. A roan hunt was on the agenda; I’ve wanted to hunt roan since my first African safari. As far as I was concerned, no rifle was more regal than the Merkel for hunting such a majestic animal. And, when I showed it to my son, Bat, who always accompanies me on these month-long African adventures, I saw a grin as big as I’ve ever seen on his face. He said, “Dad, you have to buy this rifle!”
While on safari, I had a lot to do, and the roan hunt got pushed to the last week. During that time, I never took the Merkel to the bush. However, it was brought out to the fire ring every time a new hunter arrived in camp. They wanted to see the rifle my son and I were so excited about. This exhibition was always accompanied by a demonstration of how the rifle could be so quickly taken down and reassembled (I mention this because during the course of about three weeks, the Merkel was taken apart and put back together well over a dozen times).
Why is this important? Well, when I arrived in Africa, I checked the zero on the Merkel; it was spot on. I was so confident of the rifle’s ability to retain zero that after three weeks of showing it off, I didn’t even bother to check it. We managed to close to about 110 yards on the day of the roan hunt, and the little Merkel placed the 165-grain AccuBond with perfection.
But that hunt was mostly a testament to my professional hunter’s ability to close the distance and get us close to an animal. Where the Merkel really shone—and earned its name—was during the last day of the safari.
My son hadn’t had the opportunity to do much hunting at all during the safari because he’d been busy running a camera and drone for the full month. The last day was devoted to him. Of course, he wanted to hunt with the Merkel. Over the years, he’s taken a wide array of plains game but had yet to secure a hartebeest, zebra or a nice representative impala ram. A least one of those was the goal for the day.
Bat’s Hunt Day
However, we got off to a rocky start.
We spotted some hartebeest as we slipped through a stand of acacia. I picked out a nice bull and ranged him at just shy of 230 yards. The bull dropped at the shot but got right back to his feet; it was apparent the bullet had stuck low in the leg. I ranged him again and got a distance of almost 300 yards (my first attempt at ranging was obviously flawed). I told Bat the correct distance and instructed him to hold on the bull’s back. He did, and when the Merkel roared, the hartebeest was down for good.
Somewhat unbelievably, we managed to find a nice impala ram near dusk. Bat dropped him with a shot through the heart at 276 yards. And, just as that glorious African sun was beginning to turn the sky neon pink, a 300-yard shot from the little Merkel collected Bat his first zebra.
I’d watched this boy fall in and out of love with various sports and girls for years. But after 19 years, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him look at or hold anything the way he gazed and cradled the Merkel K3.
Throughout Bat’s life, I’ve strived to expose him to the finer things in life. He’s been hunting in Africa since he was 14, and I’ve introduced him to some fascinating folks and exposed him to some wonders of the world. These things are all just part of a father’s job. (So, too, is introducing a young man to good music. During our month-long adventure in Africa, the Allman Brothers had become a regular on his playlist.)
And, with every good rifle needing a good name, after his fantastic last day in Africa, Bat told me, “I’ve decided to name the Merkel ‘Sweet Melissa.’”
It might well be impossible to better describe a rifle such as this.
Merkel K3 Stutzen Specs:
Manufacturer: Merkel Jagd-und Sportwaffen GmbH (Merkel-die-jagd.de/en)
Importer/Distributor: Steyr Arms USA (Steyr-Arms.com/us)
Chamberings: .223 Remington, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield, 8X57IRS, 6.5X55SE, 7X57R, 7X65R, 6.5X57R (other chamberings are available on request)
Barrel: 20 in.
Sights: Fiber-optic open sights; Suhl quick-detach scope mount
Stock: Walnut (various grades and in right- or left-hand versions)
Finish: Matte black
Length: 35.82 in.
Weight: 5.29 lbs.
MSRP: $5,000 (includes a compact Americase and a Swarovski Z3 3X10-42mm riflescope)
For more information on the Merkel K3, please visit steyr-arms.com.
The article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
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