Merkel K3 Jagd Stutzen 7mm-08 Single Shot Carbine
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
The Merkel catalog and web site (www.merkel-usa.com) tout the Merkel K-series single shot rifles as ideal stalking and mountain rifles, as well as being well suited for use in tree stands and other confined blinds due to their short length. Being takedown rifles, the carbine models are especially appropriate for the traveling hunter.
All of the K-series rifles are very similar and all are based on the Franz Jager break-open tilted-block action. Some of these are rifle versions with 23.6" barrels and conventional two-piece stocks, while others are carbines with 19.7" barrels and three-piece, full length, Mannlicher style stocks. The differences between the various Merkel K models seem to be confined to details such as the type of built-in scope mount, barrel contour and receiver material. The older K1 and K2 models have Suhl pivot scope mounts and appear to be in the process of being discontinued. The K3 and K4 are designed for the newer SAM (Suhl tilt-up mount) scope mounting system. The K4 models have steel receivers and octagon barrels, while the K3 models have have lightweight Dural receivers and round barrels.
The K3 Stutzen carbine reviewed here is of the Mannlicher carbine type with a round barrel and a Dural receiver and it is designed to accept the Swarovski rail mount AV line of scopes. These use an integral toothed mounting rail that makes the tube stronger while eliminating the necessity for scope rings. Clamps bolted to the scope's rail are used to attach the scope to integral grooves machined into the breech end of the rifle's barrel by means of locking, quick release levers. This system allows great latitude in scope position. It is strong and simple, designed to insure that the scope will maintain its original zero after being removed and replaced.
The made in Austria, 3-10x42mm Swarovski AV scope supplied with our K3 carbine by Merkel USA is built on a one-piece, 25mm, aluminum alloy tube with a matte black finish. It is slightly less than 13 inches long and weighs 1 pound 3.5 ounces. Ours came with an always centered, Duplex type reticle that does not change size when the magnification is changed. Swarovski flip-open scope caps are included. The 2007 MSRP of this scope was $1088. A full review of this fine scope can be found on the Product Review Page.
One of the primary purposes of the K3 Stutzen is to serve as a travel rifle and a case that resembles an executive's valise is available from Merkel USA. This aluminum shell, locking hard case is made for Merkel USA by Americase and it is approved by the FAA for airline travel. Inside are padded compartments for the barrel and forend, receiver/buttstock and riflescope with mount. This is the niftiest rifle and case for the traveling hunter that we have yet encountered. The 2008 MSRP of the case is $450 from Merkel USA.
The Merkel K3 is not an inexpensive rifle and these are not inexpensive accessories. However, they greatly expand the usefulness of the little carbine and we feel that they should be very seriously considered by any K3 customer.
The unusual Franz Jager action on which the K3 is based was patented in Suhl, Germany--the home of Merkel--in 1906. It is opened by a conventional pivoting top lever. However, the breech is actually locked closed by a pivoted tilting breechblock that incorporates a heavy "L" shaped forward extension. A 180 degree, 9/16" long barrel extension covers the top of the breechblock when the action is closed. The tilting block not only seals the breech, the top of the tilting block serves as a locking bolt by engaging a deep, hemispherical notch cut in the underside of the barrel extension. A square lug on the barrel's lump drops into a square hole in the tilting block's forward extension and the barrel flat presses down on the full length of the tilting block's extension when the action is closed, preventing rearward or downward movement of the tilting block.
The tilting breechblock is entirely responsible for containing the pressure and back thrust of the cartridge when the rifle is fired and it also helps to keep the break-open action closed against the stress of firing (in much the same way that a doll's head works). The top lever's spindle engages a small, machined tab extending from the rear of the tilting block and this serves to hold the break-open action closed, since it does not have to resist the force of firing. We suspect that you could remove the top lever and spindle entirely, wrap duct tape around the barrel and receiver to keep the action from pivoting open, and safely fire the rifle. However, we have no intention of actually trying this, and neither should you!
The point is that the receiver is not a stressed part of the action--it just holds the steel parts in place that do the actual work--and this allows it to be made from a lightweight alloy instead of the ordinance steel required in the receiver of a rifle or shotgun with an ordinary break-open action. The result is a substantially lighter action.
This is an ingenious action design. Its operating principles are subtle and difficult to describe to someone who has not had an opportunity to study the real thing. For that, we apologize, but you can take our word for the fact that it does work.
This is a strong action, well suited to high intensity cartridges, but it is not perfect. Perhaps the K3's most glaring fault is the absence of an ejector to throw out fired cases. When the action is opened, the case is extracted and elevated about 3/16 inch for manual removal. Unfortunately, the long barrel extension completely blocks access to the case from the top hemisphere (from about 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock). The substantial extractor blocks access from about 6 o'clock to 9 o'clock. Therefore, the only finger access to the case is from the lower right, between about 3 o'clock to 6 o'clock. The best way to remove a case or cartridge from the breech after it is extracted is thus to insert a single finger (there isn't room for two fingers) from the lower right side of the breech at about the 4 o'clock position and hook the case rim with a fingernail to pull it free and remove it. This was not a great problem for any of us, but a shooter with thick fingers and very short fingernails would likely have a problem. Certainly, case removal from the K3 is slower and requires more attention than with most break-open or falling block single shot rifles.
On the plus side, a cartridge can be loaded into the K3 with the barrel pointed in any direction, including straight up. A little spring loaded tab on the extractor engages the rim once a cartridge is fully inserted, preventing it from sliding back out of an elevated barrel. Very thoughtful.
The K3's Dural receiver, trigger guard and trigger are given a silver-gray finish. The trigger guard bow is large enough to permit use when wearing winter gloves. The receiver's steel barrel hinge pin is removable and replaceable. There are no visible pins or screws in the receiver, a nice touch.
The receiver is decorated with a combination of simple laser cut scroll and border engraving and a sideplate decorated with a cast (or possibly stamped) game scene. This sideplate can be removed if the butt stock is first removed from the action, an ingenious bit of design. The top lever is decorated with laser scroll engraving.
Hand engraved receivers are available in four ascending grades (Jena, Weimar, Erfurt and Suhl) at extra cost. The top of the line "Suhl" grade includes 100% receiver engraving coverage that extends onto the breech end of the barrel, which is accented with a gold inlaid border. The sidelock type ornamental sideplates are decorated with deep relief game scene engraving. The Suhl's high-grade walnut stock is extensively carved and hand checkered. It is a very fancy rifle.
There is a tiny, black lever at the left rear of the trigger guard, about where a crossbolt safety might be located on another gun. This is an external trigger pull adjustment lever with three positions. According to the Owner's Manual, when rotated to the 10 o'clock position the trigger pull weight is supposed to be 2.6 pounds. Set the lever at the 6 o'clock position and the pull weight is decreased to 2.4 pounds. Finally, when set in the 2 o'clock position, the trigger pull is adjusted to its minimum pull weight of 2.2 pounds. Imagine that, an externally adjustable trigger that you can adjust "on the fly," so to speak! According to my RCBS Premium trigger pull gauge, the actual pull weights were a bit higher than specified at 2-3/4 pounds, 2-7/8 pounds and 3 pounds, but still excellent. Furthermore, the sear release is clean and without perceptible creep, although there is a lot of over travel. An over travel adjustment screw in the rear of the trigger guard would be a worthwhile improvement.
Perhaps the most unusual operational feature of the Merkel K3's action is the large top tang "safety." In fact, it is not a safety at all, but a manual cocking slide. Opening and closing the action does not cock the rifle, as it does with most break-open hammerless actions. Cocking is accomplished separately by pushing the cocking slider fully forward, revealing a traditional red dot indicating "fire." Only then can the rifle be fired by pulling the trigger. Once cocked, the action may be uncocked by pushing the cocking slider forward about 1/8 inch and then releasing all pressure; the spring loaded cocking slide will disengage and return to the rearward (uncocked) position. Opening the action when cocked also returns the cocking slide to the uncocked position.
In use, this system is similar to a conventional break-open gun with an automatic safety. Although it takes considerably more finger pressure to operate the cocking slide than to operate the usual tang mounted safety, it is a much safer system. The entire Guns and Shooting Online staff was favorably impressed by this innovative cocking system.
Our K3's barrel is finished in a smooth satin black that resembles traditional rust bluing. The finish of the quick detachable, steel scope mount base exactly matches the barrel. The steel top lever, safety/cocking slider and iron sights also have a matching finish, while the sling swivels wear a conventional hot-blued finish.
The gloss finished, nicely figured stock is made from European thin-shell walnut. This stock has a moderate European "hog back" comb, designed primarily for use with a telescopic sight, but the line from the end of the pistol grip to the toe is nice and straight (no "hog belly"). A Germanic, somewhat squared-off cheekpiece blends well with the rifle's styling. The full length, two-piece, Mannlicher style forend is commendably slender, but the pistol grip is too large in diameter. It also includes a palm swell for the right-handed shooter, which further increases the bulk of the pistol grip. A slimmer pistol grip would benefit both the overall feel and appearance of the stock. The point pattern checkering is laser cut and sufficient in coverage to provide a secure grip. The buttstock terminates in a black, single layer recoil pad and there is a black plastic pistol grip cap. Fixed (not detachable) one-inch sling swivels are standard. The K3's wood to metal fit is excellent.
The front half of the two-piece forend is attached to the barrel by a screw located just behind its tip and the front sling swivel screw, which attaches to a barrel band. The removable rear portion of the forend is secured to a conventional barrel hanger by a sliding latch. The forend fits the barrel very tightly for its entire length.
It's hard to believe that someone specified fixed sling swivels on a takedown rifle. Detachable sling swivel studs that allow quick removal of the swivels and sling as a unit would be much more convenient than the permanently attached sling swivels provided. The present set up means that the sling must be unthreaded from the swivels and removed before the rifle can be cased. Minor quibbles aside, overall the K3 Stutzen stock is functional and attractive. In fact, the entire rifle is very attractive.
Here are the catalog specifications for the Merkel K3 Stutzen rifle.
Here are some actual measurements taken from our Merkel K3 Stutzen test rifle.
Notice that Merkel resisted the temptation to shorten the stock in order to decrease the overall length of this takedown carbine. Indeed, it boasts a full 14-1/4" length of pull, which is actually longer than normal for North American factory built rifles. This little rifle is truly "man size" in terms of stock fit.
We chose 7mm-08 Remington caliber for our Merkel K3 test rifle because we wanted a general purpose cartridge for all CXP2 game and the smaller species of CXP3 game that would not kick the shooter out from under his hat. The K3 is, after all, a lightweight carbine with a short barrel. Hard kicking rounds like the .270, .308, .30-06 and 8x57IRS just didn't seem appropriate for this rifle and, anyway, the .270 would lose too much velocity in such a short barrel. That narrowed the cartridge choices to 7mm-08 and 7x57R. While factory loaded ammunition for the standard (rimless) 7x57 Mauser is reasonably plentiful in North America, ammunition for the rimmed 7x57R is not. We would always rather have a rifle, particularly a travel rifle, in a caliber for which factory loads are easily available, so 7mm-08 got the nod.
The 7mm-08 offers full house 7x57 velocities with 140 grain bullets in a slightly smaller package. As most readers already know, the 7mm-08 was created by simply necking-down a .308 Winchester case to accept .284" diameter bullets. Typical factory load ballistics call for a 139-140 grain bullet at muzzle velocities between 2760 and 2860 fps from a 24" test barrel. Expected velocity loss from the attenuated 19-3/4" barrel of the Merkel K3 is about 100 fps. Never the less, the 7mm-08 remains a potent cartridge for most North American game. Recoil energy in the K3 should be around 15 ft. lbs.
Naturally, with such a classy little rifle in hand, we were anxious to get it to the range for some shooting, which ultimately extended over three range days. Our usual test venue is the Izaak Walton rifle range south of Eugene, Oregon. This facility offers covered bench rests with 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target stands. The typical western Oregon early spring weather was variable: partly sunny and partly cloudy with rain showers, with highs of about 55 degrees F. Guns and Shooting Online staff members Rocky Hays, Bob Fleck and Chuck Hawks did the test shooting. We used a Caldwell Lead Sled DFT rest weighted with 50 pounds of lead shot and fired for record at Champion Score Keeper targets positioned at 100 yards.
For ammunition, we had factory loads from Stars & Stripes, Hornady Custom, ATK/Federal Premium, ATK/Federal Power-Shok, ATK/Fusion, Remington and Winchester. Many thanks to our friends at all of these companies who were kind enough to supply ammunition for this review! The S&S load launches a 140 grain Hornady Spire Point bullet at a MV of 2814 fps. The Hornady Custom ammo is loaded with a 140 grain SST bullet at a MV of 2840 fps. The Federal Premium load with a Nosler Partition bullet has a catalog MV of 2800 fps. The standard Federal Power-Shok load uses a Speer Hot-Cor spitzer bullet at a catalog MV of 2650 fps. The Fusion load uses a Fusion 140 grain bullet at a MV of 2850 fps. The Remington Express load launches a 140 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet at an advertised MV of 2860 fps. The Winchester Super-X load claims a MV of 2800 fps for a 140 grain Power Point spitzer bullet.
In addition to the factory loads, we had reloads using the Hornady 154 grain Interlock SP bullet and the Nosler Partition 150 grain spitzer bullet at a reloading manual claimed velocity of about 2700 fps in a 24-26 inch barrel, which we estimate translates to an actual MV of about 2600 fps in the Merkel K3. IMR 4064 and IMR 4350 powders were used behind both bullets.
All recorded groups were three shots at 100 yards. Without further ado, here are the shooting range results for the factory loads:
And here are the shooting range results for the reloads:
AVERAGE GROUP SIZE FOR ALL LOADS TESTED = 1.76"
This time out Chuck shot the smallest single group. As you can see, our Merkel K3 preferred the 150 grain bullets. This meant the Federal factory load using the 150 grain Speer Hot-Cor spitzer and the reloads using the 150 grain Nosler Partition bullet. The K3 delivered adequate accuracy (2" average or better by our standards) with all of the ammunition tested except the Winchester Super-X and Hornady Custom factory loads. Winchester and Hornady load excellent ammunition, but all rifles are individuals and this K3 preferred other loads. Your K3 may, and probably will, vary.
During our test shooting, Bob Fleck and Chuck Hawks set the trigger pull lever to its middle (6 o'clock) position, while Rocky Hays set it for the minimum pull weight (2 o'clock position). The Merkel's external trigger adjustment feature thus proved its worth on its very first outing.
As an experiment, we repeatedly removed and replaced the quick detachable riflescope, shooting a couple of groups each time it was replaced, to see if zero was maintained. Perhaps somewhat to our surprise, as our previous experience with quick detachable scope mounts has not been particularly encouraging, the little Merkel and its Swarovski scope steadfastly maintained their original point of impact without any discernable change. Best of all, the K3 suffered no malfunctions of any kind.
We formed some impressions of this little rifle in the course of our range time that deserve mention. Recoil is sharp due to the rifle's light weight. One or two shots at a big game animal would be no problem, but an extended range session without a Lead Sled or a heavy recoil vest to soak up some of the kick would be unpleasant, even in 7mm-08 caliber. We were glad that we were not testing this rifle in .30-06! Merkel should supply a full thickness (1"), premium recoil pad on all K3 carbines. The K3's recoil was sharp enough to drive the Swarovski's rear flip-open lens cap into the all three shooters' foreheads when shooting from the offhand position. We eliminated the problem by removing the flip-open lens caps, but the necessity to do so underlines the little rifle's snappy recoil.
The extra weight of the K4's steel receiver and octagon barrel would help dampen recoil and we'd recommend the K4 model to anyone who didn't need the lightest possible rifle. The K4 is still a light, short and handy carbine and it would be more pleasant to shoot.
The lack of an ejector meant that, while the trigger guard is large enough to permit shooting while wearing winter gloves, you can't remove the spent case and reload the rifle while wearing insulated gloves. Chuck tried shooting the rifle while wearing unlined shooting gloves and was able to manually extract fired cases.
Despite the minor criticisms mentioned here, we all enjoyed shooting the little K3 rifle and admired its good looks. Everyone wanted to take it home. It's just neat!
The K3 fulfills many purposes, as Merkel advertises. It would make an outstanding mountain rifle, an excellent stalking or woods rifle and it is handy in a stand, blind or any restricted space. Because it is a short, light, single shot rifle, it is a natural for hunts that require a lot of getting into and out of vehicles. It is a beautiful rifle, one of which any owner can be proud, and that never hurts. Its styling is not trendy or faddish; it will be just as desirable 50 years from now as it is today.
No one who buys a Merkel K-series single shot rifle for any of these reasons will be disappointed. However, to our minds, the overriding advantage of the K3 or K4 Jagd Stutzen carbines is their takedown portability. For the traveling hunter, they just can't be beat. With the little carbine stowed neatly in its dedicated Americase, the traveling hunter is no more conspicuous than any executive. No more fighting with long gun cases in crowded airport check-in lines. Chuck and Bob, in particular, have done enough traveling for out of state hunts to truly appreciate the takedown Merkel K3 carbine with its dedicated scope and hard case. A Merkel K3 is an investment, money well spent.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
Copyright 2008 by chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.