Merkel SR1 .30-06 Autoloading Rifle
By the Guns and Shooting Online Staff
For 2007 Merkel is introducing a new autoloading hunting rifle, the SR1. This is quite a departure for a company best known for its single shot and double barrel rifles and drillings. Visually the SR1 has a two-piece stock and a streamlined, European look of the sort that is also becoming fashionable with some shooters in the U.S. Its external contours are designed to be smooth and snag free, which is a functional advantage. The magazine fits flush with the line of the forend and receiver. The SR1 receiver is very tall from top to bottom, but thin from side to side.
Here, in part, is what Merkel has to say about their new rifle:
"Clear concepts make the difference. The Merkel SR1 self-loading rifle is setting the new benchmark for this type of hunting rifle. New materials taken from the field of aeronautics satisfy even the most uncompromising demands. Every component in the SR1 has been precision manufactured from the best available material. Intensive consultations with experienced designers have resulted in outstanding ergonomics and a fully functional design."
This rifle integrates traditional walnut and steel with many aluminum and polymer parts. The latter include the quarter rib and integral rear sight, front sight ramp, trigger guard, trigger, safety, forend latch, magazine release, magazine floorplate and follower. The receiver housing appears to be made of aluminum alloy, along with the bolt shroud and parts of the operating system. The barrel, bolt head and body, bolt handle, sling swivels, magazine box and highly stressed parts of the gas operating system are made of steel. The stock and forend are Turkish walnut.
The SR1 is available in a standard model or an upscale "Jagd" model. The standard version comes with a matte black receiver and barrel, straight comb walnut stock, coarse laser-cut checkering and a recoil pad with a hard, non-stick heel for fast mounting. The Jagd is distinguished by a brushed silver and black receiver with oak leaf pattern hand engraving and a select walnut stock and forend.
Both models are supplied with nine stock spacers to adjust drop and cast dimensions. Swivels for 20mm (3/4") wide slings are provided. These swivels incorporate a stop that prevents them from scratching the satin stock finish. The forend has a push button release that allows it to be slid forward and off of the receiver to allow for fast and easy cleaning of the gas operating system. This is a convenience that other gas guns should adopt.
The iron sights include a Battue rib with contrast line in the rear and a front sight with a high visibility light element that is adjustable for windage and elevation. The receiver is drilled and tapped to accept either a Merkel pivot mount or a Weaver rail for scope mounting.
The bolt incorporates a solid rotary head with 2x3 locking lugs that lock into the breech end of the barrel, not the receiver. A small hook type extractor and dual plunger ejectors are built into the head of the bolt, whose face is completely recessed. The self-cleaning gas operating system allows a wide range of ammunition without special adjustment, although there are limits. We found, for example, that Remington Managed Recoil factory loads using a 125 grain bullet at a MV of only 2660 fps would not cycle the action. We also found that very hot reloads would cause the action to cycle too fast, resulting in a jam. But all standard factory loads functioned perfectly in our test rifle.
The precision rifled barrel is free-floating. The specially designed gas port enables it to freely expand when hot. Unfortunately, a 19-11/16" barrel is simply not long enough to take full advantage of the substantial powder capacity of the .30-06 cartridge. There is a ballistic penalty to be paid for such a short barrel and the muzzle blast is considerable. The large ball of fire that explodes from the muzzle with every shot is visible even in daylight; at night it must be a spectacular sight! All of which merely reaffirms what I have always believed: a 22" barrel is the shortest practical length for any standard high intensity cartridge and 24" the minimum length for any magnum cartridge.
Perhaps one application that well suits a powerful rifle with a barrel this short is protection against large predators. In such a role the SR1's short barrel and reasonable overall length would be an advantage, as would its light weight, snag free design, highly visible sights, recoil reduction and very fast follow-up shot capability without the necessity to manually operate the action. And it is chambered for some hard hitting cartridges including .30-06, .300 Win. Mag. and 9.3x62, with the latter being particularly potent. (We'd pass on a short barreled .300 Magnum, thank you!) We think that the SR1 would be a very good choice for protecting campers, fishermen, hikers, nature photographers and others operating in areas where large predators abound.
The wood to metal fit of our test rifle, a standard model, was about average. The forend fit nicely, but the stock wood is proud where it joins the receiver. The laser checkering wraps around the forend and the two-panel checkering on the far too thick pistol grip is generous in coverage. This checkering is applied at about 14 lines per inch.
The butt stock is secured in place by a draw bolt that requires an Allan head wrench with a 10" reach. Fortunately Rocky Hays, our Gunsmithing Editor, had such a wrench, but most shooters do not. Merkel should supply a wrench to remove the stock, since they supply shims to adjust drop and cast that require stock removal for use.
The bolt operating handle is short and even the bolt release button is contoured to be snag-free. The latter requires a strong thumb to operate. We found that easing the bolt back a little bit with the other hand reduces the pressure on the bolt release, making it easy to operate.
The oddly shaped trigger guard is huge and designed for easy use even when wearing heavy gloves. A crossbolt trigger safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard; a red line shows when the safety is in the "fire" position. The unusual, ambidextrous magazine release is integral with the front of the trigger guard. Pivot the front of the trigger guard forward from either side to release the magazine, which then falls freely from the action. This magazine release system may sound odd, but it is secure and easy to use.
The flush fitting magazine box is manufactured by HK and is so stamped. It is easily disassembled for cleaning. The same magazine is used for .30-06 and 9.3x62mm cartridges. (Not in the same rifle, of course.) The supplied magazine holds only two cartridges, which seems odd for an autoloading rifle, since firepower is one of the type's principle claims to fame. A five round magazine is available as an accessory, but it extends below the bottom of the receiver, spoiling the smooth lines of the rifle and increasing snagging potential.
We think that a better solution would be to grind enough material off of the bottom of the two shot magazine's very thick (plastic) follower to allow seating a third cartridge. This would be easy to do and we are not sure why Merkel doesn't provide a magazine follower that allows three cartridges to be loaded in the standard magazine.
The direct trigger has a trigger stop. The trigger pull is designed with a long, seamless take-up and release. Our test rifle's trigger broke at an excessively heavy 7 pounds as measured by an RCBS Premium pull gauge, but at least the creep was smooth and did not hesitate or "stack" before the trigger released. Oddly, it was not particularly hard to control this heavy trigger and our shooters did not feel that it significently increased the size of the groups that we fired for record.
Following are some basic specifications for the Merkel SR1.
The Merkel SR1 is an unusual, rather "space age" rifle with many unique features and nice touches that made us anxious to get it to the rifle range. First, of course, we had to mount a scope.
Merkel USA kindly supplied their Weaver rail scope base with the rifle consigned to us for review, so scope mounting was easy. We fitted a Leupold VX-7 2.5-10x45mm scope in 30mm Leupold rings. This top of the line scope offers brilliant optics and many nice features that make sighting-in a new rifle very easy. The Merkel SR1 and Leupold VX7 made a good looking and very effective combination. When weighed on our digital scale the empty SR1 with scope and mount weighed 8 pounds 14 ounces.
As usual, we did our test firing at the Izaak Walton gun range south of Eugene, Oregon. This outdoor range offers covered bench rests and 25, 50, 100 and 200 yard target ranges. Being as it was the middle of summer the weather was sunny with a moderate wind and a high temperature of about 90 degrees F.
After initially bore sighting and zeroing at 25 yards, all subsequent shooting with the SR1 was done at 100 yards at Champion Score Keeper targets. It was a hot day and the rifle's barrel was hot throughout our testing. We didn't let it get so hot that we couldn't touch it, but it was pretty hot at times.
Guns and Shooting Online's Rocky Hays, Jim Fleck, Bob Fleck, Gordon Landers, Dave Tong and Chuck Hawks participated in shooting and reviewing the Merkel SR1. Between us we were able to provide several different factory loads for this review. We also tried some old military AP ammunition (which functioned perfectly) and some very hot reloads using 165 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets that did not. Neither of the latter loads are included in the groups recorded below.
We did fire 3-shot, 100 yard groups for record with six factory loads using different bullets. These included the Federal Fusion 180 grain, Winchester Super-X 180 grain Power Point, Winchester Super-X 180 grain Silvertip, Remington Express 180 grain Core-Lokt PSP, Remington Express 150 grain Core-Lokt PSP and Remington Managed Recoil 125 grain PSP.
Here are our shooting results:
Rocky shot the single smallest 100 yard group (5/8") using his maximum reloads with a 165 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet. Unfortunately, this load was so powerful that it caused feeding malfunctions and we discontinued testing before an adequate number of groups could be fired to calculate an average. We agreed that if this were our rifle we would experiment with that bullet in front of more moderate powder charges.
The SR1 performed well with 4 of our 6 factory loads. It found particular favor with the 180 grain Fusion and Core-Lokt bullets, and the 180 grain Silvertip was no slouch, either. Any of these would make a good standard hunting load for our test rifle.
A properly designed gas operated action reduces the effect of recoil and the Merkel SR1 certainly tames the powerful .30-06 cartridge. Shooting full power factory loads in the SR1 is subjectively about like shooting Remington Managed Recoil loads in a bolt action rifle of similar weight. It is that effective.
On the negative side, everyone thought that the trigger was too heavy. Also, the rifle's forend and pistol grip are both too thick in cross-section and should be slenderized. As mentioned above, the barrel is too short for the powder capacity of the .30-06 cartridge. We'd probably opt for the .308 Winchester or 8x57 if buying an SR1 for our personal use as a general purpose hunting rifle. For protection in the field .30-06 with 220 grain bullets or 9.3x62 with 286 grain bullets would be the top choices.
In summation, Rocky rather liked the SR1's styling and Jim especially appreciated its narrow width through the action. The rest of us initially found the rifle rather unattractive, but it tends to "grow" on the shooter with familiarity. Everyone appreciated the technology, design and high level of refinement that went into the Merkel SR1. It is probably the most sophisticated autoloader on the market today. Our conclusion is that anyone considering the purchase of an autoloading rifle for hunting or protection in the field is doing themselves a disservice if they don't include the SR1 on their short list of candidates. It has become the autoloader of choice for the Guns and Shooting Online staff.
RIFLE REVIEW SUMMARY
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