Being a person of insight and sensitivity as well as one of taste and culture, I’ve observed over the past several summers that many of my fellow competitors in F-class matches had not one rifle but two or three with which they were forever diddling, experimenting with, or tweaking. I already had a much better rifle than I deserved, a Bergara BCR19 Heavy Tactical Rifle, but not wishing to be the odd man out, I wanted a second, and since the BCR19 had been superseded by an improved version called the BCR29, I got one of them.
Unlike the BCR19, which has a plain barrel, the BCR29 comes with a Dead Air Armament Key Lock muzzle brake. It consists of a permanently installed brake (it’s threaded and glued on with red Loc-Tite, and if you want to get it off you have to heat it up with a blowtorch) that cuts out what little recoil remains in a 12-pound .308. Then, if you want the rifle quiet, you buy a Sandman-L or Sandman-S suppressor, which are made by Dead Air Armament, and which snap in place over the brake. Just push it on, give it a twist, and quicker than you can say “Of course I have a Treasury license for this thing,” you’re all set.
If, however, you want to compete with it, you have to order the BCR29 with a plain, 25-inch barrel. You can’t use a muzzle brake in an NRA-sanctioned match. I tried the rifle both ways, first with the brake, then without, and gave up the braked barrel with great sorrow because it was one of the most beautifully finished bores I’ve ever peered into, and was a sensational shooter, and because there was no recoil at all. You could see the fur part, as the saying goes.
Retired Marine Corps Master Gunnery Sergeant Dan Hanus, who was in charge of the Bergara Custom Shop in Duluth, Georgia, has been promoted to Technical Advisement Manager for CVA, which is part of the same company, and the Custom Shop is now in the hands of Aaron Dearborn, another alumnus of the Marine Corps Precision Weapons Section. The other member of the team is a former DoD contractor and highly talented gun builder named Brian Farrell.
Between them they turn out immaculately fitted and finished rifles that “…are capable of producing sub-.5 MoA groups or less at 100 yards.” This is not advertising copy. The test groups that came with the braked version of the rifle measured .393, .427, .307, and .282. These are three-shot spreads, fired with Norma 168-grain factory ammo.
For my own shooting, with the non-braked barrel, I wanted to work with 175-grain bullets, which is what the military uses in its M-118 tactical loading. I’ve found that they hold their course much better in the wind than the 168-grainers. For whatever reason, the BCR29 shot Sierra MatchKings into horizontal groups. The BCR19 loved them. That’s what makes this interesting.
So I went to Berger 175-grain Open Tip Match, which is not only an extremely attractive bullet, but is classified by Berger as Tactical. It’s more robustly constructed than Berger VLDs, and more important, it does not have the long, secant ogive of the VLD and you don’t have to experiment with seating length to make it shoot well. Load it so it will work through a magazine if you like; it’s all the same to the OTM.
But this was not to be an easy rifle to unlock. Unlike every other .308 I’ve shot in the last few years, including several Bergaras, this one did not shoot well with either IMR 4320 or RelodeR 15 powder. It printed five-shot MoA groups. For an F-Class gun, that’s mediocre. No, what this rifle liked was IMR 4895, which is an old powder, and was the original propellant used for the M118 round way back when. Given a heaping helping of IMR 4895, the BCR29 will put five shots in .457-inch.
I don’t mean that this was my best group, or that once in a while I would get a group that small. I mean that if you spend all day at the range, and shoot until you’re sick of the whole business and go home to watch Naked and Afraid, your groups are going to average .457. You’ll get some spreads that are up around .500, but then you’ll get an equal number that are .400, or down in the .300s.
It was once explained during an Olympics that an elite marathon runner puts together 26 4-minute miles back to back. Similarly, a rifle that can score a possible in an F-Class match has to shoot three consecutive half-minute-of-angle 20-shot groups. Try shooting a 20-shot group sometime. Try shooting a half-MoA 20-shot group sometime. Try doing it at 600 yards.
The BCR29 specs go like this: The rifle is based on either a Bergara Premier action (right-hand only, long or short) or a Stiller action (right or left hand, long or short). The stock is a McMillan A3-5 with a vertical grip, fully adjustable for comb height and length of pull, four flush cups and a Picatinny rail on the fore-end that enables you to use an Atlas bipod with a QD lock. If you haven’t used an Atlas bipod, you have a great treat in store; it is one of the marvels of the age.*
The action is glass pillar bedded in Marine-Tex; the trigger is a Timney 510 curved model, and the rifle can be chambered for nine tactical and non-tactical cartridges. The BCR29 uses AICS detachable magazines, and the weight is around 12 pounds without a scope. My rifle, with a Night Force 5X-25X on board and the Atlas bipod attached, weighs a little more than 15 pounds.
It ain’t cheap. Base price for the BCR29 short action is $5,000; for the long action it’s $100 more. On the other hand, the only rifle I’ve shot that can be mentioned in the same breath with the BCR29 is the McMillan Tac-308, a jewel of a gun that is priced almost identically. Or you can look at it this way: You could spend half of what the Bergara costs and come up with a rifle that might shoot nearly as well. The difference is the word “might.” There is no “might” down at the Custom Shop in Duluth, Georgia. Their rifles either print groups that average under .500 or they don’t go out the door.
From what I’ve seen in four years of competition is that the rifles that turn in groups like these generally cost as much as a Bergara. Many of them are built by their owners, who are machinists or gunsmiths, or who go to custom gun builders. When you add up the cost of the components and the labor, you see the same kind of price tag take shape. I don’t know if a guarantee comes with these rifles. It does with the Bergara.
*Although I’ve spent my career making mock of _Outdoor Life_ magazine, credit where credit is due. In researching bipods, I came across a blog called The Gun Shots, which is done by John B. Snow, who is OL’s Shooting Editor. This particular post, which went up on May 21, 2015, is a test of 8 premium bipods, including the Atlas, which was the winner. It’s very well done and very helpful if you’re interested in a high-class bipod. I ended up buying the Atlas, and by gum, they were right.