HEAVY­WEIGHT CHAMP

THE MONTANA RI­FLE COM­PANY AVR IS A MOD­ERN TAKE ON THE CLAS­SIC DAN­GER­OUS-GAME RI­FLE.

Gun World - - Contents - By Brad Fitz­patrick

Montana Ri­fle Com­pany’s AVR cham­bered in .375 H&H is a mod­ern take on the clas­sic dan­ger­ous-game ri­fle.

Afew years ago, I wrote an ar­ti­cle about the most un­der­rated ri­fles for big-game hun­ters. That list in­cluded a bolt-ac­tion from Montana Ri­fle Com­pany.

How­ever, if I were given that same as­sign­ment to­day, the Montana Ri­fle Com­pany guns would never make the list. This has noth­ing to do with the qual­ity of the ri­fles that are rolling out of the com­pany’s Kal­ispell, Montana, fa­cil­ity, be­cause MRC guns are as good to­day as they have ever been … maybe bet­ter.

The rea­son a Montana Ri­fle gun wouldn’t make the cut is that the brand’s lengthy list of bolt-ac­tion of­fer­ings has caught the at­ten­tion of the hunt­ing pub­lic in a ma­jor way.

MRC BACK STORY

In case you aren’t fa­mil­iar with the MRC story, al­low me to give you some back­ground in­for­ma­tion. In the late 1990s, Keith Sipe, then the com­pany’s owner, was build­ing cus­tom ri­fles on fac­tory ac­tions. Sipe liked many of the de­sign fea­tures found on the Model 70’s clas­sic con­trolled-round-feed (CRF) de­sign, but he thought the ba­sic de­sign could be en­hanced by adding some fea­tures found on the Mauser 98—an­other clas­sic CRF ac­tion.

Be­cause Sipe couldn’t find a fac­tory ac­tion that com­bined the fea­tures he wanted, he de­cided to sim­ply de­sign his own. Known as the Model 1999 (for the year it launched), the Montana ac­tion com­bined the Model 70 de­sign’s ba­sic lay­out, three-po­si­tion safety and orig­i­nal trig­ger de­sign with the Mauser’s C-ring breach­ing sys­tem de­sign and claw ex­trac­tor. Sipe thereby cre­ated an all-new ac­tion that was nearly fail safe—some­thing se­ri­ous big-game hun­ters (and es­pe­cially those who hunted large and po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous game) de­manded.

Sipe also added a five-point vent­ing sys­tem with dual front re­ceiver ring vents to con­trol es­cap­ing gases in the event of a case rup­ture and re­designed the bolt shroud to en­sure max­i­mum safety for the shooter. The one-piece in­vest­ment cast-bolt body is ex­tremely durable, and the Mauser-in­spired de­sign meant there were no cone cutouts or ex­trac­tor cutouts in the bar­rel. This meant the MRC Model 1999 would cy­cle re­li­ably and ef­fec­tively, and the sys­tem of­fered a su­pe­rior level of strength and se­cu­rity. The bolt de­sign, it­self, uses the same dual-lug de­sign found on both the Model 70 and Mauser 98 ac­tion.

THE AC­TION OP­ER­ATES WITH EX­TREME PRE­CI­SION, AND IT IS SLICK AND SMOOTH.

MRC’S AVR

To­day, Keith’s son, Jeff, runs MRC, which now of­fers a huge se­lec­tion of bolt-ac­tion tac­ti­cal and hunt­ing ri­fles cham­bered in ev­ery­thing from .22-250 to .505 Gibbs. That, alone, speaks to the ver­sa­til­ity and strength of the Model 1999 ac­tion.

There are many dif­fer­ent lines of ri­fles in the MRC cat­a­log, but the AVR, or Amer­i­can Van­tage Ri­fle, is per­haps the most clas­si­cally styled dan­ger­ous-game rig in the com­pany’s lengthy port­fo­lio. This ri­fle com­bines the rugged Model 1999 ac­tion with a gor­geous, AA-grade Amer­i­can wal­nut stock, ebony forend cap and black grip cap. Rather than a tra­di­tional Amer­i­can straight comb de­sign, the AVR comes with a Monte Carlo stock that el­e­vates the shooter’s eye and al­lows for the com­fort­able use of ei­ther the sup­plied iron sights or an op­tic. The stock has tra­di­tional and very high-qual­ity check­er­ing on the fore­arm and the pis­tol grip, along with a dense, soft, black re­coil pad. This pad is an ex­cel­lent fea­ture on a ri­fle that is avail­able in ev­ery­thing from .35 Whe­len up to .458 Lott.

Most dan­ger­ous-game ri­fles wear sturdy iron sights, even if they aren’t the pri­mary sight­ing sys­tem. Some shoot­ers (particularly guides and African PHs who carry these guns as backup for dan­ger­ous game but will only be shoot­ing if the sit­u­a­tion war­rants) won’t mount op­tics on their chargestop­ping heavy ri­fles. But even if you are a client hunter, hav­ing a backup sight­ing sys­tem on a hard-kick­ing ri­fle is a worth­while in­sur­ance pol­icy in the event of a scope mal­func­tion un­der heavy re­coil.

MONTANA RI­FLE COM­PANY’S LENGTHY LIST OF BOLT-AC­TION OF­FER­INGS HAS CAUGHT THE AT­TEN­TION OF THE HUNT­ING PUB­LIC IN A MA­JOR WAY.

AVR PAR­TIC­U­LARS

The Montana Ri­fle Com­pany AVR comes with a pair of Mar­ble front and rear sights. The rear sight is ad­justable for both windage and el­e­va­tion and comes with a notch—as op­posed to the ex­press-style rear V-type sight found on many dan­ger­ous-game ri­fles. While ex­press sights are ex­cel­lent for close-quar­ters, charge-stop­ping ap­pli­ca­tions, they aren’t particularly well-suited for a broad range of hunt­ing ap­pli­ca­tions when the an­i­mal you are shoot­ing isn’t bear­ing down on you with homi­ci­dal in­tent.

The Mar­ble de­sign on the AVR is more ver­sa­tile; it works fine for close, fast shots, but it is more pre­cise if you want to use your irons for shoot­ing at longer ranges. The ramped front sight has a gold bead that is easy to ac­quire, even in full sun­light.

Both the ac­tion and the 24-inch bar­rel on the AVR are made from chrome-moly steel with a blued fin­ish (there’s also an op­tional ver­sion with all-stain­less-steel met­al­work). The ac­tion is glass bed­ded and hand lapped, and the but­ton-ri­fled bar­rel is free floated and comes with a re­cessed crown. These ri­fles are not only built to stan­dards that al­low them to han­dle heavy re­coil with­out dam­age, they are also are de­signed to be ex­tremely ac­cu­rate. And if you are a south­paw, Jeff Sipe hasn’t left you out in the cold: These ri­fles are avail­able in both right- and left-handed ver­sions.

AVR ri­fles are avail­able in seven car­tridges that are per­fect for a wide va­ri­ety of heavy game: .35 Whe­len, .375 Ruger, .375 H&H Mag­num, .416 Ruger, .416 Remington Mag­num, .458 Winch­ester Mag­num and the mighty .458 Lott.

The gun I tested was cham­bered in .375 H&H Mag­num—a clas­sic dan­ger­ous-game car­tridge that has seen ser­vice on all sizes of quarry the world over for more than a cen­tury. Other key fea­tures on the AVR are dual sling swivel studs, a hinged metal floor­plate and a rocker-style bolt re­lease that is both ro­bust and easy to use. Many dan­ger­ous-game ri­fles mount the front sling stud on the bar­rel to keep it away from the shooter’s hand un­der heavy re­coil, and while I can’t at­test to the larger-cal­iber AVRs in .416 or .458, there were no is­sues with fin­ger-stub­bing when I fired the .375 H&H model. The length of pull is 13.625 inches; it’s over­all length is 46 inches. Un­loaded, this ri­fle weighs about 9 pounds (de­pend­ing on the cal­iber and vari­a­tions in the wood)—per­fect for heavy-kick­ing ri­fles such as this.

GREAT EYE RE­LIEF

A pre­mium dan­ger­ous-game ri­fle de­mands a sturdy op­tic with plenty of eye re­lief; for that rea­son, I chose to mount Swarovski’s new Z8i 1.7-13.3x42 30mm scope on this ri­fle.

The Z8i is a world-class piece of glass that fears nei­ther rain nor sleet nor mag­num re­coil, and that 30mm ob­jec­tive of­fers a wide field of view.

The Swarovski was mated to the ri­fle us­ing Bur­ris bases and Sig­na­ture rings, and the AVR is com­pat­i­ble with Winch­ester Model 70 bases. With such a ri­fle in hand, you are ready to hunt any game in the world.

POPULAR CHOICE

I’ve long been a fan of the .375 H&H Mag­num, and while my own hunt­ing with the cal­iber has been lim­ited to non­dan­ger­ous species, such as a wide ar­ray of African plains game and feral hogs, the .375 has a glow­ing rep­u­ta­tion among some of the harsh­est car­tridge crit­ics—namely those who rely on their ri­fles to keep them­selves and their clients from be­ing mauled, gored, hooked or tram­pled. From white­tails and elk to Cape buf­falo and coastal brown bears, the .375 H&H is a uni­ver­sal choice.

Big-bore ri­fles aren’t known for be­ing ter­ri­bly ac­cu­rate, but the AVR is an ex­cep­tion. On the range, it av­er­aged just a hair over an inch with Barnes 300-grain fac­tory TSX loads and Nosler’s 260-grain Par­ti­tions—two solid op­tions for just about any big game on the planet. The third load tested, Hor­nady’s 250-grain GMX, av­er­aged just un­der 1½ inches.

There’s a ru­mor float­ing around that .375 H&H ri­fles fire bullets of var­i­ous de­signs and grain weights to the same point of im­pact— in­di­cat­ing that, in the­ory, you could swap loads and never re-zero. I’ve not found that to be true with the over-a-dozen .375s I’ve tested, and it isn’t the case with the AVR.

RO­BUST AC­TION

I was shoot­ing off sand­bags with fac­tory ammo and was still group­ing un­der 1½ MOA. I be­lieve that if you wanted to cook up a hand­load this ri­fle particularly loved, you could squeeze those groups un­der an inch.

I know sub-MOA groups are all the rage, but I haven’t seen

THIS RI­FLE COM­BINES THE RUGGED MODEL 1999 AC­TION WITH A GOR­GEOUS, AAGRADE AMER­I­CAN WAL­NUT STOCK, EBONY FOREND CAP AND BLACK GRIP CAP.

a lot of those from fac­tory .375s. Of the ri­fles in this cal­iber I have tested, the Montana ranks among the top three in ac­cu­racy, and it is the most ac­cu­rate wood-stocked .375 fac­tory gun I’ve shot.

By the time this ri­fle left the range, I was ready to carry it buf­falo hunt­ing in Africa.

That con­fi­dence is in­spired in part by the AVR’s ro­bust ac­tion. With some ri­fles, you have to coax and prod car­tridges into the mag­a­zine; and when you cy­cle the ac­tion, you’re never re­ally sure a round was cham­bered.

Not so with this gun. The ac­tion is silky smooth, and lockup is ab­so­lutely se­cure. There were no is­sues with feed­ing and extraction, and the Mauser-type ejec­tor sent those long car­tridge cases whirring through the air with each bolt stroke.

On the range, a few as­pects of the gun stood out. First, it has a great trig­ger. It broke at 3½ pounds and helped make de­liv­er­ing ac­cu­rate shots much eas­ier. The easy-to-use rocker bolt re­lease is well po­si­tioned and very solidly con­structed.

The pis­tol grip seems a bit nar­rower and more rounded than other big bores I’ve shot. I am a fan of the new grip de­sign, which po­si­tions your hand com­fort­ably and of­fers great con­trol of the trig­ger and the ri­fle it­self.

Re­coil was stiff but man­age­able—on par with other 9-pound, wood-stocked .375s I’ve shot. It isn’t vi­cious like some of the lighter .375 syn­thetic-stocked guns, and the dense re­coil pad and comb con­struc­tion help con­trol set­back. This isn’t a ri­fle for be­gin­ners. How­ever, if you’re an ex­pe­ri­enced shooter, you shouldn’t have is­sues.

WHAT A DEAL!

There’s a whole lot to like about this ri­fle. It’s an Amer­i­can­made big bore built around an ac­tion that is es­sen­tially the off­spring of the Mauser 98 and the Winch­ester Model 70. The ac­tion op­er­ates with ex­treme pre­ci­sion, and it is slick and smooth. And that wal­nut stock is ab­so­lutely gor­geous—full of flame and feather and topped off with a clas­sic black cap.

But per­haps the best thing about this ri­fle is its price. The MSRP for the blued ver­sion I tested is $1,636, and the stain­less model rings in at $1,756. That may not seem cheap, but for a ri­fle of this ilk, it’s a very good deal.

With car­tridges rang­ing from .35 Whe­len to .458 Lott, there isn’t much game this gun can’t cover. On the lower end, you have the mild-man­nered Whe­len, which is a fan­tas­tic car­tridge that works well on deer, black bear, elk and moose, as well as all the African plains game. If you’re a guide or PH, or you are plan­ning to hunt re­ally big, dan­ger­ous game, there are many .40-cal­iber-plus op­tions that will work. If you plan to hunt a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing, an AVR in the ven­er­a­ble .375 H&H mag­num is a great option.

But you can’t buy this par­tic­u­lar AVR .375 ri­fle—it’s al­ready spo­ken for. GW

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The black ebony forend cap gives the AVR a clas­sic look, and the check­ered AA-grade wal­nut be­lies its

$1,600 price tag. The rear Mar­ble sight is ad­justable and ro­bustly built—an im­por­tant fea­ture on a ri­fle gen­er­at­ing twice the re­coil of a .30-06.

The test AVR wore a Swarovski 1.7-13.3x42 Z8i scope—an ex­tremely durable and ver­sa­tile piece of glass for hunt­ing any game any­where.

Note the rover-type bolt re­lease, which is easy to find and op­er­ate.

The Montana Model 1999 ac­tion com­bines some of the best el­e­ments from the Winch­ester Model 70 with as­pects of the Mauser 98. It func­tions flaw­lessly. The rounded fore­arm has

gen­er­ous, high-qual­ity check­er­ing, and it is easy to grip the ri­fle un­der full re­coil. Some big bores have bar­rel-mounted front sling studs, but

the AVR does not. Through­out the test­ing,

how­ever, this never proved to be a prac­ti­cal

con­cern.

The AVR in .375 H&H is a clas­sic big bore built to with­stand the abuses of life on sa­fari. Cham­bered as such, this ri­fle will work on ev­ery­thing from white­tails and black bear to griz­zlies and Cape buf­falo.

The dual-lug bolt re­quires a 90-de­gree lift to cy­cle the ac­tion. The AVR’s trig­ger is very good, com­ing from the fac­tory be­tween 3 and

3.5 pounds.

The AVR’s 24-inch bar­rel

is free floated, and the muz­zle has been crowned to pre­serve ac­cu­racy. The front gold­bead sight is easy to see,

even in low light.

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The AVR uti­lizes a three­p­o­si­tion wing safety that is easy to op­er­ate in the field. The wood-to-metal fin­ish on the gun is ex­cel­lent.

The Model 1999 bolt in­cor­po­rates fea­tures from the Winch­ester Model 70 de­sign but also in­cludes Mauser fea­tures, such as the Mauser C-ring breach­ing sys­tem. Fewer cutouts re­sult in added rigid­ity. Like both of those other ac­tions, the Model 1999 uses a dual lug de­sign.

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The rounded pis­tol grip has func­tional check­er­ing and a rounded con­tour that makes it easy to hold when fir­ing. The black grip cap is an­other nice touch added to the AVR.

Sa­fari hun­ters are very de­mand­ing when

it comes to their ri­fles—and rightly so. The AVR from Montana

Ri­fle Com­pany has one crit­i­cal fea­ture—a ro­bust CRF ac­tion—

that many life­long pro­fes­sional hun­ters de­mand on their guns.

The AVR con­sis­tently pro­duced groups be­tween 1 and 1½ inches, which is very good for a big bore. When paired with Barnes’ TSX ammo (shown here), there’s very lit­tle game you can’t hunt with this ri­fle—in­clud­ing the dan­ger­ous stuff.

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