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When Masterpiece Arms announced that they were planning on releasing a bolt action rifle at SHOT Show, I wasn’t all that impressed. Masterpiece Arms has a bit of a reputation for making odd firearms, and they’ve never really been known as a precision firearms manufacturer. That was before I took a trip down to Georgia to see their operation in person, and the impression I had of their products changed a great deal following that weekend. To make sure that their build quality wasn’t a fluke I asked to test one of their new bolt action rifles back in Texas and see if it was really worth the coin . . .

The impetus behind the MPA-308 BA was a newly acquired barrel manufacturing shop. The guys at MPA decided to put their new toys to good use making some high end rifles. They started with a Stillers action, added their own custom barrel drilled and hand-lapped in house, and added a stock that is 100% manufactured by MPA. The end result is something that definitely looks the part of a high end tactical style bolt action rifle.

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There’ve been a number of changes since the original design was unveiled, starting with a completely re-worked stock. Instead of a spider web style design and a chopped-up Magpul PRS, MPA streamlined and slimmed down the chassis, and manufactured the stock in-house for good measure. The result looks 100 percent better than it did in January, and has a ton of great features. Starting at the back . . .

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Instead of a Magpul PRS, the MPA guys custom machined an all-aluminum stock that can be adjusted for both length of pull and comb height, and the butt plate can also be adjusted for cant to suit the individual user’s shoulder. The adjustment knobs are color coded so shooters can make sure that the gun is set up the same way every time. The detent holding the wheels in place seems a bit weak. I’d have preferred a little stiffer application of force to be required to move them, as I can see them being spun around in a soft case.

Another handy feature: the included rear monopod. It’s always more stable to use a shooting bag of some sort. But in a pinch or on a stable surface, the rear monopod can give you enough stabilization to make the shot. The monopod features a coarse adjustment button for quick movement and can be turned for fine adjustments. A locking nut makes sure that nothing moves. Interesting side note: the release button on the monopod was stolen from the magazine release mechanism on their MPAR rifle line, making it both easier to manufacture and easy to use.

The MPA-308 BA rifle’s stock is designed as a separate piece on the gun. It can be swapped out or removed for storage. Word is that a folding variant is in the works. Swapping will be dead simple when it arrives.

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Moving forward to the fire controls, the MPA-308 uses a standard AR-15 grip so you can swap to whatever grip makes you happy. The rifle ships with an ergo grip-esque rubber grip and PSG-1-esque hand rest at the bottom. I’m not entirely enamored with that specific grip, but it’s an easy change. The rifle sports an oversized and checkered bolt knob that can be replaced to suit the end user, but the stock one suits me just fine. The icing on the cake: the gun takes Accuracy International magazines. You can carry multiple mags and quickly replenish your supply using a readily available common magazine.

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The MPA-308 ships with rails on the top of the action and under the front of the stock for mounting scopes and bipods respectively. Also included: a rail section positioned in front of the scope to allow night vision optics to be mounted in-line for low light shooting. Besides these features, the stock is a pretty minimalist setup that keeps things slick and simple. Just the way I like it.

Out at the front of the gun, the barrel features a muzzle brake attached to the threaded muzzle. The brake gives some recoil reduction properties to the gun, but that threading from the factory is truly a nice feature. If you have a silencer or plan on getting one, having the threading done by the factory is a definite plus.

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The barrels are all made in-house at Masterpiece Arms. They come in as solid barrel blanks. They’re bored one at a time, profiled, rifled, and then hand-lapped to perfection. Each one is visually inspected to ensure that there are no chatter marks in the barrel. It only leaves the shop only if it is smooth and shiny on the inside. No chatter marks means no copper or carbon buildup throwing off your accuracy, which is a huge benefit down the line. The barrels are also marked with the twist and suggested ammunition; finding the right ammo is a no-brainer.

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The gun meets all the criteria I have for a good tactical bolt action rifle, namely a slick metal chassis, adjustable stock, replaceable grip, and Accuracy International magazine compatibility. As always, the real question is how well the MPA-308 shoots. I took it out to the range and used the suggested ammunition.

There’s a complicated barrel break-in process described in the manual that I did exactly none of on this gun, despite being a “virgin” barrel. Add to that the fact that I fired the recorded grouping for this gun starting from a cold barrel and firing as fast as possible (as usual) to ensure that the barrel heated up from shot to shot. What we have is a scenario where any average rifle should choke and start throwing out substandard groupings. With the MPA-308 BA, though . . .

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This is a 5 round group shot at 100 yards. Four of the rounds fall within a grouping that is literally too small to accurately measure (my best guess is about 0.2 MoA). One flier flew low and left, growing the group size to roughly 0.6 MoA (ignore that sighter at the top right). This is what the gun does when the barrel has been used and abused — when the gun is treated right, it throws out between 0.2 and 0.4 MoA groups all day long without any issues.

MPA guarantees a 1/2 MoA result from every rifle and I believe it. This is the second rifle of theirs that I have tested, and both have performed to that standard without any fancy bench rest being required. They work, and they work well. To put that accuracy in perspective, this gun shot a tighter group than the similarly priced Desert Tactical Arms SRS.

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The rifle checks all of the boxes. Accurate, good looking, full featured… everything you need in a tactical rifle. My only real complaint about the gun: I don’t particularly care for the standard-issue grip. Again, that’s easily fixed. The MPA-308 is a tad long as well, so a folding stock or a shorter barrel might not be a bad idea.

As-is, is the MPA-308 worth $3k? Compared to some other high end bolt guns we’ve reviewed like the Savage 111, CZ-750, and the Weatherby Vanguard Sub-MoA, the gun beats the pants off all of them. It looks better, sports nicer adjustments for user fit and shoots a heck of a lot tighter groups than any of them – thanks to the custom hand-worked barrel. The only real gun we have in the catalog that compares to this is Charlie Sisk’s STAR Rifle, which is heavier, shoots just as well, and costs $3,000+ more.

In short, the MPA-308 is a bargain.

MasterPiece Arms Bolt Action MPA-308 BA Rifle

Specifications
Caliber: .308 Winchester (7.62×51 NATO)
Action: Stillers Precision TAC Series
Bolt: Stillers Precision Spiral Fluted One Piece Bolt
Barrel: Spencer/MPA Hand Lapped Barrel
Action/Bolt Design: Remington 700 Type
Chassis: MPA Tactical Aluminum Chassis
Muzzle Brake: MPA Muzzle Brake (Tactical or Bench Rest Type)
Timney Trigger: 510
Magazine: AICS or AW Mag Compatible. (10 Round AICS Magazine Included)
MSRP: $2,999 (Street price around $2,600)

Ratings (out of five stars):

Accuracy: * * * * *
Meets and exceeds expectations. Even when running the gun hard it stays right around that 1/2 MoA guarantee, usually floating down towards 0.2 MoA when treated right.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The stock is great and fits very nicely, but the grip is a little wonky for my taste. Then again, I prefer a straight grip and not a swelled one, so this might just be shooter preference. Also the gun is a tad heavy, but at this point we’re nit picking.

Ergonomics Firing: * * * * *
The MPA produced muzzle brake soaks up most of the recoil, and the squishy buttplate takes care of the rest. A joy to shoot.

Reliability: * * * * *
There aren’t many things to go wrong with a bolt action.

Customization: * * * * *
Rails all over the place, a stock that can be removed from the chassis, and user adjustable length of pull as well as comb height. Excellent.

Overall Rating: * * * * 1/2
Accurate. Comfortable. Customizable. Just cut down on the weight a little bit and come up with a quick way to make the rifle temporarily smaller for transport and you’ve got a five star gun. But as-is, this might be my new top recommendation for those looking for a great accurate rifle. Because it is.

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47 Responses to Gun Review: MasterPiece Arms Bolt Action MPA-308 BA Rifle

  1. But as-is, is it worth $3k?

    It’s just too rich for me. It is like a fine cheesecake from some small village in Europe. I’m going to go with the apple pie.

    I’m going to stick with my super cheap spanish mauser chambered in 308WIN that I reload to 300 savage loadings. It will give me about 1MOA and cost less than 200 bucks.

      • Actually, he’s half right.

        They bought a barrel making shop, so that expertise is solid — the gun works, and it works well. My only complaints are in the stock, which is where MPA is brand new and making this for the first time. They aren’t stock making experts with a history and track record like GA Precision, but I would never buy anything from GA Precision simply because it isn’t really my style. These guys have made something new, and while it may not be to everyone’s tastes I like it.

        • GAP does not make stocks, they mount actions made by other companies in other company’s stocks. What about a GAP gun does not meet your tastes? Bolt guns is a bolt gun when it comes to looks (minus the ergonomics of the chosen stock)

    • A new AI AT-308 is listing for $800 more. I’d imagine an AW would sell for around the same amount. I’d rather spend the extra 800 to get a known quantity from a manufacturer with a reputation for sturdiness and reliability, and has some additional nice features like a user-changeable barrel. I like that MPA seems to have done a nice job, but they are up against established names that are also doing a good job, with extra features, and a history of reliability. They need to rethink their price-point if they want to compete for business with names like Surgeon and AI.

      • So, when buying expensive tools that do the same job equally as well, always buy the name brand? His gun consistently shot one fifth-of-an-inch groups, what else is there to “know” about this “quantity”?

  2. OK I’m confused. It has a pistol grip and a shoulder thing that goes up, as well as one of those big clipazines–but it’s a bolt-action. Does that make it an assault sniper rifle? A sniper machine gun? Anyway, it looks horribly scary so it stands to reason that no one needs one…

    • You are correct! It is an Assault weapon with magazine clip. Nobody needs one except government officials who protect you and are here to help. I don’t know if it has a shoulder thing that goes up – but it could have it or may be possible to have one added. It looks ghostly and may qualify as a ghost gun. It’s black! The whole thing is black. It’s a black rifle. Should be regulated/banned immediately – for looks alone.

      • Looks are the only thing used to determine if its an “assault weapon”. Functionality has nothing to do with it. We all know that the more sinister the gun looks, the more killing power it has. Therefore, agree, it should be banned!

    • I believe the official MDA designation is “Manually operated assault rifle” with such features as “a shoulder thingy that goes DOWN” “scary barrel end thingy for stabbing small children and opening beer bottles” and the infamous “pistol grip” that allows anybody to pick it up and kill schoolchildren from 1,000 yards away one handed.”

      So yeah….its kind of a big deal….

      • Come to think of it, I’m sure you can get off more than 10 shots in a minute, what with that 50-caliber clip magazine and all. So yes, it does fit Shannon’s definition of an “assault rifle”.

  3. I love the looks of that rifle.

    I am surprised that it is slightly “heavy” according to Nick. It looks pretty minimalist to me. Where is the weight?

      • Ah, thank you. In the pictures the barrel doesn’t look to be unusually thick.

        And while the longer barrel adds weight, it boosts muzzle velocity without any additional recoil which is always a plus. (In fact the added weight of a longer barrel actually dampens recoil slightly.) An extra 100 to 200 fps (because of a longer barrel) isn’t that big a deal until you are taking shots out to 800+ yards — at which point you need all the muzzle velocity you can get.

        Speaking of muzzle, how is the muzzle brake in terms of recoil reduction and sound?

  4. Since TTAG has reached the point where it’s comparing $3,000 rifles to $6,500 rifles (on the same day no less), can it spring for some calipers and actually start measuring groups? To really get crazy, maybe TTAG could agree on a standard way to evaluate a rifle’s accuracy.

    Protocol bitching aside, that’s a nice five-shot group.

    • A scanner, some computer s/w are the modern way to measure groups – center to center. Calipers are OK, but they require some training how to read.

      I’m still waiting for a Ransom Rest to show up in pistol evaluations…

      Still, I’m quite pleased with Nick’s progress. He’s now using Federal Gold Match ammo for his evaluations, and that’s a big increase in the quality of reviews, IMO. Reviews for accuracy should never be conducted with cheap, “mil-spec” ammo.

      Now, if TTAG wants to get really serious about accuracy reviews, they’ll buy a chunk of land down there in Texas, get a large ditch dug, put in an underground range where wind will no longer be a factor and cover it over, so they have a private, wind-free range for accuracy evaluations. That’s how the most serious rifle competitors are evaluate rifles on group size.

      Here’s a tale of how Texas shootists started down the road to sub-0.100 groups:

      http://www.angelfire.com/ma3/max357/houston.html

      • Dyseptic Gunsmith,

        What is the minimum group size that a “decent” shooter should expect from an “average” mass market rifle, with a “decent” scope, shooting “inexpensive” ammunition, at an outdoor range, on a day with very light winds? I know I listed a lot of loaded words there (no pun intended) so I won’t hold you to anything … I just want to get some sense of what is minimum so I can determine if either I or my equipment is doing something wrong. I honestly have no idea.

        • Pardon me while I stick my 2 cents worth in here, until you get an answer from D.G.
          Any good off the shelf bolt action rifle should give you 1” to 1 1/2″ groups. If you try enough different brands of ammo, and different bullet weights, you should be able to get slightly under 1″, but don’t expect it all the time.
          Claims you hear of folks getting 1/2″ groups are often exaggerated.
          Of course there are factory guns that just will not give you a good group, no matter what you feed it. Sometimes there are different subtle things you can do improve the accuracy, but I will let D.G. go into that.

        • You also did not add in enough qualifiers. Offhand, standing, with iron sights, 5-6″ would be pretty excellent for an expert, us mortals probably closer to 10″. Bench rest, optics, etc, probably 2″. But my National Match M1A was way out around 6″, and shot different point of impact for each type of ammo fired, just godawful until I removed the CA mandated muzzle brake that came with it and replaced with a NM flash hider as designed outside CA, and it went awesome, under 1″ with milspec ammo, shot same point with all ammo, the difference was purely unbelievable for such a minor-seeming change.

        • A run-of-the-mill bolt gun should, with high quality ammo, be able to give you what Gunr says – about 1 to 1.5″ groups at 100 yards off a bench. This means you’re using a front rest and a rear bag, the wind is low to none and you’re doing your part.

          There are people who can shoot 2″ groups (or under) at 100 yards standing off-hand. If you read of David Tubb’s winning record, you see that there are people who can do it – and do it day after day after day. I’m not one of those people. Some days, I can clean up. Some days, it wasn’t worth getting out of bed.

          There are various things that can be done to improve upon typical factory accuracy without major work to the rifle:

          – a better trigger
          – better ammo (the .308 and .223 ammo space is fortunate to have such factory offerings as the Federal Gold that Nick was using here – let’s say you’re shooting a .270 Winchester – you will find that there are no such “match” ammo offerings from a factory)
          – in the “better ammo” category, you might find that reloading and playing with how far you seat the bullet towards engaging the rifling will close up groups on a factory rifle with no other mods
          – playing with different bullet weights can often reveal surprising results. I have a rack-grade Winchester .270 model 70 that shoots, eh, 1.3″ groups with 130 or 150 grain hunting pills. Put 110 V-max bullets into this barrel and suddenly I’m shooting 1/2″ groups – no other changes to the rifle.
          – playing with any stock/barrel contact can sometimes change your groups. The solution isn’t always to free-float the barrel, BTW. Some guns tighten up if their stocks exert a big of upwards pressure on the barrel.
          – shooting the same brass from that particular rifle again, and only throat sizing it can sometimes reveal good results. In a bolt gun, you don’t need to full-length resize every time as you would for a semi-auto.
          – changing your primers can sometimes give good results, as can changing powders.
          – when you’re changing powders, look for a powder that will give you a 90%+ load density; don’t use powders that leave a lot of the case open.

          In general, factory rifles are a lot like cars: sometimes you get a winner. Sometimes you get a lemon. In between, you get OK but not stunning results.

    • The site lists a 6.5 and 6mm. I’m not sure of the exact chambering, but I was looking at the mobile site on my cell.

  5. Tell us more about the action. How does the Stiller action compare to the Remington 700 and other actions you’ve tested?

    I know it’s “just” a bolt action, but surely there’s a difference.

    • Butter freaking smooth.

      The 700 action feels like its made of paper — gritty when sliding the bolt in and out, and not very solid. The Stillers action feels like sliding two oiled panes of glass against each other, with a solid locking motion. It just feels better in every way.

      • How would you compare the action in comparison to a SIG Sauer rifle or a Sako TRG? I know, weird comparisons but still. how many degrees bolt throw and how smooth it is.

  6. Seems to me that not too long ago, you were boasting of how accurate hammer-forged barrels were.

    Now that you’ve seen the difference that is attained from slower barrel manufacturing processes, you seem to have changed your tune. I’ll just take this moment to point out that I had told you previously that hammer forged barrels were not the most accurate barrels out there, and now you’re starting to see this for yourself. Hammer forging packs a lot of stress into the barrel, which then has to be relieved. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, and these stresses show up as the barrel heats.

    Hammer forging is a cheap(er) way to make a barrel, possibly even including the chamber at the same time the rest of the bore is forged, but it doesn’t produce the best barrels. The people who compete solely on accuracy and group size are still shooting single-point cut barrels, and they always have, since the days of Harry Pope. You didn’t mention whether the barrels MPA is using are single-point cut or broached, but both methods result in better barrels than hammer forging, IMO.

    Stiller’s actions are very nice, and you often see them showing up on long-range, varmint, F-class and benchrest rigs, especially the flat-bottomed actions. The Stiller action is a large component of the cost of this rifle, with the cost of the action being as much or more than what a vanilla grade Rem700 retails for. The barrel’s cost is probably in the $300+ range to MPA. Before we even get to the cost of their chassis and buttstock, we’re looking at a COGS of over $1200, with no labor for assembly yet taken into account… for those who are whinging about the price.

    One of the features that Stiller can deliver on some of their actions is to allow you to choose your loading port side and your ejection port side. Some benchrest (and other) competitors like to load on the right, eject from a port on the left side (or vice versa) to smooth their bench management. Stiller, like some other very serious action companies, can deliver features you’d never, ever see on a stock Rem700 – the smoothness and quality of the action are just normal on a Stiller, the other features you never knew were in demand because you never, ever saw them on a “tactical” or other rifle built off a low-end action are part of what make a Stiller a ne plus ultra level of action.

    To use a car analogy, a Rem700 is a VW Bug, a Stiller is a Lambo. Sure, they’re both automobiles, but only one allows you to win a race at 150+ MPH and then fill the right seat with your choice of female supermodel after you’ve won.

    As to measuring groups accurately: You should know that there are computer programs that will assist in this issue – they’re what are being used by the benchrest folks who are measuring groups smaller than 0.2 MOA. Look into such programs as “On Target” and Recreational Software’s programs. You either take a photo of the group, or plop the target on a scanner, then you enter the bullet diameter and you start working on where the bullet holes are on the paper. This is the sort of thing the bullseye and benchrest folks have been using for several years now…

    • I use an electronic target. It is connected to a monitor, you choose the program and then it automatically measures and scores you. Though I haven’t seen any inch/mm measurements of groups using it. I am sure you can get a program for that.

      It even shows your average POI to make adjustments easier.

  7. I normally see a butt stock and barrel both attached to opposite ends of a receiver. On the better models, the forward hand grip also attaches to the receiver so that the barrel “floats”. Where does this barrel attach to the rifle?

  8. Hey Nick, your “Desert Tactical” link goes to the CZ 750 review. And it’s not really “similarly priced” when the price of a MPA 308 gets you an empty SRS chassis.

  9. This is quite a leap for the company. From MAC clones to exorbitantly priced precision bolt guns. Wow.

    But it appears that they are doing it right. I’ve got one of their .45 Carbine rifles and I am quite pleased with it. A fire arm that performs well on all fronts except for one, an accurate and reliable but hideous to look at Frankengun. It is my gun collections ugly duckling and I would never trade it away.

    That being said, that gun above is a real piece of work. The reported accuracy is unbelievable and the ability to modify the rifle is fantastic. I would like to say that I’ll be getting one, but the price is just too far out of reach for me.

    Though between this Bolt gun and the new MPAR 556 I’ve been hearing about, I’ve got to say, it appears this company is developing in the right direction.

  10. Bookmarking this for later reference, having just been reminded by the post giving the Editors Choice award at SHOT2015.

    thanks again, Nick, for all the hard work and personal growth on the reviews. Someday I’ll have the $$$ and time to buy a truly accurate long gun, and reload- so all the effort in research to get up to speed is much improved by reading here, at TTAG, for this newb.

    I hope you are taking what Dys says into account on measurement of groups. I appreciate that you are wonky on the tech, and stats backgrounded, so getting that key piece of the puzzle as accurate and standardized as possible is what makes the comparison, gun to gun, that much more useful.

  11. Date is 2/3/2015. Masterpiece Arms is not the same company that we think of that makes the MAC 10. It is under new ownership as of 2008 and the CEO ( Phil Cashin) is focused on quality, innovation, and selling a high end weapon for less than his competitors. I ordered one of his rifles and within a few hours he called me to answer any questions I might have about the weapon and to inquire about the options I wanted. My options were the Cerakote finish, type of trigger ( I elected the Timney Calvin Elite), and the type of muzzle brake (all at no additional charge). It comes with the Sendero profile but other barrel profiles are available. Since the article was written the chassis has been upgraded with a machined build in bubble level and a cut thumb notch near the pistol grip. The 6.5 Creedmoor I ordered ($3150 complete) comes with a 3/8″ MOA guarantee and the rifle has a lifetime warranty. If you want to see Phil’s innovative approach to weapons building, check out the AR15 line on their Web Site (actually it is more of a AR180).

  12. Since I posted my comments on 2/3/15, I have received the Creedmoor I ordered (5 weeks) and it is a thing of beauty. Quality throughout. It was guaranteed 3/8 MOA and will shoot 1/4 MOA all day long with the Hornady 140 gr match ammo. I am a retired Marine Colonel with over 30 years of service so I feel comfortable in saying that this if a fine weapon that would cost $4500 from most all other precision rifle makers. An additional note, MPA ( Phil Cashin) offered to laser etched the Marine Corps emblem on the barrel (left side near the lug) and on the magazine at no additional charge. I accepted and it looks great and very professional.

  13. I bought the .308 about a year ago. Nothing but problems, went back to the factory to have the barrel adjusted and was returned with a trigger problem. MPA insisted on me replacing the trigger myself and sent me the replacement. I can’t get less than a 4 inch group. My Remington 788 that I paid $200 shoots <1". Stay away.

    • Ralph, this is Phil from Masterpiece Arms. If you are still having issues with this rifle, please contact me directly. phil@masterpiecearms.com. We stand behind our product completely and if the rifle is not able to perform to the guaranteed accuracy as stated, we will either fix the issue or refund the purchase. I don’t want a single dissatisfied customer with one of our bolt guns. If you are having an issue, please contact me directly

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