Accuracy International has been in business since 1978. In that short time AI’s precision rifles have established an impeccable pedigree amongst operators, wanna-be’s and precision shooters. Their L115A3 in .338 Lapua enabled the longest recorded sniper kill in history. Call Of Duty geeks will instantly recognize their Arctic Warfare rifle. Building on and extending their rep: Accuracy International’s AX-308. It’s one of the most recent evolutions of the AI design, firing the 7.62×51 NATO cartridge with a precision and consistency that would be boring if it weren’t so amazing . . .
Accuracy International doesn’t hand them out their rifles to every blogger and aspiring YouTube superstar who asks for one. The AX-308 has a street price of $6k to $8k depending on options (twice the value of my car). Customers can (and do) wait months for delivery even after they’ve handed over their credit card number. Farago and I corresponded with AI for nearly two years before getting this test rifle; it was worth every minute. Especially as a trip to the Rockcastle Shooting Center was part of the courtship dance.
We finally proved our worth, however, and the AX-308 had its chance to do the same.
The AX-308 is a bolt-action precision rifle (as you may have guessed) with a 10-round detachable box magazine. The bolt has three lugs and a short 60-degree throw; a three-position safety allows the bolt to be opened with the safety engaged. Our test gun has an 20″ barrel (longer barrel lengths are available) and a suppressor-ready muzzle brake.
But wait, you might be thinking, don’t you need a longer barrel for accuracy? Um, no. A longer barrel will add velocity (which does make range estimation and holdover less crucial at long range). But heavy, stable barrels of moderate length are among the most accurate of any rifle barrels.
The AX-308’s heavy-profile barrel provides extreme dimensional and thermal stability. It never got more than warm to the touch, even after shooting several three-shot groups in a few minutes. It would be hard to burn yourself anyway, since it’s almost completely enclosed by a free-floating ventilated barrel shroud with a full-length scope/accessory rail. The rail on our test rifle is angled 20 MOA on top, to allow extreme-range shooting without bottoming out the adjustment range of your scope. AI also offers flat and 30 MOA rails.
Unlike AI’s Remington 700-ready AICS chassis system, the AX-308’s receiver is permanently bonded to the aluminum stock chassis for absolute rigidity.
Despite the short barrel length (ideal for suppressors, BTW) the AX-308 is still a really big rifle. It barely fit in my crowded upstairs gun safe even before I mounted a gargantuan Bushnell 4.5-30×50 XRS on top. The AX-308 measures 42″ long overall with the included stock spacers. It packs down to a slightly more compact 33″ with the stock folded.
The stock folder seems to be machined from two solid lumps of aluminum alloy. I used to think that my Bulgarian AK side-folder had a sturdy machined folding block, but it looks like an injection-molded toy compared to the AX-308. Not to belabor the point, but the stock folding mechanism is stronger than the door hinge of a midsized car. I can’t imagine any mishap that could damage it without completely destroying the stock, or the whole rifle for that matter.
High-powered rifle scopes have very small exit pupils at extreme magnification. The AX-308’s adjustable cheekpiece lets you set the comb height for a perfect cheek-weld to put your eye in the center of the lightbox instantly, every time. The cheekpiece is locked in place by these two large thumb-screws, so you don’t need any tools to adjust it in the field. They don’t work loose by themselves, but your shooting buddies will move it all over the place while you’re not looking.
A rear monopod is available as a factory option. Joe Grine always uses them on his precision rifles. He wondered why a rifle of this price wouldn’t come with one as standard equipment. I have one on my precision rifle, but I’ve never considered it critical for accuracy with my shooting technique. Anything that keeps the AX-308 from being any heavier is in my opinion a good thing, and the ‘missing’ monopod didn’t cause either of us any accuracy problems. As you’ll see soon enough.
The AX-308 is a little easier to stow with the stock folded, but it doesn’t make it any lighter. Loaded and scoped, it tips the scales at about 15 pounds. You won’t want to carry it without a sling, however, and you won’t want to shoot it without a bipod. You can (just barely) aim and fire it offhand, but the nicest thing I can say about that experience is that you won’t have to worry about recoil. It kicks like a .223, or maybe less. By the time you add the mandatory sling and bipod, the rig weighs at least 17 pounds. It makes my fluted bull-barrel Remington 700 PSS feel like a pencil-barreled Mountain Rifle.
It’s such a beast that I had to try the ridiculous and shoot it offhand. All that weight makes it extremely steady for offhand shooting, but you’d better use your very best shooting stance with your support elbow planted firmly on your hip. I’m not a particularly skilled offhand marksman, but I rang the 6″ gong at will at 100 yards.
Accuracy International has been getting triggers ‘just right’ for a long time, and the AX-308 does not disappoint. See those little hex screws on the trigger? One of them lets you move the trigger forward and backward to adjust the length of pull, and the other adjusts the pull weight. Why hasn’t anyone else thought of this? This one broke perfectly cleanly at 3.5 pounds and fit my hand like a glove when it arrived, so I didn’t fiddle with it.
Accuracy International’s detachable rifle magazines are widely considered among the best in the industry. There’s a reason that other custom stock and rifle manufacturers often design their platforms to use AI magazines: they just plain work. The AX-308’s magazine is made from steel with a polymer follower, is absolutely reliable and holds ten rounds. It’s very easy to load (even while the magazine is in the rifle), and allows single-loading into the chamber when the magazine is empty.
A rifle like this can’t live up to its potential unless it wears a top-quality scope with special features for extreme-range shooting. A 3-9x40mm scope with a duplex reticule doesn’t cut it on a rifle like this, even if it’s a top-end hunting scope from an excellent manufacturer.
Anybody who can afford an AX-308 can probably afford a worthy optic to put on it, so I’ll spare you a long discussion of magnification, tube diameter, exit pupil, field of view, eye relief, reticules and parallax.
This is a huge rifle that can hit things really far away, so get a high-magnification scope with at least a 30mm main tube and at least a 50mm objective. A range-estimating reticule in the first focal plane is really useful for a precision rifle, but tactical turrets and side-adjustable focus and parallax are ‘must-have’ features.
Bushnell kindly loaned us a scope that meets all of these requirements and more: the 4.5-30x50mm XRS Elite Tactical. It’s built on the same huge 34mm main tube of their HDMR series, but ups the magnification ante to an eye-popping 30x. The big main tube gives it 50 MOA of adjustment range.
Rather than turn this lengthy rifle review into a gun guy’s equivalent of War And Peace, we’ll review the Bushnell XRS on its own. If you’re wondering how many stars it will get, I’ll spoil the suspense right now (*****) but check back in for the details.
Unfortunately for cheap bastards like me, steel-cased Russian .308 is not the ammo of choice for an Accuracy International AX-308. A top-shelf rifle deserves top-shelf ammo, and Black Hills Ammunition spotted us a generous supply of 7.62×51 match for this test.
Black Hills has built their reputation on obsessive quality control, and no gun could perform like the AX-308 performs without extremely consistent ammunition. The very tightest, luckiest handloads I’ve ever assembled (from my own once-fired brass) don’t even approach the consistency and accuracy of factory Black Hills Match.
As one might expect from a rifle with AI’s reputation and price, the AX-308 functioned with perfect reliability in every regard throughout our testing: loading, feeding, firing and extraction. Every function occurs easily, smoothly and quietly. The magazine is easy to load, and it rocks into place with no beginner’s ‘Kalashnikov fumble.’ The bolt turns as though it were coated in Teflon, and empty cases are gently flicked a few feet to the right.
I carelessly managed to induce a feeding jam when I repeatedly (ugh) tried to close the bolt on Joe Grine’s polymer chamber flag. I’m pretty sure any gun will jam if you try to cycle it with a plastic rod sticking down into the chamber. My bad.
Accuracy: 100 Yards
When you spend $6k and wait six months for a 15-pound rifle, you expect it to be capable of assassinating sitting horseflies at 100 yards. When your $6k, 15-pound rifle is an AX-308, you can do just that.
This was my first three-shot group once I got the scope on paper: 0.5″ at 100 yards. Out of the box with factory ammo, 1/2 MOA is more than accurate enough for any military or police application. I own a few rifles that occasionally show me some 1/2 MOA love, but the AX-308 was just getting started.
This awesome target shows four consecutive 3-shot groups, fired at 100 yards. The groups range in size (center-to-center) from 0.2″ to 0.5″ and only one of them isn’t a cloverleaf. Black Hills provided us with a bounty of match 168-grain and 175-grain 7.62×51 ammunition, and the AX-308 loved them both: average group size was just under 0.5 MOA for both loads. We got some truly tiny groups with the 168s and none with the 175s, but that was mostly because we had a lot more 168s to test with.
Accuracy: 300 Yards
One-hundred-yard accuracy testing may be the industry standard but a true precision rifle needs a more exacting test. Joe and I hit the 300-yard range for more rigorous testing of the AX-308’s capabilities (and our own). Longer distances demand much more from a marksman and his rifle; a minor flaw in equipment or technique can blow your group size or even throw you off the paper.
The Black Hills website says their 168-grain 7.62 clocks in at 2650 fps. When we chrono’d it for ourselves, it gave us 2670. I plugged those numbers into the Nosler ballistics app on my smartphone, and it told me that with a 100-yard zero this bullet will drop about 14 inches at 300 yards, or 1.3 mils.
I wasted a few ranging shots because of ‘operator headspacing error’ (confusing MOA for mils, and turning the scope turret the wrong way) but I dialed the scope back to my 100-yard zero and aimed for the head.
Lo and behold, my aimed headshot hit just right of torso center-mass, just like the ballistics table predicted. Even though I couldn’t spot my own hits at that range, I’d turned in a fairly respectable 1.8″ group (sorry for the typo on the target; I was excited.) This works out to just more than 0.6 MOA. My group size didn’t bother me, but hitting 14″ low wasn’t going to cut it, and I wondered if I’d pulled the last shot.
I was already shooting about one inch (.3 mils) high at 100 yards, so I dialed in 1.0 mils of elevation on the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50, calmed my heartbeat, and popped off three rounds at the new zero. Joe’s gi-normous Leica spotting scope showed us one jagged hole, but we both thought I’d yanked the last shot off to the right like before. The anticipation was killing me, so I drove downrange to the target pit and pulled the target myself for a closer look:
I hadn’t pulled the last shot. I’d printed a one-hole cloverleaf with factory ammo at 300 yards, on my first range day with a new rifle and a scope I’d mounted myself. As carefully as I can measure it with calipers, the longest distance from the center of one bullet hole to the next is 0.30″, or exactly the diameter of the bullets themselves. This turned out to be the best group of the day, but only by a little bit.
My miraculous one-holer was the only 300-yard cloverleaf of the day, but Joe turned in groups like this (1.0″ or less) all afternoon.
This was Joe’s best 300-yard group. He thinks he could have done better with a rear monopod, and I think he could. Many of his groups looked like this: two bullets through the same hole with one flier. His ‘fliers’ from the AX-308 still hit within 1/2 MOA, so he didn’t get too depressed about them.
The very worst group of the entire day was my handiwork: a vertically-strung 2.9″ at 300 yards. The next-worst group was my first group of 1.8 inches, and everything averaged just over an inch. Even including my 2.9 inch mulligan, the AX-308 averaged 1.53″ at 300 yards. Just over 1/2 MOA. If you exclude both the mulligan and the miraculous one-holer, the group size average is still 1.53″, or 1/2 MOA.
I don’t know what Foghorn would make of those statistics, but to me it suggests that the rifle, scope and ammo are all extremely consistent because even the outliers (the best and worst groups) are still right on the curve.
Accuracy: 600 yards
We tried to take the AX-308 to our longest-range shooting quarry, nearly two hours’ drive away, but we were blocked by a 12-foot high snowbank. To really stretch the AX-308’s legs we had to wait for Tuesday afternoon, the only day of the week when Joe’s club opens their 600-yard range.
It would have been simple to look up the ballistic table for 168-grain .308 boattails at 2670 fps, but we didn’t and we wasted much of our precious range time getting on paper.
Once we were dialed in, we averaged 3″-4″ groups at 600 yards with the Black Hills 168-grain pills. 600 yards is just over a third of a mile. At that range a given rifle’s point of impact is affected by wind, humidity, temperature, air pressure, and even the brightness of the sunlight and the heat absorption of the surfaces between the rifle and the target. All sorts of things can start to go crazy at 600 yards.
Despite all this, the AX-308 delivered its payloads within a target circle of 0.5 to 0.66 MOA, almost the same degree of angular precision (0.5 MOA) that it delivered at 100 and 300 yards.
This rifle is so accurate and consistent that I believe it could regularly hit a human-sized target at a range of one mile if the shooter were blessed with exceptionally still air. Real-world conditions would make this a very, very rare feat, since even the longest and pointiest 7.62mm bullets go subsonic (and start to wobble) long before they reach the mile marker at 1760 yards.
Right out of the box, the AX-308 has the ruggedness, reliability and mind-boggling accuracy to do anything that its 7.62x51mm cartridge is capable of doing. The AX-308 and its larger sibling AX-338 are in service with elite units all over the world. A Navy SEAL shooting buddy announced that this was the most accurate rifle he’s ever touched, bar none. Roger that.
This kind of Tier One quality doesn’t come cheap. Even if an Accuracy International rifle is out of your price range (as it certainly is mine) you should put it on your lifetime bucket list. Spending a few hours shooting one at long range is like driving a Ferrari, only safer. It really is that good. In fact, it’s better.
Ratings (Out Of Five Stars)
Accuracy * * * * *
You will never fire a more accurate and consistent rifle in your entire life.
Reliability * * * * *
Over 300 rounds without a hitch.
Ergonomics * * * * *
Incredibly comfortable (except when you’re carrying it or shooting offhand) and fully adjustable in every way you can think of.
Aesthetics: who cares?
I think it looks like an Imperial Stormtrooper E-11 sniper rifle. That may or may not be cool to you, but looks are completely irrelevant to a rifle this accurate and reliable.
Customize This: who cares?
It’s got everything you need except an incredible scope, a sling and a bipod.
Overall Rating: * * * * *