There’s a certain swagger that goes along with shooting a hotrod rifle. It is the sort of thing that makes you act downright intolerable around your shooting buddies. People might tell you that money can’t buy your way out of bad shooting skills, but I’ve come to believe that this is only partially true. Spend enough money, and you can certainly outshoot some guys with much cheaper rifles. And when you buy a gun that’s straddles the line between “finely assembled” and “bespoke”, you find a certain mechanized perfection that’s not available in off the rack guns. The Underground Tactical Long Range Bacon Maker is one of those guns . . .
Laid out prone under a big oak tree that I know to be roughly 465 yards from a steel IPSC target across a big flat field at my parent’s ranch, I found that rare moment of zen. To my left is a case of Hornady’s finest 6.5 Grendel ammo. Out of the 24 inch barrel of the LR Bacon Maker, it pushes a slick little 123 gr. SST pill to 2518 fps from the muzzle. The Grendel needs that much barrel to get the bullet up to speed. It certainly compromises maneuverability, but laid out prone under that big oak, it doesn’t seem to matter.
On the edge of my shooting mat is a ten round Magpul PMag loaded with five rounds of the aforementioned Hornady ammo. Loading more squeezes the polymer of the PMag too far to fit into the magazine well of the LR Bacon Maker. Five rounds is a good number of rounds anyway. The BaconMaker ships with one steel magazine which seems to be a little chintzy for a rifle that costs this much. Back to zen though.
In my left hand is my iPhone with a copy of “Shooter”. It tells me that I need to dial exactly three mils of elevation on the Bushnell HDMR that I’m using to help extend the legs of this gun. “Shooter” also tells me that I need to hold one mil for a ten mile per hour wind. I take a look through the scope to see that the mirage is rising almost vertically. I smile a bit at the perfectly calm day I’ve been handed. Looking back at my phone, I swipe the little wheel down to five mph and see that I should only hold half a mil at this distance. I make the elevation change on the HDMR, and exchange the iPhone for a loaded magazine.
The mag takes a little persuasion to get in the well. I know that steel magazines probably don’t have this trouble, but the standard capacity magazines are a bit too long to work with the Harris bipod mounted to the Seekins rail out front. I press the bolt release and the bolt slides home.
I verify that the safety selector is still on safe, and then start my little dance to get settled. I start by wrapping my hand confidently around the sticky rubber of the Hogue grip. I push forward with my toes a bit to load the Harris bipod, and then I lay my cheek down on the now warm Magpul PRS. I fiddle with the knob a bit to adjust my cheek rise. One click up gives me a great sight picture.
Next, I squeeze my sandbag slightly to bring the crosshairs down where I want them. Last, I work from my toes to my stock laying everything I own as flat to the ground as I can. I smile again thinking about that granola yoga instructor who told me to find my center while I sat in a hot room sweating profusely and grunting. She should try this gun I think to myself.
When I’m satisfied with my position, I line up my crosshairs, close my eyes, and give myself three breaths with my eyes closed. I open them, startled a bit at how bright it has gotten. My crosshairs are still lined up on the small dot I spray painted on the steel target some fifteen minutes beforehand. I glance around the target a bit and make sure my wind call is still correct, and I’m pleased to see that we still have relative calm at the ranch.
I take one last breath, flip the safety to fire, and rest the pad of my index finger on the slightly rough surface of the trigger shoe. I firm up the pressure on my finger as I exhale, and continue squeezing as I hit my natural respiratory pause.
Nothing really compares to breaking a glassy trigger right at the three and a half lb mark, any semblance of recoil tamed by the stout JP Bennie Cooley brake on the business end, and getting the crosshairs back on target fast enough to watch the last of a vapor trail terminating at a piece of hardened steel. A full two seconds after the first impulse of recoil, there’s a satisfying return from the steel to let you know that all that prep work was worth it. Four more just like it let you know that gun, optic, and operator are working in harmony.
It takes a lot to make that harmony happen. As I proved in my preview article, a somewhat competent operator and a 4X scope can get the job done. But both that scope and I were attached to a gun that (as equipped for this test) cost north of $3200. There’s no getting past it. Underground Tactical wants a lot of money before they’ll let you have one of these guns. Some of that money goes towards function, and some goes to style.
About the cost thing, the cheapest version of this gun runs $2695. Depending on what barrel fluting options you pick, you can add between $100 and $225 to the cost of the gun. The piston system is optional and adds $350 to the price tag. The JP Bennie Cooley brake is standard, but there’s seven other options that add between $10 and $60. A Harris bipod is factored into the cost, but if you’d like to add an Atlas, it’ll cost you $165. The model I tested with the fancy flutes and the piston system is $3270. The only way to make it cost more would be to plop an AAC 51T Brake to the front and swap the Harris for an Atlas bipod. Total retail price on the full boat model is $3495.
The piston system used by Underground looks exactly like a bigger version of the Osprey Kit I tested. Just like in my testing, it worked like a charm and kept the guns of the BaconMaker unbelievably clean. I’ve always felt that direct impingement was “good enough” but if you’re going to pony up this much money anyway, why not rock the piston too so you can spend more time shooting, and less time cleaning.
When tearing into the upper to figure out what the gas system guts looked like, I was surprised to see a pretty standard parkerized bolt carrier group. Again, for a gun that costs this much, you’d hope to see a nickel boron or similar coated bolt. Osprey offers a Fail Zero option to their kits that includes a self-lubricating coating. I’m picking nits, but for this much money, you’d hope to see a coated bolt under the hood.
Starting at the butt and moving towards the business end, you’ll find some familiar names along the way. There’s the aforementioned Magpul PRS stock, arguably one of the finest precision butt stocks you can stick on a precision AR 15. The guts of the upper and lower receiver appear to be all made in house by Underground, though they probably started as forgings from one of a few companies that make such a thing. The hand guard is a free floated Seekins KeyMod unit. Twenty four inches of fancy black and stainless barrel fluting later, we arrive at the very effective, and very loud, JP Bennie Cooley brake. It took sixth place in Jeremy’s brake shootout, but I don’t care. It works like a charm.
The Bacon Maker comes in three caliber flavors, 5.56 NATO/.223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel, and 6.8 SPC II. All serve their purpose, but in a truly short action cartridge I’m inclined to believe that the Grendel shines the brightest. Designed to work in the short magazine well of the AR 15 platform it pushes slippery 6.5 bullets that buck the wind better that even the nicest 77 gr .223 bullets and hits harder at distances the heaviest .300 BLK loadings dream about while they lay awake at night. Yes, I skipped over 6.8 in that comparison. Mostly because I think the 6.8 and 6.5 are so close in practical ballistics that it’s not worth chatting about too much.
Yes, the 6.5 bullets do even better when taken from the relatively sedate 2500 fps offered by the Grendel to a more robust 2900 fps or so with a similar 120 gr projectile from something like 6.5 Creedmoor or .260 Remington. But inside of 600 yards or so — where this cartridge is designed to work, and frankly where most shooters can actually hit what they aim at — the Grendel is an admirable performer. Shooting the 123 gr. SST, it carries some 1000 ft-lbs of energy out past 400 yards, dipping below 750 ft-lbs a touch after 600 yards. It moves through the transonic zone at some distance past 1000 yards depending on the conditions. On a moderately hot 80 degree day at 2000 feet, “Shooter” tells me that 1200 yards is about that tipping point. That’s a mighty little cartridge, one I hope to test out on some pigs in late May at a piece of land whose owner sees too many pigs over morning coffee.
The Underground Bacon Maker is everything you’d come to expect from a very expensive AR 15, especially one chambered in an oddball cartridge like 6.5 Grendel. The fit and finish work on the receiver, bolt, and hand guard are totally free from defects or tool marks. The trigger is pure perfection, and the ONLY cosmetic blemishes I can find are some chipping in the clear coat over Cerakote, a touch of rust on the screws that hold the Seekins rail, and some faint tool marks in the fluted barrel. I ran 200 rounds of that Hornady ammo through the gun and got it to hiccup just once.
I’ve had this sort of failure a few times on guns that have had several thousand rounds through them. I’m of the opinion that when this happens the ejector has lost some of its juice and should be tuned up. My understanding is that this is not a factory fresh gun. As such, it has some uncounted thousands of rounds down the barrel, making this sort of thing par for the course. Though it seems to have largely been well kept, it does have a couple of blemishes.
Finish and Function
The clear coat is a non standard option and one that Underground has only applied to two guns, both owned by Underground’s co-owner Jason Carter. I don’t see much of a point in it, since Cerakote is hard enough on its own, and I think the shine brought by the clear looks a little silly. Compound that with the fact that clear coat doesn’t want to stay put, and I’d opt out of this forever.
From a usability standpoint, this gun is set up just the way I like a gun set up. It features the Magpul PRS stock, a butt stock I’ve used with great success over the years and a common sight on any AR set up for precision work. There’s an adjustable trigger that breaks at exactly three and a half pounds — I didn’t feel the need to adjust it from that point. The charging handle comes with an aggressive large latch that helps pull back a bolt that feels like it is riding on glass rails.
The hand guard is KeyMod, which allows a tremendous amount of customization. And even though it tips the scales at over nine and a half pounds, it doesn’t “feel” that way at all thanks to a balance point somewhere behind the front takedown pin. It’s a long, and heavy gun, but it gives the feeling that with an aggressive Chris Costa grip and stance, you might be able to clean the local carbine match course.
The only thing stuck to it from the factory is a Harris bipod, which led me to my only functional complaint with the gun: the implementation of a Harris bipod on a KeyMod rail. Obviously, this is a gun made to run a bipod. And any bipod on the front of a gun I’m using is going to get a workout. I get pretty aggressive loading the bipod on any long range rifle, and after a few cycles of that, I managed to break the mount that Underground elected to use.
For some reason, Underground went with a small KeyMod “button” that locks into one slot and has a swivel on it. It probably works fine for attaching a sling to, but for rocking a bipod, it falls short. I managed to work it loose after about sixty rounds, and went to a Primary Weapons KeyMod/Swivel adapter when I got back from the ranch. I’m hard on gear, so maybe the Underground Guys haven’t run into this problem before. Either way, this is any easy fix, and on a gun this nice, it should be a no brainer to implement a rock solid solution. Luckily nobody was around when I rolled the gun one way and the bipod flew the other shedding hardware as it went. I certainly felt silly.
Speaking of looking silly, the Bacon Maker I tested is 100% not my speed aesthetically. I like my working guns like I like my morning coffee. Dark, functional, and easy to carry. The Underground gun, while remarkably lithe for sporting a twenty four inch barrel is gaudy, ostentatious, and decidedly “showy”. There’s a certain type of person who likes this look, and I’m just not that guy. That said, if you like it, Underground can make it happen for you.
Unlike the Honda Civics I see on the highway with low profile tires and fat wings JB Welded to the trunk, the Underground BaconMaker is all show and all go. I ran two hundred rounds through it without cleaning and the only hiccup I had was the aforementioned failure to eject. It never did it again so I’m willing to look at it as a small blip on an otherwise stellar performer. I shot PMags and the (one) included steel magazine, and while the steel mags loaded easier, neither had trouble feeding the gun. As I do with guns on loan, I never cleaned it and though I felt the desire, I never lubed it. The only failure I experienced was the failure to eject.
In the accuracy department, with an appropriate optic, I was able to throw down five shot sub MOA groupings at everything from 100 out to 465 yards. I even put my sweet mother behind the trigger, and she put five on the steel IPSC target at 465. I’m certain that off bags instead of a bipod, with handloads, and somebody who isn’t a bumbling doofus squeezing the trigger, the gun is capable of more. Keep in mind that this gun has lived a hard life and came to me used with an unknown round count down the barrel. That it can still hold five shot groups under 1 MOA speaks to the quality of components being used. This gun is a shooter, no need to belabor the point further by talking about diminishing returns.
The trigger on this gun is pretty amazing, but there’s a caveat. While the trigger claims on the website to be Underground Tactical’s own in-house job, the trigger is actually made by a company called Elfmann Tactical. Underground Tactical designed the trigger blade itself and hired Elfmann to make the entire package. FYI.
Is it worth nearly north of $3000? Maybe. I don’t see it, but others who have bought the gun already apparently do. Are there better AR platform chamberings for long range work? Again, maybe, but I’d argue that 6.5 Grendel is a fine one to pick. Me, I’d forego the fancy piston system, the gaudy, though functional barrel fluting, and the various other add-ons to get the price down closer to the base model price if I were in the market. But if you’re looking for an out of the box 6.5 Grendel workhorse that will never let you down, you’d be hard pressed to do better than Underground’s gun.
Specifications: Underground Tactical Long Range Bacon Maker – 6.5 Grendel
- Forged Upper and Lower Receiver: Mil-Spec with Enhanced Flared Magazine Well and M4 Feed Ramps. CNC Machined of 7075-T6 Aluminum, Type III Hard Coat Anodized.
- Barrel: Match Grade 416R Stainless Steel Featuring Caudle 3 Land Polygonal Rifling. Standard/Medium Profile. 24″ Barrel Length
- Available Calibers and Twist: 6.5 Grendel “II” 1:8, 6.8 SPCII, 1:11, 5.56 NATO 1:9.
- Gas System: Choice of Direct Impingement or Piston. Rifle Length
- Muzzle Device: Bennie Cooley Muzzle Brake Threaded on and Timed
- Bolt Carrier Group: Mil-Spec Bolt Carrier Assembly w/Properly Staked Gas Key. Black Nitride.
- Bolt: Machined from 9310AQ (Aircraft Quality) Steel
- Receiver Extension: Rifle
- Buffer: H Buffer
- HandGuard: CNC Machined of 6061-T6 Aluminum. 15″ Free Float w/ keymod system and Monolithic Picatinny Top Rail (MIL-STD-1913)
- Buttstock: Magpul PRS Rifle Stock
- Pistol Grip: Choice of Magpul MOE, MOE+, MIAD, ERGO Deluxe or Hogue Rubber Grip with Finger Grooves
- Trigger Guard: Magpul MOE® Trigger Guard, Enhanced Polymer
- Trigger: Elfmann Tactical 3 1/2lb. Adjustable Precision Trigger, with custom Underground Tactical designed trigger blade. Runs on roller bearings. Choice of Flat or Curved. Adjustable from 2.5lbs to 4.5lbs
- Charging Handle: Underground Tactical Charging Handle w/ Tactical Latch
- Bipod: Harris Adjustable Swivel Bi-pod or optional Atlas bi-pod
- Rifle Case: Tactical Soft Case
- Magazine: One
- Sights: Sold Seperately
- Action: – Semi-automatic
- Made in TEXAS!
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit, Finish, Function * * *
All of the parts that move in the Bacon Maker slide together like greased pieces of glass, though there were machining marks in the barrel fluting . There was also a poor connection between Harris’ fine bipod and Seekins’ stylish KeyMod rail. On a $1000 gun, I’d deduct only a star, but for a rifle that runs north of $3000, the bipod problems, the clear coat problems, and the machining marks earn the Bacon Maker a two star deduction. Seeing one failure out of 200 rounds makes that seem even more fair.
Real World Usage * * * *
This is a deceptively heavy gun that still measures forty-four inches from snout to tail. I think I’d pick another rifle to hump 10 miles a day through the wilderness, and thanks to the twenty four inch barrel, the Grendel needs to get up to speed, it is surely not a fit for shooting out of a truck. But for a sedate walk to a blind or flat patch of ground to shoot some critters at 300 – 500 yards, I think it is a fine choice.
Accuracy * * * * *
I’m unable to award anything less than five stars for a gun that holds right at 1 MOA for five shots at 465 yards using factory ammo off a bipod. Count me extra super double pleased to see this from a gun that’s had a lot of rounds pumped through it. I’d certainly love to see what the gun can do with some hand loading and a couple different bullets selections, but for out of the box work, you won’t be disappointed.
Overall Rating * * * *
I value function over form so the points I took off for chipping clear coat and subtle machining marks don’t impact the final number much. A poor implementation of a Harris bipod and one failure to eject is really all that stood between this gun and a really high four-star rating. Other than one hiccup, this gun is a reliable shooter no matter which way you slice it. It has all the parts you’d end up buying anyway, and for some people it looks cool as well. For my first crack at an Underground rifle, I’m very impressed.