At one point during my life, I had a short-lived affair with a woman a bit older and much more respected in certain social circles than I was. Beyond the brevity of our tryst, the only other thing of note was the simultaneous boosting and destruction of my ego that occurred when I was with her. My friends would stare at me slack jawed when they found out we were seeing each other, often punctuating their disbelief with statements like, “But she’s so much cooler than you!”
In the company of my roommates, I was the bees knees. But when it was just the two of us, she made it quite clear that her attitude mirrored those of my pals, that I wasn’t to speak to anyone about the nature of our relationship, and that while we might be friendly in private, I wasn’t to be seen with her in public for fear of damaging her reputation.
I bring all of this up because the only other time I’ve felt simultaneously larger than life and utterly wrecked emotionally was behind the trigger of the Ugly Duckling Rifle, fresh back from getting prettied up by Accurate Ordnance.
I’d visited Accurate Ordnance with Nick for the first time back in March of 2015 to see the guts of a custom rifle shop. The whole team there is awesome, with a really great focus on industry partnerships, customer service, and excellent quality of work.
Shortly after the trip, I sent them a couple rifles for threading, and the work was turned around quickly, they kept me up to date on the progress, and the fit and finish was flawless. While I wasn’t necessarily in the market for a custom rifle at the time, I appreciated the fact that they had ready-to-shoot custom rifles in stock, and enough raw materials on hand to turn around a true custom in record time – no need to wait for months.
They could put together a rifle in weeks if what they had on the floor didn’t suit you. Further poking around on the internet led me to the conclusion that their rifles were absolute hammers and that any problems that had ever come up had been dealt with quickly and professionally.
After shooting thousands of rounds on behalf of TTAG for the last five years, I’ve come to the conclusion that any rifle can shoot accurately once. Bargain bin Savages, the cheapest Rugers, and pawn shop jobs can shoot a sub-minute five-shot group when the stars align.
It’s worth noting that the general state of accuracy in today’s production rifles is unprecedented. Fifteen years ago, you could count on a factory rifle to shoot inside of two inches with factory ammo and that was about as good as it might get without significant effort on your part. Expecting much more was a fool’s errand. Today’s rifles, many of which I’ve tested, are priced at almost bargain bin prices and can shoot circles around the guns of yore. The issue at hand is whether they can’t do it all the time in any conditions.
Shortly thereafter, I became the owner of a shadetree gunsmithed Remington 700 that a friend had put aside in favor of an Accuracy International AT. It had a bone stock receiver with an AAC barrel in .260 REM screwed to the end. It sat nice and tidy in a McMillan A5, already had a CDI detachable bottom metal, and a Timney 510 trigger.
Given that I have always loved the McMillan A5 and Timney triggers, it had all of the things I wanted, with the exception of the barrel. My buddy had installed it himself and it was thoroughly shot out after thousands of rounds of competitions and practice.
The day after I bought it, I boxed it up and sent it off to Accurate Ordnance with a note that said, “Make this into something cool.” Mark called a few days later to tell me that he’d gotten the rifle, and that he’d also just gotten off the phone with Rock Creek who enthusiastically agreed to give us the barrel for the project.
Accurate Ordnance bases some of their recommendation to a customer on intended workload. They knew that I’m averse to cleaning rifles and that the work I’d be doing would include long, strenuous, hot sessions of shooting. As the barrel is the beating heart of a precision rifle, it matters quite a bit who makes the tube. Their experience with Rock Creek has been that they are remarkably consistent under heavy abuse.
Seekins Precision was kind enough to hand over one of their 20 MOA scope bases, too. Sunny Hill chipped in with a recoil lug and Badger Ordnance provided a BAR. All the parts in place, it was time for Jason Nixon, Accurate Ordnance’s chief gunsmith, to start work.
As most factory Remington receivers are not square from the factory, the first order of business was cleaning up the receiver so that it would mate perfectly with the barrel and recoil lug. I didn’t get a final number from the team on how much material needed to be removed to true it up, but Mark indicated that it wasn’t the worst receiver they’d ever seen, but it was right up there. Similar operations were performed to clean up the bolt face and lugs. While they were doing surgery, they opened up the receiver screw holes from #6 to #8. This was done for a couple reasons. First, the screw holes didn’t line up perfectly with the bore (Thanks Remington!), and bigger is stronger and stronger is better.
Once squared, the receiver and barrel were mated, and chambered. The ordering of these operations is a mystery to me, but the end result was a barreled action that was chambered in .308 WIN, twenty-inches long, with a M24 contour, and threaded 5/8″-24 at the muzzle. Given the testing I wanted to do with silencers, it only made sense to thread the barrel, and given the fact that I wanted to eliminate as much barrel flex as possible from point of impact shift testing, I elected to go with a relatively short, fat, stiff barrel. The final product bears a lot of resemblance to Accurate Ordnance’s M24-AO with the exception of the shorter barrel and the McMillan stock.
Given my recent musings on the 6.5 Creedmoor, some might wonder why I didn’t elect to chamber it in that cartridge. And while I have a lot of respect for the 6.5, this rifle was built for testing everything from scopes to mounts to silencers and even ammo. Given that most rifle silencers are either 5.56 or .308, and the fact that I wanted to use this rifle for sound testing, .308 really made a lot of sense. Add in the fact that .308 WIN is readily available, and fairly easy to load for with a plethora of projectile options, and it was a natural fit.
I’d explained to Mark in the beginning that this rifle would spend most of its life pushing Federal Gold Medal 168 gr or 175 gr SMKs. While I’d originally lobbied for a 1:10 twist, Mark gently eased me to a 1:11.27 twist, perfectly reasonable for the bullets I planned on shooting and good for the heavier 185 grain Berger Juggernaut down to about 20 degrees at the elevations I shoot at. Since it is above 20 degrees in my part of Texas for all but about ten days each year, I’m OK with that.
When the guys at AO originally opened my rifle up, they discovered that my McMillan A5 had not had pillars installed, nor had it been bedded. They addressed both of these issues along with the installation of a new Badger Ordnance BAR. With that done, they Cerakoted the barreled action OD Green, fitted everything together, and took it to the range.
Above are the first few rounds out of the rifle during sight in. As they do, Mark texted me some photos from the range to let me know how things were looking and then they cleaned it up, boxed it up, and sent it back home. From the time I shipped it out, until I got it back in my hands was roughly a month. Since it has come back, I’ve taken it out for several range sessions to get a feel for it, and I’ve got to say that I’m just thoroughly floored.
Given that the stock, trigger, and bottom metal were all things I knew I wanted, the rifle is, in my mind, perfect. The A5 is the gold standard for “tactical” stocks and as this gun will spend a lot of time shot prone, it is a joy to be behind. Where Accurate Ordnance’s work matters is in the fitment of the barrel, the action, and the mating of those two to the stock. Or more succinctly, the accuracy department. Above is one of the very first groups I shot at my local indoor range off a bipod and a rear bag with a USO 3.2-17 LR-17 scope. I was quite pleased with it, so I sent a picture to Mark to let him know that things were going well. He replied with something along the lines of, “You can do better.”
In the last two years, I’ve only shot two rifles that, in my mind at least, eliminated the rifle from the accuracy equation. The first was the Accuracy International AT I reviewed a few months back, and this one. With both rifles, you can look at your target and know if you’re having a good day or not. There are simply not any fliers of any kind that aren’t shooter induced.
Early on in my ownership of this rifle, I noticed a lot of horizontal stringing in my shots that I diagnosed as some subtle thumb pressure I was applying while squeezing the rear bag. In a rifle prone to weird little issues, I might have very well written that off as a gun induced issue. Sure enough, I changed the way I set up for a shot, and my groups shrunk considerably. Speaking of…
Fast forward a month or two, and I finally had a weekend without plans so I packed up my gear and headed out to the ranch for some uninterrupted shooting time. Above is the first target I shot for groups that day. The bottom five shot group is the first five rounds out of a clean barrel. I adjusted the USO up .4 mils, and took fie more shots. Back to back <.5 MOA groups.
As the day progressed, the barrel got hotter and more fouled. I never cleaned it, and I never really let up. After several hundred rounds and hours of shooting, I settled in for my last test of the day and knocked out another sub half minute group. Processing my targets later, I had several three shot groups that started with a .1 which is about as close to “one ragged hole” as it gets. With the day coming to a close, I set my sights on a steel IPSC torso at 400 yards and let loose. Five for five nestled all together in the head zone which is 6″ x 6″ (1.5 MOA). The actual cluster of shots is quite a bit smaller which isn’t too surprising since half minute groups at the hundred yard line translate pretty well at the four hundred yard line. I haven’t yet put together handloads for this rifle, but Brownells was nice enough to let a box of Lapua brass fall off the UPS truck, so you should see some load development work in the near future.
So lets talk about the elephant in the room – cost. If you wanted a rifle fresh out of the box, you could visit with AO directly or any of their stocking dealers and once you part ways with a minimum of $4000, you can have one at your local FFL within a week or two. It would arguably be better than this rifle as it would be built off a custom action instead of a stock Remington 700. If you already have a rifle you like that needs to be rebarreled, the cost might be less than that. The trouble of course is that there may be gremlins, mine sure had them. Out of respect for the guys at AO, I’m going to defer to them on cost estimates. If you want an out of the box rifle, budget $4000+. If you want them to work on an existing rifle, give them a call or shoot them an email, and they’ll happily put together an estimate for you.
Specifications: TTAG’s Ugly Duckling Rifle
- Action: Remington 700 – blueprinted and trued
- Trigger: Timney 510 – 1 lb 11 oz
- Rail: Seekins
- Barrel: Rock Creek
- Caliber: .308 Winchester
- Contour: M24
- Twist: 1:11.27
- Length: 20″
- Muzzle: Threaded 5/8 – 24
- Stock: McMillan A5
- Bottom Metal: CDI
- Price: Varies model to model
Ratings (out of five stars):
Fit and Finish * * * * *
Unfortunately, I’ve seen some “custom” rifle builders turn out poorly finished and poorly coated rifles. This rifle is not like those. Fit and finish are absolutely top notch. If the thread protector for the muzzle wasn’t knurled, it would probably blend in perfectly. The bolt feels as good as any stock Remington 700 can which is more a testament to Remington’s work than Accurate Ordnance’s. All of the Cerakote work was super even, the engraving looked like it had always been there, and it just looks really perfect overall.
Function * * * * *
As this is a bolt action rifle, there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong, and it didn’t. The rifle feeds and fires flawlessly with even and authoritative primer strikes on spent casings, and neat little piles of brass where I’ve been shooting.
Accuracy * * * * *
I have never shot any five-shot groups that start with .4 until I got behind this rifle. Even more impressive is that it basically shoots .5 MOA all the time, every time, in all conditions. If the group starts with a .7 or higher, it is my fault for pulling the shot, flinching, or generally goofing up. I’m really excited to start working up some loads for this rifle to see what sort of accuracy can really be wrung out of it (and me). I’ll be sure to update this review when I do. On the whole, simply stunning accuracy.
Ergonomics * * * * *
I knew what I wanted getting into this rifle, so of course I think its perfect! That said, if you haven’t had the opportunity to shoot a bolt action .308 with a twenty inch barrel, you really do owe it to yourself. For being as chunky as this rifle is, I dare to say it is fairly handy. Yes, I still hate myself while shooting offhand, but I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to humping this rifle around on a long hike looking for far away ungulates. From prone, the bench, or a barrier, the McMillan A5 is a dream, and the trigger is light enough to be useful while still being heavy enough to be safe.
Overall Rating * * * * *
While most of Accurate Ordnance’s customers use their rifles for competitions and hunting, this one is effectively a piece of scientific equipment. As such, it needs to be a precision tool, and it is. The AO logo has a triangle with the words Consistency, Precision, and Confidence on each side, and Mark tells me they hold those three to be supremely important. My experience in the limited few months I’ve been shooting this rifle is that it is precise as a scalpel with factory ammo. No matter how much I beat it up, it still hits what I aim it at with startling consistency. And when it doesn’t, it is always my fault. And finally, it gives me the confidence to tell you as a reader whether a piece of gear is the real deal or not. It is an expensive way to lob bullets downrange, but damned if it doesn’t poke ’em through the same hole nearly every time.