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Sunday before SHOT Show, the guys from Shaolin Rifleworks invited me out to the desert to check out their new lineup. I admit I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect of yet another AR from yet another assembler. However, it turns out Shaolin is much more than that, and their hit list of high-end, custom, all-in-house machine work, hand fitting, accuracy testing and real-world 1/2 MOA guarantee piqued my interest. What just might be the most accurate AR rifles in the world at an MSRP lower than most vaguely competitive options? Yes, I’m listening. Details and first impressions follow. . .

Accuracy is where Shaolin stakes its claim, and every firearm that leaves the shop must first print 5 strings at or under 1/2 MOA (3/4 for .300 BLK) at 100 yards in real world conditions. Real world? Cameron from Shaolin showed me a photo of their outdoor range from a couple weeks ago, covered in at least a foot of NH snow. The rifle is still expected to do what it’s expected to do.

Standing, with Shaolin’s .308 on a bipod sitting atop the liftgate of Dodge’s finest, on a very windy afternoon in the desert — and the horrible audio in the video gives an indication of how windy it was indeed — I managed to print this 5-shot group with Federal Gold Medal Match:


And I am not a particularly proficient long-range shooter, either. With a sandbag or two and a calm day, I’m sure it would make me look even better.

This accuracy itself is no mystery. It is achieved by starting with a top quality barrel blank, turning it in-house, ensuring that the chamber (which is cut with a proprietary reamer), receiver, barrel extension, bolt lugs, bolt face, etc are all completely concentric to each other. Machining within  0.0005″ tolerances and hand-lapping will get you there. Reliability is also a concern, of course, and assisting with that is an adjustable gas block that’s tuned at Shaolin during each rifle’s testing.

For more information on the build process and the parts used in a standard Shaolin Rifleworks rifle, visit their Features page.

Cameron from Shaolin shooting their 5.56 rifle

If “standard” isn’t your thing, no worries. Shaolin does a significant amount of custom work as well. You could make minor changes to a Shaolin rifle such as requesting a different stock or hand guard, or come up with something entirely on your own. For example, a particularly tall customer of Shaolin’s wanted an XXXLong handguard with the top milled down and engraved with a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The answer? Weld together two Seekins Precision pieces.

photo 1 photo 3photo 2Apparently if you can think it, Shaolin can build it. Yes, I’m hoping for a full T&E gun this spring.

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  1. I wonder if the ATF BS letter was purposely planned to fvck up Shot Show?
    Could they be that devious?
    Well on the plus side all the manufacturers are probably present and they can have some F2F’s and start talking about pitching in the dollars and lawyers into the upcoming lawsuit.

    We’re going to see a lot of F’d up videos with brace equipped firearms.
    Sternum supported….LOL

  2. I know the owners of Shaolin RW in real life, and I can attest to everything stated by this author, and more, about those guns. He didn’t mention the AMAZING custom-tuned Geissele trigger that they tune in-house. Who knew that a Geissele trigger could be “made better”?? There’s video on youtube of my first impression of that trigger (and I’m a longtime Geiselle customer.) See for yourself (youtube link below). The gun is heavy enough for target/precision use, but light and nimble enough to carry all day as part of a larger load-out. Suffice it to say, I’ve been saving up for this gun for about 7 months now. The bigger players like Wilson Combat/GP etc. will truly need to step up their game, and drop their prices by orders of magnitude in order to get close to this. Not exaggerating. This gun just walks over other top-end 308 AR’s, makes them obsolete. Check it out, around the 8:50 mark:

  3. OK. Earlier post has Nick shooting at plate at almost a grand.
    And now this?
    I’m very, very interested in a sub MOA AR. Especially in .308ish. Or 6.5 maybe?


  4. Yet another rifle maker showing that the accuracy game isn’t won with hammer-forged barrels.

    Some of the techniques are borrowed from now fairly standard bolt gun accuracy mods.

    • I think that’s exactly it. It has long since been done for accurizing bolt guns so why not take all of those things and do it on an AR? Lap everything to everything else, square everything to everything else. “Surprise,” it’s damn accurate now.

      • Probably in part because the Geezer Science thinking for a loooong time has been that it can’t be done with a semi-auto…too many moving parts.

        It was disproved long before it was accepted. The remaining step was to make it ‘affordable’ to do it.

        I’ll always have a special place in my heart for bolt actions, but there is no denying that semi’s have largely ‘caught up,’ especially in the realm of anything for the field.

        When I first saw the headline, first thought was “not your OTC barrel.”

        • You can’t make a semi-auto as tight as a bolt gun. There’s really no way to be able to make it cycle reliably if you made things lock up as tight as the modern accuracy bolt gun. Modern bolt gun chambers are running with reduced diameter necks, and the case necks are lovingly hand-turned on a mandrel to insure that the bullet is as co-axial to the bore as possible when the bolt is locked. .

          Bolt gun shooters who want their brass to conform to their chamber perfectly fire-form their brass before shooting for scores. They take new brass, put in a reduced load and shoot cheap or seconds bullets. If they want to preserve their high-dollar barrel as much as possible, they put in a small (so small that it is just there to cause a pressure spike to get the brass to fully form to your chamber, nothing more) load of powder, fill the balance of the case with Cream of Wheat and plug the case neck with a wad of toilet paper (do NOT do this on a gas rifle – what a great way to plug your gas system!).

          These shooters will then only neck-size the brass, and maybe bump the shoulder after a couple uses. They don’t full-length resize the brass. If you want reliable loading of your reloaded ammo in a semi-auto, you’re going to have to full-length size the brass once it has been fired. I’ve tried neck-size-only brass into a couple of my AR’s. It will work… some of the time. Then you’ll get that string of rounds that won’t lock the bolt.

          And if the fire-formed brass is a bit snug in a bolt gun’s chamber? Or the neck wasn’t turned down quiiiiiite enough? So what? You have the incredible camming power of the bolt – you can force that round into the chamber and it will go in. And you have camming power on the extraction stroke, too. That case is coming back out. That’s one advantage that the bolt action has over every other type of rifle action – not just semi-autos. This is an issue with falling blocks, lever-actions, slide action, break-top actions, you name it. The bolt action is able to tolerate tighter case fits into the chamber than any other type of action, due to the camming on lock-down and on extraction.

          On an AR, if you had brass that is as snug as some bolt gun competitors’ brass is at times, you’d need to have the mother of all thumbs on the forward assist to get that round to go home and the bolt to lock up. And if the case didn’t extract after firing? It’s all you, baby, hauling back on the charging handle.

          Here, we’re talking about a semi-auto that they’re guaranteeing a group of 1/2 MOA or less. To the bolt gun world, that’s “nice,” but it won’t take home the prizes for you at benchrest competitions today unless there was significant wind (and variable wind at that) at the match, and you can dope the wind better than everyone else on the line. Now, in NRA Highpower matches, many matches have been won with 1+ MOA rifles by people who could shoot iron sights and dope wind better than the next shooter. But once we’re talking about absolute group sizes and high-magnification scopes, that skill is less a factor. Now the rifle has to perform.

          There are bolt guns today now throwing down groups of 1/8th of an inch and less at 100 yards, with pretty good repeatability. There’s still the record set by the McMillan family in the early 70’s of a 0.000 or 0.009″ group:

          That was 40 years ago, folks.

          There are benchrest guys throwing down 100 yard groups under 0.050 every couple of years now:

          The problem for a semi-auto is that you can’t squeeze the variables involving the gas system and the action lock-up down to 0.000″ every single time. You need some clearance between parts to allow it to cycle reliably. There’s just no way around this issue in a semi-auto. Competition bolt guns can be absurdly tight.

          Then there are the issues that are unique to the AR. One of the things that lots of people fail to understand about the AR platform is that the way the gas tube sits into the gas key on top of the bolt carrier affects accuracy. If the gas tube is striking one side of the key and missing the other, that will cost you some accuracy. The AMU has experimented with this stuff and their guys spend real time fiddling with the fit of their gas tubes into the keys. Another is the barrel fit into the upper receiver – Shiloh appears (from what they’ve written) to be address that, as they are with the lapped-in barrel extension, and then lapping the bolt to the extension, etc. All good stuff.

          The point here isn’t that this is a bad rifle. This is a very good rifle from all appearances. But those who think that semi-auto rifles are as accurate as bolt guns need to poke their head into the benchrest and F-class worlds and find out just how accurate modern bolt rifles have become. Semi-autos simply aren’t there yet, and even the AR isn’t there yet, and that with decades of time and money invested by groups like the AMU and Marine marksmanship units. Both of these military shooting groups have discovered a lot of things to make the AR a very accurate rifle; more accurate than the Garand or M-14/M1A in semi-auto matches. Today, you cannot lavish enough time and money on a M1A or Garand to make it beat an AR in highpower or leg matches any more. As a guy who prefers shooting the M1A, this breaks my heart, but it is the brutal, inescapable truth.

          In semi-auto rifles, the tuned AR is now king of the hill for accuracy.

          But they’re still not able to do what a bolt gun can do and has been doing for years now.

  5. You say “MSRP”, but is this not the actual street price as they look to be ordered directly from Shaolin RW?

    • Yeah, I suppose you’re right. But maybe if you tell them you came calling because of TTAG and say nice things about Cameron’s beard, he’ll hook you up with a discount 🙂

  6. Wuzi! One of my favorite quotations. It sums up my attitude about carrying weapons, and should be more widely known in the firearms community.

    I’m pretty amazed at a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee on an AR. That blows away the competition. Competitors like G.A. Precision (GAP-10), LaRue Tactical (OBR), and Christensen Arms (CA-10) only give a 1 MOA accuracy guarantee with their .308 ARs. A 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee is generally seen on bolt actions in this price range made by these companies. Of course the shooter will probably have an easier time wringing that accuracy out of a bolt-action due to things like faster lock time and fewer handloading restrictions (Dyspeptic Gunsmith writes about some of those advantages above—please let me be your apprentice or indentured servant! I know they are not going to teach me this well in gunsmithing school).

    A rifle like this should also be available chambered in accurate chamberings like .260 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and/or 7mm-08 Remington (.243 Winchester is in that class for accuracy but only with the heaviest bullets and stout loadings that in general won’t fit in an SR-25 magazine or work in an AR). The 6.5mms are as good as you can get in an AR accuracy-wise, but I also care about the terminal performance that is a bit better with 7mm-08.

    It’s a full-featured rifle and I don’t find fault with it’s configuration for most uses, but I’ll bet it’s too damn heavy in my estimation. No weight given. Oh sure, not for the range, competition, or perhaps police use most people are buying it for. Heft can often be ideal in those cases. But I like my rifles to be weapons first. That means I’d be walking with this rifle for days along with hundreds of rounds of relatively heavy rifle ammunition, armor, and likely a heavy backpack. I’m into lighter-weight components like MAG Tactical Systems AIR-15 magnesium-aluminum alloy receivers (AIR-10 anytime soon?), BCM KMR magnesium-aluminum alloy handguards, and Christensen Arms carbon fiber-wrapped barrels. So I can carry more ammo, have more mobility and less fatigue. Weight, weight, weight. Why do most soldiers carry intermediate ammo instead of rifle ammo nowadays? Weight. Weight is really important in a .308 rifle that may be taken afield, so that I can still carry the extra pounds of ammo I need. Guys who only shoot from a chair often don’t understand this and appreciate light weight designs.

    • I don’t know exactly what the gun weighs, but I would guess it to be around 8.5-9# (I’ve handled/shot it, with a bipod and scope mounted). It handles beautifully. It looked heavier than it was. I actually loved it. You can see me maneuvering it with one hand in the video link I posted above, around the 8:50 mark. This is NOT a heavy/unwieldy gun. It’s simply marvelous. I am definitely getting one as soon as I can afford to.

    • Just for the record, selling guns with a 1/2 MOA guarantee doesn’t mean that’s the best they’ll do. It means that’s the worst they’ll do. From what they told me, Shaolin’s expectations are quite a bit higher than what they guarantee. Which obviously all makes sense, since if 1/2 were the average then they’d be throwing out half of the rifles they build hahaha. 1/2 needs to be the least accurate end of the scale, which means the average rifle is going to be capable of markedly better…

  7. How can I get in touch with SHAOLIN RIFLEWORKS? The website asks for a password. Dah??

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