By Karen Farthing
This past Easter Sunday, I had the privilege of traveling to Hawesville, Kentucky to take a private lesson with Charlie Sisk of Sisk Rifles.
Full disclosure – it was a bit of a fan-girl moment for me. I’ve been using Sisk’s articles and lessons to teach my own students both the art and science of precision rifle shooting for the past several years. Getting to learn from him had me feeling like a padawan in the presence of a Jedi Master. It was THAT awesome.
And then I saw his rifles.
To say that a Sisk custom rifle is beautiful is an understatement. These rifles are sleek. They are sexy. And they look fabulous. It was love at first sight.
They are also fundamentally different from any other rifle I’d ever had in my hands. Sisk has designed a fully adjustable system he calls the Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle (STAR). When I say “fully adjustable” I mean just that – a full 360 degrees of rotation on the stock. The length of the stock is adjustable, as well.
So, whether you’re four feet tall with a super short neck, or six feet tall with a long neck (like me), the stock adjusts to fit you. The recoil pad can also be positioned to rest fully upright, fully reversed, or at any setting in between.
This allows for a snug fit no matter how you’re shaped – and no matter what position you need to be in. The cheek pad has about four inches of vertical adjustment and has approximately 40 degrees of tilt both fore and aft, ensuring that good weld is always in reach.
Sisk didn’t forget the niceties, either. With index marks for stock rotation, stock length, and cheek pad adjustment, you can “dope” your stock, just like you do with your optic.
Read TTAG’s 2013 Review of the Sisk STAR rifle HERE
Sisk didn’t stop there. He designed what he calls a Handguard Extending Picatinny Rail (HEPR) that not only allows the shooter to mount accessories (think lights, bipods, and foregrips), but allows for 360 degrees of rotation along the horizontal axis of the rifle – effectively eliminating cant due to positioning.
By now some of you are probably thinking, “That’s dangerous! You’re going to kill someone.” I’m here to tell you, that is absolutely untrue. The STAR system is completely stable, fully adjustable without tools, and absolutely revolutionary.
Case in point – I was able to shoulder the rifle on my non-dominant side, sight with my dominant eye, operate the trigger with my dominant hand, while positioned laterally on a roof with a 4:1 pitch. All with ZERO cant on the rifle. Rang steel 10 for 10.
We were only shooting from 100 yards, so it wasn’t a difficult shot from the perspective of distance. However, without the ability to adjust the rifle to fit my body and my position, it would’ve been terribly difficult to maintain a solid hold.
(Note – I don’t have pictures of myself, because we didn’t have an extra set of hands at the time. However, I asked a friend of mine for pictures from his class, and he graciously shared them with me (H/T Eric Dean). The following pictures are some of the shooting positions Sisk worked me through.)
Not quite the position I used, and it’s not the best camera angle. However, note the position of the bipod mounted on the HEPR.
A huge additional benefit of the STAR system and the HEPR is the ability for the shooter to make the best use of cover and concealment. As well as the ability to get into a very low prone position.
These next two shots are taken from opposite sides. The maneuverability of the STAR rifle allows for the shooter to make the best use of concealment, shielding most of his body from view. It also allows for a very low prone position, allowing the shooter to fire from underneath the trailer.
Scoring successful, repeatable shots from the non-dominant side with the dominant eye (flat and inclined):
From an officer safety standpoint, the STAR system and the HEPR provide immeasurable value. Some additional shooting positions used (but not pictured) were horizontally from a rooftop, facing up and down stairs, and braced in a doorway.
From the rooftop, Sisk placed a 10-round magazine upright on the peak, and my head was lower than the height of the magazine. I was also able to move the bipod from the front of the rifle and attach it to the butt of the stock, using it as a kickstand. From the stairs and the doorway, the flexibility of the STAR system effectively cut the visible portion of my body in half.
Lastly, the most uncomfortable task of the day: scoring successful, repeatable shots while wearing a gas mask. It was a difficult position to get into, but I was able to get a strong weld and great sight picture. In my case, it was chin weld – not ideal, but weld is weld, I guess.
The thing that I like best about this system isn’t necessarily any of the benefits discussed above. For an instructor, being able to use this system to take a mediocre or troubled shooter from a position of struggle to a position of success is the biggest benefit.
Bear with me here – I’m about to make a few blasphemous statements. While advances in weaponry have brought us better rifle accuracy with improved barrels, triggers, and optics, nothing has brought us better accuracy for the shooter. Long guns, by and large, still fit the same basic pattern they did 200 years ago – encompassing a rigid, fixed stock, with very little variation in size.
Part of the reason it takes so much practice to master the rifle is that the shooter must train the body to adapt to the tool. When we zero an optic, we act like we’re zeroing it to the firearm. What we’re actually doing is zeroing it to the shooter. (Go ahead, I can hear your outrage, but it’s true.)
My husband has to re-zero all of my rifles before he shoots them. I’m a lefty, he’s a righty, and we are very different sizes. My hold is different from his. Everything is different. So even when he has a good sight picture, good point of reference and point of aim, his point of impact is never where it should be. If the optic were TRULY zeroed to the rifle, he could just pick up and shoot well.
With the STAR system, you can get a TRUE optic-to-rifle zero. Any shooter can score successful, repeatable hits without making optic adjustments – because you adjust the rifle to the shooter.
Likewise, your training time with a new, mediocre, or troubled shooter becomes almost exponentially shorter because the necessity of training the body to fit the tool is diminished. The rifle is customizable to the shooter, and a lot of the time spent “getting comfortable” is no longer necessary.
You still need a good foundation – stable position, breathing, trigger control, sight picture – but the thousands of repetitions needed to build reflexive memory aren’t as necessary.
The purists among us are going to be aghast, and I can hear the chorus of complaints now. “That’s cheating!” or “There’s no substitute for good training!” or even “We’ve trained the same way for hundreds of years. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
My response is this: there’s no such thing as a fair fight, there’s just a fight. I’m going to cheat my ass off, because I’m going to do everything I can to win.
There IS no substitute for good training, I agree. But we don’t need to train the way we always have. Not when technology advances to the point where new, better training is possible. And even if it ain’t broke, we can still do it better.
From a LE and military standpoint, the STAR changes the two questions asked from, “Can we get our man in place? And can he make the shot?” to one single question – “Can we get our man in place?”
From a civilian or sport shooter’s standpoint, there are great benefits as well. I know plenty of people who can’t hunt anymore because of back, neck, and shoulder injuries. Fused vertebrae, locked shoulders, disc pain. They just can’t shoulder a rifle anymore.
With the STAR system, they can. For the youth shooter, this rifle will grow with them. Anyone with kids knows that they grow at different rates – arms and legs grow faster than everything else. They gain weight, they lose weight. With a STAR rifle, it’s adjustable and will fit no matter what stage of growth they’re in.
Now, for the down side. A Sisk custom rifle is going to run you about $5600. For many of us, this is out of reach. It’s out of reach for me, that’s for sure.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel, though. If you own a Remington or Savage rifle, you can buy the stock and HEPR and build your own. Plans are underway for AR and shotgun stocks, as well. Sisk even has plans for a crossbow stock.
The stock will run you about $1300, and the HEPR runs about $125. That’s doable. And I happen to have an old Savage 10 FP in .308.
Oh, and a shameless plug for Charlie Sisk – he’s currently looking for the right investor. If this is something you might be interested in, check out his work at www.siskguns.com . You can contact him directly via the website.
Karen Farthing is an Army and Marine veteran, a former military firearms instructor/coach and an NRA Certified Rifle Instructor and an NRA Certified Range Safety Officer.