Petzal’s SHOT Picks: Best New Rifles of 2015

First, a few random notes. My lack of comments on the past couple of weeks’ posts was due to the fact that every several months or so, my MAC decides that my password is unacceptable and shuts me down. However, I’m now back in business, at least until it screws up again.

A fashion note from SHOT. This year, the big thing, if you had 18-inch biceps and a 19-point IQ, was a sleeveless T-shirt. There was a lot of this.

In at least one SHOT report, I’ve complained about the lack of ventilation at the show, and the farts that lie lurking like pockets of mustard gas on a World War I battlefield. This year I ran into two that would have brought a mule to its knees. It may have been the same person. If so, my advice to him is to see a gastroenterologist without delay; there’s something wrong with you. And a trip to the dry cleaner is probably in order as well.

Anyway, rifles. There were a lot of very good new ones this year, and here they are, not in any kind of order.


Despite the hoots, jeers, and catcalls from some of you, the Scout Rifle concept seems to have gained considerable traction. “CTR” stands for Compact Tactical Rifle, and it’s a Scout without the bells and whistles—a 20-inch-barreled .308 or .260 Remington bolt-action with a 10-round detachable magazine, synthetic stock, and Picatinny rail. It comes in blue steel or all stainless, and in place of a flash hider, has a threaded muzzle (with cap) onto which you can screw a flash hider or a suppressor.

What it lacks is iron sights, which is fine. I’ve yet to see a good system for combining iron sights and a conventional scope. But enough whining. The CTR has a lot going for it—Tikkas, along with Weatherby Vanguards, are the best finished for the money rifles I know of, and every one I’ve shot has been highly accurate. This model should really be something special, as its combination of light recoil, fine trigger, and muzzle-heavy balance make it very easy to hit what you’re aiming at. If you feel the urge to shoot tactically, you can always screw on the necessary hardware; otherwise you don’t have to lug it around. The real world price is around $950, and if they made it left-handed I would own one already.


Savage already had a rifle they called the Scout, but this one is much closer to the Gunsite formula, and gives you all the Scout hardware at a considerably lower price than Ruger. It comes in .308 only, and its synthetic stock is adjustable both for length of pull and for comb height, which is a very good idea. Savage has equipped it with a decent set of iron sights, an Accu-Trigger, and a detachable 10-round magazine. Barrel length is 18 inches, and weight is 7.8 pounds. In place of the Ruger Scout's flash suppressor, there is a slotted muzzle brake, so this one should be a truly soft kicker. Savages shoot very, very well, and because of its short barrel this one should be somewhat better than average. The Model 11 Scout is too new for me to find a real-world price for it, but the MSRP is $794, which buys you a lot of rifle for the money.


The sainted Model 70 will always be an expensive rifle to produce, so Winchester has come out with the XPR, which is not, and it faithfully follows the New Rules of Gun Building, which state that you take a rigid, synthetic stock with the recoil lug embedded in it, add a rigid, cylindrical, receiver with a smallish ejection port, add a massive, push-feed bolt, screw the whole thing together, and you've got a rifle that will shoot startlingly well because it can't do anything else.
The XPR is not only an inexpensive ($550) rifle; it's a nicely made rifle. Unlike some manufacturers who use a low price to justify sloppy work, the XPR is very clean, and has some added touches that you wouldn't expect, such as an NP-5-coated bolt, the M.O.A. trigger system from the Model 70 (the triggers I tried were excellent) and a nice, stiff, button-rifled barrel.

Right now, the XPR is made in .270, .30/06, .300 Win Mag and .338, and I think Winchester is going to have trouble keeping up with the demand.


If you’re not averse to spending a few dollars, you can have the ultimate “beat it up worse than you would an AK-47 and it’ll still work” hunting rifle, the all-stainless, highly-reinforced-synthetic-stock Extreme X-2. Its basis is Montana’s refined version of the controlled-feed Model 70, and if you’d like to become a believer in controlled feed, here’s a shop to visit. I’ve been using a Montana for years now and I have no clue how you would make the thing quit, or if that’s even possible. It’s also very accurate…and those are its weak points.

The X-2 is available right- and left-handed, in a whole slew of rounds from .22/250 to .338 RUM, for $1,299, and there is a heavier version, with iron sights, called the Extreme Vantage V2, for $1,441.


These rifles are produced under the stern eye of Master Gunnery Sergeant Dan Hanus (rhymes with “harness,” more or less) USMC/Ret., who supervised the building of all the Corps’ tactical and competition rifles. I’ve reported on the Bergara Mountain Hunter, whose kidney-emptying accuracy still has me badly shaken, and now Bergara is building a new line of sporters and tactical rifles based on its own action, which they call the Premium.

It’s a sleek, tubular mechanism that accepts any trigger that will fit a Remington 700, and it features a fluted, large-diameter bolt with four lugs (a la the Savage) so it slides back and forth like a piston. The X-2 rifles employ the Premium action, and are available both in sporter (with synthetic and wood stocks) and tactical (a chassis gun with all the bells and whistles) at prices from $1,700 to $2,200, and how the hell they do it in that price range is beyond me; the original Bergara rifles went from $3,500 to nearly $6,000. The X-2 is not yet up on the website, so for further details, you are advised to call 877-892-7544.

As I've pointed out before, building a proper heavy/dangerous game rifle is different, and there are plenty of flawed ones out there. The Model 58 is not among these. It's a brilliantly designed and flawlessly executed heavy rifle that starts in .375 H&H and ends at .505 Gibbs. It's controlled feed, wood-stocked (plain or very, very fancy, your choice) and when I was told the 58's price, which is $3,835, I asked what it was again, because I had expected to hear $6,000 or so. If you're in the market for a stopping rifle, you ignore this one at your peril.


A while ago, Ed Brown Products, Inc. (which makes truly fabulous and fabulously priced Model 1911s) got into the rifle business, and turned out a series of big game rifles that were to drool for, built around their Model 72, and later Model 74, bolt-action. Brown could not keep up with the demand for his pistols, so the rifles were discontinued in 2010, but today are bringing very serious prices if you can find one.

We now fast forward to 2015, when Mark Bansner, a custom gun builder of the first order, has resurrected the Model 74 action, and under the name Legendary Arms Works, is turning out rifles using his own High Tech synthetic stocks. I haven't shot a Closer, but years ago Bansner built me a .270 WSM that I used the daylights out of, and the man knows what he's doing. The most interesting part of all this is the price: $1,600. If I were to guess the price of a rifle incorporating a Model 74 action and a High Tech stock, I'd start at $3,000 and be prepared to revise upward. But there it is.