Merkel KR1

The author found the Merkel action to be as smooth…

The author found the Merkel action to be as smooth as any he’s ever experienced. Everything about the gun worked flawlessly. He used the six-ounce single set trigger for all test groups.

They say there are few things in life that are certain, but one of them is knowing that any bolt-action rifle coming out of Germany these days is going to be as different from the ’98 Mauser as possible. Which is really ironic, because here in the States our gunmakers have always striven to stay well within the basic design parameters set by the Mauser. Yet in Germany, where the design originated, gunmakers go to extraordinary lengths to come up with unique—even bizarre—bolt-actions. Their motto seems to be: “The further removed from the `98 the better.”

Be that as it may, I always relish the prospect of examining any new German rifle, because there are always unique features to be found and invariably the actions are incredibly smooth and bind free. The Merkel KR1 is no exception. I first saw the gun at the 2007 SHOT Show, where it was being displayed for the first time by Merkel’s importer, Merkel USA (7661 Commerce Lane, Trussville, AL 35173). This newest Merkel is but one of a mind-boggling array of rifles and shotguns produced by this maker, the origins of which can be traced back to 1600. Located in Suhl, a picturesque town nestled among the verdant mountains of the Thuringen Forest, Merkel turns out over/under and side-by shotguns of sidelock and boxlock design, incorporating Jaeger, Kirsten and Greener lock systems. The firm also produces Drillings and single-shot and double rifles in addition to the KR1 bolt-action.

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A cowling of lightweight alloy surrounds the bolt, but it’s a non-stressed component that serves merely to support and guide the bolt.

I had the pleasure of visiting Suhl and the Merkel factory a couple of years ago, and I can tell you it is quite an impressive facility. There is no lack of the latest CNC and EDM machinery, but what you see most throughout the factory is handwork: polishing, fitting, more polishing and more fitting. The town of Suhl was founded and built by gunsmiths, for in addition to Merkel it is the ancestral home of Anschutz, Krieghoff, Heym, Sauer, Steyr and Haenel, to name a few.

First Impressions
Anyway, upon seeing the KR1 for the first time, I was struck by its unique and highly distinctive appearance. For one thing, there’s no loading port, just a butterknife bolt handle sticking out of a cowling of sorts, with nothing like a conventional bolt to be seen. At each side at the front of the cowling, which is a lightweight alloy of bronze color that nicely contrasts the blued steel barrel, are forward-projecting ears that straddle the chamber portion of the barrel. All mechanisms within are completely protected from the elements. It’s really quite an elegant-looking rifle.

Of course, raising the handle and opening the action pretty much answered all the questions that were running through my mind. I immediately was struck by how smooth and quiet the action is. The bolt—or rather the cowling that surrounds the bolt—reciprocates on T-slot rails machined into the upper edge of the lower receiver unit.

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Like the Browning A-Bolt, the “floorplate” on the Merkel is hinged, but the magazine does not attach to it. Note that the trigger moves with the unit.

Having said that, opening the action does, indeed, expose a somewhat conventional-looking bolt head having two rows of three lugs oriented on 120-degree centers. Also conventional is a recessed bolt face, a plunger-type ejector and an extractor that moves radially within a T-slot in one of the locking lugs.

Like so many European-made rifles that have debuted over the past 25 years or so, this one has the bolt locking directly with abutments within the barrel itself, a feature that makes barrel interchangeability more practical. By replacing the barrel, bolt head and magazine box, it is possible to switch from, say, a .30-06 to a .338 Winchester Magnum.

Direct lockup offers several other advantages as well—some practical, some theoretical. First and foremost, by having the bolt lock up within the barrel, the number of stressed components is reduced by a third—i.e., from three to two. In a conventional bolt-action the bolt engages abutments within the receiver ring, thereby transferring firing stresses to it as well as to the bolt and barrel. In the case of the KR1 and similar guns, only the bolt and barrel are involved; the “receiver” needs serve only as a housing for the bolt, trigger unit and magazine. For that reason the receivers of such guns can be of a lightweight alloy. On paper, at least, direct lockup would seem to be superior to the Mauser system, because there are fewer stressed components and therefore less vibration.

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