Precision tactical rifles are a growth industry these days. Not only are the big guys like Remington and FNH building precision tactical rifles with the law enforcement precision marksman in mind, but there are also many custom builders who make precision tactical rifles. Almost all such rifles are in .308Win, despite the fact that the vast majority of law enforcement precision shots are at only 51 yards according to FBI data; and at that distance, the headshot that all police sharpshooters strive to achieve will put an end to any threat situation, even if rifles of lesser calibers were to be used. Police precision tactical marksmen prefer rifles in .308 and there are many choices with prices that range up to several thousand dollars, but price isn’t always the determining factor for superb accuracy.
Any rifle that is capable of consistently delivering the sub-minute-of-angle (MOA: 1 inch at 100 yards) accuracy is more expensive than a typical sporting rifle, regardless of manufacturer. Some precision tactical rifles cost over $5,000 and although most are capable of superb accuracy, one need not pay an exorbitant price for half MOA accuracy (approximately 0.5 inch at 100 yards, 1 inch at 200 yards, etc.). While being custom rifles in every sense of the word, American Precision Arms (formerly Patriot Arms) custom rifles tend to be less expensive than those from some other custom gunmakers.
A.P.A. is the brainchild of Jered Joplin, a young man with true vision and amazing talent. Joplin’s rifles are on par with those costing far more from better-known custom manufacturers. The recently introduced “Raven” precision tactical rifle fills the gap between two precision tactical rifles previously offered by A.P.A. – the Genesis entry-level rifle and the Revelation top-of-the-line rifle.
Regardless of price, every A.P.A. precision rifle is guaranteed to shoot 0.5-MOA right from the box. In Joplin’s words, “If the rifle doesn’t shoot half minute with factory ammo, it will never reach your hands.” While others strive for the magic MOA accuracy, Joplin guarantees that all of his rifles will exceed that standard.
The .308Win Raven Tactical Rifle that we received for evaluation is essentially a prototype and has been used by A.P.A. for some time as a test mule to make sure it meets Joplin’s standards. This rifle had over 7,000 rounds on it by the time we got our hands on it; Joplin felt it was “ready for prime time.” Even though the rifle has had so many rounds fired down the tube, it still maintains Joplin’s standards of accuracy.
The Raven rifles are intended for users or departments without a large budget, but require a rifle that delivers sub-half MOA accuracy day in and day out over thousands of rounds if necessary. The Raven is manufactured to the same standards as all A.P.A.’s rifles and carries the same better-than-half MOA guarantee. The Raven begins with truing the Remington 700 action and bolt and fitting a match grade barrel, in this case a Rock Creek (Mike Rock) 5R heavy-fluted barrel with 1 turn in 11.25 inches, optimal for 175-grain bullets.
For those unfamiliar with Rock Creek Barrels, they are among the highest quality rifle barrels available. The term “5R” bears a few words of explanation. “5R” pattern rifling originated in this country with the M1917 Enfield service rifle, which is claimed to be the best military bolt action of all time (Not my original thought, but of General Julian Hatcher who “wrote the book” on military rifles of the early and mid-20th century), although the M1917 had a left-hand rifling twist.
In 5R rifling, there are five equally spaced lands and grooves of equal width. For this reason, there is a land directly across from each groove, giving essentially a “tighter” barrel than with conventional rifling. This type of rifling was proven to be the best pattern to resist the erosion and barrel wear of high velocity ammunition and is one of the reasons behind the Raven barrel’s remarkable accuracy over thousands of rounds.
Each barrel is single point cut rifled, triple stress relieved and hand lapped from breech to muzzle with an absolutely uniform land and groove diameter. Tolerances are held to 0.0001 inch. That’s 1/10,000th of an inch! The barrel muzzle is deeply recessed to protect the precision crown. The Remington trigger is retained in Raven rifles, but reworked by Joplin so that it feels like a custom manufactured trigger.
When we tried the rifle’s trigger, we expected to be told that it was a Jewell, Timney, or similar aftermarket precision unit. In Joplin’s words, “It just shows what may be done with a Remington factory trigger if you want to take the time.” The trigger on our test rifle broke at 3 pounds with no creep or backlash. In fact, there was no perceptible movement of the trigger at all. Joplin also installs an oversize recoil lug that is precision mated to the stock. The receiver has a Badger Ordnance base and U.S. Optics 30mm scope rings. The Raven also features a Fat Bastard muzzle brake that reduces recoil to virtually nil, although one does not want to be directly alongside the Raven’s muzzle when it is fired. Joplin stated that the Raven doesn’t come standard with the FB or the smaller LB (Little Bastard) but this rifle was a test mule and it wore the brake simply for testing.
Our rifle came in attractive green and black color scheme. With the advances in metal finishes, firearms no longer need be blued or Parkerized gray. Joplin uses both KG metal finish and Cerakote finish on his firearms. Our barrel and scope rings were finished in Mil-Spec green, while the stock was matte black. The Accuracy International’s stock is specifically designed for use with Remington 700 actions. A recoil-absorbing pad completes the package. Joplin fits each action into the rifle’s stock and free floats the barrel along its entire length. Fit and finish of every component of our Raven rifle was flawless.
Horus Vision Sighting System
We made no modifications to our Raven other than to add a Horus Vision Sighting System to it. Horus Vision uses standard milliradians in an innovative new way to achieve levels of precision that were unobtainable with Mil-Dots. The system is comprised of a telescopic sight with a patented reticle that enables the shooter to range using the mil system and gauge his “come-ups” very precisely and without turning the scope knobs. Our particular scope was a US Optics product, but the Horus Vision H-25 tactical reticle is available in a variety of scopes from different manufacturers.
The second component of the Horus Vision System is the Palm handheld computer with ballistic software that is used to either generate come-ups on the spot or to prepare a come-up card that is transferred to one of the several water resistant, adhesive backed cards that are supplied with the system. These cards can be placed on the rifle stock like conventional come-up cards. The Palm computer can store data for up to 100 guns. Once the Horus Vision-equipped rifle is zeroed with a specific cartridge load, the scope knobs are never again touched unless zero changes or a different lot of ammunition is employed.
A third component is a Kestrel Pocket Weather Station so that environmental conditions can be programmed into the ballistic calculator. Members of the US Army Special Forces have employed the Horus Vision Sighting System in Afghanistan and Iraq. One military Special Forces operator in Afghanistan said that the Horus Vision Sighting System enabled him to kill or wound 19 Taliban in one extended firefight. After having used the Horus Vision Sighting System over a period of seven years, we no longer use any other manufacturer’s optic on our test and evaluation rifles. The Horus Vision Sighting System enables the rifleman to quickly engage targets at ranges that would be extremely difficult with conventional optics.
In addition to our US Optics scope, we opted for several Leupold optical products that we consider essential to any precision tactical rifle team. First is Leupold’s 750 meter/yard RX II laser rangefinder. Although most precision tactical marksmen are trained to use Mil-Dots, several active duty Army individuals have told us that in operational conditions, they use laser rangefinders because they are just more accurate and faster on target.
Laser rangefinders like Leupold’s 750 yard/meter RX II and 1200 yard/meter RX III rangefinders do much more than just indicate range. These pocketsize rangefinders also calculate true ballistic range when shooting on a slope either up or down. Previously, this required a mathematical calculation that, while simple, took time. Leupold’s RX rangefinders display this critical information instantly, which is especially valuable in operations where slope shooting is required.
We also used a Leupold Mark 4 12-40×6 0mm tactical spotting scope with the H25 reticle. The matching reticles make second shot corrections a breeze. Finally, no team is complete without a pair of quality binoculars and Leupold’s Olympic 10×50 binoculars are an excellent choice. These binoculars are lightweight, rugged and waterproof.
Insight Tech-Gear SU/PAS-232
To complement our AN/PVS-22, we obtained an Insight Tech-Gear SU/PAS-232 military thermal imager designated Individual Weapon Night Sight-Thermal (IWNS-T). The IWNS-T can be mounted to any rifle or carbine with a MIL-STD-1913 rail. It can be mounted ahead of the day optic, in this case on the LaRue Tactical STOMP Mount so there are no issues with eye relief. Because it is compact, the IWNS-T can easily be used as a hand-held thermal imager as well. The unit features adjustable focus, external video jack and focus from one meter to infinity. The IWNS-T runs for eight continuous hours on four 123 batteries and is waterproof to 66 feet (full Mil-Spec).
Because our Raven was not equipped with a MIL-STD-1913 rail forward of the receiver to accommodate night vision devices (NVD), we used a LaRue Tactical Sniper Total Optical Mounting Package (STOMP) mount that has a MIL-STD-1913 rail cantilevered over and ahead of the day optic to accommodate an AN/PVS-22 or similar night vision sight that mounts ahead of the day optic. The STOMP mount facilitates mounting the AN/PVS-22 or IWNS-T without affecting zero and is especially designed for rifles such as the Raven that lack the ability to mount the latest night vision sights as standard equipment. The STOMP mount also provides a protective cage that surrounds and protects the scope from getting banged up during tactical operations, possibly affecting zero.
Shooting the A.P.A. Raven proved that it lived up to Joplin’s claims for accuracy. The Raven we tested delivered superb accuracy. The rifle just shoots! In our experience, group sizes in a new barrel tend to decrease with number of rounds accumulated up to a point where they begin to increase due to wear and erosion.
Barrel life and continued accuracy are functions of many factors, including the caliber of the rifle, type of ammunition used, cleaning methods and others, so it cannot be exactly predicted how long a specific barrel will last before accuracy begins to degrade. That said, .308Win barrels tend to have relatively long lives, so for the average shooter, the Raven with its high-quality Rock Creek barrel should last nearly a lifetime unless one is a competitor who shoots thousands of rounds annually.
Our test rifle achieved its best accuracy with Black Hills 175-grain HPBT match ammunition. Other groups were slightly larger, but not much. The Raven shot sub-MOA with both types of ammunition we fed it, even with a hot barrel.
The A.P.A.’s Raven is one of the most accurate out-of-the-box rifles. We cannot recall testing a rifle that achieved better test results. The Raven’s accuracy is particularly noteworthy considering the fact that it is fitted with a muzzle brake, an accessory that typically degrades accuracy if anything. All things considered, we’d rate the A.P.A. Raven as a bargain in custom rifles – one that comes very close to being the perfect all-around bolt-action rifle.
Precision tactical rifles are a growth industry these days. Not only are the big guys…
by Paul Markel / May 9, 2009