Log onto the Merkel website and you immediately see a swarm of wild boar stampeding toward you. That image, more than any other, sums up the purpose of Merkel’s SR1 semiautomatic hunting rifle. It is a fast brush gun, made for shooting moving game at close range, where accurate snap-shooting is an absolute must.
Everything about the SR1 is designed with this goal in mind. Available in six different calibers, from 7x64mm to .300 Winchester Magnum, the SR1 has a 20-inch barrel and weighs seven pounds. There is not a sharp edge to be found on it anywhere, which means it won’t snag on clothing or branches.
The rifle is also designed to be handled easily with gloves on. The triggerguard is generous, as is the cocking lever. The bolt release and safety catch are both large, easily accessible and easy to operate. The detachable magazine is released by a large catch that is built into the front of the triggerguard and readily operated by a gloved thumb from either side. Ergonomically, the SR1 gets top marks.
The rifle is designed to be dismantled easily for carrying in a compact case (or one that does not look like a guncase). The fore-end is quickly removed by pressing a button and sliding it forward. A stout steel pin holds the barrel and gas piston assembly to the receiver. Remove the pin, detach the barrel, and the rifle is now in three pieces.
Except for its steel pin, the rifle comes apart in a manner very similar to any double shotgun or rifle. This appeals hugely to European hunters but is also useful for Americans. It makes the rifle very portable. It also makes it easy to clean, dry and oil after use.
The most noteworthy single feature, to my eye, is the rifle’s iron sights. That’s right–iron sights. This is a rifle made to go into action quickly, and I have never seen an iron sight design faster than this one. The front is a red fiber optic that practically glows in the dark, while the rear is a long, sloping ramp when seen from the side but a V-notch with a guiding line when viewed from the rear. This rifle slides into place under your eye and comes on target like lightning, with the glowing red ball nestled in the V-notch.
For those who prefer a scope, the rifle is drilled and tapped for a Weaver-style one-piece base. When the scope is removed, the base lies flat against the receiver and allows unimpeded use of the iron sights.
For the purposes of this test, I installed one of the fastest scopes I have–a Trijicon 1.25-4×24 with a tritium-tipped post reticle. In failing or low light, at close range, there is no faster rig for getting onto a moving target.
With the scope, the rifle delivered a three-shot, 100-yard group that was a neat .86 inch, and subsequent groups averaged a little over an inch. With the scope removed, using the iron sights the rifle fired a 10-shot group that measured 4.2 inches. All test firing was done with Federal Gold Medal Match .308 Winchester ammunition loaded with 168-grain Sierra MatchKing bullets.
For the record, the rifle functioned flawlessly throughout, feeding and ejecting without a hitch. The magazine is easy to install and remove and quick and easy to recharge. One odd feature is the fact that the rifle is supposedly available with either a five-shot or two-shot magazine. The magazine on our test rifle would accept three .308 Winchester cartridges, making it effectively a four-shot rifle. This seems like an odd restriction, but it’s probably due to game laws or restrictions in parts of Europe.
One feature I did not like is the trigger pull. Merkel describes the trigger on the SR1 as “direct and crisp.” In fact, it is a two-stage trigger in which the second stage actually feels longer than the first. The trigger pull is mushy with a great deal of creep and averaged six pounds, 12 ounces. It felt almost like the double-action trigger pull found on some pistols; it was disconcerting shooting from the bench but not so noticeable on moving targets or when snap-shooting at close range.
My overall impression of this rifle is very positive. It is not a super-long-range rifle by any means, although with a scope it would certainly be fine out to 300 yards. In the longer-range calibers, such as .300 Winchester Magnum, it might reach a little farther, but I really question a seven-pound .300 Winchester Magnum with a 20-inch barrel.
Of the calibers offered, the most suitable for a rifle of this configuration and intended use are the .308, 9.3×62 and 8x57JS.