January 31, 2024
We are living in the Golden Age for bolt-action rifles, with more quality options and better performance than ever before. Until now, the cutting edge of that performance envelope required spending big bucks. Custom actions are expensive to make due to the many features typically included. Also, cutting an aluminum chassis isn’t cheap because a lot of machine time is required. Nowhere is the axiom “time is money” truer than in the manufacturing world.
Aero Precision has been manufacturing rifles for more than a decade, primarily AR-15, PCC and M5/AR308 models, and related components. I’ve been impressed in past dealings with Aero because I’ve come to learn about its robust manufacturing facilities. The new-for-2023 Solus line of rifles, including the Competition model tested here, represents its foray into the bolt-action world. Brian Deal, vice president of marketing said, “[The Solus] isn’t a one-and-done product for us. We are a firearms manufacturer and not just an AR manufacturer.”
The Solus is unique in the bolt-action world because it brings a long list of features normally found on custom actions and custom rifles, only. The Solus series — which includes Hunter and Bravo models — excites us because they blur the boundary between custom and production rifles. The option list isn’t overwhelming, but these are easily personalized, readily available and more affordable than you might expect, ranging $1,799 (Bravo) to $2,499 (Hunter) for the manufacturer’s-suggested retail price.
The Solus consists of eight configurations, including hunting and patrol-style rifles. The subject of Guns & Ammo’s first-look is the precision-focused Competition model in 6.5 Creedmoor with an anodized-black aluminum chassis. This model was designed for fun days at the range ringing steel out to long distances. As the name implies, it will compete also.
The receiver has a three-lug bolt with a 60-degree lift, and it houses a button-rifle 22-inch barrel chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. Competition models are also available in 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Winchester. Detachable-box AICS and AIAIW magazines feed these rifles.
The Solus presents a number of features, many of which are useful to any rifleman. A few only matter if target distances exceed several hundred yards, or if a caliber conversion is desired. The most easily identified and popular features of the Solus are the integral Picatinny rail, integral recoil lug, and trigger hanger.
The Picatinny rail machined to the top of the receiver benefits everyone. The integral scope mount eliminates the possibility of it working loose through time, likely throwing off the rifle’s zero at the worst moment. I’ve seen that happen mid-competition to a friend, and it’s even happened to me at the range a few times. Integral scope rails adds expense to manufacturing an action, but the benefit is real.
The integral recoil lug makes it possible to re-barrel the rifle with a pre-fit barrel — Zermatt Origin pattern — without having to set or check headspace. Put the barrel in a vice and use an action wrench to tighten the receiver onto the barrel. Then, head to the range. A gunsmith is not needed to re-barrel the Solus or convert it to another chambering; a few simple tools are all that it takes. Though riflemen may be unaware, modern manufacturing techniques makes barrel changes possible. The practice is becoming increasingly common among high-end rifles.
I called the product management and engineering team to dig into the details before the Solus was publically launched; I was especially interested in learning about the tolerances held on the receiver. In order for a receiver to reliably accept pre-fit barrels, there can be no more than a .002-inch cumulative variance in the dimensions from the back of the bolt lugs to the bolt face, and from the lug abutments to the receiver face. The engineering team told me that each receiver averages just .0005-inch variance between those combined dimensions!
I was skeptical of Aero Precision’s ability to hold such tight measurements on a relatively inexpensive action. I know of only one other custom receiver maker — Impact Precision — that keeps tolerances this tight. Impact Precision charges $1,400 for just the receiver and bolt. Aero Precision said that each Solus receiver spends 11 minutes getting measured on a Coordinate Measuring Machine (CMM), which records dimensions down to .0001 inch. Aero Precision isn’t making rash claims or simply estimating because a CMM doesn’t lie. While it is possible to spend twice as much on a custom action, it is impossible to buy more consistency. These dimensions mean the customer can order pre-fit barrels with zero worry that they will headspace correctly.
The Solus uses a trigger hanger, which is a small rectangle that the trigger sits in before being attached to the rifle. Trigger hangars have become prevalent in recent years, and there are two reasons the Solus uses one: The Solus is a three-lug action that places one lug at 6 o’clock when the bolt is open. This is great for smooth feeding but it requires the trigger to sit lower in the Remington Model 700-footprint receiver in order to get out of the way of that bolt lug. The other reason is for ease of trigger replacement in the field. Shoot a few national-level Precision Rifle Series (PRS) matches and there will be shooters whose rifles go down during the match. The number one culprit — by a large margin — is a trigger that’s become clogged with dirt and debris. The fastest way to fix it is with a second trigger in a trigger hangar. Using a couple of hand tools and five minutes is all it takes to replace the trigger, confirm zero, and get back in the match.
The bolt body on the Solus is just as well-engineered as the receiver. This three-lug action has a 20-pound firing-pin spring and a full-weight firing pin; it still manages to feature a light and smooth bolt lift. This is possible because Aero Precision put two cocking cams on the back of the bolt body, just forward of the bolt shroud. Using opposed cocking cams allows the firing pin to pull straight back when lifting the bolt, reducing the binding force on the firing-pin assembly as it is cocked. This feature doesn’t add performance or make the receiver more accurate, but it does makes cycling the bolt a more pleasant experience.
What does increase performance (in the form of reduced velocity extreme spreads and tighter standard deviation) is the straight firing pin that rides in a supported chamber within the bolt body. When combined with the 20-pound firing-pin spring, the firing pin has no lost energy from rattling around inside the bolt before it impacts the cartridge’s primer. In order to get consistent ignition and the most efficient powder burn (which leads to lower velocity extreme spreads and standard deviation), the firing pin has to hit the primer hard and with consistent force. The Solus ignition system does that.
The Solus bolt head is also removable. Twist the bolt shroud to pull the firing pin assembly out of the bolt, then push one pin out of the way and the bolt head separates from the body. When combined with the use of a pre-fit barrel, this allows a rifle to be chambered in any short-action cartridge. Initial offerings for the Solus Competition Rifle are chambered for cartridges with .473-inch case-head diameter, i.e., .308 Winchester, 6.5 Creedmoor. Bolt heads for cartridges with a .540-inch diameter are not far behind. (Nor are bolt heads for .223 Remington and .300 Blackout.)
The Solus Competition chassis is a simple billet design that incorporates today’s most requested features. It has a long, flat forend with an ARCA rail integrated into the underside for attaching and quickly relocating bipods and other accessories. M-Lok cuts along the sides and bottom allow for adding accessories or rail sections.
My favorite feature on the chassis is the adjustable-height magazine catch. It offers .065-inch of adjustment. This makes effective use of both AICS- and AIAW-pattern magazines. Adjustable-height magazine catches are necessary if the shooter wants to reliably use AW double-stack magazines, or if he wants to get effortless feeding with each of the numerous manufacturers making AICS-pattern magazines. Also, being able to make subtle adjustments to where the magazine sits in the rifle goes a long way in smoothing out the feeding process.
Until now, the only chassis available with adjustable-height magazine catches — not including a barreled action — are the KRG C-4 and the MDT ACC Elite. These chassis certainly offer other features to justify the cost, but the magazine catch is a big deal. The Solus Competition chassis is half the price.
The Solus Competition ships with one polymer Magpul AICS magazine. It fed with no issues. I also dug up an old AW double-stack magazine, and it fed with no issues. After the first two or three rounds, the AW fed so smoothly that there was only the tiniest amount of force required to strip a round from the magazine. It almost felt as if I were closing the bolt with no magazine inserted. It was effortless to cycle the bolt.
The Competition’s stock offers an adjustable comb and adjustable length of pull. The rifle can be made to fit almost any shooter. All it takes is a quick turn of the adjustment knobs to loosen the attachment, slide it to the desired location, and then another quick turn to tighten it in place. In keeping with the adjustment theme, Aero Precision included an adjustable thumb rest on the right side of the chassis to allow the shooter to place the firing-hand thumb alongside the chassis. It creates a relaxed firing-hand position that prevents unwanted input. A hinge model allowing the chassis to fold is coming.
The Solus Competition offers a unique combination of a three-lug action capable of accepting pre-fit barrels with a fully-featured chassis. The combination creates a rifle that can eventually be configured for any short-action cartridge while maintaining reliable and effortless feeding. Sure, that’s a big deal for anyone looking to get into competitive shooting, but it’s also just a ton of fun for those of us who want to go shoot and have a good time without going broke.
Aero Precision Solus Competition Rifle
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested)
- Capacity: 10+1 rds.
- Barrel: 22 in.; 1:8-in. twist (tested)
- Overall Length: 41 in. (collapsed), 42.5 in. (extended)
- Weight: 10 lbs., 8 ounces
- Grip: Aero Precision, AR type
- Stock: Chassis, adj. and folding
- Length of Pull: 13 in. (collapsed), 14.5 in. (extended)
- Finish: Anodized (aluminum), Cerakote (steel)
- Sights: None
- Safety: Selector, two position
- MSRP: $2,149 (as tested)
- Manufacturer: Aero Precision, 252-272-8188, aeroprecisionusa.com
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