April 05, 2018
I certainly understand the desire to have a custom rifle. The ability to pick everything from the stock to barrel length to the cartridge means the customer gets exactly what they want in one high-quality package.
The good news is that I finally found a custom rifle company that builds guns offering much more performance than the sub-$2,000 price tag indicates. Everyone wants the best value for their dollar, and most talk about finding that one sweet deal where you make out like a bandit. Alamo Precision Rifles (APR) out of Hurst, Texas, is the only custom rifle builder I've found where the customer always gets a smoking deal. It's a tough balancing act to pull off, but these guys are getting it done.
NO MAGICAL PIXIE DUST
One of my pet peeves is when you ask a detailed question about how a manufacturer achieves some performance goal, and the response is along the lines of, "...there's a complex and proprietary process..." That's just another way of claiming to possess some special sauce to justify running the price through the roof.
I first heard about APR through an old U.S. Army buddy. We served in the 82nd Airborne Division together as infantrymen, and you never forget the guys with whom you've shared exquisite misery. I bumped into Mike last year, and he told me that he was handling media relations for a few companies in the shooting industry. APR was one of them.
I asked Mike if they had a good product and if they were treating him right. Good products in and of themselves are risky for review because the company can always be run so poorly that they alienate customers and won't be around for long. The fastest way to know what kind of company you're dealing with (after checking out their stuff) is to find out how they treat the people with whom they do business.
Mike said the rifles were excellent and the company was treating him right. He also said they didn't try to sell hype. That was all I needed to hear before requesting a loaner rifle for review.
While I waited for the rifle to show up, I checked out APR's website. The rifle coming for review was their Ranger model. Once I saw that the rifle's price was $1,825, APR had my full attention.
Building a quality custom rifle for less than $2,000 is a big deal. The places where most go wrong is putting a cheap polymer stock on the rifle, using oddball actions and/or using mediocre barrels. Some custom barrel brands are better known than others, but the U.S. is fortunate to be awash in quality barrel manufacturers.
I could tell immediately that APR got all the big muscle movements right. They are the first company that I've seen to successfully achieve the ideal balance between quality, custom components and price.
The APR Ranger comes with a Grayboe Renegade stock. Of all the aftermarket stocks to put on a rifle that you hope offers the most bang for the buck, this was the right choice. It is an excellent stock that offers everything a precision shooter needs and nothing they don't.
The form of the Grayboe Renegade is an almost exact copy of the McMillan A5, McMillan's most popular tactical stock. That makes sense since Grayboe's CEO is Ryan McMillan.
The Renegade has all the right proportions to be useful for general rifle shooting. The forend is wide enough to use as an excellent rest. It is 2.35 inches wide and flat on the bottom, so it rides sandbags and other rests well. The forend is also long enough for field work and comes standard with two sling swivel studs, one for a bipod and another for a sling.
The buttstock is also ideally proportioned for general-use work. There is very little drop in the comb, so it is high enough for a good cheekweld when a large objective scope is mounted to the rifle. Minimal drop also means the butt is about a half-inch longer that usual, so it remains in solid contact with the shoulder when the shooter is in the prone.
Finally, the Renegade has a vertical pistol grip that works as well in the prone as it does in positional shooting. The grip is 1.8 inches wide, so it comfortably fills the hand.
Each Grayboe stock comes with pillars installed, and Alamo Precision Rifles did an excellent job bedding the action to the Renegade. A good way to check a bedding job is to stand the rifle on its butt and support it with the left hand around the forend, fingers touching the barrel. Loosen and remove the action screws with the right hand. If the fingers on the left hand detect any movement between barrel and stock during action screw removal, the bedding job is poorly executed. The APR had no movement whatsoever during or even after action screw removal.
The action APR uses in the Ranger rifle is a trued Remington 700. APR squares the action face and then single-point cuts the receiver tenon threads concentric with the bolt raceways. The foundation of any rifle is the action, and a rifle performs best when it is square, concentric and stress-free. Recutting the tenon threads ensures uniform and consistent fit with the barrel and takes all the stress out of this critical junction. This eliminates the flyers that are common with factory rifles.
In addition to squaring the action face and cutting the threads concentric to the bolt raceways, APR also squares the bolt face, bolt nose, and bolt lugs front and rear. The lug abutments in the receiver also get squared to the receiver face. All of this machine work puts the bolt in solid contact with the receiver's lug abutments and lines it up concentric behind the chamber. The barrel is also concentric to the receiver, so everything is right where it needs to be to ensure ultimate accuracy.
APR also uses Douglas, Shilen or X-Caliber barrels on these rifles. Douglas and Shilen are pillars in the barrel-making world, and both have excellent reputations for producing truly match-grade barrels.
X-Caliber is the new kid on the block, and they're based out of Kalispell, Montana. For those who don't know, there's a good chunk of the precision rifle industry located in and around Kalispell. Other barrel makers located in and around Kalispell include: Proof Research, Lilja and McGowen. There's a lot of tribal knowledge in this area, so I trust that X-Caliber barrels are every bit as good as Shilen and Douglas. A Shilen barrel was on the test rifle.
The Ranger is the basic rifle APR offers, and it comes with a trued Remington 700 action as described above. There are options that many will swear you absolutely must have on a Remington 700, the two most common being an M16 or SAKO-style extractor and a side-bolt release.
The overwhelming majority of shooters do not need those two options; they are unnecessary (in the case of the aftermarket extractor) or simply nice to have (the side bolt release). They will not make a rifle any more accurate or reliable. Some folks will take issue and argue that Remington factory extractors are weak, as is the bolt release. There is some merit to that argument for a handful of shooters who A) run the bolt like they're trying to pull-start a lawn mower and B) shoot a few thousand rounds a year and/or travel for competitive shooting events.
The counterargument that you don't hear very often is why those options might be a bad idea. The example I like to use is the U.S. Marine Corps Precision Weapons Section (PWS) that builds all the M40-series rifles that Marine snipers use in war zones around the world. Two features that are not on these rifles are side-bolt releases and anything other than a factory Remington extractor. Hmm. It must be a miracle that all those snipers haven't been killed because of their obviously substandard equipment.
The Marine Corps can build those rifles any way they want and, for a time, put side-bolt releases on a few. PWS later decided it was unnecessary and went back to the factory orientation. The aftermarket extractor is a little easier to criticize. While the factory extractor will break after thousands and thousands of rounds, it'll last for as long as the barrel still shoots. I recommend replacing it every time you rebarrel the rifle.
An aftermarket extractor is guaranteed to eject empty cases much higher out of the ejection port and, commonly, into the windage turret of most tactical scopes (these tend to have large windage turrets). The reason this occurs is because a factory extractor sits inside the lug that runs right along the bottom of the ejection port, and the ejector is directly across the bolt face from it. If the extractor is at 3 o'clock, the ejector is at 9 o'clock. Aftermarket extractors sit on top of the lug at the 1-o'clock position. The ejector doesn't move, so empty cases get pushed up (a lot) and out of the ejection port.
Once a rifle starts bouncing cases off the windage turret, a lot of unpleasant things can happen, such as empties winding up back in the action as you try to close on a fresh round. Since most try to mount their scope as low as possible, it is easy to induce more rifle malfunctions by going to an aftermarket extractor on a factory Remington 700.
APR throws a lot of work and quality accessories into each rifle. These include an aftermarket bolt knob, bolt fluting and barrel fluting. All barrels are Remington Sendero contour, but there is a wide variety of fluting patterns from which to choose. There are also several options for the bolt fluting.
The upgrades included on the rifle seen here that are not standard are the Timney trigger, the Seekins 20-MOA Picatinny rail base and the threaded muzzle. The Timney trigger is an additional $128, the muzzle threading is another $100, and the Seekins base is an $89 option.
I highly recommend the Timney trigger upgrade. The Timney is excellent and durable. The standard trigger is the X-Mark Pro.
Customers have a choice of two Cerakote colors for all the metal on the rifle and whatever factory Grayboe color on the stock. Grayboe also offers the stock in a camouflage pattern hydrodip for an additional $50.
This rifle costs about half of what many custom rifles go for, and so I hoped that it would at least offer similar performance. It not only exceeded those expectations, it is one of the best performing and most consistent rifles I've ever tested. Not too bad for a random demo gun with an undetermined number of rounds on it.
My interaction with APR through testing this rifle has been very responsive, supportive and pleasant. I get the feeling that they are a good bunch of hardworking Texans that love rifles and understand that most folks also work hard for their money. I have yet to find any other company that will offer you more rifle for a limited budget than the ones currently being offered by Alamo Precision Rifles.
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