December 06, 2022
By Tom Beckstrand
This is the most accurate factory rifle that I have ever shot — and that’s not even the best part of this story. As much as I like to go on about a rifle’s accuracy, the amount of innovation that’s been poured into the Gunwerks Nexus is astounding. Built on the new NXT platform — an aluminum receiver — the Nexus easily converts from one cartridge to the next, and comes from the factory optimized for field shooting positions. There is nothing else like it available today.
Bolt-action rifles come in many flavors. From budget guns that sell for a few hundred dollars to five-figure ones that make me nervous to hold one. In the gulf between these two extremes exists a large variety of capability and price.
There are a handful of features that really matter on any bolt-action rifle, but the list grows long if the shooter demands more performance. If the only requirement is to shoot small groups at 100 yards, a cheap rifle may suffice. Resting lightly across supportive bags so the stock doesn’t touch the barrel, it’s possible to get a nice, tight, three-shot group with a few budget rifles to show the friends. Shooting game animals such as deer out to a couple hundred yards also doesn’t demand a lot from a rifle, so just about anything will do. However, when the shooter expects broad-spectrum performance — the sheep hunter, for example — certain bolt actions separate themselves from the average. Frontrunners will offer better and more consistent accuracy because they have better stocks and bedding systems. Feeding reliability improves because of better magazines and thoughtful action design. User interface is enhanced through meaningful features such as shorter bolt lift and caliber conversion.
THE NXT RECEIVER
The Nexus is the latest rifle from Gunwerks, a Cody, Wyoming-based company that specializes in long-range hunting and precision rifles. Gunwerks did all of the engineering and manufacturing for the Nexus and builds them in-house, and that’s a big reason why this rifle is even possible. Gunwerks is not beholden to what others are willing to design or manufacture.
When I spoke to Aaron Davidson, founder and CEO of Gunwerks, I asked what pushed him to create such an unusual rifle. “We’re tired of the magazine and space constraints of the Remington 700-clone world,” he replied. That doesn’t sound like much of a complaint, but once you get away from those two 700-imposed constraints, you open a world of new possibilities.
Any good rifle design starts with a good magazine. If the magazine is made poorly, the rifle will never feed reliably. Gunwerks wanted a reliable double-stack magazine capable of housing magnum cartridges. It would allow for three rounds in the mag while still remaining flush-fit with the stock. The problem is that a Model 700 action can’t accommodate a magazine wide enough for a double stack of magnum ammunition. If you want such a magazine, the action has to be built from the ground up.
Gunwerks delivered, and the Nexus’ NXT is a revelation. The NXT receiver is made from 7075-T6 aluminum because the six-lug bolt head (i.e., two rows of three lugs) locks into a barrel extension attached to Gunwerks’ barrel, much like an AR-15. Since the steel bolt head and steel barrel extension contain all the pressure, there was no need to use heavier steel alloys when this high-grade aluminum also saves weight.
Slapping a barrel extension on the back of the carbon-fiber barrel is more complicated than it might sound. Mr. Davidson wouldn’t tell me what material he was using for the barrel extension, but when I said it looked like 17-4 Precipitation Hardened stainless, he smiled and said, “It’s something similar to that.” This class of steel is unique in that it is extremely tough while still affording precision machining. A barrel extension on this rifle makes a ton of sense because it allowed Gunwerks to move the rifle’s primary extraction cam from the back of the receiver and place it on the lug abutments inside the extension. Primary extraction occurs when the shooter lifts the bolt handle and it moves rearward a fraction of an inch; leverage is used to ensure that no case remains stuck in the chamber. This level of precision isn’t possible with traditional action designs.
Moving the primary extraction to the barrel extension created such consistent tolerances that the triggers that ship on the Nexus rifles are all timed perfectly. This means no dragging the bolt’s cocking piece over the sear or compressing the firing-pin spring unnecessarily, both of which can result in a heavy and gritty bolt lift. This class of precision and effortless handling is normally only found on custom rifles that have received attention from a knowledgeable gunsmith.
Removing the barreled action from the stock reveals a prodigious tenon that houses the caliber-conversion system. Two large screws provide tension around the barrel extension. All that’s needed to remove the barrel is to loosen two screws. Pull one barrel off and put the new barrel on, then re-tighten.
The top of the receiver offers two integral Picatinny rails to make scope mounting a snap. Unlike bases on a 700, there are no separate bases that can loosen at the worst possible time. Gunwerks thoughtfully left the ejection port open and confined the sections of rail to the receiver bridges. The longest and largest cases have no problem leaving the NXT receiver, and there’s plenty of opening to make tossing a single round into the receiver before closing the bolt effortless.
Being that the NXT receiver uses a three-lug bolt design with 65 degrees of bolt lift, Gunwerks placed one of the lugs at the 6 o’clock position for when the bolt is open. This puts a significant amount of bolt engagement on the cartridge case heads sitting in the magazine, which allows it to feed reliably. The cut-out for the bottom-most lug in the barrel extension also works like a large feed ramp to scoop cartridges into the chamber. On that note, this is also one of the smoothest-feeding rifles I’ve ever tested. This smoothness comes from Gunwerks pairing the double-stack magazine with its three-lug bolt and engineering the lugs in the right places.
Beyond its effortless feeding, Gunwerks also wanted excellent extraction and ejection. The extractor looks most like a SAKO design, but this one is proprietary to Gunwerks. It sits under the lug at the bottom of the ejection port and, when combined with the dual ejectors, throws empty cases reliably from the action.
The real magic on the bolt is with the firing-pin assembly, and with the three-position safety located on the bolt shroud. This is — by far — my favorite safety for a bolt-action rifle, and one we don’t see near often enough because of its difficulty to manufacture. This safety is completely divorced from the trigger, so there are no untoward trigger/sear shenanigans when the safety is released. This safety won’t alone cause the gun to fire when placed on “Fire” because the safety physically controls the firing pin instead of trigger components.
The Nexus safety also permits easy disassembly of the bolt. Place the safety in the second position, remove the bolt from the receiver, and twist the bolt shroud to remove the firing-pin assembly from the bolt body. Far from being just a snazzy party trick, this allows for field maintenance in the case of a pierced primer, as well as making for easy caliber conversion while at home. Once the firing-pin assembly is out of the rifle, a single push pin allows the bolt head to drop free from the bolt body. Bolt heads will be available for standard (.473inch) and magnum (.535inch) case heads. Swapping bolt heads, barrels, and magazines allows the Nexus to go from being a 6.5 PRC- or .300 PRC- to a 6.5 Creedmoor-chambered rifle. Only the 6.5 PRC and .300 PRC are available when this rifle is released, but the Creed will be along in the fall of 2022.
One aspect of the Nexus really showcases just how in-tune with bolt-action rifles the folks at Gunwerks are: The trigger. The Nexus comes with a TriggerTech Primary designed for the Kimber 84M. I immediately asked Davidson why he did that.
“We knew we wanted a TriggerTech trigger, so we just asked them which model they had that came with a vertical sear,” he said. Most would just design the action for a Model 700 trigger and call it done. The problem, as Davidson identified, is the angled sear interface. It forces the back of the bolt body upward when cocked. He continued, “The question with the Remington 700 trigger is, ‘Do you fit the bolt lugs to the receiver when the action is cocked or when it’s fired?’ Because there’s a difference.” It’s a great question for which there isn’t an exact answer, but going to a vertical sear eliminated the issue entirely.
The carbon-fiber stock with leather touchpoints is sexy, sophisticated and will surely draw attention. However, the functionality of this stock comes from the internal chassis with a recoil lug locking wedge and the integrated ARCA rail that runs along the stock’s underside. These make the stock about a pound heavier than the latest lightweight “mountain rifle” stocks, but the advantages it offers in the field outweigh this penalty, in my experience.
It’ll be hard to find a stock that enables more accuracy than this one because this stock is excellent at immobilizing the action. There is a wedge-locking system inside the internal chassis that pinches the massive recoil lug. Removing both action screws is normally all it takes to drop a barreled action out of a stock, but Gunwerks’ wedge-lock system prevented me from doing this until I released the tension on the lock, which then freed the barreled action.
If you watch slow-motion video of barreled actions firing when bolted into chassis systems or aluminum bedding blocks, the action moves around a lot. This causes erratic accuracy from time to time and is why so many custom gun builders like to skim-bed aluminum chassis (even though chassis manufacturers say it isn’t necessary). As soon as the wedge system was put on the Nexus, slow-motion video showed the action doesn’t move at all. My accuracy testing also demonstrated why this was one of the most consistently accurate rifles Guns & Ammo has ever tested — the wedge-lock system is a big reason why.
The ARCA rail integrated into the stock’s underside allows the Nexus to locate a bipod anywhere along the rail’s length or to quickly snap into a tripod. ARCA rail offers, by far, the fastest and easiest way to build a stable field firing position. But there is a small, recessed Picatinny rail section at the forend’s tip for those looking to just snap a bipod on the end and then leave it alone.
Gunwerks’ Nexus represents the cutting edge of what’s possible with modern bolt-action rifles today. The NXT action is thoughtful and unique, and the bolt and safety designs set a new standard for others to match. The stock enables both more accuracy and field utility than anything else extant. You’ll have to pay to get this performance, but hardcore rifle enthusiasts should celebrate the Nexus. It is an achievement in rifle design.
- Type: Boltaction
- Cartridge: 6.5 PRC (tested)
- Capacity: 3+1 rds.
- Barrel: 24 in.; 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length: 45 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 6 oz.
- Stock: Carbon fiber
- Grip: Leather
- Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
- Finish: Cerakote
- Trigger: TriggerTech; 1 lbs., 8 oz.
- Sights: None
- MSRP: $5,375 (tested)
- Manufacturer: Gunwerks, 877-393-1639, gunwerks.com
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