February 27, 2018
I saw Barrett's new Fieldcraft rifle at the 2017 SHOT Show and then again at this year's NRA Annual Meetings in Atlanta. Both times that I stopped to pick it up, I couldn't help but think it looked like a custom job from
Melvin Forbes' New Ultra Light Arms company. Forbes was one of the first craftsmen to turn out a high-quality lightweight rifle when he started building them in the mid-'80s.
Dreaming up the idea and perfecting the design is a lofty achievement, but producing rifles in enough quantity to come close to meeting the demand is at least half the battle. There is also the concern of long-term maintenance or if parts would wear out or break. I've never met Forbes, but I think highly of his rifles. However, he is human and one day he's going to stop making rifles. And what happens then?
I've learned that Barrett's Fieldcraft looks like it does because they brought Forbes' rifle design in-house and threw enough manufacturing horsepower behind it to turn out custom-rifle quality at a fraction of the price. The idea that Barrett took the most mature and refined lightweight rifle design and decided to produce it in quantity should warm every rifle-lover's heart. We just received big-time manufacturing support for one of the best rifles out there, and the price got chopped in half.
The biggest visual clue that these rifles share a similar lineage is with the stock. The Barrett stock looks identical to Forbes'. They're very light, weighing only 26-ounces for a finished stock including recoil pad and sling swivel studs but separated from the barreled action.
Forbes spent a tremendous amount of time developing his stock back in the 1980s and considered it to be one of his finest achievements. His idea was to develop a stock that would be ideal for field use, be as lofty as could possibly be produced, while being rigid enough to promote his high accuracy expectations.
Forbes pulled it off. He worked together with two friends from the aerospace industry using materials such as rosins and fibers, which no one else had considered at the time. The Barrett stock is a direct descendent of this revolutionary effort.
The Barrett stock uses a high comb that rises as it approaches the buttpad. Clever. Other than its light weight, this is my favorite feature. Most rifle stocks have a comb that drops as it approaches the buttpad. This means, under recoil, the comb pushes harder into the shooter's face. As the rifle moves to the rear, the rise in the comb is rapidly forced beneath the shooter's cheek. This sudden increase in upward pressure happens quickly and can create discomfort.
The Barrett Fieldcraft is a sub-5-pound rifle, so a stock with a traditional comb is going to be harder on the shooter's dental work. Just as with Forbes' design, the comb on the Fieldcraft falls away from the shooter's face when pushed rearward during recoil. This makes it very comfortable, especially when shooting heavier bullets. The absence of drop in the stock also means recoil comes straight back instead of pushing the muzzle skyward.
The Fieldcraft's cheekpiece is on the left side to help promote contact between the shooter's face and the rifle, further improving comfort when fired. The forend is narrow and long enough to efficiently accommodate even long-armed riflemen.
Among lightweight production rifles, the bedding system utilized in the Fieldcraft is unique. The barreled action is bedded from the action's rear tang all the way to the end of the forend. This is done to stabilize the thinly contoured lightweight barrel.
Back before free-floating barrels became commonplace, accuracy aficionados often bedded the forend of their rifles to the barrel, especially if that barrel had a light contour. Some of the most fastidious riflemen had the tip of the forend exert several pounds of upward pressure on the barrel to enhance the stabilizing effect. Though bedding the Fieldcraft's barrel to the stock might sound unusual today, not too many years ago this was very common.
The Fieldcraft's bedding job is excellent. The bedding compound is smooth and even. And it does a good job of stabilizing the barreled action. The way I like to test how well a bedding job holds the barreled action is to put the rifle butt on the ground with my left hand around the forend with my fingertips touching the barrel. Loosen the actions screws starting with the rear screw, and see if the barrel moves at all during the action screw removal.
I conducted this test on the Fieldcraft, and could not detect any barrel movement whatsoever during action screw removal. This tells me the bedding is doing its job fully and evenly supporting the barreled action while exhibiting the proper fit around the recoil lug.
Aluminum pillars surround both action screws allowing the Fieldcraft to have some aggressive torque values. Barrett recommends the front screw be tightened to 80 inch-pounds and the rear action screw have a 36-inch-pound value. It's important to notate the different torque values for each action screw.
I spent an afternoon with the rifle at the range without an owner's manual, and I spent some quality time doing discovery learning on what works and what doesn't with the action screws. The Fieldcraft is a high-performance machine. It requires the owner to pay occasional attention to the action screws during load development and sighting-in.
Maintained correctly, the rifle is capable of exceptional accuracy. All it takes is possession of a good torque wrench. One of the value-added benefits of the Fieldcraft's characteristics is the ability to tune the barreled action to the shooter's preferred load using the action screws.
Not knowing what Barrett recommended, I started my range session with 35 inch-pounds of torque on the front action screw and about the same on the rear screw. Accuracy was okay but not the level I expected. I continued to lighten the torque value on the rear action screw until I had it down to about 15 inch-pounds. This is where I did my accuracy testing and was thrilled with the results.
Barrett recommends starting with 80 inch-pounds up front and 36 in the back. If you have the time, drop the rear action screw torque value by 10 or 15 inch-pounds and see if that doesn't help group sizes. I see no need to put anything other than 80 inch-pounds on the front action screw.
Another unusual trait of the Fieldcraft is the absence of any bottom metal. There is no floorplate on this rifle. The internal magazine is completely contained by the stock. There is a metal internal box that rides inside the stock containing the cartridges, follower, and spring that feeds the rifle.
The internal metal box is the most important magazine component to ensure reliable feeding in this rifle. The box is split down the back, allowing it to form to the recess in the bottom of the action and the internal dimensions of the stock.
If the box opens too wide, the rounds will get next to one another and bind. If the box is too narrow, the rounds will get too far on top of one another prior to engaging the feed lips and pop out the top of the internal magazine. Neither happened during testing, which means Barrett paid attention to these critical dimensions and got them right. The correct dimensions change as cartridge body diameter changes, so this task is not as simple as it might seem. The .308 Winchester I tested fed just fine.
The Fieldcraft has a truly unique action that might look like a Remington 700 at first pass - it is not. G&A's test rifle had an action diameter of 1.25 inches and was just long enough to accommodate the .308 Winchester cartridge for which it was chambered. (For reference, a Remington 700 action measures 1.38 inches in diameter. The Fieldcraft is noticeably slimmer.) Flats in the sides of the action remove some material to keep weight down.
The Fieldcraft's action has two opposing lugs at the 3- and 9-o'clock positions, just like Paul Mauser designed it all those years ago. The extractor and ejector reflect most of the modern advances in bolt-action rifles. The extractor is styled after a SAKO model and sits just above the recoil lug that rides underneath the ejection port. The ejector has been moved up and opposite the same recoil lug to do a better job of pushing fired cases out of the action instead of up and into the windage turret on a scope.
As far as two-lug actions go, it would be hard to find anything to improve on the Fieldcraft. The one suggestion I would make is to bevel the top-most corner of the extractor. The best custom "tactical" actions have been doing this for a few years and it's a good feature to include. (I believe Defiance Machine pioneered the concept.) Beveling the corner makes it easier for fired cases to get pushed off the extractor and out of the ejection port. If the Fieldcraft extractor ever dumps a fired case back into the action, beveling the extractor edge will fix it.
Timney produces the trigger that comes standard on the Fieldcraft, and the single-stage trigger can be adjusted by the shooter. Ours broke at 3 pounds and was set where I'd want it for a hunting rifle. I've always liked Timney triggers on rifles that will see difficult conditions in the field. They hold up to that abuse very well.
The Fieldcraft's stainless-steel barrel is button-rifled. Barrett does all the chambering, contouring and crowning in-house. Although the barrel contour is very light, it does an excellent job of remaining accurate for multiple rounds and even while uncomfortably hot to touch.
During my initial accuracy testing of the Fieldcraft, I took it easy on the barrel. I'd fire two, three-shot groups and then let it cool for a while; anticipating that groups would open or string vertically if I pushed it any harder. As testing progressed, I failed to see any drop off in accuracy. So, I lengthened each firing string until I saw performance begin to degrade. I got to four, three-shot groups before I could tell the rifle was struggling as it proceeded to string vertically from the buildup of heat.
If I were asked to come up with an ideal lightweight hunting rifle, I would point to Barrett's Fieldcraft without reservation. Although the rifle is "new," the brilliant design has been around for decades, and all the gremlins have long since been worked out.
Barrett has given this gem the gifts of modern manufacturing and a company sizeable enough to stand behind it for decades to come. I find it to be the ideal combination of weight reduction, strength and simplicity. There is no excess anywhere on the rifle, yet, it is fully capable of performing any duty in the field.
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