February 19, 2020
By Tom Beckstrand
There’s no doubt about it, we are living in the golden age of the bolt-action rifle. Never before has there been such an embarrassment of rifle riches for those willing to participate. The new RBG-1S from Rock River Arms illustrates just how much performance can be packed into a production bolt-action rifle.
Many firearms enthusiasts will ask, “What does this rifle do that my $300 bolt-action doesn’t? After all, my $300 rifle will shoot sub-minute of angle (MOA) groups regularly.” Despite Col. Townsend Whelen’s statement, “Only accurate rifles are interesting,” there’s a lot more to a rifle than a tiny group size, although that’s certainly important. And some of us will find that Rock River Arms’ new RBG-1S offers enormous value.
During development, I was heavily involved in choosing the key components of this rifle, and I introduced Rock Bolt Gun - 1st Generation, Short Action (RBG-1S) to the action’s and chassis’ manufacturers. However, I received no benefit for my involvement and I was not compensated in any way. I received no money, no product — nothing.
Do you need one?
With so many choices, the debate over which one is “best” usually ends up as an argument about rifle price and group sizes. If all you want is to poke a few holes in paper or go hunting, you really don’t need an expensive rifle. Rifles that see a box of ammunition a year don’t need to cost more than a few hundred dollars. However, there are a lot of rifleshooters who want or need more in a rifle, and those that shoot a lot. That demographic should be very interested in Rock River’s RBG-1S.
In my opinion, no production rifle from a major manufacturer has more relevant features than this. That’s a strong statement, but the evidence is found in and on the rifle itself. The heart and soul of any rifle is its barreled action, and this one combines the Bighorn TL-3 (bighornarms.com) mated to Rock River’s own barrel. There’s a styled “RRA” for Rock River Arms on the left side, but Bighorn makes the action for them. Unfinished, this action alone costs between $1,250 and $1,350. Still, it is one of the most popular actions with the precision rifle competition crowd, and for good reason.
The action features a removeable bolt head that has a controlled round feed (CRF) extractor and a fixed ejector. One of the most important aspects of any rifle is the extraction system. An extractor works just fine until it breaks, then the rifle is well and truly broken and likely requires a trip to the gunsmith. One of my nightmare scenarios is to be on an epic hunt only to have my extractor break when confirming zero.
An extractor breaking will never be an issue with the RBG-1S because it has one made with a hardened steel blade that is supported by two rails in the bolt face. It is wide and grabs a large section of the cartridge case rim. Since it rides on two steel rails in the bolt face, there is almost zero chance one will break. Unlike the common spring-steel extractor that has no external support while the case extracts, this steel extractor is further reinforced by the two steel rails. It will tear through the case rim long before the extractor itself gives way.
Another thing this action does better than anything else is every one of the TL-3 actions are identical. I’ve walked the factory where they are made, and it is the absolute apex of action manufacturing. Imagine a place with all the latest cutting-edge machines staffed with guys that know how to make them sing.
Placing several of the actions side-by-side and looking at the receiver face of each shows that the thread starts are all in the exact same location. Setting headspace on one barrel allows that same barrel to be put on every other action. I asked Bighorn why they don’t sell barrels and just let folks at home put them on the action. “Right now, we’re making actions as fast as we can,” was their response.
Rock River cracked the code on chambering, cryogenically treating and finishing a barrel long ago. Some of the most accurate ARs I’ve ever tested used Rock River barrels where they do the finish chambering and stress relieving in-house.
The RBG-1S secures the TL-3 action to the Rock River barrel by way of a barrel-nut. The barrel threads into the receiver and then headspace gauges are used to set headspace. Next, the barrel nut is tightened down to keep everything in place. It is a simple process that allows the end-user to re-barrel the rifle or switch chamberings with the help of a vice, some gauges and an action wrench.
The million-dollar question then becomes, will Rock River stay with the barrel nut system? Or, will they decide to offer direct-thread barrels that come headspaced from the factory? All you’d need to do with the latter is screw it into the receiver and go shooting. Go/No-Go gauges are not necessary. Rock River is going to stay with the barrel nut arrangement because it is more widely used and gives some wiggle room for any user-error.
No matter the barrel attachment system, the barrel on the RBG-1S rifle is exceptional. Rock River Arms starts with Wilson Arms’ barrels (wilsonarms.com) and performs the final chambering and finish work in-house. This process allows Rock River to maintain strict quality control over the chambering process. I for one, appreciate that.
Chambering a rifle is an artform all its own. In order to get the best accuracy out of any barrel, the chamber has to be cut concentric to the bore with no run-out. This is why Rock River requires the chambering process be kept in-house. A really good chamber job can make a mediocre barrel shoot well. A poor chamber job will make even the best barrel shoot horrible.
In addition to controlling the chamber work, Rock River cryogenically stress-relieves the barrel. Some manufacturers say it’s not necessary, but others do. One thing I’ve noticed about manufacturers that cryogenically treat their barrels is that those guns always shoot very well. Manufacturers that don’t, have rifles that can shoot well, but there is an occasional lemon.
Back to the guy that’s wondering what this rifle does that a $300 to $400 rifle won’t. The RBG-1S has a stock that allows the shooter to spot the impact of his rounds through the scope and also remain comfortable for a few hours when behind it, if necessary. No cheap rifle can make the same claim. The only way to get optimal performance out of any rifle is to ensure it fits the person shooting it. This means their head stays firmly attached to the rifle during recoil and the only way for that to happen is to have an adjustable comb. This one does.
The chassis on the RBG-1S rifle is made by Kinetic Research Group (KRG) (kineticresearchgroup.com), a company created and operated by three former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, two of whom served as snipers. I’ve known them for years and can confirm that they know rifles.
The chassis built for Rock River has a quick-adjust comb and a quick-adjust length of pull. This ensures a good field of view through the scope, even during recoil, because the stock can be tailored to fit the shooter. This is probably the single biggest differentiator between a $300 rifle and a polymer stock and a really nice rifle like the RBG-1S.
In addition to fitting the shooter well, the chassis has a ton of flexibility up front. The chassis is built around an aluminum spine that runs from under the action to the tip of the forend. The polymer skins attach to the spine and give the chassis it’s shape. There is a wide variety of accessories that KRG makes that attach to the forend. The owner can attach a night vision mount, an Arca-Swiss rail or a spigot mount, just to name a few.
Being able to adjust the chassis quickly and easily makes for a comfortable shooting experience. My time at the range proved the rifle was as accurate as any custom rifle from one of the boutique builders. Still, it offers every feature a serious shooter could want or need. Guns & Ammo’s sample was extremely accurate with the best five-shot group measuring .41 inches at 100 yards.
The things I like most about the RGB-1S is the comprehensive list of features that allow us to stretch our rifle-shooting legs. Rock River will offer the RBG-1S with either a 22- or 24-inch barrel length, with either a Trigger Tech or Timney trigger and hard travel case. The rifle will do well at everything from prone to positional shooting and will keep the person on the rifle comfortable doing it. While it does represent an investment in your shooting, it also offers a lot of capability. Rock River Arms also stands behind this rifle. Unlike a lot of custom builders, this time-tested brand will still be in business when you need them.
Rock River Arms RBG-1S Specs
- Type: Bolt action
- Cartridge: 6.5 Creedmoor (tested), .308 Win.
- Capacity: 5 rds.
- Barrel: 24 in.; 1:8-in twist
- Overall Length: 44.5 in.
- Weight: 10 lbs., 13 oz.
- Stock: KRG Whiskey 3
- Grip: Molded, light texture
- Length of Pull: Adj., 13 in. to 14.5 in.
- Finish: Matte stainless steel
- Sights: None
- Safety: Two-position selector
- MSRP: $4,150
- Manufacturer: Rock River Arms, 866-980-7625, rockriverarms.com
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