A few years ago, I wrote an article about the most underrated rifles for big-game hunters. That list included a bolt-action from Montana Rifle Company. However, if I were given that same assignment today, the Montana Rifle Company guns would never make the list.
This has nothing to do with the quality of the rifles that are rolling out of the company’s Kalispell, Montana, facility, because MRC guns are as good today as they have ever been … maybe better. The reason a Montana Rifle gun wouldn’t make the cut is that the brand’s lengthy list of bolt-action offerings has caught the attention of the hunting public in a major way.
MRC Back Story
In case you aren’t familiar with the MRC story, allow me to give you some background information. In the late 1990s, Keith Sipe, then the company’s owner, was building custom rifles on factory actions. Sipe liked many of the design features found on the Model 70’s classic controlled-round-feed (CRF) design, but he thought the basic design could be enhanced by adding some features found on the Mauser 98—another classic CRF action.
Because Sipe couldn’t find a factory action that combined the features he wanted, he decided to simply design his own. Known as the Model 1999 (for the year it launched), the Montana action combined the Model 70 design’s basic layout, three-position safety and original trigger design with the Mauser’s C-ring breaching system design and claw extractor. Sipe thereby created an all-new action that was nearly fail safe—something serious big-game hunters (and especially those who hunted large and potentially dangerous game) demanded.
Sipe also added a five-point venting system with dual front receiver ring vents to control escaping gases in the event of a case rupture and redesigned the bolt shroud to ensure maximum safety for the shooter. The one-piece investment cast-bolt body is extremely durable, and the Mauser-inspired design meant there were no cone cutouts or extractor cutouts in the barrel. This meant the MRC Model 1999 would cycle reliably and effectively, and the system offered a superior level of strength and security. The bolt design, itself, uses the same dual-lug design found on both the Model 70 and Mauser 98 action.
Today, Keith’s son, Jeff, runs MRC, which now offers a huge selection of bolt-action tactical and hunting rifles chambered in everything from .22-250 to .505 Gibbs. That, alone, speaks to the versatility and strength of the Model 1999 action. There are many different lines of rifles in the MRC catalog, but the AVR, or American Vantage Rifle, is perhaps the most classically styled dangerous-game rig in the company’s lengthy portfolio.
This rifle combines the rugged Model 1999 action with a gorgeous, AA-grade American walnut stock, ebony forend cap and black grip cap.
Rather than a traditional American straight comb design, the AVR comes with a Monte Carlo stock that elevates the shooter’s eye and allows for the comfortable use of either the supplied iron sights or an optic. The stock has traditional and very high-quality checkering on the forearm and the pistol grip, along with a dense, soft, black recoil pad. This pad is an excellent feature on a rifle that is available in everything from .35 Whelen up to .458 Lott.
Most dangerous-game rifles wear sturdy iron sights, even if they aren’t the primary sighting system. Some shooters (particularly guides and African PHs who carry these guns as backup for dangerous game but will only be shooting if the situation warrants) won’t mount optics on their charge-stopping heavy rifles. But even if you are a client hunter, having a backup sighting system on a hard-kicking rifle is a worthwhile insurance policy in the event of a scope malfunction under heavy recoil.
The Montana Rifle Company AVR comes with a pair of Marble front and rear sights. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation and comes with a notch—as opposed to the express-style rear V-type sight found on many dangerous-game rifles. While express sights are excellent for close-quarters, charge-stopping applications, they aren’t particularly well-suited for a broad range of hunting applications when the animal you are shooting isn’t bearing down on you with homicidal intent.
The Marble design on the AVR is more versatile; it works fine for close, fast shots, but it is more precise if you want to use your irons for shooting at longer ranges. The ramped front sight has a gold bead that is easy to acquire, even in full sunlight. Both the action and the 24-inch barrel on the AVR are made from chrome-moly steel with a blued finish (there’s also an optional version with all-stainless-steel metalwork). The action is glass-bedded and hand-lapped, and the button-rifled barrel is free floated and comes with a recessed crown.
These rifles are not only built to standards that allow them to handle heavy recoil without damage, they are also are designed to be extremely accurate. And if you are a southpaw, Jeff Sipe hasn’t left you out in the cold: These rifles are available in both right- and left-handed versions.
“The action operates with extreme precision, and it is slick and smooth.”
AVR rifles are available in seven cartridges that are perfect for a wide variety of heavy game: .35 Whelen, .375 Ruger, .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Ruger, .416 Remington Magnum, .458 Winchester Magnum and the mighty .458 Lott. The gun I tested was chambered in .375 H&H Magnum—a classic dangerous-game cartridge that has seen service on all sizes of quarry the world over for more than a century. Other key features on the AVR are dual sling swivel studs, a hinged metal floorplate and a rocker-style bolt release that is both robust and easy to use. Many dangerous-game rifles mount the front sling stud on the barrel to keep it away from the shooter’s hand under heavy recoil, and while I can’t attest to the larger-caliber AVRs in .416 or .458, there were no issues with finger-stubbing when I fired the .375 H&H model. The length of pull is 13.625 inches; it’s overall length is 46 inches.
Unloaded, this rifle weighs about 9 pounds (depending on the caliber and variations in the wood)—perfect for heavy-kicking rifles such as this.
Great Eye Relief
A premium dangerous-game rifle demands a sturdy optic with plenty of eye relief; for that reason, I chose to mount Swarovski’s new Z8i 1.7-13.3×42 30mm scope on this rifle. The Z8i is a world-class piece of glass that fears neither rain nor sleet nor magnum recoil, and that 30mm objective offers a wide field of view.
The Swarovski was mated to the rifle using Burris bases and Signature rings, and the AVR is compatible with Winchester Model 70 bases. With such a rifle in hand, you are ready to hunt any game in the world.
I’ve long been a fan of the .375 H&H Magnum, and while my own hunting with the caliber has been limited to non-dangerous species, such as a wide array of African plains game and feral hogs, the .375 has a glowing reputation among some of the harshest cartridge critics—namely those who rely on their rifles to keep themselves and their clients from being mauled, gored, hooked or trampled. From whitetails and elk to Cape buffalo and coastal brown bears, the .375 H&H is a universal choice.
“Montana Rifle Company’s lengthy list of bolt-action offerings has caught the attention of the hunting public in a major way.”
Big-bore rifles aren’t known for being terribly accurate, but the AVR is an exception. On the range, it averaged just a hair over an inch with Barnes 300-grain factory TSX loads and Nosler’s 260-grain Partitions—two solid options for just about any big game on the planet. The third load tested, Hornady’s 250-grain GMX, averaged just under 1½ inches.
There’s a rumor floating around that .375 H&H rifles fire bullets of various designs and grain weights to the same point of impact—indicating that, in theory, you could swap loads and never re-zero. I’ve not found that to be true with the over-a-dozen .375s I’ve tested, and it isn’t the case with the AVR.
I was shooting off sandbags with factory ammo and was still grouping under 1½ MOA. I believe that if you wanted to cook up a handload this rifle particularly loved, you could squeeze those groups under an inch.
know sub-MOA groups are all the rage, but I haven’t seen a lot of those from factory .375s. Of the rifles in this caliber I have tested, the Montana ranks among the top three in accuracy, and it is the most accurate wood-stocked .375 factory gun I’ve shot. By the time this rifle left the range, I was ready to carry it buffalo hunting in Africa.
That confidence is inspired in part by the AVR’s robust action. With some rifles, you have to coax and prod cartridges into the magazine; and when you cycle the action, you’re never really sure a round was chambered.
Not so with this gun. The action is silky smooth, and lockup is absolutely secure. There were no issues with feeding and extraction, and the Mauser-type ejector sent those long cartridge cases whirring through the air with each bolt stroke.
On the range, a few aspects of the gun stood out. First, it has a great trigger. It broke at 3½ pounds and helped make delivering accurate shots much easier. The easy-to-use rocker bolt release is well positioned and very solidly constructed.
“The rifle combines the rugged model 1999 action with a gorgeous, AA-grade American Walnut stock, ebony forend cap and black grip cap.”
The pistol grip seems a bit narrower and more rounded than other big bores I’ve shot. I am a fan of the new grip design, which positions your hand comfortably and offers great control of the trigger and the rifle itself.
Recoil was stiff but manageable—on par with other 9-pound, wood-stocked .375s I’ve shot. It isn’t vicious like some of the lighter .375 synthetic-stocked guns, and the dense recoil pad and comb construction help control setback.
This isn’t a rifle for beginners. However, if you’re an experienced shooter, you shouldn’t have issues.
What A Deal!
There’s a whole lot to like about this rifle. It’s an American-made big bore built around an action that is essentially the offspring of the Mauser 98 and the Winchester Model 70. The action operates with extreme precision, and it is slick and smooth. And that walnut stock is absolutely gorgeous—full of flame and feather and topped off with a classic black cap.
But perhaps the best thing about this rifle is its price. The MSRP for the blued version I tested is $1,636, and the stainless model rings in at $1,756. That may not seem cheap, but for a rifle of this ilk, it’s a very good deal. With cartridges ranging from .35 Whelen to .458 Lott, there isn’t much game this gun can’t cover.
On the lower end, you have the mild-mannered Whelen, which is a fantastic cartridge that works well on deer, black bear, elk and moose, as well as all the African plains game. If you’re a guide or PH, or you are planning to hunt really big, dangerous game, there are many .40-caliber-plus options that will work. If you plan to hunt a little bit of everything, an AVR in the venerable .375 H&H magnum is a great option.
But you can’t buy this particular AVR .375 rifle—it’s already spoken for.
|Barnes TSX 300 grain||
|Hornady TMX 250 grain||
|Nosler Partition 260 grain||
NOTE: Velocity is a 10-shot average. Groups are three three-shot groups at 100 yards.
ACTION: Bolt-action centerfire
CAPACITY: 3+1 (as tested)
STOCK: AA American walnut
BARREL: 24-inch; blued
WEIGHT: 9 pounds (approximate)
OVERALL LENGTH: 46 inches
SIGHT: Marble adjustable rear; Marble gold-dot front
TRIGGER: 3.5 pounds
If you’re serious about hunting dangerous game, there is some essential gear you should purchase before heading afield.
- For me, that starts with a pair of custom shooting sticks from African Sporting Creations. These durable wooden sticks are quiet and can be customized to your preferences. I have a pair and count them among the items I wouldn’t leave home without. MSRP: $199
- While you’re at the ASC website, check out its line of Courteney Boots—a staple of life on safari.
- There is no better way to keep your ammo organized and accessible than Galco’s excellent Field Grade Culling Belt, which holds 20 rounds close at hand for fast, reliable reloads. MSRP: $104.95
- Staying comfortable in the field is also important. The Versacarry Cotton Webbing Rifle Sling is light and functional—perfect for your first safari … or your tenth. MSRP: $39.99
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.