There are more choices than ever for your hard-earned dollars to get gobbled up in today’s rifle market. The new focus seems to be hitting targets at distances never before seen. I can remember growing up and if you were hitting a 6” paper plate at 100 yards, you were considered accurate enough for hunting. Here in GA, most ranges were well inside 150 yards, so I understand that logic. However as times are changing and hunters are heading out west more and more, the tactics have changed, and the equipment to go along with them.
In this next series of articles, I will be focusing on semi-custom rifles. There are more now than ever to choose from. Let’s define what I’m calling a semi-custom rifle in terms of dollars. For $400-800 dollars you have some really great rifles in the marketplace. Ruger American, Savage Axis, Browning Hunter, and Tikka Hunter all compete very well in that world. For most hunting, they perform just fine. Now the primary lines of rifles like the Remington 700, Winchester Model 70, and Browning X-Bolt are falling in that gap from $1000-$1,500. Those same rifles 20 years ago were in the $700 range of prices, so costs are rising. Today those brands of rifles are being made on modern equipment and probably all better than ever, but the reality is they are still mass-produced rifles.
So, that brings us to the case in point, comparing rifles in the $1,500-$2,500 range. I’m looking at street prices here, not MSRP, because the MSRPs are all $2,000+. But are the extra dollars spent worth it? What are you getting for the money? I’ve been fortunate enough to have shot about everything made at one time or another. Anyone who knows me understands that I’ve been doing this since I was a child. In short, I love rifles and scopes. There is something that is so exciting about putting a golf ball on a tee at 300 yards and hitting it cleanly from the tee. Hitting small targets at a distance is just plain fun. But to do that, you have to have a rifle and scope that is capable. It’s hard to hone your skills with equipment that you can outshoot on a given day. Long gone are the days of the 6” paper plate and here are the times of 1/2” at 100 yards being the new standard.
The Fierce Twisted Rage
Fierce is one of those companies that you still may not have heard of. Most rifles start above $2,000 and go to well over $4,000. That’s just the rifle, not including glass. So what separates a rifle like that from a standard Remington 700, well a lot to be blunt. Let’s start with the action. The action is a three lug short 70 degree bolt throw. They do have two lug actions, but if you are going to buy one, stay with the 3-lug. This allows the option to put a larger scope on the rifle and mount it low to the barrel. The short bolt throw of the three lug system leaves plenty of room to clear the scope from the bolt handle. The raceways are wire EDM cut. This allows far more precision than the old way of broaching an action. So from the beginning, you have a tighter machined action as a foundation for the firearm. This action feels like the Sako model 75. The safety is in the same place, the reach from the grip to the trigger, all feels a lot like a Sako. For me, I love this. I have always been a fan.
Next, let’s look at the barrel. I’m going to say something here that I’m sure I will get backlash from, but I’m not the biggest fan of a Carbon Fiber Barrel. I know people are getting the eggs ready to throw now, but it doesn’t change the fact that I don’t like them. To me a rifle has to have a certain line. The barrel has to be light in contour, fluted, and look like it belongs in the stock. Not fitting so tightly that it reminds me of a woman trying to fit in something they aren’t made to wear. AKA “Muffin Top”. That’s not my thing. If it works for you well, who am I to judge. The fierce nails this. The twisted spiral flutes are my personal preference. The light contour is perfectly free floated in the stock. The barrel is also match grade, hand lapped, and stress relief treated. Now, that means different things to different companies. There are different ways of saying all that regarding a barrel, but the processes are different. I couldn’t find anything further than those statements on their website. They do guarantee 1/2” accuracy at 100 yards. It also comes standard with a radial muzzle break. That is also a must for me. It doesn’t matter if the rifle is a .223, it needs a muzzle break. On larger calibers, it takes away the recoil, but on the smaller calibers, it allows me to see the hit on the target through the scope as I fire the rifle. In either case, you’ll find one on all my rigs.
Probably one of the most important things you have to consider is the stock. You can have a perfectly machined action and barrel, but a poor stock and it’s not worth having. I have recently bought a custom rifle, probably my last, and it came with a stock that I didn’t like. I don’t mean a little either, I didn’t like it at all. It didn’t look right, the lines were wrong and the fit was terrible for me. That meant a phone call to McMillan and a new stock was ordered at a price of $800 on top of the rifle build. So, if the rifle doesn’t come with a stock that you like, pass on it. I looked at this carefully before I spent my money on this Fierce. This model comes with a Monte Carlo designed, full C3 carbon stock made in house by Fierce. It also has an integral pic rail for mounting a bipod. Again, this is a must for all my rifles. Even if they don’t come with one, they will have one before it ever goes to the field. I find my self hunting from the ground more and more with a rifle and bipod makes a huge difference on shot placement regardless of the distance. If I can get an edge on shooting, I want to use it. This rifle again, has exactly what I was looking for.
The stock is lightweight and has an integrated carbon bedding system. I’ve seen this more and more over the past couple of years and I have a few rifles with that type of system in it. Basically they use a high density carbon composite in the area of the stock where the action bolts though to the floor plate. This allows them to mold that into the stock while manufacturing and not have the secondary process of trying to add aluminum pillars to the stock, or mold that aluminum piece into it. The thought is that by removing the aluminum, you are making the stock a little more thermally stable. It’s one less thing to move in extreme hot or cold temperatures. Composites have come a long way in the past 5 years and my experience is that it works. I’ve bedded actions to that type of system with great success. I can’t see any difference in how the rifle shoots between the composite style or aluminum pillars. The biggest part of this is the rifle be bedded to remove any rotation from the receiver. The bottom of the receiver in the Fierce Triad action is flat and bedded to the stock, so I can’t see any way that it could move in normal, or harsh hunting conditions. The bedding was a little sloppy, but it was there. I couldn’t stand it personally, so I went it and cleaned it up a bit. The reality is that it probably doesn’t affect the rifle performance at all, but in the end, I felt a little better about it.
The last couple of things to consider when you get to this price point is the trigger. Most manufacturers are putting higher quality triggers in their rifles. Triggertech, Timney, and Jewel have been around for while and seem to be the standards. Fierce decided to put in a BIX’N ANDY match grade trigger that is adjustable from 1-3 pounds. My rifle came in set at 2.25 pounds. The creep is pretty much non existent and the trigger has a nice curve and thinner shoe that I prefer. A little twist with the Allen wrench and it went right below 2 pounds. Again, this rifle continues to impress. This is my first experience with BIX’N ANDY, so I’ll see how well I like it overall after a trip to the range.
So a quick recap of the rifle so far. Three lug short throw action, match grade fluted barrel, muzzle break, full carbon stock, pic rail, and match trigger. To this point, this is exactly the rifle would order for hunting. And coming in at a weight just under 7 pounds, it’s also a rifle I want to hunt with. You can have an amazing rifle that shoots lights out from the bench, but if you don’t want to pick it up from the gun rack and hunt with it, it doesn’t do any good. Rifles don’t put meat on the table from the house. The rifle you find yourself picking up and carrying is the one that quickly becomes your favorite.
The glass is something that I’ve been struggling with the past couple of years. My favorite has been and probably always will be Swarovski for hunting. The combination of weight and amazing glass, well you can’t really beat it in the field. The problem is the price. They are all $2k plus for a 30mm tube scope and that’s getting a little too high in my opinion. Then you have Nightforce. I love the glass. They have extremely good turrets and repeatability and they run right there with Swarovski at a lesser price of around $1,800 for a NX8. The problem is two fold. The turrets have gotten a little big. They are geared a little more towards the tactical side and not hunting. The other is the weight. While good glass is heavy, when you are building out your hunting rig, this affects the rifle in a major way. Too much weight on top of a light rifle and the rifle becomes unsteady in the field. Put the heavy glass on the heavier rifles. Plain and simple, that is the best way to avoid a rifle that my be perfect, but never quite feels right in your hands. My dollars went to Leupold for this one. The new VX-5HD is a tremendous buy in my opinion. Good mid range magnification, extremely clear, and has a turret that stops on zero. Again, with this build matching the optic to the rifle is key for the rifle to feel right. The scope weighs less than 20 ounces and comes in at a price around $1,000. That is hitting all the high notes.
I called Talley and ordered a set of one piece rings from them. As always I just tell them the rifle and the scope combo and they send me the perfect set up. Great people and a US made product. If you haven’t considered them for your build, you should. With the rings and scope in hand it was leveled, mounted, and torqued to spec. Now, let’s see if the rifle is going to perform as advertised. It’s off to the range.
This was a quick and easy zero. It was two shots and done. The first group was 100% as advertised. I didn’t have any of my FC rounds at hand, so to keep things simple and to show what the rifle would do under normal conditions, I grabbed a box of Hornady 147gr ELD-M. Typically these are accurate rounds from most rifles. The three shot group at 100 yards measured .462”. That’s just under the 1/2” advertised accuracy standard from Fierce. I didn’t waste any time. I quickly moved to 150, 200, and 250 yards accordingly. Not one miss. The rifle walked straight out without any problems.
Feeding was smooth and the BIX’N ANDY trigger was a pleasure. The three position safety was rock steady and the rifle fell away from my face with the recoil of a fired round. The more I shot it, the better it felt. While I’ve shot hundreds of different rifles, this is one that stands out at the top. If I have a complaint, its just the rail on the front. While, it’s set up perfectly for a bipod, it’s not the best from a bag. It was extremely aggressive against my leather front bag. But, that is to be expected. It’s not designed for the bench, but to be a mobile and useful tool in the field. I would expect that it will be just that, something I’m grateful to have on my hunts.
The last shot I made was at 423 yards. I used the prescribed velocity of 2910. I was off .1 mil from my program. I had to dial in 1.9 mil at that distance and my program recommended 1.75 mil. In all fairness, the rifle only had about 8 shots on the barrel at this point. The more rounds run through it, the faster it will get until it’s settled. The barrel needs 100 yards to settle down regardless of it being bore lapped or not. So, to have consistency that fast from a new rifle says that they are doing some things right.
In conclusion, I feel this is an excellent choice for the price point. It does everything I could ask a hunting rifle to do. It’s lightweight, shoots consistent, comfortable to shoot, and just overall has the features and looks you would expect for the money. Not to mention the 6.5 PRC in that rifle just makes it a perfect combination for hunting just about any deer, or goat, species in North America. If you are in the market for a semi custom, this would be a strong consideration. – By Brian Fox