Euro F-Classer: the “BAT Mobile”

Jim DeKort's BAT-actioned 6.5-284 Dutch Dream Gun

Jim DeKort’s Kelbly Panda was our very first Gun of the Week. It seemed appropriate that Jim’s stunning new 6.5-284 should be our first “centerfold” rifle for 2007. This handsome rifle sports ultra-premium components from top to bottom, including a 1.550″-diam. BAT action, 30″ Broughton 5C barrel, and a very special Master Class stock, custom-crafted by Alex Sitman with Jim’s design input. This rifle, dubbed the “BAT Mobile” by Jim, shoots as good as it looks. In its very first match, a two-day long-range F-Class competition at the famed Bisley Range in Surrey, England, Jim’s “BAT Mobile” took top honors, winning the Grand Aggregate.


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Creating My “Ultimate F-Classer” by Jim DeKort

Project Background
This rifle project has been brewing for quite some time. I live in the Netherlands (Holland) and I’ve been playing around with various calibers for short- and medium-range benchrest, including 6PPC, 6BR and 6mm Dasher. But F-Class shooting is growing in popularity in Europe, and I wanted a gun with serious long-range capabilities, a gun that could thrive in the often windy conditions experienced in big matches. While I love my 6mm Dasher, I felt a bigger caliber was the way to go. This would be a no-compromise rifle, built with the highest-grade components, in a package optimized for prone F-Class competition. (That’s me in the photo at right shooting my new F-Classer at Bisley, this past September.)

Choice of Caliber and Components
First things first–I’m new to F-Class, though I’ve been shooting benchrest for four years now. Selecting the “right” caliber wasn’t easy. Initially I wanted a 7mm (I’d read the recent positive reports and I like doing things differently). But some shooters I knew were telling me I was nuts: “Everyone shoots a 6.5-284, why do it differently?” So I thought, “Well, I’ll get a 6.5-57 Ackley then”. But then my fellow shooters reminded me that team shoots would be easier if we all shot the same caliber–and that meant the 6.5-284. So, I settled for a 6.5-284 with a .292″ neck, throated for the Lapua 139gr Scenars.

 

COMPONENTS and SPECIFICATIONS 

Action: BAT Machines MB 1.55″ round, RBRP, spiral fluted bolt

Stock: Master Class Stocks Modified F-Class

Trigger: Jewell BR

Barrel: Broughton, 5C, 1:8″ twist, 30″ finished

Chambering: 6.5-284, 0.292″ neck, 1:8″ twist

Scope: Weaver T36 Target-dot

Mount: Davidson Rail with 20+ MOA elevation

Smith: Dave Bruno (Bruno Precision Rifles)

Stocker: Alex Sitman (Master Class Stocks)

Now that was settled, I needed an 8-twist barrel. (Yes I know some guys run slower twists, but I live at sea-level and I wanted to be sure I could stabilize all the long bullets). Two barrel-makers, Broughton and Hart, came to my mind as I had good results with their barrels on my LV rifle. Because Broughton offers a canted land (5C) configuration and many top shooters have had success with the 5C barrels, I decided to go with a 30″ Broughton with a heavy F-Class taper.

For the action, I definitely wanted polished stainless steel. No more aluminum for me. My LV rifle, a Kelbly Panda, has a bead-blasted aluminum action. During the years it has gotten pretty ugly from gathered dirt, solvent residues and a few rainy days. Because of the coarse exterior it has become impossible to clean without resorting to bead-blasting again. Hence my new action would be a smooth, stainless action. For F-Class, where you have 11 kg (22 pounds) to play with, the extra weight of steel is a bonus. There are many good stainless actions from which to choose–Borden, BAT, Nesika, Stolle (Grizzly II), Stiller Diamondback. I even thought about Jerry Stiller’s stainless Viper. Reading all the forums and talking with some people (including your editor who has a BAT MB) I decided to go with the BAT MB 1.55″ round action. I chose the MB in particular for the extra bedding surface (8.5″ housing with 7.5″ bolt). It also has an integral recoil lug.

Optics–A Weaver T-36 on top
Right now I have a Weaver T-36 sitting on top of this rifle. It has performed well, and the only gripe I have is that I loose track of my elevation or windage some times as the dials go from 0 to 4.5 and then down to zero again. During the summer, when still using my 6mm Dasher rifle, I switched to my Leupold 8.5-25X LRT as I was afraid the mirage would get too bad for the 36X Weaver. I do like the silver scope on top of this blue/gray/metal rifle, but I’m hoping to find someone who can boost the new 6.5-20 LRTs with the 1/10 MOA adjustments.

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Selecting the Stock
About five years ago I started looking into having a benchrest rifle built. My first glance at a laminated thumbhole stock in the colors blue/gray stole my heart. Fate had it that I bought a second-hand Light Varmint (short-range benchrest) rifle instead, as I had no idea what I would need to do to import a rifle from the US. Now, five years later, I was yet again looking to create my “dream” rifle, but this time it would be set-up for long-range competition. This time I vowed to get that blue/gray laminated stock (with thumbhole) or nothing at all. I didn’t want to compromise. My search took me to some of the best stock makers in North America, many of which are sponsors of AccurateShooter.com. But alas, none of these companies could deliver just what I wanted. Either they did not have the color, or the prone-style thumbhole design I wanted with a flat, wide fore-end suitable for F-Class. I asked a few stock-makers if they would modify one of their stocks or special-order the colors (for a fee of course), but none were willing.

Master Class Delivers Something Special–A True Custom
Through internet gun forums, I found out about Master Class Stocks and sent an e-mail their way. I wasn’t optimistic, expecting to get the same “we don’t offer that” answers I’d heard from other stock-makers. A day or two later I got a reply from Alex Sitman saying “Our patterns are pre-designed and to re-do a pattern would be very costly and take a long time to do. I am sorry that I cannot supply you with the stock of your choice”. “Bummer” I thought, “I will have to settle for an existing stock”. Well, my thoughts in Dutch (my native language) were something along that line anyway. As I had nothing to loose I sent a reply to Alex asking, in essence, “Alright, how much extra time and money are we talking about?”. To my surprise I received an answer with a price quote and an estimated two months to craft the stock. The price and schedule were acceptable, so my search was over. Alex Sitman of Master Class Stocks would be building me the exact stock I wanted–and it would be the first of its kind.

The time issue was of no real concern as I had to wait at least four months for the action, and another three to four months for the smithing. The extra money involved was well within reason for me as I would be getting exactly what I wanted, and the cost was reasonable, given the $3,500 total budget for the rifle. Several weeks later I received an email in the middle of the night with a picture of my new stock, taken just a day before it was sent to the gunsmith (Dave Bruno). It blew my mind–this was exactly what I wanted. Note: Master Class now has a master mold for this stock, so contact Alex if you are interested in a similar design.


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The stock has an adjustable cheek-piece and one-way (up/down) adjustable butt-plate. Length of pull (LOP) was matched to my arm/hand which means I did not need the second or third axes of adjustment on the shoulder piece. Vertical adjustment was enough. I was a bit hesitant about the LOP, but after getting behind the rifle, it fit like a glove. The thumbhole is very natural, in contrast to many other thumbholes I have used. The stock has an integrated fore-end rail. Weights are placed in the rear (under the cheek-piece) and in front (in the forearm) to bring the stock closer to the 11 kg (22-pound) F-Class max weight limit. The rear weights also improve the gun’s balance, counter-balancing the long barrel.

Load Development and Accuracy
Load development went very easily since I borrowed a good load that was working for others. I knew several fellow 6.5-284 shooters who were all using N165 in the 53-55gr range with the same 139gr Lapua Scenar. I made a batch with 0.5gr increments starting at 51.0 and worked up from there. I saw that 52.5gr and 53.5gr both produced very nice 5-short groups (one group at each weight), so I decided to try the 52-54 grain range again, but I would load in smaller 0.3gr increments. In the second session I did three groups of five shots per load. This time nice groups appeared at 52.6 and 53.3gr with my preference going to the 53.3 for the added velocity. All testing was done at 100 meters. My groups were in the 0.3-0.4 MOA range with the better loads (not bad for a long-range rifle I think). As one of my friends got into trouble with a 54gr load during this summer’s hot-as-hell Imperial meeting in Bisley, I decided to stay below 54 grains of N165.

So far 53.3gr of N165 has done nicely for me. There may be room for improvement, but as I’ve said, this gun is already shooting nice, tight, round groups, at competitive velocities (about 2970 fps). Bullets are seated 0.3mm (0.012″) away from the lands. This works for me with the Scenars, but others may get better results putting the bullets into the lands–just adjust your load downwards accordingly. Seating in the lands can raise pressures 5,000 psi or more. I use Lapua 6.5-284 brass, with the necks turned (very lightly) to 0.2905-0.2910″. This gives about .0015″ clearance in my 0.292″ chamber. My match load uses the PMC (Russian) primers with 53.3 grains of Vihtavuori N165.

Sitman’s Thoughts on the Stock Design 

master class thumbhole match prone stockWe had a chance to chat briefly with Alex Sitman of Master Class Stocks about the features on Jim’s laminated F-Classer. Alex told us: “Yes, I remember the project well. Jim wanted a stock with the wide, stable fore-end of our F-Class design, but he wanted a thumbhole and a more vertical pistol grip similar to a position rifle. We looked at various stock designs, including my Thumbhole Match stock (photo above), to get the hand position, grip shape, and geometry Jim wanted. You will see features similar to older Anschutz or Tanner prone rifles. Jim also shoots a Sako TRG and there were elements of that stock he wanted to duplicate, such as the relief for the index finger behind the trigger guard.” We asked Alex what are the benefits of the thumbhole design on an F-Class stock: “Well, for those that like to grip the stock, the thumbhole positions the hand low and very close to the centerline. It creates a comfortable, natural place for the thumb to fall in a way that simultaneously allows the index finger to extend straight forward to the trigger. That creates a naturally straight trigger pull.”

The 8.5″ BAT MB receiver is set up to take three action bolts. Some gunsmiths say a three-pillar installation is more prone to binding than a two-pillar set-up. Alex disagreed: “There is nothing wrong with three pillars if you do it right. I’ve worked with three-pillar actions many times and I consider the third pillar an asset, particularly on guns that have a long heavy barrel. You just have to make sure your inletting and pillar work is done with attention to detail.” When installing a round-bottomed action, Alex prefers to use pillars that are radiused to match the curve of the action. Alex explained: “I understand that some smiths prefer flat-top pillars, but I like a radiused pillar–so long as the radius actually conforms to the shape of the action. That means you may have to re-contour the top of the pillar which is an extra step, but an important one that I do.”

Jim’s gun features a vertically adjusting cheek-piece and butt-plate. We asked Alex if he recommends these features on all F-Class rifles: “It is up to the customer. The adjustments do give the shooter the flexibility to change positions during a match and to experiment with a solid cheek weld (high position) versus light contact or no contact at all (low cheek-piece position). One benefit of the vertically-adjusting buttplate is that you can move the butt-pad to a different position depending on whether you are shooting on the bench versus the ground. And obviously the adjustments allow the gun to be set up for different shooters. This can be important in team events, or when a husband and wife might shoot the same gun.”

 

A Winner the First Time Out
September would see my first chance to get the “BAT Mobile” out to 300+ meter distances during the City Rifle Club Open F-Class match (at the historic Bisley National Shooting Centre Range, in Surrey, England). I went with the idea to just see how the new 6.5-284 would compare to the 6mm Dasher rifle I had taken there previously. I wanted to get solid “real-world” zeroes for all the ranges, and just get used to the new rifle. Prior to this match I had only shot at short range (mostly from the bench), and needed to get some “hands-on” experience shooting from the ground.

At the City Rifle Club event, we completed seven matches in a two-day span, with an eighth planned 1000-yard match sadly being cancelled due to mist on Sunday morning. At the end of the two-day event, I had all my zeroes, and had proven that the load I had found was good up to 900 yards. Oh, and not to brag, but I went home with a big trophy to boot. Yes, this gun can shoot. In this, her very first match, the “Bat Mobile” took the Grand Agg with a 375-60X score (out of a possible 380-76X). Not bad for her initial “baptism by fire”. That made my season.

Bisley–By the Skin of my Teeth
As I explained at the beginning of this article, a primary reason for building this rifle was to compete in European F-Class matches. I was hoping to get a chance to shoot at Bisley in the UK, and it turns out, I just managed to pull everything together in the nick of time. The rifle was sent over in August, with a couple of shoots in the UK coming up very close to the delivery time. Like a child with a new toy, I just HAD to try it out before the season ended and I would have to wait until April 2007. Besides getting the rifle imported, I would also have to get the required permits to take it to the UK. A desperate letter went to the Firearms Liaison of the UK NRA asking if it was still possible. A gentleman replied the next day telling me to fill out the attached forms pronto and to get my butt to the post-office so they could have the papers ASAP. It normally took three to four weeks, and that was about the time I would be going to the UK. A couple of days later I received a phone call from Roger Speak (NRA firearms liaison) saying that my “BAT-Mobile has been put onto a visitor’s firearms permit”. Thank goodness. But I still had to collect the rifle from customs and get it shooting….

I did manage to get everything in order and make it to to England to shoot the last match of the season in September. I learned a lot, particularly during the 600-yard segment, when a fish-tailing wind proved challenging for myself and many other competitors. And it was great to come home a winner with a trophy in my luggage. The photo above left shows me behind the “BAT Mobile” shooting for the first time on the Bisley Century Range. It was a real kick to shoot at a legendary location like this — it’s sort of like getting to drive your car at Le Mans or the Indianapolis Speedway.

Fellow shooters on the Bisley Stickledown Range during the 900-yard Match.
The mist has just cleared up, no wind. It was a beautiful English day in September.
 


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Topics: Jim DeKort, Holland, Dutch, Netherlands, Bisley, National Shooting Centre, NSC, Surrey, England, UK, Master Class Stocks, Master class, Alex Sitman, Thumbhole, laminate, Rutland, Pillar Bedding, 6.5-284, 284 Winchester, Lapua, Scenar, F-Class, F-TR, Open Class, Vihtavuori, .264, Broughton, Krieger, BAT Machine, BAT MB, BAT Action, Recoil lug, 6.5 mm, 6.5-08, Rem 260, 139, Scenar, 6.5-284, Prone, Switch-barrel, Edgewood Bag, Farley Rest, Co-Ax, Co-Axial, 600 yards, 900 yards, bullet seating.

 

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