Les Baer's Bolt Action

What do you get when a legend like Les Baer turns his hand to making super-accurate bolt-action rifles, and chambers one in .260 Remington?

I've tested several of Les Baer's offerings over the years and have always been impressed with their quality and accuracy. Les pays close attention to every inch of every gun his company builds, from the barrels on down to the pins and springs he uses in each of his custom-made firearms. That attention to detail is evident in the guns that leave his shop and is the main reason I always make it a point to stop by his SHOT Show booth.


This year Les had an impressive array of new ARs and 1911s on display. But the most interesting items, at least to me, were his new bolt-action rifles. The quality was there, to be sure, but the parts Les chose for his builds interested me the most. Instead of building every part himself, Les went with respected names in the precision rifle world like Stiller actions, Timney triggers, Bell and Carlson stocks, and Wyatt detachable magazine systems.


Baer's list of available cartridges also appealed to me. He chambers his new rifles for oldies but goodies like the .308 and .300 Win. Mag., but he added cartridges like the .243, .260 Rem., 6.5-284 Norma, .338 Lapua, and .338 Norma. Some of those offerings may not be household names, but they are the current darlings of tactical and long-range competitors. By adding these cartridges to his line, Les ensured that savvy long-range shooters would take notice. I sure did, and I was intrigued enough to order one of Baer's Tactical Recon rifles in .260 Remington for testing.

An integral accessory rail under the fore-end allows shooters to mount a bipod or handstop at the position of their choice.

Built To Perform
The Tactical Recon is built on Stiller's outstanding Tac-30 action, as are the rest of Baer's bolt-action line. The Tac-30 shares the Remington Model 700's footprint, but it is a much-improved version of the original. Each is milled from 416R stainless steel to exacting tolerances. The bolt hole is gun-drilled and then wire EDM'd with the rails to ensure that it meets Stiller's tight tolerances. The rails incorporate an anti-bind rail for smooth, effortless operation.

The Tac-30's bolt is helically fluted and lapped at the factory. It is a standard, two-lug design with a plunger-style ejector and modified M16-style extractor. It employs a Remington-style thumb safety, bolt shroud, and firing pin, as well as an oversized, tactical-style bolt knob. A Picatinny-spec rail for mounting optics is also standard.

A slightly oversized bolt release is on the left side of the receiver. The bottom metal is Wyatt's excellent one-piece design with a detachable, five-round box magazine. The single-column, center-feeding Wyatt box is known for its smooth, reliable feeding. Its release is inside the front of the trigger guard. The trigger is a Timney that breaks at a very crisp, clean 2.5 pounds.

The Tactical Recon's barrel is a Baer part. The 24-inch, match-grade tube is made of 416R stainless steel. Featuring cut rifling, the barrel has a 1-in-8-inch rate of twist, which is, in my opinion, perfect for the long, heavy-for-caliber 6.5mm projectiles long-range competitors prefer. It is a relatively straight-tapered tube that measures 0.80 inch at the muzzle. The muzzle has a recessed target crown. An oversized recoil lug is sandwiched between the barrel and the action.

The LBC Tactical Recon stock is made by Bell and Carlson and features a buttstock that is fully adjustable for length of pull, drop at heel, and comb height.

Built on a Stiller action, the Tactical Recon sports a Timney trigger, Wyatt bottom metal and magazine, and a Baer-made barrel.

The TR's barreled action is finished in an attractive, corrosion-resistant Dupont S finish and bedded into one of Bell and Carlson's Medalist Tactical stocks. The stock is made of laid-up composites that include fiberglass, graphite, epoxy gel coats, and laminating resins. It is reinforced with polyurethane and milled fiberglass. A precision-machined aluminum bedding block is an integral part of the stock, which is finished in an attractive dark green with black spider webbing.

The stock has a vertical grip and a wide, smooth fore-end that was designed to ride a sandbag. The underside of the fore-end has an integral accessory rail to facilitate mounting the included Harris bipod or a handstop. The bottom of the buttstock is slightly undercut at the rear and is adjustable for length of pull, height, and cant. The comb height is also adjustable.

Though the stock does have an aluminum bedding block, Baer wisely chose to glass bed it anyway; that's a good idea because no two blocks and actions are the same. Bedding will ensure the optimum fit, accuracy, and repeatability precision shooters require. The Recon is bedded at the back of the action and from the front of the action to just forward of the recoil lug.

Wyatt single-stack, center-feed magazine boxes are known for smooth, reliable feeding.

First Impressions
The Tactical Recon impressed right out of the box. The rifle's incredible, sub-quarter-inch, ten-shot factory test target was certainly one reason I was so impressed, but the obvious quality and attention detail were also immediately apparent.

Its Stiller action cycled smoothly, and the magazine release required just the perfect amount of tension to activate. It was heavy enough to be secure, but not so light that it would allow the magazine to fall out accidentally. The trigger pull was nothing short of phenomenal, requiring just 2.5 crisp, clean pounds to trip the sear.

I was also smitten

with the rifle's Dupont S finish, which was applied smoothly and evenly and looked fantastic. The fully adjustable stock was another nice feature, especially for nonaverage-sized shooters. I am short and stocky, but I was able to make the Tactical Recon fit me perfectly with the turn of a few screws.

For my testing I mounted a 5-20X 50mm Trijicon AccuPoint with a mil-dot reticle and amber dot in a set of NightForce rings. The rugged scope has crystal clear glass, side parallax adjustment, and target turrets. Its amber-illuminated dot also has a manual brightness override to allow users to adjust the dot's brightness to suit shooting conditions. The scope also has generous eye relief of 3.8 to 4.1 inches, depending on the power level. The extra eye relief isn't really necessary on the Tactical Recon thanks to its adjustable stock and light-kicking .260 cartridge, but it's a must on heavier recoiling guns like the .338 Lapua, for which the Tactical Recon model is also chambered.

Les told me the test rifle performed very well with a special .260 Remington match load originally developed exclusively for gunsmith George Gardner of GA Precision by Black Hills. The load will be offered commercially by the time you read this, but I am fortunate to count George as a friend--he sent me several boxes for my accuracy testing.

I had a training session scheduled for the day after the rifle arrived. I had a few other guns ahead of it on the schedule, but I packed a few boxes of that Black Hills Match load and headed to the local police range with my friend and training partner, Fernando Flores, to get a feel for the gun.

The Stiller action's bolt is a standard, two-lug design with a plunger-style ejector and modified M16-style extractor. Helical fluting removes a bit of weight and lends style.
Les Baer beds his Tactical Recon into Bell and Carlson's excellent Medalist stock, a good idea because no aluminum block and action are exactly the same.

Shots Fired
We didn't have a lot of time to test the rifle, but Fernando, who is a SWAT sniper, fired groups with it while I accuracy tested a few other bolt guns. Fernando spends a lot of time behind a super-accurate custom rig by the same George Gardner at GA Precision, so I value his opinion on such matters.

Fernando really liked the rifle. He liked the adjustable length of pull and the perfect cheekweld the adjustable comb allows. He also raved about the rifle's crisp, light trigger pull. However, he was not happy with the rifle's bipod, which he felt was too tall for prone shooting. He blew several quarter-inch groups thanks, he said, to the overly tall bipod.

When I finished shooting my other test rifles over the chronograph, I took the Tactical Recon so I could get a feel for it. I found out right away that Fernando wasn't kidding--the bipod was just too high for me to get a comfortable prone position. But I really liked the trigger and the adjustable stock. I was also impressed with the magazine, which fed so smoothly it was hard to tell if the action even picked up a round. Fast or slow, the rifle fed flawlessly every time.

I managed to fire a few groups in the 0.3s, but rather than burn all my ammunition battling to shoot groups with the too-tall bipod, I decided to call it a day and try again later with a new rest.

The Tactical Recon comes factory mounted with a Picatinny rail to mount an optic on.

Down-And-Dirty Accuracy Testing
I replaced the factory-supplied bipod with a Harris swiveling, benchrest-height model with notched legs as soon as I got home. Then I cleaned the rifle thoroughly and gathered up the rest of my Black Hills match ammunition as well as loads from Nosler, Federal, and CorBon. I was ready to roll. Unfortunately, spring rains and heavy winds conspired to keep me from testing the rifle for 10 days.

With my deadline looming, I headed out to American Shooting Centers in Houston, Texas, to do my best in the howling winds. Since it was the load Les suggested, I started with the 139-grain Black Hills load. As I watched my target through the 20X Trijicon, I couldn't help but think how unfair it was to test any rifle in such conditions. But deadlines are deadlines, so I just watched and waited for my target to quit flapping. When it slowed, I touched off my shots as quickly as possible.

I was not surprised to see that none of my groups met Baer's 10-shot, sub-half-inch accuracy guarantee. But I wasn't far off it. Despite winds that were blowing from 15 to 30 miles per hour, I managed to average under a half-inch with 139-grain match loads from Black Hills and CorBon. I should have been thrilled with such accuracy, but the test target showed that the rifle is capable of so much more.

I also tested Federal's 120-grain Ballistic Tip and Nosler's 130-grain AccuBond loads. Both averaged well under an inch and would, doubtless, shoot much better with more favorable wind conditions. Still, its sub-MOA accuracy average with four different loads proves that Les Baer's Tactical Recon is a supremely accurate rig. It is also, according to my chronograph, a fast-shooting one; its velocity averages were well over the respective manufacturers' claimed velocities.

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Les Baer Tactical Recon Accuracy

Ammunition Velocity (fps) Standard Deviation(fps)Average Accuracy(in.) Best Group (in.)
.206 Remington
Federal 120-gr. Ballistic Tip 2988 17 0.71 0.52
Nosler 130-gr. AccuBond 2844 10 0.87 0.59
Black Hills 139-gr. Scenar 2812 12 0.43 0.35
CorBon 139-gr. Scenar 2858 11 0.39 0.31
Notes: Accuracy is the average of five, five-shot groups fired using a Harris bipod and a Sinclair rear bag. Velocity is the average of 10 rounds measured 15 feet from the gun's muzzle with a Shooting Chrony chronograph.

This five-shot group was one of the worst groups the author fired with Black Hills's 139-grain Scenar load in howling winds. Though Rodriguez was unable to match the factory test target, the rifle performed wonderfully considering the beyond-poor shooting conditions.

I originally planned to shoot the Baer gun at 300 and 600 yards, but there wasn't much point given the stiff winds. But curiosity got the best of me, so I slid down to the 200-yard line just to stretch its legs a bit.

Once again, I had to time my shots to take advantage of slackening wind. At 30 miles per hour, the winds moved the target forward and back enough to move the point of impact by a couple of inches or more. At 15 miles per hour, the quartering wind allowed the target to settle back down just enough that I could hit a little more consistently. It's not very conducive to shooting tiny groups, but the Tactical Recon still managed sub-half-MOA accuracy with the Black Hills match load.

In Short...
To say I was impressed with the new Tactical Recon from Les Baer would be a gigantic understatement. The test rifle outperformed many of the most accurate rifles I've ever tested despite the fact that I shot it in the most adverse conditions I've ever tested a rifle in. My buddy Les is going to give me a hard time about the fact that he outshot me with the same gun, but I think he'll agree that the rifle performed very well given the conditions.

A top-notch precision rifle provides much more than pure accuracy, and Les Baer's Tactical Recon measured up there, too. It fed flawlessly, the bolt cycled smoothly and effortlessly, and the stock was easily adjusted to fit this irregular-sized shooter. Its controls were smooth, easy to operate, and perfectly placed. The rifle also balanced beautifully for a 13-pound rig (just over 15 pounds, scoped and loaded) and had a superb, corrosion-resistant finish.

In short, Les Baer's new Tactical Recon is everything a precision rifle should be. It ain't cheap, but it's an awful lot of gun for the money.

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