January 13, 2011
Les Baer Custom and Black Hills Ammunition team up to offer a super-accurate AR chambered for the perfect Texas whitetail cartridge.
The test gun came with a Leupold 6.5-20X mounted in LBC tactical scope rings. The brilliant glass made it easy to exploit the AR's quarter-MOA accuracy.
In my column in the August 2008 issue of this publication ("A Modest Proposal"), I wrote about one of my favorite Texas deer cartridges, the 6x45. In it, I recounted my experiences culling deer-sized impala with the 5.56x45-based cartridge in Africa and hunting whitetails with it in the Texas Hill Country. In that piece, I also reported on the results of my load experimentation, which was aimed at determining the 6x45's potential suitability as a replacement for the 5.56x45 as our military cartridge.
I based my theory on the fact that the 6x45 works so well on deer with 85- to 100-grain bullets. Terrorists are very similar in size to a big Texas whitetail, and if the 6x45 is more effective on deer than the 5.56x45, then it stands to reason that it must be more effective on bad guys, too. The fact that our entire military arsenal could be converted with nothing more than new barrels made the 6x45 seem like the most logical choice for upping our troops' firepower.
Unfortunately, I couldn't get the velocities I wanted from my 6x45 loads. As I reported in that original column, "€¦the computer did an even better job of pointing out the little 6x45's weaknesses.
€¦its moderate velocity and the low sectional density of 80- to 85-grain bullets combine to dash my hopes for the military success of the 6x45. They start out with a slight velocity advantage, but€¦those light-for-caliber bullets run out of steam quickly. I will continue to tinker with my loads, but I don't think I'll see an appreciable velocity gain, and I think heavier bullets would be counter-productive."
Though I no longer believe the 6x45 is the right choice for our military, I am still a big fan of the cartridge, and I hunt with mine whenever I can. It hammers deer just as well as it always has, and the kids I let use it to take their first deer with are awful appreciative of its almost nonexistent recoil. That's why I was so pleased to see Les Baer add my favorite metric cartridge to his super-accurate AR lineup at the 2010 SHOT Show.
A New Super Varmint
The new AR offering is simply a caliber addition to Baer's tackdriving, heavy-barreled, Super Varmint line. Like all Les Baer Custom's ARs, the 6x45 Super Varmint is built with all LBC-made parts with the exception of the pins, trigger, and plastic parts. Each Ultimate AR is built on Baer's forged upper and lower receivers of tough, aircraft-grade 7075 T6 aluminum. The forgings are hard-anodized and precision machined, then paired up during the manufacturing process so they can be fitted perfectly for the utmost accuracy.
The author fired this 0.524-inch, five-shot group at 200 yards with the 6x45 Super
Varmint. It was just a hair over the gun's five-group average at that range.
That careful matching of parts and meticulous fitting clearly works, as evidenced by the solid, wiggle-free fit of my test gun's upper and lower receivers. Most guys can get away without such careful fitting, but Baer can't be sloppy and meet his accuracy guarantee of half-MOA or better with factory match ammunition. It takes more time to fit them tight enough so they'll shoot great and still make them run reliably, but Baer and his crew get it done.
The forged lower receiver has a Baer-designed A-2-style pistol grip. The new grip is very similar in appearance to the A-2 grip without the annoying finger groove and the addition of a smooth, comfortable extension that fills the finger-chewing gap between the pistol grip and trigger guard. The buttstock is a fixed, A-2-style part with an integral sling mount. The stock isn't fancy, but it's comfortable and it's much more practical than any of the newer sniper-style stocks. A fancier stock might be fine for position shooting, but it's too awkward and heavy if you intend to use the Super Varmint for hunting.
The Super Varmint's controls should be familiar to anyone who has used an AR. They all engaged smoothly and positively and operated as they should. The only departure from the standard AR platform is the trigger, which is Geissele's excellent two-stage design. The Geissele trigger is considered to be the cream of the AR trigger crop by many Special Forces operators, who specify Geissele triggers on their guns because they stand up to hard use so well while providing an excellent trigger pull. The trigger on my test gun breaks at a consistent 3 pounds, 2 ounces.
The Super Varmint's Picatinny-spec upper receiver readily accepts standard 1913 scope mounts. The LBC aluminum gas block also has a Picatinny-spec rail, though I doubt anyone would add back-up iron sights to a Super Varmint. The test gun came ready to roll with a somewhat-zeroed Leupold 6.5-20X 40mm scope in a set of LBC tactical scope rings.
The Ultimate AR's bolt and bolt carrier are Baer's precision-made, chrome-plated, National Match parts. The extractor is also chrome plated. The chrome plating on the bolt serves to make the entire bolt assembly slicker so it runs better and fouls less. Grooves on the bolt also contribute to its smoothness.
The AR's barrel is one of Baer's match-grade tubes. LBC's cut-rifled, six-groove, 416 R stainless-steel barrels are renowned for their precision. This one has a 1:8 twist, which is ideal for 100-grain bullets, but a 1:9.5-inch twist rate is offered for shooters who plan to stick with projectiles of 62 to 85 grains. The test rifle came with a 24-inch tube, but 20 inches is the standard length. Other available lengths are 18 and 22 inches. The heavy, target-style barrel measures a beefy 0.93 inch at the muzzle and has a recessed target crown.
The disassembled 6x45 is pure AR--it's just a whole lot better made than most. The upper and lower receivers are hand-fitted to enhance consistency. Note LBC's new pistol grip, which is comfortable and well designed. The rifle also sports a Geissele trigger, which is considered by many to be the best AR trigger on the market.
The Super Varmint's rifle-length aluminum handguard is completely free-floating and has a locking ring and knurled body--save the first and last 3 inches of the tube--for a better grip. The handguard has an accessory rail milled in the bottom to accept the included hand stop and Versa-Pod bipod. The bipod pans and tilts, and it has spring-loaded, adjustable legs.
The upper, lower, and all the small parts are coated with corrosion-resistant DuPont S. The black finish is a pleasant contrast to the stainless-steel barrel, but Baer will coat the barrel too if you wish. Camouflage and tiger stripe coatings are also available.
Feeding The 6x45
The 6x45 is not a common cartridge, but thanks to Black Hills Ammunition and Les Baer it is no longer a handloaders-only proposition. Black Hills is now offering three new factory loads exclusively through Les Baer, featuring a 62-grain Barnes Varmint Grenade at 3,000 fps, an 85-grain Sierra GameKing at 2,700 fps, and a 100-grain Sierra Spitzer at a claimed 2,520 fps. All those velocities are from a 20-inch test barrel. Baer only had the 100-grain Sierra load in stock when I ordered the test gun, so I limited my testing to it and one of my handloads, but the other loads should be available by the time you read this.
My handload consisted of Sierra's 85-grain HPBT over 24.5 grains of H335 loaded to an overall length of 2.255 inches in Hornady cases with Remington 7½ primers. That load averages a hair over 2,700 fps in my custom Remington Model Seven bolt-action rifle and shoots very well. It is also a fine deer load, and I already had lots of them loaded and ready to go, so I packed them up with the LBC gun and Black Hills ammunition and headed out to the ranch.
The Super Varmint's 24-inch barrel has a recessed crown, six rifling grooves, and a 1:8 twist rate. The heavy tube measures 0.93 inch at the muzzle.
Since it came with a bipod and I prefer to shoot prone anyway, I did all my testing with the Versa-Pod and a rear bag at the ranch range. We can shoot MGM and LaRue steel targets out to 1,000 yards, but I started with some accuracy work on paper targets at 100 yards.
Since Baer had already tested the Super Varmint with the Black Hills 100-grain load, I tried it first. The UPS guys must have been pretty rough with the rifle because it took a few rounds to get it on target. Once I did, I was able to shoot some pretty decent groups. However, I had trouble getting comfortable with the rifle because the bipod was just a hair too tall for me. I figured a more comfortable rest would improve on the 3/4-MOA accuracy I was getting. After a little looking around, I moved my target backer and then carried the rifle to the top of a hill that allowed me to position the gun with the bipod down slope a bit.
That little change made all the difference in the world. My first five-shot group measured just under a quarter-inch, and subsequent groups yielded an average of 0.29 inch for five, five-shot groups with the 100-grain factory load. My 85-grain handload also shot pretty well, with an average of 0.42 inch for five, five-shot groups. Recoil was pretty much nonexistent with both loads, and I was absolutely blown away with the quality and consistency of the Geissele trigger.
I've shot enough of Baer's guns over the years to know I was wasting my time shooting at 100 yards, so I drove my Yamaha Rhino downrange and loaded up some targets and moved them out to 200 and 300 yards. I used the Shoot-N-C stickers on a cardboard backer at 200 yards and one of MGM's steel poppers at 300.
At 200 yards, my handload averaged under an inch, which equates to a hair under Baer's 1/2-MOA accuracy guarantee. That's darn good accuracy, but I got even more impressive results with the 100-grain Black Hills load. My first group measured an incredible 0.524 inch, and subsequent groups measured 0.48 inch, 0.47 inch, 0.61 inch, and 0.44 inch, for an average of 0.51 inch for five, five-shot groups at 200 yards. Quarter-minute accuracy would be impressive at 100 yards, but it's downright incredible for a gas gun at 200 yards. To say I was pleased with the Super Varmint's accuracy would be a huge understatement.
With only a light wind, it didn't take much effort to get right on the 300-yard popper. I was a few clicks off on my first shot but still managed to hit the bottom of the target. Once I adjusted for it, I had no trouble center-punching the 6-inch steel as fast as the target could reset. Of course, a 2-inch target shouldn't be any problem at all for a quarter-minute gun, but its excellent trigger, low recoil, and incredible accuracy made it easy to make rapid-fire hits.
A Versa-Pod bipod with adjustable hand stop is standard equipment on the Super Varmint. The bipod pans, tilts, and is height-adjustable.
The AR market is flooded with more configurations and from more manufacturers than I could ever keep up with. Some are better than others, but there is no doubt that the ARs turned out by Les Baer Custom are among the very best. LBC's standard features leave you wanting for nothing, and accuracy is unsurpassed. I have tested most of the company's AR models, and I've handled them all, but the Super Varmint in 6x45 is one of this Texas boy's all-time favorites.
I wouldn't use the 6x45 on the big-bodied bruiser whitetails they hunt in places like Kansas or Nebraska, but the deadly accurate, light-kicking 6x45 is perfect for the small-bodied bucks we have in Texas. The Super Varmint's accuracy is also just what the doctor ordered for headshots on wild boars and plump, juicy does. And when it comes time to start calling coyotes, a super-accurate AR like the LBC is ideal.
Come to think of it, the 6x45 Super Varmint is just about perfect for everything in Texas. Maybe we should make the newest offering from Les Baer the official AR of the Lone Star state.