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Merkel SR1

September 23rd, 2010 1


I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a renaissance, but sporting autoloaders seem to be making a bit of a comeback. Back when I was a lad, the only reason the Remington 742 didn’t become the Pennsylvania deer rifle (a title held first by the Winchester 94 and later the Remington 760) was because the state prohibits autoloading rifles of any kind for hunting. And since the Keystone State used to pump more than a million rifle-toting hunters into the woods each fall, one wonders where the autoloader would stand today if Pennsylvania had embraced it.

No matter, the centerfire semiauto sporter has always had a loyal if small following among those who pursue fleet animals–deer, bear, wild boar–in the thick stuff where fast follow-up shots can mean the difference between filling a tag and going home empty-handed.

Recent years have seen the introduction of Benelli’s R1, Winchester’s SXR and a synthetic stocked version of the Remington Woodsmaster (now the Model 750). Against that backdrop comes the new Merkel SR1 selfloader.

Now, if you’re not familiar with Merkel USA, it’s a Trussville, Alabama, firm that imports Merkel guns from Germany. The first guns to come over were shotguns from the Suhl plant in what used to be East Germany, which has been producing sporting firearms since the 1800s. Today, Merkel USA’s line includes shotguns, double rifles (both side-bys and over/unders), bolt actions, single-shots–and, of course, the SR1.

It’s a gas-operated rifle, lockup being accomplished via a solid rotary bolt head and two locking lugs. The 20-inch barrel is free-floated, and it has a specially designed gas port that expands freely when things get hot.

The straight-comb walnut stock features laser checkering, and the wood on our sample was pretty nice looking–although the wood-to-metal fit was definitely nothing to write home about. The grip cap is plain, and full-blown swing swivels are provided fore and aft.

The buttstock has a nifty feature that permits you to change cast and drop thanks to a series of spacer plates. Remove the recoil pad with a Phillips screwdriver, then find yourself a 10-inch-long 5mm hex wrench to take the buttstock off the receiver. The instructions that come with the rifle detail the nine possible combinations of cast and drop (straight, left, right, high, low high/right, low/left, etc.)

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ACCURACY RESULTS: MERKEL SR1

Bullet Bullet Weight (gr.) Muzzle Velocity (fps) Standard Deviation Extreme Spread (fps) Muzzle Velocity (fps)
Black Hills Gold AB 180 2,439 11.8 43 1.40
Hornady Interbond 150 2,613 11.8 41 1.85
Fiocchi MatchKing 175 2,409 19.2 68 2.20
Federal TBBC 165 2,549 12.6 39 3.43
Accuracy results are the average of three three-shot groups at 100 yards from a sandbag rest. Velocities recorded on CED Millenium 2 chronograph 12 feet from muzzle; figures derived from 10-shot strings. Abbreviations: AB, Nosler AccuBond; TBBC, Trophy Bonded Bear Claw.

The rifle also disassembles easily for cleaning and maintenance. A button in the fore-end allows it to slide forward and off the rifle (be sure to have the unloaded action closed), and that makes cleaning the gas cylinder a snap. Then by pushing out a large takedown pin (I simply used a pen), you can separate the upper receiver from the lower. This provides access to the bolt carrier, bolt and, below, to the trigger.

Further disassembly of the SR1–right down to pulling the extractor–is possible, although I didn’t go any further than pulling the bolt out, figuring that’s all I would typically do for a thorough cleaning.


The SR1′s receiver features a handy Picatinny-type rail with 14 slots. The crossbolt safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard.

One note here: The actual owner’s manual booklet is in German, and the English version is provided on 81⁄2×11 sheets of paper. When performing disassembly/ assembly you may find it hard to tell what you’re looking at in the photos that accompany the English version because the reproduction isn’t great. However, you can refer to the German version for the photos; they’re much clearer.

The two-round box magazine that came with the test sample is likewise easy to disassemble. It drops from the rifle courtesy of a somewhat novel arrangement in which pushing forward on a lever contoured to match the trigger guard disengages the magazine’s latch. It’s kinda cool once you get used to it.

A push-button safety is located at the rear of the trigger guard, and the slide release is found at the lower, forward portion of the receiver on the left side. A round can be chambered by placing a loaded magazine with action open and then tugging on the cocking lever or by pushing the slide release.

Atop the receiver is a handy 14-slot Picatinny-type rail for mounting a scope, and the gun also has a battue rail rear sight and a fiber-optic front sight, the rear sight setup enhancing the rifle’s distinct profile.


The rear sight’s sloping battue ramp is paired with the highly visible fiber-optic front sight to create one of the fastest, surest setups the author has ever seen.

I ordered a test sample in .308, always a great test platform and one that doesn’t beat me up, and I mounted a Nikon Monarch 1.5-4.5×20 on the receiver rail for accuracy testing.

The rifle definitely had ammo preferences, but to be fair, my choice of scope wasn’t conducive to pinpoint accuracy. However, I think it’s the kind of optic you’d want on a fast-handling, fast-shooting rifle. And the benchrest accuracy results certainly weren’t helped by a creepy, spongy trigger that broke somewhere just beyond the eight-pound range of my RCBS spring trigger gauge.

However, groups with 180-grain Black Hills Gold (featuring a Nosler AccuBond bullet) were on par with many off-the-shelf bolt guns, and I even managed to achieve one 0.46-inch group with Hornady Interbonds. It hated Federal 165-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws but was okay with Fiocchi 175s.


All in all, it averaged 2.2 inches with the four brands I tested, and further testing would certainly dig up other loads it would like–along with loads it wouldn’t.

It was a fairly comfortable rifle to shoot, the recoil tamed by the operating system, but if I were going to buy one in, say, .300 Winchester Magnum, I’d want a cushier, more effective recoil pad.

I did notice when shooting through the chronograph screens, sitting upright at the bench, that if my hand slipped back to the juncture of the receiver and the fore-end I would receive a small but sharp pinch.

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MERKEL SR1

Manufacturer Merkel USA, www.merkel-usa.com, 205-655-829
Type gas-operated semiauto centerfire
Caliber .308 Win (tested), .30-06, 9.3×62, .300 Win Mag.
Magazine 2 or -5round detachable box
Barrel Length 20 inches
Overall Length 42 inches
Weight 7 pounds
Stock laser-checkered walnut
Finish Blue
Sights battue rail rear, finer-optic front; 14-slot Picatinny-style rail on reciever
Price $1,595

My only other complaint is the slide release, which was stout on the test sample. One suspects it would ease up the more the gun was fired, but even so I think a release offering more leverage is called for.

At the end of the testing session, I removed the scope and did some function firing. The rifle wor
ked flawlessly with not a single malfunction, but what I found even more impressive was the battue-rail/fiber-optic sight arrangement. It was really fast to acquire; never have I picked up a rifle that brought front and rear sight together so perfectly, so quickly and so consistently. And that big reddish orange front glows intently and really stood out on a gloomy, misty day.

Taken as a whole, I think the SR1 is a fine rifle for the uses I would put it to, such as hunting close-range hogs or deer. In its bigger calibers it would make a handy moose or dark-timber elk rifle as well.

No, it’s not a tack driver, but it’s a fine-handling gun, and with those excellent open sights or perhaps a low-power scope, it would acquit itself well in any number of hunting environments.

Gun services provided by Turners Outdoorsman (www.turners.com). Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges (www.angelesranges.com).

  • Walter

    I'm planning on buying the same rifle sometimes this year. I was looking at the BAR and the Benilli R1 also.

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