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A Western Classic

A Western Classic

Cooper's new Model 52 is a tack-driving beauty.

Before starting his own company in 1990, Dan Cooper worked for the original Kimber of Oregon. The first rifle built by the new Cooper Firearms Inc., the Model 36, was designed for the pressure-cooker world of international smallbore competition and was in .22 Long Rifle. The first centerfire rifle was built on that same action and it was chambered for the .22 Cooper Centerfire Magnum.

In 1993, the Model 21 in .223 Remington was introduced, and it was followed the very next year by the Model 22, the action of which was made long enough to handle cartridges up to .30-06 in length. In 1998, the name of the company was changed to the present Cooper Firearms of Montana, and rifles are presently available in a wide variety of factory and wildcat chamberings, all built around six different actions.

Latest edition to the Cooper family of fine rifles is the Model 52. Before this one came along, the Model 57M in various rimfire chamberings and a few Model 38 centerfire rifles built in the early days, were Cooper's only repeating rifles; even though other models had turnbolt actions, they were single-shots.

This was a satisfactory arrangement for most paper target punchers and varmint shooters due to the fact that eliminating the magazine cutout from the receiver of a rifle increases stiffness, which as any world-class benchrest competitor will tell you is a good thing to have when building a rifle that will shoot a handful of bullets into a single hole.

Big game hunters who believe the first shot is all important were also quite happy with their single-shot Model 22s, but as hunting seasons came and went, the demand for a big game rifle capable of shooting more than one time between loadings became too great for Dan Cooper to ignore.

The biggest challenge to overcome was designing a magazine-fed rifle capable of delivering the same level of accuracy as the Model 22 single-shot. Nothing less would do, not only for Cooper but for customers who have become spoiled by a rifle capable of consistently shooting three bullets into half an inch or less at 100 yards.

At first glance the Model 52 appears to have a hinged floorplate when in fact the rifle sports a singlestack magazine with a release that looks like a floorplate hinge.

What they basically came up with is a repeating version of the Model 22 with an improvement or two. Like the Model 22, the new Model 52 repeater has three locking lugs at the front of its bolt, and there is a reason for this. Dan Cooper is convinced that a three-lug locking system is inherently more accurate than two lugs, and several barrel makers--including Doug Shilen and George Wilson--agree with his opinion.

As Dan recently put it, "The three-lug bolt is the Cooper signature, and after having built over 30,000 rifles with a half-inch accuracy guarantee, I am convinced it is more accurate than a two-lug bolt."

Dan obviously has something there since the Model 52 repeater is proving to be every bit as accurate as the single-shot Model 22.

The stock on the Western Classic version is AAA claro walnut, and the buttstock features a shadow-line cheekpiece.

Each Model 52 comes with test groups fired at the factory. Two groups came with mine, one measuring (as best as I could measure) an incredible .05 inch, the other an even more incredible .007 inch, the latter basically three bullets in the same hole. Both were handloads with Reloder 22 powder, the former with the Nosler 85-grain Ballistic Tip, the latter with Speer's 120-grain Grand Slam.


Cooper rifles are tested for accuracy on an indoor 50-yard range, and while it is true that the 100-yard groups most of us shoot are usually more than twice as large as groups fired at half that distance, those test groups measure well under quarter-minute of angle any way you look at them.

The Model 52 is guaranteed to shoot three bullets inside half an inch at 100 yards with handloads of its liking, but what the accuracy guarantee fails to mention is it is not uncommon for a rifle to deliver the same level of performance with some factory ammo. My Model 22 in 6.5-284 Norma will shoot three bullets into half-minute-of-angle all day long, not only with several of my handloads but also with Nosler Custom ammo loaded with the 100- and 120-grain Ballistic Tip bullets.

Same goes for the Model 52 in .25-06 I have been shooting; in addition to averaging half an inch with several handloads, it came close enough to living up to its accuracy guarantee with a couple of factory recipes from Federal and Nosler. When testing the rifle for accuracy I equipped it with a Burris Signature 6-24X scope but switched to a lighter 3-10X Swarovski AV for an upcoming hunt.

Rifles built by Cooper are capable of incredible accuracy for the same reason a match-winning target rifle is accurate: Each component part is the best money can buy or skilled hands can make. Equally important, when all the component parts of a rifle are put together, they are absolutely square and concentric with one another.

The author's sample featured optional Niedner-style steel buttplate and model 70 Super Grade-style quick-detach sling swivel posts.

Years ago, while competing in registered benchrest matches, I learned that a top-quality rifle built for that game will shoot any load reasonably well. A good benchrest rifle will shoot some loads more accurately than others, but it will seldom shoot poorly with any reasonable load its owner decides to feed it. The Cooper Model 52 in .25-06 I had the pleasure of working with is cut from the same cloth; it will shoot loads it really likes inside half an inch and seldom shoots worse than an inch with anything I come up with.

Machined from solid bar stock, the Model 52 receiver bears a strong resemblance to the Model 22 receiver. Both are cylindrical in shape, and both me

asure 1.30 inches in diameter, but at 83⁄4 inches the Model 52 receiver is about half an inch longer.

The two actions differ in other ways, too. Whereas the Model 22 has a plunger-style ejector in the face of its bolt, the ejector of the Model 52 consists of a spring-loaded blade housed in a slot in the receiver floor, basically the same as on the pre-64 Winchester Model 70.

The author fired this three-shot group at 100 yards. It measures .15 inch center to center, considerably better than the builder's half-minute accuracy guarentee.

The body of the Model 52 bolt is .700 inch in diameter, and it has a Sako-style extractor up front. Three panels of 24 line-per-inch checkering adorn the knob of its bolt handle. The bolt face is recessed, although the counterbore wall is interrupted by a slot for the extractor and second thinner slot for passage of the ejector. The use of three locking lugs reduces bolt rotation to about 60 degrees, compared to 90 degrees for the typical two-lug bolt.

A problem often faced by production people during the machining of turn-bolt actions is uneven contact between the locking lugs and their seats in the receiver. It is quite common to see only partial seating of one lug of a two-lug system, with the second lug left hanging in midair with little to no contact; adding a third lug further complicates the manufacturing process.

To check locking lug bearing surface area contact of the Model 52, I coated the lugs with Dykem layout dye and then fired 20 rounds in the rifle. I was not surprised to see close to 100 percent contact of all three lugs.

The bolt release at the left-hand side of the receiver bridge is smaller and therefore less obtrusive than the one on the Model 22, an improvement in my book. When the firing pin is cocked, a metal tab replete with red dot protrudes into view from beneath the rear of the bolt shroud.

The recoil lug of the Model 52 is a washer-type held captive between the barrel shank and the face of the receiver, same as on the Remington Model 700 action. The action is closely bedded in the stock with the bottom of the receiver ring and about 11⁄2 inches of the barrel just forward of the receiver resting on pads of synthetic bedding material.

The 52 has an excellent, fully adjustable trigger design, and while weight of pull can be adjusted down to 16 ounces, Cooper recommends it be done only by a qualified gunsmith. The trigger on my Model 52 breaks crisply at three pounds with no detectable creep or overtravel and a pull-to-pull weight variation of less than two ounces.

Checkering is 22 lines per inch, hand cut with a borderless pattern. The fore-end is set off with an ebony tip.

The two-position safety located beside the tang blocks the trigger only, and since it does not lock bolt rotation, a round can be removed from the chamber while the safety is engaged. The safety works fine, but I'd really like to see it replaced by a Model 70-style three-position safety located on the bolt shroud.

At first glance the Model 52 appears to have a hinged floorplate, but closer examination reveals a single-column detachable magazine with a release that has the appearance of a floorplate hinge. The body and follower of the magazine are stainless steel, but everything else is carbon steel.

The one-piece trigger guard/ magazine housing is an absolute marvel of precision machining, and that--along with its shape plus the fact that the magazine floorplate fits flush with the bottom metal--makes it the only truly attractive detachable magazine system I have ever examined.

Magazine capacity is three rounds with an interior length of 3.40 inches. Cooper went with a narrow single-stack magazine primarily because it requires the removal of less metal from the receiver than an internal staggered magazine and thereby increases receiver rigidity.

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Weight (gr.)
Weight (gr.)
Velocity (fps)
Group (in.)
Sierra HP 75 RS BigGame 54.0 3,617 0.55
Sierra MatchKing 100 IMR-4831 53.0 3,312 0.47
Berger HP 110 RL-22 57.0 3,188 0.64
Sierra SBT 117 H4831 52.0 3,011 0.86
Swift A-Frame 120 RL-25 56.0 3,011 0.86
Federal Premium Ammunition
Nosler Ballistic Tip 85 NA NA 3,468 0.82
Nosler Ballistic Tip 100 NA NA 3,231 0.73
Sierra SBT 117 NA NA 3,105 0.52
Nosler Custom A


Nosler Ballistic Tip 100 NA NA 3,187 0.71
Nosler AccuBond 110 NA NA 3,012 1.07
Nosler Ballistic Tip 115 NA NA 2,981 0.58
Notes: Powder charges are maximum and should be reduced by 10

percent for starting loads. Federal cases and Federal 210M primers were used. Accuracy shown

for each load representsfive three-shot groups fired at 100 yeards. Velocities are an average of

15 rounds clocked 12 feet from the muzzle with a PACT chronograph. Handloads show here are safe

only in the rifle for which they were developed. Neither the author nor InterMEdia Outdoors

assumes any liability for accidents or injury resulting from the use of misuse of data.

The Model 52 is available in five variations: Classic ($1,595), Custom Classic ($2,595), Jackson Game Rifle ($1,695), Jackson Hunter ($1,395) and Western Classic ($3,295).

The Jackson hunter has a synthetic stock replete with full-length action bedding block while all the rest wear claro or French walnut in various grades. Several extra-cost options such as skeleton grip cap and buttplate and case-colored scope mounting rings are available. Standard features of the various models are too numerous to mention, so I refer you to the Cooper website,

The wood stocks of Cooper rifles are inletted, shaped, sanded, checkered and finished with oil by hand. The rifle you see in this report is a Western Classic, which comes standard with AAA-grade claro walnut with ebony fore-end tip, a 24-inch octagon barrel, steel grip cap and case-coloring of its receiver and trigger guard by Doug Turnbull. Its only custom extras are Model 70 Super Grade-style quick-detach sling swivel posts and a Niedner-style checkered steel buttplate.

The stock has 22-lpi hand-cut checkering at wrist and fore-end in a borderless pattern said to have originated in the shop of Lenard Brownell. A narrow ribbon of uncheckered wood makes the layout extremely difficult to execute with any degree of perfection, but near-perfect it is. The shadow-line border around the cheek rest of the classical-style buttstock is also nicely done. The finish is hand-rubbed oil, and except for a couple of almost unnoticeable areas alongside the barrel, wood to metal fit is exceptionally good.

Weighing just over eight pounds without scope, the Model 52 Western Classic is no lightweight by today's standards, but on the positive side its heft adds stability on the sandbags. (Other Model 52 variants are lighter with the synthetic-stocked Jackson Hunter rated at 63⁄4 pounds.)

Quite a bit of the weight of my particular rifle is in its 24-inch octagon barrel. A short, round section of the barrel at the receiver is 1.15 inches in diameter and from there it changes to tapered octagon measuring .67 inch across the flats at the muzzle.

A deeply recessed crown protects rifling from damage in field. Rifling twist rate is 1:10 inches, quick enough to handle all commonly available bullets up to the extremely long Berger 115-grain VLD.

Dan Cooper and his talented crew have the rare ability to build a rifle that is custom rifle handsome and target rifle accurate. The new Model 52 is presently available in .25-06, .270 Winchester, .280 Remington, .30-06, .338-06 A-Square and .35 Whelen. The magazine also feeds .240 Weatherby Magnum cartridges quite smoothly, another great option I'd like to see added to the list.

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