September 23, 2010
The new Stag 7 Hunter is an easy-on-the-shoulder tackdriver aimed squarely at hunters.
I first tested a Stag Arms offering--the almost-mirror-image Model 3L--in 2005. I came away from that test impressed by the left-handed carbine's accuracy and reliability. And as an ambidextrous shooter, I found it a snap to operate from the port side.
Since then, I've tested several of Stag's right-handed offerings in various configurations in both .223 and 6.8mm SPC. Every one of those rifles proved as accurate and reliable as that first carbine, but when asked to review the new Stag 7 Hunter in 6.8mm SPC, I had mixed feelings. Though I expected the rifle to be every bit as good as the other Stag Arms rifles I'd tested, I've never been a big fan of the 6.8mm SPC as a hunting cartridge.
Like all of Stag's ARs, the Hunter's lower receiver is built from a forged billet of 7075 T6 aircraft-quality aluminum. The forgings are done in-house to ensure they meet the company's stringent standards. A soft Hogue pistol grip and conventional A-2 buttstock are standard, as is an exceptional two-stage match trigger. It comes with a single five-round magazine.
The Hunter's upper receiver is also forged from 7075 T6 aluminum. It is a flat-top design to facilitate scope mounting. Hogue's excellent free-float tube with a cushy rubber insert is standard. I like Hogue's rubber insert, as it protects my hand from the extreme heat generated during extended firing sessions and the brisk winter chill that turns aluminum tubes into icicles. A single sling swivel stud is threaded into the bottom of the handguard.
The Hogue handguard hides a standard, rifle-length gas tube--a big plus since rifle-length tubes are the most reliable in the AR clan. The handguard also conceals the bulk of the Stag 7 Hunter's 20.77-inch, stainless steel barrel, which is coated with Stag's corrosion-resistant, sand-colored S7 finish.
The Hunter's barrel is a medium contour. That's a bit heavier under the handguard and tapers down to 0.7 inch at the muzzle--ideal for a hunting-weight rifle. Its gas block has three Picatinny-spec slots on top for front sight mounting.
In keeping with its Hunter designation, Stag chambered the Stag 7 for the 6.8mm SPC. I've always thought the 6.8 is a bit anemic, but Stag's version has the improved Spec II chamber, which combines a .100-inch longer throat, four-groove rifling and a slower, 1:11 twist to make the Stag 7 Hunter compatible with some of the new, hotter loads on the market.
The increased freebore, fewer rifling grooves and the slower twist combine to decrease friction and pressure. And if the 6.8mm SPC is to be used for hunting, you want all the horsepower you can get.
It may be a .277, but the 6.8 pushes lighter bullets with lower sectional densities at significantly lower velocities than the .270 Winchester. The little bit of extra oomph provided by hotter loads increases the little 6.8mm SPC's lethality.
My review rifle impressed me right out of the box. Fit and finish were first rate, and there was absolutely no play between the upper and lower receivers. The crisp, five-pound trigger was exceptional, and the controls operated smoothly and engaged positively. The trim rifle felt good in the hands and came to the shoulder easily.
I mounted a Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10X LR/T scope with an illuminated, mil-dot reticle on the Stag 7 in a set of Mark 4 rings for my testing. I did the bulk of my accuracy testing while on a hunt at the famed Callaghan Ranch in South Texas. Fortunately, the Callaghan has a good range, so I got the Hunter zeroed quickly, then fired for effect.
The Stag 7's low recoil, incredible accuracy and excellent on-game performance make it a great rifle for hunters of all stripes.
My first three-shot group, fired with Silver State Armory's 110-grain AccuBond combat load at a claimed 2,680 fps (spec II-safe, combat loads from SSA average 100 fps faster than its standard loads from a 16-inch barrel) was a pretty little triangle that measured less than a half-inch. My next group was a bit tighter, and my third was an incredible bug-hole number that measured just .11 inch.
Subsequent groups proved that the Stag 7 really loves that SSA load. They also revealed that SSA's combat loads are better than I expected--average velocity was an awesome 2,742 fps thanks to the Hunter's 20.77-inch barrel.
Next, I tried Hornady's 110-grain V-Max load that moves along at 2,502 fps. It also shot very well, though its 0.7-inch average didn't quite match the accuracy of that 110-grain AccuBond. My ho-hum reaction to a sub-three-quarter-inch average from an AR-15 speaks volumes about the accuracy of my review rifle.
I selected SSA's 110-grain Barnes TSX load as my final test load. SSA claims a velocity of 2,650 fps for the combat version of this load. They shot fairly well, with a five-group average of .83 inch at an average 2,697 fps.
I really like the TSX, but I do not typically use it in cartridges with a starting velocity lower than about 2,850 or 2,900 fps because I don't feel it works as well as some other designs when driven at low velocities. But TSXs usually shoot great, and they are incredibly popular with many hunters, so I wanted to see where they hit so I could try them on a doe or hog to see how they worked on game.
The first doe to fall to the TSX was a plump, older deer that made the mistake of standing in a opening for a few seconds too long. I ranged her at 277 yards and gave the rifle to my guide, Juan Suarez. He stuck the reticle on top of the doe's back as it stood quartering slightly toward us, and he drilled the whitetail neatly just behind the shoulder with a 110-grain TSX.
It sounded like a solid hit, but we didn't find any blood where the doe stood at the shot. Fortunately my Jack Russell, Tuffy, smelled something we couldn't see and followed, nose to the ground. Shortly, we heard the unmistakable sound of him attacking the doe in a thick tangle of mesquite and prickly pear 100 yards away.
A postmortem revealed that Juan's shot was almost perfect. It went in an inch or so farther back than he intended, but was spot-on for elevation. Because of the quartering angle, the TSX took out just one lung before raking back through the liver and exiting. The wound channel was deep but not particularly devastating.
A few days later, I shot two does with SSA's 110-grain AccuBond load. The first doe stumbled about 10 steps before piling up in a heap after taking the Nosler through the shoulder socket. The broadside shot was a little over 100 yards. Internal damage was much greater than with the TSX load, though I can't credit that all to the bullet, as the impact velocity was about 400 fps faster than the shot with the TSX.
I shot the second doe from 186 yards. I placed the AccuBond on the point of its shoulder as the deer stood quartering slightly toward me. It ran about 25 yards before piling up--smack dab in the middle of a giant prickly pear patch that still has me picking thorns out of my hide.
SSA's 110-grain AccuBond load was exceptionally accurate in the Stag 7, and the combination proved deadly in the field, too.
Once again, the wound channel was pretty impressive, but that is to be expected given the AccuBond's design.
The 6.8mm SPC's ability to deliver a bigger payload from the same package as a .223 AR with mild recoil makes it, in my opinion, ideal for shooters of small stature. My eight-year-old son, Cole, is such a shooter. He also happens to be an experienced hunter and AR shooter. He was itching to try the Stag 7, so I let him tag along as I stalked a herd of javelinas.
We crawled to within 120 yards before the cover ran out. I unfolded the Harris bipod's legs, and Cole settled in behind the rifle. At the shot, the peccary dropped in its tracks without so much as a squeal. I was pleased to see an exit wound and an impressive amount of damage. Cole was thrilled that the bigger cartridge didn't seem to kick any more than his .223 AR.
The next week, Cole used the Stag 7 to drop a coyote at 54 yards, a spike at 121 yards--and the biggest buck of his life. The heart-shot spike ran 30 yards before piling up in a heap. The coyote dropped in its tracks.
But Cole's big buck, a big-bodied South Texas bruiser, was chasing does back and forth across the sendero all morning. It was always on the go and just out of range. Eventually, it followed a doe to 152 yards and turned almost broadside for just a second.
It was just starting to move again when Cole stuck a 110-grain AccuBond right behind its shoulder. The bullet raked through and exited at the base of the buck's neck. The heavy 10-point piled up just off the edge of the sendero, less than 10 yards from where it stood at the shot.
As much as I was impressed by the SSA ammunition's performance, I doubt I would have even bothered to take another look at the 6.8 were it not for the introduction of the Stag 7 Hunter. It's is an exceptionally well-made and incredibly accurate piece. In fact, it is one of the most accurate ARs I've ever tested, regardless of chambering. And that includes some pretty damned expensive custom guns.
My only complaint about the Hunter is a cosmetic one. I would like to see Stag coat the entire gun in its new S7 finish. It's a great looking finish, but the almost-all-black rifle looks odd with a tan barrel. A single color or perhaps a camouflage paint scheme would look much better. And its corrosion resistance would be most practical.
I need another AR like I need yet another drop in my retirement account. But I've never let need or a lack thereof influence my gun purchases, especially when said gun is so darn accurate. And Cole says Stag's new Hunter isn't going anywhere, so that settles that.