September 23, 2010
By Wayne van Zwoll
McMillan's new high-end hunting rifle, the Prodigy, delivers the goods.
By Wayne van Zwoll
If you accumulate rifles like Irish setters pick up cockleburs, a McMillan may not be for you. This company's bolt guns cost enough to make you think before buying. On the other hand, if you want a really, really well-made hunting rifle of sound but distinctive design, McMillan's new Prodigy is a must-see.
From a distance, this synthetic-stocked rifle looks like many others. Up close, you'll find the fit, finish and function of custom-built sporters--those traditionally stocked in fine French. It's carriage class gone practical, a rifle for the connoisseur who actually pulls triggers and tramps trails.
"Our family has been in the rifle business more than 20 years," says Kelly McMillan, president of the McMillan Group International and its well-known subsidiary, McMillan Fiberglass Stocks. Those stocks have become a staple for small-shop gun makers specializing in sterling sporters. They've also appeared on myriad rifles from major gun firms.
|Type:|| bolt-action centerfire with two locking lugs, bolt face extractor, plunger ejector|
|Caliber:|| .270 WSM, 7mm Rem. Mag., .308 Win., .30-06 (tested), .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag.|
|Magazine:||four-round stainless steel box with hinged aluminum floorplate|
|Weight:|| 7 lb|
|Barrel:|| 24-in. stainless, medium sporter contour (.600 in. at muzzle, 1:12 twist)|
|Stock:|| black, textured, checkered synthetic, with cheekpiece; 1 in. Pachmayr pad|
|Metal:|| stainless with matte black Duracoat finish|
|Trigger:|| Jewell, 2 1/2 lb. pull as tested|
|Safety|| two-detent thumb safety|
|Sights:|| none; drilled and tapped; Talley bases supplied|
|Price:|| starting at $4,295|
|Manufacturer:|| McMillan Firearms, 623.582.9674|
The McMillan Group includes two other subsidiaries: McMillan Firearms (formerly McBros) and McMillan Operator Development, a shooting school.
"Our stock and rifle manufacturing facilities are all here at our Phoenix headquarters," explains Kelly's daughter Britany, who handles public relations for the group. "We make the actions and stocks for our new rifle line, including stocks designed specifically for these models. Outsourcing is limited to small parts like Pachmayr recoil pads, Uncle Mike's swivel studs and Timney and Jewell triggers."
And barrels. Britany tells me the firm uses mainly Lilja, Shilen and Schneider stainless barrels, depending on the application. "All are of the best quality we can find--just like our other components," she says. "We spend more for materials than most rifle makers, and we fit to closer tolerances. Prices reflect those differences, but our rifles, we think, are simply the best you can buy."
McMillan's new rifle line comprises eight configurations, each with its own barrel, stock and list of chamberings. They share all-stainless round McMillan receivers, with washer-type recoil lugs and NP3-finished bolts.
The Prodigy, a lightweight sporting rifle, comes in six chamberings; I was sent a .30-06. Its G30 action (once labeled the MCRT) and barrel wear a black DuraCoat semi-gloss finish. I could find no flaw or blemish. Maker and cartridge markings show the same attention to detail lavished on the skin-tight mating of stock and receiver.
"We glass-bed the receiver with aluminum pillars around the guard screws," says Britany. "The barrel floats." But the gap on this rifle is a mere slit, and very even. "Every rifle we build is fitted and finished by hand," she emphasizes.
As impressive as the detailing, the action's profile and the shape of the stock hew to traditional form: lean, clean, almost austere. Grip and fore-end checkering comprise diamonds as crisp and uniform as professionally checkered walnut. A slim, open grip complements a ruler-straight comb with an understated but sleek and supportive cheekpiece.
The fore-end, perfectly proportioned for a slender 24-inch barrel, is properly straight of line and slightly pear-shaped. A black one-inch pad carefully contoured and fitted caps a butt generous enough to distribute recoil. Still, it has a modest footprint, in keeping with the rifle's lithe appearance.
"Our hunting stocks include graphite as a primary material," Britany tells me, "to give us the strength, resiliency and light weight we demand."
McMillan's Prodigy leaps to my shoulder eagerly. Its seven-pound heft suits me just fine--an ideal blend of liveliness and pulse-dampening mass. Balanced perfectly with a 2.5X Sightron scope, this rifle carries as delightfully as it points.
The rifle's G30 custom action is "blueprinted" and hand-fitted to tight tolerances, creating an accurate and smooth-working action. The rifle comes with an adjustable Jewell trigger, and the one-piece bott
om metal includes a nicely tapered guard with magazine catch. A compact and well-contoured bolt release responds silently; the NP3-coated, fluted bolt slides out easily. A washer-style recoil lug is surface ground on both sides and pinned to the round receiver. The action is pillar-bedded into the synthetic stock.
The bolt handle (vertical, per those of Mauser sporters that inspired my first love affair with rifles) lies close to the stock when the two-lug bolt is in battery. A bolt-face extractor and plunger ejector make empties clear the breech handily.
The generous breech opening should please anyone who has tried to toss individual rounds onto or top off stacks in detachable box magazines. You can feed this rifle without looking.
McMillan artfully shaped the compact bolt release before installing it on the rear receiver wall. Drilled for 6-48 scope mount screws, the Prodigy accepts Remington 700 bases. "We supply Talley bases with every rifle," adds Britany.
Underneath, artfully shaped bottom metal includes a hinged floorplate latched securely by a small hinged catch seamlessly fitted to the swept and slender guard. The belly opens when you want it to and stays shut when you don't.
In my view, there's no better trigger than a Jewell. This .30-06 has one that breaks at a factory-set 21/2 pounds, without detectable creep. It is adjustable. The open contour, gentle backward sweep and slim profile of the finger-piece constitutes a study in elegance. Why other companies insist on thick, awkwardly curved triggers that hang high in oversize guards is beyond me.
"We don't guarantee any particular level of accuracy," Britany replies when I ask her about the test target that accompanied my rifle in its heavy-duty black polymer case. "But we'll accept back any rifle that doesn't shoot to customer expectations." This policy seems reasonable to me; guarantees of one-minute or half-minute accuracy presume a skilled shooter and appropriate ammunition.
My first group with the .30-06 Prodigy and Federal 150-grain factory-loaded softpoints measured 0.8 inch. Subsequent shooting delivered the consistency I much appreciate in hunting rifles. In fact, of the first eight groups I printed, with four very different bullets, half measured 0.8 inches or less. The biggest taped just 1.4 inches.
I'd much rather own a sporter that keeps a variety of bullets between 3/4 inch and 11/2 inches than one that punches occasional one-holers and as often prints a 21/2-inch group.
The spiral-fluted bolt cycled like an oiled piston, evidence of close fitting and "blueprinting" to ensure action concentricity. Feeding was interrupted once, when a cartridge balked halfway into the chamber. The failure didn't repeat.
Off the bench, I found the stock proportions ideal for unsupported field positions and when used with a sling. The trigger made accurate shooting easy. I like the quiet but positive shifting of the Remington-style thumb safety. When engaged, it does not lock the striker or prevent bolt manipulation.
Listing at $4,295 to start, the Prodigy is darned expensive for a .30-06. At least, that's how one fellow shooter appraised it. I agree. Then again, the main reason a .30-06 Prodigy seems expensive is that so many inexpensive .30-06s crowd the market.
If my test rifle were chambered to a more exotic round, it would not be any more useful. In fact, trading a big wad of green for a really good .30-06 and leaving your gun rack otherwise empty may be a truly smart investment.
For my hands and shooting style, this rifle has just the right proportions. Its lines, detailing, fit and finish--and its accuracy--should satisfy anyone with similar tastes and standards. It's one of those rifles that feels gunny--solid but slim, quick and natural on the point. Its trigger is without peer. Everything done to this rifle has been done right.
"You can get other chamberings," Britany reminds me. "We manufacture sporting rifles in three action lengths, for short, long and full-length magnum cartridges. And we plan to stock all of them."
Not that you'd want to start accumulating.
This group, just over 0.8 inch, was duplicated with other .30-06 factory ammo in the Prodigy.
|.30-06 ||Bullet Weight (gr.)||MUzzle Velocity (fps)||Standard Deviation||Average Group (in.)|
|Federal Softpoint*|| 150 || 3,001 || 18 || 0.8 |
|Winchester Ballistic Silvertip|| 150 || 3,010 || 25 || 1.1 |
|Norma Oryx|| 180 || 2,639 || 4 || 0.9 |
|Remington Core-Lokt Ultra|| 180 || 2,790 || 18 || 1.0 |
|NOTES: Group sizes are averages of three three-shot groups at 100 yards (* one group only with this load). Muzzle velocities are averages from Oehler chronograph with screens four feet apart, the nearest 10 feet from the muzzle|