Nesika Sporter Rifle Review
September 17, 2014
A number of precision-built, turn-bolt actions have been introduced during the past few decades. (Ed Shilen's DGA in the late 1960s was the first I was aware of.) Most of these actions are designed by top-notch gunsmiths and competitors who know what type of equipment is required to take home gold from the pressure-cooker world of upper-level competitive shooting. They continue to be built in a dozen or so small shops filled with knowledgeable and talented people using extremely sophisticated machinery.
A precision-built action is much like the Model 700 action turned out by the thousands each year by Remington. With one exception. Every single part of a precision-built action is machined to extremely close tolerances, and when all parts are assembled, the result is an action with a level of concentricity unachievable in mass production.
It is a bit like comparing a Rolex to a Timex. Both tell time, but the Rolex is likely to be more consistently accurate — not only initially but also over years. As would be expected, a precision build takes time, and because time is money, prices for custom actions usually start at $1,000 and go up quickly from there.
Several custom benchrest actions have evolved into a number of other variations, including repeating versions for hunting. For example, take the Nesika. Designed during the 1980s by Glenn Harrison with assistance from Jim Borden, the original intent was to round up the best materials available and, with the aid of CNC and EDM equipment, turn out what they considered to be the very best single-shot action for competitive benchrest shooting.
At the time, Harrison was actively involved in the sport while Borden (who now makes his own action at Borden Rifles Inc.) was an engineer who shot benchrest and metallic silhouette. Harrison located his office (Nesika Bay Actions) in the Nesika Bay area of Poulsbo, Washington, mainly because a number of high-tech machine shops in the area built precision parts for the aircraft industry. Several of those shops made various parts for his action.
The manufacturing rights to the Nesika Bay action were eventually purchased by Dakota Arms, and Dakota was subsequently purchased by Remington Arms in 2009. Four different actions are presently made at the Sturgis, South Dakota, factory. Right- and left-hand bolts are available, as are single-shot and repeating versions.
As is typical of most custom actions, a trigger is not included with those made by Nesika simply because preferences differ among those who buy the actions. Like the original Nesika Bay action, those made today accept Remington triggers as well as Remington-style triggers made by Shilen, Jewell, Timney and others.
The Classic action with its flat-bottom receiver is basically the same as originally designed by Harrison and Borden. Receiver length options are 7.36, 8.11 and 8.86 inches at a receiver ring diameter of 1.35 inches. To put that in more familiar perspective, short- and standard-length Remington 700 receivers measure 7.85 and 8.70 inches while receiver ring diameter for both is 1.35 inches.
Bolt face counter-bore diameters are available for the 6mm PPC, .223 Rem. and .308 Win. The Classic is offered in four combinations: right-hand bolt with right-side feed/eject, right-hand bolt with left-side feed/eject, left-hand bolt with right-side feed/eject and left-hand bolt with left-side feed/eject. A single-shot bolt gun in .204 Ruger I used on a prairie dog shoot several years ago had an action from another maker with right-hand bolt and left-side feed/eject, and I loved it.
The receivers of all Nesika actions are type 15-5 stainless steel machined to plus/minus .002-inch tolerances. The bolts are 4340 chrome moly with a Cerakote finish that perfectly matches the coloration of the receiver. Cerakote reduces friction and actually makes the bolt more resistant to rusting than some of the stainless alloys.
The Round action is basically the same as the Classic except that it has a round-bottom receiver. Where receiver diameter for the Classic is limited to 1.35 inches, the Round is available in diameters of 1.35, 1.47 and 1.70 inches. Gunsmiths across the country build lots of varmint rifles on both the Classic and Round actions.
The Tactical action also has a round-bottom receiver and is available in 1.35- and 1.47-inch diameters with receiver length options of 8.11 and 8.86 inches. A Picatinny rail with a 15 m.o.a. taper is machined into the full length of the receiver. Bolt face options are .308 Win., belted magnum (7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag.) and .338 Lapua.
Leave off the Picatinny rail, machine lightening facets on both sides of the receiver and switch bolt handles and you pretty much have the Hunter action. It has the 1.35-inch diameter receiver and comes in a 7.36-inch length.
Three complete Nesika rifles are presently available. All have Bell and Carlson composite stocks in model-specific styles. All have bottom metal made specifically for each by Pacific Tool & Gauge. Heaviest at 13.75 pounds, the Tactical has a medium-heavy, 26-inch barrel in .300 Win. Mag. and a 28-inch barrel in .338 Lapua. Both have muzzle brakes. The action uses a five-round detachable magazine from Accurate Mag and rests on a full-length, CNC-machined aluminum bedding block in the stock. The stock has a height-adjustable cheek rest along with spacers for adjusting pull length.
Considerably lighter at 9.75 pounds, the Long Range model is a big game rifle built around the Hunter action with an internal box magazine and hinged floorplate. Barrel length is 26 inches in 7mm Rem. Mag. or .300 Win. Mag. Its Bell and Carlson stock is more conventional in shape but like the Tactical, the color is olive drab with black webbing.
Also on the Hunter action, the Sporter is rated at eight pounds, but because receiver diameter and length are determined by the cartridge a rifle is chambered for, weight will vary among the various calibers available. With a Zeiss 4 12x42 Terra scope in a Talley mount and four .30-06 cartridges, the one I shot weighed exactly nine pounds. It is an extremely good-looking rifle. Also made by Bell and Carlson, the brown stock with black webbing contrasts nicely with the matte finish of the stainless steel barrel and receiver. Close to an inch thick, the Pachmayr Decelerator pad soaks up kick like a sponge. The stock has posts for quick-detach sling swivels and adequate coverage of molded-in checkering.
Lightening facets machined into both sides of the receiver give it a different look, but otherwise its cylindrical profile is much like that of the Remington 700. It is drilled and tapped for 8x40 scope-mounting screws. The magazine along with its follower and spring are Remington 700, and both rifles have a similar washer-type recoil lug sandwiched between the face of the receiver and the barrel.
Like the other two models, the Sporter comes with a fully adjustable Timney trigger with its two-position safety lever located at the right side of the receiver tang. While shooting the rifle, I detected a slight bit of creep, but overtravel was totally absent. Pull weight averaged 4.5 pounds with a maximum variation of four ounces as measured by a Lyman digital scale. A wide finger lever fooled me into thinking the trigger was considerably lighter.
Nesika actions are quite strong. In an article written several years ago by barrel maker Dan Lilja, he calculated the sheer strength of its locking lugs at over five times the bolt thrust generated by maximum-pressure 6mm PPC loads. The ejector is the ever-familiar spring-loaded plunger, and while a deep counter-bore in the face of the bolt encloses the head of a chambered cartridge, the wall is notched for passage of a sliding-plate style extractor located in the face of the right-side locking lug.
The bolt handles of many rifles are made separately and then welded or brazed to the body of the bolt and have been known to break off. That won't happen with a Nesika. The handle is machined integrally with the body of the bolt, and then its end is threaded for the attachment of a knob. In addition to looking nice, a knurled band encircling the knob offers a nonslip grip to the shooter's hand. The bolt is available plain or with lightening flutes, either straight or spiraled.
Cocking the firing pin brings its black-colored tail into view at the bottom of the aluminum bolt shroud. The bolt travels 4.88 inches before its left locking lug makes contact with the end of a stop in the left side of the receiver bridge. Pressing on the exposed end of the stop allows the bolt to be removed from the receiver.
If anyone is making more elegant bottom metal for bolt-action rifles than those from Pacific Tool & Gauge, I have yet to see it. The fit between the straddle-type hinged floorplate and the trigger guard is as close as can be without interfering with operation. The floorplate release works perfectly, with its tab located inside the trigger guard where it should be on a big game rifle. Two socket-head bolts secure the barreled action in the stock.
All barrels are Douglas air-gauged stainless steel with an 11-degree recessed crown at the muzzle. I am absolutely thrilled to see the Sporter wear longer barrels than are commonly seen on today's big game rifles. There was a time when 22 inches was my cup of tea for standard cartridges, but the velocity gained in two more inches of barrel when shooting today's enhanced-velocity ammo, such as Hornady Superformance, Federal High Energy and Remington HyperSonic, makes the longer barrel more than worthwhile. Those extra two little inches can push .30-06 performance right on the heels of the .300 Win. Mag. with less recoil and muzzle blast.
RifleShooter's accuracy-testing protocol for big game rifles is three-shot groups from a sandbag rest. But because all three Nesika rifles guarantee sub-m.o.a. accuracy for five shots with factory ammunition, I added two rounds to each of my groups while testing the Sporter. All but three groups had three shots inside an inch, although they were not always the first three shots fired.
Seven factory loads were shot at 100 yards. Especially impressive was the new Custom Lite, low-recoil load with a 120-grain SST at 2,700 fps. It caresses the shoulder about like my .257 Roberts. It also proved to be one of the two most accurate loads. I cannot imagine a better choice in ammunition for a youngster who is ready to make the transition from a .22 LR squirrel rifle to Dad's .30-06 deer gun.
Just a tad more accurate was American Whitetail loaded with a 150-grain InterLock. Of the 21 groups fired with the seven loads, its 0.52-inch group was the smallest. To me, that says plenty for both rifle and ammunition. But one question still remains: Where is the .270 Win.?
The bolt shroud is aluminum, and the bolt release is located on the left side of the receiver. The wide finger lever of the trigger makes it feel much lighter than it actually is.
The two-position safety lever of the Timney trigger is located beside the receiver tang. The bolt and its handle are machined integrally from a single piece of steel, and the end of the handle is then threaded for attachment of its ball.