September 25, 2019
In 1957, Ed Shaw began providing barrels for Ithaca and Marlin firearms from his machine shop in Pennsylvania. Shaw’s attention to detail and skill as a machinist made him one of the most sought-after barrel makers of the time, and his namesake company began expanding its operations and increasing its client base. Soon E.R. Shaw became one of the go-to OEM barrel manufacturers in the country. Other major manufacturers incorporated E.R. Shaw barrels into their firearms, and most serious shooters and hunters have, at one time or another, sent a bullet down a Shaw barrel whether or not they knew it.
Carl Behling took over the brand in 1975, and today his son, Carl Behling Jr., oversees operations at the Bridgeville, Pennsylvania, factory and showroom. Now known simply as Shaw, the company’s reputation has led to higher demand for its barrels—both as OEM parts for major firearms manufacturers and by consumers. Shaw’s barrel production spiked with the recent rise in AR-15 sales, and suddenly the factory was running two shifts to keep up with production.
In 2018, I had a chance to tour the Shaw factory in Bridgeville, a borough at the doorstep of the most iconic of American steelworking cities: Pittsburgh. Although many of the jobs in steelwork that gave the city its reputation (and the name of its NFL football team) have left the area, Shaw remains, and the company has integrated high-tech CNC machining with hands-on manufacturing practices to create barrels—and rifles—that have few peers in terms of quality and value.
After building barrels for a variety of rifle manufacturers, Shaw decided to try its hand at developing its own bolt-action rifle, the Mark VII. When the Mark VII debuted, hunters and shooters loved the idea of being able to build their own custom rifle at a relatively low price. The accuracy from these rifles was superb.
The Mark VII used a modified Savage 110 action, and the team at Shaw barrels recently decided to design its own receiver and action as the basis for its new Mark X rifles. The new proprietary action is forged from steel in the Bridgeville factory and borrows elements from several other successful actions on the market.
The bolt features a dual-lug design with a heavy-duty sliding plate extractor. The receiver components are forged and polished, which results in a robust and smooth bolt stroke. Shaw also added a heavy-duty quarter-inch recoil lug to the Mark X action, and the optic bases are machined directly to the receiver for maximum strength and rigidity.
Thanks to the company’s close association with Savage, Shaw was able to license the AccuTrigger design, and as you might imagine, the barrels come from Shaw’s own factory and are built to the highest standards.
There are three different stock options for the Mark X: nutmeg or pepper laminate and beautiful Grade 5 walnut. Selecting from the three stock designs may be the simplest choice you’ll have to make when building your own Shaw Mark X rifle, as there are literally thousands of stock/chambering/barrel combinations available on its Internet rifle configurator.
To begin, you’ll select the caliber of the custom rifle you’d like to have built. In addition to the most popular caliber options like .223 Rem., 6.5 Creedmoor, .308 Win., .30-06 and the like, there are also plenty of chambering options that aren’t available in most production rifles like .250 Savage, .338-06, 6mm-284, and a host of others. As of early 2019, there were more than 80 caliber options from which to choose.
Once you’ve waded through the expansive caliber list on the online rifle configurator, you’ll select a barrel. As with caliber selection, there are myriad options available. As an example, a .270 Win. can be had in one of 28 different barrel options, to include metal, fluting, finish and contour.
You can opt for stainless steel or chrome-moly barrels in lengths ranging from 16 to 26 inches, and you’ll also have to select barrel profile with a matte or a polished finish. There’s also a choice to add barrel fluting, and Shaw gives you the option of selecting straight fluting or Shaw’s proprietary helical fluting. You’ll also have to select receiver finish and decide whether you want the bolt to be fluted.
With so many options, it takes some time to configure the perfect custom rifle to your specifications, but if you want an 8mm Mauser rifle with a helical fluted barrel and a pepper laminate stock, you can have it—or one of the thousands of other optional rifle configurations available. If you can dream it, odds are Shaw can build it.
After touring the factory, Behling offered me the option to build my own Shaw rifle for testing. Shaw does have a storefront in Bridgeville with preassembled rifles for sale, but to have the true Shaw experience, you simply must build your own gun from scratch.
I expected that these rifles would be accurate, and I was in the market for a low-recoiling varmint and deer rifle I could use to hunt out to extended ranges and target shoot to a half-mile. I settled on the 6mm Creedmoor chambering and then selected a 1:8 twist rate for my 24-inch chrome-moly sporter-contour barrel.
I’m a traditionalist, and the option to select a Grade 5 walnut stock at this price point was simply too good to pass. There is a list of additional add-ons available from Shaw—including threaded barrels, muzzle brakes and Timney triggers—but I opted for a standard muzzle and the included AccuTrigger.
My Shaw rifle arrived in short order. Most custom rifles require a minimum of eight months before delivery, but Shaw averages four to five months for turnaround, and my gun arrived even more quickly than that.
When the rifle showed up, I was immediately impressed by the craftsmanship and attention to detail. The fit and finish were excellent, and function was custom-gun smooth.
What would the price of such a stylish custom gun run? As configured, my rifle carried a retail price of $1,435—and that included shipping.
Shaw rifles feature a three-position sliding safety on the tang similar to Savage’s 110 design. The Mark X also has a bolt release lever on the right side of the rifle. These guns come with AI-pattern detachable box magazines with a release lever located on the forward portion of the trigger guard.
The machined bases in the Shaw receiver made it simple to mount an optic, and I chose to mate the Mark X with SIG’s high-tech new Sierra3 BDX 4.5-14 scope, which connects via Bluetooth to the company’s Kilo1800 BDX rangefinder.
Like I said, I expected this rig would make a superb varmint, predator and midsize game rig. Of course, this all hinged on whether the Shaw Mark X rifle was accurate.
Mark X rifles average 7.5 to 8.5 pounds depending on how the rifle is configured, and mine weighed in at just 7.8 pounds. It barely moved when firing 6mm Creedmoor rounds, and recoil was made even more manageable thanks to the stock’s black rubber recoil pad and elevated comb. The first shot landed just off center of the target, and the second round landed almost on top of the first.
I had four loads on hand to test, and each of them turned in at least one sub-inch group at 100 yards. The best group of the day, 0.47 inch, came via Hornady’s 108-grain Match. And while all four shot well, as you can see in the accompanying chart, the average for Hornady’s ELD-X demonstrates that Shaw’s Mark X rifles shoot like custom guns ought to.
There were no issues with feeding, extraction or ejection, although the bolt handle tended to catch a bit on the included five-round PMag on the return stroke. It wasn’t enough to affect function of the rifle, and during fast bolt strokes, it’s not even noticeable. Having detachable box magazines is convenient and is a sensible option, and with the availability of AI-style magazines, it’s easy to find affordable spare mags.
The stock comes with a noticeable palm swell that provides a comfortable grip on the rifle and the front and rear diamond checkering is a stylish accent—not that polished Grade 5 walnut needs much embellishment.
Once I had the Shaw Mark X on paper, I stretched the range to 200 yards, then 300 yards. The SIG scope provided an illuminated holdover dot in the reticle and that allowed me to quickly get on target. The Shaw rifle did its part by maintaining sub-m.o.a. groups out to the maximum range.
The stock’s rather wide and flat fore-end provides a comfortable platform for holding the rifle in field positions, and the AccuTrigger provides a crisp break and is both adjustable and safe.
In a world filled with production rifles, the Shaw Mark X is something unique. While many other rifles roll off assembly lines in foreign or domestic facilities, Shaw still builds these rifles one at a time with a combination of high-tech machining processes and hands-on craftsmanship. The result is a rifle that is customized and yet somehow carries a price tag below many competing mass-produced guns.
It’s well worth spending some time on the Shaw website piecing together your own perfect rifle, and when the process is complete, simply press a button and get a quote from the company. You may have plenty of guns in your collection, but I’d wager there’s always room for the rifle of your dreams.