March 4th, 2020

McMillan Kestros ZR Rifle Stock Review

F-Class John AccurateShooter McMillan Kestros ZR gunstock stock review test F-Class

Kestros ZR Stock — Impressive Design for Competition

Review by F-Class John
Walk the line at just about any rifle competition and you’ll see your share of McMillan stocks. Known for crafting high-quality fiberglass/composite stocks, McMillan has long been at top choice for competitive shooters, hunters, and tactical marksmen. Now McMillan is out to dominate F-Open with the Kestros ZR stock. The Kestros line features several models, but the ZR represents the pinnacle of craftmanship. Each one is finished off by a single craftsman and takes roughly four times longer to create than any other Kestros. So when McMillan offered me a chance to test one out, I jumped at the opportunity.

F-Class John AccurateShooter McMillan Kestros ZR gunstock stock review test F-Class

The aluminum Z-Rail extends nicely from the front of the stock and has a nice contrast of metal against the matte finish of the stock. I inspected the rails and noticed that they are very cleanly machined — all the corners and rails were precise and sharp. As a result, I grabbed some 1000-grit sandpaper and just lightly knocked the edges and corners down just to keep from accidentally scratching myself or my gear.

F-Class John AccurateShooter McMillan Kestros ZR gunstock stock review test F-Class

Lead time for a ZR is currently 6-9 months. I was like a kid on Christmas when mine arrived after seven months. Holding a Kestros ZR is definitely a unique experience compared to a traditional wood stock and you can’t help but feel like you’re holding something special. I chose three shades of blue that transitioned dark from the butt stock to lighter on the fore-end in a spectacular flame pattern. With McMillan, there are thousands of possible color and pattern combinations. These color/pattern options are outlined on McMillan’s Gallery Page.

The Kestros ZR comes fully inletted with pillars. I was able to bolt my Defiance action right into the stock “as is” without a bedding job. (McMillan states bedding is not required, though this is certainly something most Kestros owners will do). I threw in my action, fit a couple action screws and tightened it all down. I was amazed at how nicely it all fit together with even the little details like the port cutout being perfectly smooth with my action port. I loaded up some .284 Win rounds and headed to the range to test the new stock at 100 yards.

F-Class John AccurateShooter McMillan Kestros ZR gunstock stock review test F-Class
Here are examples of targets shot with the Kestros ZR at 100 yards.

During initial range testing (see above) I shot nine groups for vertical and all of them were under 0.40″ with the smallest being .08″ of vertical. I topped off the testing by shooting a 200-11X the next week at my club match. The thing that really stood out was how smoothly the stock tracked with its lower center of gravity while shooting free recoil and ultimately this translated to success on target.

F-Class John AccurateShooter McMillan Kestros ZR gunstock stock review test F-Class
Low-Rider — You may find that because of how low the Kestros rides as well as its additional length due to the Z rail, you may require an extension for your front rest.

CONCLUSION — Great Modern Low-Profile F-Class Stock
Overall the Kestros ZR exceeded my expectations. After a small learning curve, it was a joy to shoot and it performed great. As someone who believes in the power of muscle memory, I found each time I transitioned between the Kestros and my traditional wood stocks there was a slight adjustment period but not enough to impair accuracy in any way. Something to consider is that because every Kestros is made to the same dimensions, it makes owning multiples an easy process of switching between guns without any need for readjustment.

For those willing to put in the practice, your patience will be rewarded, and I think most shooters will find the Kestros ZR could become their new favorite stock. If you’re in the market for a new F-Open stock, the Kestros ZR is definitely one to consider.

Tips for Ordering a Kestros ZR
Ordering the Kestros ZR is a simple process thanks to McMillan’s online order form. While there are a number of options available, McMillan has a helpful guide that walks you through each one to ensure you get exactly what you need. While filling out my form I realized that because I have a custom-designed action, I needed some help, so I gave McMillan a call. The staffers were incredibly helpful and their knowledge of all the major actions out there made answering my questions a snap. I liked the fact that there is no set, fixed price on any of the stocks. The pricing system allows customers to get just what they want (within limits) and not have to pay for anything they do not want or need.

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August 31st, 2016

Anatomy of the Modern F-Open Rifle

.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

Emil Kovan is one of the top F-Class shooters in the world. He won the 2014 United States F-Open Championship. Earlier this month Emil finished second in F-Open Division at the 2016 Canadian National F-Class Championship in Ontario. Emil actually tied Open-class winner Shiraz Balolia for overall score AND “V”-count, but Emil was awarded second on the tie-breaker.

The Anatomy of a Modern F-Class Open Rifle

Report by Emil Kovan
Kovan Match Rifles LLC, www.matchrifles.com

“What are the best components for an F-Open class rifle, and why?” That’s a question that I get asked all the time and will try to answer in this article. Two months ago, I was contacted by Duane, a gentleman I met at the 2015 F-Class Nationals. He was interested in building a rifle with the new Master Class Low Profile F-Open Stock, created by Carl Bernosky and Alex Sitman of Master Class Stocks.

I have known Alex Sitman for many years, and use his stocks exclusively, but was not very familiar with his new Low Profile F-Open stock. After a brief conversation with Alex, I placed an order, and had the stock inletted and bedded at my shop in a month. My first impression was “Wow that’s a long stock” — the forearm is significantly longer than on the original Master Class F-Class prone stock. I bolted the barreled action in, and squeezed the end of the forearm and barrel together, the stock flexed a little bit, but not as much as other designs that I have tested. I think that’s due to having “more meat” in the receiver area. The full stock depth continues farther forward that on some other “low profile” designs. That makes the stock stiffer in the vertical plane, reducing the hinging effect forward of the action. The stock was finished in gloss black per the customer’s request. Interestingly, I found that the multiple layers of paint and clearcoat stiffened the stock up quite a bit.

CLICK IMAGE below for full-screen version
.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

Low Center of Gravity Tames Torque
Compared to the original Master Class F-Open stock, the barrel sits about an inch lower. Lower center of gravity equals less torque, and that is very important when shooting heavy bullets in fast twist barrels. Another significant improvement is that the toe of the stock is flat and parallel to the forearm. I added a 3/4″ track rail in the rear, and milled the underside of the fore-end to create two parallel “rails” in the front to help the stock track better.

One of the biggest reasons why I like Master Class stocks, is the pistol grip. I don’t shoot “free recoil” and a comfortable pistol grip is super important to me when selecting a stock. The new Master Class Low Profile stock shares the same grip as the old model. This allows the stock to accommodate either a “hard hold” style or a more free-recoil style of shooting — whatever the rifle’s owner prefers. This design versatility is one reason I recommend Master Class stocks. Shooters may experiment with either shooting style to find what suits them best.

.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

Cartridge Choice — A 40° .284 Win Improved
Duane decided to have the barrel chambered for my 284 KMR IMP (Improved) wildcat. What is .284 KMR IMP and why choose it over the straight .284 Winchester? Improved by definition means “made better”, I took a great cartridge, and modified it to increase capacity, reduce pressure, and increase brass life.

There are many “improved” variants of the original .284 Winchester: 7mm Walker, .284 Shehane, .284 Ackley and so on. My version, the 284 KMR IMP, shares the .010″ blown-out sidewalls of the .284 Shehane, but I have further increased the case capacity by changing the shoulder angle from 35 to 40 degrees. The 284 KMR IMP allows you to almost match magnum cartridge velocity in a standard-bolt-face action. If you want to run 180gr-class 7mm bullets over 2900 FPS, it is cheaper and more convenient to have a barrel chambered in 284 KMR IMP than to spend $650 for a magnum bolt.

Tuning Loads for the .284 Win Improved Cartridges
The 284 KMR IMP seems to have two nodes, one around 2820 fps and other at 2940 fps. My match load clocks at 2935 fps with single-digit ES. Note –I selected that load based on accuracy, NOT raw speed. A lot of novice (or hard-headed) shooters make the mistake to push their cartridges to the max, and disregard more accurate loads at lower velocity.

.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

The sport of F-Class is rapidly growing, and the equipment used is improving constantly. I remember that only few years ago, an F-Open rifle that could shoot sub-one-inch of vertical at 300 yards was considered competitive. Now, we are pursuing sub-one-inch vertical at 600 yards! It takes a great rifle to approach that goal, but it is also up to the shooter to learn and experiment as much as possible in order to achieve success.

Dies for an Improved .284 Win Cartridge
One of the biggest challenges in campaigning a wildcat cartridge has been obtaining great dies. When searching for custom dies, it almost seems like that the odds are stacked against us. The most common problem is wait-time — custom die orders can take months to be completed. Also, most custom die makers want you to send them two or three cases, each fire-formed three times. I find that funny because if could somehow properly size the cases for three fire-forming cycles, I would not need a sizing die.

.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

Custom-made dies should size the case just right, but sometimes the die’s internal dimensions are slightly off, and this leads to problem number two: dies sizing too much (or even worse) too little. I had a one “custom” die that would not size the bottom of the case enough. This made the extraction of fired cases very difficult. I feel that the best option (if available) for shooters interested in wildcat chambers is to have their gunsmiths make the dies. I offer that die-making service in addition to barrel chambering.

BAT Machine “M” Action
Duane decided to use a BAT M action for this rifle, and I think that he could not have made a better choice. We are blessed with many good match-quality receivers: Barnard, BAT, Borden, Kelbly, Nesika, and Stiller just to mention a few. These are all very well-made and suitable for F-Class. Among BAT Machine Co.actions, I like BAT models M, MB, and 3LL best. I prefer these because because of their size (large bedding footprint) smoothness, timing, options available, and last but not least visual appearance.

Trigger: I recommend and use Jewell triggers. Other good options are: Kelbly, CG Jackson (good 2-Stage) Anschutz (best 2-Stage for Bat and Kelbly actions), Bix’N Andy, and David Tubb.

Barrel: Duane made another good choice here. He decided to go with a Brux 1:8.5″-twist, 4-groove cut-rifled barrel. If you look at the F-Class and Long Range benchrest equipment lists, you will see that cut-rifled barrels are currently dominating. Many records have been shot with both button-rifled, and cut-rifled barrels. I have shot both, and prefer cut-rifled barrels. I am not saying that button-rifled barrels are not capable of shooting as well as cut-rifled barrels, but on average, in my experience, four out of five cut-rifled barrels (from top makers) will shoot well, vs. three out of five buttoned barrels. YMMV, but this is what I’ve observed.

Brux Barrels is not the only company that produces very accurate cut-rifled barrels. We know that Krieger, Bartlein, Satern, and Hawk Hill Custom all make fine cut-rifled barrels as well.

Scope: Duane’s rifle was fitted with a Nightforce 15-55x52mm Competition scope with DDR-2 reticle. This optic is ultra clear, reasonably lightweight (28 oz.), super reliable, and has 1/8 MOA clicks — what you want for long range F-Class competition. In this 15-55X NF model, I like the DDR-2 reticle best, because fine cross hairs (FCH) are hard to see in heavy mirage. The DDR-2 has a heavier horizontal line, with a center dot. March scopes are also very popular and very well-made.

.284 Win F-Class F-Open Rifle Emil Kovan Brux BAT M Master Class Bernosky

Thanks for reading, and keep ‘em in the middle…

Emil Kovan F-Class competition bio photoEmil Kovan Competition History:

– 2014 F-Class Open National Champion

– 2016 F-Class Open Canadian Championship, Silver Medal (tied for first on score)

– 2015 F-Class Open National Championship, Silver Medal

– F-Class Open National Championship Teams, 2015, 2014, 2013, Shooting Team Member

– Over 15 wins in Regional and State Championships in Palma, F-TR, F-Open

– 2013 U.S. National Team Member

– 2017 U.S. National Development Team Member

Permalink Bullets, Brass, Ammo, Competition, Gunsmithing 3 Comments »
June 26th, 2013

Speedy Builds a Low-Profile F-Classer for Bret Solomon

Bret Solomon Speedy Thomas Gonzalez hydraulic recoil reduction F-Class F-Open accurateshooter.comOn his Facebook page, Hall-of-Fame shooter and ace gunsmith Thomas “Speedy” Gonzalez unveiled an impressive new F-Open rifle built for Bret Solomon. The rifle features Speedy’s new low-profile F-Class stock.

Bret’s gun is chambered for his 300 Solomon wildcat, shooting heavy 210gr bullets, so it can can be a real shoulder-buster, without some kind of buffer. The stock is fitted with a Ken Rucker’s Bump Buster hydraulic recoil reduction system to tame the recoil. The Bump Buster was originally designed for shotguns and hard-hitting, big game rifles. It is interesting to see this hydraulic buffer adapted to an F-Open rig.

Bret Solomon Speedy Thomas Gonzalez hydraulic recoil reduction F-Class F-Open accurateshooter.com

Here you can see Bret shooting the gun, coached by Nancy Tompkins and Michele Gallagher:

Bret’s gun features a stainless Viper (Stiller) action, barrel tuner, and an innovative Speedy-crafted wood stock. Speedy says this stock design is all-new: “It is a true, low Center-of-Gravity F-Class stock, not a morphed Palma stock merely cut out on the bottom”. See all the details in this short video:

Stock Features: Glue-in or Bolt-In and Optional Carbon Pillars and Cooling Ports
Speedy explained the features of the new stock design: “Terry Leonard and I started working on an F-Class version of his stocks last year during the F-Class Nationals and came up with what he and I consider the first true low-CG stock in the sport. As you can see by the videos, there is very little torqueing of the stock during recoil. I add the carbon fiber tunnel underneath the forearms to save Terry some time. This bonds very well to his carbon fiber skeleton within the stock adding addition stiffness to the forearm to support the heavy barrels found on the F-Class rigs. We are playing with both glue-ins like we benchresters use and bolt-ins as well. The rifles on the videos are glue-ins. Bret just took delivery today of his first bolt-in employing carbon fiber pillars and the first Leonard stock ever to have cooling ports.”

Need for Recoil Reduction Follows F-Class Trend to Bigger Calibers and Heavier Bullets
In recent years we have seen F-Open competitors move to bigger calibers and heavier bullets in pursuit of higher BC. There is no free lunch however. Shooting a 210gr .30-caliber bullet is going to produce much more recoil than a 140gr 6.5mm projectile (when they are shot at similar velocities). Does this mean that more F-Open shooters will add hydraulic buffers to their rigs? Will a recoil-reduction system become “de rigueur” on F-Open rifles shooting heavy bullets?

Our friend Boyd Allen observes: “You may imagine that shooting a short magnum, or even a .284 Win with heavy bullets, involves a fair amount of recoil, and in the prone position this can be more than a little wearing. It can in fact beat you up over the course of a match. Some time back, Lou Murdica told me about having a hydraulic recoil absorbing device installed on one of his F-Class rifles, chambered in .300 WSM. Lou is shooting heavy (210-215gr) bullets so the recoil is stout. According to Lou, the hydraulic recoil-reduction system made all the difference.”

Story tip from Boyd Allen. We welcome reader submissions.
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