When I think of Spanish-made guns, my mind immediately jumps to AYA shotguns. I have had one for years, and my bargain £80 buy is still my rough gun of choice to this day. Although this may be something of a workhorse, there are some fine-looking guns to have come out of Spain, although they are still better known for shotguns than rifles. Asked to name a Spanish rifle, I bet the best most people could come up with is Cometa air rifles. In fact there is a big name rifle maker that calls Spain home, and it has been making barrels for some big industry hitters for some time. Bergara is certainly a name known among gunsmiths and custom rifle enthusiasts – many fit Bergara barrels to their rifles. Not only do they shoot well, but they are also exceptional value for money. Their story is one that may surprise many.
Anyone from a competition shooting background, or who has contemplated getting their hunting rifle re-barrelled, will more than likely have come across Shilen barrels at some point. Generally accepted to be one of the finest barrels on the market, the company originally traded under the name Shilen Rifles, started by Ed Shilen in 1967. With these rifles he went on to set not just one or two, but 13 world records, resulting in his induction into the benchrest hall of fame.
In 1992 the focus of the business changed and Ed channelled his expertise into producing the most accurate barrels on the planet. Arguably he achieved this, with many of the top benchrest shooters in the world gracing their rifles with Shilen hardware. This in itself has very little to do with Bergara, other than the fact that Ed Shilen himself now consults for the Spanish barrel and rifle maker. Not a bad person to have on board in the pursuit of producing accurate rifles. Indeed, the purpose of Ed consulting for Bergara was to bring high-quality, accurate barrels to the wider market at prices more akin to mass production. They certainly seem to be doing that.
In an interview about the collaboration, Ed explained that over the period of a year he worked closely with with the engineers at Bergara. Their aim was to come up with solutions to the problem of producing high-quality barrels while maintaining production rates that would make them cost effective. He ended by saying: “From what I have seen of what they are turning out right now, they (Bergara) are a very fine production barrel.”
With this is mind, you would expect the Bergara rifle I had on loan to shoot pretty well. As the first journalist to test the rifle on UK soil, I was eager to see just what I had. So we will do this review a little bit back-to-front, and I will tell you now that if nothing else, this rifle could shoot. My best group with 70-grain Federals clustered half an inch, and running the value-for-money 105-grain Geco ammo printed a group just under ¾in. It wasn’t just me that could shoot it either, as a few friends as well as my girlfriend achieved similar results. This rifle was brand new, with no break-in, and it even delivered that within six shots.
I couldn’t help but smile at the results, and immediately decided I would have to take the rifle hunting. A few days later, with friend and Sporting Rifle writer Nick Latus visiting, we managed to bag two early-season cull bucks. The Bergara had now officially had its UK christening.
Anyway, back to the nuts and bolts of it. The first thing to note is that this is a switch-barrel, allowing you to shooting anything from .243 Win to .375 H&H with a barrel change and replacement of the bolt head. Barrel replacement is achieved in a similar way to the Sauer 202, only with two hex-head screws instead of three. Forestock removal is considerably easier, though, with a catch on the bottom much like a shotgun. Providing easy access to remove the barrel, the mechanism is maybe not quite as secure as I would like, allowing sideways movement of the forestock.
The barrel itself is secured in place by a contracting collar and location grooves corresponding to the hex-head screws on the action. A locating lug ensures the barrel sits correctly after each replacement, while the bolt lugs locate inside the barrel to ensure that head spacing is maintained. It’s not the fastest switch-barrel in the world, nor is it a new idea, but it does work. Shooting single shots between barrel removals, I still achieved groupings under an inch with three shots. I repeated this enough times to feel confident in the results. The groups may not be quite as tight as three straight shots, but I am sure most of that had to do with me changing shooting positions.
Now, if you fancy alternating your rifle with calibres that are not in the same family group, you will need to change not only the barrel but the bolt head as well. On the Bergara it’s a pretty simple affair, flicking up two recessed legs on the bolt shaft before slipping the six lugged head off and replacing with an alternative size. Securing the new head is a reverse of the procedure, making sure to fit the small sprung leg back through its locating hole.
The bolt itself is substantial, and for the smaller calibres is considerably oversized. But this is pretty standard for switch barrels, as the action has to accommodate such a wide range of case lengths. It’s something you just have to put up with in most rifles if you want multi-barrel functionality. Bolt cycling is pretty smooth, with feeding and ejection functioning as they should. A generous proportioned synthetic bolt knob will ensure you have a firm grip of proceedings, while the two-position Remington-style safety is positioned to the right of the bolt shroud. It’s a little on the noisy side, but some firm pressure will aid a more covert operation. The only real criticism I would have is that the bolt shroud is synthetic, and as I have said about Tikka rifles, it’s not particularly desirable.
Removing the rear section of the stock allowed me to examine the receiver, which above the stock boasted some aesthetically pleasing lines. This told an interesting story. Although I had assumed it was a machined receiver, it was evident that it had actually been formed through a casting process – cheaper and easier than machining a solid piece of steel. Bergara joins American gunmaker Ruger in its decision to use this process.
The magazine is a straight stack design, and seems to work just fine, although it lacks a solidly constructed feel about it. Replacing the mag into the rifle does expose an unusual peculiarity, in that unlike most rifle makers, Bergara hasn’t fitted a magazine well sleeve. As a result of this, the magazine fits straight into the wooden stock. This makes insertion a bit sticky at times.
Finally we get to the trigger, which initially I didn’t think was that great. However, after a bit of adjusting it turned out to be quite satisfactory. I wasn’t a big fan of the thin trigger blade, but that certainly didn’t seem to affect the shooting.
Taking a look at the overall rifle, it does look quite good. You wouldn’t describe the woodwork as stunning – it seems to be a lightweight, soft grade, but it is comfortable, and the chequering alternative is firm to grip. The metal is finished in matt black, although I am unsure exactly what method was used, as it seemed softer than other finishes I have come across.
What this rifle offers is some convincing pedigree when it comes to barrels, and evidently Bergara can put a rifle together in a way that makes it shoot. Bergara is very much an unknown in the rifle market here in the UK, but I am sure we will be seeing more and more of them. As far as switch barrels go, they are priced competitively, coming in around £1,500 for the synthetic model. Replacement barrels won’t break the bank either, in the region of £300. Worth checking out next time you’re in the gun shop. ν
For more information on Bergara rifles, contact RUAG on 01579 362319 or www.ruag.co.uk.