It’s certainly a heavy prospect for a sporting rifle, but Stuart Wilson reckons Accuracy International’s AT rifle in .308 and .243 ticks all the right boxes
After chatting with the team at Sporting Services, I found myself looking forward to receiving an Accuracy International AT with upgraded folding stock, and the option of slipping on a .243 Win barrel, which could be moderated.
I was conscious of the ‘sporting rifle’ element – is reviewing a tactical rifle appropriate? I know several full-time keepers who swear by their Accuracy International AE rifles in .243 Win and in .308 Win, which perform vermin- control duties flawlessly under sometimes quite extreme conditions. More often than not, those rifles are paired with a high-end scope, similar to the Schmidt & Bender 3-13×50 that topped this AT.
It may not be everyone’s idea of a sporting rifle, but I personally have no issue with a heavier, longer rifle. I happily accept its restrictions in favour of the enhanced possibilities. Once, at a Scottish estate’s test target before venturing out on to the hill, I revealed a heavy-barrelled custom-built rifle complete with PMII 5-25x, and the head stalker said that he “would not be carrying that!” I duly agreed, and informed him that I would do the honours.
A heavy rifle on a solid biathlon sling is easily forgotten on my back until needed. My pack-up weighs more than some rifles! The AT fits into my armoury nicely, and I would happily use it stalking – hill, high seat or otherwise – and would most certainly enjoy foxing with this rifle in its moderated .243 Win guise, day or night, vehicle or on foot.
Unboxing is always fun. Cardboard off and into the foam case to find the tan-coloured AT .308 Win, complete with S&B PMII 3-12×50, mounts, moderator, bipod and spare barrel in .243 Win. The rifle weighs in at 6.3kg before you mount the scope or pop a moderator on, but as always feels reassuringly solid. I quickly cinched the QR bipod onto the forestock Weaver rail, then four tweaks and the scope was mounted onto the Stanag picatinny rail (mil std 1913) with 20MOA built in. A quick shoulder of the rifle, and everything felt and looked good – all set for a zeroing session, to familiarise myself with the rifle and its features.
Arguably some of the most recognisable rifle stocks in the world are built by Accuracy International. I love them, though others perhaps don’t appreciate their aesthetics. The stock is basically an aluminium chassis with plastic side panels that bolt on and off. This model also features the folding stock, making for a more compact transport package, but also means the bolt can be taken in and out of the action without moving the ‘set’ cheekpiece.
I prefer the thumbhole stock here over a pistol grip, and the butt hook allows for good repeatability of shoulder placement. The forend has two aluminium plates either side that feature the keyhole slots to attach more accessory rails if needed, underneath the picatinny rail, fitted as standard; this allows attachment of the Atlas QR bipod as an optional an extra.
The bolt-side of the stock houses the bolt for removing barrels, the button to allow the stock to fold, and the adjusters for the cheekpiece (allowing height adjustment for perfect cheek weld). On the other side of the stock you will find the recess and nipple that secure the folded stock, which is easily popped back out when the stock is folded back out. Both sides of the stock have a pair of QD socket type sling swivel holders, flush to avoid snagging points, and because they are side-mounted the rifle will sit flat against the back when a biathlon sling is used – perfect.
The buttpad of the AT is also adjustable. A knurled wheel tightens the butt pad against a plate, allowing for up/down and rotational adjustment for the best fit. The length is also adjustable using this same wheel to allow further spacers to be added/removed – I haven’t tried this yet, so bear with me.
Action and barrel
If you remember the AE, and if you watched the video where the rifle was dropped and abused and had the barrel cracked in and out to see what the group down range was like, you will appreciate where the AT is a significant step forward.
The rear of the bolt is now square, similar if not identical to the AW. The six locking lugs operate on a 60-degree throw, keeping things away from scope ocular bells, and the extractor is stout and durable. The action cycles smoothly, only stopping at the magazine follower of an empty magazine, which avoids closing the bolt on an empty chamber when it might really matter!
The bolt release is the usual lever on the left side of the action, which also acts as the bolt guide, running in a raceway machined into the bolt body. I was pleased to see the picatinny rail on top of the action, an upgrade from the dovetail found on the AE and much more useful in my opinion. The three-position safety sits on the bolt shroud: forward for fire, mid for safety with bolt still operable, and rearward for safety with bolt locked. Simple and efficient.
I have saved my favourite feature for last: barrel removal for changing calibre or deep cleaning. On the bolt side of the action in front of the ejection port is a small Allen bolt, which unscrews to allow the barrel to be unscrewed by hand. All of Accuracy International’s AT are machined to such a tolerance that they become interchangeable. You do need to keep things clean, and I would always check the installation with a head space GO/NOGO pair of gauges, for peace of mind for the initial swap outs as well as occasional checks to make sure nothing has worn out of tolerance. I was really impressed with this feature, and I have seen most all barrel switch designs.
Barrel, mag and trigger
With barrels available in 20in, 24in and 26in, in a selection of short action calibres, this rifle will find a following right there: 22-250 Rem, 243 Win, 6.5×47 Lapua, 6.5 Creedmoor, 260 Rem, 7mm, 308 Win. With threaded as an option, you can suit yourself on thread cap, moderator and muzzle brake. The barrels are a heavy profile, Cerakote finished with superb machining. I particularly liked the muzzle brake on the 243 Win barrel that also acted as the moderator mount, though after a few days of use I am inclined to fit a reflex moderator. It’s lighter and would make it easier in my hunting boxes.
As mentioned, the magazine has a follower designed to stop the bolt when the magazine is empty. The 10-shot double stack loads and feeds rounds without fault, the release lever sits just behind the magazine, and positively releases and re-engages on re-insertion. I quite like the idea of 10-shot capacity for busy days, and I don’t think the balance will be thrown off.
The trigger is a two-stage design, featuring a broad blade that makes the weight more than acceptable, breaking around 3lb, maybe a bit less, and it feels crisp and precise. The weight is adjustable and the blade can be moved to shorten or lengthen the pull. Everything fit me out of the box, so I felt no need to delve in and adjust anything beyond switching the barrel out for easier, quieter zeroing.
In the field
My zeroing session took seven rounds to get the group printing an inch high at 100 yards,ready for anything up to 200 yards. I opted for Winchester 95gn Silvertips, printing into 3⁄4in without any great difficulty. The following day I visited my writing hunting boxseat, where I can sit and watch the nature go by while contemplating the review rifle – hopefully with an obliging deer or fox, but more usually I take full advantage of the relative quiet to write an honest review of how the rifle performs and feels. I do think a part two is needed to really do this rifle justice, maybe looking at the groups as barrels as swapped and perhaps determine how barrel in/out affect the current zero. I am also really keen to work a load for this rifle to see just what it will do at extended ranges, but I will consult with the distributor and make sure this is possible first.
In conclusion, this rifle is heavy, long and built to last. It delivers good accuracy (and I believe will produce superb results with more testing) from a solid chassis packed with features at a fair price. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse I can’t think of a finer choice of rifle to have at your disposal, while for general foxing and deer stalking it would suit me down to the ground. I can’t wait to get out stalking with the AT as soon as possible.
Contact Sporting Services to find your nearest stockist.
Phone: 01342 716427
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