The Merkel Helix Speedster appears to be an innovative solution to the problem of a thumbhole-stocked straight-pull rifle, but does the reality match up? Stuart Wilson finds out
Slipping the catches on the hard case revealed the Merkel Helix Speedster in .308 Win, along with a Meopta Meostar R2 illuminated 1.7-10×42 scope, mounted with a set of Leupold QRW rings, finished with a Merkel moderator made by Brugger & Thomet. Mounting the scope was a quick job – get it plumb, make sure the eye relief is good – and then straight on to zeroing.
Unfortunately the Helix’s design won’t allow for a preliminary bore sighting. A quick round on the zeroing target at 25 yards is the best and safest option to help get you on the paper at 100 yards for a proper zero. Resting the forend on a suitable bag and shooting from the bonnet are both comfortable and also fairly representative of shooting from a hunting blind or highseat. Proving accurate with Winchester 180gn Power-point ammo, the Speedster is moderately heavy and was smooth to shoot with the 180gn bullets, printing groups around 20mm at 100 yards.
With the Helix assembled and zeroed, it was time to have a refresher of the features. I have spent time with the standard synthetic Helix in .30-06 Spr and .243 Win, and come to like the overall feel and dimensions, but how would the newer Speedster handle?
The first thing that hits you is undoubtedly the stock. It is a solidly built thumbhole style stock, and that’s where the main difference hits you. The open top of the thumbhole allows the shooters hand to get to the bolt much easier than a conventional thumbhole stock. The ‘thumb window’ that allows your thumb to lift straight up and out from behind the pistol grip, gives the shooter the best solution to a straight-pull rifle with a thumbholed stock. Merkel call this the OmegaGrip.
I have always felt a little encumbered by both the straight pull variants I have previously encountered with such stocks, but I really like this one. Maybe it’s not to everyone’s taste, but a vertical pistol grip would always be my preference. The palm swell with the rubberised inserts is also superb.
It’s when you shoulder the rifle that you then appreciate that the open-topped thumbhole design also allows for much easier safety catch access, allowing the shooter to activate the thumbslide safety while the trigger hand is in its shooting position – a solid design solution but also a step forward in safety as the rifle can be made live suitably later in the hunting process.
Keeping with the stock, the forend sports the same rubberised insert panels, which are dark grey/black inlayed into a dark green synthetic stock. As usual, the stock is a two-piece design mating to the central chassis/action. The forend release button is also threaded, which allows the shooter to gently screw the button inwards – which in turn means the release can’t be pressed inadvertently. I managed to screw the button in and out very easily by pressing my thumb against it, without the need of a coin or screwdriver. This also meant I could enable or disable this button without tools, so in the field if I wanted the forend removing to pop the barrel out, again a fully tool-less operation, this could be done with ease.
The stock comes furnished with two push button quick release sling studs, one underneath the butt of the stock, the second in the very end of the forend, similar to the Sauer 202. The only downside is the inability to slip a bipod onto the rifle if the shooter desires – a small negative. On closer inspection inside the forend, a small circular tab with a hollow centre seems to be ready and waiting for pilot drilling to then accept a bipod stud. All bases have been covered, it would seem.
The butt of the stock features an adjustable cheekpiece. Continuing the tool-less theme with a push button adjustment, just behind the cheekpiece in front of the butt pad is a black button which, when pressed, allows the shooter to quickly and easily set the cheekpiece to the favoured height. Overall the stock is extremely well designed and manufactured and leaves the handler with a feeling of impatience to get out and shoot the rifle. The straight pull certainly had me champing at the proverbial bit.
The action is the design I am now quite familiar with, a straight pull, taking full advantage of the geared bolt throw. Just to recap, the bolt face moves twice as much as the bolt handle, effectively shortening and consequently speeding up the ‘shot reload’ sequence. Personal preference certainly comes into the shooter’s choice of rifle, and I think even more so with a straight pull rifle. The Helix is proven in my eyes, as I have watched our editor use his .30-06 Spr synthetic to good effect in some varied situations. This rifle has never missed a beat despite the use it gets – while it is not abused, it is certainly not wrapped in cotton wool either.
The Speedster action has a tough matt black finish to it, complementing the drab green colour of the stock. The bolt is finished with a nylon ball, which helps with bare-handed grip and would provide similar benefits to a gloved hunter’s hand. The safety is the usual slide and button arrangement, which I would advise you to fully familiarise yourself with before you get into a hunting situation, it is very usable, but all the same, practice the on/off procedure when it doesn’t matter! While I wouldn’t solely rely on the safety catch being on to say a rifle is safe, any safety catch that effectively removes the rear tension from the firing pin spring is a significant step in the right direction.
Barrel and trigger
The standard barrel is un-fluted, with or without open sights and is 17mm at the muzzle. The review rifle had the optional fluted barrel, semi-weight, threaded in 15x1mm to take a moderator if and when needed. The test rifle came with a Brugger & Thomet moderator that has been made for Merkel, which proved both light and efficient on the .308 Win. The overall weight of the package felt good in the shoulder with no obvious balance issues, but it may be worth pointing out that I would remove the moderator for any driven hunting. It did just feel more fluid without the extra bulk forward, and more importantly when hunting with this scope turned to its lowest magnification of 1.7x the moderator becomes too visible in the bottom of the scope for my liking.
The trigger blade is nicely curved and broad enough to give good feedback to even a gloved hand. This complements the Speedster for both quicker shots and more deliberate placed shots. The standard trigger has adjustability from 900-1900g and there is an upgraded TAR-GT version available that offers a weight range of 500-1500g with a gold trigger blade.
I must admit I stopped playing with triggers several years ago and tend to shoot almost every rifle out of the box. I find the dimensions of the stock and a good cheek weld are far more important to both the feel and the down-range results. I have never in my life experienced a shooter approach a deer they have shot, and on inspecting the entry wound say ‘That’s about an inch from where I aimed.’ Only when a shot strikes a good few inches from the desired spot is the shot called a little off.
The calibres available range from small, large and magnum calibre groups, .222 Rem up to .338 Win Mag, I won’t list them all, but there is enough choice to cover a lot of hunting situations.
The Speedster will give you a quick second shot, I would see a .243 Win variant serving me well on any fox, roe, muntjac or fallow trips, and it is better to have and not need than to need and not have. One day I will make the effort to get onto a driven hunt for live game. I have shot on a few shooting cinemas and running boar ranges, which is really good fun, and essential to perfect an ethical, accurate technique. During my zeroing session I did my next best effort for simulating the need for a quick second and third shot using two target boards 30 yards apart at 80 yards – this was obviously not running game, but reloading and swinging the rifle to the second target hastily before settling to get the second shot off left me very confident that the Merkel Speedster was always ready before I was. The design in its entirety is well thought out and really performs. When my chance comes to attend a driven hunt, I hope (I will make sure) I have a Merkel Helix Speedster. I also hope that my shooting neighbours do not!
More information: 01423 780810, www.vikingshoot.com
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