Merkel has been a well-known name in shotgunning circles for some time, but in recent years the German manufacturer has become famous for producing the world’s most affordable classic double rifle – not to mention drillings, and the firm’s popular single-shot rifle.
Yet in the KR1, Merkel has created a thoroughly modern rifle along classic lines, which has the potential to eclipse the Blaser R93 straight-pull – a rifle that has proved popular on both sides of the North Sea and English Channel.
The Merkel KR1 is different from traditional bolt-actions – in fact, it’s different from any bolt-action on the market today. It is actually a turn-bolt action with forward locking lugs, but the resemblance to the classic Mauser action stops there, as the bolt only has a short uplift. The body of the bolt actually acts as a shroud that encases and protects the entire receiver. This is what makes the Merkel system stand out; like the Blaser R93 straight-pull it allows for speedy bolt manipulation, but still has that added feeling of security on lock-up, as it is still a true turn-bolt – unlike the Blaser. This design also allows for a very short return, and offers better protection from dust and debris than almost any other action available on a modern hunting rifle.
The three-position safety is of the tang shotgun-style; when you place your thumb on the locking lever, it automatically depresses, avoiding the possibility of accidental operation. When set on safe, either cocked or uncocked, the bolt remains securely locked.
The KR1 comes complete with a single set-trigger as standard. The trigger breaks with a predictable single stage pull at 3lb. The set trigger, achieved by pushing it forward, releases at 2lb (on the test rifle, at least). The set trigger is a little too far forward, which could be a problem for some smaller-fingered people; but the trigger guard is large and accepts a gloved digit very easily.
Other standard features include good quality iron sights and a quick detachable one-piece saddle scope mount. The supplied scope mount attaches positively and gives a sense of rigidity in the system; the clamping movement is engaged by rotating two levers forward to lock the mount – an integral pop-out bar indicates when they are tight enough.
The KR1 is a switch-barrel rifle, which is the current vogue for many German rifle makers (Sauer, Blaser, Mauser, and so on); standard barrels come in 20 or 22in, magnum in 22 or 24in. Barrels chambered to cartridges of like case-head diameter can be swapped by removing the bolt assembly and two hex-head screws, the rear one under the hinged floor plate, the second a couple of inches forward in the bottom metal. To go from standard (.30-06) case-head diameters up to belted magnums, a locking bolt head with the appropriate bolt-face diameter and the proper detachable magazine are required.
After a few attempts, I soon became familiar with the procedure and could change the barrel in a matter of no more than two minutes. The saddle scope mount is mounted on the barrel as there is no receiver in the traditional sense, (again similar to the rifle’s closest rival, the Blaser R93) hence the barrel scope mounting system. Therefore with a scope and mount for each barrel one can switch calibres back and forth, even in field conditions, with complete confidence in the rifle maintaining its zero.
The walnut stock on the test rifle was close-grained, good quality and richly coloured, and capped with a thin recoil pad. Merkel have opted for a traditional Germanic look on this modern gun, and it works well – the finished result is extremely pleasing on the eye.
When shouldered, the KR1 pointed very well, the hogs-back stock profile without a cheekpiece had an adequate length of pull that fitted me perfectly. A Bavarian cheekpiece is available on higher grades, and a Monte Carlo cheekpiece comes as standard on the safari version. Chequering adorns both the pistol grip and forend, enabling firm and positive mounting. The rifle handles brilliantly and comes up smoothly with the scope but, at least for me, it also comes up well with the iron sights, which I favour for both driven boar, and up close on dangerous game. The KR1 is a really remarkable hunting rifle that is a clear contender to the popular Blaser R93 straight-pull alternative. The test rifle that I used was right-handed, but left-hand models (both locking housing and stock) are also available for true southpaws like me.
In the field, the action was extremely slick and very fast; it seemed quieter in operation than the straight-pull action of the Blaser R93 that I recently tested, but does that really matter? I didn’t get the chance to shoot a boar with the rifle, but on the running boar target on the range I found the KR1 a real joy to use – I look forward to trying it again next season. It may also have a place for some dangerous game hunting, although the top end calibre is limited to .375 – a little light for elephant and buffalo. However, this fast-handling offering from Merkel would certainly be up to adequacy for both big cat and bear hunting.
The .30-06 test rifle was married to a Kahles 1.5-6×42 Helia scope, and after only initial laser bore sighting it consistently shot 1in three-shot groups at 100 yards using Norma 180-grain Dual Core ammunition. I was impressed with both its handling and accuracy. Personally, I like the set trigger system, and it helped achieve good groups on the range; I can see it would be a real advantage when stalking. But when driven boar shooting, the crisp trigger is perfectly adequate – the set trigger is pretty much impractical during driven game hunting, of course.
Overall this solid, well-balanced rifle with its quick-change barrel facility should suit UK stalkers, European boar hunters and possibly those going on safari. PC