Having owned an RPA rifle for several years, I was pleased to see a long-action model added to their list of sporting rifles. As ever, I will review this rifle based on its practical performance as well as how it copes when faced with live game in the highlands of Scotland.
The Highland Stalker comes in .270, .25-06, .30-06 and 6.5×55 and is specifically built for the hunter who has a preference for a long-action rifle. RPA International is renowned for its highly accurate rifles, and many rifle makers use RPA’s proven actions.
The heart of any RPA is the robust Quadlite action, which as its name suggests uses a bolt with four lugs on the front to lock into the action. The whole assembly is very well built, if not over-engineered, but it does guarantee nothing is taken for granted in terms of quality. The bolts slide very smoothly, and when pulled back to eject, the lug grips the case very firmly, ensuring a very positive ejection. The plastic bolt knob and angle of the handle give the cycling process a firm and positive feel, especially at speed when a quick follow-up shot is required in the field. This model comes with a three-shot magazine as standard, but a five-shot one is also available at extra cost. To release it, squeeze a catch located to the right side of the magazine, and out it drops.
Whenever anyone tries an RPA, the first thing they comment on is invariably the fantastic trigger. Coming from a target stable, RPA rifles use the company’s own two-stage trigger with a pull set at one pound as standard. There is a distinctive feel when the trigger reaches the second stage of the pull. If you are used to heavier triggers, be a little careful with this one, especially when wearing gloves – it is easy to ‘pull off’ too early just as you are acquiring the target. The safety catch, which lies to the right of the action, is quite simply forward to shoot and push to the rear for safety, although it can be a little fiddly on some occasions.
The Highland Stalker has a high quality solid synthetic stock made of reinforced epoxy with Kevlar and glass fibre. This medium-weight stock is very strong compared to many others, and grips well in cold and wet conditions. The stock can also be lengthened by removing the butt pad and inserting some rubber spacers. It also comes with an adjustable cheekpiece, which is very useful when using larger optics, and accommodates both right- and left-handed shooters.
Once again, the emphasis of the rifle is accuracy, so it uses a near fully fluted varmint-style barrel (1-in-10in twist) and comes with a 17mm x 1mm screw thread for a moderator or muzzle brake. My existing RPA has shot over 2,500 rounds; when I inspected it, there were no signs of wear and the muzzle crown was as clean as the day I picked it up, despite using a moderator. It is made of high-quality stainless steel that will not alter the point of impact, even after a session on the range using multiple shots.
For this test, the rifle came with a Zeiss 6-24x56mm Diavari using Weaver mounts and standard bases, but a Picatinny rail can be easily fitted if required at extra cost. Also, I fitted a 6-12in Harris bipod to the front sling attachment point. The rifle weighs 10.2lb (4.6kg), which makes it a few pounds heavier than most sporting rifles but means it is heavy enough that shooters can fire many rounds without knocking themselves about too much.
I wanted to test this rifle both in the field and at long distances, to see if the Highland Stalker could not only attract the sporting rifleman but also the person who enjoys a little bit of target practice. I also aimed to answer the question: Is the Highland Stalker effective for highland stalking?
At a zero of 150 yards, 150-grain Norma with Nosler Ballistic tips at 2,950fps shot off the bipod achieved a grouping of about one inch and for the long-range test I used some specially made 190-grain Matchking HPBT (2,650fps), which achieved a similar grouping. This would no doubt improve if I spent more time practising supporting the rear of the rifle stock, but most of my shooting in the field is done off the bipod.
My colleagues Matt and Darren immediately took to the Highland Stalker. They both told me it felt just right. The stock allowed a firm grip; along with the raised cheekpiece and the two-stage trigger, this made it a delight to shoot. Being a .30-06, the recoil, while very apparent, was more than comfortable, no doubt helped by the design and quality of the stock.
After zeroing, it was time to test the long-range ability of the rifle. Using the 190-grain Match ammo, we tested it at ranges from 400 yards to 700 yards in a very light crosswind. As pictured overleaf, the Highland Stalker achieved consistent hits on the smaller crow and frontal fox targets at 400 and 500 yards respectively. At 700 yards, I adjusted 15in of wind and 142in of elevation, and all hits on the disc target were within an 8-9in grouping. Considering that the inconsistent wind was accounting for 3-5in of variation in drift, this is obviously a very well put together and accurate rifle that a multi-skilled rifleman could have also have fun with on the range.
In Scotland, we carried the Highland Stalker in a Country Covers drag bag, and it was immediately apparent that this was not the lightest of rifles for the highlands. It weighed in at 13.5lb (including scope, ammo and bipod but no moderator) – although the drag bag, with its shoulder straps, made it much more comfortable to carry.
The weather was very wet and cold, and matters were not helped by our stalkers Matt and Tommo, who took great delight in dragging us through various peat hags and burns before finding our quarry. Using the Norma 150-grain ammo, Darren and I had no problems quickly dispatching several hinds, most of which were at distances of 150-250 yards. Despite winds in excess of 30mph, the rifle always held steady, giving all of us confidence when pulling the trigger.
I generally use scopes with target turrets, so adjusting the point of impact becomes second nature to me at longer distances. I wrap some masking tape around the elevation turret and then mark the range adjustments on it that have been tested for the required ammunition. I also note the drop and windage values in inches on the inside of my Butler Creek lens covers for easy access. While anything over 250 yards could be labelled as excessive when shooting large game, most stalkers have a rangefinder, and to be able to put the reticle on killing zone at 300-400 yards is a blessing if you have a wounded animal that requires another shot to dispatch it quickly on the hills.
I have been an RPA fan for several years, so perhaps I am being a little biased when I sing the praises of this capable rifle. The only downside of the Highland Stalker is perhaps its weight, but having weighed several medium- to heavy-barrelled guns, geared up with high-quality optics, bipods and moderators, I have to say this gun is not excessive. For everyday stalking, the gun is very well balanced and easy to use off bipods or sticks, but you can also have some fun on the range. So perhaps the Highland Stalker is more of an all-rounder than its name makes out.
It is available from many gun dealers at £3,150 plus VAT – so it is in the custom end of the rifle market, but with off-the-shelf guaranteed accuracy. Don’t forget: included within this price is a rifle case, bore guide and Weaver base mounts. From personal experience, my .243 thumbhole Hunter is a darling to shoot, accounting for hundreds of foxes in Sussex, but at the same time, it shoots 75-grain Hornady V-Max bullets out to 1,000 yards with faultless accuracy. Once again this demonstrates the versatility of the brand.
All I have to do now is persuade my shooting colleague Darren to give me back the Highland Stalker or part with some of his hard-earned cash. Enough said. TP
Model tested: Highland Stalker hunting rifle in .30-06
Price range: From £3,150
Contact: Rangemaster Precision Arms 0845 880 3222