For many years now, a new rifle platform has been thriving both here in the free world, and in the competition, military, and law enforcement communities. A stand alone and one of a kind weapon that in the author’s opinion, has near perfected a design that shooters have long sought after.
The company is Desert Tech, (formerly Desert Tactical Arms)of Salt Lake City Utah, and the rifle is the Stealth Recon Scout (SRS). My love affair with this system began several years ago, at the end of a dirt road in the foothills below Montana’s Bear tooth Mountains. A friend of mine introduced me to a rifle I had seen and heard of before, but whose unconventional looks and impressive price tag had driven it far from my psyche.
That all changed in a moment, as soon I put this extremely compact and precise instrument to use. The metallic snap of the bolt locking into battery, and the crisp break of the trigger just felt perfect against my cheek weld. Before I left Montana, I had set my mind to own one of these beauties, even should it cost me my modest gun collection. Not quite a year later, I stood in a local gun shop, filling out the transfer paperwork. It was love at first sight.
I wasted no time familiarizing myself with Mark Gordon at Short Action Customs (SAC) in Wellington, Ohio, who in a short time had already built quite a reputation in aftermarket DT barrels as well as a quality builder of rifles in general. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the SRS, it is a detachable box magazine fed, bolt action bull pup, with the added advantage of being a switch barrel rifle. A bull pup of course meaning that the rifle’s action is behind the trigger, and against the shoulder. This design has been tried many times over the years, in order to shorten overall length, and portability of the rifle. The SRS as I mentioned earlier has all of the advantages a bull pup was designed to bring to the table, as well as the quality and prestige of a very high end weapon. And the icing on the cake is the switch barrel capability. Allowing the shooter in as short as a minute, to go from a short action 308 family cartridge, to something like a 300WM or even the .338LM, and thanks to Mark and his ingenuity, SRS owners will soon be able to shoot .223 family cartridges as well.
One of the reasons this rifle is so quickly gaining fame, is the capabilities, accuracy, quality, and utility it gives to its user. It is much shorter than its competitors, even when wearing a suppressor, the SRS also delivers consistent accuracy, regardless of caliber. And its wide array of barrel possibilities, both from DT and aftermarket companies like SAC are top of the line. I have found the rifle to be very useful in competition, practical shooting, and hunting. One of the most common lines you will hear from SRS owners is that since they started shooting it, the rest of their guns gather dust in the safe.
The topic of this article is to discuss this newly developed prototype .223 from SAC, I could go on for pages about the features and adventures of the rifle itself. But, this new conversion kit (as barrel, bolt, and magazine are called) deserves all my attention here.
Mark and I first made contact when I purchased a barrel from him shortly after I became a DT owner, and luckily he approached me about testing one of these new kits when they were ready. The added advantages that a .223 barrel would afford me were very appealing to say the least. Having a very inexpensive cartridge like the .223 in my barrel collection would make great for training and plinking purposes, and at my average density altitude here, the .223 is no slouch. Making it a shoe in for all my varmint hunting adventures. Surely I am not the only DT owner to consider all these tantalizing new opportunities Mark’s venture would bring, and I’m sure they will start lining up as soon as production begins, which at this writing, could be as soon as June 2015.
I’ll move forward under the assumption that the reader is at least rudimentarily familiar with the SRS, in the interest of time. There is much to discuss. For those of you interested, there is a companion YouTube video to this article that can be found here:
When I first opened the freshly packed box from Ohio, my impression was typical to Mark’s customers. Even the packaging shows attention to detail, and required a clever approach to unwrap and remove each piece of the kit. . It was like Christmas again, inside was a 22” Bartlein, 7.7 twist barrel, threaded with a break installed and timed. I continued opening and found the bolt, and the magazine, both proprietary from SAC. The magazine was as stout as anyone could hope, I felt like I could hitch it in the end of an axe handle and split firewood should the need arise. Built from billet aluminum, it fills the size of the original DT magazine, even though it only uses a small portion of that space for its payload. Two halves held together by machine screws, with a nylon follower. And I was happy to see as I eagerly stuffed it full of cartridges, that it has room stacked for ten. Not just ten standard .223 rounds, but my long range load using 80gr Sierra Match Kings seated much longer than standard loads (2.515coal). My attention then turned to the bolt, at first glance it seemed the same as any other DT bolt. But I soon noticed a significant difference. Normal DT bolts have two sets of three bolt lugs, this new design of Mark’s had only one set of bolt lugs. I then returned to the barrel, and sure enough, the barrel extension was different as well, made to accept only three lugs. So part of Mark’s solution to chambering such a petite round in an action made to handle up to 338LM, was to shorten the distance traveled from feed lips, into battery. By removing the second (stacked) layer of bolt lugs bringing the front of the bolt and the rear face of the barrel closer, sooner. All of which required manufacturing a new barrel extension and matching bolt head.
This was one of the newer style DT bolts, with the interchangeable bolt head. I assume that production conversion kits will have an option of purchasing just the bolt head, or a complete bolt. Depending on a customer’s needs. Much work has been put into this small bolt head. To fit ejector and extractor into it, and still accommodate for all the other functions it does must have been some feat. We went through several revisions of the bolt-head in order to ensure perfect function. With the bolt also came a new bolt stop plug, to shorten the bolt’s rear travel to the shorter length of the .223. This makes for a short and smooth stroke, making rapid shooting faster even than before.
The whole kit just screamed “shoot me”, and like a badger with a fresh can of Spam, I descended into my cave to fit this new system to its host.
As I slid the new barrel into the chassis, its weight was manifest when it bottomed out perfectly in its keyed bore. I installed the barrel as I do any other, bolt and magazine followed. The shortness of the newly married combination was very impressive, I had yet to install my suppressor on the system just to test for balance and handling. It was heavy, heavy as any other barrel I own. But with a similar contour and such a small bore, I guess that should have been expected. (My next .223 barrel will either be fluted, or a lighter profile) This could also be considered a good thing, if one intends on using the barrel as a trainer, since it maintains the rifle’s weight and handling. As I worked the new bolt, and tested its operation, I was reminded why this rifle is such a joy to shoot. The SAC .223 conversion was just as smooth and crisp as every other bolt/barrel combination I had used. I could hardly wait to get it to the range.
I am a glutton for punishment, and a reclusive one at that, so my first trip to shoot the SAC kit was not to the local rifle range, but to my favorite field shooting spot, high above the city in the mountains above my home. It was there, on a sunny and dry fall day, at about 5500ASL that I broke paper. I had brought along a box of some Federal factory loaded ammo, as well as some hand loads I had very high hopes for. I started at 75yds, only to re-zero my rifle. Each barrel can have a slightly different zero from another, in my experience it’s usually not far (+/- 1MIL in any direction). In this case, the SAC .223 barrel was .4MIL lower than my regular zero. The good news is, it’s always the same with each barrel, no need to re-zero every time you switch barrels. I have since had it in and out many times, and it is always exactly zeroed when I install it. Within two or three shots, I had the new barrel zeroed. I ran half a dozen handloads over the chronograph, and was very happy to see 2880fps as an average. My load being 23.5gr of ARcomp under an 80gr SMK seated at 2.515”. In typical SAC fashion, the barrel shot much tighter than I can hold. I am terrible at shooting groups, but when I manage to hold properly, this thing easily put five Match Kings though a 3/8 inch hole. All the squirrel’s and magpies within earshot must have questioned my sanity as I chuckled like Yogi Bear while shoving more rounds into the magazine. But they know me, and know when to stay the hell out of sight, so my reputation maintained its place at the top of the food chain. Never satisfied with a hundred yards, I decided to push the limits of this new kit. And with the west side of the Rocky Mountains at my disposal, I had plenty of room to do it. I hit all my usual targets, ranging from three hundred out to nine hundred and fifty yards. The beauty was, this load/barrel shot way better than my ballistic computer had projected. And at nine hundred and fifty yards, I was a whole MIL high. I dropped it down to 7.4MIL and pummeled a target measuring roughly 18"h by 10"w for about six rounds. It was a beautiful feeling to have such accuracy and power from such an inexpensive cartridge. I was so excited to get home and share my results with Mark, I almost left without all my gear, but I quickly gathered it up, and continued my Yogi Bear chuckle all the way back down the trail to the truck.
I’ve been back to the mountains, and out to the desert, I’ve put over five hundred rounds through it already, and I can say with conviction, I LOVE this 223. I have always been a big fan of the cartridge, but it only gets better in the DT chassis. I have used it to plunder several dogtowns, many vermin, and even managed to take the first big game ever with a .223 SRS, a Wyoming Pronghorn all handily, and with a sense of confidence that’s unexplainable. I’ve stretched it out to 1035yds so far, and as long as conditions are calm, I think I’ll push it a little farther.
All in all, this prototype gets about a 9.5 out of 10 from the coldbore panel of judge, it fits into a niche that has needed a resident for some time. With almost no felt recoil, it is a fun way to train, a cheap way to practice, an efficient way to hunt, and a particularly humiliating way to smoke your buddies in a match. If I was to change anything about it, it would only be this; a lighter barrel, either in contour or fluted. Both of which should not be a problem as SAC thrives on customizing their customer’s request’s.
I am very far from being done with this kit, I see a long future filled with stacked pelts and shiny steel targets. For the many of you one rifle Desert Tech guys who have been wishing for a 223 for your counterpart, the day will soon come, and Short Action Customs will bring it to you. Short Action Customs