Bighorn Arms TL-3 Custom 224 Valkyrie
- By Chris Parkin
- 110 Comments
- Last updated: 28/11/2019
Dave Wylde of Valkyrie Rifle in South Yorkshire was the first builder in the UK to make either an AR-15, or Bolt action rifle chambered in the 224 Valkyrie. He actually assisted in the design of the proof house’s test ammunition, yet this is not a wildcat cartridge attributed to his own company name, it is just a happy coincident that no-doubt holds appeal to his business brain. The 224 Valkyrie stems from Federal’s decision to neck down the 6.8 SPC case, add a heavy 224 calibre bullet and tune neck and throat length to optimise the round for Modern Sporting Rifle competition.
The 224 Valkyrie doesn’t really seek to be a varminter or high volume loading yet shows good manners with a case capacity only fractionally more than the 223 Remington, yet the gain is in the shorter case body length of 1.600-inches compared to the 1.760-inches of the 223 Remington.
Longer, high B.C. Bullets are now more easily proportioned into AR-15 straight pull or slightly less critically, Bolt action rifles. The case is fatter with a 0.422-inches versus 0.376- inch body diameter and the encroaching boat tail of the bullet pressed within the neck is not stealing from powder capacity, so rather than judging the case as bigger being better ballistically, it’s more a case of packaging into the rifle’s action and magazine.
A 7-inch twist rate on the barrel was first mooted but a 1 in 6.5-inch twist rates is preferred as the 90gr bullet representing the highest 224 calibre B.C.’s need spinning fast to remain stable. Muzzle velocity for the Sierra Matchking bullet, boasting a 0.504 G1 ballistic coefficient is suggested to be around 2700fps and my test rifle showed Dave’s preliminary test loads to develop 2666fps, using Federal small rifle primers and RS52 powder. Let’s say the charge weight is circa 24+ grains, all the usual caveats apply. This test load, on paper gave me sub inch groups at 200-metres with a best 5 rounder achieving 0.692-inch, sub half M.O.A. Remember, these are test loads and Dave thinks RS52 is not yet the optimum powder choice and no specific C.O.L. fine tuning has been done yet. This sounds impressive but is not so much testament to the specific cartridge, just the capability of a full custom rifle using consistent handloaded ammunition at what can be termed `starting capability`. Comparing this to my own 223 Remington pushing the 77 TMK bullet at 2842fps, the trajectory advantage is marginal with about 30 extra metres of truly supersonic flight getting close to 1000-metres, yet the higher B.C. shrugs the wind far better with an 800-metre shot showing 20cm less wind drift in a 5m/s crosswind.
Cartridge details can be excruciating and dependant on exact loading specification but both calibres are rated to 55,000 PSI by SAAMI (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’Institute) so consider the Valkyrie more about packaging than power alone. The last few decades have shown a surge in shorter cartridges perceived to give superior burning characteristics than long slender ones but there are no specific examples of the oldies no longer being good. Think of all the short 6.5s, yet the Swede is still a great hunting round, similarly with .30 calibres. Shorter cases can be finnicky in terms of magazine performance and physically jumping them across the intrinsic gap in the front of actions where the bolt abutments lie. This Bighorn TL3 action is one of the finest available yet still shows personalised customisation, particularly in the magazine and feed angles for the short shell.
The build standard of the Valkyrie Rifle is superb with a 1 in 6.5-inch twist Sassen barrel screwed into the Bighorn TL3 action with matching stainless bead blasted finish. The Bighorn is a slick operating unit with a plethora of options, made to the finest tolerances yet still, like so many peers, based around the core design dimensions of the Remington 700’s footprint. Do not mistake it in any other way for that 57-year old classic though, action screw spacing is shared along with the dimensions of the cylindrical body allowing scope mounting solutions, stocks and triggers to be adaptable across species. A laterally ported brake is fitted to the (18x1) threaded 20.2mm diameter muzzle although I used an ASE UTA moderator for my preferences. The brake cut nearly all the recoil and I could see bullets land at 100-metres with no sight picture disruption or need to reset my aim. I can see the benefits in `brakes` but the flip side is the noise and concussion effect of the brake’s noise and in fairness, at long ranges where you don’t have targets and misses marked, i.e. on steel or quarry, a big bullet with more splash can still be preferable. When spotting bullet `trace` in flight, especially from spotting scopes. Small bullets and those with more slippery ballistic capability are harder to see in flight so like everything in life, there are no secrets and you have to accept compromise in all respects.
I like to feel the rifle’s recoil and with no brake on or the mod fitted, the McMillan stock shows impeccable manners with a firm, grippy 1-inch thick recoil pad transferring the minimal disturbance into my shoulder. Although not shown here, length of pull adjustment is available with spacers, and models with adjustable combs are superb, offering lateral as well as height adjustment to align with the optic. That light bullet at moderate speed is a beauty to shoot. Pushing the limits of long range is nice but so much is to be enjoyed and learned at the intermediate distances and this, to me, is where the heavy high B.C. .224 calibres are at their peak.
Not everyone has 2000-metre playgrounds so don’t be dismayed by bog boys, big toys and equivalent 4-digit distance egos. The Remington Varmint profile 24-inch barrel is fully floated and without any intermittent contact between it and the McMillan composite Game Scout stock from any shooting position. The action shows a 20 M.O.A. Picatinny rail bolted atop for simple scope mounting and within, the twin lug bolt features a replaceable head with controlled feed from the underside AICS magazine. This has a modified (orange) follower for the shorter/slimmer cartridge and holds 10 rounds with slick feeding benefitting from hand-finishing standards. Plentiful primary extraction stems from the 70mm bolt handle with 90-degree lift with 21mm diameter knob. It’s still a short action, featuring 101mm bolt stroke meaning you could run switch barrel larger cartridges like Creedmoors or 308 with a larger bolt head and extra magazine. The bolt’s internals and firing pin spring allow further fluidity in the action whose manual ejector allows the rare 224 Valkyrie brass to be ejected as forcefully desired from applied bolt speed.
A Bix’n Andy TacSport two stage trigger breaks crisply at 700g with adjustment from 250-2000g possible. It has an interesting safety catch to the right side of the stock which shows back and forward for safe and fire but to move forward, requires slight lateral pressure to unlock it’s detent. It becomes intuitive and I like the fact it can’t be accidentally made unsafe if caught on clothing or foliage. Removal from the stock shows the 34.2mm round action features an integral recoil lug making barrel changes far simpler without any need to attend to the bedding. The job here is a full Devcon pillar bedded action inlet with the aluminium bottom metal, also bedded in position with slight modifications made for the magazine position to feed the slimmer Valkyrie cartridge.
Elsewhere, the stock shows a vertical pistol grip with parallel comb, a dark timber-like pattern to the laminate moulding gel coat and stippling for grip fore and aft. The butt shows underside sporter profile with studs back and front for sling and bipod attachments. There are many composite stock makers these days where McMillan used to stand alone. I own a few myself and have experience with composite laminate mouldings so I tend to notice the minor details where the McMillan’s newest stocks show evolutions mechanically over the older units. Competitors sometimes still show these flaws, bubbles in gel coat or gaps in fillers yet McMillan shows how even they have improved their quality control and maintained superb detail consistency so crucial to composite structures. The firing cycle offers no deadness or hollow knocking sounds and dare I say, you have a `feel` to the shot more akin to Walnut units of old, yet all the durability and functional capability of modern synthetic, carbon and glass composites that are hard and difficult to mark.
Rifles like this are built purely to personal specification and although I like the premium components used, I can look indifferently towards what they are and pay more attention to the minor details that show the rifle builder’s craft. Particularly, things like the ability to tune the Accuracy International magazines and floorplate to suit the slimmer cartridge. Superb metal finishing standards, bead blasting and glass-like bedding jobs showing zero action stress are 100% expected in files of this quality, but customised magazine followers are not the work of amateurs and to me, show the detailed work of a truly experienced craftsman with in-depth knowledge of the latest equipment and calibres, worthy of your trust for your dream rifle.
Will the 224 Valkyrie become the latest must have like the Creedmoor did? I doubt it, but you never know. If one new cartridge per decade rises like cream to the top of the milk (the 17 HMR was truly innovative) then surely that is enough for us shooters to benefit rather than just marketeers accessing our desire to be different. Don’t be too distracted by the calibre, value `the rifle` and its ability to shoot well in your hands, regardless of specific cartridge.