Merkel Helix Speedster
- By Chris Parkin
- 1 Comments
- Last updated: 29/06/2018
The Merkel Helix, in various formats, has been around for several years and the chance to hunt with the latest ‘Speedster’ version in Bulgaria last November was a superb introduction to the rifle.
The Speedster’s stock is an open topped thumbhole design called the SpeedStock, featuring push button Adjustable cheekpiece (with position memory), removable recoil pad allowing storage of small items and its advanced ‘OmegaGrip’.
This offers a compromise between the assured hold on the rifle with minimal force yet retaining fast access to the bolt handle of what is one of the fastest rifle actions for driven game. Dual compound polymer moulding shows rubberised panels in the grip and forend, with a tactile finish for grip in all areas. Alternate buttpads are available from Merkel to adjust the length of pull, and with both trigger finger and cheekpiece aligned parallel to the bore and recoil path of the rifle, muzzle flip is minimised, with less vertical effect from poor trigger technique too. A de-cocker is an ingrained safety feature of the Helix and you can now slide your thumb straight up towards It, rather than have to be pulled out from the side like you have to with and enclosed thumbhole stock. All these tiny fractions of saved time add up and become very helpful when in a hurry to reload and shoot again.
A 17mm diameter hammer forged barrel, 560mm long, is standard with longer barrels for magnum chamberings, with optional fluting and 19mm profile available too. It is threaded 15x1 for a sound moderator or muzzle brake. No bolt shaft emerges from the rear of the action and the only external moving part is the generous ball handle dropping to the right side of the action. The internals are a bolt head carrier, engineered with a rack and pinion geared system to double the movement of the bolt head, so half the linear movement of the bolt handle to cycle the action.
Although many straight pulls are fast, the definite advantage I find here is that you can keep your head tight down to the cheekpiece and retain a better aim for following shots, as even with a long action calibre, you cannot crash the bolt into your nose or cheek. The laws of physics do state though, halving the movement requires doubling the force required and although smooth, the rifle is better when cycled dynamically for better ejection of spent rounds. The bolt carrier rotates six lugs directly into the barrel so the central ‘action’ is not pressure bearing; these rotate anti-clockwise, locking into battery with a plunger ejector, and claw extractor on the upper lug’s face. The action is lightning fast but although some primary extraction is facilitated by the carrier’s helical internals rotating and unlocking the bolt head, secondary extraction is all about how hard or fast you draw back the handle. I have used the gun in shorter 308 and 243 as well yet find the slightly longer 30- 06 suits it better with smother loading and less likelihood of tight cases forcing hard extraction. Twin buttons either side of the magazine well hold the fiveround unit in place with durable steel feed lips and changeover is rapid. Single rounds fed into the ejection port will still load in an emergency, if there is no time to swap or reload the single column magazine from its front, one at a time.
The No.1 factor in its favour is the handling it offers, the adjustable cheekpiece allows perfect cheek weld, whether using low red dot optics for driven boar or a moderate 50mm objective scope. Quick release sling swivels sit under the butt and on the forend’s tip. The free floating forend, although slender, fit my hand well in gloves without any barrel contact from the fingers, the dual compound’s rubber finish is grippy when wet too.
Both forend and buttstock slot over the central action and the rear offers a good 360mm length of pull to the firm but grippy pad that translates all recoil smoothly with no hard spots. Merkel took advice from this hunting adventure and made the recoil pad harder to detach and also darkened the colour of the stock from a light tan to forest green, which looks better.
The de-cocker sits above the tang for reassuring safety and silence when operating, it’s close under a scope’s ocular body but not an issue with a red dot mounted farther forward, low down on the gun’s integral Picatinny rail mounts. A gently nudge forward whilst pulling the bolt handle unlocks the action and gives ‘safe’ opening. Merkel’s 7mm trigger blade gave light, crisp pulls of 1000-grams. For a necessarily complex action design, the trigger was easily judged and pleasantly dependable in use but if the weather gets cold, I would want to add some weight for use with thicker gloves that will fit in the spacious trigger guard for more definite feel.
The barrel cannot be cleaned with a rod from chamber to muzzle without removing it from the gun, a factor that may make precision riflemen tremble with doubt but removing or changing barrels is very fast. Pressing a button under the forend allows it to slide off, before an 85mm lever to the lower left of the barrel unlocks it. With the action closed, the bolt head will come out in the barrel’s locking abutments, but if left open, the barrel emerges alone, leaving the bolthead remaining attached to the carrier. Align the red mark to the upper side with the action, slot it back in or another (with/without appropriate bolt head) back into the action and lock down the lever. Click the forend back in place and you are ready to shoot with the same or new ammo and magazines appropriate to the barrel.
I always place an unloaded, but fire formed case into the chamber, cycle the action back and forth a couple of times settle the barrel and Merkel themselves say to open and close the locking lever three times, helping everything to settle back into ‘relaxed’ position. I followed these rules and found the return to zero within 2cm at 100m from previous point of impact on the first shot, within ammunition accuracy consistency on the second round. One factor that remains notable is that it’s a very comfortable gun to carry without a bolt handle pressing into your back when slung on your shoulder. Cleaning the action’s internals is no easy task though, the buttstock must be removed and then the trigger guard assembly drops from below after two cross pins are drifted out. It is a workshop job and not easy, although in 500 rounds I shot with a 243 Helix, it never needed cleaning to function, but the internals began to sound a little gritty. In some environments, or with a fall that fills the ejection port with debris, it’s a challenging task to clean it safely and functionally.
The Speedster shoots well from all positions, partly because it requires little physical movement to reload but also stock ergonomics and subtle features, like the vertical pistol grip and lack of bolt, which allows a slightly shorter length of pull and consequent reach to the controls for reloading. Recoil in the 30-06 was transmitted in a straight line through the stock with little muzzle jump; I have to say, this is the fastest manually operated gun to shoot accurately I have tried so far on boar and jackals, with a reassuring and quickly operated safety catch/de-cocker. The metalwork and stock proved durable throughout the threeday hunt. Having the fastest action is not the ultimate consideration with a straight pull repeating rifle, the ergonomics and magazine capacity must be mutually beneficial to provide a truly symbiotic rifle interface with the human form.
I like Merkel’s approach to the SpeedStock, it combines the benefits of a thumbhole for single shot accuracy, while speeding up reloading drills compared to other ‘closed’ thumbhole stocked guns on straight pull rifles. It is a fast gun to reload and change magazines (of good capacity too) and no bolt hitting you in the face when you keep your head down on the cheekpiece keeps your eyes on target while reloading.
Thanks to, Kridera Hunting www.kridera-hunting.com
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