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- Last updated: 27/01/2017
Merkel more commonly known for their classic high class shotguns have now branched out and added a high grade stalking rifle to their catalogue called the KR1.
Based in Suhl, Germany, Merkel Jagd rifles are imported to this country by Viking Arms and come in an ascending order of grades depending on the type of embellishment one requires. Regardless of grades what lies beneath is a common chassis for a very solidly made stalking rifle, following the latest trend for fast barrel changing facility as do Blaser, Sauer, Mauser and Krico rifles. Priced just below the £1500 mark for the Standard grade or £1815 for the Premium grade, the Merkel is competitively priced.
The Standard KR1 is a solid rifle with that undeniable heft that speaks of quality components crafted from the best grade steels and timber. The stock is very Germanic in looks and has the traditional ‘hogs back’ profile favoured by the Europeans. The walnut is nicely coloured with a rich grain pattern and more than a hint of fiddle back figuring to the butt section, which was good to see on this the Standard grade model. (The Premium grade has beautiful straight grain dark veins running the entire length.)
Length of pull was a generous 14.25” which to me felt far better than normal. The hogs back design, despite lack of cheek piece, was a tad low for best scope alignment but the open sights furnished came up nicely. The slender forend made the Merkel naturally sit and point very well, although being so thin you tended to wrap your supporting fingers around the barrel. The wood had nicely cut chequered panels to both the pistol grip and forend with fixed sling swivels attached as standard. Overall finish is as one would expect from a classic stalking rifle, one of rubbed oil which is just so practical and easy to keep looking good if you actually use your rifle as intended.
An Integral Action
Interestingly the Merkels receiver mechanism is an integral part of the bolt system that shuttles back and forth along guide rails allowing access to the barrel, very similar to a Blaser. However there is one big difference; unlike the straight pull Blaser rifle the Merkel has a more traditional turn bolt arrangement. The differences when compared to a more normal bolt rifle is that the entire bolt is encapsulated within the receiver casing making for a strong design, further enhanced by the locking arrangement of the bolt lugs directly into the rear of the barrel. It is reminiscence of the old Mauser 66 design to some degree.
It allows a speedy transition of bolt manipulation like a straight pull, but has that added feeling of security on lock up as the lugs cam into the barrels recesses and are not pushed home as on a straight pull. The receiver is made of steel and the whole unit is heavy, but reassuringly so and the short bolt travel upward combined with the smooth bolt/receiver travel was most pleasing. The bolts lugs offer a comprehensive lock up with twin rows of three locks, ensuring safety and correct cartridge alignment in the chamber and this contributes to the shorter bolt lift (about 65 degree) from the nicely contoured butter knife bolt handle. The Premium grade had some nice engraved scrolls to the receiver walls that distinguishes this grade of KR1.
Extraction is positively done by a large extractor claw recessed into the side of the bolt and the lively ejector takes care of cartridge expulsion via a bolt mounted plunger type.
Barrel and Magazine
Shifting between calibres with the option of a swift barrel change, and thus utilising a common chassis for a fox or deer rifle, certainly has its benefits. The Merkel has a quick simple barrel change facility very similar to a Blaser in that two threaded studs protrude beneath the barrel that locate into the lower receiver section and are tightened using two captive nuts from under the stock, the rear one is actually under the floor plate. There is a good bedding area in which the barrel sits, and there is a cross bolt location lug that maintains rigidity and barrel zero very well when tested.
The bolt head is detachable allowing a change of calibre groups depending on the cartridge head size, and because the action is offered only in the long length specifications, all that is needed to complete the calibre change is to replace the magazine. Again this is simple enough, as the top loaded mag sits or more correctly is attached to a swinging floor plate, and so as the whole trigger guard and floor plate is unlatched and drops down, the magazine can be plucked from its mooring.
Trigger and Safety
The trigger has a single set facility if you so desire to use it, but it is light and the normal trigger pull is actually very predicable anyway. Set at a crisp 2 lb setting the single stage pull is more than good enough on any hunting rifle and safer to boot. Interestingly, as the floor plate is dropped to remove the magazine the bottom section of the trigger moves with it, being integral to the trigger guard. The safety is a rear tang mounted unit, easily accessible to the shooters thumb for positive operation. There is an additional smaller safety within the main safety as a small protruding bar has to be depressed before the safety can be slid back or fore which is a novel design.
Fully forward and a red dot is visible, indicating the safety is off and rifle can be fired. The middle setting makes the trigger safe but allows operation of the bolt, i.e. to remove a loaded round and make safe, whilst in its rear most position the whole bolt and trigger are locked. Another visual indicator of a loaded rifle is the protruding striker from the rear of the bolt body. The safety can be set if the rifle is cocked or not.
The Merkel comes with simple open sights which actually look in keeping with the KR1, but I doubt that many people will use them, as stalkers will almost certainly want to fit some sort of scope. Because the action/receiver is a reciprocating design, attempting to mount a scope to this unit would not work. So as with other similar designs the scope is mounted directly to the static barrel via a one piece saddle mount. This has the advantage that it is quickly detachable but has the disadvantage of being costly and placing the scope high off the receiver and thus compromising eye alignment.
In reality the scope mount attaches very positively via two precision cut-outs on the barrel’s outer surface and incorporates recoil lug recesses to further aid rigidity and integrity. The clamping mechanism is via two levers that rotate to lock the mount tight and when the correct force is applied a pop out section tells you it is tight enough.
I tested a Standard model that was in .243 calibre and a Premium grade that was in 30-06 calibre with a good variety of factory and reloads and both rifles were shooting realistic one inch groups with three shot at 100 yards. With a bit of bullet selection and powder preference I settled on a reload of 45.5 grains of RL19 powder under an 80 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip that gave 3222 fps and placed three shots into 0.8” at 100 yards for the .243 rifle. Federal 100 grain .243 Power Shok also shot impressive sub inch groups and would be my choice for this rifle if using factory ammunition.
The 30-06 seemed less fussy with bullet weight choice, which can be common with larger calibres and the factory loads ranged from 123 grain Sako to 200 grain Lapua Mega’s. Again 1.5” down to 0.75” was the norm with factory fodder which is fine for real world stalking activities, although a reload with a Hornady 165 grain SST bullet pushed by 57.5 grains of VIT N 160 powder grouped at just 0.55 inch at 100 yards with a velocity of 2717 fps.
I was also testing some Austrian stalking sticks from the Brown Trout shop in Harrogate which were really steady when used for those longer shots. I managed to harvest an early season Roe buck to complete the review with the standard rifle. I liked very much the overall feel of the Merkel with its solid build quality, and the good trigger certainly helped in producing more than respectable groups when tested. For the stalker who wants a quick change barrel facility, appreciates good engineering, classical styling and fancies something different, then the Merkel should certainly suffice in either grade.
PRICE: £1421 Standard £1815 Premium
SPARE BARREL: £441
SPARE MAG: £52
SPARE MOUNT £255