Chris Parkin puts this British-built tactical rifle to the test… how will the Accuracy International AT in .308 Win perform on the range?
It isn’t a stalking rifle. It might make a vehicle-bound foxing rifle and, calibre dependant, an extreme range varminter isn’t out of the question. What it most certainly is, is a gun designed to hit the target at all costs regardless of handling, care, respect or shooter ability.
I dislike the term ‘tactical’ being applied to everything from penknives and biros to hand-axes and rifles. Sometimes you must question what it really means. Tactics are the measures you employ to approach the strategy you set out to achieve.
When applied to a gun, that means making a shot to achieve the desired hit. What is more important, a hit or the energy and terminal ballistics? That is a different matter, but getting that bullet in the spot you want, regardless of being a stalker, vermin controller, deer stalker or long-range plinker, is too easily bandied around because for every scenario, the tactical requirements of the tool you use differ… and so do the tools.
Accuracy International is a name synonymous with the UK military, all the way from its ‘birth’ in the L96A1, to the current rifles we see in news stories about ‘sniper X’ shooting ‘insurgent Y’ at ‘distance Z’.
I often wonder whether marketing takes over; can you believe the hype? For starters, the man making the shot is far more important than the tool because the right man will make the wrong tool work, whereas the wrong guy needs a magical tool for success.
Some guns are just so damn easy to shoot well with, they make the competition look like knives in the fight.
The Accuracy International AT is the base model in the current AI range, where the AX and AXMC, as well as the larger AX50, dominate in terms of adjustability and calibre scale.
But is less in fact more? The older AW model, which is for all intents and purposes identical to the AT but for the stock design, is well respected throughout the world by all users; I don’t think I have ever heard a negative word said about what is without doubt a fine tool.
I had to persuade myself that this wasn’t all hype, and when a good friend of mine decided to go all in and have a two-calibre AT set-up, it was decided that I would ‘borrow it’.
The main visual difference of the AT over the old AW (Arctic Warfare) model is an underslung pistol grip rather than the thumbhole of old.
This is a distinct benefit to me, as I found the older thumbhole uncomfortable where my fingers sat underneath the moulded-in trigger guard. Many users of that gun added aftermarket sideplates to simulate what has since become the current standard ergonomic format.
The spine of the gun is an aluminium beam which has a rebate cut across it into which the AT action’s recoil lug is semi-permanently bonded, thereby negating any bedding issues from what is already precision-machined, mechanically-interlocking aluminium and steel.
You can bet your bottom dollar that these bonding agents, machining tolerances and relative thermal expansion rates have been tested in every climactic condition, from +/-50 degrees, and had to pass every test going for endurance.
Depending on the exact spec of your rifle, a hinge unit separates this from the similarly skinned folding butt stock, which when folded (either handing of rifle is available on order), clips to a stud on the left side of the action just below the bolt-release lever.
This hinge is utterly solid and actuated silently by a push button at its centre, locking open or clipping folded with subtle clicks.
The fore-end bolted up front has AI patented ‘KeySlot’ quick-detach points on its underside for a Picatinny rail, and spigotted bipods, like the Atlas BT10, slot into the fore-end. (I liked the Atlas from Sporting Services so much it will get a subsequent article all of its own.)
Changing or removing the skins for access or cleaning is not mandatory, but can be done with an Allen key in about five minutes. They are pretty much entirely decorative, and to limit heat transfer from the bare aluminium, except for the grip sections which, as well as clamping either side, are encapsulated with a slightly softer black rubber moulding to the rear which swells into the base of your palm.
Multiple quick-release and standard eyelets are positioned along the gun’s length for appropriate accessory and sling mounting, either open or folded. At just 890mm in the latter state it is very compact for either regular travel or slotting into a backpack for hiking. It’s probably not bad for parachuting into position either, I suspect.
Four spacers are supplied in 10 and 20mm thicknesses to adjust length of pull on the cross-hatched solid rubber butt pad, which sits comfortably gripping your shoulder.
I left the gun at 365mm length of pull with two additional spacers in, but you can remove them or add more as you please. They are easily available from AI along with a fully adjustable pad from new, if you prefer total flexibility.
You might need to get a spare set of bolts though, as if you go really short you will need to trim them, but that’s no real hassle.
It is slim and radiused in profile. I liked the fact I could keep my head straight and my eyes level when shooting, thanks to the shape and ability to cast it right over.
I despise having to roll my head over the top of a rifle and get dizzy with positioning. Once set, it can be left completely alone on this folder, as the action’s bolt is removed with the gun folded and won’t collide with the cheekpiece longitudinally when open.
A 10-round, twin-column, staggered-feed magazine latches up into the chassis below the action with a lever at the front of the trigger guard to release it.
When clicked fully upward, the 10 rounds feed and eject flawlessly, with the follower rising into the bolt’s path after the final round and preventing you closing it onto an empty chamber for a ‘dead man’s click’.
Interestingly, if you pull the mag down slightly, it sits firmly in place without dropping from the gun, and you can continue to drop rounds in through the ejection port which will feed equally smoothly and eject from the top of the follower.
So really, this was a win-win scenario. AT mags are very quick to reload as the steel twin-column/staggered-feed lips allow the rounds to be pushed straight down into the top from above, rather than fed from the front one by one, like the AICS magazines so commonly found on aftermarket builds.
The trigger is factory adjusted in a jig before being bolted under the action. It is a two-stage unit with first pressure of 2lbs (950g) and a second-stage break at 3lbs (1,425g).
These two stages cannot be independently adjusted and, although many tell you they have lightened it, certain competition rulebooks and AI themselves tell you not to mess with it other than winding it a little heavier using supplied comprehensive instructions.
The smooth-bladed trigger sits ideally under the index finger pad and is totally precise. You can drift through the first stage and then hold it on the knife edge of the second-stage pressure with total confidence, waiting for that infinitesimal instinct when your brain engages the final squeeze for a surprise release on a fast-fire McQueen, or a more defined and deliberate slow-fire approach when in a more static shooting position or course of fire.
This trigger does exactly what it is designed to do and, for that, rates at exactly 100% performance. However, for those wanting a slightly more relaxed rifle, certainly for fast-fire competitions, I can understand why they would like a pound taken off each stage.
A Picatinny rail inclined 20 MOA is incorporated into the top of the solid-topped action for scope mounting, and AI also offer add-ons for the fore-end to take front-mounted NV and thermal equipment.