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Custom Rifle Series Part 4: Factory Custom Rifles, Proof Research Switch

By Frazer Winskill

In part 4 of the custom rifle series I am going to look at two or three ‘off the shelf’ options available in NZ and will cover one per issue. This issue I have the calibre interchangeable “Switch” from Proof Research. Proof Research is a match grade barrel manufacturer based in Montana.

 

They also produce high end components for the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and have recently begun producing high end factory custom rifles. Proof Research is best known for its distinctive carbon wrapped rifle barrels. Unlike the competition Proof fits the carbon and then turns it down to the profile of the barrel, this gives it a distinctive weave pattern.

 

New Zealand Ammunition Company is the agent for Proof Research and have a small amount of their rifles for sale. They offer the Elevation, Summit, Terminus, Tac III and Switch. Each is designed around a different style of hunting and in this review, I was provided the switch barrel rifle aptly named the ‘Switch’ in 6.5 Creedmoor.

 

ACTION & TRIGGER

The Switch is built around the Bighorn Arms TL3 action. This action is machined from pre-hardened 416 stainless steel and includes a 20 MOA rail for additional cant and flexibility when mounting your optics. The action has an integrated recoil lug which means less parts and more rigidity and a Savage small shank thread tenon.

 

Here you can see the individual components that make up the bolt.

 

This tenon allows for pre chambered and threaded barrels to be screwed onto the action using only a few tools to change calibre as the barrel is held securely onto the action by a barrel nut that is torqued onto the action face.

 

“The Switch comes with an excellent user adjustable Trigger Tech Special trigger. It is adjustable with an allen key behind the trigger blade and features a detent that clicks for every quarter-pound of pull weight that is added or reduced.”

 

To change the calibre the rifle is secured into a vice using an action bar that sits in the bolt raceways and the barrel unscrewed from the action. A new barrel is then screwed onto the action with the bolt shut on a ‘GO’ gauge until slight resistance is felt. This sets the correct headspace and once this is correct the barrel nut is threaded up to mate with the front of the action and torqued to 70 in/lbs. There is a beauty ring that covers the barrel nut and it is engraved with the barrel calibre so you know which barrel is on the rifle at any time.

 

Savage barrel nut and beauty ring with calibre.

  

Proof manufactures stainless cut rifled barrels and carbon fibre barrels in eight calibres for the Switch, these are 223 Rem, 22-250 Rem, 243 Win, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5mm Creedmoor, 260 Rem, 7-08 Rem and 308 Win. With the exception of a new bolt head and magazine for the 223 rem, the remainder share a .473 bolt face and the same .308 magazine.

 

The TL3 has an external bolt release.

 

The TL3’s bolt is manufactured from a sing piece of steel, has a sixty-degree bolt throw and has a floating head that is held onto the bolt body by a spacer and wave washer. A single pin holds this onto the bolt shaft and with calibre interchangeability in mind the firing pin is held on a bayonet style assembly. This allows you to simply twist the bolt shroud and the bolt disassembles. This is opposed to the Remington style which requires constant pressure on the cocking piece and has to be unscrewed from the bolt body. The bolt head is a controlled round feed similar to the Sako 85 action and the TL3 features a mechanical ejector. This allows you to control how far your brass is ejected by the force you use to pull the bolt back.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The Switch comes standard with an excellent user adjustable trigger; the floating controlled round bold head; the mechanical ejector allows precise placement of spent brass.

 

The TL3 action will take any standard aftermarket trigger designed for the Remington 700 action. The Switch comes with an excellent user adjustable Trigger Tech Special trigger. It is adjustable with an allen key behind the trigger blade and features a detent that clicks for every quarter-pound of pull weight that is added or reduced. This feature makes it really simple to adjust the trigger from one to three pounds and I set the trigger at one and a half pounds for my testing. The safety is a two position, safe and fire. Trigger Techs have a great reputation in the PRS competition on the USA and feature a ‘frictionless roller’ for a creep free trigger pull.

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BARREL

Proof Research manufactures all of its barrels in house, on state-of-the-art CNC equipment. They start with a 416 stainless steel blank, drill and ream the bore and then cut the rifling. After cutting the rifling the blank has the carbon fibre strands applied to the barrel. At this point the barrel looks like it has been covered in black, wet shrink wrap. It is then cured which bonds the carbon to the barrel forever and forms a rock-hard substance.

 

“Rifle barrels are either hammer forged, button rifled or cut rifled, some of the best match barrels are cut rifled.”

 

After curing the carbon is honed flush with the barrel and shank contour leaving it with the distinctive pattern that doesn’t look like your standard carbon weave. I found a neat video online showing this process, check it out here.

 

 

Rifle barrels are either hammer forged, button rifled or cut rifled, some of the best match barrels are cut rifled. To simplify, cut rifling involves actually cutting or scraping the grooves in the steel to eventually form the lands and grooves of the rifling. The rifling is cut and a very small amount of steel is removed with each pass of the cutter meaning that tolerances are very tight with a consistent bore finish which is hand lapped to mirror sheen.

 

Why carbon? well carbon fibre is very strong and extremely rigid without the downside of weight. A carbon fibre barrel in a heavy contour will provide the accuracy, stiffness and shot to shot consistency of a heavy steel barrel without the weight. I have also found that carbon fibre barrels lack whip and therefore are ‘dead’, meaning when you fire, they are not a giant tuning fork that requires you to conduct load development to find the ‘nodes’ where the rifle is most accurate. They seem to shoot most combinations of bullet and powder weight very well.

 

“It also came with an ASE SL5i suppressor that is light weight, compact and does an excellent job. Barely bigger than a can of beer I use mine on all of my rifles from the .264 to the .300 Win. Mag.” 

 

Some I have fired grouped different weights of projectiles from 95 grains to 155 grains in the same point of impact at 100m regardless of what I did. Proof Research manufactures its carbon fibre barrels in two contours, Sendero and Sendero Light. The downside of carbon fibre is that you cannot cut your barrel down in length, what you order is what you get.

 

The Switch comes threaded in 5/8x24 TPI and the 6.5 Creedmoor I had for testing came with a Sendero contour carbon fibre barrel that is 24” long. It also came with an ASE SL5i suppressor that is light weight, compact and does an excellent job. Barely bigger than a can of beer I use mine on all of my rifles from the .264 to the .300 Win. Mag.

 

STOCK & MAGAZINES

The Switch comes aluminium-pillar and epoxy skim bedded into an AG composites carbon fibre stock. The stock has a nice design with a higher comb, vertical pistol grip and flat bottomed fore-end. These features make it ideal for prone shooting, but not a pain in the fore-arms when carrying the rifle up and down the hills or between stages in a shooting match. The stock is finished in a flat-dark earth base coat with black green and grey snake-skin effect painted on.

 

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP: The AG Composites stock provides good cheek weld and wrist positions for prone shooting; ASE SLS suppressor on the factory 5/8x24 thread.

 

The TL3 action is designed to be used with the Accuracy International Chassis System (AICS) magazines. The switch comes with good quality detachable magazine bottom metal constructed from a single billet of aluminium alloy. It features an ambidextrous magazine release on the sides of the trigger guard so you won’t accidentally bump them.

 

The Switch uses AICS magazines. Frazer found the metal versions more reliable.

 

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I found the supplied five shot polymer Magpul magazine light weight, pragmatic and easy to load and use. It did not drop free when released and needs a good whack to seat into the magazine latch, something that will no doubt wear in. I found my own single stack metal AICS magazine fit better and dropped free when released.

 

ACCURACY

I spent some time constructing handloads as the team at NZ Ammo had set me a challenge that I wouldn’t be able to beat the factory Norma Match ammunitions accuracy at 100m with a five-shot group. I gathered up some factory loaded ammunition from Steve’s Wholesale and NZ Ammo and used some of my Hornady 120 grain GMX, 140 grain SST and 130 grain Sierra GameChangers (SGC) and loaded them into once fired Norma brass with my pet load data for IMR 4350 powder. I wanted to see what the rifle did with different bullet weights and monolithic copper bullets which have a reputation for being fussy.

 

The Switch came fitted with a German Precision Optics scope.

 

I took the rifle out to my local range that has steel targets ranging in size from six inches to twelve inches out to 730m to test the accuracy in typically windy central north island weather. As you can see by the pictures and accompanying accuracy data table the rifle shoots well across the board. The 120 grain GMX load was the worst performing accuracy wise but still very respectable at under and inch.

 

 

TOP & ABOVE: Quality components net quality results.

 

As expected, the Norma match load shot a ragged hole and the biggest surprise was the Hornady American Gunner ammunition that is marketed as practice fodder. The 140 grain boat tail hollow points shot a 5 shot 11mm group which when measured centre to centre is an astonishing 4.5mm group! The Switch comes with a ½ moa or 14mm accuracy guarantee at 100m with match ammunition and absolutely does this with ease. It was a joy to shoot with the reduced recoil and blast from the ASE suppressor, and functioned flawlessly.

 

Proof Switch Accuracy Data  
Load Velocity Ave. Grp (mm)
120gr GMX / IMR4350 2941 fps 18mm
130gr SGC / IMR4350 2747 fps 13mm
140gr SST / IMR4350 2690 fps 11mm
Hornady American Gunner 140gr BTHP 2723 fps 11mm
Hornady Precision Hunter 143 ELD-X 2683 fps 10mm
Norma Match 130gr BTHP 2868 fps 12mm
Average Accuracy   12.5mm

 

When I stretched the rifle out at distance the low recoil of the 6.5 Creedmoor and its ability to cheat the wind was astonishing compared to my 308 win. I was able to hit the 730m targets again and again and spot my own fall of shot. The stock design and excellent trigger really help with maintaining the shooting fundamentals and driving the rifle through recoil.

 

CONCLUSION

The Switch is made up of premium components and performs how it should; supreme accuracy in a lightweight and ergonomic package. The ability to swap barrels at your house should be sufficient in highlighting the potential of the Switch Rifle, you can use one calibre for hunting and another for target or varmint shooting. In the next part of the series I will look at the Hardy Hybrid, another switch barrel factory custom and we will discuss the pros and cons of a factory rifle.

 

Warm barrels and stay safe out there!

 

Frazer

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