Test and review of the Bergara BA-13 in .243 Winchester
PUBLISHED: 18:04 19 February 2018 | UPDATED: 18:04 19 February 2018
This well-priced ambidextrous Bergara rifle in .243 Winchester would make the perfect cab gun for those wanting to shoot from either side of the truck
PROS: Incredibly good value for a capable rifle to keep in the truck on your rounds; Fully ambidextrous; Faster than you would think to operate; Trigger quality assists getting the best accuracy; Weaver rail makes it ideal as a secondary rifle for Night Vision
CONS: Watch your muzzle energy figures from short barrels (if it is critical); Limited calibre choices; It’s a light gun so I expect becomes quite humpy in the large calibres
VERDICT: Like the 22 rimfire rifle, this is the kind of gun that I can’t picture not wanting to own for its simple focussed performance and moderate price. My personal ideal choice would be the 222 Remington chambering, simply lovely combination!
Overall length: 890mm/35”
Magazine capacity: Single shot break action
Trigger: Single stage, 1850gr (64oz.)
Barrel length: 510mm/20”/1 in 10” twist, Button Rifled
Stock material: Injection moulded polymer with soft touch finish and wood effect finish
Length of Pull: 360mm/14 1/8”
Calibres Available: .222 Rem, .243 Win, 270 Win .308 Win, .30-06, 6.5 x 57R
Bergara BA-13 in 243 Winchester: £515
Kahles K16i: £1,680.00
Hausken MD45: £150.00
CONTACT: RUAG 01579 362319 www.ruag.co.uk
Hornady American Whitetail 100gr Soft point
Edgar Brothers 01625 613177 www.edgarbrothers.com
Winchester 58gr Varmint X
Browning UK 01235 514550 www.browning.eu
You don’t see many break-action single-shot rifles for big game other than very high-end doubles, but the concept of a smaller, less expensive rifle of this type caught on with great popularity in the US with guns like the Thompson Center. Bergara seem to flatter other designs by evolving sound concepts, with modern manufacturing methods and subtle tweaks to supersede their ancestors, just like the B14 did to the Remington 700. This BA-13 really hits the spot… literally.
The steel folding action is broken open with a lever hinging back towards the grip from the trigger guard. Drawing it back 20mm unlatches the action and, after a few rounds to ease things up just like a shotgun needs, you can flick the gun open under just its own barrel weight. It’s a non-ejector, but a stout steel extractor claw draws the spent rounds from the chamber sufficiently to allow even gloved fingers to snag the case’s rim and flick it out.
I liked the fact that, when inserting a following fresh round, the extractor silently but pleasingly snaps over the rim with no tactile doubt as to the cartridge’s satisfactory insertion. These aren’t like slack-fitting shotgun cartridges that simply drop into your chamber – rifle ammo has to have far tighter tolerances to CIP or SAAMI specifications to avoid headspacing problems – more on this later.
Straighten the gun to lock the action closed and you are ready for a 100% carry of an inert rifle. It won’t do anything without manual interaction with the hammer, whose lateral extension bar can be placed to either side in mirrored harmony with all the other fully ambidextrous ergonomics.
With your trigger finger on the guard, one assured pull clicks it into place and you are ready to fire the pleasantly crisp trigger. It’s quite firm at 1,850g (64oz), but predictable and pleasant to use with no detectable creep before breaking, then 2mm of over travel.
Holding the stock between my knees with the barrel in one hand and waggling the central action showed it to be laterally tight, like a good shotgun should be.
The fore-end is screwed in two positions directly to the underside of the barrel and, when removed, shows the action’s guts with a full-width hinge pin that I found reassuring and neat in form. The fore-end is 250mm long, 38mm in width and with a slight belly in its centre giving 45mm of depth to fill the palm rather nicely. There is plenty of chequering for assured grip.
It is obviously not free-floating, but at least it is not pretending to be something it is not, and for a 3.2kg (7.1lb) gun it feels lightly balanced and pointable but not wafty – it feels discreetly purposeful. There is something very focused about having ‘one shot’ that attracts me.
The blued barrel is 17mm at the muzzle with a 5/8”x24tpi thread for the moderator (I would have expected a metric thread on a Spanish rifle, not that it matters), for which RUAG proudly supplied me a compact end-of-barrel Hausken. This is a brand for which I have nothing but compliments.
The .243 is quite noisy and the 244g mod with all its baffles ahead of the muzzle, in a 130mm overall length/45mm diameter, was very effective on what is only a short 510mm (20”) barrel. The foresight with a red centre fibre pin remains just proud of this aluminium can and the two could have been made for each other, so refined was the pairing. The barrel swells very slightly before the chamber reinforce with six 180mm flutes that are surely present just for show, but do nicely re-activate the surface of the otherwise sombre yet well-applied even blued finish.
I shot some driven game targets with the ‘opens’ and found the Monte-Carlo comb allowed a very repetitive cheek weld for me to gain an automated point of aim from.
But, with full windage and elevation adjustment on the rear notch with green fibre-optic highlighting pins, it’s well worth spending some time on this gun because it is pleasing to master them.
A 20mm thick solid rubber recoil pad caps the stock’s butt, with a stippled surface to weld nicely and maintain solid position from any shooting position. Like the fore-end, it’s all injection-moulded polymer, but a modest moulding joint is well hidden by the seemingly dipped walnut finishing pattern of the soft touch texture.
When tapped, it resonates with only a slight increase in reverberation over a true walnut stock, and deliberate attempts to damage the surface with a fingernail scratch test proved pointless. The fore-end stud, which had a bipod fitted at times, did show the finish to chip a little, but seriously, who cares at what is a high wear mechanical junction? Another sling loop is moulded into the underside at the rear making it a very handy gun to carry.
Extensive chequering is moulded into the fore-end and grip for an assured and warm hold in cold weather. The grip is on the slim side and shows no palm swells, but as I said before, it’s truly ambidextrous with a spacious open radius for average-sized hands with a screw set into the base fixing it nice and firmly to the gun.
This rifle may look small, but when measured it’s actually showing a respectable 360mm (141/8”) length of pull that seemingly half the rifles out of the US can’t manage to meet – good work Bergara.
Twin screws hold the recoil pad in place so custom-made spacers can be added if desired, but I liked the gun as it was. When driving around, I personally find it very useful to have a gun that is equally comfortable to shoot from either shoulder and from the driver or passenger seat. This makes it a very nice candidate for a ‘cab gun’, especially when combined with the external hammer and inherent safety that means the gun can be positioned safely in a confined space before being made fully live.
Four screws fasten a Weaver rail directly to the barrel for easy scope mounting. QR mounts were fitted here, and when removed there was no obstruction to the sightline for open-sight use. RUAG had fitted a 1-6x24 Kahles K16i scope to the rifle which is, frankly, a beautiful optic, with a delightful reticle and one that I can only describe in brief as Top End.
We all have different eyes and colour perception, but Kahles seem to suit me perfectly. The illuminated dot with delicate circle surround in the reticle delighted me too, so absolutely no complaints there.
Of course, a 1x is nice for driven game and point-and-shoot trap disposal before winding up to 6x, which is fine for daytime deer at stalking ranges, but don’t expect to be out at last light with a 24mm objective. For driven game, I can think of equal peers to this optic, but none superior.
It’s not what you would call a paper-punching or long-range optic, but with a decent-sized dot on target, your eye is unnervingly good at quartering and centralising its point of aim, and I set about shooting from a prone position. The .243 calibre is mild for recoil and I ran both light 58gr Winchester Varmint X ammunition (well suited to the vermin shooters), and 95gr and 100gr ammunition, both in ballistic tipped format from Fiocchi/Hornady SST and with regular soft points from Hornady themselves.
The American Whitetail round has been a great performer in most test rifles, yet at 100gr it’s the upper limit for a 10” twist rate .243 (it’s probably why many bullets were spec’d at 95gr, to keep the physically longer ballistic tips within stable length).
Breaking the action of a rifle is always going to require slightly more positional shift when prone, but because the length of pull and comb height suited me well I found re-acquiring position accurately quite intuitive. With the lever pulled, all you had to do was lift the grip and the rifle would hinge open, with the bipod feed pivoting on the floor or fore-end in a rest bag, withdrawing and exposing its spent brass and offering direct access to inset another.
Okay, a bolt action is faster and requires less physical movement but, until you have tried one, don’t totally dismiss the gun as being awkward… it’s not. Standing, it handles like a non-extracting shotgun and, frankly, in anything other than a rushed backup shot or deliberately fast-fire situation, the unobstructed access to the chamber is easier than single loading a bolt-action rifle.
Prone five-round groups on paper at 100m were hovering around 2-3” at first, but a quick check of the basic mechanics showed the Weaver scope rail to be slightly loose. The gun was provided fully built up and I had been lazy for not checking all was correct – with thumbscrew mounts to remove the Kahles, two minutes’ action with a T15 Torx wrench soon had 40mm (1½”) groups on paper, with a consistent point of impact.
Were the gun mine, a drop of Loctite Threadlock on each of the four screws would get rid of my concerns. They are quite small fasteners and I wouldn’t be applying more than 3 or 4Nm of torque, so why not play it safe?
Bergara barrels are deep-drilled and lapped before Button rifling, which does seem a touch backwards, but their post button annealing does show excellent thermal stability long term, with the gun holding zero over 10 shot strings (if opening the group size slightly). Hornady’s 100gr soft point Whitetail Classic was exiting the muzzle with an extremely consistent 828m/s (2,717fps) for 1,639ft/lb of energy. Yes, this is a little down on what may be legally needed in some scenarios, but it’s hardly unexpected from a 20” barrel, a specification I wouldn’t choose if 1,700 was mandatory, but each to their own.
For the vermin shooter, that 58gr Winchester was performing more in line with what a .243 was always intended to be from a 10” twist rate barrel. 1,084m/s (3,558 fps) for a relatively non-critical 1,630ft/lb was remaining within 30mm on paper with very careful aim, and I’m quite sure it would have done even better with a 3-9x or 4-12x optic on board to minimise aiming error.
I do use a couple of other brands of ammunition with which I have struggled with in the past for exhibiting head-spacing problems on the brass, so I wasn’t surprised to find these slightly oversized factory rounds wouldn’t chamber or allow the Bergara to close. This is no fault of the rifle, it’s the ammunition alone; yet, in a way, it pleasingly illustrates that Bergara have accurately specified and manufactured their chambers to precisely fit correctly-made ammunition.
These statistics are beside the point though. The BA-13 is a talented gun for a very simple reason – it is just a pleasure to shoot. I first shot one in a .222 Rem and adored its delicate simplicity and, when considering its Weaver scope rail, it is a massively versatile gun for pure enjoyment of inexpensive shooting.
Second to that, it makes a fantastic learning tool for two reasons: it focuses the experienced shooter on making that single shot count, and for a total novice it simplifies handling with more direct visual and tactile access to the safe loading and firing procedures needed for a rifle.
There may be no safety catch, but aside from broken and unloaded firearms, one with ‘Hammer Down’ is an excellent secondary factor for any instructor attending a beginner. It’s light without being jumpy, shows a good trigger from which to attain consistent performance and, although .243 is not exactly a shoulder pounder, the ergonomics of the stock design transfer the forces in a harmonically deadened linear path into your shoulder; and all this praise before we state 100% ambidextrous performance and the low cost. I can see this as being an ideal gun for a minimalist backup in an agricultural vehicle, and with direct simplicity for those simple shots, an ideal platform to mount a night vision scope to when you want to leave your regular bolt gun and optics well alone.