Gun test: Merkel RX Helix Speedster in .30-06
- Credit: Chris Parkin
Chris Parkin test the Merkel RX Helix Speedster in .30-06 in this detailed gun test and review...
The straight-pull rifle market isn’t just about bolt reciprocation speed for fast reloads on wild boar. In the UK, it has to cover all the usual bases of foxing or stalking, either active or sedentary, as driven game is most likely an occasional pleasure for us, rather than the common closer quarters hunting style for which rifles are designed in Germany.
Many UK shooters love versatility and having barrel and calibre change options is also great for the travelling hunter with varied game across continents – and that’s not forgetting more compact transportation with greater discretion.
After five years of Merkel usage, I thought it might be interesting to share a few of my longer-term memories of the action and give a more deeply ingrained opinion than a short-term review can offer with the newer Speedster taking priority compared to the lighter Alpinist sporter variant.
The fastest rifle action for driven game
Merkel’s Speedster 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 an ideal compromise between the assured hold on the rifle with minimal force yet retaining fast access to the bolt handle and de-cocker of what is one of the fastest rifle actions for driven game.
Alternative butt pads 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 slide your thumb straight up towards it rather than have to be drawn out from the side, then ‘over the top’, like you have to with an enclosed thumbhole. All these tiny fractions of saved time add up and become very helpful when in a hurry to cock the action, shoot, reload and shoot again if necessary.
The no.1 factor in its favour is the handling it offers. The adjustable medium-width cheekpiece allows tailored cheek weld whether using low red dot optics for driven boar or a moderate 50mm objective scope with minimal lateral jaw displacement.
- 1 Watch: Beretta launches a brand new hunting rifle - the BRX1
- 2 Sako S20 Precision rifle - test & review
- 3 Foxing with rimfires!
- 4 Mossberg Patriot Predator in .243 bolt-action - test & review
- 5 Gun test: Ruger Precision Rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum
- 6 Comparison review: IRay Rico RH50, Pulsar Thermion 2 XP50 & IRay Tube TL35
- 7 Gun test: Bergara BXR Carbon .22 LR semi auto rifle
- 8 Comparison test & review - Howa v Sauer .223 rifles!
- 9 Mauser M18 in .243 - in depth test & review
- 10 What to do with the guns of a deceased relative
Quick release sling swivels sit under the butt and fore-end’s tip, the free floating fore-end although slender, fits my hand well in gloves without any barrel contact from the fingers. Wearing gloves, the slight soft touch finish was consistently grippy in wet or dry weather and regardless of the colour you choose (orange/black or forest green), the co-polymer finish remains, offering tactile and visual contrast to break up the inherently greater bulk of a deep vertical grip and tall comb.
RX Helix Speedster cold hammer-forged barrel
The 17mm diameter cold hammer-forged barrel is 560mm long in standard with longer barrels for magnum chamberings; optional fluting and a 19mm profile are 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 on the L-Shaped charging handle. This is very, very fast because the internal bolt head and carrier are engineered with a rack and pinion geared system to double the movement of the bolt head/halve the linear movement of the bolt handle to cycle the action of whatever case length is specified.
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, the Helix’s bolt won’t bump into your nose or cheek, because it’s not external anyway. The laws of physics are factored in – halving the movement requires doubling the force and although smooth, the rifle is better when cycled energetically for better ejection of spent rounds. It also benefits from firm, assured closure and close tolerance on headspacing will reveal poorly dimensioned ammunition. Hard forward bolt closure has a slight noise when hunting, especially noticeable when foxing in the silent night but speed is never free!
RX Helix Speedster Locking Lugs
The bolt carrier rotates 6 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. 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 and it’s just a gun that is never going to be as delicate as a turnbolt, don’t baby it!
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, .30-06 is a bit of a classic in my eyes, in .30 cal, it is a larger engine working a little less hard. The ‘ought 06’ has fairly small performance advantages over a .308 in terms of velocity with light bullets yet handles 180s with significant authority and, as demonstrated here, the Norma BondStrike ammo was particularly favoured and had very calm manners thanks to powder and burn rate specification that produced advertised velocities, yet with notably soft recoil!
Developing 2762 fps for 3049ft-lbs of muzzle energy, it showed dependable deep penetration without surface explosions and no excessive exit wounds on either head or chest shot boar. Twin buttons either side of the magazine well hold the five-round unit in place with durable steel feed lips and changeover is rapid. Single rounds fed into the ejection port; they will still load in an emergency if there is no time to swap the single column magazine. An extended mag is available.
RX Helix Speedster take down and trigger
Both forend and butt stock slot over the central action and the rear offers 360mm length of pull to the firm but grippy pad that translates all recoil smoothly with no hard spots. Merkel took advice from hunters at prototype stage and made the recoil pad harder to detach from the stock and also darkened the colour of the stock from coyote to forest green, which suits the hunting environment better for the UK market.
I don’t think the UK is quite ready for black and orange, but in dense woodland with 29 other shooters, it adds an extra visual reminder to not get shot! The de-cocker, sited above the tang for neutering of spring tension in the firing pin and silent operation, is close under a scope’s ocular body but never problematic with the linear approach from the Omega grip. It certainly is never an issue with a red dot mounted farther forward, low down on the gun’s integral Picatinny mounts. A gently squeeze forward with the thumb whilst three fingers pull the bolt handle unlocks the action and provides safe opening.
Trigger time with the RX Helix Speedster
I feel a trigger represents the thoughts of a manufacturer and, unless terrible, I leave adjustability alone to assess bedding in: how does it feel box fresh, how does it feel after 300 shots etc? The Helix did not change. Merkel’s 7mm wide trigger blade gave light, crisp pulls of 1,000g, which is ideal for use wearing gloves when hunting, rather than advertising a super light ‘set type’ performance.
I have used Helix actions in varied furniture for over 5 years on enjoyable hunts, rather than routine range tests chasing small groups and I appreciated a firmer trigger feel, where pressure was more apparent wearing gloves during a freezing snowy February encounter on muntjac. Twenty degrees in Italy in November was equally comfortable; the trigger’s feel and weight was consistent within the spacious trigger guard.
RX Helix Speedster Barrel change
The barrel cannot be cleaned with a rod from chamber to muzzle without removing it from the gun, but removing or changing barrels is amazingly fast. Pressing a button under the forend allows it to slide off before an 85mm lever under the barrel unlocks it. With the action closed, the bolt head comes out in the barrel’s internal locking abutments, but if the action is left open, the barrel emerges alone, leaving the bolt head remaining attached to the carrier within the receiver.
So simple, yet subtly helpful with no need for any tools. Align the red witness mark to the upper side with the action, slot it (or another) back in (with/without appropriate bolt head) into the action and lock 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 found placing an empty fire-formed case into the chamber and cycling the action back and forth a couple of times settled the barrel quickly and Merkel themselves suggest opening and closing the locking lever three times, helping everything to settle back into a ‘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 and this was using averages of three-shot groups, not a single shot. 2cm at 100 metres is very little to concern me on a hunting rifle and at the end of the day, wouldn’t you always check a rifle wherever possible – it can also be called ‘practice’ or ‘trigger time’, which I think is highly undervalued in an age where everyone seems to think a question on Facebook will cure all their ills.
The RX Helix Speedster is a great hunting rifle
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 butt stock must be removed and then the trigger guard assembly drops from below after two cross pins are drifted out. It is a workshop job not to be rushed, although in 500 rounds I shot with a .243 Helix, it never needed cleaning to function, but the internal carrier began to feel a build-up of firing residue over time if not detrimental to performance.
I would be cautious of dusty/sandy environments and if you fall and fill the action with debris, this could be a real hassle so keeping the action closed, unloaded and de-cocked is doubly beneficial if shots aren’t immediately likely.
The Speedster shoots well from all positions, partly because it requires little physical movement to reload but also due to stock ergonomics and subtle features like the vertical pistol grip with shorter reach to the controls for reloading. If the bolt is tight, you have an opposing face on the grip to place your thumb for purchase, not just your shoulder to heave against.
Recoil in the .30-06 was transmitted in a straight line through the stock with little muzzle jump. Metalwork and stocks have proved durable during hunting, and this is one of the rare guns I have dropped, and damaged, but not lost zero with, so I have confidence, especially with the secure scope mounting.
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 interface with the human form. Hunting jackals in close confines (less than 10 metres away) was faster than my eyes or reaction speed could handle, never mind mount a gun, but I have very fond memories of both muntjac stalking in the UK where unsupported standing shots were needed at 30-40 metres as well as 60-70 with a bit more prep time from quad sticks.
Dynamic handing with standing shots on moving game at 40-120 metres in Bulgaria over stubble fields were my best memories and in complete contrast, seated shots from stands in Italy on boar were another test of reaction speed, gun mount and particularly keeping very quiet with Boar heard close around but not always seen.
Although quite sedentary with some time to prepare for a shot, it was critical to make it count as there was just no chance of a backup in the heavy cover, so seeing and hearing a shot strike was hugely beneficial for which I thanked the head position without canting to look through either a scope or red dot sight.
Overall thoughts on the RX Helix Speedster test
I liked the quirkiness and originality of the Alpinist, but the Speedster’s stock more so because the open-top thumbhole strikes a great compromise to offer assured hand hold along with a true thumbhole, yet none of the restrictions when operating an intrinsically fast straight pull rifle action.
The short (mechanically doubled) bolt handle stroke is not without compromise, but with the right ammo, not blowing primers or overtly hot and tight cases on extraction, it’s incredibly fast. On occasions with the odd heavy extraction, yes, it’s not as easy as a turn bolt with levered primary extraction but I do like the alternate innovative approach nobody else really offers.
All designs are a compromise you can live with for the benefits and I have made backup shots with the Helix at a speed (6 of them) I don’t think another gun would have allowed me to manage because my head stayed down and there was no split-second disruption of sight picture through the reload.
European hunting culture sometimes sees the concept of barrel cleaning using solvents and rods with quizzical looks from bystanders but don’t let it stay dirty or wet, use a pull through at least. A good friend got some corrosion in his chamber on an Alpinist, and it was barrel finished, there just wasn’t enough force to extract cases with microscopic yet tenacious pitting gripping the pressure expanded brass.
The barrel is easily removed and changed for deep cleaning with good, if not perfect, return to zero. I’m convinced the previously mentioned fire-formed case helps although this is by no means mandatory. I really like the scope mounting solution with twin bases machined as part of the action’s steel receiver, versatile, secure and not requiring expensive proprietary mounting solutions that can add hefty £££s to the affordability of some European rifles.
You can also add night vision without excessive additional height from added rails if eye relief will match the spacing. The quiet de-cocker is assuring and accessible, so reviewed in .30-06, with its notable recoil to temper, it offers sublime control with comfort throughout the recoil, maintained sight picture and minimal muzzle flip or disturbance to position due to bolt transit.
If you shoot left-handed, the Helix is not for you, as it’s right-hander only. The synthetic stock material is well damped without noisy hollow handling. This is not a perfect rifle, but it’s one of the most characterful with genuine moments of brilliance interwoven with innovative and modern design.
Rifles for driven game
A rifle used for driven game needs to fit you well with somewhat of the dynamic feel found in a shotgun. Encounters with Boar can be long awaited, yet amazingly fast paced, with extremely brief point and shoot opportunities between dense foliage. I have taken shots from 10 to 100 metres and anything in between, so I find rifle precision and group sizes of little interest compared to handling dynamics.
The rifle may be in your hands for 6 hours and used for 6 seconds, so fast access to the de-cocker is vital when one shot is all you will get, reload speed is great but not with restrictions of keeping your eyes on the prize. The rifle has to be ready at all times, easy to top up the magazine without looking and as quiet as possible, because you will literally hear leaves rustling as Boar approach.
Specifications - Merkel RX Helix Speedster in 30-06
Calibre: 30-06 Springfield
Barrel diameter: 17mm (19mm optional)
Barrel length: 560mm (610mm on magnums) Fluting optional
Overall Length: 1080mm
Magazine capacity: 5+1 (7+1 available)
Trigger: Single stage, 1000gr
Comes with adjustable cheekpiece, screwcut 15x1 at muzzle for sound moderator, integral Picatinny scope mounts
Available calibres: .222/.223 `Mini`, .243/.6.5x55/.270/.7x64/.308/.30-06/.8x57/.9.3x62 `Standard`, 7mm Remington, 300 Winchester `Magnum`s (610mm barrel)
RRP: 17mm barrel from £3,400; 19mm Fluted barrel from £4,345