When it really comes down to it, there are not a lot of new revolutionary developments that come along in the rifle building world. But a decade or so ago, the development of carbon fiber barrels came to rifles. While they were a novelty for a while, they never really took off. Rifle makers like Christensen Arms have been building them for a while now and continue to do so. Their light weight rifles do attract some followers and they continue to produce them. But have you ever wondered what would happen if a dedicated long range precision rifle builder decided to build a tactical rifle using light weight carbon fiber barrels? If it was built with the focus on being light weight, and then used top notch components to make it a top of the line rifle, it might be something special. That is what PROOF Research, located in Columbia Falls, Montana set out to do.
Due to a loyal reader of Sniper Central, we had the opportunity to perform a full evaluation of a brand new PROOF Research TAC II rifle chambered in 260 Remington. This was an opportunity we could not pass up and we are grateful we had the opportunity.
The thing that sets apart the PROOF Research rifles is their carbon fiber barrels and the overall lightness of the rifle. When a shooter first handles the rifle, it is surprising that it is several pounds lighter than an equivalent rifle with a traditional steel barrel. The overall appearance looks similar to other tactical rifles until you look closely at the barrel and notice the carbon fiber material that the barrel is made with.
The Tac II also uses Proof Research’s own carbon fiber/kevlar stock. At the rear of the stock is a Pachmayr decelerator pad to help absorb some of the recoil which will be more pronounced with a lighter weight rifle. The stock is not adjustable for length of pull but it does have a nice adjustable cheekpiece to allow adjusting the height of the cheekweld to perfectly align with the scope. There is just a single knob used to loosen and tighten the cheekpiece and it worked well. Most stocks with an adjustable cheekpiece have two knobs to loosen, so the single knob is a bit different. There may be some concern about the single knob working loose during firing, but we did not have any problems with it during our testing and having only a single knob to work with made adjustments quick and easy. It is also placed toward the rear of the butt-stock which made it easy to reach while behind the rifle.
The texture on the cheekpiece is rough enough to provide a good cheekweld without your skin slipping. Proof Reseach calls the texture is called Green Granite and it can best be described as a speckled texture that uses olive drab green and black. As is common on custom built rifles, there are many available colors and patterns for the stock. The Green Granite is not a camouflage pattern, but it does provide a good base color for concealment. During hot and sweaty conditions and with facepaint on, a shooter may run into some issues with a slippery cheekweld, but overall, the texture provides a nice gripping surface. We did notice through our testing that the painted finish was not as durable as other painted finishes found on other stocks like HS Precision or McMillan. Little nicks and scratches were present even on the new rifle with only gentle use. In front of the adjustable cheekpiece is a nearly vertical pistol grip that is very comfortable and fits the hand very well. The pistol grip also aligns the trigger finger nicely with the trigger shoe to help with executing a good trigger squeeze when firing. While the rifle is right handed, the stock can be fired with the left hand as well. The Proof rifles are also available with a left handed action.
The area directly behind the rear tang of the action is mostly flat and drops away at an angle behind the action. This leaves a wide open area for the operator to be able to manipulate the Remington 700 style safety easily with his or her thumb. It also eliminates any need to have a grove in the rear of the stock for the bolt to slide in to avoid stock contact. The stock maintains a thinner profile through the pistol grip area and continues that same profile up through the heart of the stock where the action is bedded and the magazine well is located. The shape remains consistent up until it is a few inches in front of the mag well and then the stock quickly slopes up toward the barrel and becomes much thinner. This reduces the amount of material required to make the stock, therefore reducing the weight of the stock and rifle. The forearm area is not tall or wide, but it is fairly flat and has two sling studs as is the tactical rifle tradition. One for the sling, one for the bipod.
The action is a custom Proof action which is similar in design to the Remington 700. It uses a Remington style bolt and trigger, but is different in a number of other ways. Looking at the action you notice that it has a closed top ejection port with a 20 MOA picatinny base milled into the action directly. The sides are not rounded like a Remington but instead have cut sides that give the action an octagon style shape on top. The overall impression of the action is that it is very sturdy and rigid, which is always a good thing for accuracy. While the ejection port design has a closed top, the port itself is not too small and there is enough room to allow access into the chamber with fingers if needed.
The bolt is also related to the Remington bolt, but it is fluted with spiral fluting and has a custom handle with a traditional style knob. A larger tactical style bolt knob is available from the factory as well. The bolt handle is swept back slightly and provides a good shape and location to cycle the action. There is an AR-15 style extractor on the bolt which is an improvement over the standard Remington C-Clip style extractor. The extractor proved very functional with positive extraction through out our tests with no failures to extract. The bolt release is located on the left hand side of the action and is easily operated by depressing the protruding knob and then pulling the bolt to the rear of the action to remove it. On this rifle the bolt is finished in black while the action is OD green. The contrast had a nice visual appeal to it.
The floorplate and trigger guard is a DBM style that appears to either be a Badger Ordnance or one that is similar in size and shape to the Badger Ordnance. It utilizes Accuracy International magazines that snap in securely with a positive click. The magazine release is a lever that drops down in front of the wide trigger guard and is easily activated with the trigger finger to drop the magazine. This style of setup has been around for a while now and generally works well. There is also the option to go with a traditional BDL style hinged floorplate in place of the DBM if the DBM is not required.
Several triggers are available on these rifles and this one came with an excellent Jewell trigger. We tend to prefer a wider trigger shoe on our tactical rifles, but the Jewell triggers are an excellent design and as is normal, this one broke very clean and sharp. On our trigger scale it broke at 1.9 pounds (.86 kg). The safety is located in the normal Remington location but the shiny stainless steel color of the safety does look a bit out of place on this tactical focused rifle.
Of course, one of the big things that separates the Proof Research rifle apart from other custom built tactical rifles is the use of its Carbon Fiber barrel. Proof builds their own barrel and they indicate that there are several distinct virtues to using carbon fiber. The most obvious one is that they are significantly lighter than an equivalent sized steel barrel. From the moment you pick up the rifle, it is obvious that is indeed the case. The complete rifle weighed only 8.2 lbs without optics, and that is with a 26″ barrel with muzzlebrake and a stock with an adjustable cheekpiece. Proof indicates that their carbon fiber barrels are more than 60% lighter than an equivalent contoured steel barrel, and that feels about right.
But the light weight is not the only advantage to carbon fiber barrels. Proof Research also claims that carbon fiber allows the heat to dissipate more easily and quickly which keeps the barrel cooler during prolonged shooting. Similar to this is the lack of point of impact changes from cold to hot barrels. The rationale being that carbon fiber layers and weaves do not shift like steel does when it heats up, combined with the rapid heat dissipation, means less or no shifting. The final advantage of carbon fiber is that the barrel harmonics are reduced which leads to improved accuracy. All of the barrels that Proof manufacturers are considered match grade by the company.
The actual first several inches of the barrel are steel, which on this rifle was cerakoted green to match the rest of the finished metal work. The muzzle is also steel along with the bore lining and rifling. It is then “wrapped” with the carbon fiber, which is exposed and unfinished. The unfinished carbon fiber is various shades of dark gray and and has a mottled, almost camouflaged look to it. For a duty rifle, it certainly can be spray painted as needed. Mounted on the front of this barrel is a three chamber tactical style muzzlebrake to help reduce recoil.
The overall design of the rifle is very nice. The fit and finish are excellent and the ergonomics are well thought out. The rifle is lightweight and with the slimmer proportions of the stock it is easy to handle and does not feel too long or difficult to wield in the field. The bolt is black which offsets the green of the stock and action and matches the barrel which on the overall looks very nice. The cabon/kevlar stock is lightweight and yet is still durable and stiff.
So we knew the rifle looked and felt good and the spec sheet also outlined some promising performance. But the only real way to find out for sure how it performed was to test the rifle! For our shooting tests we used the Nightforce NXS 3.5-15x50mm F1 scope that was mounted by Proof Research at the factory. It was mounted using Nightforce Titanium alloy rings, which was a nice fit for the overall light weight focus of the rifle. The F1 scope is not very light itself, but it was a good match for the capabilities of the rifle. The integrated 20 MOA rail on top makes that part of the scope mounting process easy.
The rifle is chambered in 260 which makes a very good mid to long range cartridge when loaded with the right bullets. We have done some comparison reviews of the 260 and have several 260 rifles in our permanent testing stable. It is a very capable cartridge and we decided to use three different 260 loads that have worked well in the past and were available. The Corbon 123gr Scenar, Blackhills 139gr Scenar and our trusty old HSM 123gr Scenar load. All of the loads used the Lapua bullet which has gained a lot of notoriety as being extremely accurate. We would have liked to include a load with the 142gr Sierra Match King bullet as well, but at the time of testing we did not have any available to us.
Our shooting tests were performed over the course of a few different sessions and each time it was early morning on a beautiful Montana day with little to no wind. All groups that were measured were fired at 100 yards with a front sandbag and a rear sand sock. The shooting results are listed below:
|Corbon 123gr Scenar
|.647″ (.618 MOA)
|.491″ (.469 MOA)
|HSM 123gr Scenar
|.481″ (.459 MOA)
|.459″ (.438 MOA)
|Blackhills 139gr Scenar
|.581″ (.555 MOA)
|.499″ (.477 MOA)
All of the groups were very consistent with groups sizes all being very similar within each ammo test. As we like to say around here, consistency equals accuracy and the Proof Tac II was very consistent! The HSM 123gr load has routinely been one of the best performing loads on the market and it proved that again in this rifle. The velocities are slower than similar loads from CorBon, Blackhills and others. But we’ll almost always take accuracy over extra velocity if given the choice. Though as you can see from the results, all three of the loads performed excellent and all of them would be more than adequate for a duty load combined with this rifle. Proof guarantees .5 MOA and this rifle achieved that with no problem.
The muzzlebrake did a very good job of keeping recoil mild and the rifle was very comfortable to shoot, even over extended shooting sessions. The pistol grip on the stock is also very comfortable and the adjustable cheekpiece allowed perfect alignment of head with scope. The rifle had no problems feeding from the AI magazines and the feeding process was very smooth and rapid bolt manipulation for followup shots was excellent. It was easy to tell the action and bolt were well fitted due to the smooth cycling. Though attempting to single feed the rifle by just dropping a round into the feed area and closing the bolt, like is common to do with a Remington 700, would not work with the Proof action. In order to single feed the operator needs to start the round into the chamber with their fingers before attempting to close the bolt. Or the other option is to just load another magazine and feed from the mag.
We did feel the barrel with our hand during shooting sessions to gauge the level of heat dissipation to see if we could notice better dissipation than steel and if it stayed cooler. But with our nonscientific testing method, we were unable to really determine a difference. A laser thermometer would probably be needed to really test how carbon fiber performs versus steel in this area.
Looking at the rifle as a whole, it can be evaluated against its peers as just another custom built tactical rifle and it would compare very favorably. The performance is excellent as are the ergonomics. A down side is that the price is quiet high, starting at over $6000 USD and for that money you can get rifles with guarantees of .25 MOA accuracy. But that would not be fair to the Proof Reseach rifle and what they have accomplished. Where the rifle really shines is in the level of performance it achieves when the rifle weighs only 8 lbs. The weight of the rifle allows it to be a very usable rifle to deploy with and especially when having to patrol long distances or when doing a long insertion on foot. The 260 chambering is a very good match for the weight of the rifle as the recoil is well controlled. Even then, there is still plenty of capability beyond 1000 yards. We would like to be able to single feed a bit easier and we are not sure about long term maintenance on the carbon fiber barrel, but those issues should not hinder the rifle. Its capability as a light weight rifle are excellent. The weight could even be reduced further with a shorter barrel without compromising much in performance and the thought of a 1000+ yard capable rifle that is compact and weights less than 8 lbs, maybe even 7 lbs is quiet enticing. If you are in need of an excellent performing rifle that is light weight and your budget can afford it, then the Proof Research Tac II is an excellent choice to look at.
Sniper Central 2015