Introduction: Choosing The Best Rifle For NRL-Hunter Factory Division
What are the best rifles for NRL-Hunter Factory Division? How do I select a rifle for NRL-Hunter Factory Division? We evaluated all of the SKUs from each of the approved brands and have shared our findings here. Before we start, let's cover off on a bit of background information about NRL-Hunter (NRLH for the duration of this article).
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What Are NRL Hunter Matches?
NRLH matches are designed to simulate mid to long range western hunting scenarios. As a result, a particular style of rifle lends itself to effective use in this league. NRLH matches are growing in popularity as they involve a dynamic course of fire, are situated in beautiful venues, and require a mix of positional shooting skills as well as the ability to spot and execute on a variety of targets on the clock. NRLH matches are broken out by divisions to ensure equitable competition across a range of equipment restrictions. This ensures that the factory rifle shooter doesn’t have to go up directly against the $10k custom rifle. Understanding the key features for the rifle requires a supporting equipment strategy. On the short list, competitors will find themselves carrying the following equipment (and likely more) to build a position and execute on a stage:
- Range finder
- Shooting support bags
- Arca interface
- Threaded muzzle for a muzzle brake or suppressor
What Are The Differences Between NRL-Hunter Divisions?
Divisions are simply groupings of competitors using like-equipment to ensure ample competition within the same grade of capabilities. These groupings exist to minimize extremes and an over-reliance on equipment for a competitive advantage. There are 5 divisions in NRLH:
- Skills Division
- Factory Division
- Open Light Division
- Open Heavy Division
- Team Division
Skills Division. Designed to let anyone attend the match and run what they have. Literally. It’s a great way to get started. Don’t worry about the score, just learn about the flow of the match, about your equipment, your capabilities, and use your new experience to decide what to do next. I highly recommend bringing what you have, even if you know it is deficient. You’ll appreciate every gear purchase and have a better perspective on what to prioritize, both for the matches and for real-world hunting scenarios. Show up, shoot, have fun. There is a maximum caliber and velocity (30 caliber and 3275fps respectively). Harder-hitting ammunition increases the wear on steel, hence the restriction.
Factory Division. Designed to foster participation with unmodified firearms from a pre-approved list of manufacturers. The key is to stay under 12lb, which includes optics, rings, bipod, and muzzle device, or any other accessories you decide to add. You also can’t make permanent modifications, so you will want to pick a rifle that has ample attachment points from the factory to set it up properly for competition.
Open Light & Open Heavy. These divisions have a weight limit of 12 and 16 lbs respectively, but otherwise have no restrictions on the rifle or its attachments. There are also Power Factor (PF) requirements with an exemption available for factory sealed ammunition in 6.5 caliber above 130gr. Open divisions allow the competitor to use completely custom firearms and is often the next step for someone who evolves out of factory division (or simply someone who wants to run an aftermarket barrel).
Team Division. Like Open heavy, but with teams.
If you want to read the regs in their entirety, you can find them here
Open Division NRL Hunter Rifle, Credit Shot Out Inc.
How Do I Choose A Rifle For NRL Hunter Factory Division?
Below are the main criteria we chose to evaluate each rifle:
- Rifles that weigh under 9lbs. Adding standard accessories like an optic, rings, bipod, and a muzzle device eat away at the 12lb limit. 9lbs is the maximum we recommend for a rifle, and one closer to 8lb will enable greater flexibility in accessory selection.
- Rifles that come threaded from the factory, but don't have a brake. Avoid radial brakes as they aren't as effective at mitigating recoil as a directional brake, and can kick up extra dust when shooting in dry climates, making it difficult to see through your scope. The only exception is if the rifle also comes with a threaded end-cap (thread protector) as well as the brake.
- Rifles that have provision for Arca: sufficient mounting holes and a flat forend. An Arca rail will allow you to directly clamp your rifle into a tripod or slide your bipod forward or rearward to yield a comfortable shooting position in an otherwise unstable setting. The rules state that you can't drill additional holes to mount an Arca rail, so you're stuck with rifles that have either a second sling swivel stud or a modular forend.
- Rifles that have a bottom metal that provides for a detachable 10 round magazine. Magazines, factory or aftermarket, are not regulated, but the bottom metal they interface with must be unchanged. Avoiding a hinged floor plate design will allow you to prep for your stage more easily and avoid a cumbersome reload in the middle.
- Rifles that are in a competitive short action caliber that also come in the correct twist rate for heavy caliber bullets:
- .243 1:8" Twist - .243 Win, 6mm Creedmoor
.257 .264 1:8" Twist - 6.5 Creedmoor, .260 Remington .277 .284 1:9" Twist: 7mm-08 Remington
- .308 1:12 Twist: .308 Winchester
Note: .257 and .277 bores are excluded as there aren't any Saami Spec short action competitive cartridges available in any of the listed rifles.
For the context of this article, we will be excluding firearms that do not meet these minimum criteria. It's not to say that another firearm won't perform fine or that you should avoid attending a match, but that firearms on this list meet a set of criteria that make them most competitive in a factory NRL-H Match. We highly recommend participating with what you have, gaining experience, and deciding what to invest in next.
Here are the top brands that meet our performance criteria. We have tuned our ammo to fit Savage and Tikka models, but also have a non-specific offering that will perform in other 6.5 Creedmoor rifles.
You can check the ammo out here
Many of the options either have radial brakes or come in a tad too heavy when the muzzle is capped. The Premier MG Lite and Premier Divide come with radial brakes and also a threaded caps and are hence permitted to use an aftermarket muzzle device. The MG Lite also comes with a Trigger Tech trigger from the factory which is a peak performer, and has the best forend of any of the rifles evaluated with integrated Arca and M-Lok.
Fierce is a semi-custom shop, which allows you to get a SKU that exactly matches your performance criteria. Stick with the reaper pattern to start with a larger than 4 round detachable magazine. Weight starts at 7.2lbs for the Reaper and 5.8lbs for the Mtn Reaper.
The MVP LR will make weight at 8lbs and comes feature-rich with a 10 round p-mag, threaded muzzle, flat forend, and 2 swivel studs to install an arca rail (albeit short section).
The American Magpul Hunter Model Talo Exclusive comes with a threaded and capped muzzle and checks all other boxes. the 18" barrel is a bit short and will give up some performance, but it will still go the distance specified by NRL-H courses of fire.
The Model 85 Carbon Wolf sticks with a traditional, steel fluted barrel and opts for a carbon fiber stock to keep weight down. It comes with a threaded end cap, flat bottom, 2 sling swivel slots for front Arca attachment (albeit with an angled forend). An extended magazine is available from over seas for $250 which is the weakest link of the platform.
Check out the 110 model in several variations:
- 110 Carbon Tactical
- 110 Tactical
- 110 Magpul Hunter (high end of weight)
Savage does a great job representing left-handed shooters as well with these choices. Don't forget, we have 140gr and 147gr ammo tuned for these 24" Savage barrels for maximum performance.
Radial brakes, especially on shorter barrels like come on the 2020 Waypoint rifles are not ideal when shooting in dusty climates. Fortunately, the Waypoint also comes with a threaded end-cap which will allow you to select a more suitable brake for competition. The Springfield models come with generally shorter barrels which do help keep the weight down, at the expense of higher muzzle velocities. Bult-in M-Lok in the forend also makes for a modular system that facilitates a short Arca rail installation.
As expected, there are lots of great options from Tikka. The T3X line offers interchangeable forends which ensure there are sufficient mounting points for a long Arca rail. Detachable magazine options are proprietary, but aftermarket options have been released in the last couple of years that make them much more affordable. Take a look at the CTR and UPR models which have the 10 round magazine from the Sako TRG. There are other options that also come with a threaded muzzle, but the standard "lite" style magazine is limited to 5 rounds. The Tikka also comes in a left-handed variant for the southpaws. Don't forget, we have 147gr ammo tuned for these 24" Tikka barrels for maximum performance.
The Seekins options are awesome, with all of the features needed in a modern western hunting rifle that can comfortably go the distance in an NRL Hunter series match. They come in at the ideal weight range for a high degree of flexibility in choosing accessories while avoiding overly-exotic materials that drive up the price. The Havak Element and the Havak PH2 are both great models to look for.
The factory division rules strongly favor Sig's offerings. Super modular for attachments and light weight to afford flexibility in accessory choices. The barrels are shorter on the standard Cross rifles but still sufficient for the distances that targets are engaged in NRL-H Matches.
STEYR CARBON CL II is a beautiful rifle, but with an MSRP over $4800, it is steep for a factory rifle and is the most expensive on the list. At this price, you should be looking at a fully custom build.
Explore Contender Options
Because we love data, we decided to record these models in Airtable to provide a more interactive view to better understand them. Tap a firearm record to see additional details, including a link to the product, and if there is a left-hand model available.
Rifles from the following brands came very close to making the list and had otherwise favorable specs but come with a muzzle brake and no end-cap, limiting the ability to select an aftermarket brake more suitable for competition . The way the rules are written on rifles that come with included brakes, you're required to utilize the included radial brake or run a suppressor, unless the rifle also comes with a threaded end-cap.
Muzzle brakes adorn all of the models, although the weight specs and options outside of that are favorable. The inclusion of a factory brake limits the ability to add a more effective aftermarket option.
Rifles from the following rifles are missing at least one of the key specs for a SKU to be a contender. We listed them anyway with a brief summary of the offerings from each manufacturer.
We excluded Barrett from the list as they only offer semi-automatics.
Beretta doesn't currently make a bolt action rifle.
Browning offers some decent options, however a proprietary magazine maxed out at 4 rounds and the inclusion of a muzzle brake on all SKUs limit their effectiveness.
Colt offers an OEM branded Howa 1500 pattern rifle that has some great features, but a short forend with one sling swivel slot limits the opportunity to mount an arca rail, and the included muzzle brake limits options for more effective aftermarket brakes. They also come equipped with an accurate mag. Unfortunately, the forend is slightly short. The built-in brake also limits the use of an aftermarket option in an NRLH Match.
The CVA Cascade Short: 18" barrel in 6.5cm is a fine but does leave some performance on the table with the barrel length. It coms threaded and capped but lacking a bottom metal that supports a larger than 4 round magazine. The standard Cascade model also comes threaded and capped with a longer barrel.
The CZ 600 alpha comes "suppressor ready" with a threaded muzzle, however the forend is sloped and doesn't support an Arca rail installation. The "range" stock would support Arca with the 2 swivel stud slots, but it doesn't come suppressor ready.
FN Only makes semi-automatic rifles.
Henry only makes lever guns, but they would certainly make weight easily with a set of skinner sights.
We couldn't find the right combination of all of the specs for a solid NRL-Hunter choice. A lot of the options are missing either a detachable box magazine, or an additional hole in the forend to attach an arca rail of sufficient length
The Kimber Open Range and Open Country models check the boxes, but 4 round magazine capacity is a noteworthy limiter.
Marlin doesn't make bolt action center fire rifles, although I would love to see someone running a lever gun with a bipod and a high power scope.
At this time, Mauser does not offer a model that both makes weight and has a detachable box magazine
At this time, Nosler does not offer a detachable magazine variant for their rifles.
All current models have hinged floor plates and lack a bottom metal that accepts a detachable magazine.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson only makes Semi-automatic rifles at this time.
Missing a proper detachable magazine offering that holds more than 3 rounds
Victrix simply doesn't make a rifle under 11 lbs.
Weatherby Vanguards are rebranded Howa 1500s and come in non Weatherby calibers, but are missing a bottom metal that supports detachable magazines. A kit is available but with a 3rd mag and can't be installed on factory class guns without bumping into the open divisions. The Weatherby Mark 5 comes in .243, 6.5cm, 6cm. nice rifles but no detachable magazine option, and all have either radial brakes or no threaded muzzle.
The XPR offerings weakest link is the magazine. An XPR Long Range SR model isn't bad, but there are only 3-round magazines available. The venerable Model 70 options all currently have a hinged floor-plate design, which would be cumbersome to work with on a stage.