Most of our U.K. readers will be familiar with RPA or Rangemaster Precision Arms. RPA have built a strong sporting heritage in Europe and their actions have dominated serious competition. The famous 4 lug bolt design has a deserved reputation for reliability and extreme accuracy. RPA also produce tactical rifles which may not be as familiar. Their original line of tactical rifles was branded “Rangemaster”. I have used the Rangemaster 308, 338LM and .50BMG extensively and put several thousand rounds through them. I particuarly like the Rangemasters in larger calibers because the heavy match grade barrels and stout chassis’ minimize recoil and retain superb accuracy even when hot.
The New Ultra model offers significant improvements to the Rangemaster.
RPA have recently designed a new series of tactical models which they are calling “Ultra”. I have been lucky enough to be involved in testing these rifles for function under heavy use. I recently took the 338LM Ultra out for some range time and can give readers an exclusive peek at the prototype.
Design and features.
Although the rifle looks stunning in silver, this is due to its prototype status. The chassis is in its bare metal state. When it goes into production the chassis will be available in a variety of more subdued shades!
Their are several big changes. The least noticeable but possibly the biggest achievement is the barrel. Previously RPA had used match barrels from third party manufacturers. They have bravely stepped into barrel manufacture themselves and have invested in some state of the art machines and tooling.
Fluting keeps the overall weight down while retaining as much stiffness as possible.
Looks wise the barrel retains the fluted match contour. I had a peak with the borescope before shooting it and the finish was superb. It made the inside of a factory Remington 700 look rough in comparison. The production of match quality barrels at RPA is obviously spot on and I just knew it would shoot like a laser!
The more obvious innovation is the Ultra chassis. Made from 7075 Milspec aluminium, the chassis has been precisely machined to fit RPAs action perfectly. The mating of chassis and action is vital for a rifles accuracy. Companies who assemble parts from third parties will struggle to meet the fine tolerances required for the perfect mating of surfaces. The chassis is notably lighter than that of the Rangemaster but RPA have been sensible and retained enough metal to keep the stout, stiff qualities of its predecessor.
The innovative part comes down to felt recoil. Now I know a lot of rifle and chassis manufacturers claim reduced recoil. I have used a good few and never really noticed the difference. The 338LM gives a kick, if you are used to it then it really doesn’t hurt but it will take you off target making self spotting difficult. A recoil reduction would certainly benefit those needing fast follow up shots.
The front end is incomplete in some of the prototype pictures. The finished product has additional rail space for NV and accessories as can be seen below…
The best news is the inclusion of a bottom picatinny rail for bipod. Previously RPA had a spigot which really narrows down bipod options. My preference is for Atlas bipods on a QD fitment (American defence manufacturing make a great QD system) which can now be mounted with ease.
Scope mounting for long range shooting is easy thanks to a 30MOA picatinny rail. For most shooters this will mean a decent scope and standard mounts will give them 1500yd capability while retaining a 100yd zero (dependant on optics used).
RPA tactical models have always featured a folding butt. In the past I had found that rough treatment of rifles with folding butts can lead to play in the hinge. Any play in the hinge area leads to inaccuracy (an additional MOA or more in some cases). RPA have wisely beefed up the hinge area considerably to ensure this can never happen even in hard use. The butt folds left side keeping trigger and action free for right handed marksmen even when stowed. When folded, the butt locks in place which prevents it swinging open when the rifle is bumped around. The folded rifle feels very portable, the added bonus is that it will fit plenty of standard drag bags – no extra long bag needed… Unlike previous models there is no built in monopod. Instead we have a bag rider type butt with picatinny rail. The rail allows you to mount a monopod if you wish or simply use a rear bag. I go for a rear bag always. I find monopods tend to be problematic on some surfaces. They can accentuate movement and change the harmonics of the system. A rear bag gives a nice consistent movement dampening effect no matter what the surface. It also allows quick elevation adjustment with just a light squeeze.
The beefy hinge ensures no play in the butt stock.
One of the factors which plays a vital role in accuracy is the trigger. RPA triggers are nearly as famous as their actions. The triggers are 2 stage adjustable units which give a beautiful crisp break. I have only used one factory trigger which felt better than RPAs and that was on a high end Anshutz .22 match rifle (the gold standard of triggers!). As far as centrefire triggers go RPA are my favourite so far.
I put about 80 rounds through the new RPA of varying types at 500m. The first thing I noticed was the recoil. It really was greatly reduced. The gun is butt heavy and the chassis keeps recoil in line through the shooters body. It felt like a .308.
The muzzle brake obviously helps but I can compare directly to the previous model which sported the same brake and recoil is noticeably less. I was able to self spot 99% of shots all of which were hits on the 10″ steel plates. The groups were well within an MOA with some 5 shot strings looking like 1/2MOA or better. It was a pleasure to shoot and the minimal recoil allowed me to concentrate on follow through and consistent composure.
The action and trigger both ran slickly as I have come to expect from RPA rifles. The trigger was just right for me with a noticeable stop at second stage followed by a predictable click. I will be shooting alot more with RPAs 338 Ultra in the coming months to longer distances and will present my findings in a later article.