Let’s not beat around the bush: There is no such thing as that perfect, do-it-all, “one gun.” Shooting, as with everything in life, requires compromise. Many of the features that make for a great hunting gun are precisely what make a terrible range gun; the light weight rifles many hunters praise for their ease of use afield equate to increased recoil on the range. Likewise, the heavy profile barrels preferred by target shooters are needlessly heavy for hunters that aren’t concerned about the effects of a hot barrel, and the multi-way adjustable skeleton stocks that have become de rigueur among precision shooters are snag machines in the bush.
But, at the same time, as technology marches forward we have found ourselves beset by ever-better jacks of all trades. The cell phone in your pocket evolved from a touch-tone monstrosity barely better than the handheld radios it replaced into a device that can send and receive email, take better photos than most cameras did a few years ago, and has more computing power than the Apollo spacecraft that put man on the moon… with no compromise to your cell phone’s ability to serve as a telephone (even if you never use it as one any more). Which brings us to the Bergara B-14 Hunting and Match Rifle, or HMR.
The formula is, if we’re honest, achingly familiar: Take a precision rifle, reduce the barrel length to reduce weight, retain the detachable box magazine feeding system, and fit a stock that provides field-friendly simplicity with a modicum of adjustability. This is not a new idea. But due to two (or three, depending on how you look at it) reasons, where past efforts have fallen short of the mark, the Bergara B-14 HMR doesn’t.
The B-14 Barreled Action
At the heart of every Bergara B-14 is, in short, an action inspired by the Remington 700. At a time when most manufacturers were pursuing barrel nuts and floating bolt heads in an effort to drive production costs down, Bergara set about figuring out how to improve what is arguably the world’s most popular rifle action, and they’ve (somehow) managed to do so in a relatively cost-effective manner.
First, they took the conventional Remington 700 bolt and replaced the spring-steel, collar-style extractor with a huge Sako-style sliding extractor, the likes of which is actually even larger than the extractor you’d find in most custom Sako guns. The extractor on our 6.5 Creedmoor HMR measured right around 0.185 inches wide. Most popular custom extractors for fitting to a similarly chambered rifle come in around 0.177 inches. That translates into a better grip on the chambered round, and more reliable extraction.
Likewise, the feeding of the rifle has been improved by taking a cue from another venerable American rifle: the Winchester Model 70. That well-loved rifle best known as perhaps the ultimate version of the Mauser action included a relatively unique design feature now referred to as a conical bolt; a reference to the slightly rearward taper cut into the front of the bolt lugs. By so tapering the front of the bolt lugs, the breech face can be tapered to match, making the breech form something of a funnel into the chamber. This obviously greatly improves the reliability of feeding (especially on an uncontrolled feed rifle such as this) and makes the bolt closure smoother as the bolt’s forward movement into battery is bearing on tapered forward surfaces.
But otherwise, the action is actually pretty basic, and very Remington 700-esque. In fact, Bergara is quite proud of the fact that their action will fit in, on and with nearly all Remington 700 stocks, triggers and accessories. As we wrote a few months ago in our review of the B-14 Timber (which features the exact same action), while the key improvements certainly are welcome, the biggest actual impact is in the general attention-to-detail that’s evident in the B-14 action. Simply put, a stock B-14 action feels a lot like a worked-over Remington 700 action; it’s that smooth and free of play.
Which brings us to the first of the key components that lets the HMR succeed where others have failed: The barrel.
Now, we could spend every available inch of page space discussing the specifics of Bergara’s barrel production, but we won’t. Instead we’ll simply say this: When they first started making centerfire barrels, it was with none other than Ed Shilen showing them how. They purchase their raw stock from a steel manufacturer by the name of Olarra that’s regarded as one of the best steel firms in Europe… and who is coincidentally located in the Basque region of Spain, alongside Bergara. The barrel blanks are straightened, and then drilled, before being treated to a three-step vertical honing/polishing process. This process brings the bore within 2 microns of being perfectly straight (a human hair is 60 microns) and gives it a mirror finish. Then the barrel is button-rifled, using a proprietary cutting lubricant, and heat-treated. Finally, they’re cut, crowned, and finished. The result is a barrel that comes with a sub-MOA guarantee and that, in our experience, is capable of shooting into half that.
In the case of the HMR, that barrel is installed to a finished length of either 20 or 22 inches, depending on the calibre (6.5 Creedmoor uses the longer of the two), and a beefy #5 taper. This means the barrel tapers from 1.24” at the receiver to 0.75” at the muzzle, as opposed to the 0.65” the standard B-14 hunting rifles taper to. That 0.1” difference equates to a lot more mass in the barrel, which in turn helps the barrel resist heat buildup and the warping that heat brings with it. Finally, Bergara finishes the barrel off with a threaded muzzle for either brakes or suppressors (in countries with better laws than our own), and a recessed (but flat) crown.
Now, while the B-14 HMR in 308 is an undoubtedly effective rifle (no one needs to be reminded of the flexibility of the 308 Winchester round), it’s the 6.5mm Creedmoor chambering that really elevates this rifle’s capability. 6.5mm projectiles boast some of the best sectional densities and coefficients of drag out there. In fact, many 6.5mm Creedmoor loads actually manage to replicate the trajectory of the venerable 300 Winchester Magnum load, albeit without the punishing recoil that round often delivers. Furthermore, due to the sectional density imbued by the 6.5mm’s long bullets, it’s proving as effective at taking much of North America’s game as it is at banging gongs at 1,000 yards. So, for a rifle that’s billing itself as both a hunting and match rifle, this really is the round to shoot.
Bringing the Bergara HMR together
Finally, Bergara has fitted the HMR with probably it’s most noticeable feature: The stock. Finished in a sort of speckled finish that’s probably best associated with McMillan’s various wares, the HMR stock features a simple adjustable cheek riser, length-of-pull that’s adjusted via spacers between the stock and recoil pad, three conventional sling swivels (for the fitment of both a conventional field sling and bipod), four flush-mount QD sling mount cups, and a healthy grip section that’s very “tactical” in nature… that is to say, it has a very vertical grip and is significantly cut-away over the thumb area.
Otherwise, the stock features a heavily inletted barrel channel that leaves no doubt about the barrel’s free-floated nature, as well as an internal aluminum “mini-chassis” that’s built into the stock. This provides consistent bedding, as the chassis features machined cradles to hold the action, which essentially replicates both stock pillars and conventional epoxy bedding. Furthermore, since the mini-chassis also features an integral recoil lug pocket, the recoil forces are spread throughout the stock, keeping everything in the same place.
Now, there’s one thing we don’t like about the stock that we need to get out in the open: It’s plastic. Yes indeed, this is a molded plastic stock. However, it’s not nearly as bad as the cheapo stocks found on entry-level rifles, obviously, but at the same time, its textured panels lack the bite of a fiberglass stock. However, we also recognize that the rifle’s cross-purposes are best served by a stock that offers precision-rifle stock options at a field-rifle weight, and so the decision to go with injection molding is certainly an understandable compromise. It probably saves a few bucks, too.
Shooting the B-14 HMR
As with the Bergara B-14 Timber we tested last year, settling in behind the B-14 HMR was an experience dominated by one thing and one thing only: Accuracy. To be totally blunt, shooting the HMR feels very “conventional,” largely due to the familiar feel of the Bergara action. With the ever-increasing number of three-lugged actions on the market, bolted into feature-festooned chassis systems, the simplicity of the B-14 HMR’s action and design makes for a very transparent shooting experience in which the rifle plays a lot less of a role in dictating “how it shoots” than the performance it puts up. In other words, you’re not always aware of 14 different stock adjustments you could make, nor are you reminded of how cutting-edge the action is every time you open it.
Instead, it simply reinforces what we’ve come to know about Bergara rifles: They shoot. Sighted in, our best group was just over half MOA, measuring 0.58 inches across. That same group, measured using the mean radius method, came in at 0.2 inches. That means every round in that five-shot group averaged just 0.2 inches from the point of aim. And that was hardly an outlier of a result; four of the seven varieties of ammunition were all averaging shots within 0.5 inches from our point of aim. Also, it’s worth mentioning that all these groups were shot in windless, but very cold conditions with an ambient temperature that varied throughout testing from approximately -2 degrees centigrade to -12. This, combined with the relatively quick test strings we shot, would conspire to create some pressure variations and so we would expect the gun to perform even better in more humane conditions.
Off the bench, and in the field, the HMR handles well but is a bit heavy. Bare, our rifle came in a hair over nine pounds, so with the average hunting optic and scope mounts installed you’re looking at a 10.5 to 11 pound rifle. That’s a bit hefty, compared to a similarly outfitted dedicated hunting rifle such as the B-14 Timber, which comes in closer to 9 pounds once fitted with glass. However, the stock carried well, and it didn’t have too many protuberances to snag either the brush or our clothing. We would, however, trade the 5-round AICS-style Magpul Pmag for a 3-round flush-fitting magazine for hunting season, just to trim the lines up a bit.
Well, we bought one, so there’s your conclusion. At roughly $1,450, the value proposition of a gun that shoots factory loads into a half-MOA on a bad day and comes with a lifetime warranty is just too hard to turn down. It’s what our better half probably wishes we were more of: Handsome, handy, and just plain useful. Oh, and relatively frugal, too. Still need to learn that lesson, I guess.