Long range shooting is, and has been for a while now, one of the fastest growing segments in the shooting sports world. While ESPN coverage, the explosion of Youtube shooting channels, and the ever-increasing availability of high framerate, slow-motion footage have given an outlet to the visual excitement and panache of the action shooting sports, long range and precision shooting has been slowly amassing a massive grassroots following. But unlike the action shooting sports, which are largely luring followers with what amounts to a massive imagery- and image-laden uncoordinated marketing campaign, the recent growth in precision shooting has been brought about by one thing and one thing only: the availability of suitably precise rifles.
Less than a decade ago, the notion of a money-back MOA guarantee on a factory rifle that cost less than a few thousand dollars was unheard of. Today, sub-MOA guns can be had for literally a few hundred dollars. As rifle manufacturers embraced computer-aided design and manufacturing processes, the consistency with which a manufacturer has been able to produce an install any given part has increased magnificently, leading to the various stacking tolerances found within a firearm being reduced exponentially… all while being churned out faster and more affordably than ever before.
But while new, more affordable, more precise rifles than ever before are making headlines and breaking sales records, their popularity is creating an interesting secondary demand for higher-end precision rifles not entirely dissimilar from the rifles that have been the mainstay of the market since those days when cheap rifles weren’t accurate and one was expected to have to drop big coin to shoot small groups. And this secondary demand has given rise to an increasing number of rifles from benchmark companies like Accuracy International, Barrett, Sako, and others, as well as the creation of entirely new companies serving that same need. Victrix Armaments is one such company.
While Victrix Armaments may be a newcomer to the rifle manufacturing world, they aren’t new to manufacturing; they’ve been in the fabrication business for over 45 years under the name Rottigni Officina Meccanica. Contracting their services out to a wide variety of companies including numerous small arms manufacturers, Victrix Armaments isn’t so much a new entity as it is a branding exercise, spurred on by the passion Victrix’ CEO and founder Giuseppe Valtorta has for long range shooting. A championship-winning F-Class shooter, Giuseppe wanted to bring the firm’s considerable expertise and ability to bear on the production of a complete firearm that would meet his competitive demands, and provide highly competitive and capable shooters with a gun that replicates the performance of the custom guns most F-Class shooters are familiar win.
As it is with all rifles, the heart of Victrix Armaments’ rifles are literally and figuratively their actions; in this case known as their Minerva action. Utilized in all their intermediate-calibre rifles including the Pugio pictured here as well as their Lunae (hunting) and Victoria (competition) lines, the Minerva action was the company’s first action, and is essentially a modern take on a tried-and-true idea.
Eschewing the modern standard of barrel nuts and pinned-on bolt heads that we see in so many new rifles, the Minerva action shows Victrix Armaments’ experience in F-Class by building off the more conventional one-piece bolt and shouldered barrel approach to building rifles. However, it also includes some significant revisions that are quite unconventional even among premium level guns of this quality.
The most interesting of these revisions is the bolt head. Although it might look like your average 60-degree bolt-lift, three-lugged design, the spacing of the lugs is not the usual, symmetrical 120, 120, 120 degree spacing we’re used to seeing. Instead, the lugs are positioned at 105, 105, and 150 degrees. This was done in response to some harmonic testing that Victrix Armaments carried out that found this asymmetrical bolt lug spacing reduced the amount of bolt flex during firing. It also increases the reliability of feeding from the Accuracy International-pattern magazines, as the manner of the bolt’s positioning in the action means there is no lug at the 6 o’clock position when the bolt is out of battery. Because the Victrix Armaments action uses a push-feed design, that means the next round is picked up by the shrouded bolt face, so the magazine can be positioned higher and closer to in-line with the chamber than would otherwise be possible.
In terms of extraction and ejection, the bolt uses a healthy hinged, Sako-style extractor measuring 5.8mm wide, meaning it occupies just over 15% of the total case rim on our .308-calibre test rifle. Given most .308 rifles have extractors that typically measure closer to 4.5mm wide, the Victrix’ beefy puller represents an almost 5% increase in grip on the case rim. Ejection is accomplished via a simple single button-style ejector on the bolt face. In terms of quality, there’s not a tool mark to be found, with the exception of a few cutter marks on the rebated area behind the beveled bolt lugs. This area serves as a secondary gas release in the off chance a case ruptures; the primary gas release system being a series of holes bored through the bolt body into the striker channel to direct gasses from the chamber out through the ejection port.
The barreled action is equally well thought out, and is constructed of the same stainless steel as the bolt, with the same lustrous and slick PVD coating. Below, three massive action screws keep the receiver bolted to the chassis, and recoil is managed by a mammoth lug that’s probably twice as thick as that you’d find on most commercial rifles. The safety is a conventional two-position safety that does not impact the ability to open the bolt. Interestingly, given the rest of the rifle is otherwise adorned with instructions and labels explaining nearly every feature, the safety has no on/off indicator; you simply have to know forward is off. Atop the action resides a 20-MOA rail that’s affixed with no less than six very large hex-head machine screws and is pinned in place as well… just in case.
The barrel is about the only part on the gun not made by Victrix Armaments; they’re Benchmark barrels manufactured in the USA. Stainless steel, almost bereft of any taper in the profile, and obviously very well made. The barrel tenon is threaded M27-1.5, and the muzzle end is finished in a conventional unrecessed 11-degree target crown, protected by a removable clamp-on three-chamber muzzle brake that is as loud as it is effective (very). Interestingly, while the rest of the rifle is adorned with laser-etched Victrix logos, the bottom of the barrel is engraved “Rottigni Officina Meccanica” alongside the calibre.
Everything up to this point is largely shared across the Victrix Armaments lineup. The chassis is obviously where the tactical Minerva line (of which the Pugio is but one model) differentiates itself from the aforementioned Victoria and Lunae lines. The rifle pictured is fully optioned out, which means it comes with a more widely adjustable stock and a keymod-compatible fore-end. Besides the obvious stock adjustments and folding mechanism (which locks up tighter than almost any we’ve come across… but also locks into the folded position, somewhat curiously), the chassis also includes a variety of attachment points for mounts and accessories, including a handful of picatinny rail sections, and a bunch of quick-disconnect sling sockets: one on each side of the stock assembly, two on the bottom of the stock, and three within the span of a few inches on the bottom of the carry handle mounted at the six o’clock position. Also on the bottom of the carry handle is another feature we really like: a 1/4-20 threaded hole on the carry handle. That’s the correct size and pitch to screw on a camera tripod mount… a handy feature if you want to shoot from a super stable platform afield, and can’t take a shooting bench with you.
Which brings us to the other component that really differentiates the tactical rifles from the other Victrix rifles: the trigger. Which so much experience in benchrest, Giuseppe obviously understands triggers, and knew that any decent precision rifle had to have a good one. And so, his competition guns come with in-house designed four-lever triggers adjustable from 1 to 2.5 ounces… or, for those use to pounds, 0.0625 pounds to 0.156 pounds. Of course, being designed for slightly more rigorous use, the tactical rifles have a different trigger mechanism that sports three levers, two stages, and is adjustable from a far more reasonable 8 to 21 ounces, or 0.5 pounds to 1.3 pounds. The trigger shoe can also be adjusted fore and aft to suit.
Shooting the Victrix Armaments Pugio
So how’s it shoot? Well you’ve probably already seen the chart, so in terms of downrange performance, it’s obviously capable of some serious precision work. But from a shooter’s perspective, it’s interesting, and not in a bad way. First off, we had no trouble getting the adjustments all set up to our preference. The resolution on many of the adjustments isn’t quite as fine as you might find on some other guns as almost all of the adjustments have seven settings (the only one with more is the soft-touch cheekpiece that slides fore and aft), but most should be able to get comfortable behind this gun, and ones the adjustments are locked it they definitely don’t move.
The action’s slick as snot, due to two three things: the PVD coating, the quality of machining and absolute lack of slop, and that asymmetrical bolt lug pattern. It seems like a bizarre nuance, but that 105-105-150 spacing really works; with the single-stack AI-style mags, pushing the bolt forward strips a round out of the mag that has an almost straight shot into the chamber; the feed ramp is roughly 8mm tall, or 0.31 inches. To put that in perspective, a .308 case measures 0.45 inches across at the shoulder, so the round barely has to tip up at all to get loaded into the chamber. And you notice that when you’re shooting. There’s just less rattling and more consistent pressure exerted by the bolt as you push it forward. And when you do close it completely to bring the gun into battery, it’s like butter. Seriously. There aren’t many three lug guns out there that are this easy to close. It’s like shutting a two ton bank vault door pivoting on the slickest hinges on earth.
The two stage trigger is a bit of a misnomer in some ways, with a first stage that’s so light as to be almost nonexistent, but nevertheless it’s there… and as with all two-stage triggers we appreciate that take-up. In terms of the break, it’s certainly light and definitely has the ability to surprise from shot-to-shot, but we found the break to be a bit rolling in nature. We’ve noticed this on a lot of European rifles; instead of a super-short pull with limited overtravel and zero creep, they tend to prefer a smooth rolling break, and the Victrix Armaments Pugio definitely has this. We’ve found this sort of trigger a bit polarizing. When executed poorly, it can invite problems with hitchy, creepy, janky trigger pulls. With the Victrix, it’s sort of like pulling a ball bearing over a steel roller with your finger and having the gun go off when the bearing crosses the zenith. In other words, it’s clean, smooth, and shockingly hard to anticipate. That means that if you do your part to keep the fundamentals together, you can get this gun to shoot extremely well, since you’re less likely to flinch or disturb the shot. Yes, it requires to hold it together and concentrate on smoothly pulling through the shot, but the results speak for themselves. Oh, and as an aside, the serrated faced of the trigger shoe is wonderfully finished… grippy, but comfortable.
And of course, tipping the scales at 12.7 pounds without ammo or an optic, and fitted with a massive brake, the Pugio is anything but a pugilist. Combined with that great trigger, that all makes the gun a great long-range rig for those that struggle to see their vapour trails or impacts, as the inability to anticipate the shot and the lack of recoil really set you up for success on the follow-through.
Which brings us to the downrange accuracy. We tested the Victrix Armaments Pugio with a variety of .308 we had on hand, and weren’t surprised to see the results. Although only one variety of ammunition grouped sub-MOA in group size, it grouped well under, and every other variety of match ammo we fed it put up impressive mean radius numbers so we’d expect more trigger time and better conditions (it was -7 celcius and snowing during our testing) would see pretty much every match ammo shooting well under an inch groups. What’s especially impressive is how the 1:10-twist barrel handled the various weights; the 125-grain Nosler was insanely accurate, but realistically the 168-grain Federal Gold Medal Match, 175-grain Barnes Precision Match, and 180-grain Sako Hammerhead loads aren’t dramatically less accurate.
It’s always hard not to like these high-end precision rigs. Full disclosure, when a company ships you a gun with a five figure price tag, you’re generally going to have a good time behind it. But it’s also a little heartbreaking, because with prices like the $11,000 tag attached to this Pugio, I personally generally find myself a little conflicted. Because there’s no way she who must be obeyed is going to sign off on an $11,000 gun purchase, I want to think guns like this aren’t worth the dollars they command. I want to think “I can build better for less.” I want to think the precision rigs down in my price range are more worthy for less money. I want to compensate. But the reality is, it is worth the money, I can’t build better (for less, or more realistically, probably more), and the precision rigs that I can afford are not more worthy for less money… they’re just cheaper.
So what does that mean? Well, it means that if you are one of those lucky individuals with a wickedly wonderful amount of discretionary income, or a blessedly understanding significant other, well… enjoy. I sure as hell wish I could!