Accuracy Worth The Wait?
Accuracy International (AI) has been a well-known entity in the precision-rifle marketplace since the mid-1980s. AI’s innovations have shaped and influenced the precision bolt-action genre of weapons. AI’s founders were competitive marksmen, one of them an Olympic gold medalist and World Champion. Up until that time, sniper rifles had been converted hunting or existing service weapons. Accuracy International started with a clean sheet of paper, with precision as the guideline.
ACCURACY TACTICAL RIFLE
The Accuracy International AT 308 Win is the rifle I tested. I was excited to evaluate an Accuracy International rifle—it’s something I’ve wanted to do for several years. Many of the features we take for granted on current precision rifles were foreshadowed with AI rifles.
The foundation of the AT (Accuracy Tactical) rifle is its aluminum chassis, which has the steel flat-bottomed action bolted and bonded to it for rigidity. The action is fitted with a barrel release screw to allow the user to change the barrel in less than one minute using a 4mm hex key. Encapsulating the aluminum chassis are polymer stock sides, which provide a secure grip, are impervious to regular cleaners and lubricants, and are available in Black, Green, or Pale Brown.
The AT rifle tested for this article featured a folding rear stock and pistol grip. All metal surfaces of the rifle are covered with a matte black oxide finish for maximum resistance to weather. Another advantage of matte black is that it minimizes glare off the rifle.
With the AT rifle, Accuracy International is targeting the U.S. law enforcement and private citizen markets. While the AT rifle offers the ability to change barrel lengths, it is only available in 7.62x51mm/.308 chambering. It doesn’t have the caliber interchangeability found in the AX series.The AI AT has a one-piece bolt body and receiver constructed from a solid bar of steel manufactured to exact tolerances. The AT’s six-lug action is the heart of the rifle.
The lugs are arranged in dual three-lug sets around the bolt’s body, giving the Accuracy International AT 308 extra rigidity and strength for greater precision. The oversize bolt handle, which is also derived from bar stock, has a 60-degree bolt throw for quicker manipulation and smooth passage in the raceway. The minimal disturbance when the rifle’s bolt is worked permits fast follow-up shots when engaging multiple targets.
An AI detachable ten-round magazine, which has set the standard in the industry for precision bolt-action rifles, arrives with the rifle, plus the option for a flush-fitting five-round variant.The stock features an adjustable comb for proper eye alignment and cheek weld. Length of pull is adjusted via removal buttplates for individual shooter needs. The AI stock is rock solid, with design characteristics that make it conducive to long-range shooting from the prone position using sand bags or bipod. The wide, flat forend handles bipods or sandbags with equal aplomb.
The Accuracy International AT 308 can accommodate either the spigot-type Accuracy International bipod that attaches from the front or a Harris bipod with swivel attachment under the forend. The AI stock contributes to the ruggedness of the AT rifle, ensuring that a key element of a precision rifle is met: constant and repeatable accuracy regardless of conditions.
The AT model benefits from bringing together individual high-quality components into one 14-pound package.
A Schmidt & Bender 3-20x50mm PM II Ultra Short was mounted on the AT with AWP rings. In the past few years, Schmidt & Bender has made powerful statements by winning multiple U.S. military optic contracts. Accuracy International actively promotes fitting the Schmidt & Bender PM II/Military MK II product line as sighting components on their family of sniper rifles by selling S&B optics as package deals with their platform, which is rare for a rifle manufacturer.
Too often the importance of the shooter/rifle interface that takes place at the trigger is overlooked. The world-class competition background of the original Accuracy International design team is evident in the rifle’s trigger. The two-stage trigger mechanism has an adjustable trigger pull weight of 2.2 to 4.4 pounds. The two-stage trigger will surprise many U.S. shooters, but they’ll quickly come to appreciate it if they approach it with an open mind. The ability to take up the minimal slack helps stage an accurate shot break.
The trigger assembly can be easily removed for cleaning by undoing two socket-head cap screws. The trigger can also be forward or rearward within the trigger guard area for optimal individual finger placement.
A three-position safety lever on the bolt shroud lets the bolt be manipulated with the safety on in the middle position or the bolt locked with the safety in the rear position. The safety can be manipulated with no audible click heard.If the rifle is cocked, the firing pin can be seen or felt protruding at the end of the bolt shroud, making it possible in poor visibility to feel whether the weapon is ready to fire.
The AT’s 24-inch barrel features a 1:12 twist. Optional 20- or 26-inch barrels are available, along with different twist rates if requested, plus a threaded muzzle for brakes or suppressor adaptors. The barrel is non-fluted, measuring almost one inch in diameter. All AI barrels are match-grade quality with end-to-end uniformity, and inspected before installation.
The AT measures 44 inches in length (35 inches with stock folded) and weighs nearly 14 pounds. A night-vision mount accessory is available for use with a PS22-type night-vision device that mounts in front of the day optic.
TO THE RANGE
During multiple range visits, bolt manipulation on the Accuracy International AT 308 proved very “slick,” with no side-to-side play as the bolt traveled in and out of battery. As measured by an RCBS trigger gauge, trigger pull was a crisp three pounds.
The AT was tested over an extended period, and it constantly produced sub-MOA groups with several different ammunition brands—an important logistic consideration. Various .308 Win loadings from Black Hills Ammunition, Federal, Hornady, and Winchester provided the basis of my accuracy tests.
The Black Hills loads tested consisted of 168-and 175-grain Match bullets. The Federal chambering was the venerable 168-grain Match load, while 168-grain TAP and Match from Hornady and Winchester 168-grain Match were also used. The AT’s 24-inch barrel produced velocity as promised from the manufacturers, with the 168- and 175-grain loads measuring in the low to mid 2,600 feet-per-second (fps) range.
As to be expected with quality ammunition, velocity figures within the different loads deviated very little from round to round. This is critical for predicable long-range accuracy.
The Accuracy International AT 308 shot all premium loads tested into one MOA or better at 100 yards—mostly a lot better.
Testing was done off a bench supported by a tripod Champion front rest and rear sand bag. The accuracy figures are based on firing three groups and averaging group sizes. While not statistically full proof, the method used certainly represents the AT’s capabilities. The AT rifle instills a certain confidence in its user; if you do your part, the rifle is capable of single-hole groups.
The Black Hills 175-grain Match, Hornady 168-grain Match, and Winchester 168-grain Match produced the best 100-yard groups at only half an inch. A rifle can exhibit finicky behavior over which loads it prefers. Again, no loads were over 1 MOA. Impressive, to say the least!
Two other indicators of an accurate, dependable rifle are how cold-bore zeros compare over time and if the point of aim shifts after a few rounds heat up the barrel. The Accuracy International AT 308 showed no shifts in point of aim and cold-bore zeros produced fine groups when overlaid together.
Three-hundred yards and out are more indicative tests of a weapon system like the AT. More importantly, this generates useful ballistic information for the shooter, especially when it comes to elevation and windage data for log books and ballistic calculations. Significantly, all loads held on to the one MOA (approximately three inches at 300 yards) or better criteria.
After testing innate accuracy from the bench, field tests were performed at Echo Valley Training Center. This consisted of shooting prone off a bipod or pack at ¼-scale steel targets at 500 yards. The bolt was worked as quickly as possible, with the next target acquired rapidly for engagement.
The Schmidt & Bender optic equipped with Horus H59 reticle made hitting targets at the 500-yard pit easy. A 100-yard zero easily translated into holding the appropriate hash mark below the main horizontal wire, producing hits at 500 yards. The benefit of holding directly on target versus an estimated hold over is advantageous.
Of course, the operator could dial in the proper dope via the excellent S&B turret system. The Horus H59 reticle is also a great tool for estimating range. The combination of the world-class Schmidt & Bender optic, Accuracy International AT rifle, and quality ammunition generated superior performance.
PRICE AND PERFORMANCE
While certainly not inexpensive, the AT is an attempt by Accuracy International to offer a precision rifle under the $4,000 price point. Every individual and/or department will have to judge for themselves what the tipping point is in the price/performance equation.
However, tactical performance needs should be fully analyzed and the Accuracy International AT considered, as it does produce reliable, near-phenomenal accuracy out of the box. That is the key point with the AI AT—out-of-the-box accuracy without a trip to an agency armorer or outside gunsmith for tuning.
I have been privileged to evaluate precision bolt rifles from manufacturers such as FN, SAKO, SIG Sauer, McMillan, Steyr, H-S Precision, and CZ. Drawing on my previous experiences of handling some of the most highly respected tactical rifles in the world gives me a solid background for analyzing the AI AT’s features and capabilities.The Accuracy International AT takes a back seat to no rifle in terms of precision, repeatable accuracy, capacity, ergonomics, reliability, trigger, and safety.
It was worth the wait to get my hands on one.
BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION
ECHO VALLEY TRAINING CENTER
FEDERAL PREMIUM AMMUNITION
HORNADY MFG. CO.
SCHMIDT & BENDER USA INC.