Gun Review: Bergara HMR

HMR stands for Hunting Match Rifle and the various Bergara employees I have spoken with over the years indicate that they envision this rifle being the sort of thing you use for, well, everything. As a pure play hunting rifle, I think it makes a lot of compromises, heaviest among them – weight. This is a 9+ lb rifle before you tack on the appropriate optic. I’ve lugged a properly built match rifle into the deer stand, and while it certainly did the same work as any other rifle, there’s no escaping 15 pounds of rifle and 24″ of barrel.

More than likely, this is a first match rifle for someone interested in PRS/NRL or any of the spin off precision rifle club matches. In fact, the HMR fits squarely into PRS Production class rules – read ’em here.

Overview

The core of the HMR is Bergara’s Remington 700 footprint action that has been updated for modern times and addresses some common issues and problems with the factory 700 action. Of great interest to the lefties, they make this action in left handed models!

Scope Mounting

The B14 action comes with four drilled and tapped holes, same as any Remington 700. Pictured here is Nightforce’s one piece mount. Should you wish to mount a different kind of base, you can! It uses the smaller #6 screws like a factory Remington. If you want to pay your gunsmith some money, he or she can enlarge that to #8 screws. These work fine. Spend your money on more ammo.

Recoil Lug

Bergara has elected to go with an integral recoil lug vs. the separate lug found on today’s factory Remington 700. Go find ten gunsmiths, ask them why it matters, and report back with the ten different answers you receive. Given that the Remington 700 is a master’s class in compromise, I lean towards the camp that says Remington elected to go with a separate recoil lug because it was easier and cheaper to manufacture an action from a piece of round bar stock. Bergara has made the lug integral which should result in a slightly stiffer action that (theoretically) is more accurate.

Bolt Stop

Peruse the catalog at your favorite gunsmith and you’ll undoubtedly find a section regarding “upgrades” to the Remington 700 action. One of those is an aftermarket bolt stop that is stronger than the flimsy stop Remington builds from the factory. Word on the internet, wonder of wonders, is that a stressful pull on the bolt to the rear, like in competition or gunfight, might break the stop resulting in the bolt being yanked right out the back.

Bergara addresses this by integrating a much stronger bolt stop right from the start. No need to fumble around near the trigger to release the bolt, just pull it to the stop, press the big lever on the left hand side of the action, and remove the bolt.

Bolt

Hoooo boy is there a lot that can go wrong with the bolt on a factory Remington 700. Starting at the back, there’s a bolt knob that’s a.) not threaded and b.) too dang small. Look through your gunsmith’s catalog and you’ll see “Bolt Knob” as an item. Assuming your 700 knob isn’t one of those that’s filled with air pockets from poor casting, they’ll thread it and screw on a big knobbin from somebody reputable. Bergara threads the knob from the factory and screws on their own big knarly knobbin right from the factory.

Moving forward, a two lug coned bolt is advertised to offer smoother, more reliable feeding. I had no issues feeding from the supplied AICS pattern 5 round Mapgul item they send in the box.

You’ll also notice that Bergara has elected to punt the puny 700 style extractor for something with a bit more strength. This is another common “upgrade” your gunsmith will happily charge you for, though they’ll likely go to either a Sako or M16 style extractor. Bergara uses more of a Savage style extractor. It worked fine for me. It’s not a Sako/M16/Mauser claw, but it’s arguably a bit nicer than the stock 700.

Bolt Face

Where Bergara has a bit of a miscue is on the bolt face and firing pin. This is a pretty well known issue on these here interwebs and one that’s been beat to death on a variety of forums. The firing pin is a touch undersized and allows the primer to “flow” a bit earlier than you’d see with another action. Factory Hornady ammo shows what looks like primer cratering where a standard action, or even Bergara’s Premier action, doesn’t. The gunsmith fix is to send the bolt off to be bushed. I don’t know a thing about these guy’s work, but this is a thorough explanation of the problem and the costs included – $165.

Some Bergara owners report that they stamped their feet up and down and made a big stink with customer service and were able to get an upgraded bolt. Realistically, if you only shoot factory ammo, this likely won’t be a problem for you. If you handload, and you like to really push it, you run the risk of blowing a primer and potentially causing a lot of damage.

****Update**** Bergara’s VP of Sales, Ben Fleming responded to me directly to let me know that Bergara has addressed this issue. His statement is below:

“One quick note to update you on is the firing pin and firing pin hole.  We adjusted the tolerances way down on this during the later half of 2018 and everything in 2019 will be smaller to avoid the need for bushing firing pins like you indicated.  We certainly listened to the users and our market on that one.”

-Ben Fleming – VP Sales Bergara Rifles

Squareness

A gunsmith I know a little and trust a lot got an early vintage HMR action to play with and reported that it needs the same amount of blueprinting that a factory action does regarding the receiver, recoil lug, and bolt face. This shouldn’t be a surprise. The B-14 action is Bergara’s least expensive action. Certain accommodations have to be made. This will only come up should you want to rebarrel and you have one of those (good) gunsmiths who won’t do the work unless the action is squared up properly. Depending on the work, this can be $100 – $300.

For less than $1000, you get a Remington 700 action that fixes every issue that the bean counters at Remington created. No, it’s not an ARC or a Stiller or any other number of custom actions. It’s also not a Bergara Premier action. But it is MUCH better than a factory 700, and when it comes time to upgrade it, the most you could possibly do is true it, bush it, and if you had extra cash in your pocket, go to a Sako/M16 extractor. Or just go out and shoot it. Your call.

Controls

Like most (all?) match oriented short action rifles you’ll see at a weekend match, this one feeds off the AICS standard. Someday, I’m sure the world will standardize around the SR-25 magazine which offers double the capacity, but that requires an action redesign and the only folks who have done that are Ruger, Mossberg, and Q. Anyone else using the 700 pattern is stuck with ten rounders. Bergara includes a 5 round Magpul AICS pattern magazine, a nod I’m sure to the lower profile required for a hunter. You can pick up additional Magpul 10 rounders for <$40 or real deal steel ones for double that. Feeding from that magazine is flawless.

Bergara’s bottom metal is well thought out and seems to eschew a big single lever like Badger’s M5 in favor of a lower profile paddle style that you can press with your trigger finger. I like it fine and didn’t find that it caused any issues with magazine changes.

In a nod to the classics, Bergara has elected to go with a curved trigger vs. the much more TACTICAL flat faced triggers you see in today’s market. It’s a 700 pattern trigger, so if you hate it, you can punt it and replace it quickly. Doing so will disqualify you from Production class in PRS though.

But that’s OK! It’s a perfectly fine trigger. The book says the trigger is adjustable from 2.8 to 4.4 lbs and is set a notch above 3.5 lbs from the factory. The trigger that came in this gun originally measured around 6 lbs. I called Bergara and they sent me a new one that measured at 3.5 lbs. I played with it and found that it adjusted within the range specified and passed a drop test and set it at 3 lbs. It isn’t a Calvin Elite or a TriggerTech, but it is a perfectly fine trigger that will serve you just fine. It’s better than most and lights off rounds every time.

Safety

Like the Remington 700, the Bergara B14 action uses a safety lever on the bolt side. Right handed actions get it on the right side. Left handed actions get it on the left side. Hooray! It’s snappy and clearly marked (red means hot).

You’ll also note that the striker is painted bright red for visual indications that the gun is cocked. Two reds indicate a hot weapon. Anything else is less hot.

Stock

Earlier, I mentioned the McMillan A5. It’s a very nice stock. I own one. I like it a lot. For the money, you really can’t go wrong buying an A5 for a match rifle. I’ve hunted with an A5. It’s not a great hunting stock. Compromises must be made. Bergara did a fine job on this.

But I’ll start with the only big negative. See above for what happens when you get your cheekpiece adjusted perfectly and then want to remove the bolt. You can’t! You have to lower the cheekpiece down to pull the bolt. The definition of first world problems. Fix this by either marking your perfect adjustment on the pillar or taking a Dremel to the cheekpiece. One of those will work for you.

But great news – the stock is adjustable! The cheekpiece goes up and down and is symmetrical so shooting support side or strong side goes well. I have a weirdly shaped face that seems to demand a higher than normal comb on my rifles. I had no issues adjusting the cheekpiece on the HMR enough to get the proper eye position necessary with a 50 mm objective scope in a set of tallish rings. Locking it down is easy peasy and super secure.

You’ll also notice spacers between the stock and the buttpad. This allows you to adjust length of pull to your needs down. Three are included. If you’re real lanky, you can purchase additional spacers from Bergara for $5. The buttpad is squishy rubber and helps soak up the punishing recoil of 6.5 Creedmoor.

The butt stock is of the style that’s popular in the precision rifle game for shooting off a rear sand bag with your hand hooked in on the stock. Again, this rifle nods a little bit harder at the M in HMR – less towards the the H. A pure hunting stock would smoothly transition from butt to grip and have no hooks that could snag on branches or gear. It would probably also be walnut. That’s fine, this is a match rifle that sometimes hunts, not the other way around.

Bergara has thoughtfully molded in female QD swivels on both sides of the buttstock and the forend – perfect for sling usage, especially for carrying the rifle flat across your back on a long hike. No QD swivels on the bottom side, something I’d prefer for shooting off a tripod and using a sling to cinch the rifle down. That’s OK, they put two swivels on the front, one for a bipod and one for a sling attachment point. There’s another swivel on the back.

Out front, the forend tapers down nicely and provides a decent amount of flat real estate on the bottom. The lines of a hunting stock, especially the narrow forend are a bit more present here. There’s some nice texturing on the forend, and the end result is a stock that’s fairly pleasing to shoot off hand and off a bipod or sand bag. Could it stand to be a bit wider? Sure. Is it a showstopper, absolutely not.

Bergara calls this a #6 taper in their literature which I assume is a Krieger #6 Heavy Bull Sporter. I didn’t break out the fancy measuring equipment, but looking at the specs, that feels close. It’s a good profile that manages to be beefy enough for match use while still cutting enough weight that you won’t hate yourself bringing this on a hunt.

There appears to be enough barrel channel in the stock that should you elect to rebarrel a later date, you’ve got enough room to go to a heavier profiled barrel. And yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, the barrel is ever so slightly off center in the stock. Functional impediment? Not unless you have crippling OCD and this sort of thing sends you into a spiral.

The real star of the show however, is something you can’t see. That is unless you peel off most of the stock to expose the fat chunk of aluminum that comprises the skeleton of the HMR stock.

This is, quite frankly, a very good thing. The reason chassis are the new hotness in PRS/NRL? They work! Partly because they’re so dang stiff and therefore very strong. The mini chassis idea isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s very very rare to see in a mass produced firearm, and rarer still in one that hits the streets for less than $1000.

Barrel Options

This particular rifle is the twenty two inch long 6.5 Creedmoor variety with a 1:8 twist. This is the defacto standard for length and twist on that chambering and offers no surprises.

You can also get your short action HMR in either a right or left handed 20″ 1:10 twist .308 WIN, a left handed 22″ 6.5 Creedmoor, a 26″ 1:8 6 Creedmoor, a right or left handed 24″ 1:9 22-250, or a 20″ 1:24 .45 Bushmaster.

That 22-250 is interesting as most commercial rifles use a much slower twist – 1:12 or 1:14. That 1:9 should be fast enough to stabilize bullets up to almost 80 gr. Competent reloaders should be able to push 75 gr bullets to a very comfortable 3000+ fps. That’s one hell of a varmint rifle, especially with a can screwed to the end.

In a long action, there’s a 24″ 1:9.5 twist 7mm Rem Mag and left and right handed 26″ 1:10 twist 300 Win Mags. Both feed from AICS magazines. I have a magazine fed 7mm Rem Mag and it’s an absolute joy.

So there it all is in all of its glory. A sub $1000 magazine fed bolt gun in a variety of chamberings both long and short offered in both left and right hand models. A very thoughtfully updated Remington 700 pattern action mated to a mini chassis equipped adjustable stock that’s absolutely covered in QD swivels and sling studs. The barrel isn’t exactly centered in the stock channel and the firing pin could stand to be bushed, but it is truly a rifle you could slap a scope on, and go compete with tomorrow. They should also ship a ten round AICS mag!

Field Notes

Above, your humble author grins like a jackass sometime in January 2017 holding one of the very first HMRs to be turned out of the factory just outside Atlanta. 10 days later at SHOT 2017, Bergara launched the HMR to the world at large.

I was very fortunate back in late 2016 and early 2017 to have close personal and professional ties to BPI, the parent company of Bergara rifles. I first met them at SHOT 2016 and reviewed their LRP Elite, a rifle that was named 2016’s TTAG Reader’s Choice for Best New Rifle. At the time, a very close friend of mine ran their (completely US based) customer service group. That allowed me to have a bit of inside baseball information about the HMR before it was released at SHOT. What I heard made me very happy.

Bergara assembled a group of people within the company who spent every available minute outside of the office being rifle shooting enthusiasts of some sort or another. They asked them to help design a rifle that they, serious enthusiasts and former military, would be willing to actually own and shoot. They tweaked and massaged and designed until they had all of that and brought it in at a price that would fit right in with their competition in the market. The end result is a harmonious marriage between shooter and accountant that seems to satisfy all.

SHOT 2017 Range Day

I first shot the HMR at 2017 SHOT Range Day. Surprise of surprises, it was nice and comfortable and I had no problem hitting enormous torso sized targets at a quarter mile, even in a full value 20 mph wind.

Shortly thereafter, this tester arrived. In the past two years, I’ve shot it quite a bit at both paper and steel including at a two day precision rifle class. More on that in a second.

Everyone wants to know about accuracy. Due to a tragically corrupted disk, I’ve lost all the pictures of targets I had using this rifle, but I distinctly remember shooting 6 back to back 5 shot groups that measured under .9 MOA during a scope test. For that test I used Hornady’s 140 gr. factory A-Max load. Most of my measured five shot groups across a range of ammo types resulted in .7 to 1.1 MOA groups. Cherry picking 3 shot groups definitely helps and if you roll like that, this is a half MOA gun. If you operate in reality, this is a reliable sub minute gun.

I mentioned using the HMR at a class and it’s worth noting that I also lugged along a much more expensive custom barreled Remington 700 chambered in 308 Win and nestled in a proper McMillan A5. I shot both rifles a lot over the course of two days and came away still pleased with my much more expensive rifle!

My custom rifle, though chambered in the archaic and nearly dead .308 WIN, is a reliable .5 – .75 MOA shooter. When I do my part, it turns in .4 MOA groups with boring reliability. In real world situations, it’s good for .75 MOA all day every day in all conditions. Mostly better.

What I found was that on the smaller targets, my hit percentage at all ranges was higher with my 308 than it was with the HMR chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. This was due to several factors.

First, my personal rifle is just a lot more accurate. I don’t care how slick the 6.5 is vs. the archaic 308. If you can hold sub MOA out to 600 yards with the 308 when the 6.5 will only manage 1.5-1.7 MOA, you’re going to hit more with the 308.

Second, the McMillan A5 is just loads better than the HMR stock. And it should be! It costs twice as much as the HMR stock which you can buy as a standalone item for $450.

My personal rifle would cost easily $3000 to go build today and it’s just not 3 times better than the HMR. Life or death, I’m still choosing my personal rifle, but for the money, I find the HMR incredibly hard to beat.

What it is: A bolt action rifle offered in a variety of chamberings in both long and short action as well as left and right handed versions. It’s aimed squarely at production class shooters and those looking to spend roughly a grand for a great rifle.
How I got it: I asked Bergara really nicely at SHOT 2017 if I could borrow one and then we didn’t speak for a very long time and it’s still in my safe.
Retail Price: $1150 – $1179. Street price is $949-$999
Who is it for: Those looking to dip their toes in precision rifle competitions. People looking for a rifle a bit more shooter oriented than their typical hunting rifle. Folks who want to reach out and touch animals and don’t mind carrying a heavier rifle to do it.
How I tested it: I shot this rifle a lot from the bench and a variety of other odd positions. I shot at paper and steel and dutifully recorded my results. Then I had a hard drive die and I lost all those photos. Luckily, my mind is still sharp like a tack and I remembered that it is a functionally accurate rifle. Not quite custom, but better than most factory rifles.
What I found: A rifle worthy of your consideration! I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a rifle that does this much for this price. Since it’s based on the Remington 700 footprint, you’ll be able to easily upgrade it along the way. If you like to load your own ammo way beyond max, you should get the firing bin bushed if your rifle was produced before mid 2018. Otherwise, buy it, mount a scope, and shoot it until you wear the barrel out.

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