Gray’s Best Awards 2015

SHOOTING: Merkel RX-Helix

Straight-pull bolt actions have been a specialty of German and Austrian gunmakers since the first designs of Ferdinand von Mannlicher appeared in the 1880s. Since then, they have progressed by fits and starts. That is partly because Americans have never taken straight-pull actions to heart, and America is such a dominant market that if it doesn’t make it here, it probably won’t make it anywhere. The Germans never gave up, though, and in recent years have produced some ultramodern straight-pull designs that received rave reviews. The latest comes from the venerable Suhl gunmaker, formerly (and famously) Gebruder Merkel, now called Merkel Jagd- und Sportwaffen. The RX-Helix ($2,995) is designed with some specific applications in mind. Foremost, for Europeans, is hunting driven wild boar. That requires speed of handling, sights that move from target to target with ease, and a fast action. For Americans, this could be whitetail hunting in the Eastern forests, where the action is fast and close. The Helix bolt employs a gearing system that not only keeps the bolt throw about half what you would expect, but also allows a completely enclosed receiver at the rear, similar to a semiauto. Combined with Merkel’s innovative open sights, the Helix is tailor-made for whitetails or for feral hogs in situations ranging from night-shooting to driven pigs to coursing with dogs. If you like your action fast, the Helix is the fastest you’ll find this side of a semiauto. And, as you’d expect from the Germans, it’s beautifully built.