By Scott Mayer
(first published in Predator Xtreme)
“LET ME SHOW YOU MY BORCHARDT,” ROBERT BARRKMAN TELLS ME NOT LONG AFTER MEETING HIM AT HIS GUNSMITHING AND METAL COATING OPERATION, ROBAR, IN PHOENIX.
It might seem odd to bring up the world’s first commercially successful auto pistol in a predator-hunting magazine, but it illustrates that Barrkman’s gun knowledge is not only wide, but also deep.
There aren’t many of these pistols in the world, especially not in the 95ish percent condition of Barrkman’s, which is why when I asked him if he was going to shoot it, I was pleased to hear him reply, “Of course.” Barrkman is a custom gunmaker, but he doesn’t build “gun cabinet queens” — instead he builds uncompromising guns made for a hard day’s work.
That way of thinking is how Barrkman started in the gunsmithing trade when, as a shooting instructor at the legendary Gunsite academy under the tutelage of Jeff Cooper, Barrkman began fixing students’ handguns if they broke down during the demanding shooting sessions in the hot, dry desert of northern Arizona. From opening the first “Gunsmithy” at Gunsite, Barrkman went on to work with the renowned ri- flesmith Gale McMillian and eventually set up his own shop in Phoenix.
There, he and a team of six gunsmiths he personally trained build guns such as the SR60 and SR90 used by SWAT and military units, and it’s that same type of demanding experience ROBAR uses to build the SR21 rifle that I was there to consider as a contender for a predator rifle.
AT THE HEART
ROBAR SR21 rifles are “built to order,” meaning there’s a base con- figuration and then almost anything goes, and at the time of my visit there was one in .308 Winchester ready to test fire.
While the .308 is clearly not a top cartridge choice for predators, trigger time with it provided valuable insight into the quality and potential of a ROBAR- built rifle. At the heart of the SR21 is a Remington 700 action. ROBAR can provide one or you can send your own, and you can use either a short or long action depending on what chambering you want. Gun-smith Marty Enloe is the designated builder of SR21 rifles and explained several of the accurizing steps ROBAR takes before putting their name on a gun and backing it with a 1/2 MOA accuracy guarantee.
First is a series of action-truing operations commonly referred to as “blueprinting” that make sure Marty has a trued and squared action as the foundation for everything else that goes into the build. Those operations include facing the front of the action and recutting and surface grinding the recoil lug. Those steps eliminate misalignment of the action to its axis and, when combined with chasing the action threads, make it possible to install a quality barrel equally straight.
Also trued are the bolt-locking lugs. If you remove the bolt from your favorite factory bolt-action rifle and look at the rear surface of the lugs, you might be surprised at how little and uneven the wear is. That lopsidedness can translate into inaccuracy, which is why Marty laboriously laps the lugs on SR21 builds so they’re equally square and have full contact.
Equally critical is having a quality barrel, and currently Marty favors using 24-inch match-grade ones from Lilja. Inside the action, everything gets a coating of NP3, which is a super-slick electroless nickel-based finish that deposits sub-micron particles of PTFE (Teflon) along with the nickel. This particular finish is known for plating on evenly so it doesn’t undo any of Marty’s painstaking efforts, and it’s super hard and corrosion- resistant.
The accurized barreled action is mounted in a MDT TAC21 modular chassis so that the only contact is between the receiver and V-shaped bedding blocks and at the recoil lug area. This ensures accuracy and repeatability, and the generous clearance around the for-end means that even the largest practicable diameter barrels are free-floated.
It’s a pretty smart-looking design — something like a hybrid bolt-action and AR-15 — with clever features like a quick-release buttstock for easy bolt removal and a cutout so you can use the conventional Remington 700 safety. If you’re the type of gun enthusiast who likes the natural beauty of Circassian walnut, then this chassis is probably not going to appeal to you, but it will to those who like or have been brought up on the AR-15.