The Rifles, Inc. Strata stainless bolt-action rifle chambered for the 280 Ackley cartridge may not be the world’s perfect ultra-lightweight rifle, but it’s close enough.
The perfect rifle would weigh, oh, say six ounces. It would steady in your hands like a gyroscope and launch bullets that flew as straight as a laser and hit as hard as lightning. Recoil would be that of a 22 rimfire. Muzzle blast would be soft as a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.
That would be perfect.
In the meantime, I’m keeping my Rifles, Inc. Strata Stainless in 280 Ackley.
Who Makes the Rifles, Inc. Strata Anyway?
Rifles, Inc., by the way, is gun builder Lex Webernick and his delightful wife, Lina. I think Lex builds all the rifles and Lina handles the bulk of all the rest of the business, but I’ve never been in their shop, so this is just conjecture. It may be that Lina builds the rifles and Lex handles the office. Regardless, they are a team and each custom rifle they create is a sparkling testament to their work. I see the duo annually in their small but busy booth at the Dallas Safari Club and the Safari Club International conventions where potential buyers pick up one of their rifles and say “Oh, that doesn’t weigh anything!”
But it does weight something. Not much, compared to your typical bolt-action rifle, but enough that you’ll immediately notice — and soon love — the difference. The Webernicks advertise their custom Lightweight Strata at 5 pounds. Mine, in fact, weighs right at 6 pounds field ready. And it does not recoil painfully. (They make heavier models if you prefer.)
By field ready I mean the rifle is fitted with a Leupold Vari-X-III 2.5-8x36mm scope in Talley one-piece rings (3-ounces for the pair) and three 150-grain Barnes TTSX loads in the blind magazine. That combination has given me moose, elk, mule deer, whitetails, coyotes, caribou, and Dall’s rams. And no bloody noses, no “scope eye,” no bruised shoulders, and no flinch.
Recoil From a 280 Ackley Rifles, Inc. Strata Lightweight is Surprisingly Mild
As shipped 22 years ago, this rifle wore one of Webernick’s sleek, Quiet Slimbrake muzzle brakes, which really tames the kick. And slams my ears. In the interest of auditory health, I often replace it with the supplied end cap. With either screwed tight, you can’t see the joint. And the recoil still doesn’t bother me. But that’s just me. I’m a massive, 5’10” 168-pound beach bully who can take a punch. (I’m being facetious here.) The truth is recoil tolerance has more to do with training and psychology than physics. I know 100-pound grandmas who easily handle 458 Win. Mags. If you discount the Strata rifle because of recoil fear, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
A big part of the Strata’s mild felt recoil is Webernick’s 11-ounce, hand-laminated, Kevlar/Graphite and Boron, pillar-glass-bedded stock. Recoil pad, sling studs and bedding increase this to about one pound. I know of no lighter stock in current production. Some say the synthetic materials absorb the recoil spike and spread it out over time. I don’t pretend to know if that’s true or not. But the straight line butt and comb direct recoil straight back into the shoulder, so you get no rising cheek slap.
Rifles, Inc. Strata in 280 Ackley proved deadly on this bull elk from 450 yards across a windy draw. Compact, light, Leupold Vari-X III 2.5-8x36mm in Talley rings. Barnes 140-gr. TSX.
A 16-ounce stock goes a long way to explaining how Webernick can build a 5-pound rifle, but let’s look at the rest of it. Essentially this is a Remington Model 700 stripped of all its superfluous steel without compromising function or safety. He removes steel from the bolt handle and knob, the bolt shroud, the rear receiver ring and the bolt body. None of these parts contributes to the critical job of locking powder gasses in the barrel. That is handled by the two standard sized recoil lugs locking into the dimensionally unaltered front receiver ring to which the barrel is screwed. The barrel itself however, is turned to what some might call a pipestem. But it’s one impressively accurate pipestem.
What Makes Rifles, Inc. Strata So Accurate?
My 23-inch (24-inch with the brake on) 280 Ackley Lilja barrel tapers from 1.160” at the chamber to .505” at the muzzle. Compare that to the .588” muzzle of a standard Savage M110. The first three shots I ever fired through this rifle, from a portable bench no less, dropped into a .340” cluster from 100 yards. These were the old Barnes X boat tails with 59 grains of Reloader 19 pushing them 3,047 fps.
Such accuracy comes not just from great barrels, but from the precision blueprinting Webernick does to the action. Squaring, lapping, straightening and tuning. The gun builder makes everything concentric and precise, right down to the bedding platform. And then he personally breaks-in each barrel with a careful regimen of firing, cleaning and lapping while sampling different bullets and loads to find the most accurate. Thus do 5-pound Rifles, Inc. Stratas shoot sub-MOA. (Targets are provided with each rifle.)
Rifles, Inc. Strata Accuracy Not for High Volume Fire
By the way, Rifles, Inc. does not guarantee sub-MOA for 5-shots. Webernick freely admits that slim barrels heat faster than heavy and that many, if not most, hot barrels shoot differently than cool ones. He builds for 3-shot precision with specific factory loads grouping 1/2 to 3/4 MOA. This fits nicely with my philosophy: if you can’t hit it with your first three shots from a sub-MOA rifle, two more are just disturbing the peace. (If you insist on 1/2 MOA or better, he’ll build it in a heavier rifle like his 10-pound Canyon long-ranger.)
Rifles, Inc. Strata Advantages
You might be thinking “I don’t climb mountains after sheep and I don’t even hike the High Plains for mule deer, so why do I want to put up with an ultralight rifle?” And my answer is this: You’re not putting up with it. You’re reaping its advantages!
Look, if you just walk a few yards to a stand and sit all day, stick with heavy rifles. If you’re young and strong and enjoy the feel of an 8- to 10-pound rifle on your shoulder and in your hands, use it. But if you enjoy the woods and fields, if you like to hike, walk, stalk or just stroll as you hunt, a 6-pound rifle will help you go farther, last longer and enjoy your time that much more. And it won’t cost you any game. In fact, if my experience is any measure, a 5-pound Rifles, Inc. Strata will increase your hunting success as well as enjoyment.
I enjoyed my Strata so much in the mountains that I began hunting with it on the flats and in the whitetail woods, too. It carries like a breeze, rises to my shoulder like a wand, hangs on target surprisingly well and delivers the goods. Seriously. It has taken rams at 350 yards, elk at 450 yards, mule deer at 245 yards and so much more. The only time I can remember it missing was when I inadvisedly fired at a 485-yard elk at a steep downslope angle through a windy saddle into a calm basin. As if to exonerate my rifle, my partner fired his 10-pound, long barreled 338 Ultra Magnum at the same elk — and hit the same mountainside.
The Webernicks tailor rifles to their customers’ wants. All I want are more opportunities to hunt with my old 280 Ackley Rifles, Inc. Strata.
From Mid-west farmlands to Alaskan wilderness mountains, Ron Spomer has yet to find a hunting field in which the Rifles, Inc. Strata doesn’t fit and function smoothly.