Though the classic American big-game rifle is clearly adapted from European designs, rifles from the continent have never really gained much of a foothold in the modern U.S. hunting market. Part of that disconnect is pure misunderstanding, as many European rifles have features adapted to their style of hunting that appear non-traditional to many of us stateside. The Merkel RX Helix is just such a rifle, built from the ground up for the quick action and fast shooting of driven hunts. Lightweight and ergonomic, the RX Helix is right at home in the woods.
The RX Helix is a straight-pull bolt-action rifle designed for rapid follow-up shots. The fixed bolt handle is perched just above the shooter’s grip to allow for quick access and slides straight to the rear and then returns to the in-battery position with no lifting necessary. When the bolt is cycled, the bolt head unlocks and rotates mechanically inside the aluminum receiver to extract and eject the spent case before feeding a fresh round from the single-column, detachable-box magazine. The process is smooth and far faster than that of a traditional turn-bolt action and with less motion to take the shooter’s eyes from the target. In addition, since the bolt does not protrude through the rear of the action, there is a theoretical margin of safety provided by the solid rear of the receiver facing the shooter. As for safeties, the RX Helix’s intuitive two-position manual safety catch is located on the tang. It is actuated by a sliding the generous button rearward and is released by forward movement, the rifle’s bolt cannot be cycled with the safety engaged.
Like the action, the two-piece stock is designed for rapid offhand shooting with a generous vertical pistol grip. Made of European walnut with a glossy finish, the stock features a modern yet functional checkering pattern and a soft and effective recoil pad. The shape of the stock lends itself to quickly mounting the rifle and makes it comfortable to shoot from the standing position. The overall appearance is futuristic yet very Teutonic with its flaring palmswell grip cap and angular cheekpiece. Synthetic stocks and upgraded wood are also available.
Although not evident at first glance, the RX Helix is a take-down design that allows the user to quickly disassemble the rifle for travel or storage as well as to change calibers. Breaking it down into its three primary components requires no tools. The fore-end is released by depressing the release latch button at the six o’clock position and sliding the stock forward and off the receiver. With the fore-end removed, a single lever protruding below the barrel is turned 90 degrees downward and the barrel slides forward with a slight twist. Reversing the procedure assembles the rifle in a few seconds; it’s easier to assemble and disassemble than it is to explain the process. There are three caliber groups: Mini (.222 Rem., .223 Rem.), Standard (6.5x55 mm Swede, .308 Win., 30-’06 Sprg., etc.) and Magnum (7 mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag.). Calibers are interchangeable within each group but not across the full spectrum of cartridges. Additional barrel configurations featuring different contours, sight options and lengths are available and the fore-end’s barrel channel is relieved slightly to accommodate them.
The rifle was tested for accuracy using a 6X hunting optic, not a target scope. Though the accuracy was acceptable, this is a hunting rifle, not a benchrest gun. The RX Helix really shines when you step away from the bench and shoot offhand. With an exceptional trigger and a functional stock design, it proved to be extremely “shootable.” Though otherwise a consistent and reliable rifle, we did encounter some issues with the Winchester Supreme XP3 ammunition. Accuracy ranged from fair to poor with that load and, in one circumstance, the bolt froze and had to be beaten open. Inspection of the ammunition and spent cases did not offer a diagnosis, but the problem did not occur with the other three types of ammunition used. This single ammunition-related failure-to-extract was the only malfunction encountered out of more than 200 rounds expended.
Our test rifle featured “driven hunt” red- and green-dot fiber-optic iron sights, which are drift-adjustable for windage and adjust for elevation using a hex screw on the interchangeable front sight. The receiver has two integral sections of Picatinny rail and optional quick-detachable rings are available. The only mechanical issue we encountered, which was attributable to the rifle, was a rear sight that “walked” out of the dovetail after more than 100 rounds; some thread-locker on the setscrew would likely solve the problem.
Assuredly, the European styling may be a bit different than what we are accustomed to, but the RX Helix is very good at what it’s designed to do. It would be ideal in hunting locales where lever- and slide-action rifles are commonly used. This rifle would not be the best choice for Western hunts where cross-canyon shots might be possible, but at normal hunting distances, in timber, or in any tight cover, the RX Helix is in its element.
Manufacturer: Merkel, merkel-usa.com Importer: Steyr Arms, Inc.; (205) 655-8299; steyrarms.com Caliber: .308 Win. (tested); numerous from .222 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag. Action type: straight-pull, bolt-action center-fire rifle Receiver: hard-anodized aluminum Barrel: 22" cold hammer forged carbon steel Rifling: four-groove, 1:12" RH twist Sights: fiber-optic-dot iron front and rear; Picatinny rail for scope mounting Trigger: single-stage; 2-lb. pull Stock: two-piece European walnut; length of pull, 141⁄2"; drop at heel, 7/8"; drop at comb, 15/16" Overall Length: 421/8" Weight: 6 lbs., 6 ozs. Accessories: manual, hard case Suggested Retail Price: $3,795