When most shooters hear the name “Les Baer,” they probably think of custom M1911 pistols and extremely accurate AR-15s. Ironically, Baer started his gunsmithing career building neither Government Models nor AR-style rifles, but bolt-action arms. As an avid handgun silhouette competitor in the 1970s, Baer initially cut his gunsmithing teeth on custom Remington XP-100 handguns, becoming adept at action trueing, rebarreling, chambering and other accurizing techniques.
Baer later branched out to building bolt-action competition rifles as well as PPC revolvers, and by the late 1980s he was crafting custom M1911 pistols for IPSC and other practical pistol sports. Then situated in Allentown, Pa., Baer was a business rival of nearby master pistolsmith Austin Behlert, in whose shop I worked in the early 1990s. Although Baer was one of our competitors, we often built guns using his Government Model slides and frames, as they were of superb quality.
In 1999, Baer began producing AR-15-style rifles based on his own upper and lower receivers, which were CNC-machined from forgings and featured his own cut-rifled barrels. They quickly garnered a reputation not only for superior fit and finish, but also for unusual accuracy. At a time when a one-minute-of-angle (m.o.a.) factory AR was a rarity, Baer guaranteed 1/2-inch five-shot groups with his highest-grade guns. My own experience with his rifles substantiates that claim, and even his button-rifled Police Special easily delivers nickel-size groups.
In 2010 Baer returned to his bolt-action roots with the introduction of the LBC Tactical Bolt-Action Rifles. Two distinct models are offered: the Tactical Varmint Classic and the Tactical Recon, the latter being the subject of this article. Though differing in stock design and overall weight, both rifles are distinguished by a guarantee of 1/2-inch or better 10-shot groups at 100 yards with match ammunition.
The result of a year of development and testing, the Tactical Recon is designed to offer unparalleled accuracy in an out-of-the-box rifle for serious precision shooters, including those in law enforcement, federal agencies, security teams, military units and the like. The rifle is based on the Stiller’s Precision TAC30 repeater action, and sports a 24-inch barrel, adjustable Bell & Carlson synthetic stock and a five-round single-column magazine. Chamberings include .243 Win., .260 Rem. and .308 Win. Gun length in all calibers is 43 inches, and weight is 11 pounds, 8 ounces (without scope or bipod). In addition to a magazine, operator’s manual and Les Baer Custom catalog, each rifle is supplied with a 20-m.o.a. steel Picatinny rail, a Harris bipod and a padded soft case.
The gun’s TAC30 action from Stiller’s Precision—a name well-respected by benchresters—is identical in diameter, footprint and stock screw spacing to the Remington Model 700, allowing the Baer barreled action to be installed in any stock designed for the Remington. The TAC30 receiver differs from the Model 700 design, however, in its distinctive ejection port and left-side pivoting bolt release.
In addition, the TAC30 action is manufactured to exacting tolerances. The receiver, made of 416R stainless steel hardened to 41 HRc, has its bolt hole and lug raceways formed by wire EDM after heat-treatment to ensure straightness. Bolt clearance inside the receiver runs about 0.004-0.006 inches, and all critical areas—the barrel threads, locking lug seats, receiver face,and bolt face—are machined square to the axis of the bore and bolt to 0.001 inch or less.
Though no sights are provided with the Tactical Recon, the receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounts. Each rifle is factory-equipped with a steel 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail from Stiller’s Precision, mounted by way of stout 8-40 screws.
The TAC30 bolt is similar to that of the Remington 700 Short Action, measuring 0.700-inches in diameter and featuring eight spiral flutes, a Remington-style bolt shroud and two large locking lugs. Extraction is accomplished not by the signature Remington spring-clip unit, however, but by a large pivoting AR-15/M16-style extractor, and ejection is by way of the familiar spring-powered plunger. A 0.14-inch port in the bolt head vents gas escaping from a pierced primer or separated case. At the rear of the bolt is the single helical cocking cam and a threaded bolt handle that allows the installation of various bolt knobs. A knurled teardrop-shaped knob is standard on the Tactical Recon.
The rifle features a Timney Remington 700 trigger, a two-lever design that may be adjusted for pull weight from 1½ to 4 pounds, as well as for overtravel and sear engagement. The trigger is set from about 3 pounds to 3 pounds, 8 ounces at the factory, but a lighter pull may be requested. The Timney trigger features a Remington-style two-position safety lever that blocks the trigger and not the sear, allowing the bolt to be worked with the safety engaged.
Threaded onto the TAC30 receiver is the Tactical Recon’s 24-inch 416R stainless-steel barrel, rifled with a single-point cutter in a five-groove, 1:10-inch right-hand twist. The barrel has a medium-heavy contour, measuring 1.25 inches forward of the receiver ring and 0.79 inches at the muzzle. An oversize 0.30-inch-thick recoil lug is clamped between the receiver and barrel, and the muzzle has a recessed 11-degree crown. Both the barrel and action of the Tactical Recon have a wear- and corrosion-resistant Dupont S coating that confers a non-reflective black finish.
Baer states that the bore dimensions on his cut-rifled tubes are uniform to within 0.0001 inch from end to end. This is on par with the best match barrels available today and goes a long way toward explaining the unusual accuracy of LBC rifles. Like many of today’s top barrelmakers, Baer believes cut rifling puts less stress into the barrel than button rifling or hammer forging.
Both the Tactical Varmint Classic and the Tactical Recon bolt guns are chambered using reamers from Pacific Tool & Gauge. Dave Kiff, PT&G’s owner, is widely recognized as an expert in chamber and reamer design and he specially designed the reamers to meet two design objectives. First, of course, the chambers had to be conducive to maximum accuracy. But just as importantly, each chamber had to accept all military and commercial ammunition—a capability particularly important in the .308 Win./7.62x51 mm NATO model, which may be called upon to fire any of dozens of commercial or military loads.
The Bell & Carlson Varmint/Tactical stock that Baer selected for the Tactical Recon is a remarkably solid unit, with an integral aluminum bedding block, a 7 1/2-inch accessory rail under the fore-end, adjustments for cheekpiece height and length of pull, and a 1/2-inch-thick Pachmayr buttpad that can be adjusted for cant and vertical position. The pistol grip has the vertical configuration preferred by many tactical shooters, and the 23⁄8-inch-wide fore-end is square in cross-section with a flat bottom. The underside of the butt is also flattened for riding a rear bag, and features a removable threaded-in sling swivel stud. A second sling swivel stud, attached to an adapter that rides in the fore-end accessory rail, is used to mount the Harris bipod supplied with each rifle. The stock has a slightly crinkly surface finish that is both non-reflective and easy to grip. Black is currently the only stock color offered, although green with black spider-webbing may soon be an option.
Although the rifle’s Bell & Carlson stock has a bedding block, Baer also beds the stock with Brownells’ Acraglas at the receiver tang and, in the front, under the receiver ring, around the recoil lug and under the barrel for about an inch forward of the lug. Both the aluminum bottom metal and the steel five-round single-column box magazine are from Wyatt’s Outdoor Custom Rifles of Medford, Ore. The Wyatt’s Outdoor magazine release is located inside the trigger guard to minimize the likelihood of inadvertent contact with clothing, twigs and so forth.
Though the Tactical Recon looks good and features quality components, the bottom line for serious shooters is performance. Baer’s accuracy guarantee of 1/2-inch 10-shot groups at 100 yards is extraordinary performance for a factory rifle firing factory ammunition, and better than many custom rifles achieve with handloads.
I recently tested Les Baer's guarantee at the range with a Tactical Recon in .308 Win. fitted with a Nightforce 5.5-22x56 mm NXS scope with 0.1 milliradian clicks, mounted in Nightforce rings. Baer advised me that the rifle shot just about all match .308 Win. ammunition well, but particularly favored loads with 168- and 175-grain match bullets. Accordingly, I assembled a collection of test ammunition, including Black Hills’ 175-grain match load, Federal’s Gold Medal 168- and 175-grain loads, and the 155-grain TAP FPD, 168-grain TAP FPD and 178-grain HPBT Superformance loads from Hornady.
I trundled all this ammunition to the range, along with my Sinclair windage tripod rest, Protektor rear bag, Kurzzeit PVM-21 chronograph, Wheeler Engineering tool kit, targets, pen and paper, bottled water, ham sandwich, et cetera. (Those who aspire to be a professional gun writer should understand that a trip to the range can involve about as much equipment as an expedition across the Gobi desert.)
Range conditions were good—sunny with temperatures around 72 degrees F, but with a bit of a crosswind. To give the rifle the best opportunity to perform, I removed the Harris bipod and both sling swivel studs and fired from my Sinclair rest and Protektor bag. The flat-bottomed fore-end and buttstock tracked very well on this setup. There was no need to break-in the barrel, as this was done before the gun left Les Baer Custom. Five-shot groups were fired, both to conserve my limited quantity of ammunition, and to mirror the standard test protocol used by American Rifleman.
How did it shoot? Very well, indeed. Even the worst-performing ammunition yielded sub-m.o.a. groups, and the best—the 168-grain loads from Federal and Hornady—produced the accuracy claimed by Baer. Five-shot groups with these two loads averaged “in the threes,” mathematically equivalent to 1/2-inch 10-shot groups. Next in performance were the Black Hills and Federal 175-grain loads, and the Hornady TAP load with the 155-grain A-MAX bullet, all of which gave groups of around a 1/2 inch—good accuracy by any standard. Hornady’s new Superformance load, with a 178-grain HPBT bullet came in last at around 0.9 of an inch—which was surprising, as that ammunition has grouped into a 1/2 inch in several other rifles.
There was a lot to like about the LBC Tactical Recon. The trigger broke cleanly at 3 pounds, and the adjustable, vertical-grip stock got high marks for ergonomics and comfort. Recoil was minimal, thanks to both stock design and the gun’s 14-pound, 7 ounce as-tested weight. No malfunctions of any kind were experienced. Firing pin indentations were centered and sufficiently deep, feeding from the magazine was flawless, and ejection was strong and trouble-free. Finally, with the scope and bipod attached, the rifle balanced perfectly just forward of the magazine, allowing the gun to be conveniently held or carried with only one hand.
But what about the guaranteed 1/2-inch 10-shot group? I had just enough of the Federal 168-grain Gold Medal load to give it a try. Though the wind had picked up, I (or rather, the gun and I) succeeded in putting 10 successive bullets in a ragged hole measuring 0.491 inch, with most of the dispersion being in the horizontal plane. Clearly, sub-1/2-inch 10-shot groups are well within the capabilities of this rifle. I can’t really crow too much about my shooting ability, however. Included with this gun was a 1/4-inch group labeled “200 yards, 10 shots, Federal Gold Medal 168-grain HPBT.” It seems that Les Baer can not only build guns—he can shoot them as well.
I can suggest only a couple of small changes in the Tactical Recon: the installation of flush-mounted cups for quick-detachable sling swivels on both sides of the fore-end and buttstock, and the modification of the buttstock to allow easy removal of the adjustable cheekpiece (for cleaning) and reinstallation at the exact same height. Both changes would make the rifle more appealing to professional shooters, and are under consideration by Baer.
In the burgeoning realm of high-end precision guns, the Les Baer Tactical Recon rifle is about average in terms of price, but is considerably above average in every other respect. In my years with American Rifleman, I don’t think I ever tested a factory .308 Win. rifle that grouped better. On the basis of accuracy alone, the Tactical Recon is worth the price of admission. Real-world tactical shooters will additionally appreciate the gun’s moderate weight and well-designed stock.
When I talked with Les Baer a few weeks ago, he mentioned a number of other bolt-gun projects on his plate, including new chamberings in 6.5x.284 Norma, .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Norma Mag.; a .338 Lapua Mag. rifle, a heavy-barrel tactical gun and possibly models for NRA High Power and F-Class competition. If these rifles are crafted as carefully and perform as impressively as the LBC Tactical Recon, Les Baer’s bolt rifles will undoubtedly become as dominant as his M1911s and AR-style guns—and justifiably so.
Manufacturer: Les Baer Custom, Inc.; (563) 289-2126; www.lesbaer.com
Caliber: .243 Win, .260 Rem., .308 Win. (tested)
Action Type: bolt-action, repeating, center-fire rifle
Receiver: 416R stainless steel
Barrel: 24", stainless steel, medium-heavy profile
Rifling: five-groove, 1:10" right-hand twist
Magazine: five-round steel box
Sights: none supplied; 20-m.o.a. Picatinny rail for scope mounting
Trigger: single-stage, 3-lb. pull
Stock: black synthetic: length of pull, 13"-143⁄4"; drop at heel, 1"; drop at comb, 1"; cheekpiece vertically adjustable 13⁄8"
Overall Length: 43" (buttpad fully forward)
Weight: 11 lbs., 8 ozs. (rifle only); 14 lbs., 7 ozs. (as tested, with scope and bipod)
Accessories: one magazine, bipod, soft case, operator’s manual
Suggested Retail Price: $3,560