Choosing an action or rifle can arguably, be the single most difficult decision a shooter can make. The other difficult choice is that of choosing an optic, which will be covered another time. Breaking this choice down even further is choosing an action, hence the title. This isn’t meant to be a versus article or a review but more a comparison, looking at the pros and cons of each. Here I will focus primarily on the short action variety as they are most often used for competition. Choosing an action is very much a personal preference. My aim is to give you some insight into how I made that choice and some considerations when you choose yours.
For the most part there are only two choices when choosing which “pattern” action you’d like to choose. That of the 700 or it’s clones or an AI pattern. Some companies such as Badger Ordnance or American Rifle Co. have attempted to blend several different models of action with varying degrees of success.
The two most popular models of 700 pattern custom actions are the Defiance Deviant and Surgeon 591. There are many other actions out there but these two are the most popular custom actions on the precision rifle circuit right now. I have owned both and both are stellar actions. The Deviants are more blocky in their shape and thus feel a bit more robust, while the Surgeon 591 is rather traditional looking with exception to the bolt design. The largest benefit of the 700 pattern custom actions is that the list of aftermarket parts and accessories is seemingly endless. For example, an individual can choose a Manners or McMillan stock if they feel they like the look and feel of the traditional style stocks. They can choose any number of chassis systems if the shooter wants more adjustability out of the stock. If the shooter wants the look of an AI rifle but likes the feel of the Surgeon 591 or Deviant actions, AI has a chassis that the barreled action can be dropped into. If the shooter wants the look of an M2010 rifle, Cadex makes a chassis for that.
Accuracy International AT/AX
The AT/AX action is essentially an AW action with a quick change barrel options. The quick change barrel allows for caliber swaps on the short action rifles to occur in about 1 minute with only one tool. This is a huge benefit for those who run hot loads and run the risk of piercing primers. For me the benefit is being able to have a practice 6.5 Creedmoor barrel and a competition 6.5 Creedmoor barrel that can be quickly swapped out. I also have a .308 barrel that can be used for cheap practice or deer hunting should I choose. Now barrel changes can be done at home with 700 pattern actions though it is a little more time consuming and involved but totally doable.
Another benefit of the AT/AX action is it’s durability. This action is not designed for the competition, it was designed primarily as a sniper rifle intended for the battlefield. It’s design has translated well for competition use but that is coincidence more than design in my opinion. The AI action is designed to take a beating and work in every environment imaginable. I shoot in a place known for bitter cold winters and a team that prides itself on being “Kings of the North”. I’ve shot my AT in sub-zero degree weather with zero sluggishness in the bolt cycle or trigger issues. Both of my Deviants had some bolt sluggishness, though I think that could possibly be remedied by switching to a different grease.
As mentioned above there are endless possibilities for which stock or chassis your custom action can ride in. The list includes but is not limited to:
Even Desert Tech has a prototype for a 700 pattern chassis that has made an appearance at SHOT show for a couple of years.
The only downside to this, is that to use some of these stock or chassis, they may or may not need to be inlet for your specific action.
Accuracy International AT/AX
There are really only two chassis options for the Accuracy International pattern rifles. The AT rifles come with a AW style stock that has a pistol grip, though there's a “thumbhole” skin set available for the AI AT chassis. The cheek piece and but stock adjusts much like traditional style stocks. There are mounting capabilities on the stock for accessories at the 3, 6 and 9 positions as well as the ability to mount an NVD rail to the top of the stock if needed.
The AX chassis is on a whole different level itself. Rather than a traditional style forend AI opted for a shorter front grip and a long fore end tube that has their proprietary key slot adapters that can be added to mount accessories such as bipods, range finders and red dots. The top of the tube can be modified with a full length 20 MOA night vision rail that aligns with the 20 MOA optic rail on the action. The butt stock is full adjustable for comb height, length of pull and shoulder pocket angle. The stock also folds to the right capturing the bolt for a small signature.
The biggest difference between the two is that the 700 clones use a 90* bolt throw while Accuracy International actions use a 60* I like the 60* better due to its speed but the bolt does get hung up on clothing a little bit easier than the 90* bolts on the 700 clones.
The 700 clones are slightly easier on the bolt lift as well, though the difference is hard to pick up. The AI bolts are extremely easy and require no tools to disassemble which is a nice bonus. The AI’s also have a 3 position safety on the bolt as well.
Both types of action accept the nearly universally accepted AI pattern magazines. Though the AT and AX run on AW and AX magazines whereas the 700 pattern clones tend to run best on the AICS pattern AI mags. Though some actions are cut for AW mags, I have had feeding issues in both of my Deviant actions running the AW pattern magazines.
As with stocks, the options for triggers is endless for the 700 clone actions. Timney seems to be the most popular. However, Jewel and Huber Concepts triggers are also extremely popular.
Accuracy International AT/AX
The AT and AX rifles use Accuracy International’s 2 stage drop in trigger. The plus side to this trigger is that it is extremely robust and has a great pull weight and feel. The downside to it is that only an AI certified armorer should be working on the weight adjustments. However the trigger shoe position is user adjustable.
At the end of the day I went with the AI AX. It matched what I needed in a rifle. My shooting partner and girlfriend prefers the 700 clone actions. The choice is totally personal and comes down to what type of features the shooter is looking for. I hope this helps you make yours.