Don’t be put off by its quirky looks — this practical straight pull is a one-rifle shooting system for all types of stalking, says Bruce Potts in Shooting Times
Straight-pull rifles are becoming more popular as their ability to offer a super-fast cycling rate with a short and effortless bolt-action design is appealing. German firm Merkel has had good success with its version of this genre in the Helix system, and the Merkel Helix Speedster model embodies all the benefits of a straight pull in an ultra-ergonomic stock design. (Read our review of the Merkel RX Helix Alpinist rifle.)
The Helix system uses a 1:2 transmission operating system where the bolt handle only moves back half the distance of the actual bolt, allowing for faster cycling. Very clever.
The Speedster uses a non-tool take-down system for a swift barrel change, enabling cartridges from .222 to .338 Win Mag to be selected. This makes it a one-rifle shooting system for all types of stalking. Distributor Viking Arms stocks the rifle in the most popular calibres in this country.
Merkil Helix Speedster stock
The synthetic stock — known as the SpeedStock — is the real star. A cross between a normal pistol grip design and that of a thumbhole, the top-opened OmegaGrip offers great stability in the aim as well as lightning-fast handling characteristics.
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If that was not enough, an elevating cheekpiece with an automatically adjustable stock comb has a memory function that allows for an instantly reproducible shooting position on the cheek. All in all, the Merkel Helix Speedster is a quirky-looking but infinitely shootable rifle and, being a Merkel, it is well built and always accurate.
Need to know
- Manufacturer Merkel
- Model Helix RX Speedster
- Overall length 42.25in
- Barrel length 22in, fluted with M15/1 thread
- Sights None; integral Picatinny type mounting
- Stock Green synthetic; adjustable soft-touch cheekpiece
- Weight 3.2kg
- Trigger Direct trigger system
- Safety Slide action on rear tang
- Magazine Detachable; three or five shot
- Calibre .308 on test
- Price £3,390
- Contact Viking Arms, 01423 780810
- The Helix system’s 1:2 transmission system allows for quiet and fast cycling of rounds
- The barrel is removed via a button in the fore-end tip, which slides off to reveal a small lever that unlocks the barrel. This allows you to switch between calibres
- The OmegaGrip is a cross between a normal pistol grip design and that of a thumbhole and allows the thumb to move swiftly from grip to bolt operation
- The stock features an adjustable comb with a memory function that allows for a reproducible shooting position
- Merkel’s height-adjustable cheekpiece has been automated for the SpeedStock
The stock instantly jumps out at you, but in a good way — it feels very solid, eliminating any vibrations and flexibility that can ruin accuracy. It is comfortable at 14.25in length of pull, which can be altered with different butt-plate carriers, and the OmegaGrip allows the thumb to move swiftly from grip to bolt operation. There are also soft-touch inserts to the pistol grip and fore-end that grip well, even in the wet.
I particularly like the height-adjustable stock comb, called the Memory CheekPiece, as a single button on top of the stock provides a reproducible shooting position smoothly and silently when adjusted. Clever.
The hollow pistol grip with removable cap offers enough space to store a barrel cleaner — a nice touch — and slim quick-detachable sling swivels come fitted as standard.
Now for the metalwork. The straight-pull bolt handle moves 2.75in, while the bolt itself moves nearly twice that distance. This is achieved by a rotating helical profile head with six locking lugs within a shroud that lock into the barrel itself for safety. As the whole bolt is captive within the aluminium action, there is no bolt coming back to hit your nose, so you can keep your head down and carry on shooting. Very sensibly, Merkel has added a milled-in two-part Picatinny rail to the action top. This is solid and adaptable for any scope mounting.
The 22in fluted profile, 19mm diameter barrel is removed via a button in the fore-end tip, which slides off to reveal a small lever that unlocks the barrel. You can therefore change between calibres as the bolt head is removable, with three sizes — mini, standard and magnum — to suit cartridges from .222 to .338 Win Mag.
The direct-action trigger has a smooth, slender blade and is adjustable from 900g to 1,900g, though an optional lighter TAR-GT trigger gives 500g to 1,500g. The tang-mounted safety catch is actually a manual cocking piece. In the forward and up position, the Merkel can be cocked and fired, while a small button on top of the catch lowers the safety and locks everything. The five-shot magazine is released by twin opposed buttons on either side of the magazine well and drops the mag into your hand nicely.
The Merkel RX Helix system feels natural and safe to shoot, and that goes a long way to adding confidence and consistency in producing accurate and well-aimed shots under field conditions. The Speedster’s stock is not my style, but you cannot deny its superior ergonomics and strength. All in all, this is a practical, if pricey, straight-pull rifle for stalking or foxing.
- Accuracy. Shot factory and reloads consistently but preferred light to mid-range bullets
- Handling. Designed for speed and stability the stock acquitted itself well
- Trigger and safety. Predictable trigger-pull, but sliding safety a little stiff
- Stock. Not my style, but good adjustable cheekpiece and natural pointability
- Value. You pay for Merkel build quality and the Speedster’s unique design
- Overall. A quirky-looking but infinitely shootable straight-pull rifle for stalkers and foxers
Field testing the Merkel Helix Speedster
I fitted a low-powered Kahles scope that suited the fast target acquisition the Speedster offered out in the field. While zeroing in, we tested the speed of the action on steel targets and found the Helix system ran like clockwork. With no exposed bolt, you can really keep that head down and not destroy your hold or concentration on the target.
The rifle shot well with the factory ammo, the best load being the Sako 123-gr Gamehead, with 3,011fps for 2,477ft/lb and 0.95in 100-yard groups. Upping the bullet weight to 150-gr, classic .308 Win, and the Hornady SSTs achieved 2,893fps for 2,788ft/lb and 1in groups. Norma Ecostrike 150-gr loads shot over the 1in mark but delivered 2,764fps for 2,545ft/lb energy, so a good lead-free option.
Reloads helped, and testing the lead-free 110-gr Barnes TSX achieved 0.75in groups with a load of 42.0 grains of RL7 powder for 3,018fps and 2,225ft/lb. The 150-gr Sierra Game Changers achieved 2,884fps with 51.0 grains of RL17 powder and sub-1in groups.
In the field, while after roebuck, all we saw were roe does and foxes. In the end, we settled on a scrawny fox that was running up a steep chalk bank. At 185 yards, I whistled; he stopped and I fired, but I missed over him. But the Helix system reloaded in a trice and my second shot connected and rolled him down the hill.