Elegant and superb to handle, this single-shot rifle is lightweight, dependable and in the field it shoots as good as it looks, says Bruce Potts
Merkel, one of the oldest gunmakers in the Suhl district of Germany, is renowned for its fine shotguns, rifles and double- or triple-barrelled guns. The Merkel K3 Extreme .308 harks back to the tradition of quality single-shot rifles that are popular for Alpine regions, travelling hunters and those who like and only need one shot. But beneath its deceptively simplistic exterior lies a meticulously built rifle.
The K3 is available in a range of stock options from classic “hog’s back” to full-length Stutzen, with others on request. The grade-2 wood is basic but nicely figured. Calibre choice ranges from the rimmed variety of 6.5mm and 7mm x 57R to 6.5mm and 7mm x 65R versions to the newer 30R and powerful 9.3x74R.
I had the .308 Win version, of which the other rimless calibres available are .270 Win, .30-06, 8×57, 7mm Rem Mag or .30 Win Mag, with others in the pipeline. This makes the K3 suitable for deer, boar or African plains game, cementing the rifle’s credentials as a great travelling gun.
I’m a fan of single-shot rifles. They are elegant and tactile guns to use — they are often shorter than standard rifles due to having no conventional action, and handle superbly as a result. They are also often lightweight so you can carry them all day without fatigue. Best of all, the single-shot break action has been perfected over the centuries so is utterly reliable.
- The K3 has a traditional German-styled stock with hog’s-back/Bavarian-type cheekpiece. Even with a scope fitted the comb is not too low for correct scope alignment.
- This black-action Sporter model has grade-2 walnut — the Stutzen model has grade 4 — but there is still a good overall colour with strong, straight-grained figuring throughout, with a practical and good-looking rubbed oil finish.
- There is a quite upright pistol-grip stance and the right-handed palm swell provides a firm and assured natural grip.
- There is a solid black rubber recoil pad, as well as a fixed sling swivel attachment.
- The fore-end is well appointed with finely cut chequering and the slimline profile suits the svelte K3 design.
- The Schnabel fore-end tip finishes off a classical and practical stock.
The K3 is a break-open single-shot rifle. To disassemble you simply pull back on the inset lever in the fore-end’s underside, which removes the fore-end from the barrel hanger. Next, open the top lever to the action and the barrel will tilt forward. It can be removed from the large barrel hinge pin that traverses the action front.
Behind the hinge-pin lug is a second lug that drops down from the action and locks into the tilting Jaeger bolt recess which, when the action is closed, tightly grips this lug. It is a clever design that works faultlessly. The bolt is nitrided for strength and smoothness and houses the firing pin, which floats in the assembly and only emerges when the action is closed.
When the action closes, the top of the bolt fits into the barrel overhang, creating a strong union between barrel and action. The top lever, like that of a shotgun, is actually cast and has moulded-in engraving — an interesting choice — but the rest of the alloy action is superbly machined and finished in black with only the anodised gold trigger-blade accenting the design.
Trigger and safety
- The safety is a large lever fitted to the action tang with a high raised profile. As the action is opened, the safety moves rearward to the “off” position and has to be reset to “fire” before taking the shot. Very safe but noisy.
- The trigger has a smooth, slender profile and a crisp, zero-creep weight of pull of 2.85lb. There is a small rotating lever behind the trigger set into the trigger-guard that, when rotated, has three positions for differing weights from 1.5lb to 3.5lb.
- No sights are fitted but the K3 has a saddle-type mounting system that the Europeans like and which suits their type of rifles. There are twin attachment grooves, cut into the top of the receiver front and rear, with a horizontal recoil slot that all correspond to lugs in the one-piece scope mount.
- Attachment is superb, with two quick-detachable levers that are adjustable for differing grip. When the inset plunger is pushed then rotated 120°, the mount is removed.
- The barrel is precision-made of high-strength chromoly and has a tough blued exterior finish. The K3 on test has a 21.5in barrel and, due to the break-action design, the overall length of the rifle is only 36.25in. It weighs in at a trim 2.5kg.
- The barrel has a semi-medium-weight hunter profile with eight identical flutes covering nearly the entire length of the barrels. These reduce weight further, look good and aid cooling to a small degree.
- The muzzle is threaded with a 15mm/1 metric pitch for sound moderator fitment. Internally, the bore’s finish is clean and the barrel has four rifling lands. Non-ejector, it presents the spent case for easy removal when the action is open.
- The break-barrel design allows a calibre change for even more versatility.
The K3 came threaded, so I fitted an older MAE Scout moderator and used a Meostar R21.7-10×42 RD scope. I removed the scope and reattached to check return to zero and it was spot on, less than 0.5in difference.
The factory loads tested, and the results achieved from that 21.5in barrel, are as follows:
- Hornady 150-gr SST — always fast at 2,870fps and 2,744ft/lb, with 1in groups at 100 yards
- Browning BXR 150-gr — shot at 2,648fps/2,336ft/lb, again with consistent 1in groups
- Remington AccuTip 165-gr — shot 2,587fps
- Geco 165-gr — shot a little slower at 2,548fps but still produced 1in to 1.25in groups
Despite the slightly lower velocities from the K3 barrel, the first thing that struck me was that from a cold barrel — as you would have at the beginning of a stalking expedition — the first round and the subsequent bullets hit exactly where the cross-hairs pointed. It is a small point but crucial for accuracy in a hunting situation; not all rifles do this.
- Reloads were chosen to shoot best in the Merkel K3’s shorter barrel, which meant slightly faster powder.
- The 125-gr and 130-gr bullets of Nosler Ballistic and Hornady SP respectively, with a load of 44.25 grains of Alliant RL10X powder, shot 2,953fps and 2,879fps and put three shots sub-inch at 100 yards.
- The traditional 150-gr bullets, such as the Hornady SST with 48.5 grains of Swiss RS50 powder, shot ¾in groups at 2,745fps/2,509 ft/lb.
- The heavier 180-gr bullets, such as the Nosler Partition and 47.0 grains of RL 17, shot 2,557fps and 2,613ft/lb energy.
Testing the Merkel K3 Extreme .308 in the field
I forgot to fit a sling to the K3 but it was so light and nimble that it was no effort to carry, then cradle in my arms as I glassed the distant hedgelines for muntjac.
Though an Alpine-type rifle, the K3 is perfectly suitable for British woodland stalking and long stalks on the hill. It is a breeze to carry, handles beautifully and, as the range tests showed, is highly accurate.
The farm sits on the edge of some high ground that is bisected by hedgerows and blocks of woodland. The muntjac, ever on the move, use the hedges to pass from wood to wood, then pop out to nibble any new growth. At the edge of the farm there is a dung heap where old tractor parts are left. It is a bit of no man’s land where no one goes and a nice muntjac buck knew it. He decided to use it as a short cut. The trouble was, I had spotted him.
I used the blind side of the ridge downwind to weave through the hawthorn and arrive on top of the surrounding bank, where I perched. At first light the Meostar optics revealed the trotting outline of a muntjac. The instinctive nature of the K3 allowed a perfect hold and, after a short whistle stopped the buck in his tracks, the Browning BXR bullet found its mark and put an end to that little trick.
Advice on choosing a rifle and scope
Safety On ranges, carry your rifle barrel up – if a round is fired towards the ground, there is a danger…
Improve your rifle's accuracy by checking the bolt handle on your rifle is not touching the stock.
Sometimes less is more. The K3 wants for nothing and is the epitome of a fine-crafted single-shot rifle that exudes quality and shoots as good as it looks. Yes, an ejector would be nice, but the rifle is a delight to handle and shoot. It also breaks down easily to carry or for storage.
- Accuracy: Consistent and first shot always to the point of aim 18/20
- Handling: Light and natural pointability 19/20
- Trigger: Incredibly defined and precise: 18/20
- Stock: Classic design on this model and well appointed. 17/20
- Value: Some may say it’s pricey for a single shot but it is all you need. 17/20
A meticulously built rifle.