The Merkel is a classic example of German precision engineering — though the straight-pull bolt action is not for everyone, says Bruce Potts
The Merkel Helix rifle is made in Germany, with Viking Arms as the sole UK importer. Viking has done a good job promoting these rifles and you see more and more of them in stalkers’ hands these days.
The Helix is a straight-pull, bolt-action rifle system designed from the ground up to provide an ultra-fast, reliable and safe straight back-and-forth bolt movement without the usual up/down/turn bolt system of a traditional Mauser type design.
This is very popular in Europe as running game shots often require a very speedy second shot, so the fast Helix bolt system allows that instant target and shooting alignment.
The Helix has a bolt-head section that unlocks and rotates helically (spiral) within an aluminium receiver design that is all enclosed, which means the operating parts are inside the action itself and no part leaves the confines of the receiver for added safety.
As is common with this type of rifle, it is a quick-change, modular design that allows a swift barrel change to differing calibres, lengths and weights as well as varying stock options.
I had on test the Merkel RX Helix Alpinist rifle , which is a lighter-weight rifle with a fluted barrel design and green synthetic stock — it is also available in black — with a soft-touch finish and adjustable cheekpiece chambered in .243 Winchester.
The stock is always the interesting part of any firearm as it is the part that is directly in contact with you. Get this wrong and you won’t be happy or shoot well.
I have to say the RX Helix Alpinist has a really well-designed stock. It’s synthetically moulded with a good dense structure to eliminate vibrations, hollow noise syndrome and any flexibility that can ruin accuracy. It has a nice overall forest green colour and it is finished in the popular soft touch finish that gives extra grip but can mark a little easier.
Being a modular rifle the stock is in two pieces and also allows a total break-down for easy storage or transport. The fore-end has two swivel studs for a sling attachment and a small plunger button that, when depressed, allows the whole fore-end to slide off the support rails, revealing the barrel-release mechanism. The butt section is removed via a long bolt through the centre.
There is additional grip via twin, slightly raised dimpled panels to the fore-end and pistol grip, but best of all on this model is the adjustable cheekpiece. Two large side wheels on the right of the stock allow the 6.25in-long cheekpiece to lift 1.75in higher to accommodate any scope or shooting style you like, a nice feature to have on a rifle designed for stalking and running game.
Barrel and action
As the name suggests the Helix operates as a spiralling Helix-type, rotating, six locking lug design that locks directly into the back of the barrel. Simply by pulling straight back on the bolt handle the bolt reciprocates around its centre to lock and unlock. It makes for a fast, strong action design as the bolt head unlocks from the barrel and rotates inside the receiver, and the bolt handle only moves half the actual bolt length.
The take-down design of the Alpinist means you can disassemble, change calibres and store the Helix very quickly without tools.
With the fore-end off, a lever to the left side of the support is visible that drops 90° to unlock the barrel, and with the bolt in the rear position the barrel is removed.
As the bolt head is removable you can change between calibres, with three categories of mini (20in) that includes .222 and .223, standard (22in) for .243, .308, 6.5mm x 55mm and .30-06 and Magnum (24in) for the .300 or .338 Win Mag and 7mm Remington Mag.
This Alpinist came with a threaded muzzle and the 22in barrel is fluted along its length to reduce weight and speed cooling. The RX Helix has a sliding manual safety that is mounted directly to the tang or rear section of the action in line with where the thumb rests, for easy access.
In the forward and up position, the Merkel can be cocked and fired with the red dot visible. Push a small button on the top of the catch to lower the safety mechanism and the trigger is disengaged and the bolt is locked.
The direct trigger system is adjustable and this rifle had a pull weight of 2.85lb, but I found the length of pull of the stock and slim trigger-blade too short for me.
The detachable magazine, essential for boar shooting, is very easily dropped to reload via twin opposing push-operated latches to the sides of the magazine, mounted on the floor-plate system.
You have a three-shot straight in line feed magazine for this .243 Win model and a five-shot option — which sticks out of the bottom of the stock — is available.
In the field
I had a good selection of .243 Win ammunition as well as reloading equipment to fine-tune a load at the bench.
I fitted the supplied Leupold VX-5HD scope via the quick-detachable mounts to the excellent integral Weaver-type base, and an MAE Scout sound moderator.
I had tested a T3X before in 243 Win with a 20in barrel, so this Merkel with a 22in barrel would prove interesting to see the difference in velocities. The lightweight Sako 55-gr bullet sped along at 3,824fps for 1,786ft/lb and resulted in nice 1in groups at 100 yards.
The Sako 70-gr Gamehead shot very well at under an inch, with some 0.75in three-shot groups with a velocity of 3,509fps and 1,914ft/lb, compared with the TX3 at 3,392fps for 1,789ft/lb — so an increase of 117fps velocity for two extra inches on the Merkel barrel.
Similarly, the RWS 100-gr ammo achieved 2,968fps for 1,957ft/lb with 0.75in to 1in groups, and again an increase of 140fps velocity from the 22in barrel as opposed to a 20in.
The Norma 76-gr Tipstrike also shot very well, with 3,391fps and 1,940ft/lb, and sub-1in groups. Best reloads were again my favourite Hornady 95-gr SSTs (Interlock) with a load of 41 grains of Swiss RS50 powder, this time for 3,014 ps and 1,916ft/lb. For the larger 100-gr load, 44.5 grains of Alliant RL19 powder and either Sierra GameKing or Nosler Ballistic Tip achieved 2,947fps and 1,928ft/lb of energy.
But the Helix is all about the speed of the action, so I set up a roe buck target at 100 yards and shot five shots quickly with the Sako 70-gr Gamehead Varmint to see how she grouped. All five shots within 1.25in, which is very impressive.
Now to the fields, and again deer were on the menu as the overpopulation on this farm was extensive. The fields are very long at 500 yards by 200 yards wide but have characteristic deep drainage ditches that the deer frequent and stalkers can use as safe approaches.
The cold northerly winds had dropped the temperatures to near freezing, so that soft-touch grip and adjustable cheekpiece certainly helped with good handling.
As I loaded first with Norma 76-gr factory ammo, a small buck was slowly feeding off a harvested maize field. Trouble was the Merkel and I were between him and cover and the flat-shooting Norma round dropped him on the field edge.
The next evening and on last knockings, I loaded this time with the heavier Sako 100-gr Gameheads and a slight re-zero to see the difference in performance.
I was rounding a corner to the long grass field and up popped a really nice buck from his bed at 150 yards in the middle of the field. He was turning and feeding, so with light failing the Merkel and Leupold scope tracked him until he was broadside and that was that. I was happy, the farmer was happy and the Merkel acquitted itself really well.
To test the new Merkel RX Helix rifle, Kate Gatacre heads to North Yorkshire in search of her first fallow…
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I am not overly keen on straight-pulls, to be honest, but you cannot deny how well and safely this Helix shoots. It is accurate with nearly all the ammunition, very good handling for some fast shots and great grouping on the roe target. It’s light enough to carry around all day without fatigue and its modular take-down design allows a one-rifle-does-all quality.
Well balanced and easy to shoot accurately, even at speed