Desert Tech and Nikon team up for a ghost town long-distance shootout. In this environment, we get to put the DT SRS-A1 and Nikon BLACK X1000 6-24×50 to the test.
I recently got the opportunity to travel to Utah to take part in a media event put on by Nikon Sport Optics and Desert Tech. I made contact with Eric from Chevalier Advertising, who took care of the details to get me from North Carolina to Salt Lake City, Utah.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect—I had seen a Desert Tech Rifle one of my friends owned, and I own a Nikon scope for one of my MSRs. Both have good reputations, so I looked forward to testing their equipment.
Upon arriving at Salt Lake City Airport, I was able to link up with Eric rather quickly, and the rest of the party was already waiting for me to arrive.
Our first stop was Desert Tech headquarters. If not for the sign identifying the building, it didn’t strike me as a firearm manufacturing location. It looks like all office buildings do: reception area, offices and employees moving about or on their phones.
We met Dustin, Desert Tech’s event manager. After introductions, he gave us a quick tour of the facilities. As we entered the production floor, Dustin walked us through the various areas of design, testing and putting it all together into finished products.
As a bonus, we got to get our hands on the new Micro Dynamic Rifle, or MDR. We also got a chance for a little hands-on with the Stealth Recon Scout (SRS), both the A1 and the Covert, as well as the Hard Target Interdiction (HTI) rifle.
My first impressions were favorable, but I was holding off full judgment until we actually got to fire them. We finished the tour (unfortunately, we were not given a free sample to take home—although the MDR is small enough to have fit under my shirt!).
ON THE ROAD
We loaded up the van and headed south along I-15 toward Price, Utah, and our accommodations. Highway 6 provided a scenic drive down to Price, and the winding road and high-desert terrain reminded of my early days in Afghanistan. No Taliban here, though; just the occasional dormant oil rig sitting quietly in the desert.
The two-hour-plus drive went quickly and gave everyone a chance to get introduced. We arrived in Price, quickly dropped off our gear and headed out to the Desert Tech range for a recon of the next day’s activities and get the lay of the land.
The range is located in Hiawatha, just 15 miles or so from the hotel. At the gate, we were greeted by a ragged-looking alpaca that kept an eye on us as if we were trespassers. Just beyond the gate was our destination.
Hiawatha is a former coal mining town that was built at the base of Gentry Mountain. The town had been all but abandoned in the late 1990s after it was unincorporated.
As I stepped out of the van, I once again had that feeling of Afghanistan. The smell of goats, the high-desert terrain, dry heat and the altitude all brought back those familiar smells and feelings any military veteran of Afghanistan would recognize. The town had an eerie feeling, like a cross between Resident Evil and Mad Max—abandoned buildings, vehicles, three horned goats and giving the impression that everyone had left the place in a hurry, leaving behind things too big or too difficult to carry.
All of this has turned out to be perfect for the folks at Desert Tech. They had worked out a deal to use the town as a shooting range for a variety of different types of training. For our purposes, we were after long-range shooting, a chance to put the Desert Tech rifles through their paces and also see if the new Nikon Black riflescopes, Monarch binoculars and rangefinders could also perform at this level of shooting.
With targets set up in many of the abandoned buildings, it was difficult to just do a recon. I could tell that everyone wanted to get their hands on the rifles and start ringing some steel. As we finished the tour, we got just enough rain to bring out a rainbow. We loaded up and headed back to the hotel for the night.
I will have to admit that it was a little tough to sleep that night. It had been awhile since I had shot at extreme long distances, and I was looking forward to it. Morning eventually arrived; and, after we grabbed a quick breakfast, we linked up with some more people participating in the event and headed to the range.
Arriving at the gate, our friendly guard, “Alpaca,” and his partner were waiting as we drove in. We moved our gear and other supplies for the day into what used to be the Hiawatha general store—a two-story building in disrepair but still standing solid.
The first floor was filled with leftover store cabinets and a lot of targets used by the Desert Tech trainers on the courses they run. There were rubber dummies, pepper poppers and steel movers strewn about. (I was just a little bit jealous.)
Once we settled in, we received a safety brief and an introduction to the rifles from Desert Tech’s Jeff Wood and
Ben Hetland. Both were extremely knowledgeable and helpful, answering the dozens of questions we all had.
Jeff went through the procedure to change out the caliber for the SRS-A1. In just over a minute, he had swapped out the .308 for a .338 Lapua. It’s not the first gun that can switch calibers, but it is definitely one of the fastest. In addition, Jeff explained that Desert Tech guarantees that the original barrel will return to zero when switched back or the company will fix or replace it. That’s a pretty solid warranty.
THE RANGE IS HOT!
With the preliminaries over, it was time to put some rounds downrange. We started with the MDR to warm up on 100-yard targets. The MDR was mounted with the Nikon Black Force 1000, a 1-4×24 riflescope designed for use with a modern sporting rifle (MSR).
While the MDR was not the focus of the event, it did not disappoint at all. It is a smooth-firing, easy-to-operate weapon. The bullpup design shrinks the overall length of the MDR to give it the feel of a short-barreled rifle (SBR). I had wondered if the gun design might have a negative effect, because the muzzle blast was closer to my face. But that was a non-issue. It is a gun that is fun to fire and left me thinking I should make some room in my safe for one, now that they are shipping. The .308 was easy to handle, and follow-up shots were easy to get back on target.
FROM SEMIAUTO TO BOLT-ACTION
From the MDR, we moved on to the SRS-A1 (32-inch overall length; 22-inch barrel) and the SRS Covert (27-inch overall length; 16-inch barrel) for some more 200-yard familiarization.
Like the MDR, both SRS designs did not disappoint. Even with the bolt being farther to the rear than on traditional rifles, it was hardly noticeable after the first couple of rounds. The SRS-A1 was mounted with the Nikon BLACK X1000 4-16×50 with the MOA (1 MOA=1.047 inches at 100 yards) reticle. It also comes with an MRAD (milliradian: 1/6400 of a degree in angular measure, or 3.6 inches at 100 yards) for those who like to calculate in mils. The clarity is incredible, and the easy turret adjustments made getting on target quick and easy.
After everyone had gotten familiar with the SRS-A1 and Covert, we moved to a new building to start using some more-difficult targets. Because of the rifles we were using and the optics on them, 200 yards wasn’t much of a challenge.
TIME TO UP THE ANTE
We packed up and moved down the street to a house with a view of the back of Gentry Mountain. Targets were arrayed from 400 yards out to a whopping 1,800-plus yards.
We continued with the SRS-Covert in .308 (16 inches; 1-in-8inch barrel; 27-inch overall length) mounted with the Nikon BLACK X1000 6-24×50 with the MOA reticle. The MOA reticle has ¼ MOA adjustments per click and 12 MOA per revolution.
We started with warm-up shots at 400 yards and worked our way out to 800 yards with both the SRS-Covert and the SRS-A1. The SRS-A1 (26 inches; 1-in-11-inch barrel; 37-inch overall length) was topped off with the Nikon BLACK X1000 6-24×50 MRAD reticle. The MRAD was 1 mil adjustment per click and 5 MRAD per revolution of the turret.
BREAKING OUT THE BIG GUNS
Once we were finished at the 800 yards, we moved to a shooting position outside the house. As the last of the group got into position to bang some steel at nearly 900 yards, Jeff and Ben broke out the “big gun,” so to speak.
The HTI looks similar to the SRS-A1 except for the size and a meanlooking muzzle brake. In .375 Cheytac, the HTI has the look and feel of a solidly built, long-range precision rifle. With a 29-inch barrel and a 1-in-10.5-inch twist, the overall length was still only 45 inches.
I couldn’t wait until my turn to get to fire this rifle. We started with shots at 1,235 yards (almost ¾ of a mile), firing at a 24-inch circle of steel. After a couple of warm-up shots to set the dope for the optics, we each stepped up for a turn.
I have shot .375 H&H in the past and have to say it was not a pleasant experience. While in the military, I had also shot the Barrett .50-caliber; while it is fun to shoot, I also found it to be not entirely enjoyable. I located the target, adjusted my shooting positions and pressed lightly on the fully adjustable 2-pound trigger.
Jeff was on the spotting scope and called a hit before the round impacted the steel. The trace of the bullet was easily visible on its way to the target; and a few seconds later, the familiar sound of ringing steel could be heard. I was more than 1,200 yards away, and I had hit my target! The recoil was negligible, thanks to the Desert Tech muzzle brake. The HTI is a fun gun to shoot in this caliber.
The Nikon Black X1000 6-24×50 on top is well suited for longrange shooting. It is clear and easy to adjust, but we were close to being out of adjustment for this extreme range after a 500-yard zero. Even so, a hit is a hit, and the combination of Desert Tech’s HTI and the Nikon Black made it appear easy.
EXTREME LONG DISTANCE
Once finished at 1,200 yards, we focused on the next target—a 3×3-foot steel square at 1,835 yards from our position. We were out of adjustment, but the reticle pattern on the Nikon made holdover fairly easy on adjustments.
With a holdover of just 4 MOA down from center and 3 MOA for wind, we were hitting the target in no time. Flight time of the bullet was more than five seconds while the bullet slowed from a muzzle velocity of 3,000 fps to slightly more than 1,600 fps at impact—still supersonic well beyond a mile.
LEAVING AN IMPRESSION
As a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran of more than 20 years’ service, I would have to say that not much in the way of guns or optics seems to overly impress me. As a weapons NCO on a detachment, I spent my time with firearms of every type, era and design; and, for the most part, there hasn’t been much in the way of innovation for quite a while.
That being said, the rifles of Desert Tech are impressive. It’s great to see that someone finally worked to make an improvement on what is out there and strayed from the cookie-cutter design seen on every MSR on the market. Desert Tech has developed a highly accurate, fun-to-shoot rifle in a compact size without sacrificing barrel length. While it isn’t cheap, it isn’t built cheap either.
I was equally impressed with the Nikon Black series scopes. While I own other scopes that are as good (and maybe some are better), I paid substantially more for each of them without substantially increasing the quality or capability over the Nikons used during this event. Nikon has developed a winner in a price that won’t break the bank; yet, it still performs above its weight class.
This was definitely a fun experience. It was a chance to meet some fellow long-range enthusiasts, speak with industry professionals and gain some valuable insight.
I’m now a bullpup fan—or, at least a Desert Tech fan—and Nikon has opened my eyes to value-priced optics for entry level to the hard-core shooter.
While I didn’t see any ghosts in Hiawatha, it’s likely that all the gunfire chased them away! As we departed, we waved goodbye to the alpacas guarding the gate. Hopefully, they didn’t mind the noise we made during our time in their town.
DESERT TECH: DesertTech.com
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World magazine.