Les Baer Custom Tactical Recon

posted on March 17, 2011

A few terms in the firearms industry are dimensionless adjectives used to entice consumers. One such term is match grade. There's no standard to which something is held before it's labeled match grade. It's used in a general way to describe products with tolerances held to tighter-than-normal standards.

Another overused term is tactical. To be tactical, it kinda seems the product just needs to be black. You can get a tactical watch from Luminox, 5.11 sells tactical underwear and you can even get tactical bacon from CMMG. I believe everyone making rifles offers a tactical model, but just what is a tactical rifle? The definition is debatable—it's easier to give an example.

Les Baer initially made his mark on the firearms world by building high-quality 1911 pistols. At what might have been the zenith of 1911 popularity, Les Baer Custom (LBC) began offering AR-15s. In 2010, while the AR has become the most-popular rifle in the world, LBC introduced the Tactical Recon, a bolt-action rifle.

The Les Baer Tactical Recon lives up to its name. Incorporating some of the finest parts available, it's a sleek tack driver.

The Tactical Recon is built around a Stiller TAC30 action. Stiller's Precision Firearms is located in Wylie, TX, and the company is presided over by Jerry Stiller, who worked for 24 years as a mechanical engineer with a major defense company and did not play Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld." Stiller likes to build and ride custom Harley choppers. That might be reason enough to select his actions, but Les Baer told me he uses them simply because they work. The TAC30 action is a drop-in replacement for Remington 700 series actions, but a TAC30 is not a Remington 700.

TAC30 actions are machined perfectly square. The bolt body has spiral flutes and the extractor is a pinned, 1.25-inch long, modified M16-style unit. The bolt handle has an oversized, checkered knob extending almost 3 inches from the bolt body. Unlike a Remington 700, the bolt release is located on the left side of the action. Spiral bolt flutes give grit and grime a place to go, the M16-style ejector ensures positive extraction and the oversized bolt handle makes fast bolt work easy. All are desirable attributes of a tactical rifle.

The action is attached to the barrel just like a Remington 700, but a much thicker—.3-inch—recoil lug is used. The barrels of these rifles are made in house at LBC from 416R stainless steel and the rifling is cut one groove at a time. Cut-rifled barrels are notorious for their precision, and the thick recoil lug helps ensure shot-to-shot consistency. Accuracy and consistency are both trademarks of a tactical rifle.

The Tactical Recon includes a five-round magazine from Wyatt's Outdoors and a Timney trigger, both companies with undisputed reputations for building quality components.

The Tactical Recon has a Bell & Carlson Medalist Remington Tactical Style stock. It has an adjustable cheekpiece and three-way adjustable butt assembly. This lets you perfectly configure the rifle for a good cheek weld, proper eye relief and fit. The fore-end is tapered so you can slide it to and fro on a rest for minute elevation adjustments. It also has an integral, aluminum under-rail for accessories like the 9-inch Harris bipod that comes with each rifle. The synthetic stock is built around an aluminum bedding block, the heavy-contour barrel, which measures .80 inch at the muzzle, is floated its entire length and the action is impeccably glass bedded to the stock with a precision that puts most custom-gunmaker's work to shame.

Tactical? Sure. For extreme long-range shooting, it's imperative you and your rifle fit together like you and your bride on your wedding night. An accessory rail and bipod are obvious tactical tools.

According to Les Baer, the LBC cut-rifled barrel is the heart of this firearm, but no matter how good the barrel, a rifle must have a good trigger. Tactical rifles are not bench rifles. They must perform in the field in mud, rain, snow and grime. A tactical rifle needs a trigger that can deliver a consistent, clean break in these conditions. For these reasons and because they are adjustable, Les Baer uses a Timney Remington 700 trigger in the Tactical Recon.

Finally, a true tactical turnbolt needs to be capable of delivering accurate and sustained fire out to 1,000 yards. The Tactical Recon comes with a precision bottom-metal assembly and a detachable five-shot magazine from Wyatt's Outdoor Custom. There's also a pre-installed Picatinny rail with a 20-MOA offset built in. This means that your scope won't run out of adjustment, and with an extra magazine, you can continually pound marauding zombies from a safe distance of 10 football fields away.

It's hard to miss the oversized bolt handle, even under stress, and checkering on the knob ensures superior purchase when working the action.

You can test a tactical rifle from a shooting bench at 100 yards and I did. But, to really get an idea of just how tactical a rifle like this really is, it should be subjected to extreme long-range shooting in field conditions. When I attended a four-day, long-range shooting school in Yakima, WA, I mounted a Nightforce 5.5-22x56 mm scope on the rifle using Talley's new Tactical scope rings and headed west to learn long-range shooting from a former Marine Sniper.

We shot from 100 to 1,000 yards, mostly from the prone position. The 9-inch bipod was a bit tall for prone shooting. My instructor suggested digging out for the bipod legs—I just had to dig a bit deeper than most. The 56 mm objective of the Nightforce scope necessitated high rings and this was another problem. To make things more interesting, the adjustable comb on the Tactical Recon allowed me to get my eye behind the scope, but placed the comb so high I could not remove the bolt. With the comb so high, the butt of the rifle was well below my shoulder, so I had to raise the buttpad about 1.25 inches to get comfy. Ideally, a lower-mounted scope and a lower bipod would have been preferable. However, as exaggerated as this situation was, it demonstrated the versatility of the adjustable stock on the Tactical Recon.

Throughout the first day, I struggled getting comfortable behind the rifle, so 100-yard groups were nothing to really brag about. By late that afternoon, I'd sorted things out and the rifle started to really show it's true potential. The last drill of the day was a scope manipulation exercise where the instructor called off windage and elevation adjustments while we fired 10 shots at the same 1.5-inch square. At the completion of the drill, my last shot was touching my first and the other nine shots landed inside the nine other 1.5-inch squares on the target.

On day two, we stretched the range to 400 yards to get dope for our rifles with the Federal 175-grain Sierra Match ammo we were using for the course. Firing five-shot groups at each range—all from the prone position—I managed to shoot a 1.79-inch group at 200 yards, a 1.22-inch group at 300 yards and a 2.81-inch group at 400 yards. On day three, we went long and I had no trouble getting repetitive, center-mass hits on 24x18-inch steel targets out to 1,000 yards.

In addition to a tapered fore-end that makes it easy to slide the support hand for small elevation adjustments, the rifle comes with a sling swivel stud and an accessory channel on the stock's underside.

Our instructor made it obvious he believed you should work a bolt like you mean it. So do I, and on the third day, I broke the bolt stop. This was no doubt due to my aggressive bolt work, which was far from gentle. The bolt operated so smoothly you could easily manipulate it with two fingers, but I ran the gun like I was shifting gears on a '55 International. The small extension on the bolt-stop lever that extends into the raceway sheared off. Since the comb on the rifle was adjusted so high, the broken bolt stop did not take me out of the race. The comb stopped the bolt from coming out during cycling.

With the exception of the broken bolt stop, I was impressed. In all, I fired 302 rounds and never cleaned the barrel. As a matter of fact, the only cleaning I did was to wipe the bolt off with a dry rag at the beginning of each training day. This might seem to be an unprofessional way to evaluate a precision instrument, especially in dusty conditions, but I wanted to see how the rifle responded to high-volume fire in a field environment—a tactical test if you will.

Les Baer Custom guarantees that every Tactical Recon is capable of .5 MOA 10-shot groups at 100 yards with match-grade ammunition. The rifle and I could not consistently perform at that level, but hey, I cannot consistently perform at that level. Sorry, like I tell my wife all the time, "My talents are limited." Regardless, with the LBC Tactical Recon and a good wind call, I'll bet I can let the air out of even a skinny zombie at 1,000 yards—with the first shot.

I think the LBC Tactical Recon is indeed deserving of the tactical name. It is accurate, has a good field trigger, is not too heavy, has a stock that's adaptable to different shooters and different conditions and it will maintain accuracy through high round counts and a hot barrel. While not everything labeled tactical these days can live up to the tough conditions and hard use the term was originally meant to reflect, this rifle handled it all, with ease. Hey, it's even black too.

If tactical, long-range shooting is your thing, tell the love interest of your life you'd like to have a tactical Christmas. Send her a link to the Les Baer Custom website, and make sure she knows how to spell Tactical Recon. Then nonchalantly leave travel brochures for Jamaica laying around the house in strategic locations. Explain to her exactly why you need to be able to shoot the gremlins off Santa's sleigh at 1,000 yards—otherwise, Jolly Saint Nick may never be able to deliver your special gift.

It's probably a wise move to book that dream vacation for you and your wife, especially if she comes through on a Tactical Recon—not doing so could be a tactical error.

Manufacturer: Les Baer Custom (LBC); (563) 289-2126
Action: Stiller's Precision TAC30 Bolt-Action
Capacity: 5 rounds
Caliber: .243 Win., .260 Rem., 6.5x284 Norma, .308 Win. (tested)
Barrel: LBC 24-inch, cut-rifled, match
Stock: Bell & Carlson Medalist
Remington Tactical Style
Rifling: Five grooves; 1:10-inch RH twist
Finish: DuPont Teflon S, non-reflective matte black
Trigger: Timney Match adjustable
Length: 45.75 inches
Weight: 11.2 pounds
Accessories: Picatinny rail with 20-MOA offset, Harris bipod, soft case
MSRP: $3,560


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