My recent trip to Portugal for a monteria, a traditional European driven hunt, was a trip of firsts. Not only was it my first time hunting in Europe, it was also my first time shooting a straight-pull bolt-action rifle. Now that I’ve shot one, I confess I’m a bit reluctant to go back to a traditional bolt design.
Several other writers and I were hunting red deer, fallow deer, and wild boar along Portugal’s border with Spain. The land was thick with vegetation, low-growing trees and tall bushes blending together amid the tall grass. To allow for fast follow-up shots before the running game disappeared in the scrub, we were shooting variants of the Merkel RX Helix, a straight-pull bolt action that looks like a traditional bolt action but cycles much more quickly.
Three versions were available for us to use: some in .338 Winchester Magnum, others in .30-06, and a few in .308. Mine was a takedown model in .30-06 with iron sights, a synthetic stock, and an adjustable comb; some of the others came with no iron sights, and others with wood stocks. We made sure our Kahles scopes were sighted in at the range, then headed out for two days of hunting.
The first feature of the rifle that stood out to me was, of course, the straight-pull bolt. Unlike other straight-pull designs, the RX Helix’s bolt doesn’t bring the entire back of the receiver with it when opened (think Blaser). Instead, the bolt travels inside the receiver like the average bolt action, only without lifting 60 or 70 degrees to open it.
This is made possible by Merkel’s unique bolt system. The bolt handle moves back roughly half the distance of the actual bolt, thanks to a 1:2 transmission system—officially called a converted straight-pull action—that allows for faster cycling. The entire bolt stays inside the receiver, ensuring nothing comes back toward the shooter’s face to distract from subsequent shots.
Past the bolt, the adjustable comb was the next feature to catch my attention. I’ve struggled in the past to find a rifle stock that allows me to put my cheek on the stock and in line with the scope, but however high the rings or large the objective lens, a shooter can always find the perfect fit with an adjustable comb. Even the wood-stocked Helixes were accommodating: their raised Monte Carlo cheekpieces make shooting with a scope easy.
The safety did require a bit of getting used to. It is ambidextrous, with the gun unable to fire with the safety slid downward. When the safety is slid upward, the gun is cocked and ready to fire.
All standard stuff, but putting the gun back on safe was certainly different. In order to do so, the shooter must press a small button in the top edge of the safety slide, then push the safety even farther upward, then slowly let it back down to the safe position. Imagine letting the hammer of a lever action down, but in reverse.
A question/concern many shooters have about straight pulls is, do they lock up as tightly as a traditional bolt action? How can they be as safe as a bolt that is manually locked into place?
While the bolt does slide back and forth easily enough after a shot has been fired, there’s no danger of the bolt opening when the gun is being fired or a live round is still in the chamber. The RX Helix has a rotating bolt head that mechanically locks into place when pushed forward, and while a live round can be extracted without firing the rifle, it takes substantially more effort to open the bolt than if the trigger had been pulled.
As I mentioned earlier, the rifle can be taken down for transport. Simply press a button on the stock’s forearm, pull the stock forward and off the barrel/action, and turn a lever located where the barrel and action meet. Presto change-o, you can now remove the barrel. (To see the RX Helix takedown model being broken down, click here.)
And while the barrel’s off, why not swap calibers, too. The Helix allows the shooter to change barrels and bolt heads in order to fire a variety of calibers from the same action. The rifles are chambered for one of three cartridge families: mini (.222 and .223), standard (.243, .30-06, etc.), or magnum (7mm Rem. Mag, .338 Win. Mag., etc.). Barrels can be switched within the same cartridge family. If your gun fits a .243, for example, simply buy the bolt head and barrel to fit a .30-06 and you’re set to go hunting. It’s that simple.
All three cartridge families can fire from their respective three-round detachable box magazines. Standard calibers can also be fed from a five-round mag.
Right out of the gate, I recognized that the Merkel was perfect for more than just European game. Its light weight, short overall length, and quick reloading make it perfect for bear hunting stateside. Its takedown ability makes it suitable for any hunting in the backcountry where a rifle, even on a sling, could get in the way of climbing or hiking with trekking poles. Hogs are a given, and there’s always room for one more whitetail rifle in the deer woods. Taking a youngster afield for the first time? Change your .270 into a .243. The applications are endless.
Developed to be the “hunting gun of the 21st century,” the Merkel RX Helix is not just an innovative design. It’s downright revolutionary, and it will likely change the way you think about bolt actions. Forever.