Desert Tech SRSA2 in 33XC
Heard of Desert Tech SRSA2 rifle? It’s the upgraded version of the popular Desert Tech SRS. Let’s find out more about this new Desert Tech SRS A2 rifle which we had built in 33XC. Me and Rob are both running 33XCs for the next foreseeable 24months of European competitions. Here’s how I got hooked on it, both the cartridge and the rifle. We want to use this rifle at the next Extreme Shot One Mile Italia 22-26 September as well as the KO1M and KO2M competitions.
It must be more than 10 years now since I first saw a Desert Tech rifle back at Diggle ranges in the UK on one of my visits to Vince Bottomley- Target shooter magazine editor. Vince got me hooked on to the sport with his guidance in the first years. The rifle’s ultra-compact size was the 1st thing that struck me.
In this picture you can see my surgeon rifle in 308Win 25” barrel sitting along side the Desert Tech in 33XC with a 34inch barrel plus 4” muzzle break. They measure the same length, the latter with 3x the reach and 4x the terminal energy at 600m. Quite impressive in such a compact and ‘light’ package. The surgeon rifles is beautifully tuned and shoots sub MOA at 600m. We had done load development in under 50 rounds for it. Both topped with March scopes to keep things simple and easy to work on.
Fast forward a few years later, I had the opportunity to try a Desert Tech SRS at Bisley when I met Ewen Campbell, Desert Tech’s distributor for the UK as we exchanged our mutual experiences on our rifles. I was breaking in my 284win Fclass rifle while Ewen was running a few 308Win rounds through his and he kindly let me pop off a few rounds.
Memorable afternoon with Ewen Campbell at Bisley, Desert Tech’s UK distributor trying my 284Win Fclass rifle in a Brian Fox barrel block Chassis.
Desert Tech SRSA2 – Super Compact Bullpup rifle
I really liked how the barrels could be swapped around in a very portable package. For someone like me that does quite some travel with his shooting equipment, portability is high on my list. My shooting buddy Bill had one of the first Desert Tech’s in the UK and he loved it. After hauling around the solid RPA International rifle for 2 years overseas a few times (300NM/338LM), I wanted something I could carry and switch calibres easily and possibly in a shorter package. Removing the barrel from the action makes most rifles quite compact, effectively the length of the barrel is the longest component. Travelling in airports lugging a big coffin-like case is not as desirable and after a few trips, I was set on this goal. When you add up your other kit, everything matters.
Look how compact and beautiful that is with a 33″+ 4″ terminator break, Ivey mount, Spare Eratac Mount, bolt and Chassis.
If you’re serious on shooting, you probably know you’ll be switching cartridges for different purposes. Changing barrels around is easy but you need a barrel vice. I’m not a big fan of it especially when travelling. It’s something I consider doing in a season but not something I fancy regularly.
“The goal was to have an ELR rifle under 12kg all kitted out with as long a barrel as I could reasonably have with the possibility to switch to other cartridges for practice with no special tools, while maintaining the same day scope.”
There weren’t many rifles in this category and I quite fancied the bullpup design. The rifle has been around for a decade and the reviews online from DT users are generally positive and they seemed to follow each other. I had seen other brands like Voere, Accuracy International AXMC, Sako TRG M10, Ritter and Stark and Blaser.
All these have easy switch barrel systems, but none were of bullpup design. The DSR-1 that is made in Germany has been around for a while but there wasn’t much literature about it and neither could I source enough info about Keppeler’s bullpup offering so Desert Tech was the most interesting with a facebook group of about 1700users.
Like everything else in life, accessibility is another important consideration. I had just sent my RPA action for cerakoting in matte black to give it a new life.
Cerakote job done on this RPA work horse in matte black finish at www.solidsolutiondesigns.com in the Netherlands
The gunsmith in the Netherlands, Harry Drescher from SolidSolutionDesigns.com , also happened to stock Desert Tech rifles so one day while discussing this RPA action and the new barrel we drifted onto the Desert Tech and the rest was history! With many trips postponed during 2020, it just felt right to acquire one of these beauties.
Solid Solution Designs are an ELR specialist supplier and rifle builder, they build long range and ELR rifles for military and competitive shooters with most items available instantly off the shelf. They also organise ELR shoots in various places in Europe from Italy to France and even Scotland. This is almost unparalleled in Europe and Harry is very on the ball. With Brexit in full swing complicating our UK rifle imports till things fall in place as well as COVID-19 in the mix, having an EU based supplier provided additional peace of mind.
Once I saw the Desert Tech rifle chassis on a video call, I was hooked. Meanwhile I spoke to David Tubb on the barrel specs. David is a treasure of information and is also extremely helpful. He has a facebook group dedicated to this line of cartridges which he invented, and many shooters have posted their experiences there. There is also a detailed paper which you can download about the XC line of cartridges which use the same parent case however necked up to .375 and .416 with a .460 apparently also in the making. I gave him a call and followed up with an email a few times relaying the info straight to Solid Solution Designs for the barrel work.
Desert Tech 33XC components for the build
The Bartlein barrel blank arrived from the US. Meanwhile we set the specs at 33inch finished length with a 1.8 twist throated for the 300 Berger OTM finished length plus Terminator T4 break with net like fluting finished in olive drab. At the same time Harry was also handling my March scope 5-40×56 FFP with illuminated FMA-MT reticle (MOA same as found on the Genesis scope). Gary Costello from March Scopes UK was spot on in getting this scope done in time by the factory in Japan with this fine ELR reticle.
Around the same time, the Ivey adjustable Mount also arrived which would provide over 200MOA of elevation. Besides the Ivey Mount, Solid Solution Designs also stock the Charlie Tarac units off the shelf. Seeing all the parts come together is always a pleasure and part of the fun of a project rifle like this. It’s probably what keeps us excited.
I really enjoyed receiving videos of my barrel being chambered, fluted and cerakoted. It felt unique and I quite like that especially on this project that I had been eyeing for a while.
33XC Desert Tech rifle is born!
Above: That’s what 200MOA dialed in looks like on the Ivey Mount.
Upon delivery I spent a few evenings playing with the rifle, taking it apart, fiddling with the butt to learn how to take it off and dismantling the bolt – all very straight forward with basic tools. I’m not particularly engineering oriented, just knowledge gained from my other rifles.
Desert Tech SRSA2 trigger tuning
The next thing I wanted to do is to make the trigger lighter. In the new SRSA2 model, this needs the side panels removed which can be achieved by removing 11 small proprietary screws. I drew a small silhouette of the stock so I could map each screw back in place.
Once done, tuning the trigger pull is a rather easy straight forward exercise by turning the screw located in front of the trigger. The Desert Tech SRSA2 trigger is nowhere as light as my Fclass rifle but owning an RPA rangemaster military rifle, I feel the trigger pull is quite comparable and it’s crisp as well as consistent with no creep. After my first outing, it may need some more adjusting.
I removed the barrel which is super easy to do. This barrel weighs around 4.4 KG/9.7lbs while the rifle system alone runs at 5 kg including the chassis, scope (0.87kg/ 1.91lbs), Ivey mount (0.907 kg/1.99lbs) and LRA bipod (0.652kg/1.4lbs). This leaves the chassis alone at (2.5kgs/5.5lbs) which includes the monopod.
Once you remove the barrel, the rifle is super-compact, and the length of the barrel is what will determine your hardcase length. Next, I mounted the March Scope 5-40×56 and bore sighted the rifle with the Ivey Mount set at zero. No surprises here.
Load Development of the 33XC Desert Tech SRSA2
I started out load development with some data I had acquired from my shooting buddy’s results which we had collected earlier in March. I knew that we were after around 3180ft/s. Other shooters posting on David Tubb’s group also showed similar nodes. Meanwhile, I also downloaded the Gordon reloading tool which is similar to Quickload and when I compared our data to that collected in the field, it was within a few feet per second! I figured we would start at 110 grain for sighting in the rifle and get a feel of how it kicks and then work our way through the ladder test.
Brass: Peterson Cartridge 33XC
Primers: Federal GM 215
Propellant: VV N570
Berger: 300 gr OTM.
Scales: Electronic dispenser from Frankford Arsenal Intellidropper then checked on Ohaus & Gempro300.
Dies: Tubb 33/37XC bullet Seater & FL sizing die
Neck tension: I ran each of the new cases through the accuracyreloading.it proprietary made expander mandrel (0.3359”) to give a consistent neck tension. This tool comes with a die and 5 different mandrel sizes. Thanks to Ferrucio from Accuracyreloading.it for providing these.
I ran a few of these loaded rounds on a Sinclair concentricity gauge and they had less than 0.002 runout with many under 0.0015”.
A few of these cases with bases charges loaded to make load development faster.
Desert Tech 33XC load development in Sicily
We’re back in Sicily this month in the warmer months where everything is brown or gold with occasional sight of green where aquifers are. The weather in June around here is already at 30 degrees Celsius/ 86 Fahrenheit in the shade. This gave me a two-hour window to shoot the ladder test at 600m as I would barely be able to accurately hold PoA after that when heavy mirage picks up.
Besides that, we wanted to plot the impacts on target using our Digi scoping kit from KOWA Highlander Prominar 82mm 32x magnification bino spotter sitting atop the Ulfhednar.no UHHD40 Tripod. This setup is amazing. I’ve tried many others but for range work, reading mirage and watching impacts, it remains a favourite. Every minor detail is visible even watching particles in the air dance about in the sun light while seeing bullets in the paper at 1000m in good conditions.
New Solognac shooting Mat
Above: Laying down on a Solognac Mat made by Decathlon. This mat is of high quality and well priced. I found it is wide enough at the arms where you will be laying down while also making it very portable. We did not have time to use it in wet weather yet however I did try pouring water over it and it held water out. It also has a clear plastic section where you can leave your phone if you are using it as a ballistic solver and the screen still responds through it.
Desert tech 33XC Load Development Weekend Video Experience
I also brought about the very practical, high definition and portable Swarovski BTX 95 spotter for my second spotter Alfio to watch through. It never hurts having two sets of great glass to watch these tests especially when you’re only firing one round of that particular charge. I brought along my old time friend Robert with me this time. Although new to shooting, he’s been listening to gun talk for a few years with me and after the spotting briefing, he plotted a fantastic plotting sheet for me as if it were a navigation map.
33XC Data from that ladder test.
33XC Ladder test target up at 600meters
We had 4 rounds for sighting in and 18 for the ladder test. There were 4 rounds that impacted the same 1inch vertical at 600m shots #8,#9,#13 and #17 at 3031ft/s, 3085ft/s, 3097ft/s and 3171ft/s. This looked promising as the velocity was about as fast as I wanted it to be considering that in cooler weather, we would probably be at around 3130ft/s.
To appreciate the 33XC’s performance you have to understand the energy it carries. Four times the energy of a 308win at 600m looks like this. The rock is 100m behind the 600meter target. The volcano like puff behind the target says it all.
33XC Heavy Mirage & siesta
By 10am I had a hard time seeing the impacts as the mirage intensified. I still had 6 rounds to complete my ladder test so we decided to call it a day and shoot these in the evening before sunset rather than trying to make out where the shot would land. We retired by the pool for the afternoon to chillout while looking at the data and getting Robert’s view. Rob is an engineer by profession but spent the last 10 years flying commercial aircraft in Europe and for the last 2 years in charge of flight simulator certification. We had a good controversial chat about numbers, harmonics and bullet flight, it’s always interesting hearing other educated opinions.
At 6pm we were on the ranges again to fire off those last 6 shots on target. I noticed however that the point of impact of these rounds was now low about 1MOA from the others. I thought it must have been the cooler temperature of 25 degrees but was not sure. I had not touched the turrets knowing well I would be continuing the test in the evening. By the end of the string, we hit 3209ft/s at 116.8 with the 300gr Berger OTM. I did not notice any particular tight pattern with these shots except for higher velocity.
This was the first 33XC built for our team. Click on this banner if you wish to read that report.
Day two – 5 shot Vertical Dispersion testing with Desert tech 33XC
We now had a string of velocity readings with their corresponding point of impact. I had already noted during the string that 114.8 gr would be a good place to test another 10 rounds. I did not clean the barrel.
Overnight I pulled some rounds using the Hornady camlock bullet puller (superb!) which I had prepared with a higher charge, reweighed the charges over my Gempro 300 scales and loaded up 35 rounds. I had made a portable wooden rest to mount the Redding Boss II press to it to seat bullets on the go. Works a charm for loading anywhere you go especially on the ranges or in the back of the truck.
The first set of groups would be shot on the lower part of the target, while the second set would be shot on the top part. We prepared a large 5×5 foot cardboard with 9 sectors so it would be easier for us to call shots.
**Desert Tech Monopod
I noticed one thing when using the monopod. It is very sturdy but as you increased the height especially the lower spring-loaded section which is leaner than the main monopod body, you tend to get some wobble at high mag. I was on 30x.
This may affect your windage. Ideally you place a small wooden 1”x5x5” plank so that you would not have the rear part of the rifle hanging on a ‘stiletto heel’ and use the thicker part of the monopod which is released by rotating the main monopod body. When trying to keep shots nice and tight together, while squeezing on a ‘medium weight trigger’, this will yield better consistent results and eliminate slight movements. Everything counts for small groups and minimal vertical dispersion. Coming from an Fclass shooting background where shooters are obsessed with tracking stocks and bipods, these are small details that pay dividends.
Vertical Dispersion tests with the Desert Tech 33XC
Now we were interested in seeing what the maximum vertical dispersion would be for each of these loads over a 5 round group to start narrowing the gap on the node. We’re after 2 inch vertical or less over 5 rounds at 600meters. If any of these rounds show that, we will fire at 10 round group and measure the average vertical dispersion. The smaller we manage to have it, the more consistent our shots will be and the better we can move our point of impact on the plate as we know the rifle system is fully capable of shoot a 1/3MOA group. This gives superb confidence to the spotter when moving a point of impact. At this stage, I’m not interested in the windage. We will see to that later.
**Limitation: Remember we have a cartridge with about 700 rounds of barrel life and pretty expensive rounds so testing can’t be as extensive as your 308FTR rifle or we’ll burn out the barrel before the fun begins.
We got there late morning at 10am on the Sunday, the 500km trip had battered us a little and we could not see the 5 shots fired at 114.8gr. We stopped shooting that morning and drove to the target to take a look. Three rounds fired at 114.8 gr N570 were at the bottom of the target with less < 2” vertical and another two in the black just below the cardboard. MV: 3173, 3171, 3152, 3166, 3169. Promising.
That evening we went back and shot 5 rounds groups of 115.3, 115.6 and 115.9gr. The 115.9 had 3 shots in less than 1.5” vertical – maybe promising.
We stopped shooting that evening by 7.30 the light was not good enough and our mates needed to collect their targets and cameras.
Monday morning we were on the ranges at 06:30 to make sure we would have the time to shoot these rest of the rounds before we head back home. Over night we had prepared 114.8 again, 115.9 which had shot a tight 3 round group earlier, and 116.2.
We needed to let the barrel cool so realistically that’s what we could shoot in the time frame we had. We also used an Ulfhednar barrel cool fan to help speed up the process. We may need an even more powerful motor to help this barrel cool fast enough in warm ambient temperatures.
114.8gr: We started with 114.8gr again and 5 rounds. These formed a nice horizontal with less than 2” of vertical. (18ft/s extreme spread)
115.9gr: We had 1 bad primer so we only shot 4 rounds of this load. 3 shots measured 3.4” vertical with one impacting high opening it to 6”. (17ft/s)
116.2 – This load was inconsistent, we had shot impacting low by 8inch and we could not tell why.
______We spent the last few hours enjoying the stunning scene while Etna Volcano started erupting in the distance, we had a glass of wine and enjoyed the simple pleasures of such wilderness.
At our next trip we shall test the Desert Tech SRSa2 with some of these loads at 1000 yards then onto the 1-mile plate. We’re after less than 8” vertical spread. We have a 4-day trip planned so that should be enough. We have target cameras at our next destination which will help although mirage will still be pretty heavy in July in Sicily even up in the hills. Part of the fun and hopefully we have the chance to cool down in the pool. Over & out.