Cooper Firearms makes guns as pretty as the views of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, where the company is based. Cooper hasn’t been around very long by the standards of the firearms industry. It was founded in 1990 but quickly built a reputation for sweet-shooting bolt-actions that were beautifully stocked in high-grade wood.
This year, Cooper added a new action to the family–the Model 56, for magnum-length cartridges. (The Models 54 and 52 are for medium- and long-action cartridges, respectively.) The Model 56 is a three-lug design similar to its shorter cousins. All feature Sako-style extractors that are machined from bar stock and fed by single-stack removable box magazines.
The width of these receivers is the same, at 1.3 inches, but as you would expect, the M56 is longer in order to accommodate the magnum cartridges. The quarter-inch the M56 has on the M52 long-action is an expensive bit of material. The base cost of the M56 rifles is about $1,000 more than those built on the M54 or M52. The rifle I tested–a Jackson Game Rifle in .300 Win. Mag.–carries a price tag just south of $3,000, serious money by any measure.
Three-lug actions are blessed with a short bolt throw–the handle needs to be raised only 60 degrees to unlock the lugs from their recesses in the chamber, as opposed to the 90-degree lift required by a traditional two-lug design. But a compact bolt lift can feel unforgiving and stiff because the shooter needs to cock the rifle within the confines of that shorter throw. This, in fact, has been an issue with other Cooper rifles I’ve used but is less so with the M56, which has a noticeably smoother bolt lift than its predecessors.
The metal on the M56 is machined cleanly, with nary a stray tool mark to be found. The spiral fluting on the bolt is sharply executed, and the bolt glides like a skater on ice as it moves back and forth in the receiver. The magazine rattles around a bit in its recess, but this minor foible is unlikely to bother anyone other than the most Type-A hunters, who are no fun to have in camp anyway.
All the other controls on the M56 operate as precisely as a Marine Corps Color Guard. The two-position safety and the bolt release are unobtrusively integrated into the receiver and are easy to work, and the single-stage trigger is as crisp as a fall morning. The trigger is also user-adjustable. Mine came set at 3.5 pounds, which is about what I like for a magnum hunting rifle. But Cooper says it can be safely adjusted down to 1.5 pounds.
During the evaluation, I shot the M56 with factory ammo in bullets ranging from 150 to 190 grains. The best five-shot group was .764 inches with Winchester 180-grain XP3 bullets, though Federal’s 190-grain BTHP match load also printed a sub-MOA group measuring .813 inches center to center.
The rifle fed and extracted cartridges flawlessly. The plunger-style ejector did its job without much enthusiasm–the empties just sort of flop to the ground–but I never had any issues with spent brass remaining in the action, so no harm there.
The M56 is a handsome devil. Touches like the sculpted grip cap and the raised cheekpiece give the rifle a stylish air. Some of my more traditional hunting buddies didn’t care for the alternating tans and grays of the laminated stock or the two-tone finish on the metalwork, but I think the M56 pulls it off.
The forend has a slight beavertail flare that gives a secure handhold, which is a good thing, as the stock doesn’t have any checkering for grip. Two ebony-capped crossbolts running through the stock ensure the rifle can withstand the punishment the magnums dish out. To help the shooter withstand the punishment, the rifle is fitted with a Decelerator butt pad.
Plan on seeing even bigger things from Cooper in the future. The M56 will be offered in dangerous-game calibers next.
BY THE NUMBERS
Caliber: .300 Win. Mag.
Weight: 8 lb. 6 oz.
Barrel Length: 26 in.
Rate of Twist: 1-in-10 in.
Overall Length: 46 1/2 in.
Trigger Pull: 3 lb 7 oz