Rifle Test: Cooper M51 .223

The Cooper Model 51 is a breath of fresh air. It is not cutting-edge. It doesn't feature an innovative (read: unproved) action. The stock doesn't have knobs, shims, rails, or any moving parts. Incredibly, for a new rifle, the stock is made of wood--and lovely wood at that. No petroleum products here. The action is even secured into the stock with old-school (and stylish)slot-head guard screws, the slots of which are indexed to run perpendicular to the axis of the barrel. Who knew rifle makers still did that? Go ahead and inspect it from muzzle to butt pad--you won't find a single gimmick. The rifle balances well, is easy to carry, and can shoot the eye out of a coyote at 200 yards. It's a keeper.

The M51 is Cooper's first repeater chambered in .223, and it is a stunner in both its aesthetics and its performance. Built in the heart of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, the M51 joins Cooper's well-regarded line of rifles, including the M21, which is a single-shot bolt-action in .223, and the M54 and M56, which are bolt-action repeaters in short- and magnum-length cartridges, respectively. Welcome to the family, kid.

Smooth and Accurate
The action, as with many Cooper rifles, is a three-lug design. Unlike some three-lug actions, however, it opens and cocks smoothly after firing without jarring the rifle out of position on the shooter's shoulder or, worse yet, requiring the shooter to lower the rifle to run the bolt, effectively converting it into a single-shot.

No, the M51 runs smoothly and cycles, feeds, and ejects rounds--which are fed via a flush-mounted detachable box magazine--as nicely as you please. The plunger-type ejector, located at the four o'clock position on the bolt face, kicked empty brass from the action with a consistent amount of force. Not once did an empty end up back in the action, despite my efforts to induce this common type of ejection problem. The magazine's single-stack design gives the Cooper a 4+1 capacity, which is plenty for a walking varminter rifle, the primary purpose of the model.

Off the bench, it grouped bullets in tight sub-MOA clusters. It was especially accurate with bullets weighing 50 grains and up, with 50- and 55-grain bullets being particular favorites. Average five-shot groups from a bench at 100 yards from these two weights ran .530 inch.

Field-Friendly

But this rifle doesn't belong on a bench. It is meant to be carried and shot from field positions. Without a scope, my sample weighed 6 pounds 10 ounces. Lugging this gun around at this weight for a full day of stalking and calling coyotes in big sagebrush country wouldn't be much of a burden. It would also make a dandy deer or antelope rifle, especially for a new or recoil-sensitive shooter.

From kneeling, sitting, and supported standing positions, I had no trouble hitting coyote-size targets out to 500 yards, once I figured out the holdover marks in my scope.

The fit and finish of my test gun was truly exceptional. The styling of the stock is pure American classic. It has a straight, flat comb and no cheekpiece. Its lines are simple, functional, and elegant. Whoever picked out the blank knows his business. The butt of the stock has lovely swirls and figures in it, yet it is straight-grained through the wrist of the grip, giving the stock strength.

The whole rifle is built with this air of competent, understated craftsmanship. The metalwork is smooth and attractively finished. The inletting around the stock was done with small and even gaps on both sides of the action.

Lasting Value
The safety, magazine, and bolt-release tabs are unobtrusive yet easy to access and manipulate. And the trigger, which on my sample broke at a perfect

2½ pounds, is a gem. I don't care how many shooters insist that their new rifles cost less than $500--at $2,275, I consider the Model 51 to be a bargain.

How so? After taking in all these details, I can tell that this rifle was built with pride and care by folks who hunt and shoot. And in 100 years, when the vast majority of rifles being made today will have taken their rightful place in a scrap yard, this rifle will still be one that any hunter would be proud to shoulder and excited to shoot.

Report Card
Overall: ****
Performance: A+
Design: A
Price/Value: A-

Stats
Caliber: .223 Rem.
Capacity: 4+1
Weight: 6 lb. 10 oz.
Trigger Pull: 2lb. 8oz.
Barrel Length: 22 inches
Overall Length: 40.5 inches
Suggested Retail: $2,275
Contact: Cooperfirearms.com

Accuracy: Avg. 5-shot group at 100 yd.: .729 in. Smallest group: .390 in. with 55-gr. Nosler Varmageddon

Verdict: Built to old-world standards of craftsmanship and modern
standards of performance, it's the finest walking varminter made today.