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In recent years, a significant portion of the hunting rifle market has turned toward high-end, semi-custom rifles, and the CT Rival from Fierce Firearms is an interesting new contender in this category.
Fierce Firearms is based in Redmond, Utah, and they have been building custom-quality rifles since 2012. They set out to build light rifles with excellent materials and tight tolerances that don’t compromise on accuracy or performance. The CT Rival is available through some retailers as a production model, but also as a package from Fierce—complete with a scope, customized turret, verified target, and hard case. This means that you can buy just the rifle, or a package that’s fully set-up and zeroed.
For this review, I received a CT Rival in .300 Win. Mag. as a package rifle and have been shooting it for a few months. I shot it just like I would any other rifle, but I also applied a bit more scrutiny than I would to a run-of-the-mill production gun. Higher-priced products command a high standard, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve worked the hell out of this rifle, and it hasn’t disappointed.
Fierce CT Rival Specs
- Caliber: .300 Win Mag.
- Capacity: 3 +1
- Weight: 6 pounds, 3 ounces (without optic) 8 pounds, 2 ounces (with optic)
- Receiver: Fierce CT Ti receiver, bronze Cerakote finish
- Bolt: 2-lug, fluted, dual plunger ejectors, mini-claw extractor, NC coated
- Barrel: 22 inches, 1/9-inch twist, carbon-wrapped, hand-lapped
- Muzzle: Threaded, 5/8-inch x 24, NIX muzzle brake
- Optics Mounting: Talley 30mm rings
- Optic: Zeiss Conquest V4 6-24x50mm, custom dial
- Stock: Fierce Tech C3 carbon-fiber
- Trigger: Bix’n Andy’s Dakota trigger, adjustable, 1 pound, 14 ounces (measured)
- Case: SKB hard case with custom cutouts
- Package Price: $5200
Anatomy of the Fierce CT Rival
It can be easy to balk at the price of a rifle without ever really looking into what you’re getting—and that’s a mistake. The CT Rival is packed with quality parts and design features that make it better than your average rifle.
The heart of any hunting rifle is the action, and the Fierce CT Rival has a titanium, two-lug push-feed action with a short, 70-degree bolt throw. The bolt is fluted and features a welded-on skeletonized bolt handle with a partially hollowed bolt knob. The bolt knob isn’t over-sized, but it’s machined with a pattern that cuts a little weight and provides the shooter with a secure grip. The CT Rival’s bolt features dual-plunger ejectors and a micro-claw extractor that’s positioned for strong horizontal ejection of spent cases.
The Bix’n Andy’s Dakota adjustable trigger has a curved trigger shoe and is easily adjustable with an Allen key. I settled on a 1-pound, 14-ounce setting on my sample, and it breaks beautifully and cleanly. It uses a Remington M700-style safety that won’t lock the bolt when engaged.
The stock of the CT Rival is completely carbon-fiber and mine weighs only 1 pound, 12 ounces. Despite being light, it’s robust, stiff, and built for precise shooting. On the rear, it’s fitted with a Limbsaver recoil pad, and includes front and rear Q.D. sling swivel cups. The front of the forend has a section of rail for mounting a bipod that’s counter-sunk into the stock so it doesn’t create a snagging feature by protruding beyond the outer dimensions of the forend. The stock on my sample has a medium width forend, slightly raised comb, and a wide, comfortable vertical grip. It comes in a variety of color patterns with a drip-type texture pattern to keep the stock from being too slippery.
There’s no traditional glass-bedding under the hood of this rifle, and the barrel doesn’t contact the stock forward of the recoil lug. The only discernable contact the action has with the stock is at the recoil lug, on either side of the front action screw, and at the rear action screw. The stock doesn’t appear to be custom fit for the particular gun, but fitting is good overall, and the inletting is even. The most scrupulous stock critic might point out a bit of space behind the rear of the trigger guard and tang, but that’s nit-picky.
As mentioned, my rifle came as a package—an option that many shooters might prefer—and already had an optic mounted, zeroed, and included a custom dial calibrated for a specific load (Barnes VOR-TX 180-grain TTSX). The scope that came on my rifle is a Zeiss Z4 Conquest 6-24x50mm with locking custom dials, but if you’re ordering a package rifle from Fierce, they can put whatever you want on it. If you buy just the rifle, you’ll currently need scope rings or bases from Talley or Murphy Precision. The Fierce CT Rival’s action utilizes larger 8-40 screws for mounting bases to provide a stronger connection, and those two companies are the only current manufacturers making bases that will fit.
Carbon-fiber-wrapped barrels are more popular than ever, and the 22-inch .300 Win. Mag. barrel on the CT Rival is turning me into a carbon-barrel believer. The C3 carbon barrel is hand-lapped with a match-grade chamber and threaded with a 5/8-24 pitch. The bore seems to be well-finished, as fouling is cleaned out with little effort.
The CT Rival comes standard with a radial muzzle brake, but my sample included the optional titanium NIX brake. I noted that the brake indexes perfectly without any spacing washers, and—after hand tightening—is secured with 3 set screws that drive inserts which mate perfectly to the threads of the muzzle to prevent damage.
Handling and Shooting the Fierce CT Rival
The CT Rival is a light hunting rifle—especially for a .300 Win. Mag. However, I was very pleased with the handling and shooting characteristics. Light rifles can be tough to shoot accurately, but the design of the stock (particularly the wide vertical grip and raised comb) aids with building a secure, stable shooting position and executing a clean shot with minimal shooter input on the rifle.
When building a position and running through a few dry-fire shots, I find it relatively easy to reduce or eliminate crosshair jump with this rifle—something that I can’t say for some of my other light rifles. The trigger is excellent, which helps reduce user input and error. This rifle is certainly not as forgiving to shoot as a heavier chassis rifle like the Seekins Havak HIT or Accuracy International AT-X, which we tested for our Best Rifles of 2022 story. It’s more comparable to the Proof Tundra in shootability—although it weighs about a pound less than the Proof in 6.5 CM that we tested.
The Fierce CT Rival in .300 Win. Mag. features a long magazine for those who like to play with seating depth on the otherwise short-stuffed cartridge. I seated my handloads to factory seating depths as well, and I did notice that it took some attention to detail when stuffing the magazine to get cartridges to stack properly. It worked best for me to slide each cartridge completely to the rear of the magazine after it clicked into place.
A drawback to titanium actions is that the bolts tend to feel sticky when working them. The coating on the CT Rival’s bolt certainly helps smooth it out—especially with a few drops of oil—but it still takes some effort. If you’re putting any torque on the bolt while pulling it open or pushing it closed, you’ll feel some stickiness. That’s just a fact of life for titanium actions.
Through about 400 rounds, the rifle has functioned perfectly and ejected every case positively. I noted that even though it was ejecting brass with authority, I wasn’t getting any marking or marring from the cases being flipped around and impacting the rear of the receiver—something that I’ve seen on even higher-end hunting rifles.
The titanium NIX muzzle brake eliminated almost all of the recoil, making it easy to shoot off the bench and from field positions. The cost of that is a robust concussion. If you hunt with the brake, be sure to have hearing protection ready. I also shot the CT Rival with my Silencerco Hybrid 46 suppressor threaded directly onto the muzzle and found it to be very tolerable to shoot. Because I generally despise hunting with muzzle brakes, I spent some time shooting the rifle with only a thread protector. I wouldn’t want to shoot it like that on the bench all day, but recoil was tolerable, even for such a light rifle in a magnum chambering. I did notice some erosion of accuracy from some loads without the muzzle brake, but one load’s accuracy improved. Like any other rifle, you’ll just have to see what it likes.
Fierce CT Rival Accuracy
If you’re spending serious coin on a hunting rifle, one of the nails you’re hanging your hat on is that it’s going to be supremely accurate. The Fierce CT Rival comes with a half-MOA guarantee with recommended ammo for 3-shot groups. The recommended ammo for the rifle I received was Barnes VOR-TX 180-grain TTSX, which is the same load I used to take a nice bull elk with back in November of 2021. The rifle came with a target showing a 0.236-inch printed group to prove that it would perform. At Outdoor Life, our accuracy testing protocol calls for multiple 5-shot groups which are more demanding, but the rifle still didn’t disappoint.
In-all, I recorded more than 40 5-shot groups at 100 yards with 7 different loads. I also gave it a healthy dose of handload development, plus shooting at longer distances. The CT Rival was consistently accurate across a wide variety of loads—but certainly had its preferences. Loads that the rifle didn’t favor still came in at a consistent sub-1.5 MOA average for 5-shot groups. With recommended ammo (and others) the rifle easily averaged it’s 3-shot half-MOA guarantee. To get our final accuracy score, I followed the same protocol we use in our annual gun test and averaged the best 10 5-shot groups across a variety of ammunition.
Average 5-shot group size: 0.641 inches
In addition to the recommended Barnes load (.847-inch average 5-shot group), the rifle liked the Federal Premium 185-grain Berger Hybrid Hunter load (0.639-inch average 5-shot group). I also worked up a skookum load using Hornady 212-grain ELDX bullets (0.599-inch average 5-shot group).
In addition to group-shooting for accuracy testing, I did some shooting out to 900 yards and found that hits came easy—both with the custom dial and with some quick ballistic calculation for the 185 Berger factory load and my 212-grain ELDX handloads.
The Rise of the Semi-Custom Rifles
When I was 15, I had to scrap and save for my first hunting rifle—a Remington Model 710—and I used the hell out of it. I still like shooting and hunting with affordable rifles, but I’ve also learned that sometimes a more expensive rifle is worth every penny.
I distinctly remember my jaw dropping when a buddy told me what he had paid for a custom rifle that he aptly nicknamed “Chuck Norris.” The price was shocking to me—just over $5,000—but what stuck with me was the terms he put it into. He’s a hard-working blue-collar guy who was also a skilled shooter. He could make just about any rifle work. But, what he really wanted was one kick-ass rifle that he could use for everything. He was willing to save up for this rifle for years. In the end, he got the gun he wanted.
Read Next: The Best Hunting Rifles of 2022
The bottom line is that hunters and shooters want rifles that they know will be worth the money. However, most don’t care whether a rifle is completely built-to-order to their specifications, they just want one that will perform. Caliber, coatings, colors, and a few features to pick from are really all most hunters desire as “custom” options. Quality and accuracy are what the end-user really wants.
There are a variety of rifle makers who have found success with high-end, semi-custom hunting rifles. Proof, Seekins, Gunwerks, and others all make excellent rifles that could be considered semi-custom. Fierce is a welcome and competitive player in the field.
Where the Fierce CT Rival Excels
The Fierce CT Rival is a great value for a high-end hunting rifle. It’s exceptionally accurate, has a fantastic trigger, grip, and is a great balance of weight and ergonomics. It bridges the gap between the pencil-barreled mountain rifle and heavy long-range rig—and does it at a very fair price.
Where the Fierce CT Rival Could Improve
The only real outlier on this rifle was the safety—which operated smoothly, but the lever itself is loose-fitting and can wobble horizontally. I’d like to see that tightened up.
Final Thoughts on the Fierce CT Rival
The Fierce CT Rival is an excellent example of performance and value in a high-end hunting rifle. It’s accurate as hell, built with high-quality components, comfortable to shoot, and light enough to carry just about anywhere. It’s a rifle that shows you it’s worth, and if you’re saving pennies for a semi-custom hunting rifle that you can do anything with, this one’s a heavy hitter.