SHOT Show 2009: New Rifles

new thompson snow

There was little doubt that Thompson Center was going to expand on its line of Icon rifles that it launched two years ago. A favorite pastime for gun nuts is to try to guess what's coming next. Well, the answer is here and it is called the Venture. The T-C Venture can be thought of as the Icon's little brother--it's not as fancy and it isn't as sophisticated but the family resemblance is unmistakable nonetheless. And for those hunters for whom the Icon's $1,000 price tag was difficult to justify the best news is that the Venture will cost about half as much. According to Gregg Ritz, the MSRP on the new rifle will be $500 and the street price should come in around $450. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to shoot the new rifle this morning down at the legendary Gametrails hunting lodge in Western Kentucky and the initial impression it left is very good. First, here's what the Venture has in common with the Icon: One of the best bits of news is that the Venture will use the same barrels as are found on the Icons. These high-quality barrels have recessed and chamfered crowns and a type of rifling the company calls "5R," where the lands and grooves don't meet at a sharp 90-degree angle, instead having a rounded corners. This is supposed to cut down on accuracy-degrading fouling. The adjustable trigger is also the same on the two rifles. The shooter can select a trigger pull weight somewhere between 2.5 to 6 pounds. As on the Icons I've shot, the trigger pull on the Venture is crisp with little sign of creep. It's a fine trigger. The detachable magazine will also seem familiar to shooters who have spent time with the Icon. The bottom of the magazine extends a bit beneath the stock and because of its single-stack design gives the shooter a capacity of 3+1. The shape and lines on the receiver are very much like the Icon as well. The top of the receiver has built-in Picatinny style bases and an oval cut for feeding cartridges and ejecting empties. The bolt has the same three-lug design as the Icon and the corresponding shorter bolt lift as compared to a two-lug turn-bolt action. Speaking of the bolt, the bolt shroud has the same rakish angle to it, along with the same style cocking indicator, though the shroud lacks the cutouts that are one of the more distinctive design elements on the Icon. With so much in common there has to be some things that are different, right? How'd they save all that money so they could charge half as much? The biggest changes from the Icon are out of sight. For starters the Venture does not have the flat-bottomed receiver that the Icon does. For those not familiar with the Icon, one of its accuracy-enhancing features is its bedding system, which mates a flat-topped aluminum bedding block to the flat-bottomed receiver. The theory behind the flat-on-flat design is that there is no chance for the action to roll or torque in the stock. In addition, the flat bedding block adds rigidity to the whole business, which is always a good goal as far as accuracy is concerned. Instead, the Venture has a round bottom design (round is always cheaper and easier to make) that mates to a stock that doesn't have any special bedding features. Then there's the matter of the stock itself. One of the big selling features for the Icon is the quality of the wood they are stocked with, which on the numerous samples I've seen certainly qualifies as a better grade of wood than is typical on rifles at comparable prices. The stock on the Venture is a much more straightforward affair and weighs about a half-pound less than the wood stock on the Icon, which is actually a point in favor of the newcomer as the heft of the Icon was criticized by some as being a bit too heavy. The safety on the Venture is also different than on the Icon. It will be a simple two-position safety. (Though there is a three-position safety on the samples we have here in camp--some of the details are still being worked out.) The bolt handles on the Venture are also not designed to be interchangeable as they are on the Icon. By not offering this feature, T-C doesn't need to machine the bolts and bolt handles to the same tolerances as with the Icon. Again, this means money saved, both in terms of product costs and the labor involved in checking the fit of the pieces. Enough about the specs: How does it perform? Well, on the two samples we were shooting this morning, the groups were coming in somewhere around 1.5 inches or so with plenty of shots that were touching on the paper, which is always a good sign. What conclusions can we draw from this? Not much. We're shooting two prototype rifles with one brand of ammo (Winchester) and they were certainly within what I consider acceptable accuracy for a hunting rifle. Given that the wind is howling today (erratic gusts above 20 mph) and that the rifles are topped with Nikon hunting scopes (as opposed to high magnification target scopes) and that the rests we're shooting off are only so-so, I would have been surprised if they had shot much better. My gut tells me that under more controlled circumstances these rifles will shoot very well indeed. How about calibers? You'll see in the photo above that my Venture is chambered in .308 Win. but this is not going to be one of the calibers initially offered. Instead, Thompson-Center is going do this in a long action at first, so we'll be seeing it in .30-06., .270 Win., .243 Win and 7mm Rem. Mag for starters. But you can bet that a medium-length action will be in the Venture's future. Now, it's time to hunt and see how it does in the field.
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--John Snow_
SHOT 2009: Marlin Rifles
Fans of big-bore lever-action rifles will have three new Marlin models to check out this year. Chambered for the brand-new .338 Marlin Express (developed by Hornady), the Model 338MX features a blued carbon steel receiver, blued 22-inch barrel, semi-buckhorn rear sight with a hooded, ramped front sight (also drilled and tapped for scope mounting), a 5-shot tubular half magazine and a checkered pistol-grip walnut stock. The Model 338MXLR is built with a stainless-steel receiver, 24-inch stainless-steel barrel, semi-buckhorn rear sight/hooded ramp front (drilled and tapped), a 5-shot tubular magazine and the checkered gray/black laminate stock is equipped with a
deluxe recoil pad. Those looking for a short, handy big-bore lever carbine will find it in the Model 1895SBL. Chambered for .45/70, it features a stainless-steel receiver, big loop lever, 18.5-inch stainless-steel barrel, 5-shot tubular half magazine and a gray/black laminate stock. Sights consist of the XS Ghost Ring system, and a Scout-type forward scope mount for an intermediate eye relief scope is included. Information on the new XS7 bolt-action line is sketchy, but it will be offered in a short action with synthetic stock (black or camo, depending on the model) and will be available in .243 Win., 7mm/08, and .308 Win., with compact models offered in .243 Win. and 7mm/08. New additions to the XL7 line include the .30/06 Sprg and .270 Win. in either a brown laminate stock or a walnut stock. The new Model 925RM .22 WMR bolt-action features a carbon steel receiver and 22-inch barrel, adjustable sights (also drilled and tapped) and a black synthetic stock. (800-243-9700; marlinfirearms.com)
Tactical rifles have come a long way from their early days in the rice paddies of Southeast Asia. To say that the AR-platform rifle is one of the most popular sellers would be a serious understatement. Given the versatility of the design, AR rifles can be found nearly everywhere, from target ranges to hunting fields to the trunks of many police cruisers, and in a variety of calibers beyond the original .223 Remington. This year, Remington adds yet another variation with the introduction of the R-15 in the new 30 Remington AR--a .30-caliber cartridge of the same overall length as the .223 that will produce 2,800 fps with a 125-grain bullet, making it an excellent choice for deer-sized game. The R-15 30 Remington AR is built on a standard AR-15 lower unit. The upper features a modified .308 bolt head and barrel extension. The rifle features an A2-style full buttstock with an A4 upper for easy optics mounting. The 22-inch button-rifled barrel has a recessed crown and is fluted forward of the gas block. The trigger is a single-stage hunting design factory set at 4.5 to 5 pounds. A single-stack magazine offers 4+1 capacity, and the entire rifle is finished in Realtree AP HD camo. SRP: $1,199. Those who pop varmints with the AR will find two new offerings this year. The R-15 VTR Thumbhole Varminter is chambered for .223 Rem. and features a Bell & Carlson Thumbhole Stock, 24-inch fluted barrel, a single-stage trigger set at 4.5 pounds and A4 upper for optics mounting, and is fully covered in Advantage Max 1 camo (SRP: $1,412). The R-15 VTR Stainless Varminter offers a similar package (A4 upper, 4.5-pound single-stage trigger), but in stainless steel with a triangular barrel and matching gas block. The upper and lower receivers are finished in OD Green, with Advantage Max 1 camo on the buttstock, forend and pistol grip. SRP: $1,412. On the bolt-action side, Remington expands the use of the VTR triangular fluted barrel first introduced in a varmint configuration in 2008. The new Model 700 XHR (Xtreme Hunting Rifle) combines the barrel configuration with its synthetic XHR stock featuring Hogue rubberized grip panels, SuperCell recoil pad and Realtree AP HD camo finish. It will be available in .243 Win., .25/06 Rem., .270 Win., 7mm/08 Rem., .30/06 Sprg, 7mm Rem. Mag., 7mm Rem. Ultra Mag. and .300 Rem. Ultra Mag. Barrel length is 26 inches on the Ultra Mag calibers and 24 inches on the others. SPR: $879 to $905. On the tactical side, the new Model 700 Tactical mates a 26-inch triangular VTR barrel with a synthetic Bell & Carlson Medalist Varmint/Tactical stock that features a hand-filling pistol grip combined with an adjustable comb and adjustable length of pull and factory-installed sling swivels. Chambered for .308 Win., the action features a tactical-style bolt knob and an all-steel hinged floorplate. Capacity is 4+1. The rifle, in a black matte finish, comes without sights and is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. It weighs 8.87 pounds. SRP: $1,972. The Model 700 VTR line features a synthetic Hogue stock with overmolded grips with a vented forend and a 22-inch VTR barrel with muzzle brake. It comes without sights and is drilled and tapped for scope mounting. Three new models enter the line this year. The .17 Remington Fireball and .243 Win. will be available in an OD green stock, while the Desert Recon is offered in .223 Rem. and .308 Win. with a digital-pattern camo finish. SRP: $832 to $879. The short-action Model 700 Varmint Stainless Fluted offers a traditional round, fluted 26-inch hammer-forged barrel, synthetic Hogue stock with grip panels and dual-front swivel studs. It comes without sights, but is drilled and tapped. It will be available in .17 Remington Fireball, .204 Ruger, .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem., .220 Swift, and .308 Win. SRP: $919. For southpaws, the Model 700 SPS Left Hand will be offered in .270 Win., .30/06 Sprg, 7mm Rem. Mag. and .300 Win. Mag. Barrels are 24 inches for standard calibers and 26 inches for magnums.
SRP: $639. Although new models are interesting, Remington will be phasing in an enhanced version of the X-Mark Pro Trigger on all new models and existing varmint and target bolt-actions, as well as current Model 700 and Seven products. The enhanced trigger will have a pull factory-set at 3.5 pounds, with an approximate adjustment range of 2 pounds. Rimfire fans will want to look at the new Model 597 FLX camo. This new digital camo design mates with the 20-inch barrel .22LR semi-auto that is drilled and tapped for scope mounting and comes equipped with TruGlo adjustable sights and a 10-round box magazine. SRP: $260. (800-243-9700; remington.com)
The big news is the new .416 Ruger cartridge developed by Hornady. Using 400-grain bullets, it delivers the same level of performance as the .416 Remington and .416 Rigby, but from a standard-length action and 24-inch barrel, and it provides nearly the same level of performance from a 20-inch tube. The .416 Ruger will be available in the Hawkeye Alaskan model, featuring stainless-steel construction, a 20-inch barrel, controlled-feed action, Hogue rubber stock and a 3-round magazine capacity. Sights consist of a white bead front with a shallow V rear that is windage-adjustable, and the receiver is grooved for Ruger scope rings (supplied). Additional features include Ruger's LC6 trigger, a 3-position safety and an improved recoil pad. Empty weight is approximately
8 pounds. SRP: $1,173. A new line of Compact Hawkeye rifles will be available in blue-steel barrel/alloy receiver with a walnut stock (SRP: $803) and stainless-steel barrel/action with a black laminate stock (SRP: $862). Both models offer a 4-round magazine capacity, LC6 trigger, 3-position safety, improved recoil pad and 16.5-inch barrel (bare barrel, Ruger rings supplied). The blued version tips the scales at 5.75 pounds and will be available in .223 Rem., .243 Win., 7mm-08, .308 Win., 6.8mm Spec., 7.62x39mm and .260 Rem. The stainless-steel version weighs in at 6.25 pounds and will be chambered for .223 Rem., .243 Win., 7mm-08, .308 Win., .260 Rem. and .300 RCM. Southpaws will find an extensive selection of calibers in the new Hawkeye Left-Handed Short Action rifle. Featuring an alloy receiver with Ruger's controlled-feed action, a blue-steel 22-inch bare barrel (Ruger rings supplied), matte blue finish and American walnut stock, the magazine capacity is 4 rounds. It will be offered in .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem., .204 Ruger, .243 Win., 7mm-08, .308 Win., .300 RCM and .338 RCM. Empty weight is 7.25 pounds. SRP: $803. Although the Hawkeye bolt-action line got most of the attention, the semi-auto Mini-14 will also show two new models: the Mini-14 Tactical and the Mini-14 Ranch with ATI Folding Stock. Both are built from stainless steel with a matte-blued finish, with 161/8-inch barrels with a 1-in-9 right-hand twist. Each features a protected blade front sight with a rear adjustable Ghost Ring, with a grooved receiver to accept the supplied Ruger rings. The rifles weigh 8 pounds empty, and each is supplied with a 20-round magazine. The primary difference is that the Tactical Model (SRP: $894) has a full black synthetic stock and flash suppressor, while the Ranch version (SRP: $872) lacks the suppressor and has a folding ATI stock. (203-256-3860; ruger.com)
The original Sig 550 has been called one of the finest 5.56mm battle rifles ever made. The civilian version, the Sig 556, has carried on that tradition in a semi-auto model. For 2009, Sig announces that a limited number of 556 models will be introduced to the civilian market in the 556 Classic configuration.
The Classic features a full-length gas-piston system with a 2-position gas valve, a Swiss-type folding stock that is adjustable for length and a Swiss-type polymer forend. The steel receiver has a Picatinny rail with an included Sig Sauer mini Red Dot sight, and a combat hooded front sight and flip-up iron rear. The 17-inch barrel (1-in-7 twist) features an AR-style flash hider. The Classic has a redesigned alloy trigger housing that uses AR-style magazines (two 30-round magazines are included, with a coupler). Empty weight is 8.2-pounds. SRP: $1,998. (603-772-2302; sigsauer.com)
A number of new models enter the Weatherby lineup this year, along with an enhanced trigger assembly on both new and existing Vanguard model rifles and a simple drop-in kit that will allow Vanguard owners to convert their blind magazine rifles to a detachable box magazine system. All Vanguard rifles will now be equipped with a factory-tuned precision trigger assembly that is fully adjustable for sear engagement (supplied factory settings will be .008 to .014) and let off weight (factory settings will average 3.15 pounds). Each sear and trigger is hand-honed and manually inspected. Current Vanguard owners who would like to replace their existing blind magazine floorplate assembly with a detachable box magazine will find an easy-to-install kit (SRP: $79) constructed of a durable injection-molded plastic bead blasted to match the original finish. It offers a 3+1 detachable box magazine capability and will be available for those Vanguards in .25/06 Rem., .270 Win. and .30/06. Weatherby notes that the kit will also fit some Howa 1500 and S&W and Mossberg versions of the Howa 1500 bolt-action. Hunters seeking a lightweight stalking rifle will want to check out the new Vanguard Carbine. It features a 20-inch No. 1 contour barrel (drilled and tapped with no sights), the new enhanced trigger system, black matte finished metal work and an injection-molded composite Monte Carlo stock sporting a low-density recoil pad and factory-installed sling swivels. Tipping the scales at 6.75 pounds, the short-action carbine will be available in .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem., .243 Win., 7mm/08 and .308 Win., and comes with a 1.5-inch accuracy guarantee (a factory test target is included). SRP: $499 Another new addition to the Vanguard line is the Vanguard Predator. This bolt-action features an injection-molded Monte Carlo composite stock with factory-installed sling swivels and a low-density recoil pad. The stock and all metalwork are finished in the Natural Gear camo pattern. The barrel is a 22-inch No. 3 contour (drilled and tapped, no sights). It features the new enhanced trigger system and comes with a factory test target and a 1.5-inch accuracy guarantee. It will be available in .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem. and .308 Win. SRP: $789. This year's Custom Shop special edition "Rifle of the Year" (ROY) is the Vanguard Thumbhole Laminate. It features a 22-inch hammer-forged No. 3 contour barrel, laminated wood stock with thumbhole and barrel vents, the enhanced adjustable trigger, Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad and factory-installed sling swivels. The barrel is drilled and tapped (no sights) and is offered in .204 Ruger, .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem. and .308 Win. Like all Vanguard bolt-actions, it comes with a 1.5-inch accuracy guarantee and factory test target. SRP: $799 ($859 in .204 Ruger). Also new from the Custom Shop is the futuristic-looking Axiom Rifle line. Built on the Vanguard bolt-action, these guns feature the Knoxx Axiom stock. Constructed from polymer and alloy, the adjustable buttstock provides more than 4 inches of length of pull adjustment, with a pistol-grip design. Knoxx claims its patented buttstock design can reduce recoil by up to 95 percent over conventional stocks. The composite forearm provides a full free float to the barrel, which is drilled and tapped with no sights and finished in a matte blue.
Two models will be available this year: The Vanguard Axiom Big Game features a 24-inch No. 2 contour barrel in .25/06 Rem., .270 Win., .30/06 Sprg, .257 Wby. Mag., 7mm Rem. Mag., .300 Win. Mag. and .300 Wby. Mag. The Vanguard Axiom Varmint offers the same features with a 22-inch No. 3 contour barrel and is chambered for .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem. and .308 Win. Although the Axiom models could be considered a radical departure from Weatherby tradition, the new Mark XXII SA may outshine them in that regard. Designed with the assistance of Magnum Research, the Mark XXII SA was built from the ground up to be an upper-level target-grade detachable-magazine-fed semi-auto rimfire rifle chambered for the .22LR and the .17 HMR. The XXII SA features a 20-inch No. 3 contour barrel with a .690 muzzle diameter, a raised comb Monte Carlo walnut stock with cut checkering and a recoil pad for a non-slip grip. All metalwork is finished in a matte blue with a soft luster finish. The rotary-design magazines (10-shot .22LR, 9-shot .17 HMR) feature a quick-release button, and the line accepts existing aftermarket accessory magazines. SRP: $999 to $1,099. (805-227-2600; weatherby.com)
For 2009, Winchester will add two new models to the Model 70 bolt-action rifle lineup that was introduced last year. The Model 70 Coyote Light has been trimmed down to reduce unnecessary bulk without sacrificing performance. The matte-blued receiver and medium-heavy fluted stainless-steel barrel mount into a skeletonized aluminum bedding block that is set into a lightweight carbon-fiber composite Bell & Carlson stock. Flow-through vents on the forend reduce weight and promote barrel cooling. Like all Model 70 bolt guns, it features controlled-round feeding and the MOA trigger system. The bare barrel is drilled and tapped, and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad is standard. Available in 22-inch barrels in .22/250 Rem., .243 Win.and .308 Win. (SRP: $1,069), and 24-inch barrels in .270 WSM, .300 WSM and .325 WSM (SRP: $1,099), the average empty weight is 7.5 pounds. The Model 70 Ultimate Shadow features a composite stock with an integrated rubberized oval-dot gripping surface on the pistol grip and forend, a blued free-floating barrel (sans sights, drilled and tapped), MOA trigger system and controlled-round feed. Available in barrel lengths of 22, 24 or 26 inches, it is available for most popular standard calibers and three WSM calibers. Even lighter than the Coyote Light, it weighs between 6.5 to 7-pounds, depending on barrel length. SRP:$739 to $769. The Winchester Super X Semi-Auto Rifle has been updated for 2009 to include a new hinged floorplate with detachable box magazine feature. Available in popular standard calibers and magnum calibers, the updated Super X has a refined ergonomic styling with select grade walnut stock and forearm. SRP: $949 to $979. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's Grand African Safari and his contributions to the Smithsonian Institution, Winchester Repeating Arms will offer the Model 1895 Safari Centennial Lever Action Rifles this year. Two models will be offered, both in .405 Win. caliber. The Custom Grade Model has Grade III/IV walnut with deep engraving of many African big-game animals on a blued receiver, plus extensive gold-tone embellishments. It will be offered in a limited number of 1,000 two-gun sets that include the High Grade version. Each set will bear special matching serial numbers and is supplied with a complete collector's package that includes a copy of President Roosevelt's famous book, African Game Trails, and a deluxe double-gun case. SRP: $3,649. The High Grade model can be had by itself. It features a highly checkered Grade II walnut stock and a silver nitride receiver extensively engraved with gold-enhanced African game animals. SRP: $1,749. (801-876-3440; winchesterguns.com)
The new Model 1770 Hunting Repeater centerfire rifle in .223 Rem. incorporates the company's first new action in 30 years. This new design uses six locking lugs for added strength and reliability, as well as a short 60-degree bolt lift to deliver fast and smooth loading. The Model 5094D Match trigger, which has been used in many Anschutz target rifles, is an adjustable single-stage trigger set at 2.5 pounds, but can be set by a professional gunsmith from 2 to 4.5 pounds. Other features include a 22-inch medium-target-weight hammer-forged barrel with a recessed target crown, a detachable 3-shot magazine and a New Wave-style grooved-rail receiver drilled and tapped for scope mounts. The one-piece firing pin also has a stop that prevents damage during dry-firing, and the safety locks both the firing pin and the sear. The Meister Grade rifle has a select-grade oil-finished walnut stock with semi-oval cheekpiece and Schnabel forend. The stock has hand-cut checkered panels on the grip and forearm, a rubber butt pad and detachable sling swivel studs. SRP: $2,499. (205-655-8299; merkel-usa.com)
Expansions to existing models lines, including left-hand versions of the popular T-Bolt rimfire line, highlight Browning's new rifle offerings for 2009. The X-Bolt line--featuring Browning's Feather Trigger system, X-Lock scope mounts, bolt unlock button, detachable rotary magazine and Inflex Technology Recoil Pad--will see two new field models and two new Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) models. The new X-Bolt Micro Hunter is a trimmed-down model with 20- or 22-inch barrels (depending upon caliber), with a length of pull of 135/16 inches. It will be available in popular short-action calibers as well as WSM offerings, and weigh
5 pounds 15 ounces to 6 pounds 7 ounces, depending on caliber. The new X-Bolt Varmint Stalker features a medium-heavy barrel of 24 or 26 inches and a composite stock that has textured gripping surfaces, a palm swell and Dura-Touch armor coating. The available calibers include .223 Rem., .22/250 Rem., .243 Win. and .308 Win. The RMEF edition models consist of the X-Bolt RMEF White Gold that features a stainless-steel receiver and a 23-inch SS barrel chambered for .325 WSM. The select checkered walnut stock has a gloss finish with a raised cheek piece, rosewood grip and forend caps and an inset RMEF logo (SRP: $1,399). The RMEF X-Bolt Special Hunter features a low-luster blued finish in .325 WSM with a 23-inch barrel, a checkered walnut stock with a raised cheekpiece, rosewood grip and forend cap and RMEF logo insert. SRP: $919. Two new models will also be added to the popular A-Bolt line. The new A-Bolt Target features a heavy 28-inch bull-contour barrel with a matte blue finish and a target crown. A single set trigger provides an ultralight trigger pull. The stock is a satin finish gray laminate with a wide (benchrest-style) forend and a fully adjustable comb. The A-Bolt Target Stainless offers the same features with a stainless-steel barrel and receiver. Both models are without sights, and drilled and tapped for optics. Each will be available in .223 Rem., .308 Win. and .300 WSM. Average weight is 13 pounds. SRP: $1,269 to $1,299, A-Bolt Target; $1,489 to $1,519, stainless. Browning also upgrades the cosmetics on the BAR ShortTrace and LongTrace semi-autos. The stock and forearm now feature Grade II walnut with an oil finish, and like previous models, they are adjustable for cast-on/cast-off and drop-in comb via shim adjustment. The aluminum alloy receivers now feature a new high-relief engraving pattern with a satin-nickel finish. Both upgraded versions will be available in right- or left-hand models, and chambered for most of the popular short- or long-action cartridges. SRP: $1,099 to $1,249. Re-introduced in 2006, the Browning straight-pull T-Bolt rimfire rifle has proved highly popular, and for 2009, southpaws can have their own version. The updated T-Bolt features a double-helix rotary-box 10-round magazine, top tang safety and 22-inch barrel. All T-Bolts feature a semi-match chamber in all calibers, and composite stock models offer a spare magazine storage compartment under the buttplate. The left-hand versions will be available in all models and include T-Bolt Sporter, T-Bolt Target/Varmint, T-Bolt Composite Sporter and T-Bolt Composite Target/Varmint, in calibers .22LR, .22 WMR and .17 HMR. SRP: $689 to $739. (801-876-2711; browningarms.com)

Here's a sneak peek at this year's hottest new rifles!