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Reliability International


In my limited free time I like to travel and shoot tactical rifle matches. First and foremost, it’s fun.  However tactical rifle matches when properly designed will stress a shooter beyond the problems he will encounter in most “live” situations. Tactical matches are held “rain or shine”.  While the stress of competition is not what you would find in a “fight or flight” situation, it is closer physiologically than the physical stress that we usually induce into our training programs. The weather conditions place demands on the weapon systems. This quite often causes spectacular failures to include broken bolt handles, frozen triggers, stuck cases and broken stocks.

This year I attended several matches and conferences that convinced me it was time to upgrade my equipment. While I had not encountered any mechanical failures, my factory 700 was just not giving me the confidence to go for the itty-bitty circles on the “Know your Limits” stages. I looked at the cost of upgrading my 700 or building a new rifle on a custom action. After looking at the numbers and thinking about the problems I have seen at competitions and covered in conferences, Accuracy International came to mind.

Accuracy International was founded in 1978 by a group of international target shooters. Their goal was to incorporate features used in Olympic target shooting into a rugged platform designed for military use. Since that time Accuracy International rifles have been adopted by military and police in sixty countries around the world.

  In the competitions I have shot, I have never seen a factory AI rifle fail. I am sure somewhere they have. I have just never seen it. If you go on any gun forum and ask what a common failure part for a platform is, there will usually be several gurus who will speak up. If you ask the same about and of the AI rifles you won’t get much of an answer. I cannot afford to buy several rifles a year, so I did quite a bit of research. I spoke with several professional and recreational shooters. I spoke with dealers. I even spoke with Stacey Blankenship with Accuracy International of North America (AINA). After I had gathered all the information I could, I placed an order with SRT Supply in Clearwater Florida for an Accuracy Enforcement Mark II model (AE MkII). SRT had the AE MkII in stock and shipped immediately.

In this day and age just about every rifle manufacturer has a “Sniper” rifle. Most are just a modified version of their target or hunting rifles. This is not the case with Accuracy International. The Accuracy Enforcement series of rifle were designed as a Law Enforcement Sniper Rifle. The company took their Arctic Warfare (AW) model and changed some of the features to lower the price point and to make the rifle more suited to the Law Enforcement mission. The first Accuracy Enforcement (AE) models used a single stack five round magazine. They had a fixed stock and fixed cheek piece. None of these features pose a problem, but they are not ideal. Most Police Sniper Rifles are fixed stock and use the internal box magazine. However it appears that customers wanted more.

Accuracy International stepped up with the Accuracy Enforcement Mk II. Although the AE MkII is a factory rifle, it has a number of options that allow you to customize it to your mission. Caliber choices are .308Win, .260Rem, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .243win. Barrels are available at 24” with a plain muzzle or threaded 20” with a screw on muzzle brake. Since the primary role of this rifle will be for LE work I chose the braked 20” .308 barrel. Buyers should understand that these rifles are made in England, so it’s no surprise that the muzzle has metric threads. This does not pose any problem, but must be accounted for when ordering a suppressor.

The AE MkII can be had with a fixed stock or a side folding model. The side folding model makes storage in cramped trunks much easier. This also allows you to get away with a smaller hard case for airline and rental car transport. Both the fixed and folding stocks have adjustable cheek pieces and spacers to adjust the length of pull. This is vitally important for departments that may have to fit a wide variety of shooters over the service life of the weapon system. The folding stock has five sling mounting loops to allow correct placement for a variety of carrying and shooting options. The bottom of the stock has an accessory rail that is most commonly found on competition rifles for handstops. Forward of the accessory rail is a reinforced bipod stud. This allows a secure mounting for a Harris style bipod. If you have ever ripped a bipod stud out of a fiberglass stock, you know what a godsend this can be. The AE MkII has an opening at the nose of the stock for a spigot mounted Parker Hale type bipod.

One of the major improvements to AE MkII is the magazine system. It only made sense for AI to upgrade the AE to accept the AICS magazines instead of the older five round mags. You can find AICS magazines feeding custom Remington, Savage and AI rifles. Additionally, the AICS magazines are available in a ten round capacity. As an added benefit, the five round AICS magazines fit flush with the bottom of the chassis. This makes the rifle more comfortable to carry and gives you more options for hand placement when shooting offhand.

The AI stock or “chassis” is unique in that it is an aluminum skeleton that is then covered with plastic “skins”. They are secured by ten screws through the chassis.  The skins can be ordered in Olive Drab, Black, or Flat Dark Earth (FDE). I chose FDE because I felt it was more unique and would blend in better when the eventual coat of Krylon spray paint rubs off.
On the Mk II models, AI redesigned the chassis to allow the trigger group to be removed for cleaning or service without unbolting the action from the chassis. The AE Mk II trigger is a two stage trigger that is fully adjustable. Our rifle came from the factory with a two pound first stage and a 1.5 pound second stage. These are approximate values because my digital trigger gauge did not like figuring out where the first stage ended and loading the second began. The pull is adequately light for competition and adequately heavy for work. I don’t see any need to alter it from the factory settings.
Our AE MkII came with a top mounted picatinny rail for scope mounting. This rail will accept rings from Badger, Leupold, Seekins and many others. The rail is a 0 MOA rail, so it does not provide any additional elevation for long range shooting. If you are intending to use this rifle for long range then you will need to ensure that your scope has the appropriate elevation for your load.

The bolt on the AE MkII uses three locking lugs and disengages with a 60 degree bolt lift. This is quite a bit less lift than I am accustomed to on Remington or Savage pattern systems. This allows for very fast bolt operation. The shorter bolt lift also keeps your hand further away from the optic. Anyone who has skinned a knuckle on a scope will appreciate this.
The safety selector is located on the cocking piece at the back of the bolt. Pulling the lever to the rear engages the safety and retains the firing pin. Pushing forward disengages the safety and allows the pin to release when the trigger is pulled. The operation of the safety selector is quite stiff and unlikely to be moved by accident. One possible problem I noted was that when the safety is engaged the bolt handle is easy to move. If the rifle has a round chambered and is being carried “on safe” the shooter needs to be careful that he does not eject a live round. This issue is prevented on the AI AW (Arctic Warfare) model by the addition of a three position safety that locks the bolt closed. The safety selector on the AE cannot be engaged when the bolt is open.

One point that should be noted is that this is not a lightweight rifle. Our AE MkII ready to go with scope, empty magazine, bipod and sling weighs in at 17.2 lbs. A full ten round magazine will add another pound to the weight. The weight is evenly distributed through. When loaded the rifle is just slightly tail heavy. This makes for great handling when shooting improvised positions.

I was able to test the mobility of the platform during one of our SWAT training weeks. We were using a MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain) facility at a local military base. The area around the cluster of buildings was densely wooded with thick undergrowth. The weight of the AE MkII was not an issue when moving through this brush. The short length afforded by the 20” barrel made moving quite a bit easier than with my 26” Remington. The contours of the stock made it very easy to cradle. I was able to find a hand position that was comfortable in keeping the bolt handle locked down with the safety on and a blank round in the chamber. The profile of the stock made it easy to handle even when low crawling.
The barrel of the AE MkII has proven to be very accurate. It rivals the performance of quite a few custom rifles. The barrel blanks that Accuracy International uses come from either Border Barrels or Lothar Walther. Both are well known in Europe and around the world for premium match barrels. The rifle comes with 1:12 twist rifling. This has proven adequate to stabilize bullets ranging from 110gr to 178gr.

One of the advantages to the AI rifles is that there is no need to send them off for a new barrel once the old one has been “shot out”. A call to Accuracy International North America will have a brand new barrel on the way to you. It’s a simple matter with a vice and barrel wrench to remove the barrel and spin on the new one. Not only does this save the labor a gunsmith will charge, but it also saves the downtime of the rifle. In fact the only thing that cannot be replaced by an Armorer in the field is the chassis or receiver.

In the months that I have had the AE Mk II I have fired every type of “Match” .308 and 7.62NATO ammunition I could get my hands on. The only ammunition that exceeded 1” at 100 yards was a box of Prvi Partisan 175gr Match. This ammunition is notorious for lack of accuracy, but I wanted to throw something that was on the ugly end through the rifle and see how it handled it. The groups hovered right around 1” with some going just outside of that. The bad part was that the Prvi fouled so badly that I believe it affected the groups fired right after it.

The best performer was Hornady’s 168gr Amax Custom load. I fired four, five shot groups. The smallest was approximately ¼”. The largest was just over ½”. Loads from Black Hills, Hornady and Federal were fired to check accuracy and function. The AE Mk II loved it all. I did not have a single malfunction. The factory AI barrel is also fairly fast. The 20 inch braked barrel produced velocities around 30fps faster than those from my 26 inch barreled Remington. This demonstrates to me that with proper bullet selection the 20 inch barrel will have no problems with 1000 yard competition.

The accuracy of this rifle is perfectly acceptable for law enforcement work and will serve me well in the matches to come. Accuracy is great, as long as it is accompanied by consistency. To that end I began “cold bore” tracking. Once the rifle was zeroed and the range day was complete I ran a bore snake through the barrel and wiped out the receiver and bolt. The rifle was stored “fouled”. On the next range day I pulled the rifle out of the case, dry fired for 20 cycles (to help eliminate “cold shooter”) then fired a round. I then followed this up with a second shot. I did this for fifteen days. The days were not consecutive to better replicate what you might see in a live situation. In almost all cases the cold shot was within ½” of the zero. The second shot was usually touching the first. After heating the barrel up no deviation from the cold zero was noted. Cold/Clean bore deviation was not tested since the rifle is continually kept in a fouled state.
For more than a month I lived with this rifle. Every day was either a range trip or some type of dry training. I tried very hard to come up with complaints about the form or function of the rifle. In that task I think I failed miserably. The only complaints I could come up with were fairly superficial. If AI could find a way to reduce the weight of the system without reducing reliability, that would be excellent. On our AE Mk II there were a couple of small spots where the skins were not trimmed to line up perfectly. This left some very small gaps. My biggest complaint is that the safety does not lock the bolt closed. However this has not caused a problem in any field handling.

At the end of the day many shooters are going to want to know how the AE Mk II stacks up against the AW. Unfortunately I can’t tell you because I am not fortunate enough to own or shoot one. I can tell you that in the research I did I spoke with many AW owners. Many of them also have or have shot the AE. I continued to hear the AE is every bit as accurate as the AW. The only point that seemed valid was that the AW does not need to have the chassis or skins removed to change the barrel. This shouldn’t be an issue for a Law Enforcement Sniper. This reduced the issue to wanting a bolt locking safety or not. To me that is not an option worth the price difference.

I can truly say that the Accuracy International AE Mk II is an excellent option for the department or individual looking for a reliable, accurate, low maintenance weapon system that can easily be adapted to fit a wide range of shooters.

Why not a custom rifle?

When the cost of the AE comes up in a conversation, I am usually asked why I didn't order a custom rifle. I could have gotten a hand selected, hand built, custom rifle for close to the same cost as the AE. Custom rifles are just that. They are custom built to the specifications of their owners. I have enough experience with what works and what doesn't that I feel I could have specified a custom rifle to do what I needed to do. When I put pen to paper and started to spec out a custom, I realized that I kept comparing what I wanted to what AI offers. The cost came pretty close. Then I had to factor in the time frame to have the rifle in my hand. Most quality custom shops are backlogged with work. It will take awhile to get to your spot in line. This is assuming that all components are on hand.

Once you take delivery of your brand new custom you may have years of service without any issues. However if you do have a problem there is a very high likelihood that the repair will require a match gunsmith's touch. None of these are an issue with an AI rifle. You can purchase the rifle Have it shipped to you. Then if something does wear out or break, you can call AI and order a replacement part. There is no need to hand fit it.

SRT Supply

My transaction with SRT Supply is a prime example of the speed at which you can acquire a AE Mk II. I called and spoke with Jonathan Mizner. He is an active participant on one of the message forums I frequent and SRT is a sponsor for Sniperweek in Clearwater. SRT is one of a few distributors for AI North America. This made them a natural choice for me. I told Jonathan exactly what I wanted spelling out each option. SRT Supply had my rifle in stock. I emailed him the FFL information and arranged for payment. My rifle was in the mail the same day. A couple days later my FFL contacted me to pickup the rifle. You really can't beat that. It took less than a week to have a match grade rifle in my hands.

What I failed to mention above was that prior to my order I spoke with Jonathan many times in email and by phone to discuss the AI rifles and what my needs were. He was happy to answer my questions and never made me feel like I was bothering him. This is a big deal for those of us who are spending a large portion of our disposable income on one item.

Thanks to Black Hills Ammunition for providing some of their excellent 175gr HPBT Match and 168gr Amax Black Hills Gold loads for testing. We did not have a single misfire and the ammunition performed very consistently over the course of testing. The 168gr Amax load would be an excellent choice for duty ammo in the AE Mk II.

Copyright © 2011 8541 Tactical

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