Testfire by John Herbert
Christensen Arms Carbon Classic.
CALIBRE: 308. (.223-.338 Lapua available)
STOCK: CA Tier 2 fibreglass stock.
BARREL: 24 inch stainless match carbon wrapped 1/10 twist, fitted with titanium muzzle brake.
ACTION: CA high strength custom stainless short action, built-in Picatinny rail, nitrided bolt.
TRIGGER: Timney trigger 2.5lbs.
WEIGHT: 6.7 pounds.
LENGTH: 43 inches.
BARREL LENGTH: 24 inches.
MAGAZINE: 4 rounds.
Reviewed by NZ Rod&Rifle Magazine's Technical Editor,
Carbon Wrapped Practi-cool
Christensen Arms was founded by Dr Roland Christensen in 1995; they are based in Gunnison Utah. Dr Christensen has a Doctorate of Science in Mechanical Engineering and he specialises in carbon fibre.
He was one of the first producers of carbon fibre-wrapped barrels and his company now produces semi automatic AR style rifles, bolt action rifles, pistols and firearm components including stocks, barrels and AR15 parts. Dr Christensen is also a keen hunter and it’s this passion that drew him towards firearms manufacture.
Rod&Rifle were given a Christensen Arms (CA) Classic Carbon in .308 to test by New Zealand Christensen agents Dead Eye Dicks. This was fitted with a 24 inch match grade carbon barrel, topped with a CA titanium muzzle brake. The action is the CA short action which has a number of custom features, including an M16-style extractor on the bolt, a Timney adjustable trigger and a carbon fibre detachable magazine, and the top of the action has built-in scope rails. The stock is CA’s Tier 2 stock, in hand-laid fibreglass with a solid epoxy bedding area and internally-lightened fore end. It’s finished green with a black spider web and the butt has a decent-sized Limbsaver recoil pad. Looked at in detail the action itself is very nice, with the highlight undoubtedly being the built-in scope bases. These are Weaver/Picatinny compatible and with a set of strong rings – like the Nightforce X-Treme duty rings that were fitted – I doubt there is a stronger setup available.
The carbon fibre box magazine holds 4 rounds, and even though it protrudes from the bottom of the stock the extra capacity is a worthwhile trade-off. What the magazine does offer is internal length: OAL lengths of up to 2.910 inches will feed out of the magazine, very handy for longer high BC bullets. The trigger is noteworthy in that it had a very crisp release and at just under 3 pounds it was easy to use and made bench work a breeze. My only negative on the action was the spiral-fluted bolt. Spiral-fluted bolts look great and save a little bit of weight, but I have often found that they are not as smooth as a non-fluted or straight-fluted bolt, as the edges of the flutes catch on the various parts of the action. But it wasn’t bad – more noticeable than annoying, and I do note on other rifles with spiral flutes that in time the bolt smoothes up as the sharp edges on the action and bolt flutes wear down. The combination of stainless bead-blasted action and black nitrided bolt, combined with the two-tone carbon and stainless barrel and the green stock make a very slick-looking rifle.
The stock does not use pillars or alloy blocks; CA’s reason for this is that the moulds it uses for the stock are very precise and the action-to-stock fit is perfect. CA beds the recoil lug as much to add strength to the stock as to enhance accuracy. The recoil lug is a proven Remington-style lug that is sandwiched between the barrel and action.
I showed the Classic Carbon to a number of people and the overwhelming reaction was that it was a very sharp-looking design; people were particularly focussed on the carbon-wrapped barrel. Christensen state that their carbon-wrapped barrels are match grade, with a number of benefits over traditional all-steel barrels. They are obviously lighter for their diameter and stiffer, weight for weight, than an all-steel barrel. CA also state that they will last 25% longer than an equivalent steel barrel, due to the fact that the carbon wrap keeps the stainless steel liner 25% cooler. Christensen’s process for wrapping their barrels is patented, but they point out that just wrapping some carbon around a barrel will not give the required accuracy, and can actually be detrimental. CA’s say their process allows the rigidity and correct harmonics needed for accuracy, while also allowing the barrel to cool by creating a channel that dissipates heat. The benefits of the carbon wrapping seem worthwhile, but the acid test was whether the barrel would shoot or not. My accuracy testing showed that the rifle was quite consistent, with most groups around the Minute of Angle mark and some better. The Sierra 150gr Spitzer Boat Tail shot well, with a number of 3 shot groups around ¾ MOA; the heavier Norma 170gr Tip Strike and the Sierra 168gr TMK shot into the .9 inch range; and the Nosler 150gr Ballistic Tip was the favoured bullet in this rifle, with groups around ½ MOA. I am confident, that in better weather conditions than I was shooting in, group sizes would have come down noticeably. The muzzle brake and Limbsaver recoil pad were quite effective at reducing felt recoil to the point where it felt like shooting a .243 – and a soft-kicking .243 for that matter!
In the field the Christensen Classic balanced just on the front of the detachable magazine and the protruding magazine was small enough that it actually gave a nice grip point for the back two fingers of the hand. The bolt cycled without issue but worked best with brisk action; when cycling slowly it felt a little course but when pushed, as you would for a quick follow-up shot, it was smooth and precise.
My first walk with the rifle looked like turning out to be uneventful, but with some help from my army buddy Paul we spotted a hind with her yearling. I wouldn’t normally shoot a hind at this time of year but she had been sneaking into rural properties and eating up gardens so she was already a marked animal. The yearling saw us and took off and as the hind decided she would join it I took the shot. The angle was not great so I had to shoot a shallow quartering shot in the back of the ribs. As luck would have it I only nicked the back steak and the bonded core 165gr Norma Oryx took out the lungs and came to rest under the opposite shoulder. The bullet expanded nicely and still weighed 155grs. I quickly cycled the bolt just in case but she went straight down and only kicked once.
The Christensen Arms Classic Carbon is not a cheap rifle, but it has a lot of upgrades; if you started off with a basic Remington or Tikka it would cost you a lot to get to this stage. Sometimes it’s the little things that appeal most though, and for me the trigger, magazine and integrated scope bases were the highlights. The carbon-wrapped barrel is a talking point, and it proved capable of easy sub-Minute of Angle accuracy – and half that with loads it liked. As a package it works: it’s light enough for all day carrying and accurate as well, while for the many shooters who love something a bit special this rifle has that, too. The special bits are not gimmicks – they are well thought out, well made and work as they should. Well done Dr Christensen; you have built a rifle that is both cool and practical ... Practi-cool?