Though not necessarily a household name, Bergara has been providing OEM barrels to riflemakers for more than a decade. According to Bergara’s VP of Sales and Marketing, Ben Fleming, “If you named 10 of the most reputable [gun] manufacturers out there, I guarantee we’re making barrels for at least five of them.” So if you’re a gun guy (or gal) you may already own a rifle with a Bergara barrel and not even know it.
At the peak of that OEM barrel business, friends and principals in the gun industry turned to Bergara for the occasional custom-rifle build and that organically blossomed into a full custom-rifle-making business in 2012. That was a brilliant positioning move, as later on it’s much easier for a gunmaker with a high-end reputation to offer desirable production guns than it is to go the other way.
Early on, Bergara custom builds were done on whatever action the customer wanted, which eventually led to Bergara asking itself what it would look like to start building its own rifles. The result of that thinking is Bergara’s U.S.-made Premier action and Premier line of custom-made rifles, with a natural progression to Bergara’s Spanish-made B-14 action and line of production guns in 2015. Within that line are the synthetic-stocked Hunter, the Monte Carlo wood-stocked Timber and the straight-comb-stocked Woodsman that I received for evaluation.
Instead of a “Plane Jane” gun, Bergara wanted something with craftsmanship that made a nostalgic first impression. “When you pick it up, you can feel it,” explains Fleming as he describes the experience of handling a B-14. That sensation transmits itself through the wood or synthetic stock, the action or the bolt handle into your body almost in an emotional sense. “I can pick up a B-14,” says Fleming, “and feel the action and actually have that kind of mindset back to the guns I have that were my granddads and my dad’s — the guns that were built decades ago and you say, ‘This is what guns used to feel like.’”
Indeed, when I handled the Woodsman I wasn’t seeing the now-familiar production gun features where a bean counter makes an engineer save a dollar here or a nickel there. Things like the Woodsman’s steel triggerguard and hinged steel floorplate are quickly becoming a thing of the past on production guns.
Design-wise, the B-14 action could be described as “Remington-esque” with its coned-nose, two-lug, push-feed bolt, sliding extractor and plunger ejector. “Our bolt angle is a little bit different,” says Fleming. “The bottom metal may fit just a tad different though we have people drop them into Model 700 stocks all the time.” In keeping with that theme, Bergara rifles accept commonly available Remington scope bases, but the B-14 has its own unique Bergara Performance trigger designed in-house that comes from the factory set at about 3-pound pull.
While the action is excellent, Bergara made its name on its barrels. And when you consider the work that goes into them and that they turned to noted barrel maker and Benchrest Hall of Famer Ed Shilen as a consultant, you can appreciate the lengths taken to achieve their main goal of turning out the most accurate production barrels possible. “He really taught us how to make a barrel,” says Bergara’s Aitor Beletechi when explaining Shilen’s contribution. “He taught us all the secrets.”
Barrels begin with a horizontal casting process to form billets that are reheated and rolled into bars of different sizes and diameter and then straightened. Following that, the bars are deep-hole drilled with a slightly undersized drill then go through three stages of vertical honing to achieve a mirror-like finish and a tolerance of 0.002mm. Finally, the barrels are cleaned, inspected and a lubricated carbide rifling button pulled through to impress the rifling into the bore before final cleaning, inspection and heat treating.
Bergara’s instruction manual suggests a barrel break-in procedure of cleaning between each shot for the first five to 10 shots, then every five shots until you reach a total of 50 shots. When asked about the procedure considering the guns come pre-qualified and guaranteed to shoot 1-MOA groups or better, Fleming confided that it’s just a suggestion for those people who think they need to do a break-in. “Some folks still insist on doing it,” he says, “so that is the process we recommend.”
Barreled actions are epoxy-pillar bedded in walnut stocks. “We’re using Grade 2-plus on everything that comes in,” says Fleming when describing the quality of the wood found on Woodsman rifles. “It’s not the highest grade on the B-14, but it’s a much higher grade than you see in most wood rifles out there. We want it to have character and its own kind of uniqueness … and we lost over half a pound of weight on it [the Woodsman] verses the Timber model.”
The bedding is an interesting take on the familiar pillar process. Instead of tubular metal inserts surrounding the action screws, Bergara drills the action screw holes oversize and fills them with Marine Tex to form pillars. Marine Tex is a very heavy-duty epoxy that will not shrink over time or break down from different cleaning solvents. The recoil lug is not bedded and the barrel is fully free floating. “We torque them to 55 in./lbs. on that action verses 65 that a lot of other companies do,” says Fleming when explaining how to tighten the action screws to get the most accuracy from a Bergara. “In our testing, the accuracy was best, and drastically so in some instances, at 55 than it was at 50 or 60 or 65 [in./lbs.].”
That attention to detail translates into a sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. Ordinarily I meet that kind of guarantee with a yawn and a “So what?” So many makers claim sub-MOA accuracy that it’s become an expectation instead of an exception. Fleming says Bergara understands that, so he looked at how to say that and actually back it up in the name of accuracy.
Every Bergara rifle is qualified with match-grade ammunition, which doesn’t do a whitetail hunter much good if it doesn’t also shoot a hunting load well. Even if a gun is capable of shooting sub-MOA groups — not every shooter is — not every shooter uses a good rest and ammunition selection to make a big difference in accuracy. A 150-grain hunting load from “Company A” may shoot poorly, while a similar load from “Company B” shoots great, so you do have to try different loads to find the best. That said, if you have a pet load you just have to use, Fleming told me that, “If somebody is willing to do it, and believes in us enough, we will absolutely get your gun back, take it to the range with our guys and we’ll shoot your ammo and we’ll go through every aspect of that rifle. And if that’s the ammo you want to shoot, we’ll get that thing shooting as tight a group as humanly possible.”
I also like the way Fleming put the company’s thinking on customer service, calling customers “part of the family” and how “the end of your relationship is not with the purchase [of a Bergara rifle]; that’s the beginning of the relationship the way we see it. Everything else prior to that is just marketing.”
I topped the Bergara Woodsman with a Trijicon 3-9x40mm AccuPoint and fired it for accuracy at 100 yards with Federal Premium 165-grain Sierra GameKing .308 Win. loads. It was a scorching 115-degree day and even though the mirage made it look like I was shooting under running water and I had to swab the outside of the barrel between groups to keep it from overheating, I still managed to wring out an average group size of 1¼ inches for five three-shot groups. That’s not quite up to Bergara standards, so I returned to the range another day when it was only 107 degrees and tried again with Hornady’s 150-grain American Whitetail load. That load squeaked out a 0.96-inch average — within the B-14’s accuracy guarantee.
Functionally, the trigger is great, though at 4.4 pounds pull it was a little heavier than promised. There is only a little creep before it breaks and no overtravel. There is no slop in the action and you can feel almost a “hardness” to the metal as you work the bolt — as if the parts were made of glass instead of steel. The feel reminded me very much of rifles made by Tikka or Sako. Feeding, extraction and ejection were all flawless.
The only problems I had with the gun were that the bolt knob is threaded on and tended to come unscrewed as I worked the bolt, and sometimes when charging the left side of the magazine the cartridge would get caught up in the left bolt lug raceway. A dab of thread locker will instantly solve the bolt knob problem, and a little more time practicing loading should eliminate the magazine charging problem.
Overall, the Woodsman lived up to my expectations and Bergara’s objectives and guarantees. It handles well, shoots sub-MOA and really does remind me of guns from “back in the day.” When asked what kind of hunter buys a Bergara, Fleming responded that it’s an “educated hunter,” someone who doesn’t want an “entry-level rifle,” and I think that sums up things up pretty well.