This review was published in the 73rd edition of the SSAA Hunter magazine.
I recently bought my last rifle. I knew that day would eventually come, but it still surprised me. I’ve known for many years what that rifle would be, as well. Some folks call it an old man’s rifle and, I guess, that is a fair description. Being halfway through my seventh decade, I hope I have another decade or so of hunting left in me. Over the last year I have sold off my reloading gear and various other rifles on the journey towards owning only a single, last rifle.
So, what is this rifle and why have I chosen it? The rifle is a Merkel Kipplauf K3 Stutzen. That is German for a break-action, single-shot hunting rifle with a full wood stock. I have always admired single-shot rifles and, over the years, I have enjoyed using a number of different styles and calibres. But, it was the Kipplauf Stutzen style that always appealed most to me.
The Germans and Austrians have perfected the Kipplauf rifle for mountain hunting, over many years. A number of manufacturers produce these rifles, which are very similar in appearance. The break-action style allows for a short overall length and lightweight rifle. Additionally, the Kipplauf style of action locking system is extremely robust, hard-wearing and inherently accurate. The result is the perfect rifle for the discerning hunter in the mountains. The rifle is light, pointy and well-balanced as well as robustly built with minimum moving parts. It is designed for ease of carry in rough, steep terrain and is capable of taking some harsh treatment.
My K3 is chambered in 243 Winchester. I gave the calibre choice a lot of thought over the years, as I tried lots of different rifles and chamberings. I seriously considered heavier calibres, but in the end concluded that the 243 Winchester had sufficient velocity, bullet weight and accuracy for all my hunting. Another major consideration was factory ammunition. There is a great range of choice in 243 Win factory ammo. It is readily available in gun shops everywhere. I was confident of finding factory ammo that delivered the accuracy and terminal ballistics I required. My hunting requirements would only be for about 20 to 30 rounds a year. That would allow me to dispense with handloading and be confident of readily buying my ammo from local gun shops.
The barrel on the Merkel K3 Stutzen is 500mm (19.7 inches). The 243 Win chambering has a 1 in 10 barrel twist. Removable, driven-hunt open sights are fitted. The chamber area of the barrel is machined to take Suhl tilt-up mounts. An option is to order the rifle machined to take Weaver rails as well. Barrels are available off-the-shelf in 7x57R, 7x65R, 243 Win, 270 Win, 308 Win, 30-06 Spring and 8x57IRS but other calibres are available on request.
The K3 has a shotgun style break-action. However, there is more to it than a simple boxlock. The action of the K3 is made of alloy (steel actions are available on request), but all the wear & tear of usage and the pressure of fired shots is totally contained within steel. A floating, gold-plated, steel puck (Jaeger tilted block locking) moves up into a recess in the barrel as the action is closed, containing the cartridge entirely within a steel chamber and face. The K3 does not cock on opening/closing and does not eject spent shells either. I opted for a plain black working rifle. However, for those with deeper appreciation (and pockets) extensive engraving with hunting scenes is an optional extra.
I chose to fit Merkel K3 H15 tilt-up mounts to my K3, and mounted a Swarovski z8i 1.7-13.3×42 scope. I saw two advantages of the tilt-up mounts. The primary one was being able to take full advantage of the compact take-down design of the K3. To a lesser, but still useful aspect, was being able to take the scope off on those occasions when I am hunting pigs in thick jungle.
The Trigger and Safety
The K3 offers a direct trigger with a small lever on the side of the trigger guard that enables the shooter to select three separate weights of pull with a simple flick of the lever. The trigger has 3 positions at approximately 400g, 600g and 800g (0.8, 1.3 and 1.8lbs). The trigger is crisp with no discernible creep.
The safety is actually a cocking lever. So, on placing a cartridge in the chamber and closing the action, the rifle remains un-cocked until the safety switch is pushed forward. The rifle can be uncocked by pushing the safety further forward and letting it retract, or by simply opening the action.
The stock is walnut and comes standard with grade 4 timber. Higher grades of timber and exquisite checkering are available on request. The stock is similar to a shotgun with separate front and butt pieces. The Stutzen adds a third piece to this to complete the full-wood furniture with a tulip-finished tip. The butt features palm-swell grip, a hog’s back comb and Bavarian cheek piece. There is a soft rubber recoil pad. Options include a left handed stock, lady-DS-stock, engraved pistol grip caps or even full custom stock making.
Off the Bench
The Merkel K3 lived-up to its reputation for being an inherently accurate rifle. There was little to choose accuracy-wise between the different brands of factory ammo. All shot acceptably around the 1 MOA mark. My experience with previous single-shot rifles paid dividends here. Break-action and falling-block single-shot rifles have a few idiosyncrasies compared to bolt-action rifles. Like many other single-shot rifles, the K3 did not like a warm barrel. With barrel lugs for hanging the forend or attaching other parts of the rifle, a warming of the barrel causes varying tension on the barrel which can affect accuracy. However, in a rifle designed and intended for the occasional single shot from a cold barrel, that is of no concern other than when sighting-in off the bench.
European cartridges are manufactured to a CIP standard whereas US ammo is to SAAMI. The ammo is interchangeable but there is a tendency for European factory ammo to shoot a smidge more accurately in European-made rifles, and vica versa. Although, I must say, I found that difference was nit-picking in reality. I would happily use any of the factory ammo I tested in the K3. At the range, having chosen my hunting load, I sighted it in to be 40 mm high at 100 yards. I also checked the open sights, making a tweak to achieve POI at 25 metres.
The Merkel K3 Stutzen is a dainty little rifle. At 910 mm and 2.8 kilograms bare weight it is light, pointy and beautifully balanced. Fitted with mounts and Swarovski z8i scope my K3 still only weighs in at 3.2 kilos. Superbly accurate, it leaps effortlessly to shoulder and comes straight on target. A crisp, light trigger ensures good shot release. The action operates with a silky-smooth rigidity. It is a joy to carry afield and to hunt with. There can be a lead-in time of nearly twelve months when ordering one of these out of Germany. They are not available off-the-shelf and pricing fluctuates according to currency exchange rates. At the time of writing the retail pricing was $5,900 for the K3, $715 for the Merkel H15 tip-off mounts. Heron Security and Sport are the Australian importers and any enquiries should be addressed to them via your local gun shop.