Tactical bolt-action rifles are quickly becoming the new trend, with gun makers large and small introducing a good dozen of these cool-looking, techno-stocked bolts in the last year alone. Some, like Remington Defense, are taking existing tactical bolts (“sniper rifles”) and offering them to the “civilian” market. Military or civilian, these rifles are usually chambered in one of the tactical market’s Big .30 calibers: 308 Win, .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua.
Add one more rifle to the list: the new Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle, or STAR, made by custom rifle-builder Charlie Sisk of Dayton, Texas — a rifle that’s currently seeing strong sales among SWAT Teams and other tactically oriented law enforcement organizations.
So, why the interest?
What these tactical shooters like about the STAR is what I found during nearly three days — and a couple hundred rounds — of shooting the STAR. The rifle is accurate and dependable, but (the biggest selling point) it’s also adaptable to the shooter in ways that few rifles have ever been, and will be especially useful in many tactical situations.
That was my take on the STAR after spending time with inventor and gunmaker Sisk, followed by a two-day session with the rifle at the Gunsite Academy, one of the country’s premier firearms training facilities.
My one caveat: Given the rifle’s weight, this won’t be the tactical choice for those who need to run and gun.
Sisk made a name for himself over the years with the custom hunting rifles he built at Sisk Rifles, LLC. But as that market started to fade several years ago, Sisk turned his attention to more tactical platforms. But one thing always bothered him about rifles in general.
“You have to fit yourself around the rifle,” Sisk said. “But we all have different builds and different ways we hold rifles. Did you ever get a rifle you couldn’t hit a thing with but someone else got it to shoot just fine? That tells me the rifle was accurate — but it did not fit the first shooter. And never will.”
Sisk continues, “So when I was designing the STAR, the big thing I wanted to do was make a rifle you could make fit to you. And readjust quickly in different scenarios, if needed.”
Sisk builds his STARs on either a Remington 700 action or one of the Savage long- and short-action receivers. (The STARs I used were all made with Remington 700 actions). For my first time with the STAR, Sisk went over the various features with me, and then had me take apart and reassemble the stock and handguard. Once he was sure I knew how to work the adjustment controls, Sisk gave me a simple command: “Now, set it up so it feels right — for you.”
I’ve used rifles with adjustable stocks, but this was quite a different experience. First, I adjusted the buttstock laterally, titling it from side to side via an adjustable joint at the stock’s wrist. This joint spins and locks into place, allowing a shooter to dial in a custom fit for maximum cheek weld and fit to your upper body structure.
Next, I worked the buttstock adjustment, adding and subtracting length until it felt correct. I also found that — on Sisk’s advice — the butt pad fit my shoulder best when spun around 180 degrees, technically upside down. I made the comb fit my cheek. Last, I went back over the initial adjustments to make sure it all still fit right. It did.
True, the buttstock — now personally and specifically adjusted to my dimensions — had a bent and twisted appearance. Actually, it looked for all the world like it had been flung down the side of a rocky gully.
But looks aside, it fit me like no rifle ever has, and I lined up behind the scope at just the right height and distance without having to adjust myself to the rifle.
The handguard of the STAR is also extremely adjustable, spinning around 360 degrees and locking into place at nearly any position. With a bipod attached, the handguard allows for all kinds of different braced shooting possibilities.
The first STAR I had in hand was going to be picked up by a local police officer (Texas police SWAT Teams have bought a good number of STARs already), a Rem. 700 in .223. This rifle had a #2 contour Lilja barrel, 18 inches long; and detachable magazine. It was outfitted with a Surefire SOCOM 762-RC suppressor and a Nightforce 3.5-15×50 NXS scope with a MOAR reticle. It also had a very smooth and creep-free model 517 Timney Trigger.
I first fired several shots at 30 yards on Sisk’s enclosed range to make sure I was on paper, made adjustments and moved to the 100-yard target. My first shot hit the bull’s-eye on the top and left, about 11 o’clock. The second shot touched the first, on the edge towards bull’s-eye. Third shot?
“Argh!” I exclaimed, having pulled the shot, once again having wrecked my chance at that picture-perfect three-shots-touching group. “I screwed up,” I said to Sisk, who stood nearby with a spotting scope.
“Well, that’s not so bad,” Sisk said. “That third shot is less than a half inch from the first two.”
I put my eye back onto the Nightforce. So, that made this grouping slightly over one-half inch, then? Maybe not picture perfect — but pretty damned good!
I then spent several hours shooting the STAR outside at a variety of steel targets, at ranges out to 280 yards. At Gunsite in Paulden, Arizona, a month later, I put 100 rounds through another STAR, this one also built on a Remington 700 action but chambered in .308 Win.
Our targets at Gunsite were steel pop-ups and 4- to 6-inch disks, made by MGM Targets, a co-sponsor of the event, set up at 100 and 200 yards. I fired from various positions — prone, standing and standing with forearm and bipod turned to one side and using the bipod as a brace against a pole. I also shot from hillsides, one bipod leg extended further than the other — that position worked surprisingly well because by rotating the barrel within the handguard, I essentially removed cant.
I didn’t miss more than a handful of times; the rifle was a pleasure to shoot and put me on target with a comfortable and very steady rifle platform that can shoot sub-MOA all day long.
Tactical By Design
I’d always assumed that a tactical rifle for law enforcement would need to be relatively light, as movement was key to shooting scenarios. That can certainly be the case.
But a Texas law enforcement officer I talked with at Gunsite, who heads up his department’s SWAT Team, told me that most SWAT-type calls had his officers setting up in position and waiting — sometimes for hours in a hostage situation or with a barricaded shooter.
In such cases, the officer has to have the rifle on target and ready — again, potentially for hours at a time. Here, the STAR excels. With bipod legs extended, handguard turned and locked into place, you can brace the bipod legs against a pole or wall, lean into the STAR and keep your rifle on target, essentially hands-free if needed.
The ability to offset the stock to one side also has another big advantage: Shooters can use the STAR while wearing gas masks. That’s a huge plus, the Texas SWAT officer told me, as a good number of his team’s calls involve entering drug production buildings or after deploying tear gas.
In these cases, his team members go in wearing their gas masks. In the past, that has meant holding their rifles to one side of the shoulder or placing the buttpad on the chest. But, in either position, they aren’t able to look down the barrel of the rifle.
With the STAR the stock can be adjusted to fit that off-set position needed to accommodate a gas mask-wearing officer.
The Weight Penalty
The .308-caliber STAR I used at Gunsite weighed a good 11.5 pounds without scope, bipod and ammunition. Let’s say 13 pounds all told. If your life depends upon it, most of us can certainly heft that weight and run. But how far and for how long?
In a fixed position, like a rooftop, the rifle will do just fine. But in scenarios where constant movement is the key? I fear the STAR is not your rifle.
Sisk is looking to incorporate some lighter laminate into the construction of future STAR models and is examining ways to carve some weight out of the receiver. Customers can also order the STAR with a lower-profile Lilja barrel, further reducing the weight to less than 10 pounds.
At over $5,000, the cost, of course, is substantial. But look over the current custom-made tactical bolt-rifle offerings, and you will discover that the STAR is actually about middle of the pack as far as price.
It should be noted, too, that while most STARs sold to law enforcement have been chambered in .308 Win, Sisk is happy to build these in nearly any caliber, including .223 Rem, .260 Rem and others. He will also do customizing for other needs and purposes.
Standard model STAR
- Actions: Remington 700 right-hand short action or Savage long or short action
- Caliber: Nearly any centerfire caliber a customer wants.
- Stock: STAR Tactical stock in black
- Barrel: #7 Lilja contour barrel, 22 inches long
- Weight: 11.5 pounds
- Muzzle: Threaded 5/8×24 with protector
- Trigger Guard: STAR Trigger Guard with one AICS-type mag
- Trigger: Timney Model 517
- Finish: Black matte Cerakote on barrel
- Also, custom STAR Rifles can be made to customer specs.
- Cost: Prices start at $5,600. www.siskguns.com
For ordering information:
Sisk Rifles LLC
400 County Road 2340
Dayton, Texas 77535