Hicks' Designs Answer for Tactical Rifle Market APHD LRP1 Print
Product Reviews
Written by Thomas Blahnik   

Hicks' Designs Answer for
Tactical Rifle Market

By Thomas Blahnik
© Sniper’s Paradise 1999

The offer was posted on one of the many shooting related discussion boards found on the Internet. Jeff Hicks’ post was asking for qualified individuals to test their new project, a custom tactical rifle. I placed my reply on the board and waited for contact, which wasn’t long. Jeff called our offices a few days after the posting and began telling us about his project. He gave us a little more background information on the company and his pet project.

In our initial and follow up phone conversations with Jeff, we learned that he is ex-Army like most of us here at Sniper’s Paradise. When Jeff left the Army, he looked for and found a job based around a love for firearms that he developed while in US service. Jeff initially took a position at Answer Products and began developing and perfecting rifle building. Jeff has specialized in precision hunting rifles that have traveled around the world and taken every different sized game animal imaginable. Yet Jeff’s real passion was always in the tactical rifle arena.

In early 1999 Jeff finally decided to follow his hart, and began building the prototype for Answer Products which he eventually took with him when he opened his own company, Hicks' Designs.  This prototype rifle was the one we tested. Jeff had already thoroughly tested his rifle on a short range. He was now seeking somewhere and someone to take his baby and push the outer limits on longer ranges. Sniper’s Paradise had both the trained personnel and the ranges that could help Jeff finish testing his rifle. We received the rifle for a ten-day marathon of testing and evaluation.

tacgunlongveiw1.JPG (48752 bytes)When UPS brought the rifle we immediately noticed that the large steel case was unusually heavy for a rifle. After opening the case we quickly understood why. Jeff had included a second rifle and several different scopes. With a phone call to Jeff we found out that the second rifle was sent because of our desire to test the new Talbot QD "Split Second" scope mounts, which are the subject of another review. First things first, we had to finish unpacking the case Jeff sent.

After opening the shipping case that Jeff had packed for the rifles transportation, we quickly learned something new about Jeff and the other people at Answer Products. They take great care and pride in their work. Jeff had individually wrapped every sensitive item in bubble wrap, then each item was placed inside a tailored cloth bag which was shut with drawn strings, and then they were carefully arranged on the thick foam padding in the steel shipping case. I later remarked to Jeff that nothing short of a small nuclear blast could have damaged the contents. At this comment Jeff simply told me that with all the rifles they have shipped around the world, they learned not to take any chances. If Jeff was going to take extreme care in building rifles for people traveling to exotic places to hunt, then it didn’t make any sense to let the rifle get damaged and become worthless in transit.

Once we had the rifle and other contents unwrapped and all the packing material stashed in a corner, we began the evaluation process by disassembling the rifle. We always like to get a close look at new rifles. With the rifle apart, we saw the continuation of Jeff’s reoccurring theme of "extreme attention to detail." Everything seemed to be thoroughly reworked and lovingly attended to. We immediately saw that the Remington 700 action was trued, lapped, and coated. The standard extractor has been replaced with a Sako style. Yet this replaced extractor is more than just "put in." The old lip where the Remington extractor was located is machined away and a new steel ring is built in its place. Jeff tells us that this process makes the extractor much stronger and more reliable. Something else we noticed with the rifle apart was that a speed lock had been installed for faster "lock-up times." Both of these small replacements in conjunction with the reworked and coated action surfaces definitely make for a smooth stroke between every shot. One of the other SP staff members remarked that this action "felt like grease on a glass table."

Jeff has chosen to use the Walther match barrels for their tactical rifle line. These barrels are a little more money, but worth the added cost. Jeff told us that every rifle will be fully "broken in" and ready to go when its shipped to the customer. Additionally, Answer Products will guarantee a ½ MOA at 100 yards with a 5 shot group and send two test targets to help back that guarantee. When a customer receives one of these rifles from Answer Products, all they need to do is dig through the packing material and then head to the range for a serious day of shooting. No long drawn out break in and no arguments with other shooters on its proper method or procedure. Just unpack and have fun.

After re-assembly of our test rifle and insuring the proper torque was on the bolts, we headed out to the short range. The short range has a max distance of 300 yards but we would not need all of this on the first session. We first had to see what kind of groups we could get at the standard 100 yards. Now, when we head out to test fire for groups, we don’t lock a rifle into a mechanical rest to play. We feel that it is very important to see and feel how a rifle fires. Just because a rifle can shoot well in a vice does not mean that it will respond correctly to shooter input. Locking a rifle into a rest would be like putting a car into a wind tunnel. You may be able to evaluate minor details, but there are so many more things involved, which can only be tested in a real world environment.

Our rifle was placed on the ground and our testing began. Our shooting today would all be done from the prone position, a front Harris bipod, and a homemade rear sand bag. This is how much of our shooting takes place, so this is how we test rifles. Of course, there are many critics out there that swear no "real world shots" are taken from the prone shooting position because life "does not exist on a golf course." That is another topic for another article, but to those reading this article I say, "You are obviously looking for and planning your shooting in the wrong places if you can't find a prone position." Anyway….our testing began with the "grease on glass" actioned rifle, and we weren’t disappointed. Initial groups were easily under ½ MOA for 10 round groups. The gun fed round after round into the chamber with no noticeable effort. The action almost seemed to load it self. Another feature of this rifle we haven’t mentioned yet is muzzle break. Shot after shot produced the same results. The rifle barely recoiled, yet what recoil was there was straight back. There was no twisting and no noticeable barrel rise. The rifle just gently eased back, keeping the crosshairs on target the entire time. Of course follow up shots were easy with a system this gentle and well designed. The testing on the short range continued and produced results that became standard. At least ½ MOA was easily achieved from 100 yards to 300 yards, as long as the shooter did his part. We would get to test on the long range for another few days.

On the last Saturday of each month we have a 1000-yard match at the RGV Ranges. Most people don’t get the opportunity to shoot at extended ranges, so we make sure we give shooters the chance and the opportunity to play as much as possible. The 1000-yard match this month just happened to fall within our granted allotment of testing time with the Answer Products rifle. We would have several people available to thoroughly test, and play, with our temporary toy.

By the time the last Saturday finally rolled around, we had tested the A.P. rifle two more times. The results were the same. The Answer Products rifle proved to us that it was consistent at the short ranges, but we were now going to see if it had what it takes to shoot at the longer ranges. As the 1000-yard match began, we decided that one shooter not in that relay would shoot the rifle at the steel plates from 500 yards out to 900 yards. Shooter after shooter commented on how smooth the rifle shot. Group sizes ranged with individual shooter and their ability, but they seemed to stay around the MOA to sub MOA range. At the end of regular competition, a few of us got serious and printed some groups on paper at 1000 yards. These 1000 yard targets are 42" x 42" with a 12" bullseye. We didn’t concentrate on getting the shots in the center; instead we work on group size. We concentrated our efforts on keeping the same point of aim and letting the rifle do its thing. Our largest group was 19" and the smallest was 8". The groups averaged out to a cool 12" and some change. Now at this point I must insert some basic info about our 1000 yard shooting which is similar o our short course rules. We do not use the popular mechanical rests common to benchrest shooters. As a matter of fact, we only use a large "sandbag" for a front rest and a rabbit-eared bag for the back. Many times you can even find us using bipods from the prone. Additionally, down on our little piece of the southern most tip of Texas, you can find a 10-15 mph wind on an almost daily basis, so this is not a bench rest shooters favored conditions. These conditions are not necessarily the optimum conditions for a rifle test, but they are more realistic and more practical for our needs. In a bench rest shooter’s hands, I am sure that the rifle would perform much better, but for our targets, it achieves or surpasses the necessary accuracy requirements.

Our time with the Hicks' Designs rifle was too short. Most of our testing is done on equipment that is sent to us for testing and then left in our hands after it’s done. Each and every one of our shooters wanted to keep this rifle in our arms room for future shooting. Yet, we all knew that Jeff Hicks wanted his rifle back for his own shooting and for more testing by other people. The rifle proved itself to us as a sub MOA rifle with gentle characteristics. The action was one of the smoothest we have used in awhile, and we are waiting for Jeff to share his secrets for its creation. Jeff tells us that the production rifles will retail for around $2700 or they will build one on your action for about $400-$500 less, and those are very fair prices. If you are looking for a rifle and are ready to make a worthwhile purchase, give Jeff a call and get your custom piece started before the rush starts, and the order line backs up.

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Hicks Designs