December 30, 2022
Gunwerks is what I like to call a factory-custom rifle shop, specializing in super-accurate rifles meant for long range hunting. Sure, they have standard models, but everything is not just high-end, every purchase is customizable to a certain degree. Their rifles are purpose-built for long range hunting, and to that end they don’t just sell rifles, they sell everything you need to make that shot at distance, including scopes, range finders, Kestrel wind/weather meters, ammunition, and bipods. In fact, they are known as much for their rifle packages as their rifles. Their packages are (of course) customizable, but usually include the rifle, rings, and scope. The newest product from Gunwerks is the Nexus rifle system.
The Nexus is the first vertically integrated rifle coming out of the Gunwerks facility, and represents everything they’ve learned and developed working on rifles for the last 15 years. It is a ground-up design, and will be the launching point for every new Gunwerks rifle design going forward. This is now their flagship rifle, and just from a design and engineering perspective I find it fascinating. If you’re interested in long-range shooting or hunting, or bolt action rifle design, check this out: The Gunwerks Nexus is a bolt-action rifle currently available in two calibers, 6.5 PRC and 300 PRC, although more are planned. Each caliber is available in two different barrel lengths, 20- and 24 inches. For testing I was sent a 20-inch barreled Nexus chambered in 6.5 PRC.
Getting Started in Long-Range Shooting with the Gunwerks Nexus
Their factory is in Cody, Wyoming. This isn’t a gunsmith or two bent over scarred, poorly-lit benches, working with hand files (although like many famous businesses it did start in someone’s garage), the Gunwerks facility is 45,000 brightly lit square feet of CNC machines and modern equipment to produce some of the finest long distance hunting rifles on the planet. They cut their receivers and rifle their own barrels there, as well as load their own ammunition. Their factory is actually built around an indoor 100-yard shooting range that allows them to do accuracy testing in-house.
You can order just the rifle from Gunwerks, or an entire setup, including rifle, rings, and scope—they recommend either the Leupold 5-25x56 or the Kales K525i. To fully test out the capabilities of this rifle I planned to use it during a long range shooting course put on by Renaissance Firearms Instruction in Pennsylvania, engaging targets out past 1000 yards. I’ve written up that experience separately, but shooting at range is what these rifles are built for. Sure, sighting them in at 100 yards is required, but you really don’t understand what they’re capable of until you start reaching out there past a quarter mile and beyond.
Gunwerks also has teamed up with Revic for a cross-branded line of smart rifle scopes and laser range finders, and for testing they sent me a Revic/Gunwerks BR4 laser range finder. For my testing, I topped the Nexus with a Nightforce ATACR 4-16x42 F1 in Gunwerks rings, and clamped a Swagger SEA12 bipod on the front. With its 20-inch barrel, my Nexus only weighs seven pounds two ounces, and the 24-inch barreled model only weighs half a pound more. For a rifle with a synthetic stock and a fat barrel profile that’s shockingly light—but that’s exactly what you want in a hunting rifle. And the way Gunwerks has achieved that light weight is very interesting.
The receiver is the new NXT and combined with the Nexus rifle stock is the Nexus Rifle System. The NXT receiver itself is aluminum, CNC machined from billet 7075 aluminum and given a clear-coat Type 3 anodizing. The clear coat isn’t truly clear, and gives the aluminum that honey color. It provides a hard surface, as well as some lubricity. The barrel doesn’t mate with the aluminum receiver; instead, the barrel threads into a stainless steel barrel extension inside the front of the receiver. The chromoly steel six-lugged bolt locks into that barrel extension. If you look at the photos the barrel extension is an orangish color, the stainless given a special coating for performance—likely some type of titanium nitride, if I had to guess.
The barrel extension is secured inside the receiver via titanium T25 Torx screws, the same size which secure the stock to the action. This user-configurable system is what Gunwerks calls future proof—if, in the future, you decide you want a different length barrel, or even a barrel in a different caliber, you can buy the new barrel and barrel extension and install them yourself, without having to buy a whole new rifle. The bolt heads swap out quickly and easily, if you need one of those. When buying/installing a new barrel, you don’t have to worry about headspace as it will always be correct. Most custom rifles on the market are variations on the Remington 700. Improved and accurized Rem 700 clones, to be sure, but still sporting traditional construction—the Nexus is a step in a new direction. This aluminum receiver is one more way they can reduce the weight without sacrificing strength. Overall weight is similar to that of a titanium system. But, if you notice, they didn’t just save weight in the receiver. The Nexus uses a carbon fiber-wrapped barrel.
A quick primer if you don’t know anything about carbon fiber barrels. The barrels are not just carbon fiber, they are carbon fiber and steel—stainless steel, in the case of the Nexus—and so are technically carbon fiber composite barrels. The stainless steel barrel has a slender, almost pencil-thin profile. That thin barrel is then wrapped with layers of carbon fiber impregnated with resin until it has a bull-barrel profile, but not the weight. The carbon fiber is stiff enough to provide support for that steel tube on the inside, and the carbon fiber-over-steel combo is arguably as stiff or stiffer than just a pure steel barrel, while being lighter than steel. Carbon fiber is advertised as being able to diffuse heat better than steel. In my experience, carbon fiber barrels heat up faster than steel—and cool down faster. Carbon fiber composite barrels are up to two-thirds lighter than traditional steel barrels of similar profile, and have reduced harmonic vibration.
At the end of the Nexus barrel, you’ll see a timed muzzle brake. This two-port compensator proved very effective in taming recoil, and even firing over 100 rounds through the rifle in an afternoon I did not get sore or feel abused. Now back to the action—the Nexus receiver itself had 20 MOA built into it. Most rifles don’t, and you want rings or a mount with 20 MOA elevation built into them, or your scope might run out of elevation adjustment before you get to 1,000 yards. The receiver has an open top, for loading one at a time. The rail sections on the receiver are MIL STD 1913 “Picatinny,” so you could even use a one-piece mount meant for that, if it fits the gun. Most of my MIL STD 1913 mounts are meant for flattop ARs, and didn’t work with this gun, so Gunwerks sent me a set of their rings—medium height, and sized for the 34mm body of the Nightforce scope.
The Nexus bolt has an oversize handle and a 65-degree lift for ease of use. The bolt has six lugs, and it is a full-diameter bolt, the same width as the body, without lugs that stick out, so it provides a smoother bolt throw. The claw extractor on the bolt is somewhat standard in design, retained by a spring clip. The bolt actually features dual, plunger style-ejectors, and I can say ejection was very positive even when I worked the bolt slowly. Because the bolt assembly comes completely apart, you can change bolt handles, and easily change bolt heads. This is a bayonet-style bolt assembly, and you push and twist the shroud for disassembly, similar to a Tikka rifle. No tools needed, other than your two hands.
Firing Pin Assembly
The Nexus uses a reduced weight firing pin assembly for improved lock time, and they say it’s 30% quicker than competing Rem 700 clones. Normally this makes for a harder bolt lift, but with some improved geometry including in the cocking cam the Nexus doesn’t have that issue, and I didn’t notice the bolt was especially tough to work. This rifle has a three-position safety, located on the aluminum bolt shroud—back for Safe, which locks the bolt. Forward for Fire. The middle position allows you to work the bolt, but locks the trigger. The lever was a bit stiff to work at first, and as such I found it easy to rotate past the middle position. At the bottom of the gun is a Trigger Tech trigger. This trigger provided a very crisp 2.5-pound trigger that allowed me to shoot up to my ability, although even after all the shooting I did I believe the rifle is still more accurate than my results would indicate (not that regular half-inch groups are bad…).
The grip of the rifle has been designed to fit most hands, with a generous palm swell, and a more vertical angle than a traditional stock. The more vertical angle means you can’t really adjust your reach to the trigger, but the folks at Gunwerks came up with a solution. The trigger itself can adjust forward and back roughly 0.2 to adjust to the size of your hand/fingers, for total travel of nearly half an inch. I glossed over the grip of the rifle, but I really need to talk about the stock. It’s not often you see a stock with inlaid leather panels. In fact, I’ve never seen a rifle stock with leather panels before, much less a carbon fiber stock with leather panels. There is a leather panel on the comb of the stock, and on the grip. It is hand-stitched leather, and chrome tanned.
Apparently, some people thought the feel of carbon fiber under the hand and cheek to be a bit too slick, and impersonal. The leather panels were Gunwerks solution to that, and I have to say they are both striking and functional. As they wear, they will give the rifle character. While wood stocks are more traditional, they change shape as the temperature and humidity change, and this can cause impact shifts. So, rifle manufacturers decades ago began moving to polymer stocks. Carbon fiber composites are completely temperature and humidity insensitive—if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be wrapped around rifle barrels. The barrel of the Nexus is completely freefloated, as you might expect.
There are a lot of interesting and clever details in the Nexus stock. The buttpad is rubber, and the stock accepts spacers—standard length of pull is 13.5 inches. There is a small ledge at the toe of the stock—not enough to snag on anything as you’re moving through the brush, but large enough to hook on a shooting bag. And two nylon shooting bags were provided with the rifle, one large and one small. Both of them had short lengths of 550-cord attached, and at the ends were QD swivels, which is ingenious. The swivel can be plugged into the socket at the rear of the stock, so that you always have your bag with you. I know a lot of guys on the PRS circuit have been doing this, but it’s not a bad idea for a long range hunting rig as well. Sometimes you want/need a rear bag, but often you get set up for a shot that you don’t take, and the direct attachment ensures you don’t leave your bag behind you in the field when you have to chase after elusive game.
The “toe line,” the bottom of the stock on the Nexus, is slightly angled up, which allows you to change elevation simply by moving the rifle forward and back. At the top, the Nexus has a negative comb, sloping down toward the receiver. This means the rear of the stock, against your shoulder, is higher, and more in line with the barrel, helping to reduce muzzle rise. The detachable magazine is machined aluminum and sits flush with the bottom of the receiver. There is a lot of headroom in the magazine, so if you want to load your rounds long, so they touch the lands, you can do so. As I wrote, it is possible to load from the top as it sits in the rifle. The magazine is my only source of complaint with this rifle. When fully loaded with three rounds, the magazine was very difficult to seat in the rifle, even with the bolt pulled back. My rifle was a pre-production prototype, however, and I’m told this will be fixed in production models.
What’s Up Front?
The forend of the Nexus is a fascinating mix of the best aspects of both hunting and benchrest rifles. You want a hunting rifle to be light and quick handling, and feel comfortable in the hand. While not as dainty as you’ll see on some hunting rifles, the forend of the Nexus does narrow at the front, unlike what you’ll see on many chassis/benchrest guns. And it feels like it was meant to fit in your hand—again, unlike many chassis/benchrest guns. However, like a benchrest gun, the bottom of the forend is flat, for supported shooting. And it sports a gentle angle, so if you’re shooting off a bag/backpack you can simply slide the rifle forward and back to change elevation. But the bottom of the forend isn’t carbon fiber, it’s an aluminum Arca rail.
The Arca rail came from the photography world, and it’s a simple wide dovetail onto which you can not just clamp bipods and tripods, but slide them forward and back quickly as the clamps meant for it have a quick-release feature. Forward of the Arca rail is a four-slot section of MIL STD 1913 “Picatinny” rail for mounting bipods, tripods, or sling mounts. Between the two, on the underside of the forend, is a QD sling swivel socket—so no matter what you’re looking to attach to your rifle, there’s a convenient solution waiting for you.
The true test of this rifle wouldn’t be me sighting it in at 100 yards and testing its accuracy, it would be the long range shooting class I’d be attending in Pennsylvania. Most modern rifles are accurate enough that, if you locked them into a vise and knew the exact wind drift and drop, they could repeatedly hit the kill zone of a large animal (moose, mule deer, elk, etc.) out to 1,000 yards. But the world isn’t perfect, so you do whatever you can to give you an advantage. Starting with a super accurate rifle is smart, because any accuracy difference is magnified greatly at distance.
But it’s not all about the rifle. While laser range finders have taken the guesswork out of determining distance, wind drift is still an issue, especially at long range. Kestrel-style wind meters are a way to combat this—but you need to do your work, and use ballistic software to dope your bullet drift at various wind speeds and distances. Also important are choosing calibers and bullets which better buck the wind. Better ballistic coefficients are what you want in your bullets, if long range accuracy is all you care about, but not all bullets are created equal. Ammo is scarce for everyone, even gunwriters, especially in a relatively new and somewhat specialty caliber like 6.5 PRC. To test this rifle, I secured decent quantities of two very different types of ammunition—Federal’s 140-grain Fusion load, and Gunwerks-loaded ammunition featuring Hornady’s 147-grain ELD-M bullet. These two loads are like night and day.
Federal’s Fusion bullet is a modern “soft nose bullet” specifically designed for hunting. It has a narrow tip with exposed lead, and a core molecularly bonded with the jacket for improved weight retention upon impact. The exposed lead tip means good expansion, and the bonded core means the jacket won’t separate. These bullets in every caliber have proven themselves around the world on game. Personally, I’ve taken both a Florida hog and alligator, each with one shot from a 62-grain .223 Fusion and was shocked at the bullet’s performance. But this ammunition is not meant for use at extreme range—that exposed lead tip varies slightly from bullet to bullet, affecting trajectory, and the Fusion bullets have flat bases, which are not as aerodynamic as boattails.
The Gunwerks ammunition is the polar opposite. The Hornady ELD-M bullet is specifically designed for extreme accuracy at long range. ELD-M stands for Extremely Low Drag Match. These bullets have very high ballistic coefficients, and they get that by being heavy for caliber, with long tapered boattails—they are as streamlined as possible. These bullets feature polymer tips, but not standard plastic—these tips are Hornady’s Heat Shield tips. Extensive testing by Hornady engineers showed them that standard plastic tips deformed from heat as they flew through the air, changing both the bullet’s BC and trajectory. The Heat Shield tips resist heat deformation.
However, these are match/target bullets. Those polymer tips are designed for aerodynamics, not expansion, and Hornady does not recommend them for hunting. For that they’ve got their ELD-X (Extremely Low Drag—Expanding) bullets. While the Gunwerks ammo loaded with the ELD-M bullets showed me the accuracy potential of the rifle, a more accurate test of its real-world potential would be with the Fusion hunting ammunition. So, for the long range shooting class I opted to use the Fusion ammunition, to determine at what distance (at least when I’m behind the trigger) the Nexus was still a viable hunting rifle.
Sighting in at 100 yards, if I was jerking the trigger the Nexus would do one-inch groups even with the slightly less accurate Fusion ammunition. When I was doing my part, the Nexus would post 0.5-0.7-inch groups with the Fusion ammunition, with occasional sub-half-inch groups. With the Gunwerks ELD-M ammunition, this is a consistently sub-half-MOA gun, and any groups larger than that were my fault. Where the Nexus got to shine was the Long Range Shooting course put on by Renaissance Firearms Instruction at the Mifflin County Sportsmen’s Association range in Lewiston, Pennsylvania. They have both a 500- and 1,040-yard rifle range.
I verified my zero at 100 yards, then we moved out to 300 yards. From 300 yards on out we were shooting at variously sized and shaped steel targets. Each of the targets was freshly painted, and each shooter had their own target. I scored a hit with my first shot at 300 yards, but saw I was a bit low, as the recoil with this rifle was soft enough for me to spot my hits most of the time. My proper come-up turned out to be 1.3 Mils. The rifle was supported by a Swagger SEA12 bipod, adjustable for nine to 12 inches elevation and built for extreme angles, as it has rubber joints. While not ideal for long-range bench shooting, this is a great choice for a hunting bipod, and because this is a hunting rifle, I specifically chose to use the Federal Fusion ammunition, to see how far it, in this rifle, was an effective combo. My come-up at 400 yards was 2.2 Mils. At this distance I discovered that the wind was now finally a factor. It was blowing left to right—not hard, but not consistently either.
At 500, yards we were shooting at 2/3 size USPSA steel silhouettes. Those targets were large enough to give the shooters confidence, while still being the same width or less than the kill zone on most large animals. I had a first-round hit at 500, but it was low on the steel, and my final elevation setting was 3.2 Mils. The wind had mostly died at this point, so everyone was quickly getting hits. Yes, we were shooting at known distance, but so is everyone using a laser range finder. Isn’t modern technology great? Distance to target, and figuring drop, is no longer an issue with modern ballistic software—but wind is, and always will be.
On that note—the Gunwerks/Revic 10X BR4 rangefinder is a fabulous piece of tech. It’s supposed to work out to 4,000 yards on reflective targets. I didn’t test it that far, but it worked on everything I aimed it at out to 1,040 yards, with demonstrated repeatability of +/-1 yard. But it does more than just tell you the distance to the target, it is a “smart rangefinder” that connects to your phone, with an onboard compass, inclinometer, and ballistic software to give you your clicks up at various distances. I didn’t even begin to explore it capabilities, but if you’re looking for every edge when shooting at range, you need something like this. It was while shooting at 500 yards that I really started getting a feel for the Gunwerks Nexus. I called one shot a bit low, and the bullet hit two inches low. Recoil of the 6.5 PRC cartridge was stout, but not abusive, the muzzle brake effective, and I never worried about developing a flinch. The crisp trigger of the rifle was definitely helpful, and not too light. Although I’m not sure I believe in the concept of a “too light” trigger pull, provided it is mechanically safe. But that’s a rant for another day.
At 600 yards, my eventual come-up to start making hits was 4.3 Mils. After getting on target at 600 yards, we took a break to let our barrels cool, but nobody cleaned their rifles. If this had been a benchrest competition where every competitor was trying to do one-hole groups, we probably would have been cleaning our barrels after every five or ten shots, and letting them cool between each one. But at this class we only paused when our barrels were too hot to touch, and I never cleaned the barrel during the course, even after firing over 100 rounds.
Back on our rifles, we moved to the 700-yard targets, which were the toughest ones. We were shooting at nine-inch steel plates, which works out to 1.25 MOA targets. This is roughly the kill zone on a white tail deer. My rifle, and in fact most of the rifles there, were more than capable of that kind of accuracy, but the problem was the inconsistent wind. The variable wind had everyone’s bullets dancing around the edges of the plates. I put so many bullets just off the right edge, even after adjusting point of aim left, that if the plate had been ten inches in diameter, I would have made hits much sooner. Come-up was 5.9 Mils.
It was at this point that I understood that if I took this rifle out hunting, with this scope and ammunition, that based on my performance with it, under similar conditions (i.e. wind), I would limit myself to shots on white tails at 500 yards and in, just to insure a good hit. Large game the size of elk and moose sometimes have kill zones twenty inches in diameter, but I’d have to do the math first. This 20-inch barrel loses some velocity over a 24 inches, and how fast would that 140-grain Fusion be going at 700 or 800 yards? The Federal box lists velocities out to 500 yards, and at 500 yards you’ve lost 1,000 fps. What is the minimum effective speed/maximum effective range for that bullet out of this rifle? Those are things you have to know before going out into the field and taking a shot. And this is another reason why long range hunters use more powerful cartridges—not just more stability in wind, but so the bullets are hitting hard enough at half a mile.
Going the Distance
At 800 yards, I got a first-round hit on a reduced-size silhouette, guesstimating my elevation (7.0 Mils), but then subsequent rounds were blown all over by the wind. It took a while, but shooting at 700 yards and beyond I finally saw that I was being handicapped by the soft-nose, flat-based hunting bullets, which were being affected by the wind more than match bullets would have been. At 900 yards, we were shooting at steel circles as wide as a person, roughly the size of a kill zone on a moose. My come-up was 8.7 Mils, and I was getting regular hits in variable wind. 900 yards is just over half a mile (880 yards), which is just incredible. Shooting at 1,000 yards, that’s at least a second of bullet travel, and three seconds for the sound of the hit to get back to you—so that’s four seconds from your shot until you hear the hit. Usually you see the hit long before you hear it. The guys who were shooting .556s at 1,000 yards most of the time couldn’t hear their hits.
At the 1,040-yard targets, full-size steel USPSA silhouettes, the wind seemed to have died. I dialed in 10.4 Mils and fired my first shot. Windage was perfect, but the bullet hit the dirt below the target. The trigger felt like it had broken cleanly, but before I dialed in any changes I wanted to confirm, so I fired two more shots. They both felt good. The three-shot group in the dirt below the target couldn’t have been more than six to eight inches in diameter. So, when the wind wasn’t screwing me, I was shooting ¾ MOA at 1000 yards. I’d like to take all the credit, but that’s why you’re paying the big bucks—for a rifle that is capable of that kind of accuracy. With a hot, dirty barrel, using hunting ammo, I’d like to point out…
Getting Started in Long-Range Shooting with the Gunwerks Nexus
Using the scale on my reticle I dialed in another 1.1 Mils of elevation, for 11.5 total, and fired again. Dead center hit. On a target 1,040 yards away. There was much rejoicing. In truth, all of the RFI instructors were impressed that the Gunwerks rifle was able to do as well as it did with the hunting ammunition, and several of them took turns behind the rifle. This rifle is not inexpensive. Price on the base rifle is $5,375, which is a serious chunk of change. But I truthfully know hundreds of people who have spent that much and more on custom competition 1911/2011s, and the Nexus isn’t any more expensive than most custom rifles, while offering many unique features. The rifle comes with a full-size hard case with laser-cut outlines for the rifle (with scope), bags, ammo boxes, a tripod, laser range finder, and generally anything else you might need. The Nexus Rifle System is a precision long range hunting rifle, more than accurate enough to hit game out past half a mile—provided you’re up to the task, and the wind is cooperating.
Gunwerks Nexus Rifle System Specs
- Type: Manual rotating bolt
- Caliber: 6.5 PRC (tested), 300 PRC
- Capacity: 3 rds., detachable box magazine
- Barrel: 20 in. stainless/carbon fiber (24 in. available)
- Overall Length: 40.75 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 2 oz.
- Stock: Carbon fiber with leather panels
- Finish: Type 3 anodizing
- Trigger: Adjustable TriggerTech single-stage with 3.5-lbs. pull (tested)
- Sights: MIL STD 1913 receiver rails
- Safety: Three position
- Accessories: Locking case
- MSRP: $5,375
- Manufacturer: Gunwerks
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.