November 10, 2023
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Editor's Note: This articles has been shortened for the web. This article was originally published in Firearms News magazine Issue# 19 of 2023, and you can find an original copy at OSGnewsstand.com.
Every firearm has a tale to tell…whether its legend charts the course it traveled before being placed into the bearer’s hands, its efficacy on the field of competition, or the weapon’s role in a real-life adventure. In the saga about to unfold on the pages ahead, you will travel to the snow-ensconced glacial fiords, coastal mountains, and punishing maritime environment of Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska to bear witness to the events surrounding the testing of a heart-attack serious hunting rifle. Once in America’s northern hinterlands, you will join Firearms News magazine on a soul-crushingly cold and rainy early spring black bear hunt with Stag Arms’ latest game-getter…the Stag 10 Pursuit (hereafter referred to simply as the “Pursuit”). It is in the 49th State’s punishing environment the AR-10 based “Pursuit” will become the master of its own destiny and inscribe its .308 Winchester signature to a proprietary tale of either unequivocal triumph or abject failure.
Historically speaking, Stag Arms was never a rifle making firm that immediately popped into my head when contemplating purpose-driven hunting weapons. Their brand was synonymous with affordable, well-made utility and multi-purpose AR-based weapon systems, but not niche-market big game rifles. That mindset changed dramatically when the Pursuit rolled into the 49th State, and later when it assumed the role of the primary black bear hunting rifle for our 2023 early spring maritime bear hunt in coastal South Central Alaska. “Unboxings” are the “checkered flag/start your engines” initiation of any T&E (Testing and Evaluation), and the Pursuit immediately passed two critical events before even leaving the front door of Great Northern Guns in Anchorage.
The first of these evaluations was the weight test. I appreciated the weapon’s minimalist heft the minute I plucked it out of the box. While its seven-pound, 13-ounce heft doesn’t qualify it as a quintessential sheep hunting or long-distance trekking class long-arm, it still achieved an extremely respectable weight for standard hunting applications, especially when compared to other similar AR-10 variants. The second unboxing event was the “shake test.” While the eggheads over at the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) would probably decertify my admittedly unorthodox testing methodology and findings, I firmly and unwaveringly stand by it.
This test consists of the following steps:
- Pick up the weapon.
- Ensure it is unloaded, safe and clear.
- Think about frilly white dresses and wire coat hangers, then channel your inner Joan Crawford and shake the living crap out of it.
- Listen for tell-tale warning sounds of loose parts similar to a Power Stroke engine running in cold weather or a Looney Tunes character falling down a flight of steps.
Our shake test of the Pursuit was conducted with both an open and closed bolt. The rifle passed the test with flying colors, with all internal/external components remaining stealthy, tight and silent. On the subject of appearance, the Pursuit exhibits a streamlined, yet handsome profile. The model I tested was protected by a fashionable, yet practical and tactically shaded protective coating of “Midnight Bronze” Cerakote. If you’re the brand of rifle aficionado who prefers to initiate a visual inspection and evaluation of a weapon’s components at the stock and then move forward to the long-arms’ business end, you’ll be pleased with what you find on your journey from the Pursuit’s Magpul CTR five-position buttstock to its VG6 Precision “Gamma” muzzle brake. The Magpul CTR (Compact/Type Restricted) buttstock is minimalist, lightweight, rugged, and designed to be swiftly adjusted in chaotic, rapidly evolving situations. Its contours are purposefully streamlined to ensure it operates snag-free while retaining the user’s ability to manipulate the latch for lightspeed length-of-pull changeups. The CTR sports a recoil-dampening, slippage-inhibiting rubber butt-pad and ambidextrous quick-detach mounts for push-button model slings.
There is also an all-Stag Arms original feature on the Magpul CTR…the custom leather adornment on its comb. Their indulgence in a subtle addition of artistic license is not flamboyant or possessing an “in your face…look how rustic I am” affectation. This little strip of smooth, decorative leather is nuanced, tasteful, and extremely apropos to an AR-10 manufactured with the intended purpose of medium and big game harvesting. What I really found surprising, given its minimalist appearance, was how its placement resonated, universally, with the shooters who visited with the Pursuit at the range and friends who were afforded an opportunity to examine or hunt with it. What I considered merely a minor detail turned out to be a big hit with everyone who gave the Pursuit a once-over!
Moving forward, Magpul continues to add to the weapon’s practical efficacy with Stag Arms’ inclusion of their MOE K2+ pistol grip. This ergonomic grip is the epitome of practical, especially in adverse, slippery, and wet climatic conditions thanks to its wrap-around rubber coating. There are also no surprises in relation to its other features, including a storage compartment with optional custom-fit cores to accommodate lubrication bottle, batteries, etc. Stag Arms’ attention to detail continues as our horizontal journey across the Pursuit moves to the action, trigger group and safety. The Pursuit’s charging handle, manufactured by Aero Precision, is a victory for left or right handed shooters and its tactical soundness is bolstered by its ergonomics. The Aero Precision “Breach” is engineered to provide an equal opportunity for “getting it on” and rapid bolt cycling by southpaws and righties alike. The upper receiver contains a tough-as-nails Nitride-coated bolt carrier and the lower receiver features an ambidextrous 90-degree, configurable safety. The forward-thinking hybridization of the Pursuit’s components is further illustrated by Stag Arms’ inclusion of a crisp, predictable Timney Curved 2-Stage trigger. This trigger is factory tuned by Timney to provide a short two-pound, first-stage push followed by a two-pound second stage “send it” finale press when engaging a target.
While the Pursuit and its components are chock full of features that come part and parcel with the latest advances in weapon engineering, it does retain one “old-school” attribute…a good ‘ol fashion direct impingement gas system. This system, along with a good portion of the barrel, is protected by the Stag Arms in-house designed “Slimline” model handguard. The Slimline handguard features a generous lattice-work of M-Lok attachment points for the inclusion of weapon lights, quick release slings, bipods, and other accoutrement. The handguard’s full-length picatinny rail blends seamlessly with the integral picatinny rail riding the top of the Pursuit’s upper receiver and is factory-ready for the installation of backup iron sights (BUIS) and optics.
The final stop on our tour of the Pursuit is the barrel and muzzle brake. The rifle’s 16-inch 4150 CMV/Nitride-coated Hanson barrel (manufactured by Ballistic Advantage) and VG6 Gamma muzzle brake make a formidable, finely honed duo. This will be illustrated later in the range-testing section of this project. The barrel’s 4150 CMV composition is renowned as the go-to steel for weapons expected to be thrown into the heat of battle…literally. This barrel-making steel is a preferred medium for rifles destined for armed conflict and is lauded for its performance in fully automatic weapons that must survive the punishing heat and friction inherent to that mode of fire. The barrel features a 1:10 inch twist and if you like peace and quiet, the Pursuit is out-of-the-box ready for the inclusion of a suppressor with its factory threaded (5/8x24 RH) muzzle. Stag Arms is so confident in their barrel and its predicted longevity, they even offer an “Infinite Shot Barrel” guarantee/warranty.
Force Multiplier: The 2-10x30 Leupold Mark 5HD
Accompanying the Pursuit during its accuracy testing and maritime black bear hunt was an optic from a company that was my gold standard for three decades of hunting in Pennsylvania, Washington, and Alaska: Leupold. The Leupold Mark 5HD 2-10x30mm is a product of the good ‘ol USA and is a first focal plane rifle scope. Punishing testing by Leupold indicated it was engineered to challenge the harsh climatic conditions of Alaska. The Mark 5HD is waterproof, fog proof, impact tested, and transmits a ‘shload’ of light to a shooter’s eyes in dismal conditions…even with its streamlined 30mm front objective. If you like to “batten down the hatches,” the Mark 5HD features a zero lock dial and zero stop. It is also “custom dial compatible.” This is a Leupold feature that facilitates the installation of customized bullet-drop dials that are matched to the exact loads/preferred ballistic profiles chosen by individual operators.
CQB (Close Quarter Bear) Prep: Range Day
Prior to embarking on the bear hunt, the Pursuit was put through its paces at the range. Shortly after the gunfire commenced, it became apparent that the “team concept” used by Stag Arms in its design of the Pursuit paid off in spades. The Pursuit’s blend of Magpul furniture (CTR buttstock/MOE K2+ pistol grip), VG6 Precision Gamma muzzle brake, Aero Precision’s “Breach” charging handle, and Stag Arms’ proprietary components worked in complete synchronicity.
Prior to accuracy testing, I sent nearly 200 rounds of practice ammunition down range to gauge the Pursuit’s functional reliability. During this exercise, the Pursuit devoured approximately 200 rounds of ancient Australian military surplus ammunition without a single malfunction. I cleaned the barrel but blasted my way through the rest of the range session with a dirty action and chamber in an effort to make the weapon fail. My attempt was in vain…the Pursuit channeled its inner “Energizer Bunny” and kept going and going…without a single blemish on its operational record. During accuracy testing, the Pursuit was sighted in from danger close to the 300-yard line. Only under extraordinary circumstances would we engage a bear at 300 yards. These tough predators have an uncanny ability to soak up devastating hits to their vitals and the fortitude to travel inordinate distances before succumbing to their wounds. Unless a viable bear was caught on a long stretch of beach or traveling across a massive snow field, the maximum distance of engagement would be less than 200 yards.
Birds of a Feather: Team “Red Menace!”
For the 2023 Prince William Sound bear-hunt, I would have two longtime friends/partners-in-crime along for the adventure. The first is a former Special Operations gun-toter…call-sign: “Avalanche.” Our other boat-mate may be someone you are familiar with if you read the September 2021 (Issue #18) feature article focused on the Browning X-Bolt Western Hunter. He is a former combat Marine hailing by the call-sign “Kingfisher-1” and is an accomplished “bear-killer” with both a bow and a firearm. The logistics required to ensure hunts in Alaska are safe and successful are never simple. When you add an aircraft or boat into the mix, they become exponentially more complicated. Fortunately, we had a secret weapon in the mix…the “Red Menace.” The Red Menace is a creation of the Stabicraft boat company based in Invercargill, New Zealand. Our 2500 Ultra-Cab XL was specifically designed to take on the big water ocean conditions commonly encountered on Alaskan coastal waters. It is outfitted with a diesel heater, marine head and kitchenette. In fact, it is so gentleman-like, I programmed the stereo system to only play 1940s big band music because I’m classy like that. With the “Team Red Menace” intel briefing complete, it’s time to hit the big water of Prince William Sound and get down to some cold, soggy, wind-chilled black bear hunting!
We knew we were in for it the minute we left port and traveled onto the ornery waters of late-winter/early spring Prince William Sound. Torrential rain mixed with snow, fierce winds, and abysmal visibility created their own issues while navigating in and out of narrow coves and glacial fiords. Other navigational hazards like floating logs, barely visible upon the ocean’s surface, and icebergs of various sizes and shapes also lurked in the murk. Between the sea conditions and torrential precipitation, the Red Menace’s bilge-pumps worked nearly non-stop. After nearly three days of non-stop glassing and multiple attempts to put a successful stalk on a boar, we observed a large, lone black bear. It would not be an easy get, as the bruin was on the move in a section of the mountainside that would require a good deal of climbing to reach. Luckily, the difficulty level for this stalk was never an issue with me and my boys since anyone who can be described as “faint of heart” or knows what color mauve or taupe looks like is not allowed aboard the Red Menace in the first place. It was officially “go time!”
As captain, I would remain aboard while the away team made the stalk up the mountain through the heavy alder and deep snow to give that big black bear boar some Stag 10 Pursuit/.308 Winchester “what-for.” Avalanche and Kingfisher 1’s stalk on the old mature black bear boar was as inspiring as it was lengthy. Throughout its entirety, the rain and snow were unrelenting. As I watched from the heated comfort of the Red Menace’s cabin as both of my bros struggled through thick alder and post-holed up to their teats in soft, slushy snow, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of guilt for not being alongside them through their travails wash over me. Fortunately, a freshly baked piece of pizza on the back-deck grill (accompanied by a tasty beverage) brought me back to my senses and I continued to enjoy the show.
The big black bear was anything but predictable and climbed higher up the mountain, sometimes disappearing into thick brush or behind giant rock outcroppings for thirty minutes or more. Just before the bear disappeared forever into the final treeline at the edge of an avalanche chute, the bruin decided to climb up and onto a rock outcropping to survey the mountain around him. Avalanche’s voluminous training in the ways of armed conflict went into overdrive. He immediately made target acquisition, centered the reticle of the Leupold’s Mark 5HD optic on the black bear’s now fully exposed vitals, and fired a single round from approximately 150 yards. From my position on the Red Menace, I observed the bear immediately fall 20 to 30 feet from its perch, bounce down a steep waterfall, and land directly on a large boulder: Stone...Cold…DEAD. The slap of the 150-grain Remington Core Lokt bullet striking the bears flank was audible even aboard the Red Menace. It was the sound of success…and after a soggy session of field-dressing and parsing out the bear into their packs, Avalanche and Kingfisher-1 were back aboard the Red Menace. It was time to head home and make some sausage!
The Stag 10 Pursuit is a rifle that serves as a gold standard for what an AR-10 based hunting rifle should aspire to. Its $2,199.99 MSRP realistically reflects an appropriate price-point for a rifle with custom features such as its Timney trigger, Magpul furniture, custom ambidextrous charging handle, VG6 Gamma muzzle brake, and ability to achieve a level of accuracy and reliability often attributed to spendy bolt action rifles. In relation to its efficacy in the field, and ability to survive horrific weather conditions (to include exposure to saltwater, mud, and detritus wedged into its every crack and crevice from a seven-hour climb through mountain willow and alder), the Pursuit’s report card speaks for itself. I found absolutely no signs of corrosion on its nitride-ensconced barrel or bolt-group. On the subject of fulfilling its role as a hunting rifle, the accuracy exhibited by the Pursuit in the immediate, humane harvest of a tough-as-nails black bear in some of the worst conditions you will find on the entire planet speaks for itself. When it comes to totally wrecking a weapon system or demonstrating its ineffectiveness in the field, there is no geographical adversary on earth like the mountains and marine environment of Alaska. The 49th State fought a good fight and made a valiant attempt to wallop the Stag 10 Pursuit and Leupold Mark 5HD into submission…and failed…miserably. In her defeat, the last frontier certified the Stag Arms Stag-10 Pursuit and Leupold Mark 5HD bear-hunting duo as a fully capable weapons platform with the ability to perform their intended mission and ply their trade in the toughest conditions anywhere in North America or beyond.
Stag Arms 10 Pursuit Specs
- Type: Direct impingement, semi-automatic
- Caliber: .308 Winchester (tested); also available for AR-10 platform in 6.5mm Creed- moor; 6.5 Grendel and .350 Legend are also offered by Stag Arms on their AR-15 Platform “Pursuit” model
- Trigger: Timney Curved 2-stage
- Barrel: 16 in. Nitride-coated Ballistic Advantage
- Muzzle Device: VG6 Gamma Brake
- Handguard: Stag Slimline 13.5 in.
- Charging Handle: Aero Precision Breach
- Weight: 7 lbs., 13 oz.
- Stock: Magpul CTR (Pursuit Leather Edition)
- Grip: Magpul MOE K2+
- MSRP: $2,199.99
- Manufacturer: Stag Arms
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