By Dan Shea
I’ve followed Skip Patel’s designs for about 20 years, since his BA50- mag fed .50 BMG rifle and the MCR Multi-Cal semi auto that got to phase II in the SCAR trials. He sold that company, built DRD Tactical with much success, sold DRD, and in 2022 started 21st Tec, with lessons learned from 20 years in the industry. A personal favorite is the Paratus takedown 7.62×51 rifle. I made a backpack system with foam that floats, a Gemtech Sandstorm silencer, Magpul bipod, Trijicon optic, and in under 60 seconds could have a solid, suppressed, tactical 7.62 semi-auto DMR with 1 MOA accuracy, covertly carried in a civilian pack. Skip Patel’s designs have always been interesting. So, when discussing the release of the new Bellator rifle, we had to try it out.
21st Tec was not making the Bellator in .338 Norma Magnum, just .338 Lapua Magnum and .300 Norma Magnum and some smaller calibers, but I badgered Skip until he had Satern barrels make a custom 24-inch .338 Norma Magnum for this test and we broke-in the new caliber. Thus, it took a bit of time to get it rolling properly, but once we got it together, the system was a very good one. The .338 Norma Magnum is where SOCOM and many others have moved, that’s to say away from the Lapua Magnum – which is also a very good round. I just wanted this test to be in the new sniper sweetheart caliber that Jimmy Sloan evolved. It’s an excellent cartridge. I’m saying this to be fair – there was a bit of beta testing until the new caliber conversion was 100% on. Skip Patel has always been an innovator and designer, as this article will show.
The Bellator Rifle System (Bellator is Latin for “warrior”) is a multi-caliber, bolt action, long-range rifle system designed with a lower overall budget in mind. When the rifle came to us, it was in a special case, deceptively small like many of Skip Patel’s other designs. There were two magazine wells, two barrels, and two bolts, along with good instructions for assembly and maintenance. 21st Tec has chosen the KGM suppressor mounting system, more on that later. We decided to put a Vortex RAZOR Gen III optic on the system, and for our test, several types of .338 Norma Magnum from the SOCOM trials, as well as a preferred cartridge from Black Hills Ammunition. We went to the range several times as we learned the system and worked to get it sighted properly. The plan was to go to 1000 meters, and any real shooter knows that isn’t on the first day. It did not take too long to get there.
The testing team was long range shooter Dennis Powell, well-known firearms trainer Chuck Bolding, Phoenix Defence Armorer Damon Bolding, and myself. Dennis has done long range testing for Small Arms Defense Journal in the past, and he took control of getting the primary needs. After several trips to the range, we were ready for the two-day testing regimen.
SMALL ARMS DESIGNS BY SKIP PATEL
- BA50 Bolt action magazine-fed 50 BMG rifle.
- MCR Multi-caliber auto loading rifle (patented) that made it to phase II testing in SCAR trials.
- Paratus 7.62 NATO (two patents, one for internal recoil system and one for take down barrel system.)
- Aptus 5.56/300 uses above two patents.
- M762 LR308-pattern 7.62 NATO with barrel take-down like Paratus.
- CDR15 AR15-pattern 5.56/300 same barrel take-down as Aptus.
- Kivaari .338 Lapua semi-auto with same barrel take down.
- PMG Paratus machine gun using G3 fire control. (Sold to international military.)
- AMG Aptus machine gun using G3 fire control. (Sold to international military.)
We’ve been using the Magpul bipod on smaller caliber rifles because it gives a lockable or resisted cant (tilt) ability up to 50°, independent of the legs. This is very important for uneven ground and when adjusting body position. Second, it has a panning feature that gives a 40° pan of the field of view – which is desirable on machine guns but not on a sniper rifle. Magpul made this bipod so the panning can be locked out.
Patel chose 6061 T6 aluminum for the upper, lower, and the separate extruded rail. The 6000 series aluminum alloys feature magnesium & silicon as main alloys, as magnesium silicide. This makes the 6000 series aluminums heat treatable. Other alloy metals that make 6061 what it is, are chromium, copper, iron, manganese, titanium, and zinc in small quantities. The T6 tempering of 6061 aluminum (heat treating) is solution treatment at temp 985°F and then for forgings/extrusions such as the billet used for the receivers, and the extruded rail, an additional artificial aging for 8 hours at 350°F. This makes a very strong alloy with good return from flex properties for the split collet (no cracking), good machining qualities for intricate profiles, weldability, and corrosion resistance. The aluminum is then type III hard coat anodized with, in this case, a tan/flat dark earth finish.
It’s possible to fire a round in this position, but probably not advisable. When the rifle was ordered, we were asked if we wanted the KRG side-folder or the Magpul PRS fixed stock. We should have opted for the PRS; none of us found the KRG stock to be solid or comfortable enough under the .338 Norma Magnum recoil. It’s a good stock for lighter recoil setups. Skip informed me that neither company is continuing with these stocks, and 21st Tec is in process of making a proprietary stock.
21st Tech has kept some key components that will interchange with AR style parts; the fire control parts such as pistol grip, trigger, hammer, springs, pins, fire control selector and mag release, as well as the rear takedown pin. This allows for the customization of some of these components by end users. Note that this model has the bolt charging handle at the front left. This is desirable, as it means the shooter doesn’t have to take their eye off the sights or break their fire control grip to work the action. 21st Tec also offers a right-hand charging option, but this is my preference.
Barrel installation and removal, as well as the front rail/forend, are reliant on the two bolts seen at center. This is a split collet-type system, with the barrel put into place and keyed in, the forend slid over it, and the two bolts tightened to 65 inch-lbs (with the Fix-it Sticks torque driver included.) The rear is done first. On disassembly, the two bolts are put back into position but must be removed for reassembly.
The charging slot ends where it does because if the slot went all the way it would weaken the rear support of the rail/optics. Behind the safety is the takedown pin. The chamber must be cleared, then the bolt run forward, and the pushpin is pushed to the right.
The rifle can now be disassembled. The lower and stock are secured with a stud going to the magazine well rear, and the takedown pin. The lower assembly is swung back and down, slightly. The magazine well is slid to the rear and downward and the barrel and forend are removed (not shown). Taking the bolt out requires removing the bold handle with a set screw, then the bolt comes to the rear (not shown).
Barrel markings; in this case “21st -Tec .338 Norma Mag 1-9.4 5R”. Our barrel is a 5-groove right hand twist of 1:9.4 inches. All Bellator barrels are 416R stainless steel, custom made by Satern Barrels.
Disassembly of the bolt carrier assembly, is fast. The round-headed guide pin is removed, the bolt is then removed to the front, and the firing pin removes to the front. The set screw behind the guide pin holds a spring-loaded ball bearing detent that clicks into a matching round indentation when the bolt is closed. This keeps the bolt from rotating out of battery but allows a fast rotation of the handle for retracting.
Black Hills Ammunition was recently awarded part of an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (H92403-23-R-0002) to allow U.S. Special Operations Command the flexibility to procure numerous types of ammunition requirements for all USSOCOM components. Fiscal 2023 operations and maintenance funding in the amount of $27,500 is being obligated at the time of award. The contract has a maximum total ceiling of $750,000,000. Source selection procedures used full and open competition. 16 proposals were received, 11 met the criteria for award. USSOCOM, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, is the contracting activity.
This is great news. Jeff Hoffman of BHA is a great friend and asset to the shooting, as well as the special operations community. His work was seminal to the development of SOCOM’s needs in the Norma Magnum calibers – and Black Hills Gold is about the best .338 Norma Magnum ammunition available. Hoffman supplied some ammunition for this article, and it lived up to its reputation. This was .338 Norma Magnum, 300gr, OTM projectiles. OTM is “open tip match” and it is thanks to the late Hays Parks that we have this accurate, effective projectile available to the sniper community. The ICRC wanted it banned by the UN as “hollow point” which it is not. Since that attempt failed, companies like BHA are able to supply extremely accurate, effective ammunition to the sniper community.
Jeff has been a sworn law enforcement officer for over 37 years and been in the ammunition community seemingly forever.
In this photo, next to the ammunition, are some headspace gauges for .338 Norma Magnum. It’s important to have in these changeable caliber firearms. These gauges are from Pacific Tool & Gauge, which now offers them on its website.
Ammunition, above (left to right):
- .50 BMG MK211 “Raufoss” Multi-Purpose Lake City
- .50 BMG AMAX 750-gr. Hornady
- .338 Lapua Magnum 300-gr. Lapua Scenar Black Hills
- .338 Norma Magnum 300-gr. OTM Black Hills Gold
- .300 Norma Magnum 215-gr. Hybrid OTM Berger
- .300 PRC 225-gr. ELD Match TAP Precision
- .300 Winchester Magnum 178-gr. Hornady A-Max Black Hills Gold
- .30-06 150-gr. FMJ Boat Tail American Eagle
- 7.62x52mm 175-gr. M118LR Lake City
- 6.5 Creedmoor 125-gr. Open Tip USA Ready Winchester
- .260 Remington 130-gr. Berger Match AR Hybrid OTM ABM
- .280 British (7mm) 140-gr. MK1Z Ball Radway Green
The 300-grain projectiles should be traveling at about 2700 fps from our 24-inch barrel. As we dialed the scope in – the rounds walked up to center. The five rounds to center were one group, with scope adjustments, the last three, to right of the left-hand red square are the measured group; .75-inch center-to-center. This is at 100 meters. The sun was rising at our 12 o’clock, we were firing at our 10 o’clock. After Dennis achieved sub-minute of angle, we started working the farther targets. Steel at 400, 600, and finally 900 meters. After Dennis was done getting comfortable with ringing the gongs the rest of us tried long range firing. This is a very good rifle combination, and the suppressor brought our groups in tighter than unsuppressed.
Kyle Grob, founder of KGM Suppressors, has multiple manufacturing talents. KGM is a veteran owned business, and Grob’s experience as a very high-grade welder with solid experience in titanium welding has made their products lightweight and very strong. Combine that with the scientific study KGM has done on sound and pressures of high velocity gases, it adds up to a very safe suppressor.
A suppressor is a pressure vessel, experiencing high temperature, high pressure events.
KGM R338 SPECIFICATIONS
- Weight: 18.2 oz. (w/o muzzle device)
- Length: 9.1 in. long (w/o muzzle device)
- Diameter: 1.87 in.
- Expected Sound Reduction: On a 26 in. 338 LM. barrel the R338 has a net sound reduction of 26-30 decibels.
- The R338 is constructed entirely out of titanium, giving it a robust, yet lightweight form factor with a combination of grade 5 and grade 9 titanium.
For most of suppressor history, manufacturers and users concentrated on methods of sound reduction. For end users, that’s an important consideration, but not the most important one. In today’s environment, gases coming back onto the user; accuracy, and POI shift; overall size (the “nose” it adds to a firearm), back pressure, flash signature… all are more important than a couple of decibels of sound reduction or how sexy it looks.
The claimed dB reduction of 26-30 dB for this suppressor, from my experience, is well in the pocket. It’s very quiet on this 24-inch barrel .338 Norma Magnum bolt action. It also is short enough, controls the gas away from the shooter, lightens recoil, tightens groups, and as a bonus, looks good on the rifle.
Bellator KGM Silencer 5 For mounting, the R338 uses a proprietary taper-mounted muzzle device which has been adopted for the Bellator. With a large taper surface, POI shift is reduced, and repeatability is a key design factor. A coarse thread pitch allows the suppressor to be removed from the muzzle device quickly.
Bellator KGM Silencer 6 The R338 utilizes KGM’s patented “Integrated Gas Flow” baffle design that maintains consistent gas flow through the baffle stack, allowing shot-after-shot repeatability. In conjunction with the Integrated Gas Flow design, the front of the suppressor is outfitted with another patented design of KGM’s, the APEC (Adjustable Port End Cap). This technology utilizes pressure inside the suppressor and puts it to work by venting it radially around the periphery. This allows the suppressor to mimic the characteristics of a radial muzzle brake in terms of a linear recoil impulse, while providing excellent suppression and reduced flash signature. An even more unique feature of this endcap design is the ability to tune the gas flow characteristics and recoil kinematics by closing off or opening the ports by means of small threaded plugs. All of the side holes in the picture are internally threaded, and set screw plugs are provided with the suppressor. This gives the end user the ability to tune the suppressor to the host weapon as well as the shooting style of the operator.
We’ve used the Vortex RAZOR HD Gen III in other tests in the past. It is a superb scope. We chose the EBR-7D MRAD Reticle, it’s a flagship reticle for Vortex, and it was crisp and clear out to 900 meters and beyond. The Bellator has a 0 MOA rail, so for longer work the scope mount base should be figured with appropriate MOA built into it. Even though there’s technically 120 MOA built into the scope.
VORTEX RAZOR HD Gen III 6-36×56 RIFLESCOPE SPECIFICATIONS
- Aluminum Grade: Aircraft
- Scratch-Resistant Lens Coating: ArmorTec Ultra-hard, scratch-resistant coating protects exterior lenses from scratches, oil and dirt.
- External Rotation Indicator: Provides quick visual and tactile reference of elevation turret’s rotational position.
- Multi-Coated Lenses: XR Plus Fully Multi-Coated HD Lens Elements
- L-Tec+ Zero System: The L-Tec+ Zero System is easy to use with all captive parts and only one set screw, making zeroing quick and simple. Once set, it also allows for more travel.
- Micro Adjust Zero Setting: Infinite zero setting positions allow zero to be set between clicks for optimal accuracy.
- Optically Indexed Lenses: Optimize image sharpness and brightness from edge to edge.
- Plasma Tech: Cutting edge coating application process provides unparalleled coating durability and performance.
- Shockproof: Rugged construction withstands recoil and impact.
Those are the factory specs. A couple of things of note from an end user: during this testing, smoke from California forest fires was smogging its way across Las Vegas valley – we were on the other side of the mountains, towards California. We got it first. This has always been an issue with a scope, but our clarity was excellent. Second, seeing into shadow at range: when you get to 600 to 1000 meters, any tree line or shadow area on mountainside becomes a problem. Many scopes I’ve used give a flat image of the darkness. The lens coatings used by Vortex, along with the quality of the glass, open up the shadows, giving a more three-dimensional view. There are many scope manufacturers, a few that I like, but for this type of shooting I tend to favor the Vortex RAZOR. It’s also FFP, Fixed Focal Plane, which I prefer, as well. It’s got great field of view, the hashmarks are fast for me to use at higher magnifications, and make my adjustments.
The Bellator came in a custom case; 20x25x12 inches, with two layers. The tools, spare magazines and caliber conversions were in the case- for this rifle, it was .338 Norma Magnum and 7.62x51mm NATO barrels, bolts, and mag wells. The KGM suppressor can fit on all the Bellator barrels, from the factory.
COMING SOON FROM 21st Tec: VASA – multi-caliber magazine fed bolt action extreme long-range rifle in 50bmg/.416 Barrett with conversion kit to 408x77mm and 375x77mm.