A bullpup bolt-action, magazine-fed, switch-barrel, multi-caliber weapon capable of quarter-MOA accuracy. What's not to like? This rifle has graced the silver screen, and has been on a number of TV shows such as Mythbusters and the Military Channel's "Ultimate Weapons." It has also been on the cover of virtually every tactical magazine on planet earth, so you've probably seen it somewhere by now. If you haven't, then this article will be a great introduction. If you have, then this article will let you get to know the weapon system a little bit better before dropping the kind of cash required to own one of these unique rifles.
The Desert Tactical Arms Stealth Recon Scout. Someone definitely made a stop at the Badass Name Store when picking out the name of the company and the rifle. It is a mouthful, so we'll obviously be referring to it as the DTA SRS, which is it's commonly referred to name, from here on out. All kidding aside, this rifle is exceedingly unique regardless of its name. We are going to go into detail on all the features of this rifle, and show you exactly why it has earned it's position as one of the top precision rifles on the planet. Rifle reviews usually contain a brand new rifle that's exciting and trendy, or maybe even paid for by the manufacturer. Not on Primal Rights! This rifle has over 2500rnds of 308Win and 338LM (combined) put through it. This presented a problem in itself that really drove home how unique this weapon is. I have to keep a barrel log for each of the conversion kits I run! Anyhow, this review will not only show you all about the rifle, but how it wears a couple thousand rounds!
As you can see, the DTA SRS is unlike a traditional bolt-action rifle. The "bullpup" configuration means that the fire control group (trigger) is in front of the action, instead of to the rear as you'd find on other bolt rifles. The benefit of having a rifle setup this way is that you can run normal length barrels while maintaining a very short overall length. Many companies have attempted it in the past, while very few have been able to pull it off. The main problem with bullpup rifles is the trigger. It's very difficult to have that kind of distance between the bolt and the trigger while maintaining a crisp pull. When I first bought my DTA SRS, I was very skeptical about this aspect. We'll get into the specifics of the trigger later on. Just take a look at that picture. *drool* Obviously everyone's tastes are going to be a bit different, but I find the DTA SRS to be the most incredibly sexy looking rifle that I've ever seen! It could use a paint job though. I might get some camo on it at some point. (If I can ever stop shooting it long enough to send it to 99HMC4 on the forum for a dip!)
The handguard on the SRS is similar to what you'd find on an AR15. It has a quad-picatinny rail design with large angular venting to allow good airflow. This helps keep the barrel cool during long strings of fire, and allows it to cool down afterward. There are 4 holes along the pic rail on the bottom and left/right sides. There are flush cup mounting locations in each one for attachment of your favorite sling at any of the 12 available locations along the handguard. In the photo above, the SRS has a 22" 308Win. barrel installed. As you can see, the barrel ends roughly 1/2" beyond the end of the handguard. This protects the barrel along its length, as well as providing a near-seamless transition to your chosen muzzle device. While the mounting options on the handguard are nice, I would like to see them offer a key-hole modular rail handguard similar to what you find on the new AI AX and Noveske NSR handguards. A full length top rail is obviously going to be used, but the sides and bottom generally aren't. It would really streamline the look of the rifle as well as save some weight. DTA has a reputation for upgrading to make their product better, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see this option in the future.
The handguard is screwed onto the receiver and held in place by this key and cap screw. I have not removed my handguard, but I have it on good authority that these things are gorilla-tight. I have never heard of one coming loose or breaking accidentally... ever. They are together very solidly. That being said, you can remove without voiding the warranty. What's more is that DTA offers an upgrade kit which will convert your SRS to the more compact Covert model. This is a very cool option which adds to the overall functionality of the weapon system.
The trigger on the DTA SRS is configured exceptionally well, as it should be on a dedicated purpose-built "sniper rifle." Obviously I hate that term, as I use this thing for competition and fun, but that is exactly what it was built for. The screw at the top of the trigger allows you to adjust it forward or rearward to accommodate your hand size. I have been able to configure these rifles for tiny 5'2" people as well as 6'5" "Mongo" style people. They can literally be setup to fit any adult shooter. This unique feature also means that if you wanted to build your own custom trigger shoe... it would be very easy to accomplish. The holes in the bottom of the trigger guard are there to allow external access to the triggers adjustment screws. There you can adjust pull weight as well as creep. This trigger breaks at a crisp 2.5lbs and has no pre-travel or creep. It came that way from the factory. To say that I was completely surprised would be the understatement of the century. It's a bullpup, and it has a better trigger pull than 99% of the bolt guns on the market! There is one peculiar aspect of the trigger, and that is there is about 3/8" of over-travel after the break. Upon examination of the fire control group, I found that there are numerous ways that an adjustment to remove this excessive over-travel could be implemented. This doesn't affect the shootability of the rifle at all, but it would make traditional bolt rifle shooters have an easier time transitioning.
To the rear of the rifle you can see a post sticking out. This is one of the rear flush cup mounting locations. These are on both sides of the rifle, and are removable. If you take them off, you'll want to put a screw/washer combo back in as they functionally hold the skins on the chassis as well. The DTA SRS has fully ambidextrous features such as mag release and safety. At the time of this article, they do not offer a left hand bolt version of the SRS. So if you are left eye dominant, you're going to lose your cheek weld between each shot as you throw the bolt. The rifle can be fired left handed, but it's not what I'd call fun or effective.
The polymer skins on the SRS are a bit harder to damage than what you'd find on an Accuracy International, but they aren't impervious to damage. One of the signs of this can be seen in the photo above. What you are seeing is the result of about 2500rnds of brass being ejected and the case mouth making contact with the rifle. I run a bolt action very deliberately. I'm not "Mongo" about it, but it is very fast and forceful. From time to time, I've had brass slap me in the knuckles with enough intensity to make me take notice. The ejection on the SRS is reliable, but there is room for minor improvement. Unfortunately I don't have any good ideas to offer in this department. In its current configuration, it certainly doesn't interfere with the reliable operation of the rifle, but maybe someone smarter than I can come up with a better way to do it.
The skins come together pretty good on the SRS. Better than most AI's I've seen, and these are quite a bit more complex as well. Down here by the buttpad removal button is the worst spot I could find. In any event, it's hardly worth noting as it doesn't affect the function of the rifle a single bit. Overall, the fitment of the skins is excellent.
Here's the magazine well. As you can see, it's seen some use. I don't always get the magazine right where it's suppose to be. The flared mag-well certainly helps in this regard. So in a nutshell, the skins will get mildly damaged with use. This is to be expected. For those of you that like a new-looking rifle, you can easily purchase replacement skins from DTA.
To remove the buttpad, you simply push the lever I showed you earlier, and slide the pad off the rifle. You can see the tabs on the side which engage with receiving tabs molded into the skins. Some users have reported the tabs on the buttpad were broken off when their rifle arrived. DTA seems to have resolved this issue, as I haven't heard of an instance in a couple years. I have not had any issue with the attachment method shown here. The long screws sticking out are to accommodate the spacer system that adjusts the length-of-pull on the buttpad. With no spacer, the LOP is right at what you'd find on most factory rifles. The design of the rifle doesn't let you go shorter.
What I have had an issue with is the recoil pad. I scarcely call it that. The recoil pad resembles what you find on the back of a Magpul PRS or UBR stock. Textured like a meat tenderizer and almost no cushion. After more than 40rnds of 338LM, it's like someone has been beating on your clavicle with a broom handle. Not fun in the slightest. Thankfully, DTA was showing off a new soft pad on a few rifles during SHOT show this year. If you are shooting anything but 338LM, you don't really notice. I can put several hundred rounds of 175gr 308Win down range in a single day while wearing a T-shirt and it doesn't bother me. If you are going to be feeding a steady diet of 338LM, you're going to want the new recoil pad.
Here you see the bolt as I've got it half out of the rifle. It's a nice tight fit. The pointed tab on the lower left of the bolt is what can be best described as the striker engagement. You can also see another instance of excellent attention to detail by noticing the interlocking skins.
If you order a short action conversion kit such as a 308Win, the kit will come with this little plug that will shorten the bolt throw. Starting to see a trend here? Where there is an opportunity to solve something, they try to solve it. The entire rifle's design was very well thought out, but it's the little things like this that can mean the most when you are shooting.
In the top photo you can see the bolt in full lockup. The SRS has a 60 degree bolt lift, and as a result has a 3-lug bolt head design. The actual design is a unique combination of quasi-interrupted threads and actual lugs. In the second photo you can see the receiving lugs in the barrel extension as well as the lug interface built into the chassis. The chassis is aircraft-grade 7075-T6 aluminum with hard anodizing, but you can see that it does wear off in the high stress areas. This doesn't affect the operation in the slightest, as the bolt headspaces off the barrel. This facilitates the switch-barrel function. It works very much like an AR15 in that the barrels come pre-headspaced into a barrel extension.
Here's what the bolt face looks like after about 700rnds without being cleaned. You've got the usual equipment in its usual locations. Ejector, firing pin, and extractor. This rifle has a floating firing pin. As a result, the firing pin hole is fairly large. This results in quite a bit of primer flow. Everything from the lightest loads to the hot stuff will crater in this rifle, and every other DTA I've shot. I've seen pictures of people that have installed a bushing which eliminated this. I haven't pierced a primer yet... and I haven't heard of others doing it either. As a reloader, I'd much rather have a nice dent with no crater as I have with surgeon actions and such. Yet, this being a purpose driven tactical rifle, I can't see a real need for it. Function is the most important thing, and so far it has gone bang every time.
Now we get to the exciting stuff! These four hex screws are what holds the barrel in. To swap out the barrel to a different cartridge only takes a few steps:
1) Remove the buttpad.
2) Remove the bolt.
3) Remove the magazine.
4) Unlock the barrel by rotating the barrel lock to the "unlocked" position.
5) Loosen the 4 lock screws.
6) Slide the barrel out.
7) Slide in the new barrel.
8) Insert the correct bolt, and close it to ensure proper headspace.
9) Tighten the 4 lock screws to 68 in/lbs.
10) Lock the barrel by setting the barrel lock to the "locked" position.
11) Install the buttpad.
12) Insert the correct magazine.
These steps can be completed in under two minutes with ease, and can be done in under a minute if in a hurry. I use a Seekonk T-handle torque wrench with my DTA. It's a great tool that speeds things up tremendously and Liberty Optics is a great place to get them at affordable prices.
DTA barrels are match-grade, with excellent chambers, rifling, and crowns. They are capable of benchrest-style accuracy. Every DTA I've shot has performed better than I was capable of shooting it. All were 1/2 MOA or better. The barrel contour is specific to the SRS. As you can see above, the barrel is very thick where it is clamped by the receiver. As I mentioned earlier, the barrel extension setup works very similar to that of an AR15. The extension is spun on at the factory and is lined up via the locating notch in the bottom of the extension. You simply line that notch up with a receiving pin in the chassis. Pictured above is the original "revision A" barrel extension. Apparently some people were going "Mongo" on the SRS when installing conversions, and breaking the pin. As a result, DTA re-designed this feature and the locating "pin" is now in the form of a large lug. The chamber end of a barrel is something you want to be pretty gentle with... so I'd have to wonder what kind of people were breaking these things. However, it's another example of DTA's willingness to improve their offering based on user feedback.
Lets get naked!!!! Oh... wait. I mean, um... lets take the skins off the SRS! This is a view of the rifle that most people will never see. What you see above is a shining example of fantastic machine work. The SRS chassis is a work of modern machining art. Once you get the skins off, you quickly see the amount of detail and thought that went into the design of this rifle. It's very clear that the designers set out to build a purpose-built bullpup sniper rifle. Each solution to the inherent problems of how to complete such a design is intuitive, reliable, and functional. Considerations were given to strength, portability, and reliability at every turn.
Here you can see the transfer bar/sear interface. The easiest way I can explain the firing mechanism of the DTA SRS is to call it a striker-fired bullpup bolt-action. The transfer bar at the top is connected to the trigger. When the trigger is pressed, the bar moves forward toward the muzzle. (up, as pictured) This allows the front of the sear bar to move down. (toward you, as pictured) The pin across the transfer bar, keeps it up and in position. When the sear bar moves, it releases the "striker" in the bolt, which hits the firing pin, which in turn contacts the primer and fires the round. It is an ingenious design that effectively addresses the shortcomings of bullpup triggers. As I said,the addition of an over-travel adjustment would the the only improvement that I would implement in the fire control group.
The transfer bar has 3 potential points of friction. 1) The sear bar. 2) Slot it sits in. 3) The pin. Thus far, I haven't had any problems with this mechanism as the skins keep things pretty clean in there. However, if you were to submerge this rifle in a muddy pond, I could see these areas needing maintenance. Not to ensure function... but to ensure a nice smooth pull. If someone want's to send me a rifle to do this kind of destructive testing, I'll gladly do it, and post the results. I'm not doing it with mine however!
In the same picture, you can see the roll pin which engages with the locator notch on the barrel extension. As you can see it is an easily serviceable item by removing the hex screw.
Here's a view of inside the magazine well. You can see the corners of the aluminum have been chewed up by the steel magazines. Again, nothing that would affect functionality, but is a sign of wear none the less. I only found it while poking around in every orifice this rifle has with a camera.
This here is a little pin that contacts the bolt shroud. It's getting beat up a bit, and looky there, it's a completely serviceable part as well. Hat's off to DTA once again for having the foresight to make this part so easy to replace! I'd rather replace this little inexpensive sucker than the bolt shroud. I'm telling you... someone had their thinking hat on when they were designing this thing.
Inside the skins you find molded support in all the right places. You could "Mongo" the grip all you want, and not crush it. Again it's the little things that impress. The nuts that receive the skin screws are wedged in there, so they don't fly all over the place when taking the skins off. The ambidextrous magazine release is also attached to the right side skin. One area of contention is the buttpad release button. It slides in the bottom slot in the lower-right of the image. As you can see, it's being torn to hell, and this would explain why the mechanism can be kind of stubborn to operate. This is what happens when a metal thing with sharp edges slides around on plastic. Remember, the buttpad has to come off every time you clean the thing, so I'd like to see a more intuitive design in this area.
A picture tells a thousand words. At top you see a Rem700 tactical with 20" barrel in an AICS chassis. At middle is a Rem700 tactical with 20" barrel in a Manners T2A with Badger DBM. Both rifles have a YHM Phantom 7.62QD attached. The Phantom is 8.5" long. At bottom is a DTA SRS with 22" barrel and a YHM Phantom 338QD. The Phantom 338 is over 10" long. The SRS has 2" more barrel, and 2" more suppressor, and is still FOUR INCHES shorter than the 308's above it. This means I could put a 26" 338LM barrel and that suppressor and be just as long as a typical 20" 308 with 30cal suppressor. That is absolutely incredible. If all you do is lay prone and shoot groups at a singular target, then that doesn't really mean much to you. However, if you are moving and shooting, engaging multiple targets while having to move your rifle around obstacles in your environment... this is a HUGE advantage. So much so that it's difficult describing. It's something you have to experience.
The other thing that makes it much easier to move with is the weight distribution. The SRS configured how you see it weighs in at just shy of 17lbs. You wouldn't know it to shoot it. The 308's above it in the photo weigh roughly the same. Even with the huge baseball-bat of a suppressor on there, the DTA is more maneuverable than the 308's above it due to its more equal weight distribution. With a typical bolt-action, the majority of the weight is balanced far forward of the action. With the DTA configured as you see, it balances perfectly under the front scope ring. If you were to attach a DTSS titanium suppressor, it would move even further back. You don't need to be a physics major to understand that weight which is closer to you is easier to move than weight that is further away. The DTA SRS is the easiest to maneuver, easiest to deploy, and most well balanced long range rifle system that I have ever used.
Let's talk ammunition. I spend the majority of my time behind the DTA SRS shooting 308Win. My pet load is 44.5gr of Varget with a CCI-200 primer and Winchester brass behind a 175gr Sierra Match King which is set 2.255". That's 10 thousandths off the lands in this rifle. This load will tear one ragged hole at 100yds with regularity. It's coming out right at 2700fps which is very fast from a 22" barrel. No pressure signs however, even on the hot days. Obviously the load data I'm sharing here is the result of a long ladder process and was worked up to very cautiously. Do not just dump loads configured as I have stated. Do it right and put in the time to work up your own loads. Your face may thank me later. For what it's worth, factory Federal Gold Medal Match and Black Hills 175gr offerings both produce 1/2 MOA results out of this rifle, and every other DTA SRS I've ever shot. These rifles are extremely forgiving when it comes to ammo. If you want to squeak that last 1/4 MOA out of it, you'll need to reload. If you don't know how, then just sign up for a Primal Rights Reloading Course and we'll teach you!
Desert Tactical Arms also owns Desert Tactical Munitions, or DTM. They produce excellent match-grade ammo that is built for their rifles, and shoots fantastically well.
My 338 Lapua Magnum load consists of Lapua brass, CCI-250 primers, and 93gr of Retumbo behind a Hornady 285gr hybrid bullet at 2.970 to the ogive. With that load, and this rifle, I can knock a 338 cal hole through the middle of your door from a mile out in anything less than a 10mph wind... and that's no bullshit. In the picture below, you see a MGM Recon target which is 12" wide and 24" tall. I fired 15 times in a gusty 15mph full-value wind and connected 7 times at a distance of 1660yds. That's roughly MOA accuracy to just 100yds inside of a mile. My farthest hits were at a full-size IPSC target at a distance of 2283yds. I fired 20 rounds and hit the target 3 times. I still kept all my rounds in about 2-3 MOA at that distance, but the 338LM was definitely past its outer effective limit. I'm definitely the weak link, as the rifle shoots much better than I can.
I own quite a few custom precision rifles built by some of the best gunsmiths in the country... and they mostly just sit in the rack. I think I even heard some of them crying when I walked in the safe last time. When I go shooting, you'll find a DTA SRS hanging off my sling!
Primal Rights is a premier-level Desert Tactical Arms dealer, and the South Dakota area's only DTA dealer. So if you would like to talk about purchasing a DTA SRS or any other DTA item, we would be glad to help you. Just give us a call at 605-554-1911, send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or PM "Orkan" on the Primal Rights forum.