Turnbull TAR-10 Review
November 12, 2013
My Kansas deer season had a few days to run when, on a December morning, I headed down the ridge below the house and clambered up into my stand. It isn't exactly "my" stand; it's one of several, and not actually my favorite. But I had a couple of friends coming in to hunt, so I wanted to leave my favorite stands — and what I think of as the best part of my woods — for them. I guess you also couldn't say it's "my" deer season; the regs apply to everyone equally. And if you look at it another way, my ability to use the remaining days would be limited.
It didn't really matter. This particular year I'd put a good bit of time in the woods. I'd hunted a couple of weeks during the archery season and seen some decent bucks. As usual, or at least as usual when I'm hunting my little Kansas farm, I'd let a couple of bucks walk by that I knew I should have taken'¦and I'd seen a couple of better bucks that weren't quite close enough. I could say the same about the first few days of rifle season — but now I was down to the tail end, or at least my tail end, and that simplifies things a bit.
It was barely chilly that morning, not as cold as a deer hunter should hope for, but extremely pleasant to sprawl out on the Ameristep double stand while the sun climbed slowly behind me. I saw a couple of does early, and then a little 6-pointer came down the ridge in front of me. He wasn't the least bit tempting, but he was interesting in that this is the opposite direction I expect movement from this stand'¦and yet, in the relatively few times I've sat there, that's where about half the deer have come from.
It was getting late and warming up nicely, and I was starting to think about how much longer I should hold off going to work on a pesky deadline for a hated Editor (probably for this very magazine) when I caught a bit of movement off my right shoulder. OK, that's where the deer are supposed to come from!
It was a mature doe, followed by a yearling — and then another doe. They angled across my front, and although none pulled the classic giveaway of looking back, I had a feeling that wasn't all. So I held as perfectly still as I'm capable of, rifle up across my body, weight resting on the padded rail.
My sixth sense isn't perfect — I might have been wrong a dozen times just in that season — but this time I was right'¦a nice buck trailed out behind the does. He was sort of a medium 8-pointer, certainly not one of the big bucks, but not one of my babies. I weighed the odds, but only briefly, and as he stepped into the clear, I raised the rifle.
The shot was that rare perfect left-hand shot; the rifle was already angled in the general direction of the deer, so all I needed to do was bring the muzzle down and the butt up to my shoulder. When I did this, the crosshairs were already on the point of his shoulder as he quartered to me, so I slipped the safety to "fire" and squeezed the trigger.
A Great Deer Load
The cartridge was a .308 Winchester, the specific round a plain-Jane 150-grain softpoint from Federal blue-box Power-Shok — no premium upgrade implied and no designer brand identified as the specific bullet. It was a spitzer bullet with quite a bit of lead exposed at the nose. Since the box didn't say "Hi-Shok," Federal's long-running proprietary softpoint, I would bet that the original source of that bullet was Hornady, but it really doesn't matter. The load grouped fairly well in the rifle — much better than necessary for "minute of buck" at 60 yards.
That sharp-pointed, lead-tipped 150-grain bullet had a bullet diameter of .308-inch, what we call a ".30 caliber," so for at least a hundred years we've thought of that weight and diameter of bullet as a "deer bullet." In calibers from .30-30, .30 Remington, and .300 Savage on up to the fastest .300 magnums, millions of deer have been taken with similar bullets'¦by generations of hunters.
The specific case dimensions of the cartridge I fired this bullet from are designated ".308 Winchester." This cartridge and I share the same year of birth, 1952, a different time when the Korean War was dragging on, Eisenhower was elected President, and this strange new gadget called "telly-vision" was just starting to work its way into American homes. But despite our similar age, it's no secret that I have never been a huge fan of the .308 Winchester.
Sorry, can't help it; I like the .30-06 better! However, I don't have to have a personal affinity for a cartridge to respect it. The .308 Winchester offers a good 95 percent of the capability of the longer-cased .30-06 (which is not damning with faint praise at all), and since it does it from a shorter case, it can fit into more compact actions and, on average, is a more accurate cartridge than the .30-06.
While it isn't my personal top choice, it was my Dad's favorite, the cartridge he took almost all of his big game with. It's also a cartridge I have used quite a bit, and in several action types: bolt, lever, and semi-automatic. So, when this Kansas whitetail took a 150-grain lead-core expanding bullet from a .308 Winchester on the point of his left shoulder, the results weren't surprising. The bullet traversed the chest cavity diagonally and exited behind the right shoulder. The buck spun away, made maybe three steps, and was down.
Not A Bad Deer Rifle'¦
I waited for a couple of minutes, and then I cleared the rifle and lowered it on the line we keep on our stands for that purpose. While fiddling with the rope, I took a moment to admire the rifle one more time. It had just demonstrated that it was a pretty good deer rifle, but, after all, what was there to prove? We know about the .308, and we know about the 150-grain .30-caliber bullet. We even know about the 3-9X Leupold the rifle wore — I think I had it on 4X to fit the size of the clearing.
The rifle, however, was a bit of a departure for me. It was one of a first run of Doug Turnbull's TAR-10 rifles, which, in turn, are also a significant departure for Doug Turnbull. I think he's probably best-known today for his classic lever actions, but he also works with Colt single actions and 1911s, and he's justly famous for restoring (and upgrading) classic American firearms. If none of that rings a bell, think "color case hardening." Nobody does it better than Doug Turnbull, and his magnificent color case hardening is one of his signature touches.
A semiautomatic AR-type action is a considerable departure from, say, an 1876 Centennial Winchester. But unless you've been living in a very deep cave, you must recognize that this action and its many clones are currently the hottest-selling sporting arms in America. Yes, OK, some of this right now is "panic buying" out of concerns over potential legislation, but that doesn't explain why something like 90 manufacturers are making AR-type rifles. They are accurate, fun to shoot, and in suitable calibers are appropriate to hunt with.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Doug Turnbull took a deep sigh and decided he should jump on the bandwagon. Actually, I know better. He thought about it long and hard, understanding that this type of rifle would be a major departure for both his reputation and his team. On the other hand, the hunger for this action type seems endless, and Turnbull thought he could put a slightly different spin on the AR'¦after all, take a look at the acres and acres of metal on that action, just waiting to be case-hardened!
The Turnbull AR
As they say, "parts is parts," and one of the attractive features of the AR platform is, after all, it's just parts that are largely interchangeable. The various companies that offer ARs generally source some components and manufacture others, depending on their own specialties and capacity.
Turnbull is no different, except that to start with (in order to add that signature color case hardening) he has to have an all-steel receiver, both upper and lower. This adds weight. Against a sea of black synthetic stocks, another Turnbull difference almost had to be good walnut in both buttstock and handguard. This also adds a bit of weight.
The first (very small!) run of Turnbull ARs, including the rifle I shot and hunted with, are based on the larger 7.62/.308 Winchester AR-10 action. Even with a short 16.1-inch barrel, this is a heavy rifle, weighing 11¾ pounds empty without scope. Mind you, the AR-10 frame is always fairly heavy, so the steel receiver and walnut stock just add a bit extra.
The weight makes it a real pleasure to shoot'¦but, regardless of how you feel about the capability and suitability of the .308 Winchester cartridge, this is probably not a rifle you'll want to carry up a sheep mountain. For stand hunting or any situation where you don't get too far from a horse or vehicle, no big deal. Nor is that frame size with attendant weight locked in concrete. The second (very small!) run of Turnbull ARs was on the smaller, lighter, and much more popular AR-15 frame. The initial chambering was .223, the standard and most popular AR-15 chambering.
The .223 is great for varmints and, where legal, OK for deer with heavy bullets, but today there are other options for hunting cartridges on the AR-15 frame, including 6.8mm SPC and .300 Whisper. Similarly, the .308 remains the standard and most popular chambering for the larger action (and there are no flies on it as a hunting cartridge), but other options include the full range of cartridges based on the .308 case, which includes .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington, and .338 Federal. So the options are out there, and it's always hard to predict exactly what Doug Turnbull's adept little company is likely to do next.
In the meantime, out of a field of dozens of manufacturers making very similar rifles, the Turnbull AR is different. Although it comes at a price, it is not the most expensive AR on the market — but it might be among the most interesting. As always, Turnbull's color case hardening is incredible — and there's a lot of it! The walnut stock is simple but elegant, and the rifle has a Picatinny rail on top of the receiver, ready for scope mounting, but without a factory-supplied rear sight. Functioning was perfect and accuracy was superb, but that shouldn't be surprising because, after all, there isn't
much mystery remaining about this tried-and-true action.
Well, there weren't mysteries, but there were surprises. First, when I squeezed the trigger! Combine the short barrel with the muzzle brake/flash hider and this rifle is loud! I was glad my buck only needed one shot, and next time I swear I'll use hearing protection, even in the field! Second, I knew my deer season was limited, but I didn't know just how limited. That very afternoon I heard from Doug'¦the rifle I was using was the last of the first run. He had just sold it, so I needed to send it back immediately. And so I did'¦with considerable regret!