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Tack-Driving Slug Gun: The RSG-12 Tar-Hunt

Custom gun maker Randy Fritz gets MOA accuracy from $2,000 shotguns.

The RSG-12 spits lots of metal out of its .73-
caliber maw.

The air is filled with resolve and the smell of burnt powder as the shooter takes his position behind the bench-rested gun. The personal ritual begins. Check the flags. Tuck the butt tight to the shoulder in just the right position. Cheek flush to the stock just so. Left hand drawing the forearm rearward, bracing the body for the recoil. Check the flags again. Crosshairs steady. Deep breath. Exhale evenly while squeezing the trigger. Steady.

Boom!

The bolt is drawn, the spent case plucked from the action and laid with others before the shooter leans over to check the spotting scope’s view of the target 100 yards distant. The shot, fifth in this series, has fallen in a group of rounds that tore a ragged 3/4-inch hole. The group is one that most riflemen would be happy to have—but it was achieved with a shotgun.

A .73-caliber Robo Rifle
Such was our introduction to Randy Fritz’s RSG-12 Tar-Hunt Rifle. Formerly, a “tack-driving” slug gun was one that hit a 5-gallon can four times out of five at 40 paces. But the RSG-12 is not your father’s slug gun. It’s technically a shotgun, due to the fodder it ingests. But in reality the Tar-Hunt is a .73-caliber robo-rifle that, under the right conditions, can shoot sub-MOA groups with today’s high-tech saboted slugs.

“I’ve always been fascinated with wildcats,” says Fritz, a 25-year veteran of international benchrest competition. “Somewhere along the line I got interested in seeing how well I could make something as ballistically poor as a shotgun slug shoot—the ultimate wildcat.”

The “somewhere” that Fritz refers to was probably a three-year mid1960s stay in Rochester, New York, where he worked for General Dynamics developing ground-support systems for the F-111 tactical fighter plane. A lifelong Pennsylvanian transplanted to the heavily populated Great Lakes plains, Fritz had to leave his .270 at home and adapt to deer hunting with a municipally-mandated slug-loaded shotgun.

“When I moved back home I readily forgot that part,” Fritz insists. He began building benchrest rifles on Remington actions in the early 1980s in his Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, shop. But those frustrating years in Rochester-area woods must have presented some sort of challenge, because in 1988 Fritz drew up a prototype 12-gauge rifle. In 1990 he sat down with Gayle McMillan in Phoenix, Arizona, to map out the machining of the action and a suitable synthetic stock. He had Olie Oleson of E.R. Shaw Barrels in Pennsylvania turn some heavy-walled 0.728 ID one-turn-in-36inch rifled barrels in 1990 and had the first RSG-12s ready in 1991.

The Tar-Hunt Rifle, so named for its Target and Hunting applications, was an immediate hit with law-enforcement sniper and SWAT teams, who wanted an accurate short-range weapon that could throw a round through plate glass or wooden doors with a minimum of deflection.

One of Fritz’s most impressive demonstrations entails shooting a 12-gauge Lightfield Hybred Sabot through 15/16-inch tempered Plexiglas at 50 yards and striking a human silhouette set 5 feet behind it—just 2 inches off the point of aim. On the accuracy front, using the 45-pound bench version of the gun, Fritz has shot several 100-yard five-shot groups that measure under half an inch. Also, he currently supplies barreled actions to all major slug manufacturers for their R&D work.

Shooting The Gun
Out of the shop the RSG-12 weighs 7 3/4 pounds. Ours was range-ready at a tad under 9 pounds. Tar-Hunts come in Professional, Matchless, Peerless, and Tactical models, the three former versions denoting different metal and stock finishes that range upwards of $2,000. The Tactical model sports the heavier barrel, a heavier stock with no rotation in the butt, and a 13-pound weight with scope. This year also marks the introduction of the RSG-20, a 20-gauge version that will incorporate a less sophisticated stock, faster rifling rate, and a price tag in the $800 neighborhood.

The $1,295 Professional model that we tested looks like a Remington Model 788 on steroids. The black McMillan synthetic stock incorporates a high-lift Monte Carlo rollover, a severe drop pistol grip, and the butt is rotated clockwise 3/8 inch and cast off another 3/8 inch to make it fit the offhand shooter. The only production-grade piece on the Tar-Hunt is the two-shot Marlin clip, although Fritz is currently working on a plastic replacement.

The bolt looks like a beefed-up version of its Remington cousin, only with two rear locking lugs in place of the Remington’s series of lugs. The TarHunt’s two-piece bolt locks in the rear receiver ring rather than the front so that the nonrotating front half has room to incorporate a narrow extractor cut in the actual chamber. The two stamped-steel extractors are virtually identical to Marlin’s, and the ejector is a spring-plunger type.

The Tar-Hunt receiver is massive when one considers the modest chamber pressures of shotgun loads. And, unlike commercial bolt shotguns, when the Tar-Hunt’s bolt is closed, its nose is covered by a heavy shroud to eliminate any possibility of gas escaping into the shooter’s face.

“When Gayle and I sat down to do initial action designs, I was looking toward the future, when handloads were going to be a big part of the shotgun scene,” Fritz says. “I knew as soon as bolt-action guns got out on the market, companies would start offering handloads. With handloads, you’re always going to get beasts.”

Thus, the Tar-Hunt receiver and enclosed-bolt lockup are built to withstand riflelike chamber pressures. Fritz, in fact, developed one handload for an elk hunt that provided as much energy at 100 yards as a 150-grain .30-06 offers at the muzzle. The case was destroyed upon firing.

“We wanted to err on the safe side. I’ve seen just changing lots of primers, not even brands, cause a pressure increase of almost 3,000 pounds,” Fritz says. “Federal guidelines only allow shotgun chamber pressures up to 12,500. Cases are only built to take 15,000.”

The 21.5-inch heavy Shaw barrel in our test gun was cut at 1-turn-in-28 inches, which is considered ideal for stabilizing sabot slugs. Fritz also will build your Tar-Hunt in a variety of rifling twist rates The interior diameter measures a SAAMI-spec 0.728 inch in the grooves and 0.718 inch to the lands. The barrel walls are 0.120-inch thick, while the Sniper or Tactical model Tar-Hunts sport straight taper 0.150-inch wall barrels. All Tar-Hunt barrels are ported 360 degrees at the muzzle to help loosen sabot halves on the exiting slugs, which apparently allows them to drop off simultaneously, thus improving accuracy.

The single-stage Remington-style triggers can be set anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 pounds. The guns come cut to the customer’s length of pull and trigger-weight preference. The test gun’s trigger was a whisper under 3 pounds. It came with Weaver scope bases (Model 46 front and Model 54 rear). In 1997 RSG-12s will come standard with Leupold turn-in windage bases.

In our experience, the RSG-12 Tar-Hunt Rifle is certainly capable of subMOA accuracy, but we believe that level of performance is a notable exception rather than the rule. After all, driving a projectile with the ballistic coefficient of a Volkswagen Beetle takes more than just quality ordnance. Tar-Hunt designer Fritz has shot several sub-half-inch groups using 2 3/4-inch commercial ammunition, the best being a 0.409-inch scorcher achieved with Federal sabots in 1991. However, Fritz is an international benchrest shooting competitor, and he shot the remarkable groups under perfect conditions with selected lots of ammunition. Mere mortals shooting the Tar-Hunt with commercial ammo should be pleased with anything inside 2 inches for five shots at 100 yards, as our range testing showed.

We gave an RSG-12 a wring-out with state-of-the-art 2 3/4-inch commercial ammunition, including Winchester Supreme High-Impact sabots, Federal Premium sabots, Lightfield Hybred EXP sabots, and Remington Copper Solid sabots. After zeroing the gun for each brand at 50 yards, we moved back to 100 to shoot five five-shot groups on five-bull gridded Crosman Visible Impact Series targets. We conducted the accuracy testing on a rare, breathless 42-degree December day in upstate New York, and the conditions obviously played a role. Our best groups came with 452-grain hourglass-shaped Winchester Supreme High Impact sabots. Five five-shot groups at 100 yards averaged an 1.06 inches, much better than any other brand. The Winchester groups included a 0.65-inch ragged hole. The Tar-Hunt liked Federal’s 452-grain Premium sabot second-best that day, averaging group sizes of 1.88 inches, with five-shot groups ranging from 1.72 to 2.15 inches. The new brass-bottomed, Hungarian-loaded 539grain Lightfield Hybred EXP sabots followed with a five-shot-group average of 1.98 inches, with group sizes ranging from 1.67 to 2.25 inches. Remington’s Copper Solid, which was designed around Remington’s 1-turnin-35 shotgun-barrel rifling, was the worst performer in the faster-twist Tar-Hunt. The 426-grain Copper Solid averaged 2.56 inches per five-shot group. The groups ranged in size from 2.29 to 2.72 inches.

Performance Shooter Recommends
In our view, the RSG-12 products are uncannily accurate shotguns that shoot better than most rifles. Unquestionably, in jurisdictions where rifles aren’t allowed, these shotguns will deliver downrange performance that outstrips every other gun of its type we’ve seen.

However, we wonder if many shooters will buy $1,200 to $2,000 shotguns, based on the history of the niche. Another custom slug gun, the SSG-1, actually predated Randy Fritz's innovation and was its chief competition until 1996. In 1989, when the RSG-12 Tar-Hunt Rifle was still a prototype, Adamstown, Pennsylvania, gun builder Mark Bansner was marketing a 12-gauge custom slug gun of his own.

"I had bought a hunting lease in Maryland and was trying to find a slug gun that I could live with," says Bansner, a custom gunsmith and rifle builder. "I tried a lot of things but wasn't satisfied. Then I decided to see if we could adapt what we were doing with bolt rifles to work with a slug gun."

The original 12-gauge Super Slug Gun was based on a Mauser action, Hastings Paradox barrel, Timney trigger, and McMillan varminter stock. The second generation SS-1 went to High Tech synthetic stocks when Bansner bought the latter company in 1991. He then started machining his own actions and pillar-bedding them, leaving the 22-inch Hastings heavy barrels free floating.

Like the RSG-12, the 6 1/2-pound gun used a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, a modified two-shot Marlin clip, and was only chambered for 23/4 inch loads. It was capable of MOA accuracy and sold for $1,200.

"I just can't afford to make them anymore," says Bansner. "People just saw it as a bolt-action slug gun, not a custom piece. With the new Browning out at $700 and Savage, Mossberg, and Marlin putting out bolt guns that shoot very well, nobody was interested in a $1,200 custom gun."

Thus, we’ll have to wait and see if Randy Fritz's superbly accurate, but pricey, shotguns can find homes at the top of a growing segment of the shooting market.


-By Dave Henderson




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