True adaptability in a long-range rifle
By Warren Wilson
“It helps when the rifle is pointed in the right direction.” That was Charlie Sisk’s response to my first question as we were driving after he picked me up from the airport. I’d asked what he thought was the most important principle to successful long-range rifle shooting. I was a little confused at first. I thought, “of course, it is!” In retrospect, it would be the first of many times over the weekend that I would appreciate Charlie’s ability to boil any issue down to its most comprehendible form. Two days later, on the trip back to the airport, I had a much better understanding of what he’d meant.
Charlie Sisk has been making his popular, high-end hunting rifles since he built the first one in high-school shop class. His highly sought-after products have been primarily focused on African dangerous game and competition target shooting. Some three decades later, Charlie is bringing his expertise into the law enforcement market. In the beginning, he took his usual measured approach and did his homework.
He found that one of the biggest problems faced by both cops and hunters is that rifles don’t fit the shooter exactly. There is a misconception among many of us that the same optic will have a different point of impact for different people. That’s really not the case. The rifle is always, “on.” The scope adjustments (set and mounted properly) are the same. Often, though, we look through the optics differently because of the position and angle of our eyes in relation to the scope. We are all different in size, shape, conditioning, and flexibility. We pull the trigger a little differently because of our index finger’s angle and length. All of those things can cause the rifle to be pointed in the wrong direction as the shot breaks. That’s why Charlie invented the Sisk Tactical Adaptive Rifle (STAR). The Police Marksman was invited to the Sisk Rifles headquarters in Dayton, Texas to spend some time with Charlie and his STAR.
The purpose behind the STAR was to attain true adaptability in a long-range rifle. Quoting Jeff Evans of The Texas Department of Public Safety, Charlie said he wanted to find a way to “leverage the technology in our favor.” Sisk wanted to create one platform that could fit every shooter and every situation. Other companies have addressed the issues of length of pull and comb height. Few, if any, have gone after grip angle, butt stock angle, trigger distance, and environmental factors. None allow for all of those adjustments in one package.
Instead of modifying an existing stock like others did, Charlie decided to build his concept from the ground up. “Adaptable” is a perfect term to describe the STAR system. It’s adjustable in ways most of us could never have imagined and can be quickly adapted for both different shooters and different shooting conditions. The stock is currently made for the Remington 700 or Savage Model 110 rifles and can be purchased as a stock only or as a complete, highly customized rifle. Models to fit other brands of rifles will be forthcoming.
Sisk has spent years polling shooters to find out exactly what their needs are and what issues they have with traditional rifle stocks. Charlie said his pursuit turned into more a study of humans than of rifles. He interviewed doctors, ophthalmologists and dentists to become familiar with human physiology in his quest for a stock that would create the perfect interaction between human and rifle. After years of research and development, Sisk constructs a 3.4- to 4.0-pound (depending on which of the three handguard lengths the customer prefers) stock made from 6061 aluminum. From what I can tell, this is the lightest aluminum stock of its kind available. There are several unique features offered to the consumer who purchases a STAR.
Cops know the square range is only good for square situations. Square ranges usually have nice level ground on which the rifle’s bi-pod can rest. However, in the field, we find that luxury is rarely afforded to us. Real life is never geometrically correct. On an actual callout, a police long-range rifle shooter may need to acquire an awkward shooting position in a matter of seconds. That position may be on unlevel ground or not on the ground at all. In the case of a law enforcement sniper, he/she chooses his/her shooting location based on many factors. These include concealability, angle, backstop, viewpoint, etc. I’ve read a few SWAT debriefings where snipers were forced to take positions on the peaks of residential rooftops. In fact, it’s common enough that many SWAT teams build replicas of roof peaks, complete with shingles for training. When the shooting platform isn’t level, the rifle and scope aren’t level. When the rifle and scope aren’t level, ballistic charts are worthless.
The STAR’s forend can be either rotary or fixed, depending on the position of the finger-adjustable lock ring. Not only does that make the unevenness of the ground irrelevant, but it also allows the bi-pod to be spun to the side and used as a barricade support for either the right or left side. It’s a surprisingly solid platform in the latter role. The forend attaches to the butt stock with a proprietary locking system that results in an outstanding mating of the parts. The optional METL (Metallic Enclosed Tactical Light) forend is available in three different lengths just like the standard F-1 model. The METL forend is ported to accept a SureFire or similar-size weapon light without adding to the outward dimensions. The METL is the same cost as the standard STAR F-1 fore-end. Sisk Rifles also manufactures an AR-style forend, which has the same rotary feature but with a quad rail. There is a future possibility of an option to mount a camera in the fore-end of the rifle. With all of the goings-on at this writing, video evidence is not a bad idea.
Rotary Butt Stock
Another feature of the STAR, which helps a rifleman better interact with the equipment, is the rotary butt stock. I admit this isn’t something I’d ever thought about and was certain it was not an option I’d ever use. Charlie told me that almost no one sets the stock completely straight after becoming familiar with this feature and that was also the case with yours truly. I found that when the butt stock is properly adjusted for the individual, the eye will line up consistently directly behind the scope. Of course, since the stock is removable, that means it breaks down for easier storage and transportation.
Butt Stock Angle
The butt plate attaches to the butt stock via the recoil shaft. The end of the recoil shaft is not flat. It’s intentionally machined at an angle. Depending on how the shooter mounts the butt plate, it can be angled inward, outward, upward or downward. Sisk Rifles offer the option of four or eight different positions for the butt plate, depending on which generation of stock the customer purchases. After experimenting for a few minutes, I found that the rifle fit me better with the bottom of the butt plate set forward for bench rest shooting. Since the butt plate is rotary (like seemingly everything else on the rifle), it can be spun upward when going prone, allowing for more contact between the shoulder and butt plate as the body shifts planes. It’s the best of both worlds, accomplished with the simple spin of a lock ring.
I’ve often complained that my long fingers make it impossible to accomplish a good trigger squeeze. I’d go so far as to say that I’ve never held a gun, be it long gun or pistol, that actually fit my hand until now. As an option, Sisk makes spacer rings that fit between the butt stock and receiver stock to lengthen the distance between the grip and trigger in ¼-inch increments. For the first time in my life, I was able to get my finger in the correct position on the trigger and allowed me to pull the trigger straight to the rear.
Pick up a standard rifle stock and look at the position of the firing hand. Set the rifle aside and put your hand in that position. Is it natural or comfortable? It probably isn’t. What contortionist came up with this idea and why have we accepted it for so long? Pistol grips have their problems as well. Long-term exposure to heavier recoiling guns can lead to wrist injuries. Another downside to pistol grips is that they require the shooter to wrap his/her thumb around them. Doing so can cause sympathetic movement in the fingers during the trigger squeeze. Sisk’s research led him to manufacture a comfortable and effective position for the firing hand to apply rearward pressure into the shoulder while keeping the thumb pointed at the target.
There are several locations on the rifle where small Picatinny rails or swivel studs can be added, like the side of the receiver and the bottom of the butt stock. The rail options allow for lights, monopods and other accouterments to be attached to the rifle. Many shooters cringe at the thought of mounting a light on a long-range rifle for fear of giving their position away. If one finds himself in a dark field in some rural area on a moonless night on overwatch, that could very well be a problem. The fact is, most times when a police sniper is deployed, it will be in an urban setting with street lights or spotlights, as well as patrol-car overhead lights attacking the dark serenity of the evening anyway. Obviously, we need to be judicious with our light usage, but it couldn’t hurt to have the option. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be lights clamped onto so many police pistols, ARs and shotguns.
Under Barrel Suppressor Storage Mount
Charlie recommends using a suppressor when possible. However, there are times a rifle suppressor must be removed and losing one in the field isn’t an option. The BATFE has little sense of humor about such things. Charlie’s solution was to create a suppressor mount on the stock, just below the handguard. It is offered as yet another option on the AR-style and standard F-1 handguards.
Dual Recoil Shaft Positions
A woman’s shoulder tends to be farther from the eye than a man’s according to Charlie’s research. My wife is a full 8 inches shorter than I am. Still, where she mounts a long gun is almost 2 inches farther from her eye than where I do. I actually measured it. The STAR’s recoil shaft has an upper and a lower mounting position. Between that and the multitude of butt plate positions possible, every conceivable shoulder mounting position is covered.
Many aftermarket triggers and bolts require some modifications to the stock. That is not the case with the STAR stock. If the consumer decides to add most of the variety of custom triggers and bolts to his/her STAR rifle build, additional modifications will not be necessary. Of course, if the consumer buys a complete rifle, it will arrive at the gun shop in no need of modification.
With the purchase of a STAR rifle or stock, Charlie will provide training on the product as well as long-range shooting/optics usage at discounted tuition. Honestly, I thought I had a handle on the features of this system and basic long-rifle shooting, but it turned out that I didn’t. I’m very glad I made the trip to get first-hand training from Sisk.
Learning About The STAR
I spent the first day at Sisk Rifles learning the aforementioned features of the STAR and the many variations on it. The previous week, Charlie told me on the phone that one of the first things we would do is disassemble the stock and then I would reassemble it alone. I was a little intimidated at first because I am not mechanically inclined at all. My anxiety turned out to be wasted energy. He showed me how to take the rifle apart once and I was able to put it back together without any undue brain strain. There are very few parts and Charlie has already done all of the mental heavy lifting so his consumer doesn’t have to. Two hex keys (Allen wrenches) are all that are needed to completely disassemble the stock. Sisk spent years fretting over the details of this stock; from the kind of aluminum used in construction all the way down to small details like using shoulder bolts versus standard bolts. That dedication shows in the final product.
Charlie Sisk is trained and authorized to teach the Night Force Precision Riflescope Tutorial. We spent an entire morning on it. I became a better shooter before ever pulling the trigger. Sisk has the ability to translate the complicated into the comprehendible with ease. I attended another of Charlie’s optics schools at a municipal police department later that month. I spoke with each of the students individually afterward. They all had (including a few who had some pretty extensive long-range rifle training) high praise for Charlie and his teaching style. Their common sentiment was that they gained knowledge they didn’t even know they lacked before the class.
DOPE stands for Data On Previous Engagement. A shooter makes a DOPE sheet (or chart) for their individual rifle to compensate for bullet drop. With all of the information available to shooters today, anyone can make a DOPE sheet for their respective rifle and optic. We used Hornady’s website and plugged in ballistic coefficient and velocity of the particular round, along with other pertinent information. It’s imperative to actually chronograph the round with the exact rifle for which the DOPE is being calculated. Never trust the velocity on the side of the box. We used two identical precision rifles with identical ammunition but experienced a 30-feet-per-second difference in average velocities between them. The last step in the process is to actually shoot the rifle and confirm the DOPE at each distance. Some adjustments will need to be made. I’d never “DOPED” a rifle before, but I was surprised how easy and effective it was.
“The apparent movement of the reticle in relationship to the target when the user moves his/her head behind the sight.” That is the definition of parallax. “This can cause the shooter to believe the reticle is on target when, in fact, it is not.” I wasn’t allowed to shoot until I had this principle down pat. In fact, Charlie made me memorize it verbatim. I was about to find out why. It’s the most important lesson I’ve learned as a shooter in the last decade. The STAR stock is designed to minimize this terrible force I’d only recently learned to hate because, the patent-pending design allows an individual shooter to perfectly fit the stock to his/her body and therefore get the eye consistently behind the riflescope.
There was a lot more to the class including lessons on how magnification and the size of the objective lens affects exit pupil size. I know. It sounded complicated to me, too. But now, I understand how that works, too. It would be impossible to list everything about this training in one article. Suffice it to say, one will definitely get their money’s worth.
Charlie noted that many long-range shooters practice at 600 yards regularly, but then have difficulty at 75. I thought that sounded crazy until he demonstrated. We started one course of fire by shooting the 1/3 size Pepper Popper at 90 yards. No sweat. Then, we methodically worked our way out to 300 (making the necessary adjustments as we went). I couldn’t miss the 5-inch falling plate at that distance. Finally, Charlie had me move quickly back to the large 90-yard target. Feeling a bit cock-sure at such an easy shot, I didn’t use good fundamentals or make the proper DOPE and Parallax adjustments…and missed. The rifle wasn’t pointed in the right direction. I said previously that pain and humiliation are our best instructors and I learned something that day.
Until I got behind this rifle stock, I had no idea how good it was. It allows the shooter to actually get behind the rifle instead of hunching over it. It’s incredibly comfortable after all of the adjustments are made. Each adjustment has a clearly discernible reference point. This gives the shooter the ability to make note of their preferred settings and quickly re-acquire them. Conceivably, more than one sniper could use the same rifle.
I have to admit to a little chest swelling while walking downrange with Charlie after a nearly perfect performance on his rifle range toward the end of our training session. But my humility would return soon enough. Charlie asked if he could tell me something. Those words would be the nail in the tire of my overinflated ego. “Sure,” I almost didn’t say, in anticipation of that disheartening hissing sound. He told me that everyone (after a little training and proper adjustment of the STAR) shoots that well. Charlie completed the deflation by telling me about the reporter with almost no shooting experience who did just as well as I had with only a few hours of instruction. After experiencing both the training and the product first hand, I wasn’t really surprised. Sisk is truly onto something with this stock.
The Right Direction
At $5,600 for a complete rifle and $1,399 for a stock, the STAR is priced a little lower than similar top-tier equipment. I use the word, “similar,” but it isn’t really accurate. I looked around and still haven’t found anything with the features of the STAR. That might seem a little steep to the average copper, but how many times have we bought several firearms or accessories unsuccessfully trying to find just the right one? Buy once, cry once with this product.
Many agencies are turning to Sisk Rifles for their tactical long-range needs. Sisk offers law-enforcement agency pricing for the package of a complete Sisk STAR rifle in the caliber of your department’s choice, an Alamo Four Star mount and bi-pod and a Night Force optic. When you figure in the highly discounted training, the retail price becomes more than reasonable.
Charlie considers himself just an average, “East Texas boy” who loves his craft. I’m here to tell you it’s only half true. He is definitely humble and most certainly a pragmatist, but average, he is not. I’ve never met someone with so many viable ideas and the ability to make them come to fruition. As we were driving back to the Houston Airport discussing the true meaning of the word “Tactical” and other deep conversations, I remembered my first conversation with Charlie. I couldn’t help but think that with Charlie’s hand on the wheel and the STAR in production, Sisk Rifles is pointed in the right direction. PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma. He is a former SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for 19 years.
- One advantage of the rotating forend of the STAR is its potential as a barricade support.
- Through the use of spacers, the shooter can adjust the distance between the grip and trigger finger.
- Though not mechanically inclined, the author found the STAR stock’s disassembly and reassembly simple and straightforward.
- The STAR allows for the mounting of sling swivels or Picatinny rails.
- Sisk Rifles offers the STAR in a variety of colors, ranging from more traditional black or brown to flashier blue or even pink.
- One of the ways Sisk rifles reduce weight in the STAR is by removing material from the inside of the stock in areas that won’t compromise strength.
- Charlie Sisk utilizes an elevated platform with a simulated rooftop overlooking the 300-yard rifle range he uses for training.
- Sisk assists a law enforcement student making an adjustment on the STAR during training.
- The STAR’s butt stock rotates to fit its individual operator.
- Using a bipod as a barricade support frees up your offhand and relieves fatigue.