Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review

Review: Verney-Carron Speedline lever-release rifle


The Verney-Carron Speedline is a quick-shooting hunting rifle that’s accurate, a pleasure to fire and a long way from your run-of-the-mill bolt-action firearms. 

Made in France, it’s also the original lever-release design with gas-assisted blowback and spring-assisted chambering.

Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review
The lever above the trigger is the easy-to-press release for the spring-loaded breech block. Note cocking handle at front of ejection port as well as the dust cover over the breech block

The version on test is the Gator with lightweight carbon-fibre stock pieces and three-dimensional alligator-skin engravings cut deep into the aluminium receiver. It’s a striking style, but if it’s not to your taste you can opt for a number of others including a traditional walnut stock with an all-blued barrelled action. 

No matter what the appearance, the Speedlines all work the same way. 

With the breech block held back in the open position and a full magazine in the well, all you have to do to chamber a round is use your thumb or index finger — whichever you find feels right — to push down on the lever mounted above the trigger on the right side of the receiver. 

This releases the breech block, which is pulled forward by a spring-loaded action bar. The spring sits around the action bar’s guide rod under the barrel; the photo shows how it is set up. 

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The breech block half opened, you can see the gas operating system: return spring; action bar over guide rod; and piston protruding from the gas block into the guide rod

The bold head is cammed into battery in the final few millimetres of its travel into the barrel extension, its six locking lugs turning securely into place.

Squeezing the trigger releases a hammer to strike the firing pin and detonate the cartridge. Some of the gas travelling up the barrel is diverted through holes into the under-barrel cylinder, driving the gas piston rearward.

The piston’s force throws the breech block back. The block travels a few millimetres before it turns the bolt head out of engagement, opening the action and extracting and ejecting the spent case. Even though the gas piston has short travel, it imparts enough inertia to the breech block to overcome the spring’s pressure and throw the block to the back of the receiver, where it is held open. 

Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review
Gas is diverted from inside the barrel to the block underneath. Gas piston is shown partly pushed back inside the guide rod at bottom of image

Now you’re ready to hit the lever and go again. It’s fast and fluid, allowing you to maintain your hold on the rifle without coming out of your firing pose.

The Speedline functioned flawlessly throughout the test, which included just over 200 rounds fired. 

The extractor claw is wide and strong, and accompanied by a pair of plunger-type ejectors which throw cases well clear. Having two ejectors ensures that if one fails, the rifle will still cycle reliably. 

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The recessed bolt face contains two plunger ejectors opposite the extractor claw
Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
Two of the bolt’s locking lugs are shown here just behind the extractor claw. Other lugs are arrayed around the rest of the bolt head

I’ve seen reviews critical of the Speedline’s accuracy but I suspect that’s more about the reviewers than the rifles — a bit like a car tester complaining about lousy steering without first checking that the tyres are properly inflated. I’ll explain.

My Gator shot poorly when I started, often stringing groups vertically but sometimes elsewhere, too. I loosened and retightened the major bolts, especially the two holding the barrel into the receiver. Problem solved. 

Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review
Pay attention to the tightness of the bolts securing the barrel in place to ensure best accuracy

The result was consistent three-shot groups of 0.8-1.2 MOA with factory ammo that the rifle liked, and five-shot groups that only opened it up to 1.4 MOA on average. Even with the two types of ammunition that this particular rifle didn’t shoot so well, the groups never exceeded 2 MOA. 

Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review
A typical group: three shots (top, left, right) in 30mm at 100m, with the four and fifth (bottom, centre) opening the group just a fraction more

The rifle comes with a five-shot box magazine and can count on the Speedline to keep all five shots in a good grouping when you let them off in quick succession. Ten-shot aftermarket mags are available. The magazine release catch on the right side of the receiver’s base is very secure if a little stiff to manipulate.

The single-stack magazine has steel lips and a strong spring, and seems very precisely made to give reliable feeding. They’re a bit slow to fill (no click-in top loading) so it’d pay to buy a spare if you regularly cull large mobs of pigs or goats. 

With an influx of feral goats here at the moment, I took advantage of the Speedline to reduce their numbers a bit. The Verney-Carron was a gem in the role, but also spot on for stalking big game like deer, thanks to its balance, fit and ability for a quick follow-up shot.

Its fit can be tailored using spacers between the buttstock and receiver. The adjustable comb height will help you get your eye aligned instinctively behind the crosshairs. 

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The adjustable cheek support ensures you can instantly align your eye with the scope

On the carbon-stock, the pistol grip turns down at a steeper angle than on the walnut stock, but it’s not vertical like some tactical-style firearms and I found it fine for shooting offhand. 

The balance is centred right on the magazine, so the rifle feels very neutral when you’re aiming. It weighs a nice 3.25kg bare. 

Between the stock design and the effective muzzle brake, recoil is negligible, even in .30-06. You will want hearing protection, though! The brake can be removed if you prefer. 

The trigger isn’t as crisp as a turn-bolt rifle’s can be but it’s smooth through its short pre-release travel and very consistent, with a let-off weight of 1.7kg. 

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The Speedline is a pussycat to shoot, partly thanks to the muzzle brake. Note hi-viz front sight, which is adjustable for elevation

All this combines to create a rifle that’s a joy to shoot with an excellent degree of field accuracy — that is, the ability to put bullets where you intend them in less than perfect conditions. 

In fast-paced culling situations, my hit rate was exceptional — a reflection on the rifle more than a boast about my ability. It just points so well, sits so steadily and is ready so quickly for the next shot.

Afterwards, cleaning the Speedline is not like your typical bolt-action rifle. Stripping involves pulling off only the forend and maybe the butt, but dismantling it further is not a good idea if you don’t know what you’re doing as there are lots of small bits that require some knowledge and care to get back together.  

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The Gator is one of a number of different Speedline models

It means you must use a pull-through to clean the barrel, or put a rod down it from the muzzle end. A thin brush and a bit of dexterity are needed for the chamber and breech block; a chamber brush is supplied. 

If you like using open sights, the Speedline comes with them. The rear sight, halfway up the barrel, is complemented by three green fibre-optic dots (left, right and bottom) while the front is red fibre-optic, and they are very visible. However, I could not get my face low enough over the comb to use them properly. 

On the other hand, the Delta 2.5-12×50 scope suited the rifle well. I’d also be tempted to run something like a 1-6x scope for fast, close-range target acquisition.  

Verney-Carron Speedline rifle review
The precisely made magazine holds five rounds in a single column

The Speedline is not a cheap rifle at a starting price of $3300 and even then you may have to properly tighten some of the action’s bolts to get it to shoot like it should, but this is a nicely designed and executed rifle that’s fast and reliable. 

Like most French-made things, it’s different but you can’t argue with its effectiveness. 

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Manufacturer: Verney-Carron, France
  • Action: Gas-operated, lever-release repeater
  • Barrel: Sporter-weight, fluted, 55cm (22”), with muzzle brake
  • Stocks: Carbon, synthetic or walnut
  • Calibres: .30-06 (tested), .308, 7mm Rem Mag, .300 Win Mag
  • Magazine: 5rd detachable box
  • Sights: Open sights, hi-viz; drilled and tapped for optics
  • Length: 113cm
  • Weight: 3.25kg
  • Prices: From RRP of $3300
  • Distributor: Australian Sporting Agencies
Verney-Carron Speedline Gator review
The Speedline makes a great hunting rifle for all kinds of game and ferals

 

 

 


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Mick Matheson

Mick grew up with guns and journalism, and has included both in his career. A life-long hunter, he has long-distant military experience and holds licence categories A, B and H. In the glory days of print media, he edited six national magazines in total, and has written about, photographed and filmed firearms and hunting for more than 15 years.

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