Great Australian bite!
Daniel O’Dea gets his teeth into new all-Aussie Taipan Light
A few years back I was at Southern Cross Small Arms (SCSA) in New South Wales doing some background on their TSP X chassis system which I had for review. Speaking with director Damir Lukic and having been sworn to secrecy, he revealed to me an early prototype of a new firearm design he was working on and his plan was pretty simple: To design and manufacture an affordable Australian-built modern pump-action centrefire rifle.
The project I felt was quite ambitious. Not that I doubted the design would work, rather the combination of manufacturing costs together with the economies of scale required to produce such a rifle at a price the market could support in volume seemed perhaps unachievable. Then there were the hazards of navigating state-by-state regulatory requirements on what at times seem to be completely subjective interpretations of firearms laws.
Yet Damir was undeterred and, buoyed by the success of both the APC and TSP X chassis systems which enjoyed international success through the distributorship of Legacy Sports in the US and subsidiary Outdoor Sporting Agencies locally, was confident he could make it work. By early 2022 he’d made some working samples, one of which he gave me for testing and feedback. As with any new design there were a few minor kinks to iron out and improve but by the end of last year SCSA proudly released a finished product in the Taipan Light.
Just prior to Christmas I visited their newly-expanded manufacturing facility in southwestern Sydney. Brimming with the latest hi-tech CNC equipment it was gratifying to see the hard work Damir and his guys had put in was finally paying off, as I witnessed racks of Taipan rifles being packed and loaded for delivery by the OSA rep. The Taipan had been well anticipated by the market and pre-sales were strong. I was also there to pick up a rifle, handing back the prototype for a newly-finished production sample for this review.
In essence the Taipan Light is a pump-action rifle built around a machined alloy chassis. Mechanically you have a rectangular bolt carrier containing a rotating multi-lugged bolt held in place with a cam pin, the bolt carrier actuated manually via a connecting bar to a polymer pump grip integrated into the fore-end. The bolt head mates with a proprietary barrel extension that headspaces to the barrel.
From the fired position, when the action is cycled rearwards (slide pumped) the connecting bar moves the bolt carrier backwards causing the cam pin to rotate the bolt out of the battery and extract and eject the spent case. At the same time the bolt carrier rides over a hammer which is caught by a sear and held in position. On the forward stroke a new round is stripped for the magazine and chambered, with the bolt back into position to lock the chambered round in the battery. When the trigger is pulled the hammer sear releases and the hammer falls, striking the rear of the firing pin which is a container within the bolt assembly. The round fires and the cycle is complete.
The basis of the bolt/carrier system is somewhat similar to other straight pull and gas-operated designs though I must stress that in this case it’s completely manual – the Taipan Light by design is a Category ‘B’ rifle and never can or will be anything but. Ergonomically, styling is akin to other modern sporting rifle designs which means alloy construction, pistol grip, forward magazine housing and so on. The heritage of SCSA earlier bolt-action chassis designs is evident in the stock as well as some other features such as integrated QD sling cups.
For a more detailed look we’ll start at the muzzle where there’s a Lothar Walther 16.5” (420mm) stainless steel button-rifled barrel of 16.5mm diameter with a 1-in-8 twist, the muzzle threaded ½-28 TPI to accept muzzle devices or suppressors where permitted with a neatly knurled stainless steel thread protector provided as standard. The rifle is chambered in .223 Wylde which means it’ll accept both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammunition.
Surrounding the barrel, the octagon-shaped alloy fore-end provides for a continuous full-length Picatinny rail from the muzzle straight back across the upper receiver, a tad over 565mm of rail space for optics. There are six M-Lok slots at the front of the fore-end (two each left, right and bottom edge) for accessory fitment of bipods, sling cups, torches etc. while the fore-end also supports the pump slide assembly presented by its injection-molded polymer grips.
The body or chassis effectively consists of four main components ‑ fore-end, upper and lower receivers and stock – all bolted together with a series of Hex keys and mated with precision, presenting visible seams but no gaps. Although the receiver is two-part (upper and lower) these components aren’t hinged and are intended to remain assembled, so while not overly complicated to take apart it’s not designed to be broken down for cleaning and the manual doesn’t support operator disassembly. However, in the interest of science I did take the review gun apart for photos.
The upper receiver serves to support the fore-end, barrel assembly (barrel and extension) and houses the bolt and carrier group. The lower receiver concentrates on the stock and pistol grip, houses the trigger assembly and provides the magazine housing which is integrated into the receiver. This also involves the main fire controls which are trigger, safety and magazine release.
The alloy stock is straight off SCSA’s TSP X rifle chassis and features an adjustable cheekpiece as well as provision to adjust length of pull by adding or removing a collection of provided polymer spacers, the rear of the stock finished with a thick rubber kick pad. Worth noting is the provision of four QD sling swivel positions on the stock, left and right, just forward of the toe and two left and right where the stock mates with the receiver, though technically these last two are machined into the lower receiver tang. There’s no front sling point as standard but with so much ‘rail-estate’ as well as six M-Lok slots out front, options for a front sling point are endless.
Although a completely different rifle by both actuation and design and sharing no mechanical componentry, the firearm’s ergonomics are similar to both AR and other MSR (Modern Sporting Rifle) designs with regard to layout and relationship of the fire controls. The position of the safety lever, trigger and magazine release will be familiar to anyone with knowledge of such rifles.
But ergonomics is where it ends and apart from using a standard STANAG-pattern magazine and A2-style pistol grip which are rather ubiquitous to many types these days, the rifle has absolutely nothing in common with any military-style firearm. It was specifically designed and built with this in mind as to not run foul of any ‘appearance-type’ firearm regulations and as a result has been approved for sale even in NSW and WA along with all other mainland states.
The rifle comes with two 10-round polymer Magpul Pmags which are push to lock and drop free on release, the magazine release perfectly positioned for operation with your extended trigger finger (right-handed operation). A small mag stop prevents over insertion and the manual instructs mags not be ‘slammed’ into the gun to prevent damage, so any potential tactical operators would be best advised not to get carried away. The two-position safety lever is left of the receiver to be easily operated with the thumb, clear ‘Safe’ and ‘Fire’ markings visible on both sides. I know early Taipan samples had ambidextrous safety levers so there could be future provision here for lefties.
Other controls include a bolt release on the right of the receiver. The receiver locks-in a battery when a round is chambered to prevent out of battery discharge, the bolt release literally releasing the bolt to allow the chamber to be cleared without firing. Finally, there’s a bolt lock which presents as a cross bolt-type safety at the top rear edge of the receiver, its purpose to lock the bolt open. The theory is if the bolt is left open with a loaded magazine inserted, use of this bolt lock can prevent accidental chambering of a round by inertia if the rifle is bumped.
The trigger is blade-style with a flat face, factory set at 3½-4½lb and completely non-adjustable. Such trigger assemblies with a sear-engaged hammer aren’t generally conducive to tinkering or improvement and by design are heavy for safety reasons, in fact the manual references anti-tamper material on the set screw and that no adjustment is available in the design. I’m not unfamiliar with this type of trigger arrangement so wasn’t surprised to find it heavy, creepy and generally unredeemable. To be blunt, out of the box it’s pretty terrible but not unexpected in this type of trigger.
While I had the gun apart, without getting carried away I lubed the sear surfaces and, with my thumb on the hammer, tripped and reset the trigger a couple of hundred times to help bed and smooth out the surfaces before removing excess lube for reassembly. This seemed to work as afterwards the trigger pull was almost bearable and averaged 4.2lb on my Lyman electronic gauge. On the plus side the trigger’s a drop-in unit and Damir tells me there are aftermarket suppliers (trigger specialists) working on possible upgrade options for the future.
For the launch OSA packaged some Taipan Lights with 3-9×40 Crimson Trace Hardline riflescopes and Nikko Stirling ring mounts to suit. Basically the optic is a 3-9 variable with a .223/5.56 drop compensating reticle which makes it a suitable option. On the range, accuracy was highly acceptable for this style of firearm and was also consistent with groups falling around the 1½ MOA mark with pretty much every ammo shot. As with similar designs, action lock-up and rigidity is never going to match that of a bolt-action rifle, likewise with a hammer activated firing system the trigger lock time will always be greater, so the system is less conducive to accuracy.
All things considered accuracy was quite good and you won’t miss much in the field shooting 1½” groups. The reality is with this type of firearm any trade-off in accuracy is compensated by ergonomics and handling and to that degree the Taipan is compact, light and fast to point, shoot and reload.
In running the Taipan there are a few other things to consider. I’ve used several pump-actions over the years, mainly shotguns both as a Category ‘C’ licence holder and pre-1996 gun owner when most of us had a ‘pumpy’. The key to running a pump-action well is to go hard and fast – don’t pussyfoot around – and the Taipan’s no different. Such guns don’t have much in the way of primary extraction. In a bolt gun the initial caming of the bolt helps break that contact between case and chamber after firing though this is all but missing in such a design so when cases become sticky you’re relying on brute force to cycle the action. For the same reason I’d avoid factory ammo with soft brass and generally forget reloads.
Most manufacturers don’t recommend the use of handloaded ammunition in their firearms and SCSA are no different, though if you’re determined to reload for the Taipan I suggest you full-length resize all brass and run it through a factory crimp die. Furthermore, find yourself a .223 chamber checker/cartridge gauge and if your reloaded ammo drops in and out of such a gauge without sticking you might have a chance. I ran my own reloads in the test gun and had a few issues chambering some but thankfully no extraction problems. Even with factory ammo you should find something that functions well but run a few packs before you buy in bulk. I tried several brands including Winchester, Hornady, Australian Outback and even some steel-cased Wolf ammo without a hitch.
The chamber is cut as .223 Wylde which allows greater flexibility of ammunition. Many think both .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO ammo is basically the same round and completely interchangeable but the fact is NATO chambers are cut to slightly increased dimensions than commercial .223 Remington to allow for longer military projectiles and higher pressures to which 5.56 NATO rounds are loaded.
It’s safe to use .223 Remington in a 5.56 chamber but not the other way round as pressures can potentially spike dangerously when a 5.56 round is fired in a .223 Remington chamber. Likewise the 5.56 chamber with its longer throat is less likely to produce best accuracy with a shorter projectile. The .223 Wylde chambering is a compromise between the two dimensionally, safe to fire 5.56 NATO with acceptable accuracy still from shorter lighter projects so it’s the best of both worlds.
In use I’d note the rifle locks open on an empty magazine which can be a handy feature if you lose count when firing rapidly, as you’ll know when it’s time to change the mag before dropping the hammer on an empty chamber. However, this does also mean the magazine needs to be dropped or removed before the action can be cycled closed on an empty chamber. I discovered the hold open on empty though this is a complete function of the magazine floorplate on Pmags which are designed to work with the bolt stop in the AR platform. I tried other compatible magazines and found the bolt would happily ride over the floorplates, so there are options available should you not want this feature.
The SCSA Taipan Light seems to have met the original brief, including affordability. Target pricing was pitched around the $2000 mark which is pretty much where it’s been from launch, considering package pricing. With any new project there can be teething problems but based on my experience with both pre-production and current series rifles it appears any glitches have been well and truly ironed out.
I found SCSA to be both proactive and solution-based with ongoing development. I noticed some early wear on the Cerakote finish around the bolt latch on the new rifle, though on mentioning it discovered SCSA are already on it and have outlaid further investment in new Cerakote spray booths. It’s always encouraging to see new Aussie-made products in our industry and the Taipan Light is a unique rifle, especially at the price. If early demand is any indication it should prove extremely popular with Aussie shooters.
Rifle: SCSA Taipan Light
Calibre: .223 Wylde
Capacity: 10-round detachable magazine
Barrel: 16.5” (420mm) button rifled
Twist rate: 1-in-8
Muzzle: Threaded ½ x 28
Sights: 565mm Picatinny rail for optic mounting
Stock: Alloy (TSP X)
Overall length: 890mm
Length of pull: 305mm
Distributor: Outdoor Sporting Agencies
RRP: $2250 (estimated package price at launch)