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EXCLUSIVE: The XL Single Shot

RPM’s Rendition Of Perfection

By Mark Hampton

The XL is a well-built single-shot handgun chambered for a variety of cartridges.
The one shown here is a .308 Marlin Express.

Just the other day I heard someone mention the Merrill pistol. Good gosh, it’s been quite some time since I’ve heard the pistol referred to by this term. The original Merrill pistol has been around for several decades. As the story goes, Rex Merrill, a country boy from Rockwell City, Iowa, started making his own pistol for squirrel hunting back in 1948. Soon afterward, a neighbor wanted Rex to build one so he could do a bit of small game hunting. Pretty soon the neighbor’s friend down the street wanted one and before he kind of knew it, Rex Merrill was building pistols.

Down the road, he produced a .22 Hornet and then went on to build his pistol chambered for the quintessential .30-30 Winchester. It was on a silhouette range when Jim Rock first saw the Merrill pistol and ordered five of them. Jim had his own ideas about the gun and what he would do differently, and he frequently called Rex and offered suggestions regarding design. To make a long story short, after repeated calls from Jim offering ideas to build a better mouse-trap, Rex Merrill finally had enough. He told Jim, “If you’re so damn smart, why don’t you just buy this thing?” Well, Jim did just that and started working with the Merrill pistol using his own ideas and designs.

In 1978, enter RPM (Rock Pistol Manufacturing) headed up by Jim Rock. The name of the pistol changed from Merrill to “XL”in 1985. In Roman numerals, XL stands for 40, a perfect score in IHMSA and NRA long range competition matches. At that time the plant was located in California, but in 1989 Jim Rock relocated to Tucson, Arizona where the office is currently standing today. During this time, the pistol was fairly popular with the competition silhouette crowd, and it was during silhouette competition where the XL really began to gain a following. The pistol was known for its accuracy, toppling rams from 200 meters with match-winning consistency.

The XL is available with both rimmed and rimless cartridges. This .308
Winchester was pleasant to shoot with the addition of the muzzle brake.

Hunting Too

Jim Rock was an avid and serious serious competition silhouette shooter. He was just as interested in using his creation as a hunting tool and has taken several head of African game with the XL. The break-open action handgun was accurate and several folks begin taking it to the fields in pursuit of big game. There are several well-known handgun hunters such as Pamela Atwood, who hunt the world over with one of Jim’s XL pistols. Pamela has proven time and again the handgun is equally as effective in the hunting field as on the silhouette range.

Pam’s magnificent Marco Polo sheep, for example, taken in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, confirms the XL is a serious handgun for dedicated hunters. Pam was shooting the .30 Merrill for this hunt. This cartridge is based on the .225 Winchester case necked up to .30 caliber. RPM offers seven different calibers based on the .225 Winchester case.

Since the XL seems to have been mostly ignored in the firearms press, I thought it would be fun to get a couple, get re-familiar with the design ( hadn’t shot one in years), and share what I learned. I called Jim and he was kind enough to send two single-shot pistols, one in .308 Winchester and another in .308 Marlin Express. The weather was cooperating when they arrived, and I couldn’t wait to hit the range.

The .308 Marlin Express is a rimmed cartridge duplicating . 308 Winchester ballistics. I wanted to test both .30 caliber cartridges in the XL, one rimmed and the other rimless, because of the extraction properties. Jim reminded me the rimless cartridges should be handled somewhat differently when loading and unloading so I wanted to experience this myself. Also, both of these rounds would work great on whitetail, so a lengthy range session would give me an idea of what I could expect when fall rolls around.

I used the Hornady’s 160 gr. Evolution factory load would in the .308 Marlin Express. I also used a variety of factory ammunition in .308 Winchester, including Federal Premium, with their new 150 gr. trophy copper bullet, Remington 165 gr. AccuTip, Nosler 150 gr. AB, Winchester’s 150 gr. ballistic supreme, Asym Precision’s 168 grain Barnes TTSX load, plus more 150 gr. offerings from DoubleTap, Buffalo Bore, Hornady’s SST and a couple of different rounds from Black Hills. I figured all that would keep things interesting.

If ten different factory rounds wasn’t enough, a couple of handloads using Nosler’s 150- and 165-gr. BT behind Hodgdon’s new CFE 223 powder would round out our array of .308 Winchester loads. If you can’t find a .308 Winchester round that will shoot minute-of-angle or less, then there’s probably something wrong somewhere.

The accuracy obtained with the XL was excellent. Using factory Hornady
ammo, the .308 Marlin Express shot extremely well.

Unique Designs

Both of the test guns wore muzzle-brakes RPM manufactured. The .308 Marlin Express came with a stainless frame and blued barrel. The .308 Winchester was all blue but complete stainless guns are available. These handguns came fitted with 14″ barrels, drilled and tapped for Weaver or Talley mounts. Burris Zee rings held the Burris 3-12X scope securely in place. Fully adjustable iron sights are also available for competition shooters. RPM only uses Douglas barrels in all of their offerings, ranging from .22 LR to .45-70. Barrels are interchangeable, and a fast switch can be accomplished easily once they have been fitted from the factory.

The pistols are well-constructed, with tight tolerances, and most shooters will appreciate the adjustable trigger. It always bothers me to spend good money on a gun, then have to turn loose more cash for a trigger job. The test guns came with a crisp let-off breaking less than two pounds, so these were good-to-go right off. An over-travel screw comes adjusted from the factory and really helps with trigger follow-through.

A thumb safety is located on the left side of the grip. This may seem a bit unique at first, but the safety is always on until this thumb rest is fully depressed. The hinge-type action of the barrel is opened by pulling back the barrel latch or depressing the latch lever if that option is available. Both of the guns I received came with the handy latch lever located on the right side of the frame. When the barrel is completely opened, the pistol is cocked. Closing the action, you can see the stainless cocking indicator visible from the rear of the gun. New guns will require a few rounds down the tube for the action to get easier to open and close — a bit of a breaking-in period, so to speak.

When I got to the range I noticed the rimless extractor on the .308 Winchester was slightly bowed. I called Jim and he told me this was intentional. There’s a small spring located under the extractor causing it to engage in the rimless case, allowing the case to be removed from the chamber when the action is opened. When inserting a cartridge you must be careful not to depress the muzzle end of the extractor, allowing the extractor to engage the groove in the case head. This really isn’t an issue, but properly loading and unloading the rimless case will require some attention until you get the hang of it. On the .308 Marlin Express or any other rimmed cartridge, this isn’t a concern.

The handy lever latch made opening the XL painless.

Shooting Impressions

My shooting buddy, Joe, and I gave the XL a good workout at the range. Loading and unloading became routine with this break-open action, even if at first it seems unusual. The first thing we noticed was the good trigger, and it sure made shooting easier and more enjoyable. The trigger broke crisply and clean.

Joe shot a 5-shot group at 100 yards with the .308 Marlin Express measuring a tad less than an inch. That’s impressive with Hornady’s factory offering or any other handloads assembled. The muzzle-brake made shooting both guns relatively painless, but like shooting any big-bore handgun, make sure you wear good hearing protection! Depressing the thumb safety was not an issue. I tried pressing the safety down with both my left thumb, then my right, and could be comfortable either way. Joe and I both settled on using our right thumb.

The .308 Winchester was just as accurate with factory loads. There are so many quality factory offerings in .308 Winchester you really don’t have to bother reloading unless you want to. Handloads using Hodgdon’s new CFE 223 also turned in impressive results. The XL is just plain naturally accurate! Joe had a hard time actually believing the accuracy we were achieving.

Extraction was not an issue with either rimmed or rimless cartridges, and we did not experience any malfunctions or problems of any sort. It’s easy to see the XL is a well-built handgun that really performs.

The positive thumb safety is depressed fully before shooting.

American Made

RPM definitely provides a custom-built single-shot that is accurate and will appeal to the recreational shooter, hunter and competitor. And these custom-fitted, hand-crafted pistols are being assembled right here in America. Before this article went to press I was notified of sad news. I regret to inform you that Jim passed away on January 19, 2013. His daughter Dana and son John will continue to run the business. Jim Rock’s legacy will be carried on by his children.

They are currently working on a new .20 caliber based on the .357 Maximum case. Then, if that isn’t enough to keep the ball rolling, they have a couple of more .20 caliber offerings based on the .225 Winchester case their experimenting with that requires no neck turning. With a Barnes 26 gr. bullet he is pushing the tiny bullet to over 4,000 fps in his experimental .20 Rocket.

After getting to know these handguns again, I find myself wanting something along the lines of the classic 7X57 that will work wonders in the wide-open spaces where the deer and antelope play. Jim Rock was a real American that loved to talk hunting, shooting and ballistics, and he knew what he was talking about. If this sort of a specialized handgun peaks your interest, you simply can’t go wrong with the XL.

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  1. Dana Rock Wrigley says:

    Thank you Mark for writing the American Made section of this article. It means a lot to the Rock Family.

  2. Howard Wildmann says:

    Great article! Brings back a lot of memories for me. I worked for Jim and RPM in the late seventies at his shop in Fullerton, CA. I did the finish work and bluing. It was most enjoyable and I learned a great deal in my short time there. Even met Dana a few times, and enjoyed a few competitions. My only regret…should have bought one with my paychecks. One of the best guns ever!

  3. Robby777 says:

    Always liked the concept, but could never get one. A 12 o 15 inch bbl. in 6.5 Grendel would be nice !!!

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