Fortmeier / Phoenix bipod

This is one of those cases that epitomizes a behavior that I’ve heard given an appropriate and usefully descriptive name by Pat McNamara and which was repeated to me in a class given by James Yeager and which caught my attention because it’s a hugely dangerous thing that must be avoided but which seems to not be: “institutional incest”. The term means that one institution does something some way and just because of that fact alone, other institutions make it doctrine to do with no consideration given to appropriateness.

Just because something was done before doesn’t mean it must be done again. When formerly useful features/doctrine/techniques/etc… are carried forward to new designs and situations for no other reason than they were put in place before by others you have institutional incest. As we all know, inbreeding is genetically destructive because it brings forth recessive defects that might not have ever seen the light of day and those recessive and formerly masked defects, when exposed in the common light of day, generally are deleterious in their effects. It’s no different with doctrines, technology, engineering design or anywhere else.

I’ve taken up cohabitation with a Desert Tech M2 rifle which I’m just loving. The thing about it is, the Desert Tech bolt action offerings are actually slightly improved clones of an older German sniper rifle called the DSR-1 which was revolutionary in a few subtle ways. When the DSR-1 was designed they really went back to basics and asked the why question for each design element and then chose only design elements that made sense in terms of physics and geometry.

Stepping outside the box and reevaluating things from first principles is a very culturally German thing to do which is why so many revolutionary innovations come out of Germany. They don’t get caught up in institutional incest. “Why?” is not a bothersome question to them. It’s a natural and normal question to which an honest answer is sought. The DSR-1 rifle came with a top mounted bipod because it’s a great idea and I want my Desert Tech M2 to be correctly equipped with the bipod design that the rifle was meant by its designers to have. An original DSR-1 bipod is not something I want though because the users of them, actual snipers, that I’ve found feedback from universally revile the original DSR-1 bipod not because of the design but because of the implementation. The whole notion of a top mounted bipod on a bullpup tactical precision rifle seems to have erupted from the Walther WA-2000 and been co-opted by the DSR-1 which then was cloned nearly wholesale into the Desert Tech SRS/Covert/M2/HTI series of rifles. I’m sure there was something probably before the WA-2000 to use a top mount bipod in a precision rifle but it hasn’t leapt to my mind or out of my Google searches.

I know there’s an interesting history behind this bipod but I’m not going to research it or get into it because it just doesn’t matter other than to say that it is very likely German in design origin. I’m not 100% sure but I’ve found a few bits of info that suggest as much. What does matter is that this is a wonderful bit of kit with really only a few design decisions that I hold in question, one of which I hold in contempt but it’s a small point worth overlooking. The UTG and this Fortmeier bipod are so similar and yet so different that there will be a lot of comparing and contrasting going on here. There really is an amazing contrast between the two. UTG, famous for questionable design decisions, lives up to their reputation of wanton institutional incest compounding functional illiteracy while delivering a product that isn’t great but it also isn’t that bad.

Much like the Leapers/UTG overbore bipod that I wrote about previously this Fortmeier (I wish they’d have stuck with the Phoenix label, it’s so much cooler) bipod mounts at the 12 o’clock position on your rifle’s topside Picatinny rail. This unusual arrangement means that gravity is there to assist with eliminating rifle cant and your rifle will have lot harder of a time falling over since the center of gravity is much lower. Where UTG failed, the Fortmeier succeeds and where the UTG did something very helpful as often as not the Fortmeier eschews it. If the two could rationalize all the various design details they’d come out with what is as close to a perfect <12in bipod as has ever existed.

UTG chose to put spring loading into the leg extension. It doesn’t really matter if you make it spring open or spring closed as long as there’s a spring in there somewhere. The Fortmeier bipod ain’t playing that game. It’s manual in both directions. C’mon people. Help a guy out.

UTG chose to give you the 45deg leg angle option while the Fortmeier bipod completely ignores that. Interestingly enough, even though you can easily mount the Fortmeier at either 12 o’clock or 6 o’clock by removing the cant limiter screw from the spigot, they do sell both a 12 o’clock model and a 6 o’clock model and on the 6 o’clock model they have 45deg leg notches. WTF people. It makes equal sense in both models. So much sense that I took my Fortmeier 12 o’clock mounting model to my gunsmith/machinist and had him cut the notches because there’s just some shit up with which I will not put.

The Fortmeier put the Parker-Hale style spigot on the mounting block where it’s supposed to go while UTG decided to move it to the bipod where it’s not supposed to go. It’s interesting that both decided on spigot based attachment. To add insult to the injury on the spigot location, UTG made their mount require tools to install/remove and they don’t sell spare mounts. The Fortmeier mount is sold separately so you can buy several but it allows for tool-less installation so you don’t need to buy more than one. Ugh! You’re both doing it wrong.

At around $240 and coin all in, it’s not super expensive but it is elegantly done.

Moving the legs from stowed to in place on the Fortmeier is the same as it is on the UTG, pull the leg down its long axis and rotate. Doing this on the Fortmeier feels like you’re fiddling with a machine with very tight tolerances and a lot of 90deg angles. With the UTG things feel like they’re put together tightly and precisely but it’s less like the sense of German engineering you get with the Fortmeier and more like a sense of Japanese engineering or maybe Chinese copying of Japanese engineering.

When we get down to the feet you get skis with the Fortmeier and there don’t seem to be any options for anything else. You want rubber, we’ve got skis. You want spikes, we’ve got skis. Reminds me of a scene from the movie Hell or High Water where the waitress come up to two lawmen and says, “What don’t you want?” and the two lawmen are confused until she explains that they’ve only got one thing on the menu and the choice is about green beans or corn on the cob. You get one of those so which one don’t you want. Just, in this case, it’s more like asking to see a menu and having the waitress say, “We ain’t got no menu. There’s exactly one thing we serve here and you came in and sat down so you obviously want it. Now what would you like to drink? We have Budweiser and water.” all the while knowing that the difference between Budweiser and water is negligible and so she’s actually making a little joke there to see if you catch it. We need options. We need accessories. How can a guy properly play battlefield barbie when you fail to even make any accessories available?

There is one more, small but important, bit that the Fortmeier bipod executed well but fell just short of getting exactly right, the cant friction adjustment. It works great and is easily adjusted but with an Allen key. The one on the UTG doesn’t really work great; it’s either too loose or all the way locked and it’s bad at holding a setting but, is tool-less. Could you two maybe talk with each other and Thunderdome the whole idea.

Now we’ll turn focus for a second to the cant limiter. Why is it there at all? Why do both the UTG and the Fortmeier have one? If you said, “Because it’s there on real Parker-Hale made spigot bipods. It must have a reason.” Yes. The reason seems to be because they were always 6 o’clock mounted before and without an aggressive cant limit rifles like to fall over when left resting on the bipod and butt. That’s not a factor with 12 o’clock mounted bipods. Gravity does us a useful service there pulling cant out for you instead of trying to destroy an optic that cost thousands of dollars (American dollars, not the loony ones or the upside down ones) like it does with 6 o’clock mounted bipods with crappy cant friction.

Now we come to the part that the Fortmeier completely ignored: It completely lacks panning capability without the feet sliding around on the ground. That would have been a cinch to pull off. I get why they didn’t, it’s got ski feet. Still, UTG managed to do it and they even did it in a really elegant (a major change from normal practices for UTG) way. Usually UTG deletes useful features or implements them from ok-ish to badly. This time they actually added a feature and did it in a clever way. I just don’t get these folks.

In the case of the cant limiter in the 12 o’clock mounted Fortmeier, there’s literally zero reason for that to even be there unless you go to off-label use cases like mounting it at 6 o’clock. Since I go off-label a lot, due to that being a core aspect of my personality, this actually works for me. It works very well for me because it’s easily removed without tools. My specific use case is on my Desert Tech M2 and I have a substantial collection of night vision and thermal clip-on units that go in front of my scope. Most of them do not allow for the use of a top mount bipod because they consume or block all of the top side rail. That requires that my bipod be able to go from 12 o’clock during the daylight hours to a 6 o’clock mount when the sun goes down and it’s best if that not involve tools. The UTG almost got there but requires tools to move the mounting block. The Fortmeier doesn’t require tools and so regardless of any other issues with it, it’ll be the one that I keep with my Desert Tech M2.

There’s already been a glowing review of the Fortmeier (previously branded the Phoenix) bipod done several years ago over at TargetShooter.co.uk which I will link here. It’s very typical of sponsored reviews where no criticism is given which is very much unlike my style. I purchase everything I review so nobody gets to tell me what I can write and since I’ve never found a 100% perfect product my reviews include criticism. The linked review does give some useful information though and I encourage readers to check out that article now that you’ve finished mine.

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