My Five Favorite Rifles

Ask a dozen hunters what their five favorite rifles are and you’ll get a wide range of answers. Understandably, their decisions probably relate more to personal preferences and experiences than to technical considerations.

Simply put, the average hunter hasn’t owned a wide enough variety of makes and models to know the pros and cons of all the rifles available today, let alone past designs. I’m fortunate to shoot a lot of different rifles, more than most guys I know, but I cannot claim to have a very comprehensive base from which to work because there are so many good rifles-past and present.

When I sat down to outline this column, I made a short list of rifles and thought the job was done. Unfortun­ately, the more I considered all the rifles I’ve shot over the years, the more I realized this wasn’t a simple task. For instance, I’ve probably put more rounds through the lowly .303 Lee Enfield than any other rifle, but that gun wasn’t on my list. The same goes for the Ruger 10/22 and Remington 760 pump. More recently, I’ve shot Thompson/Center Encores in every persuasion from rimfire .22s to the mighty .416 Rigby.

Truth be told, I’ve never owned or even shot a Mauser M98, or any other original Mauser model, and these are landmark guns deserving a place on any “best of” list. As I considered the top rifles of all time, I realized this was my list only- no one else’s. You’ll no doubt disagree with some of my picks- as well as my pros and cons of each design- but everyone’s entitled to their own opinions.

THE FABULOUS FIVE

Winchester Model 70

A Winchester Model 70, in any of its versions, must be included. Granted, the pre-64s are the cream of the crop, but I also enjoy owning some of the more recent models. My first big game rifle was a brand new pre-64 Feather­weight that was my pride and joy for decades.

Pros
– Reliable, particularly the controlled-round feed versions including the pre-64 rifles.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted; simple, stays set.
– Flat-bottom receiver; very rigid.
– Three-position safety is very reliable; locks movement of the firing pin.
– Easy to load and unload.

Cons
– Quality-control issues; poor stock design, low-cost accessories, sights.
– Creep adjustment on trigger requires removal of metal (must be done by a gunsmith).
– Noise issues with safety if not properly adjusted and operated.
– Too many hole patterns for mounting scope bases (varying hole spacing and size of bases).

Remington Model 700

The Remington Model 700, which a good friend calls the “Chevy Small-Block” of rifle actions, is one of the most popular guns in history. I prefer the models with a floor-plate; I’m not a fan of the ADL models because I’m never comfortable cranking ammo through the chamber to unload a rifle. I own more Remington Model 700s than any other rifle, and I enjoy shooting and hunting with all of them.

Pros
– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger when properly adjusted, but don’t try to set it yourself if you aren’t experienced.
– Fast lock time.

Cons
– Quality-control issues; detachable magazines often fail on some models.
– Original trigger didn?t disconnect or lock the firing pin.
– Problems with extractors, bolt stops and bolt handles that break off.
– Loading short-action Model 700s can be difficult.
– Cartridge can slip into bolt lug rail on inside of receiver.

Weatherby

Alot of famous hunters used these rifles on some of the most amazing adventures I read about as a kid. Roy Weatherby’s advertisements did a fine job on this prairie boy because I dreamed and lusted about owning a Weatherby for a long time. When I finally got one I wasn’t disappointed. My first Weatherby (fact is, until recently I owned only two) was chambered in .300 Wthby. Mag., and it was a death-ray out to fairly long distances.

– Cylindrical action is simple, strong and easy to bed.
– Excellent trigger properly adjusted from the factory.
– Unique stock design and profile.
– Reliable, accurate rifles that offer great choice of calibers.

Cons
– Action is big and somewhat heavy.
– I always wonder if the rifle?s nine small locking lugs really make contact with lug recesses.
– Short-stroking long-actions can cause a jam, and the shooter must train himself to pull the bolt completely to the rear after each shot.
– Expensive ammunition.

Ruger M77

Ruger M77s are my “meat and potatoes” guns because they’re reliable, fairly accurate and available in models to take on a safari or to a prairie dog patch. I’ve owned M77s that shot incredible groups and killed like lightning. One of my favorites was a .338 Win. Mag. that I still regret selling.

Pros
– Very reliable action; simple and consistently trouble-free.
– Good safety; excellent placement.
– Simple trigger usually adjusted a bit
heavy, but useable.
– Excellent bolt stop.

Cons
– Angled stock bolt makes bedding
more difficult.
– Barrel accuracy issues.
– Limited choice of scope mounts.

The Thompson/Center Icon is a new-comer with a great design, and I was fortunate to be involved in its development. T/C looked at virtually every sporting, target and tactical rifle action available today to learn what works well and, equally importantly, what doesn’t. I’ve shot enough Icons to gain a thorough respect for their accuracy and reliability. After using the Icon on two trips in Africa and several hunts in North America, I believe this rifle will be around for a long time.

Pros
– State-of-the-art bolt-action design and topnotch manufacturing.
– Simplest bedding I?ve ever seen in a rifle; it works.
– Very reliable feeding, extraction and ejection of cartridges.
– Extremely easy bolt disassembly. 

Cons
– Needs to shed a few ounces.
– Ugly butter-knife-style bolt handle that fortunately can be replaced with a  choice of ball-style handles.
– Stock bolts could be heavier.

There are many great rifles not mentioned that I would enjoy becoming more familiar with, including Savages, CZs, Sakos, Tikkas, Kimbers, Coopers and the Browning A- and X-Bolts. So many rifles, so little time …

First BB Gun and Other Kid-Friendly Firearms

My heart ached as I stared at the little single-shot rifle sitting in a rack in the back of our local hardware store. Only a day before Christmas, and “my” rifle was still on the shelf. I wanted that rifle so badly, but I didn’t have any money to buy it. My only hope was my folks might purchase it as a Christmas present, but sadly, the chances didn’t look good.

mpiI was 12 years old and had grown through a succession of Daisy air rifles—wear them out is more correct. I remember the day I saw the beautiful little Anschutz single-shot .22; I went to the back of the store almost every day and ogled it. The gun stood out from all the other single-shots because the stock was figured walnut and the bluing was deep and shiny. The rifle was also several dollars more than any other single-shot in that store.

My brother and I rushed to the tree bright and early Christmas morning. There were lots of wrapped packages, but nothing long and rifle-like. After opening a gift or two, we had breakfast before returning to the Christmas tree. To my amazement, a long package had found its way under the tree—and I wasn’t disappointed. I still have that little rifle; it’s sitting in the back of a big gun safe. The .22’s extractor is worn and not completely reliable, but I don’t care. It’s a special rifle and always will be. Every so often I take it out, crank open the bolt, look through the open sights and memories flood my mind—this little rifle was my best buddy for a long time. It still is.

Those were simple days: Kids could walk through town with an air rifle or .22 rimfire and not incur the wrath of a SWAT team. Farmers appreciated the elimination of gophers and crows, and guns were not bad, nor were they indicators of evil intents or actions.

Firearms are still wonderful Christ­mas gifts. To make the right choice for a son or daughter, parents should consider the age and maturity of the child, type of firearm, weight, barrel length, length-of-pull and, of course, recoil. I would also include the necessity of high-quality sighting equipment. Very simply, anyone learning to shoot a rifle is more accurate with a scope.

Making A List, Checking It Twice
I think the ultimate first gun for a responsible youngster is a BB gun or air rifle. Thanks to the excellent BB/pellet traps and target designs available today, safe firearm handling and marksmanship basics can even be taught in the comfort of a good-sized room in your home with these air guns.

When most hunters think of BB guns they think Daisy, and rightly so. Intro­duced in 1939, the Daisy Red Ryder has sold more than 9 million units, easily making it the most famous BB gun ever built. Daisy Outdoor Products still makes the Red Ryder, as well as many other excellent air guns. In addition to Daisy BB guns, parents can also check out the air guns and accessories from companies such as Gamo USA, Beeman and Crossman.

After spending a year or two with an air gun, your child will be ready to step up to a rimfire rifle. In no particular order, here are some models that have recently caught my eye:

HENRY MINI BOLT YOUTH: Not long ago I added a Henry .22 rifle to my gun safe. This tiny bolt-action gun is perfect for introducing my grandkids to the sport I love so much. Our 41⁄2-year-old proved deadly on large red balloons at eight paces during her first shooting experience! Henry builds a wonderful group of bolt-action and lever-action rimfire rifles.

CHIPMUNK RIFLE: Like the Henry Mini Bolt Youth, the single-shot Chip­munk is another good-quality bolt-action rimfire designed for young shooters. Available in several stock materials and colors, these eye-catching little rifles would make any child’s Christmas special.

REMINGTON MODEL FIVE: Reming­ton makes several outstanding youth-scaled firearms, but the Model Five is my favorite. This bolt-action, clip-fed repeater is a fine first rifle.

MARLIN 915Y: This single-shot is available in either wood or composite, blued or stainless for small-sized shooters. The Marlin 915Y is a simple, safe and accurate shooter.

RUGER 10/22: As one of the best-selling .22s of all time, the standard-sized 10/22 semiauto is already a small enough gun for many young shooters. However, if you need an even smaller version, check out the 10/22 Compact Rifle. It features a short, 123⁄4-inch length-of-pull and 161⁄8-inch barrel.

SAVAGE CUB MINI YOUTH: In addition to this single-shot bolt-action .22, Sav­age also offers youth-model centerfires.

BROWNING MICRO HUNTER: Available in smaller calibers, this would be a dream rifle for many young hunters. In fact, this is by far the sweetest little centerfire I’ve ever handled. Browning’s lever-action BL-22 and wonderful semiauto rimfires are also fine guns.

MOSSBERG HALF-PINT PLINKSTER AND PLINKSTER: The Half-Pint Plinkster is a neat little bolt-action single-shot; the standard Plinkster is a semiauto. As a young­ster becomes more experienced with the Half-Pint, the removable magazine plug can be replaced with an optional 10-round magazine, easily converting the Half-Pint into a repeater. For upland birds or waterfowl, Mossberg’s youth shotgun is called the 500 Bantam and is available in a couple different designs.

ROSSI TRIFECTA: One of the most prac­tical and compact gun packages is the Rossi Trifecta. This youth-stocked rifle comes with three barrels—20 gauge shotgun, .243 Win. centerfire and .22 rimfire —which makes it a do-anything rig. With a simple break-open design and a button safety, this is a handy starter package.

In addition to guns as Christmas gifts, parents can also consider youth-sized camouflage clothing, binoculars, decoys, game calls, safety harnesses, bow-and-arrow packages and even memberships in the local fish and game associations. A post-Christmas hunting trip in one of the states with later seasons would be welcomed as well.

From past experience, both during my youth and during my adult life, I do know that putting a hunting-related gift under the Christmas tree provides the opportunity for you to spend special time with your family outdoors. And my motto has always been, “The family that hunts together, stays together.”

 

Where Did All The Ammo Go? What Can You Do?

I was at Cabela’s the other day … just looking around mostly. One of the things I looked at was the ammo shelves. I say shelves because that was about all there was to look at. The view is the same at the local gun shops around home. All the ammo is gone!

Why? It’s simple, really: We’ve bought it all. Oh, if you want shotshells for shooting clay birds you’ll find some. If you want ammo for your—not the most popular—deer rifle, you might find some, but even that isn’t a given. I’ve been trying to find .250 Savage ammo for months. It’s just not available.

I guess the next question you might ask is, “Why did we buy all the ammo?” That answer is a bit complicated, but for the most part, it’s because shooters are worried legislation might infringe on their ability to obtain ammo. This has resulted in a rush to purchase just about every kind of ammunition, particularly the types associated with high-volume shooting and personal protection.

The list of really-hard-to-find ammo for rifles includes .223 Rem., .308 Win., .30-06 and yes, even .22 LR. For handguns, just about everything is in short supply except maybe the large-caliber hunting cartridges. Interestingly enough, while at Cabela’s, the only defensive handgun ammo they had was about 500 rounds of .327 Fed. Mag. This is a very useful and potent defensive handgun cartridge, and I will bet a lot of folks are wishing they had one of these revolvers because of a .327 Fed. Mag. can fire five different cartridges.

When will this lack-of-ammunition situation end? That’s difficult to answer because it appears that, as long as our political leaders are struggling with the question of how to best infringe on our Second Amendment rights, shooters will continue to stock up on ammo that they feel will be hard or impossible to get later on.

Many want to blame the manufacturers for not meeting demand. That’s absurd. If you were in the business of making ammunition, wouldn’t you be making all you could right now? Sure you would. Like grandpa used to say, “Better make hay while the sun is shining.” Ammo companies are making ammo as fast as they can … they’re just not making it as fast as we’re buying it.

Another reason ammo is disappearing off shelves so quickly is that shooters who used to purchase one or two boxes at a time are now buying a case at a time. We have become so ammo greedy that some gun stores are now only selling ammunition to customers who actually purchase a firearm. “That’s not fair!” you say. Well, it might not seem fair, but imagine buying a new firearm and not being able to buy any ammo to shoot feed it. There’s one way to sum that up: It would suck!

There’s another dynamic at work in this ammo-availability dilemma: Ammo manufacturers build ammo on a schedule. For example, they might load the very popular cartridges such as .223 Rem. and 9mm Luger year round, but during this time of year they often load the less-popular stuff such as .250 Savage, .35 Whelen, .32 H&R Mag., etc. If they don’t load these cartridges, then the distributors who ordered them last spring will be mad when they don’t get any. They have to meet their orders, so they can’t just shut down and only load what folks are buying; if they did, they’d just be continually chasing their tails.

I have some friends in the business of making ammunition—some at big companies such as Remington and some at smaller companies such as Buffalo Bore. All tell me that, like many handloaders who make their own ammo, they’re loading ammo as fast as they can. But handloaders are having problems getting components such as primers, brass and even bullets. Guess what? The ammo manufacturers are, too.

Companies that make their own primers have to choose between selling them as components or using them to load ammunition. Same goes for bullets and brass. Gunpowder is about the only thing there’s no shortage of, but problems exist there as well because companies are struggling to get the powder into containers, which they can’t seem to get enough of.

Just imagine if you made your living building high-quality bloodwood vampire stakes in your garage. You build and sell about 2,000 per year—about five per day. Suddenly, the vampire community decides they no longer want to live in the shadows and they start a feeding frenzy. Overnight, your orders increase 100-fold. You can’t make stakes fast enough and you can’t even get enough bloodwood to build them with. That’s exactly what’s happening with ammo right now.

A healthy supply of ammo isn’t always easy to come by.

What Can You Do During An Ammo Shortage?

  • Start looking at the smaller ammo companies such as Buffalo Bore and DoubleTap. Their ammo might be a bit more expensive, but they just might actually have it in stock.
  • Shop on the Internet at websites such as GunsAmerica.com and Gunbroker.com. Sometimes you’ll find ammo for the not-so-popular cartridges there at auction.
  • If a backorder option is available when ordering ammo online or even from a local dealer, take it. It might be awhile, but eventually you’ll get your ammo.
  • Start saving your brass when you shoot. You might not be able to get primers, bullets and powder right now, but eventually it will be available, and then you’ll wish you had brass to reload.
  • Consider investing in a reloading setup so that you can be better prepared for a situation like this when it comes around again. You know it will. Primers, powder and bullets will last a long, long time if stored properly.

In the meantime, beg and borrow from friends. Maybe even steal from your in-laws. (Hey, they’d take your ammo if you weren’t looking, right?) Or, you can just wait it out. The supply will eventually catch up and prices will go back to normal. How long will that take? It’s anyone’s guess, but hopefully by deer season we will all be able to buy at least one box of .30-30 Win. ammo.

Setting Up The JetStream One Sandblasting System

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Jet Stream OneWe choose the SCM Jetstream One sandblasting system for its compact size, versatility, and SCM’s support.  We toyed with the idea of buying the basic components from Harbor Freight; however, once we priced out the equivalent items plus sources for spare parts we found that it would have cost more to source everything separately.  Additionally, with the Jetstream One system, we are able to easily break it down into a box to transport it to shows and field events.  Additionally, the package included the photo masking system that we use for much of our stock carving.

Unpacking Our New Jetstream One

IMG_1351 As soon as the shipment arrived, everyone stopped work and crowded around the loading dock.  To our amazement, everything arrived in two boxes.  The air compressor had arrived a few days earlier in a separate shipment.  We knew the system was much more compact than other systems we reviewed; however, we were amazed at how easy it was broken down into its basic components.  This immediately started everyone talking about how we could take it to shows and field events without taking up much room in the RV.  Before unpacking everything we took the whole shipment outback to the RV and found that it fit nicely into the lower rear storage compartment with the air compressor included.  We immediately knew that we had made the right decision to purchase this system as it fit into our plans perfectly.  Space in our shop is very limited so anything new has to be able to slide in without disrupting our current equipment.  Eventually we will be forced into moving to a bigger shop, but for now this is what we have.  The Jetstream One system will also fit into our show booth without having to do too much re-arranging.

IMG_1349As we unpacked and inventoried each item we became more anxious to try it out.    The setup instructions are fairly intuitive; however, you do have to do a little head scratching and figuring things out occasionally.  The one thing you have to remember is that some items shipped with the system have been improved, but the instruction sheets have not been fully updated.  Just take your time while putting everything together and enjoy the anticipation of your new system.

 

Connecting The Air Lines

Pressure PotWhen connecting the air-line from the compressor to the pressure pot we opted to add a 1/4″ NPT M-F ball valve to cut-off the air from the compressor when we’re not sandblasting.  We found this valve at Harbor Freight.  It can also be found at most hardware stores such as ACE hardware also.  Make sure you use Teflon tape on all of the screw-on fittings in your airline.  The tape will ensure a tight and no-leak connection.

 

 

Regulated Air LineConnecting the blue airline from the regulator to the pressure port was quite easy.  Just slide the line into the fitting until you feel a small snap.  Tug on it slightly to ensure that it is fitting snugly.  If you need to remove the airline just press inward on the black ring with one hand while gently pulling the airline out with the other hand.

 

 

IMG_1927Since space is quite limited we needed a longer air line from the regulator to the pressure pot in order to mount the assembly on the wall instead of using the table stand that is provided.  We removed the air line connectors provided with the system and substituted 1/4″ NTP air line connectors and added a longer 1/4″ I.D. pressure rated hose.   This change only took 5 minutes to complete and gave us greater flexibility in placing the equipment in its permanent location.

Sandblasting CabinetSetting up the sandblasting cabinet was quite easy.  There are only 3 major pieces tot he cabinet: base, main shell, and lid (top).  When connecting the main shell to the base we found the screw holes didn’t line up accurately.  However, since the screws are self tapping screwing them down into the base was easily accomplished with a screwdriver.

 

Weather Stripping SealAdding the weather stripping seal into the top of the cabinet is easy; however, there is a little trick that will make it easier to keep in straight and allow you to position it in the bottom of the trough.  Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the sides of the weather stripping tape together with the sticky side down.  Then, use your forefinger of the other hand to press the tape down into the bottom of the trough.  Make sure that the tape is evenly distributed around the cabinet top so that it will form a tight seal while you are using the sandblaster.  This is also a good time to attach the protective gloves to the lid using the large hose clamps provided in the kit.

IMG_1368Place the lid on the main shell and insert the hinge bolts.  Pressing the hinge bolts into the holes while lining up the holes of the shell and lid may require a few extra hands.  We used a small wood clamp to hold the pieces together while pressing the bolts into place.  We eventually change the slip bolts for carriage bolts to make it easier to disassemble the cabinet when we go to shows and field events.

 

Sandblasting hosePush the sandblasting hose through the back of the cabinet and place the sealing grommet in place.

 

 

 

Light cordPush the light cord through the back of the cabinet and place the sealing grommet in place.

 

 

 

 

Vacuum ConnectionWe connected our shop-vac to the 2-1/2″ port provided on the back of the cabinet to draw off the extra dust created during sandblasting.  We initially tried sandblasting without the vacuum, but after a few minutes, the visibility within the cabinet was reduced greatly.  Also, when the cabinet was opened after sandblasting a lot of sand dust escaped the cabinet.  For the typical use of the cabinet, a basic shop-vac from your local hardware store is more than adequate for the task.  Just remember to clean the shop-vac regularly.

IMG_1372All that is left to do is to remove the protective sheet on the window.  The total setup time took less than an hour including the various additions that we added to the airlines.

 

 

 

IMG_1926The cabinet is just right for sandblasting parts.  Sandblasting long barrels requires being a bit creative by removing the grid and placing the barrel into the media well.

 

 

Restoring An Old 12 Gauge Shotgun

Over the years, as a gunsmith, I’ve acquired and inherited numerous old guns and have just placed them in the back of the gun safe thinking that someday I’ll get around to cleaning them up or restoring them.  Being a gunsmith is like any other profession where the customer’s job comes first and those old guns just accumulated over the years.

I’m an old school gunsmith.  I grew up working on guns with my uncle who loved the Colonial and Revolutionary period.  As a result, I learned the art & craft of the gunsmith over the modern day production line gunsmith.  I love to watch the YouTube videos of gunsmiths that really get down and dirty, right into the heart of a gun to fix those really tough problems.  These folks are not the big box store variety gunsmith.  They are the true craftsmen of the profession.

A few months ago when I discovered that I didn’t have any more room for more old guns I decided to clean out the old gun safe and get rid of those guns that I really didn’t need.  Of course, my wife was really happy at the prospect of reclaiming some storage space.  However, as with any gunsmith, looking at those old guns recalls history and a story that just shouldn’t be destroyed.

BeforeStartingWork-2At that point, I decided to start on a new campaign of cleaning and restoring them in what little spare time I have.

I chose an H&R 1901 Baystate single barrel 12 gauge shotgun as my first restoration project.  This shotgun came to me 10 years ago with the passing of a family member.  The condition of the shotgun was quite pitiful to say the lease.

The receiver pivot pin is missing, all of the metal parts are severely rusted and corroded from long use without cleaning, the bore of the barrel is pitted and rusted, the firing pin is cracked, and the stock is split in so many places a metal band had been fabricated to hold it together at the grip.

BeforeStartingWork-2When disassembling an old weapon of any type great care must be taken so as not to break any of the parts.  In many cases, parts for older weapons are brittle and not easy to find.  Many gunsmiths will spend a lot of time researching the Internet for old part sources.  Parts for newer mode weapons are easy to find by simply calling the manufacturer.  In the case of this Harrington & Richardson Baystate circa 1900 single barrel shotgun, the original H & R company is no longer in existence.  Therefore, you must be creative to find a reliable parts source.

Sometimes, parts from a more recent model weapon are interchangeable with little or no modification.  In this case, I was able to find the Frame Pivot pin from a newer model 148 and grind the head down to make it fit flush with the Receiver.

IMG_0631-2Once all of the parts were disassembled they were first washed in a degreaser then flushed with warm water and dried thoroughly.

A close inspection showed extensive rust underling the bluing; especially around the edges of the forestock.  A fine metal file had to be used to remove the rust around the forestock.  Emery cloth in grits of 80, 120, and 240 was progressively used to remove the bluing and rust pitting. It was followed with a 500 grit to bring the metal up to a fine polish.  Typically, a fine polish is not needed before re-bluing, but I wanted to ensure that all of the very small and very deep rust pits were completely removed.  As you can see in the picture to the right, a lot of long hours in sanding and polishing resulted uncovering a magnificent old shotgun.

Gunsmith WorkshopBefore I go into the details of this restoration we should take a look at the workshop so that you’ll see that it takes a good work area and good tools to work on firearms properly.

In addition to the workbench, the shop needs compressed air with various regulators for different tools that require different pressure levels, air scrubber to capture dust and various types of airborne particles, shop vacuum, bench vise, drill press, a hefty assortment of tools, and a shop sink.

Additionally, safety first is the rule in any workshop.  You’ll need a breathing mask, safety glasses, disposable gloves, and an emergency power cutoff.  Also, the shop sink can be used in case you get sawdust, dirt, or chemicals on your skin plus it can be used as an eye-wash station should you accidentally get anything in your eyes.  Remember to keep a phone nearby in case you need to call for emergency services should you have an accident and need a paramedic.

Keep in mind that you need to keep your workplace clean and orderly, therefore, you should clean up your mess as you go.  Otherwise, you’ll find that some of the smallest parts that you’ve set aside for cleaning and reassembly have disappeared in the rubble.

Lastly, a workshop is no place for small children.  It is full of hazards, therefore, children should be kept at a distance and under constant supervision until they are of an age where they can be taught the proper safety measures and proper usage of its tools.  My uncle first introduced me to his gunsmith shop when I was 7 years old and I spent many hours and years learning the craft at his side.