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Bryce Towsley

Remington’s Model 700: The Greatest of All Time?

A look at the enduring legacy of the Remington Model 700, the world's most popular bolt-action sporting rifle.

“How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they've seen Paree’?”

This popular song is illustrative of the huge demographic changes resulting from World War I. So many of our doughboys were ripped from rural Americana and dumped into “the rest of the world” that something had to happen.

The concept spilled over into hunting rifles as well. Those guys fought and won a war with bolt-action rifles. How would they be content with anything less for hunting?

Remington Model 700 Markings
Remington's 2006 Limited Edition Model 700 Stainless CDL celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the .30/06 Springfield.

Remington answered with its Model 30 rifle, introduced in 1921. Using leftover Enfield parts and chambered in .30-06, it was a sporting version of the rifle soldiers carried in war. In 1926, the Model 30 Express replaced it. It was a lighter rifle that cocked on opening and was offered in many variations and in a multitude of cartridges. It showed American hunters the future of sporting rifles.

World War II killed off this rifle, as it did so many great firearms. Following that war, Remington introduced the Model 721 bolt-action rifle in 1948. It was a gun meant for the times. Using different manufacturing techniques and the engineering genius of Mike Walker, who was an avid benchrest shooter, the rifle was inexpensive and outstandingly functional. By using a cylinder-type action, manufacturing costs were reduced and accuracy improved. The 721 and the later short-action 722 rifles were just what the returning GIs needed: affordable performance.

Rem Model 722 Deer
The Remington Model 722 shown here in .300 Savage is a predecessor to the famous Remington Model 700 rifle.

The only flaw, if it might be called that, was the guns were rather plain. As the country prospered in the post-war boom, shooters’ tastes evolved, and they began looking for form as well as function. Remington was losing market share to the prettier Winchester Model 70. In 1962, Remington addressed that problem with the introduction of the Model 700 rifle, along with a hot new cartridge, the 7mm Remington Magnum. The duo helped launch the magnum mania that followed.

Lucky Sevens

The 700 retained the basic design of the 721, but with improvements and in a slicker, better-looking package. As they say, the rest is history. With more than 5 million sold, the Remington Model 700 rifle is arguably the best-selling, bolt-action sporting rifle in history. The models and variations that followed in the next 58 years are mind boggling, but they all have a common theme: the Model 700 action.

Remington 700
The Remington Model 700 in .338 RUM is one of the author’s favorite rifles for big game.

When it comes to rifles, everything is round. The cartridge is round, the bullets are round, the barrels are round, the bore is round, the bolts are round—and so it stands to reason that the action should be round. If we’re able to keep all these round things to a common center, accuracy is ensured. That, in a nutshell, is the success of the Remington 700 action. Because it’s round, it’s also less expensive to manufacture with far less machining needed than with other action designs. It’s much easier to hold precision, which is one key factor in the Model 700’s legendary accuracy.

The Model 700 comes in two lengths, short and long. One or the other will fit any cartridge from .17 Fireball through .375 RUM. The Model 700 bolt maintains the two-forward-lugs lockup style popularized with the Mauser action. This is a very strong action and, again, it’s easier to maintain accuracy. Two lugs are easier to machine precisely than three, six or nine. One component of accuracy is that all lugs support the bolt equally. The more lugs there are, the harder it is to achieve this goal.

Rem Model 700 Action
The Remington Model 700 action is better than a high-dollar custom action. At least for a hobby gunsmith.

The 700 bolt has a recessed bolt face that fits into another recess in the barrel and, when you add the action, this creates the legendary “three rings of steel” surrounding the cartridge. This is considered to be much safer in the event of a cartridge failure, as it helps isolate the gasses and particles from the shooter. There is some merit to the theory that this recessed bolt face helps keep the cartridge aligned in the chamber to enhance accuracy. Again, the more centered everything is, the better the accuracy. The recessed bolt supports the rear of the cartridge and helps keep it centered with the bore.

The Model 700 has a very fast lock time, which is the time from when the trigger releases until the firing pin strikes the primer. The theory is that the faster this happens, the less chance of the gun moving and having a negative effect on accuracy. While this does not mechanically improve accuracy, in the real world it makes it easier for the shooter to access the inherent accuracy in the rifle.

The Model 700 uses a separate recoil lug, which fits like a washer between the barrel and the receiver. Again, this keeps costs down as it’s much less expensive to make than to machine the recoil lug integral to the action, as seen with some other rifle designs.

The Push Feed Facts

There are two complaints we often hear from rifle nerds about the Remington Model 700. First is that it’s a push-feed rifle. That means that once the cartridge is free from the magazine it’s not mechanically supported as it’s pushed by the bolt for the short remaining distance into the chamber. In contrast, a controlled-round-feed (CRF) rifle captures the cartridge behind the extractor as it exits the magazine and holds it against the bolt face while it is fed into the chamber.

One downside of using a CRF rifle is that most cannot be fed single cartridges. If the rifle is dry and things are happening fast, the option of tossing a cartridge into the loading port and slamming the bolt shut is comforting. Most push-feed designs allow this while most CRF rifles do not.

The other side of the argument is that the push-feed design seems to be a bit more accurate. The tension of the extractor on the cartridge in a controlled-round feed can influence the cartridge position in the chamber in a negative way. Most precision rifles are push-feed design because, when accuracy is measured in tenths of an inch, the push-feed seems to have the advantage.

The author built this custom .358 Winchester rifle on a Remington Model 700 action. This rifle was built with hand tools using a short-chambered barrel.

The other common complaint about the Remington Model 700 design is the extractor. Every armchair expert out there will tell you “It’s no damn good!” The dangerous-game hunting guys and the tactical guys all claim it’s a huge problem that will get you killed in the “real” world.

I’ll be honest: It’s a fragile-looking little thing that looks like it should be a problem. But it’s not. I should note that this extractor style has been used by Remington going back to at least 1948 with the 721 and 722 model rifles. There are almost 7 million rifles out there with the “horrible” extractors, and yet there are virtually no reports of them failing during a critical time and getting somebody killed.

I’ve been a fan of Remington rifles all my life. I bought the first one, a Model 788, in 1968. Over the years, I have had a lot of Model 700 rifles and its relatives that use the same extractor system, such as the Model 788, Model Seven, Model 721 and Model 722, pass through my gun vault. I’ve used a few hundred different rifles with the Remington-style extractor, in a lot of cartridges and in a lot of places—and I have never had an extractor problem.

If we followed up on most of the reports of extractor failures, we likely would find that an overpressure handload was stuck in the chamber and somebody beat the hell out of the bolt to remove it. The truth is, I did that myself, back before I knew better, and still never had an extractor fail. I have seen the bolt handle break off when a guy was beating on it with a chunk of firewood to extract a stuck handload, but the extractor held.

I’m sure the extractors wear out like any other piece of machinery and that they break now and then, but I just can’t find any evidence that the Remington extractor is a true problem.

Rem Model 700 Bolt Heads
The bolt on the left has an M-16 extractor, compared to the Remington-style extractor on the other bolt.

However, if you’re concerned, it’s easy enough to have a gunsmith replace the Remington extractor with a Sako or M-16-style extractor. This is a common “upgrade” to the Model 700 rifle. I’ve installed both style extractors on custom rifles I’ve built, and I’ve left the original factory extractor in other custom rifles I’ve built. The number of problems with any of the extractors so far is zero. A couple of the rifles have been used for long-range target shooting and for a lot of ammo testing for magazine articles, so the round count is getting seriously high.

Considering A Custom

Speaking of custom rifles, the Model 700 action is a long-time favorite of custom-gun builders, both professional and hobbyists. It’s one of the few production rifle actions available on the current market as the action only. It also has a huge number of aftermarket parts and accessories available. When it comes to building bolt-action rifles, nothing matches the Model 700 in terms of the gadgets and goodies made to fit. It’s the “kit” rifle of bolt actions.

Rem Model 700 Buffallo
The author shot this Cape buffalo with a .416 UMT rifle built on a Remington Model 700 action while hunting the Selous Reserve in Tanzania.

The Remington 700 is extremely easy for hobby and professional gunsmiths to work with, and it can produce outstanding results. Before I had a lathe, I customized several rifles using only hand tools. I would lap bolt lugs for even contact, true the bolt face and then fit a short-chambered barrel. A short-chambered barrel comes with 90 percent of the work done. The threads are cut and the chamber is left .010-inch short so that once it’s on the action you can finish cutting the chamber to the correct headspace. This provides a viable option for a hobby gunsmith with only hand tools. By cutting the last of the chamber by hand, you can make the perfect minimum spec chamber.

How well does that work? I have a .308 Winchester I built that way that will shoot 0.5 MOA all day long. This is a great way to get started building your own rifles without spending your kid’s college fund on expensive power tools.

Rem 700 Tactical
The author built this custom .300 Winchester precision rifle on a Remington action. It is extremely accurate and capable of shooting very long range.

The boom in custom rifles has inspired an entire industry of custom actions, most of those actions use the Model 700 basic design. So why do a lot of builders, particularly hobby guys, use the Model 700 action? These custom actions are outstanding, but they’re expensive. The average high-end action costs about 2.8 times as much as a new Remington Model 700 action from Brownells. It’s often even cheaper to prowl local gun shops to find old beater Model 700 rifles that you can buy for less than the price of a new action.

With custom-rifle builders today, the choice is simple: Time is money. Back in the day, gunsmiths had to work with the rifle actions that were available. Often that meant a donor rifle that was cannibalized to get the action or, at best, buying an action, usually a Remington Model 700, Winchester Model 70 or a surplus Mauser. Today, things have changed and there are a lot of very good shovel-ready rifle actions on the market.

And Then There’s Accuracy

But, in terms of accuracy, a skilled gunsmith will produce a rifle that’s every bit as accurate by blueprinting a factory Model 700 action. “Blueprinting” is nothing more than a fancy term for trueing everything to the common center. That means trueing the threads, bolt lugs, bolt face and the receiver face to the center line of the action. Finally, the bolt lugs will be lapped for a perfect mate to the action lugs.

Rem 700 Blueprinting
“Blueprinting” a Remington 700 action. Note how the front of the action is round. The tap must be below the surface to allow truing the front of the action with a lathe.

I enjoy building guns and it’s a hobby thing for me. So, if it takes me a bit longer to complete a project because I have to blueprint the action, I see that as more time with concrete under my feet and contentment in my heart. Most of my builds are for my own use or are for friends and family, so we try to keep the cost reasonable. That means, more often than not, a Remington 700 action.

Results? I have a precision rifle in 6mm Creedmoor rifle I built on a Remington 700 short action that I would put up against any similar rifle on any action. I have lots of five-shot groups that are 0.2-inch or a bit smaller. I think the limiting factor is my shooting ability, not the rifle.

6mm Model 700
The author built this custom 6mm Creedmoor precision rifle on a Remington action. It is capable of extraordinary accuracy.

On the other end of the spectrum, I built myself a 9.3×62 for hunting. It is capable of 0.5 MOA with factory loads and it runs as fast and smooth as any rifle I own. I’ve used it on elk and whitetail deer with great results. I would not hesitate to use it on dangerous game.

The Remington Model 700 rifle design is almost 6 decades old and it’s still an industry leader. In that time, Remington has changed almost nothing in the basic design. That says a lot about the enduring legacy of the world’s most popular bolt-action, sporting rifle.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition available now at GunDigestStore.com.

More Long-Range Shooting Info:

Testfire: Remington Model 700 American Hunter

Editors from the NRA’s American Hunter magazine worked with Remington designers to develop the Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Editors from the NRA’s American Hunter magazine worked with Remington designers to develop the Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor.

NRA editors and Remington designers collaborate to build a perfect rifle for hunting whitetail deer. Shake hands with the Remington 700 American Hunter.

How The American Hunter Enchnaces The Traditional Remington 700 Platform:

  • Bolt features an oversize bolt knob.
  • Bolt is “jeweled” but in an odd, half-done way.
  • Boasts moderately heavy contour hammer-forged, chrome-moly steel barrel with 5R rifling.
  • Barrel is threaded 5/8×24 to allow the easy installation of a suppressor.

My only question was, “what took so long?”

It was after hours at the NRA Annual Meeting and I was sipping some amber amazement with Scott Olmsted, the editor in chief of the NRA’s American Hunter magazine, in some forgotten bar. Scott had just told me about the rifle he and his staff were designing in conjunction with Remington.

“This is going to be a rifle designed by hunters for hunters,” Olmsted said.

That simple sentence sounds like a throw-away, but it’s actually profound. Too many of the rifles hitting the market each year are designed by engineers or marketing people who don’t hunt or shoot much. I know of one major company in the hunting world at which none of the top-level management hunts or shoots at all; they play golf. It’s about time we had a rifle designed by the guys who are out there shivering in the cold, sweating in the sun, enduring the pain from hours of sitting still on stand or sucking air as they hike up a mountain so steep they slide back two steps for every three they take forward.

NRA’s American Hunter is the largest hunting magazine in the world, with more than a million readers each month. As part of the job, the staff editors at American Hunter (full disclosure: I am a field editor for American Hunter) use and hunt with most all of the new guns that hit the market. They see the flaws in the designs, and they see what works. Remington is America’s oldest firearms manufacturer and it makes the most popular bolt-action hunting rifle on earth, the Model 700. So, it made sense to pair up and design a rifle.

Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. The muzzle of this barrel is threaded 5/8x24 to allow the easy installation of a suppressor or brake.
Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor. The muzzle of this barrel is threaded 5/8×24 to allow the easy installation of a suppressor or brake.

Do-All Remington 700 AH

The concept was a rifle designed for hunting the most popular big-game animal, the whitetail deer, but that would work equally well for a wide range of big game. The mythical “do-all” rifle does not exist, but this one comes close, while remaining true to the whitetail baseline.

Remington used this opportunity to launch some new manufacturing techniques that will mimic the way custom gun builders modify the 700 action to optimize performance. The action is the foundation of any rifle. If it’s true and precise, the rifle will perform. Remington trues the action and the bolt lugs to a common center. These are steps taken by custom builders to make a 700 action perform best. The difference is that a custom builder will do it on a lathe, spending hours blueprinting the action, where Remington does it on a production level with CNC machines that do multiple actions at once. The bottom-line goal is the same: a precise and perfect action.

Feature Rich

The bolt features an oversize bolt knob. Not one of those giant blobs as seen on a lot of precision rifles, but a nice, elegant, well-portioned knob that’s a good fit for a hunting rifle. The bolt is “jeweled” but in an odd, half-done way that I must admit is growing on me. I wasn’t a fan at first, but the more I use the gun the more I appreciate that it’s a good match with a hunting rifle as it is almost a camo look.

The heart of any rifle is the barrel. Remington uses a hammer-forged, chrome-moly steel barrel with 5R rifling, which uses five grooves so that a groove opposes a land, rather than lands opposing lands. This is thought to create less bullet distortion and better accuracy. Also, the 5R style of rifling is designed with different, less radical radii in the corners to promote less fouling and easier cleaning.

The logo of the NRA’s American Hunter magazine is laser engraved on the surface of the floor plate.
The logo of the NRA’s American Hunter magazine is laser engraved on the surface of the floor plate.

The barrel is a moderately heavy contour measuring .731-inch at the muzzle behind the threads. It is fluted to cut weight a bit without sacrificing rigidity. Designers decided to go with a shorter 20-inch barrel, a concept that is seeing a lot of interest, particular with younger hunters. From a hunting standpoint this makes sense. A shorter barrel is much easier to use in a hunting blind. Anybody who has ever spooked a buck by hitting the blind wall with the rifle as they were trying to get it out the window probably has nightmares about long barrels. The shorter barrel is easier to use in thick brush and it’s easier to carry. Many hunters who have used guns with long barrels have stuck the muzzle in the mud a time or two. With an overall length of just 39-3/8 inches, this gun is handy to use and carry. Weighing in at 6-3/4 pounds its light enough to carry all day hunting and just hefty enough to soak up the recoil so you can shoot it all day at the range.

Also, because the younger hunters are demanding it, the muzzle of this barrel is threaded 5/8×24 to allow the easy installation of a suppressor. Like it or not, the use of suppressors is growing in popularity with hunters. It protects the hunter’s hearing and it helps keep game from pinpointing your location. I witnessed this a while ago while hunting in Texas for hogs. With our suppressed rifles, the hogs had trouble locating us and it resulted in more shooting opportunities. If you don’t want to use a suppressor or add a muzzle brake, the gun comes with a thread protector installed.

The rifle is, of course, chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor. I think it’s a law these days that all new guns must be in that cartridge. No matter, it makes sense as this currently is the most popular hunting cartridge on the market. The 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge was spawned by long-range target shooting and is inherently accurate. This rifle has a 1:8-inch rifling twist rate that works well with the range of bullet weights that are appropriate for hunting or target shooting. I suspect that these rifles will see some offseason use smacking targets so far off that the steel will ring with a different accent.

Raise Your Remington IQ:

The metal surfaces are finished in black Cerakote. This looks great and protects against wet weather. The composite stock is by Bell and Carlson, a company that has perfected the art of the synthetic rifle stock and is my first choice on the custom rifles I build. It uses a full-length aluminum bedding block and has the fore-end tip pressure on the barrel that has helped make Remington famous for out-of-the-box accuracy. There are sling swivel studs installed and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad fitted to the butt. The stock has a cheek piece and an open pistol grip that fits any hand, with or without gloves.

The Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor has an oversize bolt handle and unique jeweling on the bolt.
The Remington Model 700 American Hunter rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor has an oversize bolt handle and unique jeweling on the bolt.

The magazine uses a hinged floor plate which has the American Hunter logo laser engraved on the surface. The magazine holds four cartridges.

The rifle features an enhanced version of the Remington X-Mark Pro adjustable trigger, factory set to break at 3.5 pounds. The receiver is drilled and tapped for the larger 8-40 screws, which is another upgrade found on custom rifles. The gun comes with Leupold Mark 4 scope bases, so all you need to mount a scope is rings. I fitted mine with Leupold rings and a Leupold VX-3i 3.5-10x40mm scope. This scope is designed for dial up and features a return to zero stop. The rifle shoots sub-MOA with hunting ammo and I feel confident in shooting out to any ethical range with this setup.

The rifle has a serial number starting with 19AH, indicating the year it was made and American Hunter.

This is a limited-edition rifle with only 1,500 being made. Street price is running under $1,000 for this unique hunting rifle. But remember, supplies are limited.

Remington Model 700 American Hunter Specs
Type: Bolt-action centerfire rifle
Caliber: 6.5 Creedmoor
Barrel: 20 in.; cold-hammer-forged, chrome-moly steel; 5R rifling, 1:8-in. RH twist; 5/8×24 threaded muzzle. Protective cap included.
Magazine: Internal box, hinged; 4-round capacity
Trigger: Single-stage, adjustable X-Mark Pro; 3.5-lb. advertised pull weight
Safety: Two-position toggle. Does not lock the bolt shut.
Sights: Leupold Mark 4 bases installed
Stock: Bell and Carlson composite; LOP 13.63-inches
Metal Finish: Black Cerakote; jeweled bolt w/black oxide
Overall Length: 39-3/8 inches
Weight: 6-3/4 lbs.
MSRP: $1,349
Street Price: Less than $1,000

For more information on the Remington 700 American Hunter, please visit remington.com.

Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from Gun Digest 2021, 75th Edition available now at GunDigestStore.com.

Reloading: The Way of Wildcat Cartridges

  • Many common factory ammo offerings began as wildcat cartridges.
  • Reloading wildcat cartridges allows you to learn more about ballistics and load development.
  • There is a satisfaction that wildcatters get from taking game with their own cartridge designs.

The word “wildcat” denotes something untamed, rebellious and maybe just a little bit dangerous. But that shouldn’t stop you from considering wildcat cartridges for hunting and shooting.

The 416 UMT rifle on shooting sticks, cape buffalo in background. Selous Reserve in Tanzania. Scope is a Swarovski a 1.25-4X24 Habicht model in Warne mounts. A dangerous game rifle will be used at close range and a low power, wide field of view scope is the best choice.
The 416 UMT rifle on shooting sticks, cape buffalo in background. Selous Reserve in Tanzania. Scope is a Swarovski 1.25-4X24 Habicht model in Warne mounts. A dangerous game rifle will be used at close range and a low-power, wide field of view scope is the best choice.

Just like the wildcat oil drillers who became legends, those gun guys who pioneered the wildcat cartridges were never afraid to ignore the naysayers. Wildcatters are the rebels, the guys who refuse to accept the status quo. They are the pioneers who stretch the boundaries to prove that there can be something more, something better.

Like most pioneers they rarely get the credit. Take for example the .22-250 Remington. Popular cartridge, right? But have you ever heard of Harvey Donaldson, Grosvenor Wotkyns, J.E. Gebby, John Sweany, or J.B. Smith?

Remington didn’t develop the .22-250; those guys did. They pioneered the early high speed .22 cartridges.

The Wotkyns version was called the .220 Wotkyns Original Swift (WOS) and was the forerunner to the .220 Swift, later introduced by Winchester. Gebby and Smith are most often credited with the version we call the .22-250 Remington today. They named it the .22 Varminter. Gebby even obtained a copyright on that name, but Remington took the design, added their name and got all the glory.

It’s the same with the .204 Ruger, 7mm Remington Magnum, .257 Roberts, .35 Whelen, the Winchester Short Magnums and a very long list of other popular cartridges. They were all developed by independent wildcatters and then “claimed” by a gun company as its own, often with the blessing of the wildcatter, but sometimes not. For the most part, the guys who developed the cartridges expected — and got —  nothing. The exception might be the WSM cartridges, which are historical as the wildcats that ended up in court. It’s also what is slowly killing these cartridges.

The .416 UMT is a wildcat made from .375 RUM cases. It demands the hottest primers and the best bullets.
The .416 UMT is a wildcat made from .375 RUM cases. It demands the hottest primers and the best bullets.

But that’s OK. Wildcat cartridge designers are not in it for the glory or to get rich. They do it for a love of guns and cartridges and for the challenge of doing something that’s never been done. Just like mountain climbers, they do it because “it’s there.”

For as long as I can remember I have been handloading and shooting many popular wildcats, like the .357 Herrett, 7mm TCU, .243 AI, .280 AI, .300 Whisper, .375 JDJ, and several others. I learned about case forming and load development by working with these cartridges, often in the very early years when there was little available data.

But like a lot of hard-core gun guys with a technical mind and a love of pushing the edges, I felt the need to create wildcat catridges of my own.

Nobody ever called me a conformist in anything I do, and I found the inspiration for my wildcats hiding that part of my rebel brain. I love .35-caliber rifle cartridges, even while the public does not. There has never been a hugely successful .35-caliber cartridge. The .35 Remington probably comes the closest, but it’s been dying a slow death for decades. So of course, that’s where I went for my first wildcat cartridge.


The author with a cape buffalo taken in the Selous Reserve in Tanzania. The beast was taken with the .416 UMT, which threw a 400-grain Swift A-Frame. Dangerous game is hunted close and bullet placement must be precise. A 100-yard zero works well.
The author with a cape buffalo taken in the Selous Reserve in Tanzania. The beast was taken with the .416 UMT, which threw a 400-grain Swift A-Frame. Dangerous game is hunted close and bullet placement must be precise. A 100-yard zero works well.

.358 UMT

Remington showed a select group of gun writers their new .300 Remington Ultra Mag in the fall of 1998, and the first thing I thought was that that big case would be awesome with a .358 bullet.

After considering a lot of case design possibilities I decided to keep it simple and necked the .300 Remington Ultra Mag case up to .358 with no other changes. It maintains the same body taper, the same 30-degree shoulder and the same datum line for headspacing. The only difference is a larger neck and the resulting shorter shoulder. I called the new cartridge the .358 Ultra Mag Towsley (UMT).

One pass of a well-lubed Remington case through the RCBS sizing die’s tapered expander button takes the neck from .30 to .35. Case loss during forming is all but non-existent. The expanding process shortens the case by about .018-inch, so I square the new case mouths and trim to 2.820-inch.

The rifle started as a stainless-steel Remington Model 700 chambered for .300 RUM, but only the action remains. I ordered a Krieger barrel with a 1:14 twist rate to stabilize 250-grain bullets. The barrel proved accurate and the bore is remarkably smooth and is easy to clean.

Gunsmith Mark Bansner turned the 24-inch barrel to a taper that measures .675˝ at the muzzle and then added six longitudinal flutes.

RCBS .416 UMT dies with cases and lube. One pass over the tapered expander in the RCBS resizing die will neck the .375 RUM up to .416. To increase neck tension, polish a small amount of material off the neck sizing button. Lubrication is important for sizing cartridge cases. But, it requires just the right amount.
RCBS .416 UMT dies with cases and lube. One pass over the tapered expander in the RCBS resizing die will neck the .375 RUM up to .416. To increase neck tension, polish a small amount of material off the neck sizing button. Lubrication is important for sizing cartridge cases. But, it requires just the right amount.

The limiting factor in overall cartridge length with any of the Ultra Mag cartridges is the rifle’s magazine. I knew the maximum workable cartridge length in this gun would be 3.675 inches. I made up some dummy cartridges with Nosler 250-grain Partition bullets and shipped them to Dave Manson Precision Reamers.

I asked Manson to configure the chamber reamer so it would provide a .010-inch jump to the rifling with the Nosler bullet seated to 3.675 inches. My other bullet choice at the time was a Barnes 225-grain X-bullet and, because of the difference in bullet profile, it would have a jump of about .030-inch when seated to the same overall length. This is fine because the Barnes X-Bullet requires a larger gap for peak performance.

Bansner chambered the barrel and installed it on the action, which had been polished and tuned. The entire barreled action was then bead-blasted for a matte finish.

I had him install a trigger from Timney Manufacturing Inc. and adjust it for a crisp 3-pound pull. I also asked him to change the safety so it would lock the bolt down when it is on (eliminating my pet peeve with current Model 700 rifles.)

.358 UMT (.300 Rem. Ultra Mag) 225-grain Barnes Triple Shock.
.358 UMT (.300 Rem. Ultra Mag) 225-grain Barnes Triple Shock.

Bansner then added one of his High Tech synthetic stocks, which proved to be one of the keys to making this rifle so user-friendly. The stock is designed so the butt is 90 degrees to the bore, which directs recoil straight back and helps to eliminate muzzle rise. As a result, your face is not beaten up by the rifle’s comb, as often happens with hard-recoiling rifles. The stock has a wide butt and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad to further reduce felt recoil.

I conceived this to be a gun that would be lugged for miles up steep elk mountains or through the muskeg of Alaska. The weight needed to be balanced between heavy enough to shoot well under field conditions and light enough to not be hateful at the end of a long day.

When fitted with a Leupold Vari-X III 3.5-10 scope in Leupold two-piece mounts, the rifle weighs 8 pounds. This is on the light side for a rifle chambered in so powerful a cartridge, but the recoil is very manageable for an experienced shooter. Most people who shoot the rifle for the first time remark that the kick was a lot less than they anticipated.

I wanted a rifle suitable for hunting elk, big bears, moose and the larger African plains game in all the differing terrain in which they live. I wanted it to shoot flat so it could handle long shots, but also to hit hard and penetrate deep for big, tough game. This calls for heavy bullets with high sectional density and ballistic coefficient numbers. Bullets weighing 225 to 250 grains were the obvious choice.

The author’s .358 UMT, or Ultra Mag Towsley.
The author’s .358 UMT, or Ultra Mag Towsley.

With a large case capacity, heavy bullets usually call for slow-burning powder to push them and that proved true with the .358 UMT. It is not a particularly fussy cartridge to load, except that it does favor specific powders.

I initially thought it would work best with powders like IMR 4350 or IMR 4831, but they proved to be a bit too fast. IMR 7828 was by far the best powder tested, but H-1000 also works very well in some loads. With big charges of any powder, a hot primer is important. I used only Federal 215 primers.

The SAAMI spec for the .300 Ultra Mag cartridge is a mean average pressure of 65,000 psi, which I used as a guideline.

Some interesting things happened when I started shooting this cartridge. Most .358 bullets are designed for a much lower velocity and some of the best big game bullets that work so well in my .350 Rem. Mag. and .35 Whelen turned into varmint bullets with this cartridge, often fragmenting on impact.

The Barnes bullets were the exception. I started with a 225-grain XLC Coated X-bullet. Barnes didn’t make that one but coated some for me as a favor. After I wrote about it they got so many requests that they added it to their line. The XLC bullets are gone now, replaced by the Triple Shock. Today, my preferred bullet in this cartridge is the Barnes TSX 225-grain loaded with IMR 7828. This produces 3,165 fps and sub-inch groups.

RCBS dies, cases and Swift bullets for the .416 UMT.
RCBS dies, cases and Swift bullets for the .416 UMT.

Another bullet that proved to work well is the Swift 250-grain A-Frame. When teamed with IMR 7828 it spits out the muzzle at 3,114 fps. Accuracy is nearly one hole for the best three-shot groups and always averages under minute-of-angle.

The steep o-give profile of this bullet allows it to be seated out close to the rifling lands, while the cartridge length remains short enough to fit into the magazine. The bullet expands rapidly and very big, so penetration is not as good as expected. But for elk-sized or smaller game this bullet does a great job.

I have used the .358 UMT while hunting a diversity of big game from springbuck to brown bears. It’s been to Africa with me twice and has accounted for a lot of African game, including a waterbuck and a diminutive red duiker that both made the record book.

I have used it a lot in North America as well while hunting game as diverse as mule deer to brown bears. The odd thing is that while I developed the gun for elk, I have not shot an elk with it! It’s been elk hunting, but never when the elk got the memo and remembered to show up.

The .358 UMT shoots flatter than a .300 Winchester with a 180-grain bullet and has more energy than a .416 Remington at any range.

L to R: .416 Remington, .416 UMT and .416 Rigby.
L to R: .416 Remington, .416 UMT and .416 Rigby.

With a 250-yard zero the 225-grain Barnes TSX is 2.24 inches high at 100 yards and 3.26 inches low at 300 yards.

With the 250-grain bullet the .358 UMT produces 5,384 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy. At 100 yards it still has more energy than the .375 H&H has at the muzzle and at 200 yards it retains 3,676 ft.-lbs., almost as much as the .338 Win. Mag. has at the muzzle.

.416 UMT

A few years later, I decided that if big is good, bigger is even better and I designed another cartridge in the UMT family — the .416.

The .416 UMT is not a complicated wildcat. It is simply a .375 Remington Ultra Mag necked up to take a .416 bullet. The shoulder angle, base to shoulder length, and datum line are all maintained the same as the .375 RUM. One pass of a well-lubricated .375 RUM case over a RCBS resizing die equipped with a tapered neck expander forms the case.

The only other thing I do is square up the case mouth with a case trimmer. This results in a case that is 2.825 inches, or about .025-inch shorter than the .375 RUM.

.416 UMT rifle built on a Remington Model 700 by Mark Bansner.
.416 UMT rifle built on a Remington Model 700 by Mark Bansner.

The case holds 120.2 grains of water to the top of the neck. The most popular .416 cartridges and the closest competitors are the .416 Remington, which holds 103.4 grains of water, and the .416 Rigby, which holds 129.6 grains.

The Ultra Mag class of cartridges were all designed to operate at a maximum average pressure of 65,000 psi, which is the same as the .416 Remington. The larger case capacity with equal pressure results in higher velocity with a given bullet weight. The .416 Rigby runs at about 52,000 psi, which keeps the performance lower when compared to case capacity.

Alliant RL 15 and Hodgdon H4350 were two of the best powders tested, and accuracy was excellent with groups averaging just over one inch with the best loads. With 400-grain bullets and RL15, velocity ran a bit over 2,500 fps.

Ingredients for the .358 WSM wildcat include 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet, 75 grains of RL17, and a Federal 215M primer.
Ingredients for the .358 WSM wildcat include 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet, 75 grains of RL17, and a Federal 215M primer.

There are a couple of boxes of this unique ammo someplace in the Dar es Salaam airport, as I was greeted on my way home by a Nazi masquerading as a KLM airline ticket agent. She would not let my bags on the plane because they were a few pounds overweight, even if I paid. I was headed home, the ammo was disposable, and the last time I saw it some guy was carrying it at arm’s length like it was a nuclear bomb.

A muzzle velocity of 2,500 fps is a considerable increase over the .416 Remington and .416 Rigby, which are cataloged at 2,400 fps but rarely have shown it on my chronograph. The realistic “real world” gain in velocity for the .416 UMT is about 150-200 fps over those two rivals when compared with guns of equal barrel length.

The performance on game is outstanding. The first shot of the safari dropped a warthog like he was hit with Thor’s hammer. My buffalo was hit with three Swift A-Frames and two Barnes Banded Solid bullets. All but the first shot exited and they all went through the vitals, including the first shot, which traveled end for end. It hit him in the ass and stopped under the skin on his neck. (Yes, I was aiming there. Don’t ask, it’s a long story.)

The author shot this Colorado elk at 248 yards with a .358 WSM wildcat, which was comprised of a 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet and 75 grains of RL17. It was stoked with a Federal 215M primer.
The author shot this Colorado elk at 248 yards with a .358 WSM wildcat, which was comprised of a 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet and 75 grains of RL17. It was stoked with a Federal 215M primer.

Mark Bansner built the gun on a Remington Model 700 action and fitted it with a 24-inch Lilja barrel. The extractor was changed to a larger design for a more positive grip on the case during extraction. I had Mark replace the safety with one that would lock the bolt shut. Mark coated the metal with his proprietary Ti-K-Cote polymer-based finish and fitted the barreled action to one of his High Tech Specialties Stocks. We added a staggered-feed magazine with a single-stack, center feed system from H. S. Precision so the gun would feed Barnes Solids reliably.

When I received the rifle from Mark it only weighed 8-1/2 pounds with a scope. With a brake it was a beast, but it was manageable. I took the brake off and this gun became a detached retina in waiting. I could shoot it, but it wasn’t fun.

It also ate high-quality scopes like they were snacks. So, I had Mark install three mercury recoil suppressors, two for the butt and one in the forend. The result was a gun that came in at a comfortable 10-1/4 pounds when equipped with a Swarovski 1.25-4X24 Habicht scope in Warne detachable mounts. Unlike some others, this scope has stayed together through several hundred shots.

The rifle weight is just about right for this type of gun. It’s still light enough to carry well on those long tracking jobs but is heavy enough to keep the recoil manageable. The biggest advantage of that in a dangerous game rifle is to be able to control the rifle for fast follow-up shots. With this gun I was now able to fire repeated shots very quickly.

A Bansner-built rifle on an M70 action and topped with a Nitrix scope. It’s chambered in .358 WSM wildcat, which shoots a 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet. The propellant: 75 grains of RL17 and a Federal 215M primer.
A Bansner-built rifle on an M70 action and topped with a Nitrix scope. It’s chambered in .358 WSM wildcat, which shoots a 225-grain Trophy Bonded bullet. The propellant: 75 grains of RL17 and a Federal 215M primer.

.358 WSM

I was there when Winchester launched the .300 WSM and my first thought was to neck it to 35-caliber. In fact, I ordered a “donor” rifle that day. But due to some uncontrollable issues the project stalled for a couple of years and by the time I got my rifle somebody else had already done the cartridge and called it the .358 Sambar.

My rifle is based on a Winchester Model 70 short action rifle. Mark Bansner built the gun as he has several other custom rifles in the past, including both of my UMT wildcats.

The brass is easy to make by simply running .300 Winchester Short Magnum cases into a RCBS die with a tapered expander. I have tested several powders, but of those I tried, Aliant RL 17 is by far the best. It was developed for the short magnums and has certainly lived up to that in this cartridge. It gives me over 100 fps more velocity with a 225-grain bullet than any of the other powders I have tried to date.

The .358 WSM.
The .358 WSM.

With a 225-grain bullet this cartridge easily produces 2,950 fps on my chronograph. That’s the same “advertised” velocity of a 180-grain bullet from a .300 Winchester Magnum. The 225-grain loads produce 4,400 ft.-lbs. of muzzle energy, which is almost 1,000 more than the .300 Winchester.

I have used Trophy Bonded 225-grain bullets to shoot elk, whitetail, and even antelope. The first was a bull elk at 250 yards. The bullet broke both shoulders and exited. You can’t ask for more than that.

The Barnes 225 TSX shoots close to one-half MOA in my gun and is deadly on any game I have shot. The last one was a big whitetail buck that was facing away from me at 15 yards. I caught the last rib and the bullet exited out his neck. To say the results were spectacular would be an understatement.

The 200-grain Barnes Tipped Triple Shock X bullets have a muzzle velocity of 3,100 fps and average .73-inch groups from my rifle at 100 yards. With a 250-yard zero this load is 2.55 inches high at 100 yards and 3.67 inches low at 300 yards.

The author took this whitetail with a Bansner Custom Model 70 in .358 WSM.
The author took this whitetail with a Bansner Custom Model 70 in .358 WSM.

This cartridge is not fussy and is very easy to handload. Recoil is very manageable. It’s an extremely versatile cartridge that is good for hunting any big game in North America. It’s not out of place for deer, and I would not hesitate to use it to hunt brown bear. It’s also a good choice for African plains game, including the huge, tough-to-kill eland.

I don’t kid myself that my wildcats will ever achieve commercial success like the .22-250 or 7mm Remington Mangum and that’s OK. I like that they are a bit oddball. While their level of performance is outstanding, the huddled masses will never recognize that. But a gun guy will see the truth and that’s what matters most to a wildcatter.

Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from Handloader’s Digest, 19th Edition available now at GunDigestStore.com

DISCLAIMER: Any and all loading data found in this article or book, including past or future editions, is to be taken as reference material only. The publishers, editors, authors, contributors, and their entities bear no responsibility for the use by others of the data included herein. 

3 AR-Style Rifles Ready for 3-Gun

As the name suggests, the Colt Competition Pro was designed and built for competition where shooters must engage targets at both short and long ranges.
As the name suggests, the Colt Competition Pro was designed and built for competition where shooters must engage targets at both short and long ranges.

Get into the game fast with these competition-specific ARs.

Three-gun shooting is the fastest growing competitive shooting sport in the nation. As the name suggests, competitors use three guns; pistol, shotgun and rifle. Of the three, the rifle is called on for the widest range of use. A shooter might engage multiple close range targets very fast, and within seconds transition to precision targets at long range. I have shot at rifle targets from as close as 18 inches to as far away as 800 yards in a single match. The key is to do it with speed and precision, as the guy who hits all the targets the fastest wins the match.

For a long time competitors had to spend time and money to modify their rifles to make them suitable for competition. But rifle makers have noticed the growth in the sport and several are now offering “competition ready” rifles in their catalogs. Here are three that I have been lucky enough to test.

Colt Competition Pro

Colt Competition Pro for 3-Gun.Colt Competition was started with the concept that 3-gun competitors needed rifles that were ready to shoot. The Pro model is the higher grade of the two Colt Competition .223 Remington rifles offered. It was designed by hardcore shooters and tested extensively at national 3-gun matches.

It has an 18-inch long, match-grade stainless steel barrel. The custom fluting on the barrel is unique and exotic looking with a series of interrupted flutes. The barrel is six-groove button rifled with a 1:8 RH Twist. The 1:8 twist is preferred by most 3-gun shooters as it will stabilize heavy bullets but also handle light bullets, so it provides the widest range of ammo options for shooters.

The gun has a .223 Wylde Match Chamber and  uses a rifle-length gas system. This longer system is more reliable and smoother than a short “carbine” length gas system. It has the Colt Competition Fully-Adjustable Gas Block, which allows the shooter to tune the rifle to the specific ammo used. The result is a smoother action cycle, which can aid in speed and accuracy. The smoother the gun runs, the less disturbance on target and the faster the next shot can be taken. Those tenths of a second in split times add up in a game that’s won or lost by seconds.

Mine is an early rifle and came with a Sure-Fire muzzle brake. This is a very effective brake that’s also designed to attach a suppressor. The current rifles are being shipped with the new Colt Competition Triple-Chamber Muzzle Brake while the Sure-Fire is still offered as an option.

The Colt Competition uses a proprietary 15-inch floating handguard, which is the perfect length for the extended arm grip favored by a lot of shooters.

The upper and lower receivers are forged and machined for a precision fit. The upper is a flat-top with a Picatinny rail on top. The lower has the Colt Competition logo laser engraved into the side of the magwell.

Colt Competition Pro muzzle break. The rifle has a proofed and magnetic particle (MP) inspected bolt. The charging handle has an extended latch for fast operation. Meanwhile, the two-stage trigger on my gun breaks at 2 pounds, 12 ounces; lighter than the advertised 3.5-pound trigger and great for precision long-range shooting. It has a short and positive reset for fast work.

The gun has a Magpul CTR 6-Position Adjustable Stock, Magpul arched Trigger Guard and a Magpul Grip. As you might guess, it comes with a Magpul 30-round magazine. The safety is a standard, two position AR-15 safety.

The rifle is extremely accurate and with the light trigger it’s easy to use for precision long-range work. The average for 12, five-shot groups at 100 yards with three different ammo products was just .9-inch. The best groups were .65-inch for five shots.

When shooting speed drills to test my time, my best effort with this rifle was 1.6 seconds, which is the second best I have ever done.

This is a gun that you can take out of the box, add optics and ammo and win matches. I know that to be true, not just hype; because I have several shooting buddies who have done it.

Colt Competition Pro Specs

Caliber:    .223 Remington Wylde chamber
Action Type:    Semi-auto
Receiver:     Forged, precision-fitted with forging mark
Barrel:    18-inch, match grade barrel with a 1:8 twist
Magazine:    30-round magazine
Trigger:    Geissele Two-Stage Match Trigger
Sights:    Rail for mounting options
Stock:    Grip, forend and stock are Magpul
Weight:    7 lbs.
Overall Length:    38.25 in.
Accessories:    N/A
SRP:    $2,029
Website:    www.coltcompetitionrifle.com

The JP15 is not an entry-level 3-Gun rifle unless you think a Ferrari is an entry-level sportscar.

JP Enterprises JP15

I am in the middle of the third shooting season using the JP15 rifle for competition. It’s not very objective for a gun writer to say there is magic in a rifle, but in this one there is.

Let me tell you a couple of reasons why I think this way. We have a speed drill we practice often (mentioned earlier in this article): three targets at 5 yards and spaced three feet apart. The shooter starts with the gun on his shoulder and the barrel pointing at the ground. At the buzzer he fires two shots at each target. My best time is 1.3 seconds with the JP. I do this drill with every rifle I get in here to test, which is a lot of guns. I have never been able to beat that time.

During the 2012 Iron Man 3-Gun Match I engaged three sets of bonus targets at 550, 650 and 799 yards. The shooter was allowed up to five hits on each target. Most competitors brought a long range precision rifle for this stage, but I used the JP and cleaned all 15 bonus targets. I think I am the only competitor to do that with a main-match, competition .223 rifle.

Magic? You bet.

This rifle is extremely accurate and 100 percent dependable; both are qualities needed to help a shooter step up to the winner’s table. I am not anal enough to keep actual records of each round fired in every rifle I have, but I am well north of 15,000 rounds through this rifle without a gun-related hitch. When shooting ammo it likes, it still shoots half-MOA.

JP Enterprises JP15The JP15 is the “entry level” rifle from JP Enterprises. But that’s like saying an “entry level” Ferrari, because the JP entry level picks up where a lot of other gun makers end off.

The heart of the system, as it is with any accurate rifle, is the barrel, which in this rifle is the JP Supermatch barrel. This button-rifled barrel is made from 416R stainless steel. This is a pre-hardened chromium stainless steel, which is engineered for use in precision match-grade rifle barrels and designed to work well with button rifling.

The barrel has a 1:8 twist rate and is air-gauged and cryogenically treated. It measures .88-inch at the muzzle where it meets the brake. The barrel has a wasp-waist that is fitted with a set of cooling fins hidden under the handguard to aid in rapid heat dissipation. The JP Thermal Dissipater between the gas block and receiver results in a 700 percent increase in surface area under the handguard. This keeps the accuracy-robbing heat from building up during sustained fire drills. That keeps the shooter’s hand cooler, but more importantly it enhances barrel life, too.

The chamber is .223 Wylde that will accept .223 Remington, as well as  5.56x45mm ammo. The barrel is fitted with a JP Compensator that is timed and blended to the barrel so well you can’t see the panty line.

My rifle has the JP Low Mass Operating System. This system uses a reduced weight bolt carrier and low mass buffer with a matched buffer spring. This speeds up the cycle rate and makes the rifle run smoother, which is an asset when doing rapid, aimed fire, particularly during some of the drills common to many 3-gun matches.

The rifle has the JP single-stage Fire Control trigger system with the low mass speed hammer for a faster lock time.

The receivers are 7075 mil-spec forged. The long, round, vented JP Modular Hand Guard is well suited for competition. It has a rail on top and two swivels. The side swivel is for a sling while the bottom is used for a bi-pod. The buttstock is the ACE ARFX skeletal, which I find perfect for 3-gun competition. There are a lot of reasons why I am not the top Tactical Optics class shooter in the country, but I guarantee my rifle is not one of them!

JP Enterprises JP15 Specs
Caliber:    223 (Tested) .204 Ruger, 6.5 Grendel
Action Type:     Semi-auto
Receiver:    Mil-spec forged 7075 upper/lower receiver set
Barrel:    JP Supermatch 416R air-gauged, button-rifled, cryogenically treated barrel, 1:8 twist, button rifled
Magazine:    detachable
Trigger:    JP Fire Control Package available in weights of 3.0 – 4.5 lbs.
Sights:    n/a
Stock:    A2 or ACE ARFX buttstock, Hogue pistol grip
Weight:    7.5 pounds
Overall Length:    38-inches
Accessories:    JP accessory pack including operator’s manual, one magazine, GasGunBasics DVD
SRP:    $1,999
Website:    www.jprifles.com

Although the spent case is being kicked out on the right side of the shooter, like most Stag rifle models, the 3G is also available in a left-handed version as well.
Although the spent case is being kicked out on the right side of the shooter, like most Stag rifle models, the 3G is also available in a left-handed version as well.

Stag Arms 3G

Stag Arms is well known for producing left handed AR-15 style rifles, as well as the conventional right handed models. They got noticed for the southpaw aspect, but built their name by producing high quality rifles. The 3G is their competition ready rifle and can be ordered in a right or left hand model. I have a couple of southpaw shooting buddies who are very happy about that.

Stag Arms worked with their 3-gun shooting team to develop the new rifle. There are in truth a few things I would change. For example, I would add an extended charging handle latch, a tactical bolt release and possibly an ambi-safety. But these are small things and the truth is, this gun is competition ready out of the box. The one major change is I would also use a different muzzle brake as the one in my rifle over-compensates and drives the muzzle too low. All in all, minor issues on a fine rifle.

The rifle uses an 18-inch stainless-steel semi-heavy barrel that measures .727-inch near the muzzle and uses a 1:8 twist rate. The chamber is 5.56 NATO, so it can fire both 5.56 and .223 Remington ammo. The barrel has six flutes that are interrupted by the gas block for the rifle-length gas system. The last ¾ inch of the barrel is stepped down to .705-inch to the muzzle.

The barrel is fitted with a 21⁄4-inch long compensator installed with a crush washer. The gun is fitted with a Samson Evolution free-floating handguard. This handguard comes with a rail along the top. There are holes along the sides and bottom to add more rails if you want them. The sides are skeletonized with a double row of cuts on each side to shave off weight and aid heat dissipation. The diameter of the handguard is 1.825-inches, which is easy to grip. The 15-inch handguard extends well past the low profile gas block.

Stag Arms 3G AR-15.Most top 3-gun shooters never hold the gun in front of the magazine well.  Instead, they will have the weak hand extended way out on the front of the gun for action shooting. This gives much better control of the rifle for lateral movement during rapid target transition. Try this with a short handguard and all you get is burned fingers. I guess my point is this long handguard proves to me that Stag listened to some real shooters when designing the rifle.

When it comes to triggers, many AR builders are stuck on “Mil Spec Stupid” and forget that shooters need good triggers. It’s not uncommon to have precision targets at 500 or 600 yards or even farther in a 3-gun match. It’s a huge handicap to have a 10 pound “battle trigger” that’s rougher than Rosie O’Donnell’s personality.

Unless you order a better trigger as an option, almost all rifles will need an expensive replacement before using them in competition.

One popular replacement trigger is the Geissele Super 3-Gun trigger. This STAG rifle comes with that trigger as standard equipment. It uses what Geissele calls a ‘hybrid pull.” It’s a longer pull than most match-grade, single-stage triggers, but smooth and clean. On my rifle it breaks at just slightly over 3 pounds.

The buttstock and pistol grip are from Magpul, featuring their collapsible ACS buttstock and their MOE hard plastic pistol grip. Both have storage compartments.

I accuracy tested the rifle by shooting three different factory loads and one handload using bullets ranging from 50-grains to 75-grains. The average for three, 5-shot groups with each of the four loads was 1.23-inches, which is excellent accuracy in any rifle you plan to shoot, particularly right out of the box.

Stag Arms 3G Specs
Caliber:    5.56/.223
Action Type:    Gas impingement semi-auto
Receiver:     Right handed and left handed both offered
Barrel:    18-inch 1:8 twist
Magazine:    30-round removable magazine
Trigger:     N/A
Sights:    Rail for mounting optics, Dueck Defense Rapid Transition Sights (RTS) Optional
Stock:    Magpul ACS buttstock, Magpul MOE hard plastic pistol grip
Weight:    7.5 lbs.
Overall Length:    39.25 inches
Accessories:    N/A
SRP:    $1,459
Website:    stagarms.com

Double Check Your Hunting Loads

It is almost a certainty that if it’s a lead nose bullet it will be damaged, so use a bullet comparator to see if it has migrated out in the case.
It is almost a certainty that if it’s a lead nose bullet it will be damaged, so use a bullet comparator to see if it has migrated out in the case.

I have an email buddy who recently sent me a description of his sheep hunt in the Yukon. To say it was “snake bit” would be an understatement. Bad weather, a bad outfitter and bad timing all conspired against him.

The last straw came when his equipment failed. After an aborted stalk, he tried to unload his gun and found the bolt would not open. He and the guide (perhaps foolishly) beat it open with a rock. The problem was that the bullet was jammed into the rifling of the barrel and when they beat the bolt open the bullet stayed in the barrel, pulling out of the cartridge and plugging the bore. This made the rifle inoperative. That was the last straw for my friend and he openly admitted to sitting on the rocks and crying while his embarrassed guide tried not to notice.

I wrote him back that only somebody who has experienced this kind of failure can understand. It’s an overused cliché, but a hunt like this for most people truly is “once in a lifetime” and it requires a huge investment of time, money and emotion. It is, in all probability, the one shot at this that will ever happen in that hunter’s life, and it is something that he has been dreaming about and working toward for most of his life.

For any hunt, but especially for something as important as a sheep hunt, you must check your equipment, including handloads to eliminate any problems.
For any hunt, but especially for something as important as a sheep hunt, you must check your equipment, including handloads to eliminate any problems.

Only somebody who has been there can truly understand the bitterness when it goes wrong. I know, I have been there and I can’t say I handled myself well either. But then, the hunter who takes this without some sort of emotional display would be suspect in my mind. When hunting stops being an emotional experience it is probably time to put away your guns and take up golf.

So what went wrong with the sheep hunt? Handloads. Don’t take that to assume I am in league with those hunters who claim handloads can’t be trusted, I am not. Many of my most important hunts have been trusted to handloads. I have hunted sheep, Cape buffalo and most recently brown bear with handloads. But there are a few things to keep in mind.

First off, my friend reported that his gun closed hard on his handloads. This is always an indication of a problem. In his case it likely meant that the bullet was seated out too far and was contacting the rifling lands. The problem with this is that it often results in excellent accuracy, so the hunter thinks he has the perfect load. If the contact does not stick the bullet in the barrel as happened to him and the cartridge can be extracted intact, the hunter assumes things are fine. They are not and this is a recipe for disaster.

What I suspect happened with him with the cartridge that did stick is that the cartridge was in the magazine of the gun while he fired to check his sights. If the handload is not done correctly the bullet can migrate out in the case each time the gun is fired.  If the shooter keeps “topping off the magazine” after shooting, some of the cartridges can be in the magazine through several firings of the rifle. This can result in the bullet moving forward in the case a considerable distance.

Bullet migration can be a huge problem with dangerous game rifles. The stiff recoil and heavy bullet compound the effect. If, during a charge, the cartridge will not chamber, as is often the case after bullet migration, you are in big trouble. If it happens during a sheep hunt, you probably will not be killed by a charging ram. But, you may feel like killing yourself when you realize that your $30,000 hunt is over.

So what’s the solution? Easy. Make sure there is plenty of neck tension so that the case is firmly holding the bullet.  Seat the bullet so that it is well off the lands, never touching. Leave a gap of at least .010-inch, but more is better. With dangerous game loads, always crimp the case mouth to the bullet. That’s not a bad idea with any hunting load if there is a cannelure on the bullet to allow crimping. Just remember to trim all your case necks so that there is a constant case length and so a constant crimp from case to case.

Rotate the ammo in the magazine. During my recent brown bear hunt I emptied the magazine in my guide’s .338 Winchester and clearly the cartridges on the bottom had been there a while. They were beaten and battered from smashing into the magazine well during recoil. They were crimped and sealed Federal factory loads and the bullets had not migrated. Still, when I showed them to him and explained about what could happen his face turned white and he quickly replaced the cartridges with fresh ammo.

Finally, test your equipment. In my never-humble opinion, it’s foolish to gamble an important hunt (and they are all important) on something you can control. Before any big hunt you should have lots of range time with your rifle and loads. You should spend multiple days and hundreds of rounds of ammo making sure nothing is going to go wrong.

It is important to seat the bullet well off the rifling lands for any hunting handload.  Double check the overall length.
It is important to seat the bullet well off the rifling lands for any hunting handload. Double check the overall length.

Try loading the magazine and then shooting the rifle 15 or 20 times without changing the ammo in the magazine. Then try to chamber the cartridges in the magazine. If the bolt binds up, do not force it. Remove the cartridge and measure the length. It is almost a certainty that if it’s a lead-nose bullet it will be damaged, so use a bullet comparator to see if it has migrated out in the case.

Most problems will surface early. For example, I had a high-dollar, top name-brand scope turn to rattling trash this year before a big international hunt. If that had happened during the hunt, rather than at the range it would have been a disaster. I don’t keep records, but I would guess I fired about 100 rounds through my rifle before the scope turned belly up. It was a good example of the importance of plenty of pre-hunt trigger pulling. The practice will build your shooting skills, but even more important, it’s far less emotional to expose the problems before rather than during.

For the record, my friend solved the stuck bullet problem with some very creative thinking. But even after the rifle was repaired, the course of bad luck continued and his hunt was unsuccessful.

This article appeared in the December 21, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. Click here to learn more. Click here to load up on a subscription.


Cartridges of the World Collection

This exclusive collection centers on the 14th edition of Cartridges of the World, an indispensable guide for any cartridge collector or handloader. Inside you’ll find coverage of over 1,500 cartridges, ample illustrations, articles written by top experts, and more. You also get Ammo Encyclopedia, 5th Edition, Gun Digest the Magazine’s special Ammo Issue and the American Standard Bullet Poster.

Winchester 94: The Best-Selling Rifle Ever is Back

Towsley looks at the new Winchester 94.The first day back in the office after a long hunting trip is always a bust. I am invariably tired, worn out, unfocused and stuck dealing with emails, phone calls and nothing that is ever productive. That’s how my day started, just back from an Alaska brown bear hunt, but while I was sorting through all the offers to enhance my male parts and to sell me gold, a new email popped up with good news.

The Winchester Model 94 rifle is back.

Sort of.

Winchester announced today (October 21, 2009) that they are reintroducing the Model 94 with two high-end, high-dollar limited-edition rifles that will commemorate Oliver F. Winchester’s 200th birthday.

The Model 94 was originally called the “Model 1894.” This lever action rifle was a John Browning design and was important for a couple of reasons. First is because it introduced smokeless powder to the civilian world. The military was first to use smokeless powder with the .30-40 Krag in 1892. The Krag was also the first “small bore” military cartridge.

It didn’t hang around long, as the .30-03 replaced it in 1903 as a military cartridge. That was replaced by the updated version called the .30-06 (well actually, it was named “Cartridge, Caliber .30, Model of 1906”) three years later. But the Krag was significant as it introduced smokeless powder and small diameter bullets to the United States.

The new Winchester Model 94 is quite fancy. It's no longer a commoner's gun.
The new Winchester Model 94 is quite fancy. It's no longer a commoner's gun.

It was inevitable that the civilian world would follow suit and the Model 1894 Winchester was the rifle that introduced this new concept in cartridges and propellants to civilians. When it first shipped in early 1895, the Winchester Model 1894 rifle was chambered in two new, “cutting edge,” high-velocity, small-bore, smokeless powder cartridges, the .30 WCF or, as we came to know it, the .30-30 Winchester; and the .25-35 WCF, known best as the .25-35 Winchester. These were the first two smokeless powder cartridges ever offered to the civilian market in America, and they ushered in an unprecedented era in American rifle cartridges.

In less than a generation we witnessed the birth of some of our greatest hunting cartridges ever, cartridges that continue to be at the top of the popularity heap even today. While these two Winchester cartridges were the portal that transitioned American hunters from big-bore, low-velocity, black powder cartridges to the high velocity, small bore cartridges that continue to dominate our hunting rifle choices today; the Winchester Model 1894 rifle was the delivery system. For that alone this rifle will remain one of the most important ever in American firearms history.

The second reason the Model 94 is so important and historic and why it was such a tragedy when Winchester folded its tent and stopped production in January of 2006, is because with more than six million sold, the Model 94 is the most popular rifle in history.

It is common knowledge among gun guys that the .30-30 Winchester is even today one of the most popular cartridges in terms of sales numbers, and it was claimed without challenge for decades that the .30-30 killed more deer than any other cartridge in history.

That’s certainly not because of any magic ballistic powers the .30-30 contains. The truth is, it’s antiquated and underpowered by today’s standards. But, it continues to be in the top two or three of big game cartridges sold for one simple reason, the Winchester Model 94.

This was the perfect marriage. The rifle sold the cartridge, not the other way around, as with some other popular introductions. The Winchester Model 94 carbine is a slick handling, good feeling rifle that everybody loves. It was priced just right for the working man and it was durable and reliable. But, best of all, it simply felt right in your hand as you carried it. It probably didn’t hurt that for much of the rifle’s life America’s heroes were cowboys. Generations watched the Winchester lever action rifles deal with the bad guys in movies and television shows. It was the gun our heroes used and so it was the gun we used.

The .30-30 proved to be the best performer of the two new cartridges and quickly surged ahead in sales. The name also rolled off the tongue much better than .25-35 Winchester and so it was much cooler to say. Laugh if you must, but the marketing people will tell you that is an important aspect to success. But, without the Model 94 rifle the .30-30 Winchester would have been dumped on the junk heap of obsolescence years ago. Sure it is popular in other rifles, such as the Marlin 336, but without the Model 94 the .30-30 would never have lasted long enough to become popular in the Marlin.

Now it’s back.

But not in the classic Model 94 spirit. These rifles are fancy looking and priced for kings, not commoners. The limited edition Model 1894 Custom Grade rifle has a suggested retail of $1,959. The Model 1894 High Grade rifle’s suggested retail is $1,469. I expect they will sell out production quickly, but these new rifles are not in the true spirit of what made the 94 historic.

The return of the Model 1894 is a wonderful thing, but it didn’t become the most popular rifle in history by selling high grade walnut and embellished engraving. This is the working man’s gun and these two are not in a working man’s budget. In fact, I would be shocked if any of these new rifles ever shoot a white tail.

Will the plain, vanilla Model 94 return? The word I have from a Winchester representative is yes. But, he couldn’t say when or for what price. It’s also going to be made in Japan by Miroku. They make high quality firearms, but will the American cowboy (and we gun guys are all a little bit “cowboy”) accept a rifle made in Japan?

My guess is it will depend on the price. If they bring back the Model 94 rifle that became famous, that is a simple, functional, well made carbine for a reasonable price, we won’t care where it’s made and will buy it again. But, if the falling dollar leaves it priced too high, I predict the Model 94 is in for a rough time and will be fighting for survival.

This may be the rebirth of an American legend. Let’s hope it can survive.

Wheel Weight Bullets

Wheel Weight Bullets
Casting Bullets from wheel weights is one way to keep shooting during the Obama induced bullet and ammo drought.

When money's tight – or even when it's not – don't overlook bullet casting as an affordable way to churn out some fine projectiles.

Back in the Carter Economy I had a choice, give up shooting or give up my apartment. No way was I going to stop shooting, but I didn’t want to be homeless either. So I found a third way. Today I am having trouble finding bullets, and so I find myself returning to that third way.

In those days I was into shooting Handgun Metallic Silhouette as well as PPC and I needed to cut costs, so I started making my own bullets. I suppose I have cast bullets to thank for not winding up homeless. Here is a little bit of what I have learned and a few suggestions on how to make your own bullets to get you through this economic mess.

I keep things pretty simple. Wheel weights can be found anyplace that sells tires and are perhaps the most available and inexpensive material for bullet casting. They rank 9-13 on the Brinell scale and about six on the Saeco hardness tester. That’s hard enough to work for most cast pistol bullets and for low-velocity rifle bullets.

Wheel weights do require a little extra attention. Any time a lead alloy is melted the metals will separate and must be fluxed and stirred to remix the alloy. When wheel weights are melted, all kinds of junk will float to the top, including the metal clips and lots of dirt and sand. Before skimming this off you must flux the melt to mix all the alloy metals back together. Otherwise you will skim off the tin and antimony that may be floating on top of the molten lead. The best product I have used for that is Marvelux from Brownells. It works great and produces much less smoke and smell than bullet lube or other “traditional” flux materials.

Wheel Wieght Bullets
Casting bullets is fun, and a lot cheaper than “store-bought” bullets.

Flux the melted wheel weights two or three times and stir the pot well each time, making sure to scrape the sides to loosen any clinging dirt or debris. It goes without saying that you should be wearing heavy gloves, safety goggles and a long sleeve shirt. (I carry scars on my arms to this day as proof of that advice.) After you have fluxed several times, skim the dirt, dross and metal clips out of the pot. I put mine in an old coffee can to cool, and then throw them away. If the pot is still not full enough, put in some more wheel weights and repeat the process. Once you have a full pot of molten alloy, flux again, stir well and skim off any remaining dirt and dross. Plenty of fluxing and stirring will help to make sure that no dirt or sand remains suspended in the melted alloy.

They say all wheel weights are not the same and the alloy mix can vary, brand to brand, weight to weight, so it’s probably best now to pour the melt into ingot moulds. That way, when they are remelted you can mix the batches and add one more generation to the mix. The idea is that the more individual wheel weights used, the more diluted the differences in alloy. But, to be honest, once I have a full lead pot, I usually start casting bullets. Later, I’ll check the bullets to make sure they are the expected weight and hardness (using the Saeco tester) and if they are I assume the alloy mix from my wheel weights was fine.

These days I use a bottom-pour RCBS electric lead pot which is faster and easier than a pot and ladle. Either way, it’s important to keep the mould level as it’s filled. When the sprue puddle is hardened, use a hardwood mallet or rod to sharply hit the sprue plate tab. This will cleanly cut the sprue and swing the sprue plate off the top of the mould. Something that is round or oval works better than a mallet or hammer shape. I have used a broken hatchet handle for years. One end is so worn and tapered that I have had to switch ends. They sell commercial tools for this, but any piece of hardwood that’s close to round and heavy enough will work. The bullets may drop out after the mould is opened, but usually they require that you tap on the hinge of the mould handles gently to coax them out. Never hit the mould.

The bullets are still very hot and soft, so they must fall on something soft and heat resistant. I use a thick piece of foam covered with an old towel. The foam cushions the bullets while the towel keeps the hot bullets from melting into the foam. Be careful that the new bullets fall into a clear area and do not hit bullets already lying on the pad. When you start running out of clear area, raise one side of the towel to gently roll the cooling bullets so they pile up on the edge of the pad.

It’s a good idea to visually inspect the bullets after they have cooled. If you are really fussy, weigh them to sort out any that may be off the average. Then they should be run through a sizer/lubricator. This makes sure they are the correct diameter and injects lubricant into the grooves on the bullet. If a gas check is to be used it’s installed at this time.

Wipe the lube off the base of the bullets and load them. Casting bullets is fun, a lot cheaper than “store-bought” bullets and it might help keep a roof over your head in spite of Obama’s best efforts.

This article appeared in the August 31, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

Dont Let Your Guard Down

Is the panic buying on ammo finally slowing down and will we see store shelves stocked again soon?

I talked with the guys behind the counter and they said that even a few weeks ago they couldn’t keep black rifles or ammo in stock, but things were slowing down. I already knew that. The president of one of the major black rifle makers told me a couple of weeks ago that the bloom was fading on the AR-15 blossom. He said that the expected cancellations were coming in and that the back order log was growing smaller.

Most buyers had placed multiple orders for the rifle they wanted with plans to take the first one that arrived. That contributed heavily to the backorder log. Once they received a rifle, they simply canceled the other orders and suddenly back orders started to abate. But, it’s like one astute guy behind the gun shop counter said, “Sooner or later Obama, or somebody in his administration, will run their mouth and it will start again.”

Panic buying is a problem that will run like the tides, with ebbs and flows, but is not about to go away. Obama is after our guns, nobody with more than ten brain cells believes otherwise. But, he is smart and patient. He is stacking the deck with anti-gun appointees and he is using the press to soften things up with suppressing fire. From the ridiculous stories about how Mexico’s troubles are all our fault to the insultingly biased 20-20 “exposé” on how arming students will not work, the press is working to soften up the opposition.

If you doubt for a minute that the mainstream press is now completely in Obama’s pocket, consider that on June 24th ABC News will broadcast from the Whitehouse while pushing for socialized medicine and they will not allow any opposing voices to be heard. The networks are now state run; all that is left is to make it official. At the rate Obama is nationalizing our banking and manufacturing sectors, I am sure that’s coming.

Obama owns the mainstream press and they are ramping up on the gun control issue. When he will strike is the only unknown. My guess is that they are just waiting for the right time. In fact, Dianne Feinstein said exactly that; “I will pick the time and place.” They need something catastrophic to happen, and one way or the other, it will. That will be the launch for going after guns. If it is serious enough they will do an end run on the Constitution and simply try to take them. Don’t think for a minute you or your guns are safe from this guy or that he is too busy to bother with guns. It’s all in the timing and he knows that.

Is the panic buying on black guns slowing down or will the threat continue?

Meanwhile, they will keep probing for weak spots. Micro-stamping on ammo, lead bans and other perceived “cracks” will be exploited in an attempt to push their nose under the tent. They are too smart to open big with something that might fail, so they are continuing to build up their armament and wait until it’s time to strike. Do not let your guard down.

I expect that ammo is going to continue to be hard to find, as well as components. The only primers in the gun store I visited yesterday were 200 shotgun primers. Nothing else was on the shelf. This is going to be a problem for a while as most primer production is being allocated to manufacturing ammo. With two wars going on and several more ramping up, the government is buying a lot of ammo.

Civilian demand continues to be high and as a result components are hard to come by, which is making it tough on competition shooting. I just completed the MGM Iron Man three-gun match in Idaho where I fired about 1,500 rounds in three days. Finding that much ammo and/or components to load them was a problem. For the first time in my life I ran out of ammo during a match and had to beg, buy and borrow enough to finish. Thank God that shooters are a generous group of people.

As I was checking in at the airport on the way home, the guy behind the counter asked me about my guns. He then went on to say that he recently bought several guns and a bunch of ammo. “I am scared to death about where our country is headed,” he told me. “I am also saving food,” he continued, “I never thought I would own guns or hoard food, but I am. I might be the only Hispanic in the country who didn’t vote for Obama and I am scared to death about where he is taking our country.”

I am no economist, but I too am scared. I am smart enough to know that by spending more money in five months than all the previous presidents combined, Obama is heading us for trouble. He can’t keep printing money, it didn’t work for Germany between the World Wars and it hasn’t worked for Zimbabwe where the percent of inflation is now measured in millions. Obama is either incredibly naive about economics or he is out to deliberately wreck our economy. My guess is it is deliberate. Particularly when you look at the timeline.

He used the “crisis” for as long as he could to spend as much money as he could in a hurry. When people started to say, “Wait a minute,” he slowed down and found other ways to spend. Now he is pushing health care way too hard and too fast, which is basically a huge spending bill. This guy is politically smart and he has an agenda. If you look at his America bashing, here and abroad, it’s not hard to conceive that he is out to “change” America into something we will not recognize. He can’t do that if we still have guns.

If you doubt that, if you think I am a right wing whacko, if you think it can’t happen in America, you have not read enough history. Bottom line, stay vigilant, this ain’t over.


Fixing the Glock .40 S&W Bulge

The trouble with the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge in the Glock pistols has been well documented and has been discussed ad nauseum on the Internet forums. Here's how to fix the Glock .40 S&W bulge.

How to fix the "bulge" caused by Glock 40 S&W handgunsWhat causes the problem known as “Glock .40 S&W bulge” is that part of the chamber is unsupported and when firing, the pressure allows the case to expand and bulge. There are multiple reports of ruptured cases resulting in damage to the guns and shooters. This is, apparently, mostly a problem with handloads. The theory is that if the case is bulged the first time it is fired and that bulged area is oriented in the unsupported section again when the handload is fired, it can rupture.

All I can add to the argument is that I have owned a Glock Model 22 in .40 S&W for 15 years and have fired thousands of rounds. The guy hanging around my daughter for the past several years, Brendan Burns, has a Model 23 and he has probably shot three times the ammo through his as I have mine. Granted most have been factory loads, but in Camp Towsley no gun is ever exclusive to factory ammo and more than a few handloads have been through both guns. We have never had a problem. Not one, zero, nada. But, the technical side of me understands that this is not a particularly good design and the potential for a problem is clear and present.

Ammo is in short supply these days, but I am not going to let this Obama-induced scare keep me from the sport I love most. One way or the other, I am going to shoot and hoarding ammo serves little to aid that goal. With the current ammo shortage and escalating prices, my factory ammo reserves are depleted so we are shooting a lot more handloads, and handloads are where the Glock problems rear their ugly heads most often.

The trouble is that a conventional resizing die does not completely remove the “Glock Bulge” from the case. This introduces two problems; one is the obvious potential for a case failure. The other is that a misshapen case is a jam waiting to happen. Which brings me to the reason for this column. Redding Reloading Equipment has a new tool called the G-Rx die set. I was lucky enough to be one of the first to see this tool and it’s been on my reloading bench for several months.

The die screws into your reloading press and the “pusher rod” replaces the shell holder. To use it, simply place a lubricated .40 S&W case on the pusher rod and pull the handle on the press. This starts the case into the die in a tapered section that aligns it, then the pusher rod pushes the case through the die, forcing it back into size and shape before the case pops out the top of the die. A collection bottle that fits on top is optional.

Now every .40 S&W case we are loading is pushed through this die first. Problem solved.

Even if you don’t shoot a Glock, this tool is still a very good idea. If you collect or buy range brass you have no way of knowing if it was fired in a Glock. The Redding G-Rx die restores the brass to ensure that it will function well in any pistol.

Check it out at:
Redding Reloading Equipment
792 Ridge Road
Lansing, NY 14882
(607) 753-3331

Towsley On Target: The Big (.50 BMG) Guns

A home-built .50 Caliber produces recoil lighter than a .270 Winchester.

While a lot of gun writers specialize, that’s not me. If it shoots, I like it. Handguns, rifles, shotgun, muzzle loaders you name it. But there was one area I had not fully explored and now, thanks to a friend, I am moving into that vacant territory.

Towsley having fun shooting the big .50 BMG, and thankful for the freedom to shoot these impressive cartridges.

My entire experience with a .50 BMG was a few shots with the big machine gun deep in the bowels of the FN factory in Belgium eight years ago. They were a bit stingy with the ammo and the gun firing full-auto is not really the definition of ammo conservation, so my introduction was brief. But, the experience left an indelible mark on my soul.

Fast forward seven years when I stopped in to see my dad’s long-time best friend. Lee Houghton is retired now and has rediscovered shooting and guns in a big way. Lee is one of those clever guys who can do anything. He built an airboat in Vermont years ago when nobody outside of the everglades had likely seen one. He built his own airplane in the 1970s and the level of craftsmanship he shows with wood or metal has always amazed me.

I stopped in to show Lee a new rifle I had bought and he was working on a blueprint drawing. “I am building a .50 BMG rifle” he said with a big grin. Well now, a year or so later, it’s nearing completion. He bought an action and picked up a used machine gun barrel someplace or other and bought a muzzle brake. The rest he built from scratch, including one of the best bipod systems I have ever seen.

He didn’t copy anybody, but just did his own design without ever really looking at any of the others, which is genius if you ask me. The result is a huge, heavy, stretched out T-Rex of a rifle that is as cool as it gets.

This home-built custom .50 BMG handles the big cartridge well.
.50 BMG ammo isn't cheap, but the goal is well-placed shots at great distances with a heavy bullet.

But the bigger issue, as far as I am concerned, is that his enthusiasm is contagious. Every time I stepped into his shop he had something new to show me and it wasn’t long before I decided that I needed to look into this .50 BMG thing myself. Having neither Lee’s time nor talent, I ordered a Barrett single-shot rifle.

Of course, I decided to do this right in the middle of the “Obama Firearms and Ammunition Sales Stimulus Program” so finding ammo was like a quest for the Holy Grail. The gun languished in my vault for a couple of weeks before Cabela’s came to the rescue. I managed to get 40 rounds of Brazilian-made full-metal-jacket ammo from them and last weekend we made some noise.

Lee’s rifle is still not complete, but it was done enough to shoot. He still needs a cheek piece on the stock, which I suspect will be finished by next weekend, and to put the finish of DuraCoat on the gun. But neither would deny a trial run. We took his rifle and mine out to the cold, muddy, March field near his house.

For those of you who don’t know, the .50 BMG is a huge cartridge. It’s a scary proposition to lie down behind the rifle for the first time, not knowing what to expect. Even with a gun approaching 50 pounds and a muzzle brake that looks like something off a Star Wars fighter ship hanging on the 44-inch barrel, the concept of putting that huge cartridge in a rifle, putting the rifle on your shoulder and pulling the trigger has some psychological aspects that are a bit scary to explore.

Lee’s son Kurt took the first shot while we stood back, stiff with anticipation.

The result was actually a bit of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, this cartridge leaves no doubt when it goes off. Grass and mud filled the air and the sonic wave pounded our chest like the bass line in the front row of a Hendrix concert. The distinctive boom rolled across the valley and echoed back off the mountains, but the gun barely moved. Kurt described the recoil as being like that of a .270 Winchester.

When asked about the muzzle blast, however, he used far more descriptive language. While the recoil may disappoint, the blast must be experienced to be properly appreciated.

Then it was time for me and the Barrett. This gun is about 20 pounds lighter than Lee’s rifle, but it still takes a full-grown man to pack it around. The recoil is not all that bad; far less than any of my dangerous game rifles and probably even less than a lot of the guns I’ve used to hunt deer. But the big arrowhead muzzle brake laid down a blast zone that didn’t disappoint.

Once we had the guns zeroed we moved the targets out to 350 yards, which was all we could get at this location. It was child’s play and both guns were shooting groups small enough to make me happy at half the distance.

The percussion from the .50 BMG blast is one of the funnest aspects of shooting these big guns
The percussion from the .50 BMG blast is one of the funnest aspects of shooting these big guns

Within days I ordered a reactive target from R&R Racing (www.randrracingonline.com) which is designed for the 50 BMG and we are scouting locations with longer distances so we can challenge these rifles. I ordered more ammo, as well as reloading equipment and components. The Barrett is just on loan, but Lee has talked me into building my own rifle. And, well, I guess I am hooked.

There is something almost mystical about controlling this much power. Shooting these big rifles is not like anything else I have experienced. For a true gun guy this is another pinnacle of shooting. I would not say it replaces any of the other shooting interests in my life, but rather enhances them.

At seven or eight dollars a pop for good ammo it’s not something you shoot in the volume of an AR-15. But that’s not what it’s about. It's about being able to reach across vast distances and deliver a big, heavy bullet with precision. But, it’s more than that. It’s about unleashing the raw power of this big cartridge. Like one spectator said, “that was as much fun as I have ever had shooting and I didn’t even pull the trigger.”

It gives me an understanding why so many anti-gun people want to ban these rifles. Shooting them is raw fun, and no good liberal ever wants anybody to have fun. But, I’ll tell you something else, these guns are freedom. When you pull that trigger for the first time and experience a .50 BMG up close and personal, your life will change. You will finally understand the importance of freedom. We are living in one of the few places in the world that Joe Average can have this experience. Let’s keep it that way.

Recommended Resources

Gun Digest 2015

Gun Digest 2015, 69th Annual Edition

Gun Digest Book of Classic Combat Handguns

36th Edition Blue Book of Gun Values

Now It Begins: Obama

A lot of people with hopeful intentions argued that Barack Hussein Obama will be too busy with the economy to worry about gun issues. Well, that’s been put to rest. It’s not even March and he announced through his anti-gun Attorney General Eric “You Are All Cowards” Holder that he is going to pursue a new “assault weapons ban.” The reason? There are too many fully automatic rifles in Mexico.

Somehow it’s all our fault. Well, it’s the fault of that pesky Second Amendment. The Obomination crowd isn’t going to tell Mexico to handle its own problems or even try to control our borders. Instead, the fix is to take away the guns you and I own. Which apparently are not even the guns that the Mexicans are using.

The ABC news report on Feb. 25 that broke B. Hussein’s intentions included this: “Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades.” Of course, an informed person would know that the Mexicans are not getting automatic weapons or grenades legally from the United States. But logic and truth are little impediment to the Obama steam roller to totalitarianism. Sure, it may pause at socialism for a brief time, but that’s the true destination.

Anybody who has been watching the news and is aware of his tactics could see they were positioning for this with the escalation of reports coming out of the Mexican border areas of too many guns. One ABC news report from Brian Ross and Richard Esposito carried the headline: “U.S. Guns Arming Mexican Drug Gangs; Second Amendment to Blame?” In the minds of fools like Brian Ross, our Constitution and our freedom are the reason that Mexico has a drug dealer shoot-em-up problem? Maybe, but it’s more likely that they are simply useful idiots for the anti-gun forces rallying behind “The One.”

The guns in question are illegal in Mexico, proving that gun bans do not work. The logical approach would be to tell Mexico to enforce its own laws, and maybe give them a little help with that. Also, if the U.S. truly is the source, the guns are being smuggled, illegally, across the border. Wouldn’t you think that perhaps some control on our borders might be the answer? After all, they’re shipping drugs, illegal immigrants, and probably terrorists into the U.S., so logic would show that tightening up on the border might make sense. No, in the minds of our leaders, the problem clearly is our Constitution.

The reason? Our Constitution, including the First and Second amendments (both under attack right now by this administration and its minions) is in the way of their goals. They must find a way to whittle away at them until they are gone. “We simply cannot tolerate dissenting opinions or armed citizens.”

Holder went on to say that Obama also wants to ban “cop killer bullets,” an issue put to bed decades ago. What he really means is they want all your ammo. Any deer rifle will penetrate a ballistic vest and can be called a “Cop Killer.” Holder says that they want to close the mythical “gun show loophole,” but it’s how they plan to ban all private sales of firearms.

This is just the beginning. They hide behind the shield of “reasonable gun control” and point out Obama is only interested in a “few small gun issues.” Like ending all private ownership of guns and ammo. Why all the fuss? Why can’t you NRA guys be reasonable? (Why can’t he provide a birth certificate?)

For those gun owners who voted for this train wreck all I can say is, you should be ashamed.

At the rate he and Congress are spending money, we are probably headed for a total economic meltdown anyway. Also, he is all but ignoring the terrorist threat, which will result in more domestic terrorism. What role owning guns will play after all that is something to think about.

Speaking of Obama, the spell checker in my computer doesn’t recognize his name and wants to change it to Osama. Do you think it is trying to tell me something?

Barnes Bullets

Barnes has a new line of bullets called RRLP, which stands for Reduced Ricochet, Limited Penetration. They’re designed for law enforcement, but those of us who enjoy shooting at steel targets with our rifles will like them as well.

They’re basically the same bullets as Barnes Multi-Purpose Green bullets. While they work well in any firearm, they’re designed specifically for AR type rifles. They have a cannelure to crimp to and stand up well to the rigors of a semi-auto rifle.

The Barnes Reduced Ricochet, Limited Penetration (RRLP) bullet is designed to dump its energy into the target, making it ideal for a self-defensive round.

The bullets feature a frangible, powdered-metal, copper-tin core inside a gilding metal jacket. That means they’re lead-free, which is important for some ranges. They are also frangible, so the risk of a ricochet is greatly reduced and they’re less damaging to steel targets. Of course, the key to any bullet on a steel target is velocity, but if you keep the velocity to a safe level, these bullets are kinder and gentler on the steel.

They include a 55-grain .224, 140-grain .308 and a 108-grain .310 for 7.62x39mm rifles. On that last one, note that some rifles use a .308 bore for the 7.62×39 chambering, including a lot of current manufacture sporting rifles. But most of the military surplus rifles will have a .311-inch bore. For those, this Barnes bullet is a good choice.

I have not personally tried the bullets on anything except targets, so all I can comment on is accuracy, which is excellent in my rifles.

Reports from people I trust say they are deadly on coyotes and other vermin. I am told that the 140-grain .308 bullet is a sight to behold when it hits a coyote. With no exit, it’s dumping a lot of metal and energy in a short time.

Those same terminal characteristics make these a good choice for home defense. The lack of deep penetration and the total dumping of all energy and bullet material in the target not only gets the job done fast, but also helps eliminate the danger to family and neighbors from a pass-through.

The bullets are a little pricy because lead-free components are expensive. But they do bring a premium in performance and safety.

One other good point: They are available. Most bullets for these cartridges are in short supply right now due to the “Obama Guns and Ammo Sales Recovery Program,” but Barnes is filling 99 percent of its orders.

Bryce Towsley is one of the country’s best-known firearms writers. Check out his website at www.brycetowsley.com