One hunter took the Legendary Arms Works Professional rifle on an African safari to see how it performed. The results speak for themselves.
Halloween, 2015 // Steenbokpan, South Africa
The temperature at daybreak was well into the 80s as PH Nick Prinsloo and I climbed into the back of the Toyota Cruiser. He handed up the .300 Magnum, and we set off for the kudu haunts. After an hour spent looking for tracks, my wife hit me in the leg, eyes wide, and threw her hands in the air in two rising spirals.
She was the only one who saw the bull, and he had apparently beat feet for safer country. Nick and I dismounted and began a stalk of the area.
The terrain was incredible. Marula trees gave way to the rooibos, interspersed with small rocky kopjes the color of rust. The hours went by as we did our best to combat the swirling wind fueled by the now over 100-degree temperatures, but there was no sign of the bull.
We had actually given up for the morning when we finally caught the flick of a huge ear belonging to a kudu cow. We redoubled our efforts, despite the torturous heat, and within a couple hundred yards, we saw the bull we were after.
Unfortunately, he saw us first and began that familiar kudu sprint away from danger. The sticks were hastily spread, and Nick uttered the two words I’d longed to hear for over a decade: “Shoot him!”
The Professional came to my shoulder and onto the sticks in one effortless move, and the instant I had the shot in the Bushnell’s crosshairs, the Timney trigger broke as if commanded by thought and seemingly without my hand playing any part. I don’t recall the recoil, but I do vividly remember the bull falling out of the scope. Nick’s slap on the back was the icing on the cake.
Legendary Arms Works is a collaboration between two well known industry names: It is the marriage of the Ed Brown Model 704 action and Mark Bansner’s fantastic fiberglass stocks, and simply put, they are made properly. There are three models: The Closer, The Professional and The Big Five.
When you take a rifle on safari, it needs to be utterly reliable; there is little chance that you will find someone to fix your rifle in the bush. I chose the Professional because of the design features that Legendary puts into its guns.
The Model 704 action is a slim, trim, controlled round feed affair. It is a round action, which affords a comfortable grip on the rifle when carried under the floorplate.
But the 704 is not your traditional Mauser-style controlled round feed with a huge claw-style extractor; the bolt has the profile and appearance of the push-feed rifles. A slot in the bottom of the bolt face cleanly picks up the cartridge, and a full 1/3 of the remaining bolt face is a huge extractor.
Let all skepticism be put aside; even with ammunition on the hot side of the spectrum and temperatures that topped out at 112 degrees, there were no extraction problems whatsoever. The 704 uses a blade-style ejector, and the fluted bolt adds a bit of style to the deal. The magazine loads its cartridges to the left first, the opposite of most bolt-action rifles, and the hinged floorplate provides quick unloading of the firearm.
The Professional’s magazine holds three .300 Winchester cartridges, and you can chamber a fourth if you’re so inclined. A three-position wing safety, a la the Model 70 Winchester, permits safe unloading of the rifle, without putting it into battery.
To round things off, the Legendary Rifles — including the Professional — come with a hand-tuned Timney trigger that breaks at just about 3¼ pounds, perfect for a hunting rifle.
Mark Bansner has long been in the stock-making business — formerly operating High Tech Specialties — and the stock provided with the Legendary Arms Works Professional is a winner. A graceful, sloping pistol grip, which will guarantee that you don’t get that nasty knuckle-split from recoil in the hard-kicking calibers, fits nicely in your hand, and the tri-color green pebble finish is rough enough to give a good grip (even with sweaty hands in the African sun) and prevent any of that smooth surface reflection.
The comb is designed to give proper eye alignment with a riflescope, and the length of pull — 13½ inches — fits most hunters like a glove. Good stock fit and cheek weld make any rifle a pleasure to shoot, and the Professional is no exception. A pliable Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad takes up what recoil the rifle dishes out, and I must say, even at 8.1 pounds fully dressed, the .300 Winchester was extremely manageable.
Legendary Arms Works uses aluminum bedding blocks to secure the 704 action to the fiberglass stock, which enhances accuracy. All said, I’m not particularly a fan of synthetic stocks, but the hand-laid fiberglass stocks from Legendary Arms Works are among the best I’ve ever used.
My Professional rifle came with a 24-inch, No. 3 contour, fluted barrel with a detachable muzzle brake. A 1:10-inch twist allows the use of the heaviest .30-caliber bullets, and this rifle showed an equal liking for many different bullet weights.
Muzzle brakes and I usually don’t get along well, but the brake provided by Legendary really took the sting out of the bench work. However, for field use, where hearing protection is generally not used, the brake can be screwed off and replaced with a cap, which comes with the rifle (Author’s note: the cap fell out of my rifle bag while packing for safari, and I had to bear the torture of the muzzle brake. I already have tinnitus, and that didn’t help. Remember the cap, folks!). The machine work on the barrel/brake joint is so fine that you literally have to search to find the seam.
Legendary Arms Works uses a gray Cerakote finish on all metal parts of the Professional rifle, right down to the firing pin, so there is no worry about rust. My sweaty hands can tear a good blued finish to pieces in a short amount of time, but the Cerakote is impervious to even my hands.
The Legendary Arms Works Professional comes with a clean barrel, but it is factory equipped with Weaver-style cross-slot bases. It wasn’t difficult at all to attach a Bushnell Elite 3500 2.5-10x40mm — a perfect choice for the varying style of shots that the South African bush can present. As you’ll find out, I’m very happy I chose that magnification range.
The close work, in heavy bush, can easily be handled by a scope with a magnification range of 2.5 to 3x, yet when the ranges exceed 200 yards, I’m awfully grateful for 9 or 10x. The Bushnell 3500 Elite is a very clear riflescope, and took adjustment perfectly.
At the Bench
Any good rifle will show its merits at the bench; accuracy is usually the single biggest factor in deciding the worth of a rifle headed on an important hunt. I used a couple of factory loads for initial sighting in and barrel break in: the Federal Vital Shok 180-grain Nosler Partition load and the Winchester 180-grain Power Point load.
I’ve had the best results with 180-grain bullets in the .300 Winchester, and this rifle liked them as well, with the Winchester load printing just over MOA accuracy and the Federal load just under. Either would have been an acceptable choice for a plains game safari, but I had something different in mind.
The .300 Winchester Magnum isn’t a difficult cartridge to handload for; it is one of those cartridges that falls under the loose category of “inherently accurate.” The case will perform well with powders in the medium to very slow range, say anything from IMR4064 and Varget to H4831SC and Reloder 25.
Find a charge that your barrel likes, spark it with a good magnum primer, and you should be in business. I’ve used many different bullets and many different powders over the years, and it has never been a very difficult prospect to get a good .300 to shoot well.
I’ve been experimenting with Cutting Edge Bullets, a company out of Drifting, Pennsylvania, that makes monometal copper and brass bullets that are turned on a CNC lathe. The bullets are predominately of hollowpoint design, and instead of the traditional mushroom-type expansion, the wall of the bullet along the hollowpoint breaks into several “blades” upon impact, causing nasty impact trauma, while the base of the bullet remains at caliber dimension and gives deep penetration.
They are very consistent bullet to bullet, and that simple fact enhances accuracy greatly. They had worked very well on a safari in April/May 2015 in .404 Jeffery and .416 Rigby, in both South Africa and Zimbabwe, so I was keen to use them in the Legendary Arms Works Professional for this hunt.
Based on the performance in the bigger guns — using bullets much lighter for caliber than the traditional loads — I looked at the Cutting Edge Copper Raptor 150-grain boat tail hollowpoint. I know, a 150-grain bullet shouldn’t be a smart choice for animals the size of kudu or bigger, but the performance of the Cutting Edge Raptor convinced me that albeit being lighter than normal, it would get the job done right.
Because this hunt would be conducted at the end of October and beginning of November, I knew the temperatures in the Steenbokpan area could swell the mercury very easily. I chose a new powder, one that would be insensitive to the temperature extremes: the new Enduron IMR4451, a stick powder with a burn rate slightly slower than good old IMR4350, and just perfect for the .300 Winchester Mangum.
The Enduron line of powders has been engineered to give consistent velocities across a wide range of temperatures, from sub-zero to sweltering tropical heat. My buddy Chris Hodgdon, President of the Hodgdon Powder Company that produces IMR powders, told me that this would be the first use of IMR4451 in Africa.
The second load I chose with this powder/bullet combination gave me a three-shot group measuring 0.9 inches and cruising along at 3,325 feet per second (fps), and those results were repeatable. The Norma cases I was using showed no signs of high pressure, and even though I developed the load at 55 degrees, I had faith in IMR’s claim that the temperature fluctuation would be very low.
Their claim held up. When we arrived in South Africa, we drove to the hunting concession and immediately checked the zero of the rifles.
Temps were in the 90s, yet the Professional and its Bushnell Elite scope held zero perfectly on the 9,000-mile trip, and even in the warmer climate, there were no signs of higher pressures. There was no change in the point of impact, so we were all set to go hunting.
On the Hunt
During the course of a safari, your rifle can take quite a beating, and any weak spots can be brought to light quickly. On the truck, off the truck, loaded, unloaded, dragged through the brush, encrusted in dust, rinse and repeat.
The Professional took everything I could throw at it and handled it all just as its name would indicate. No matter how long the stalk was, or how many miles we put on our boots, the Professional was a pleasure to carry. Every cartridge fed perfectly, the safety stayed where I put it no matter how thick the acacia and stick-and-hook thorns got, and the rifle did everything I asked of it.
That kudu I told you about earlier was taken on the run at 70 yards, with the Bushnell set at 2.5x. The magnification was low enough for quick target acquisition, and the crosshair bold enough to get a fast shot where it needed to go; kudu bulls don’t stick around very long waiting for you to get the crosshairs where they need to be.
The Bushnell Elite 3500 also offered enough eye relief to be used with sunglasses; I have a pair of Serengeti glasses that offer good protection from the African sun, and the polarized lenses actually aid in spotting African game in the bush.
The waterbuck bull was a different story.
We were actually following the tracks of some very spooky impala on quite a long stalk. My wife wanted the impala ram in a very bad way, so while we were tracking the herd I was kind of bumbling along at the rear of the parade trying not to alert any game and watching the ground for the occasional leopard track that explained why the impala and zebra were acting so spooky.
When Nick Prinsloo told me that the impala were clearly running, and much too fast to attempt to catch them, we made our way back to the sand road to meet the truck — and the cooler full of ice water. Everybody in front of me stopped short in the middle of the road and motioned like crazy for me to come up where they stood.
Sebastian Jonker, our other PH, said in a harsh whisper “Your waterbuck is lying down across the pan; he has no idea we’re here. Take him man.” Some 217 yards away, a gorgeous waterbuck bull was indeed napping.
No pressure here — two Professional Hunters and my wife watching me, and a waterbuck with his vitals all squashed down on the ground offering a very small target.
I cranked the Bushnell up to 10x, got The Professional onto the sticks, and waited for the small circle that the crosshairs were making to become even smaller. I knew the shot felt good when the Timney trigger broke, and when the sound of the bullet hitting flesh came back on the wind, all the stress washed away.
The bull stood, stumbled on wobbly legs for 15 yards and fell down dead. “Dead, and doesn’t know it,” as the great Harry Selby once said.
So, as you can see, the Legendary Arms Works Professional turned out to be a great choice for my safari, or any other hunt on any continent, for that matter.
The controlled round feed and crisp trigger made shooting under pressure a dream; the Bushnell Elite 3500 was clear and gave plenty of contrast to get the job done. Those Cutting Edge Copper Raptor bullets worked perfectly, hitting right where they were aimed and performing as advertized: I only recovered the base of one bullet, and that was from the kudu.
And if you’re a handloader, give the Enduron line from IMR a try. You’ll be happy with it.
Keep your eyes on Legendary Arms Works; these rifles are going to be on the scene for some time to come. When you make a rifle that performs this well, it’s bound to stick around.
Editor’s Note: This article is from the April 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
With Gun Digest Book of Long-Range Shooting, 2nd Edition by L.P. Brezny, get up-to-date with the most recent advances in guns and gear to extend your range for hunting, informal target shooting, and formal competition shooting. This second edition also explores special competitive shooting events, like the 3-gun competition and rifle golf 1000-1500-yard games, addressing their recent explosion in popularity. Get Yours