Missourian Ed Brown is an undisputed legend in the world of 1911 pistols, but it’s not a huge omission if you missed the fact that, some years back, he designed an exceptional bolt action. He didn’t make a great many of them, primarily because the 1911 business was so good. However, those who saw his “Model 704” action almost universally considered it one of the finest rotating-bolt actions ever designed. A round-bottom action, it borrows features from great actions going back a century and more. It is controlled-round feed, but with spring-loaded bolt face extractor rather than the long Mauser extractor. Ejection is pure mechanical Mauser, while the three-position cocking piece safety is pure Winchester Model 70. The bolt handle is also reminiscent of the beloved Model 70. There are a couple of departures, but you must look a bit closer. The follower feeds opposite to most, left to right rather than right to left, which, surprisingly after all these years, makes feeding very smooth and positive. Another feature is that bolt disassembly for cleaning is simple and effortless, using a finger-operated detent. A primary innovation, however, is that the action was designed from inception to be manufactured using modern CNC machining techniques.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
With retirement nearing, Ed Brown decided to sell his Model 704 action so his kids could concentrate on the handgun business. Pennsylvania rifle nut Dave Dunn decided to buy it. But then what? How was it going to be manufactured and assembled into a complete rifle? Dave is also a friend and we talked about it quite a bit. He went this way and that—but when he mentioned Mark Bansner I reckoned he’d hit pay dirt. His group acquired Mark Bansner’s Bansner Ultimate Rifles, and since the rifle would also need to be stocked, they also acquired Bansner’s High Tech Specialties gunstock business. These entities were incorporated into the new Legendary Arms Works of Adamstown, Pennsylvania.
Bringing the process to fruition hasn’t been quite so easy, but the concept is simple: Mark Bansner makes the Legendary Arms Works Model 704, using the Ed Brown action, production of which he supervises; using the High Tech stock he created; and incorporating sound components as required (such as good barrels and Timney triggers).
CNC machining being as it is, the actions are being made in short (.308 Winchester length) and long (.30-06 length). Initial production is right-hand only, which is exactly what left-handed me would do…but since, like me, Bansner himself is left-handed, I suspect we’ll see a left-hand version once things get going. The intent is to provide a “production” rifle with custom features—but at a surprisingly affordable price. So although the initial cartridge offering is lavish, there are essentially three grades with relatively few factory options. The two sporting rifles are the Closer and the Professional; the dangerous game rifle is the Big Five.
CLOSER AND PROFESSIONAL
At this writing suggested retail for the Closer is about $1600; about $1800 for the Professional. Differences are actually minimal, though certainly worth the price difference. The Closer is obviously the most basic Model 704…but not so basic. Stock is Bansner High Tech with a good recoil pad and sling swivel studs. Trigger is Timney, barrel is match grade, and all metal finish is gray Cerakote. Depending on the cartridge, barrel length varies…but that’s about all that varies. Length of pull is 13.5 inches on both models, with the Closer weighing about 6.8 pounds. Both are offered in fully 18 chamberings from .22-250 to .35 Whelen.
So, for another couple hundred bucks, what do you get with the Professional? Two things: The Professional weighs a bit less and has options in how much recoil you wish to accept. The Professional has helically fluted bolt and horizontally fluted barrel, reducing weight, and comes standard with a good muzzle brake and thread protector if you prefer not to use the brake. That’s it, that’s all. Otherwise they are the same rifle. Just one comment: The muzzle brake and thread protector screw on so perfectly that the seam is almost invisible. I was actually horrified when I received the first rifle because the brake was in place, and although they work wonders on recoil I am already so deaf that I avoid them. The seam was so invisible that I was absolutely shocked when the brake threaded off with finger pressure only!
THE BIG FIVE
This is obviously the dangerous game rifle. In planning cartridge options have gone up and down the scale, but at this writing all actions are standard length, and chamberings include .375 H&H, .416 Remington, and .458 Lott (which, collectively, pretty much cover anything anybody needs to do with a dangerous game rifle). The basics are the same: High Tech stock, Model 704 controlled-round-feed action, Timney trigger, match-grade barrel, gray Cerakote finish. Then there are some important differences.
The Big Five comes with good iron sights, “Express” rear and barrel band front; barrel-mounted forward sling swivel stud; and a 23-inch barrel in a heavier contour. The bolt is fluted, but the barrel is not, adding a bit of needed weight against recoil. Muzzle brake and thread protector are supplied. Length of pull is 13.5 inches. Weight depends a bit on the size of the hole drilled down the barrel, but without scope still isn’t much over seven pounds. I’m sure most of us know that African professional hunters hate muzzle brakes, but you can practice with the brake and then replace it with the thread protector when you go on safari, truly the best of both worlds. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope use and bases are supplied. Suggested retail is $2750, not the bargain of the other two models, but still a solid value for this type of rifle.
The Legendary Arms Works (LAW) Model 704 was introduced at the SHOT Show, with several rifles available for shooting at the media range day. I couldn’t make that event, so the ones I have fired were prototypes. Two Professionals were delivered in August 2014, one in .280 Remington and another in .300 Winchester Magnum. Accuracy has been exceptional in the .300 Winchester Magnum: Average groups run below one inch, and several groups edge toward the magical half-inch mark. So far the .280 isn’t quite that accurate but, after all, I have a much smaller selection of loads to play with. Even so, it’s an accurate rifle with groups running just over or just under one MOA.
So accuracy in the two rifles I spent time on the range with was either good or great, depending on which—but of equal significance: The action is unbelievably smooth! Even right out of the box it is one of the slickest, smoothest bolt actions I have ever used. Feeding, extraction and ejection are all as they should be, and safety use is positive. The darn thing works! No wonder Mark Bansner was so excited about the opportunity to build rifles in numbers on this action!
IN THE FIELD
I still haven’t had my hands on an unfluted Closer, but I’ve now hunted quite a bit with both the .280 and .300 Winchester Magnum Professionals…and I used a Big Five in .375 H&H in Mozambique.
Daughter Brittany and I started in northern B.C. in September, she carrying the .280 and I the .300. Okay, she got a goat and I got nothing…but we both enjoyed the feel of the M704s, and she shot her goat perfectly when she got a chance. Later in the fall I took a nice Kansas whitetail with the .280, a neck shot at close range, which suggests nothing other than a good trigger pull. After the first of the year I used the .300 on whitetails and hogs in both Texas and Georgia, taking seven animals with seven shots at ranges from 60 to 340 yards. There was nothing a .300 Winchester Magnum is remotely incapable of, but this suggests that I’m getting very comfortable with the rifle…and also that it was well-scoped and well-loaded (Leupold VX6 2-12X; Hornady Superformance 180-grain SST).
Long before all this mayhem I was joined in coastal Mozambique by LAW’s Paul Reed and Jack Delozier, each with M704 Big Fives in .375 H&H…and they were willing to share. We fired a few shots on the range to check zero, but I can’t comment on the actual accuracy of either rifle (except to say that both were still in zero after surviving the trip). I can say that both .375s were just as smooth and slick as the Professional models I’d been shooting.
Hunting with Mark Haldane and his Zambeze Delta Safaris, we got into a nice buffalo herd and Paul dumped a good bull, no muss or fuss. As they often do, the herd milled over his downed buffalo before moving off, and as they grudgingly gave ground we spotted three mature bulls slipping off to the left while the herd exited to the right. Splitting the party so that Paul’s bull could be dealt with, Haldane and I waded into a channel to the left, instantly finding ourselves nearly neck deep in murky water. We half-waded and half-swam a hundred yards, holding rifles over our heads, and then slipped and stumbled up onto drier ground. Those three bulls were right there, maybe 60 yards away, and after a small bit of discussion I took the largest one with a frontal shot. Of course he ran, and I hit him twice more before he went down. Not a bad start for a buffalo rifle!
A few days later I took the same rifle back to the range, not because I suspected anything was wrong, but because I was hoping to shoot a crocodile. That is perhaps the most precise shot of anything on the African continent—brain, spine or expensive splash—and I wanted to make sure the scope was dead on at about 60 yards, our anticipated distance from blind to bait. It was too close to worry about changing, so the next morning we headed to the blind. It was a long morning, but a bit past noon the male we were waiting for hauled out on the bank and I brained him, sort of laying down the LAW on him. Of course I flubbed my followup shot…most people do, but it has nothing to do with the rifle. There’s an awful lot of excitement when a big croc starts thrashing!–Craig Boddington