Nearly a year has passed since work first began on the fifth and final rifle of the SCI World Heritage Series. Many hours of thought and planning go into every custom rifle build long before any wood or steel is ever cut. From the very beginning of every project, my end goal is always the same — to make each rifle better in every way than the previous.
One of the biggest challenges in building a presentation rifle is to make it unique from other builds. I personally have always loved American-styled rifles. My eye is particularly drawn to deep relief style engraving, spectacular wood and smooth flowing stock lines. This particular project dedicated to the Americas is the perfect fit for me and my rifle building style.
Let’s start with the caliber. I selected the extremely versatile .338 Winchester Magnum. It is a caliber suitable for taking every game animal on the North American continent. The .338 has grown in worldwide popularity since it was first designed by Winchester in 1958.
Next brings us to the receiver. What could be more American than the Winchester Pre-’64 Model 70? In fact, the .338 Winchester Magnum was first offered in the Winchester Pre-’64 Model 70 rifle. It received its nickname of “The Rifleman’s Rifle” for good reason.
The Pre-’64 has stood the test of time and is still one of the most popular actions used in modern custom rifle making. A few of the stand-out features that make this action so great still today include its claw extractor, control round feeding and its three-position safety to name a few.
To make this already great action even better, we surface grind the entire action exterior and fully blueprint the action interior. Several other modifications, such as a set of fully sculptured Bolliger quick-detach custom rings and bases, full-length top and bottom extended tangs, and a beautiful custom bolt handle are a few of the other custom features added to the receiver.
To ensure top performance and long-term accuracy, one of the most important component of any rifle is the barrel. The barrel on this rifle started as a three-inch diameter Krieger straight tube barrel blank. The reason we start with such a large barrel blank is so the entire barrel is completely integral, meaning the quarter rib, swivel band and front sight are all one continuous piece of steel. This process is extremely difficult to do and very time consuming. The end product, however, is second to none in quality, strength and appearance.
With a properly blueprinted receiver, a top shelf Krieger barrel and precision and exact machining processes throughout, this rifle without a doubt will be a superb performer at the range as well.
Once the barrel action is complete, the next phases is to create a theme to tie all the custom metalwork components together. I personally have always loved sweeping artistic shapes with long flowing points. Creating these designs not only portray your rifle building taste and style, it is also laying the canvas for the engraver.
At this point, I have to be careful not to over do things and lose the classic look. There is definitely a balance that has to be maintained in making a rifle that has a striking appearance yet still maintains its feel and balance for proper function and performance.
The custom sculptured buttplate, grip cap, extended tangs and the stylish crossbolt heads on this rifle are the perfect canvas for master engraver Mike Dubber to really showcase his worldclass talents. Mike will be outlining his vision for this project in the next issue of SAFARI Magazine. I do know that there are several elements to his engraving on this project that are unique and to my knowledge have never been done before.
After the metalwork is complete, the next step is to build a world class stock. If you recall in the previous story I talked a little about how terrifying it was at first for me to put a chisel into a very expensive blank of exhibition walnut. Although I still get an uneasy feeling from time to time, I absolutely love working with wood and watching a top-quality rifle blank transform into a beautiful rifle stock. As the blank is cut and shaped into a rifle stock, the figure of the wood is ever changing. I wish I could say its always for the better, but it can go either way.
The blank I selected for this project is a spectacular piece of Turkish walnut. The blank has been in our shop since it was cut 11 years ago, slowly and naturally air drying in the Idaho air. Naturally air drying a rifle blank is the preferred method as it results in a stronger and a much more stable rifle stock.
I absolutely love the wood on this rifle! The color of the wood and the grain structure is a perfect fit for an American style stock. One of the most difficult parts of the entire project was precisely inletting all the custom hardware into the stock. The most difficult shape for me to inlet precisely are sharp points. There is no room for error and mistakes are easy to see. There are numerous metal components with long, sweeping points that will look fantastic once engraved.
Another difficult yet important step in stock making is the stock interior. An improperly inletted or bedded stock has little chance of ever shooting well. It is extremely important to have the barreled action at rest in the inletting. A single pressure point or high spot in the action area or barrel channel can destroy the accuracy potential of any rifle. A quality action, a match grade barrel, precision machining and a properly built stock are all equal in creating a sub MOA rifle.
I am extremely pleased with the project to date. Mike Dubber is hard at work with the engraving and will share a few progress pics in the next article. Please visit my website www.mountainriflery.com for the most current progress pictures. I look forward to discussing the final details of the project in the next upcoming issue.– John Bolliger, Jr