Building a special rifle
Finding the best gunsmith depends on what expectations that you have for a finished product. You’re looking for smith, who has built a fair number of rifles. He (I’m open to the possibility that are female gunsmiths, if there are, please make yourselves known) should have good quality machines (lathes, mills etc.) and a professional shop. You could also ask for a list of past clients. A gunsmith with good communication skills is a big plus. You and him need to have a long conversation regarding what the rifle will look like and especially what your performance expectations are. You’re satisfaction often depends on you’re ability to tell him exactly what you want. During the conversation, you’re prospective gunsmith should tell you what rifle components that he has had success with (actions, barrels, stocks, triggers and bases). But try to do as much advance research on your own as possible. All of the major manufactures have web sites, displaying many of their products and options and most of them will mail you a catalog. The more knowledgeable that you are in advance, the better your gunsmith will be able to build a rifle that meets your goals.
The most highly acclaimed gunsmiths, who have customers using their rifles to win big matches, are in great demand and the wait time could be in excess of one year. There are lots of gunsmiths who are trying to build a reputation, who are very good and can build a high quality precision rifle in the time that it takes for him acquire all of the parts. If you are in a hurry, the are a few stocking dealers that may have the custom action, barrel, stock and trigger that you’re looking for, on the shelf. Bruno Shooting Supply is a good source for components that are ready for shipping. More personalized components will probably have to be ordered from the manufacture and the gunsmith will have to wait for those parts to be produced before he can build your rifle. Such as an action with a left hand bolt and port or a particular sporter weight fluted barrel.
The stock that you desire is often the determining factor in completion time. Here again there are mail order sources which have a selection on the shelf. If you want a special stock that has just the right colors embedded into the mold, this is going to take a while. If you’re interested in a wood stock, Accurate Innovations produces some fine hard wood and laminate stocks, which can normally be obtained in a reasonable time frame.
Selecting a caliber
You can ask a hundred shooters and get a hundred different answers. Even if you already have a cartridge in mind, consider how many different situations that you might want to use the rifle for, including the maximum range that you want to shoot. If you are going to shoot factory ammo, the selection is pretty narrow and you can only expect mediocre accuracy but if you’re going to use hand loaded ammunition, the sky is the limit. I’ve literally worked with dozens of calibers, most of them have met my expectations, and a couple of them actually surpassed the manufactures advertised performance. If I’m choosing a cartridge for a particular type of competition, I like to look at the equipment lists, which are often published after a national tournament was held. There you can see which calibers that the top shooters are winning with, normally you’ll see a pattern develop. If you’re just getting started, look for the cartridges that require very little tinkering with the brass. There are usually a few that can be very competitive with out having to turn necks or fire form cases to produce a wildcat cartridge.
For hunting you can start an argument around any campfire as which cartridge performs the best. You have to envision what situations that you expect to hunting in. If you’ll be hunting out west you’ll need a caliber which has sufficient terminal capability at whatever distance, you determine that you’re comfortable shooting at. If you don’t expect to be able to practice with the rifle beyond 200 yards, a rifle built around a long range caliber could be cumbersome. If you decide on any of the magnum cartridges, do yourself a favor and also include a muzzle brake in the package. A muzzle brake will tame even the largest calibers to the point that we mortals can comfortably shoot them.
Yes there are a few mass produced factory actions that can be fine tuned to produce reasonable accuracy. Remington 700, Winchester model 70 and Savage actions can be modified to give much better performance than the factory rifle from which it came. But for nearly the same price, you could also have one of the many custom actions that have become so readily available in the last few years. A modern custom action, will have been built to very precise tolerances, and are made from the best materials that modern metallurgy can produce. Custom actions are built in small shops by dedicated professionals, who take great pride in their work
Today we can choose from a wide array of precision made hand lapped barrels, in whatever dimension you desire. Every length, contour and caliber is available. If weight is a concern, order one which has been fluted so as to reduce weight. There are companies who specialize in carbon fiber wrapped barrels, which are very light. A decision that you’ll have make is what kind of rifling that you want. Some barrel makers specialize in what is called cut rifling, others do button rifling. Regardless of which you rifling choose, long range matches are being won with both styles of rifling. Cut rifle barrels from Kieger and Bartlein have as good a reputation for accuracy as do button rifled barrels from Broughton. If you’re putting together a sporter, what length to choose is an issue. For a non magnum, a 24 inch barrel will normally suffice. All of the magnum cartridges burn a lot of slow burning powder and if you want the performance to live up to expectations, extra barrel length is a must. All of the magnums need a minimum of 26 inches of barrel length, which is about as long as you can practically carry on a hunting trip. For example, if you were to use a 24 inch barrel on a .300 Winchester magnum, you’ve nearly cut its performance potential back to about .30-06 performance levels.
Some of the factory rifle triggers can be fine tuned to break at reasonable weight. There are also a couple of custom triggers on the market which are excellent. Jewell Mfg. produces outstanding triggers, which are safe, reliable and will fit most applications.
Fine details: To achieve the very best performance from your new rifle, you should decide on exactly which bullet and weight, that you’re going to be shooting. Knowledgeable shooters consider this to be a crucial element in achieving their desired performance. Knowing what weight of bullet you’ll be shooting allows you and your gunsmith to select the rifling twist rate that best stabilizes a given bullet weight.
If you are a hand loader, select your desired bullet and seat 3 or 4 bullets to the desired overall length, make sure to use the brass that your going to use (there is a variety of different dimensions from one manufacture of brass to another). Take these dummy rounds to your initial interview with the gunsmith. Your gunsmith will use these as guidance when he chambers the barrel. If it’s a repeater these dummy rounds will be helpful in selecting which magazine to use, he’ll also use them to insure that the rifle feeds properly upon completion.
Length of pull is another detail that you should decide in advance. Here it’s best to locate a rifle that fits you. Measure the distance from the trigger shoe to the end of the recoil pad, which equates to the length of pull. You should ask your gunsmith which scope bases and rings would be best would be best suited to your application. You could even purchase the scope in advance and have him install it.