Friday, July 28, 2006

Bolt-Action Guns I Like

They are few and far between, these bolt-action guns that I actually like. Oh, I'll shoot all of them, I pick them up and look them over and check them out this way and that but I won't spend money on most of them.

The only centerfire bolt guns I really like to the point that I'll spend money on them are the Lee-Enfields and derivatives and the M1891 Mauser. I'll bet some of you are shaking your heads, wondering why I like that old stuff or perhaps if I've never heard of the Winchester M70 or Remington 700 and why I could ignore those wonders of the western world for an overweight, rear-locking or single-column magazine bolt gun.

My first bolt-action gun chambered to anything impressive was a Mauser M91 rifle that had been bubba-ized. The barrel had been cut back to about 21", the issue rear sight removed, the stock "bleached" and refinished probably with Tru-Oil, Weaver mounts had been "installed", the Mauser wing safety had a steel rod soldered to it as an extension to make it operable with the scope (cheap is all I remember) installed. Pretty much an abomination. I'm sure Dad was rolling his eyes behind my back and praying for God to give me some commonsense! I stripped the gun apart, removed the safety "extension", had Jon Ritenour of Homstead Gun Shop in Harrisonburg, VA drill and tap the action for a Williams Foolproof Receiver Sight and install a ramp front with post (I think this was a take off from a Remington rifle of some type). I then ordered a stock from Reinhart Fajen and put it all together. This was a pretty good gun.

If I remember correctly I loaded 43 gr. of IMR 4064 under the Hornady 174 gr. .311" RN. Brass was EXPENSIVE and I had no idea that I could form my own from cheap .30-06. I think I paid $20+ a box of twenty Norma cases in 1973! I've no idea what velocity I was getting but I was certain I had elk medicine. In fact, when in California, I took it north to visit a friend stationed at FT Lewis for just such an eventuality. It never did shoot an elk though. That rifle sadly left my hands during the big D in 1984 but I kept the dies, ammo, and other components "just in case". As is usual, the "just in case" came to pass albeit nearly 15 years later.

I'd been helping a fellow soldier and shooter load for his odd stuff like .30-40 Krag and he'd bought an 1891 Engineer's carbine. Based on that I gave him dies, brass and ammo I had. After 15 years I'd given up on getting one myself. A couple of years after that he ups and gives me the rifle AND returns my ammo, dies, etc.! What a friend! These carbines and the cavalry carbines from which they are derived aren't that intimidating to shoot, my sporterized '91 weighed less, and they have a certain air about them.

The other bolt-action I like is the Lee-Enfield. Now, I have to admit I like the whole series and which one I might own isn't that important to me. However, when they were being mass-marketed here in the States about 1990, I bought two (2). The first was a Long Branch No. 4 MK I* and the second was a Fazerkly No. 4 MK I. Both had been FTRed and both had the milled adjustable rear sight. I later got bayonets and web slings for both. Of course, using these I was able to talk a buddy of mine into getting one of the last from Roses (a local department store, now departed) for $60. We took these guns and that good Greek HXP mil-surp ammo out for a shoot and could easily keep all the rounds on the E type silhouette at 600 yards. My buddy deliberately head-shot a doe at a measured and witnessed 140 yards with his gun. Mine have not been hunting or at least on a successful hunt. Certainly the cartridges are up to the challenge.

Actually, one can think of the 7.65x53mm Argentine (or Belgian) round as a sort of modern, rimless version of the .303 British. Ballistics are VERY similar and the same bullets and powders will work in both. Loads aren't quite the same due to the slight differences in case capacity. Both cartridges started life with 215 gr. bullets and I have loaded some of the 215 gr. Woodleighs up for my little Argentine carbine. At the original velocities they do indeed shoot to the sights. However, the hotter 150s do as well. Perhaps this is why Argentina never changed the sights. Of course the No. 4s were made for the 174 gr. ball and they shoot to the sights with that and the Sierra 180s loaded to 2400 fps.

Great guns despite their age and great cartridges that can still do the job.

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