Thursday, March 24, 2011

Stock Fit - The Short and Long of It

Having a stock that fits right can make a rifle or shotgun feel better and make you a better shot.  To make things simple most factory rifles and shotguns are made with a 13 ½” Length of  Pull (LOP).  This LOP is determined by taking the average shooter who is 5’10”tall, weighs about 170 pounds and then fitting a stock to him. The problem comes when you don’t quite fit into that normal mold.  I, for one, have a hard time getting close enough to the scope if the gun has a 13 ½” inch LOP.  I shoot much better with a 13 ¼”  LOP.  You may say that a ¼ inch is not a lot, but that little ¼ inch can make a big difference in the way my rifle comes up to my shoulder.  Put a heavy coat on and the longer gun can even be a bigger problem, to the point that I can’t see a full field of view through the scope. I have one customer who is 6’2” about 245 lbs. and works out all the time, this guy is built.  Most people would think he would need a longer LOP, but he shoots a 12 ½” inch LOP.  Greg has such big biceps that there is no way that he can stretch out to a normal 13 ½” length of pull.  A 12 ½” LOP is what I would normally fit for a 14 year old kid or a small lady. 

How to tell if a shock is too long or too short can be fairly simple.  First, throw your gun up and see if it hits under your armpit as it comes up.  Do you have to push the rifle out and than pull it in to your shoulder?  Do you have to stretch your head forward to see the entire picture (no black around the outside edge) in your scope when the scope is on its highest power setting?  These are all problems associated with a rifle being too long.  On the other hand, if you find yourself backing away from the scope, or if you have ever had the scope come back under recoil and hit you in the eye brow, then the stock is too short. 

The old rule of thumb is to measure from the bend in your elbow to your bent trigger finger to get the right length.  But this is just a good starting point. With a scoped rifle mounted to your shoulder and pointed straight, your eye should be between 3” and 3 ½” away from the scope.  Any more and you won’t have the correct field of view.  You may want to try this fit while wearing a coat or your hunting jacket, since you will be wearing one when hunting.  Any good gunsmith should be able to fit a rifle to you correctly.  The other nice thing about having your rifle fit properly is you will have less perceived recoil.

There are also some of the greatest recoil pads on the market now days which can soak up from 10% to 25 % of the felt recoil.  The Pachmayer Decelerator pad, Sims Limbsaver pad, The Kick-Eez are all great samples of pads that will stop 10 % to 15 % of the felt recoil.  There are even some hydraulic and spring loaded recoil reducers which work great and will reduce as much as 25 % of the felt recoil from a rifle or shotgun.  The Danuser Counter Coil pad or the Action pad are good samples of the new state of the art recoil reducers for stocks, but they are not the best looking pads made.  You have to get use to the look of these counter coil pads, but they do work very well.

The cost of having a rifle fit to you and a good pad installed shoulder run about $85.00 to $119.00 and about $ 250.00 for a counter coil pad or an Action recoil system. A good gun smith should be able to fit a gun to almost any one. I have fit rifles for kids as short at 9½ inches, or for a Rockets basket ball player at 17 inches. Having a stock fitted to you and a good pad installed can make all the difference in the way you feel when you shoot your gun and will make you a better shot, not to mention it can save you from getting the “Weatherby Scar” when your favorite 378 comes back and cuts you above your eye brow.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Scopes – Do Ballistic Reticles Work?

There is an old saying “keep it simple” and when it came to scopes I believed this.  I felt the more stuff you cram into a scope, the more that can go wrong.  The first scopes I shot were K4 and K6 scopes made by Weaver.  I got real brave and bought a 12 power scope when I was doing a lot of varmint shooting.  I wanted a scope that was rock solid with nothing that could go wrong or break at the worst possible time.  I remember my first variable power scope, a 3X9 Bausch & Lomb.  The crosshairs failed when I was hunting axis in the Hill Country of Texas.  I had a 30 plus inch axis buck at 150 yards in front of me, the crosshairs were on the shoulder but when I fired the bullet hit in the dirt 2 feet behind the buck.  The sight of that buck running away haunts me today; I had been looking for a good axis for 2 years and blew the shot from a bad scope.  As it turned out the problem with the scope was as much the rings and bases as it was the scope.  There was too much side pressure on the tube and it was being bent in the rings.  As I got older and my eyes got worse, I found the 6 power scopes just weren’t getting the job done.  I bought several Leupold scopes in 3X9 and 4X12.  I never had a problem with these scopes, the clarity was better than my old Weavers and having 9 or 12 power was great for long range shooting.  I could use the lower power for early morning low light or when I needed to make a quick shot.  As time went on scopes got better and better.  A company called Premier Reticle was installing bullet drop compensating dots in Leupold scopes.  I had many customers swear by the dots, so I had to try one.

Ballistic reticles were fairly new to the hunting industry.  I saw my first one around 1990.  T. D. Smith was working with Swarovski to come out with the first Ballistic reticle in a factory built scope.  T. D. Smith’s idea was to put sight lines under the normal crosshairs so you had an aiming point for longer shooting.  Instead of holding over an animal at long range you could use the correct line for shooting 300, 400, or out to 600 yards.  I got to try one of these scopes at the YO Ranch in a long range shooting competition and it really worked.  I had Premier Reticle build a 4.5X14 power Leupold scope with ballistic dots out to 600 yards.  The dots looked good and I found they worked well on 300 yard shots.  Premier would custom build the scope for the correct drop of the bullet.  I sent Premier the ballistic info (bullet and velocity) and they would install the correct reticle for the caliber I was shooting.  The TDS system that Swarovski had was generic and could lead to problems with some calibers.  The TDS reticle would work with most hunting calibers that have velocities in the 2800 to 3000 feet per second range.  However if you had a TDS scope on a rifle that would shoot 2600 fps then you would have discrepancies.  Over the years, I have sold hundreds of scopes with ballistic reticles in them and have shot the same scopes on game animals.  However, I have never taken one of theses scopes to the range to see if they really worked at the different distances. 

Do ballistic reticles work or are they just a gimmick?  I decided to mount two of the best ballistic scopes on rifles and go to my local gun range that had ranges out to 600 yards.  I mounted a Swarovski 3X18 “Z6” on a 300 Ultra Mag. and put a Burris 3X12 Euro Diamond scope on my wife’s 7mm STW.  First, both of these scopes have great sight contrast for being able to pick out game.  I think the Burris is slightly better in this case.  Both scopes have exceptional clarity but the Swarovski is slightly better than the Burris.  Both scopes look good and have very precise click adjustments (if you click for ½ inch they move ½ inch).  The Swarovski has lines under the cross hairs which can be used out to 800 yards.  The Burris uses dots which can be used for shooting to 600 yards.  I like the dots and find them less confusing when looking at game.  The Swarovski has one big plus, a side focus.  If you are going to shoot long range, a parallax adjustment is a great thing to have. I would have to say the Burris is a great scope and for the price it would be hard to beat but the new Z6 scope from Swarovski is better, however the cost is about 3 times as much. 

Bob and I set up targets at 200 yards 300 yards and 400 yards.  First, we sighted the rifles in for 200 yards, then went over to the 300 yard range and shot a 3 shot group.  The first thing we noticed is how hard it was to see bullet holes in a white bull’s eye on a clear day.  Second, whoever made the benches must have been an idiot, the seat was too high and the bench is too low and the concrete pavement will scratch the finish right off your rifle.  We used the second dot or line down and fired 3 shots.  We couldn’t see the holes so I hoped for the best and moved to the 400 yard line.  We again shot 3 shots using the second set of dots or lines and hoped for the best.  The wind was blowing a steady 10 miles per hour from right to left, so I figured the bullets would be some what left of the bulls eye if we were lucky enough to hit them.  Bob and I were amazed when we drove down to retrieve the targets, both 300 and 400 yard targets had a nice 3 shot cluster in the bulls eye.  The 400 yard target had the bullet hole on the left side of the bull which was from the wind.  I would say these scopes worked and worked well.  One thing I need for sure is a better spotting scope so I can see the holes at 400 or longer range.  My old Leupold just won’t cut it at these ranges.  I would fill comfortable shooting game animals at 500 or 600 yards with either of these scopes. I would say the Ballistic Reticles in the Swarovski and the Burris scopes work and work well!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Guns Too Big!

Most people think I have the perfect job.  All I have to do is build guns, play around with them, and go shooting.  Now don’t get me wrong I love what I do and in most cases can’t wait to get to work everyday.  But every now and then you have to say to yourself “ This is too much gun”.  One of our good customers called me and told me about the new double rifle he had just bought.  It is a 1929 vintage Holland and Holland Royal chambered in .577 Nitro.  I was very impressed; the rifle is like a dream gun to anybody who appreciates great guns.  He also said that he needed some ammo made for the double and wanted me to work up loads that would regulate the barrels to hit in the same place at 50 yards.  Well, without thinking and imagining the chance to shoot a rifle built in 1929 by some of the finest rifle builders, not to mention that the Double is worth over $100,000 dollars, I said yes!  

The rifle showed up a few days later and was just what I expected.  The workmanship was splendid and the wood straight and with the right amount of figure in the grain to give the rifle some character.  After checking with Holland and Holland, I found the Double to be regulated to shoot 750-grain bullets at about 2050 feet per second.  Now this load generates about 7000 foot-pounds of energy and about 110 pounds of free recoil.  That’s like taking a bag of cement and having some one smack you in the shoulder with it. Getting hit once is not too bad, but to do it over and over again is like getting in the ring with Joe Frazier - No fun! 

I read all that I could find on the .577 Nitro and really liked what A-Square had to say about the caliber.  “ The 577 are not for everyone, the recoil is fierce”.  “ Jack touched off one barrel, it drove him back two steps, the barrel rising to almost vertical and knocked his glasses away from his face…. That was wonderful”.  Well I don’t know how wonderful it will be but I will have a definite respect for this rifle.  I worked up some loads with 750 grain Barnes solid and the 750 Woodleigh soft point, using 155 grains of IMR 4831.  Bob McKown and I headed to the range to see how well my best guess load would print at 50 yards and where the point of impact would be.  This is not a rifle you could shoot off a bench without hurting yourself-Bob tried to shoot the rifle from a high shooting rest and literally hurt his shoulder so bad that he couldn’t shoot for two weeks after.  The bullets hit too low on the target, the soft points about 4 inches low and the solids 8 inches low.  I preceded to drop powder to bring the point of impact up on the target and after 32 shots using 3 different shooters and 6 trips to the range, we had both the solid and the soft point bullets hitting the same point of impact at 50 yards, The groups on a big gun like this will surprise most people and this rifle is no exception with the solids grouping under 1 inch and the soft under ½ inch.

I will never regret shooting this big old Double nor will I ever forget it.  The bruises went away in a few weeks but the memory will be there a lot longer.  I got a phone call yesterday from a gentleman who heard about us shooting the .577 Nitro at the range and wanted to know if we could load some ammo for his two custom built .600 Nitro Express rifles.  Well here I go again, how could I turn him down?  I can’t miss out on shooting one of these.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Should You Have a Custom Rifle?

The other day I was getting a spray in bed liner installed in my new F-150.  I was also deciding on a new exhaust system and a computer chip to pick up a few extra horsepower.  This is the same as having your rifle customized or a Custom Rifle made.  Sure, the factory Ford F-150 is good but I want to make a few improvements to make it the way I want it and you can do the same to your rifle.

Some reasons for owning a custom rifle for most shooters is that they shoot better, they fit better or it is lighter or it comes in a caliber that they can’t get in a factory rifle.  These are all good reasons, let’s discuss a few:  

First, a custom rifle shoots better; this is true in most cases.  Custom rifle makers will use match grade quality barrels and take the time to square up the action and fit the stock better than the factory can.  But how much more accurate is a custom rifle?  A good custom rifle will out shoot a good factory rifle by about ½ inch or so at 100 yards.  How much does that matter if you are hunting in East Texas where a long shot is 100 yards or even in South Texas where you might have to shoot 300 or 400 yards, that ½ inch difference means very little in these particular hunting situations.  But, when shooting at long distances or through adverse conditions, that same ½ inch means a great deal. 
The fit of a custom rifle is better.  A custom rifle maker takes the time to fit a customer to the rifle; you will have a rifle that fits like a glove.  When you shoulder that custom rifle, there is no distraction due to feel or fit, therefore resulting in no hesitation in your shooting ability.  However, you can take your factory rifle and have the same work done. You can change the length of pull with just a recoil pad which costs about $100 or you can change the complete stock and have all parts fit to you and have it painted unique to your taste. This can cost upwards of $700 which is still inexpensive when compared to the price of a custom rifle. 
Custom rifles can be made lighter than factory rifles.  This is true but there are some very light factory rifles on the market now.  Both Remington and Weatherby make rifles which weigh less than 6 pounds.  Custom Ultra-Light rifle makers can build rifles which weigh less than 5 pounds.  But, if I am just hunting Whitetail deer in Texas, do I need a super light rifle?  If I am a serious hunter traveling the world, I think saving a pound might be worth the extra $2000 dollars to have a Custom Rifle made just for me.
You can get the caliber you want in a custom rifle which is not available in a factory rifle. This is true but how much difference is there between a 280 Remington and a 280 Ackley Improved caliber?  I could get a 7mm Rem. Mag. which can out perform both.  If you look at the caliber thing logically, you will find that the factory will make a standard caliber which will work just as well or be a good compromise. 
The real reason to have a Custom Rifle made is because YOU WANT ONE!  This is America and we are an Independent breed.  We are fortunate to be able to have what we want and what we need anytime of the day or night!  A Custom Rifle can be made to the shooters individual taste.  The sky is the limit as long as your wallet can handle it.  You can have the stock fit made perfect and just for YOU!  You can pick any caliber YOU WANT or even one you dreamed up!  How about a 17 Flintstone or a 6 MM-300 Aye?  YOU can pick the barrel taper and the length, if you want a 20 inch barrel on a 300 Ultra Mag., YOU CAN HAVE IT! On the other end, you can have a 30 inch long barrel on a 243, IF YOU WANT IT!  The stock can be made any color and the metal finish can be bright blue or even pink Teflon.  You can have it engraved with all the fancy scroll work or just with your favorite nickname.  YOU CAN HAVE IT YOUR WAY and that is the BEST reason to have a Custom Rifle made!  So . . . how about bigger tires and custom wheels on my new truck?