Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Get in the Groove with a Custom Barrel

Most shooters dream about having a custom barrel installed on their rifle or handgun.  But are custom barrels all that they are cracked up to be?  First is the cost.  A good barrel will cost between $300 and $600 dollars installed.  Most rifles will have to be re-bedded to fit the stock to the new contour of the custom barrel.  A finish of some type will have to be put on the new barrel and in most cases you might as well have the entire gun refinished.  While you are having the new barrel installed, you should have the action tuned up and squared.  And last, you need to decide on what caliber and type of bullets you are going to shoot, so the right rate of twist can be made.  You can’t expect a 30 caliber barrel to shoot everything from little 100 grain bullets to heavy 200 grain bullets.  If you are going to shoot small bullets, the twist might be a 1 in 12 inch twist or if you are shooting long heavy bullets, the twist will have to be faster and may end up a 1 in 9 twist.  You can also change calibers at this time.  Just because you have a 30-06 rifle doesn’t mean you have to keep it a 30-06.  You can change the caliber to a 25-06, a 270, a 280, a 35 Whelen or how about a wildcat like a 6.5-06 Ackley Improved.  The range in what you want to do is only hampered by how creative you and the gunsmith can be and how much money you want to spend.

Picking the right barrel steel and taper depends on what you want to end up with when you are done.  If you are trying to build a light-weight mountain rifle then don’t let your gunsmith talk you into a heavy number 4 or 5 taper barrel.  You will want a light number 1 or 2 taper; the rifle will be considerably lighter and easier to carry.  Remember you carry a hunting rifle 99% of the time and shoot it 1%.  The barrel length is important to what you are doing.  The barrel has to be long enough to burn the powder and get the velocity, but not too long that it will hang up in the alders in Alaska or be out of balance when you do an off hand shot.  If you are hunting Elephant or Buffalo in the thick stuff, it might be a good idea to have a short barrel so you can swing the rifle better in case of a charge and not have it hang up on branches or vines. If you want a long range cartridge like a 300 Ultra or a 30-378, you will need a long barrel to make it perform to its full potential.  But, if having a long barrel will affect the way you carry the rifle or if it will get hung up on everything while you are using it, then you might want to re-think your caliber of choice.  A 300 Winchester with a 22 inch barrel might be a better choice for the type of hunting you are going to do.  The same holds true for the type of steel to use.  A stainless barrel will usually shoot better and is more user friendly as far as not rusting and being easier to clean.  But, if you are trying to build a classic rifle with a fancy wood stock and engraved grip cap, then you will want a carbon steel barrel that you will be able to polish up and blue to a high luster.   The same holds true for a Varmint rifle or a Target rifle.  Pick the right taper for the barrel for what you are doing and don’t go so big that it won’t fit in the stock.  If you want a Bench rifle with a huge barrel then you might as well plan on buying a new stock to go with it.  Consider fluting the barrel on a Varmint rifle, it will save a little weight, add more surface area which helps with cooling and looks neat.  You can pick straight flutes or spiral flutes or even double spiral flutes.  It will just depend on what you like, can afford, and how good your gunsmith is.

There are many things that make a custom rifle barrel shoot better.  First is the polish inside the barrel.  Most custom barrels are lapped to the point that they shine which also makes cleaning easier.  Having a well polished bore also makes it a straighter barrel.  I have seen several gunsmith videos showing how out of round a factory barrel is on the outside.  I don’t care about the outside; it’s what is on the inside that counts.  The taper on the inside of the barrel has to stay the same or better yet, get slightly smaller or tighter as the bullet approaches the muzzle.  If the barrel ever gets larger at the muzzle, then the rifle will never shoot.  The rate of twist has to stay the same all the way through the barrel or better yet, it needs to have the twist increase as the bullet travels to the muzzle.  If the rate of twist ever slows up then the rifle will never shoot.  Last is the work of the gunsmith.  A good gunsmith can make a bad barrel shoot well, but a bad gunsmith can make the best barrel shoot like junk.  If you don’t feel good about the person working on your gun then find someone else.  Just because a gunsmith is out of state or advertises more than your local gunsmith, that doesn’t make him better.  Many small shops turn out some incredible work and it might end up costing much less.  Make sure your gunsmith can work off centers and make sure he has the right tooling for blue printing your action.  Many of the tools for this type of work are hand-made, so don’t let this scare you off and remember just because his machines are old and not state of the art CNC equipment doesn’t mean you won’t get a good job.  You might get a better job because he will have to do more hands on work.

Deciding to have a custom barrel installed on your rifle is a lot to think about and can end up costing over $1,000.00 by the time you are done.  What you get for this is a rifle that will shoot better than a factory rifle and cleans up easier and looks different.  It is like building a custom car, you do it for the fun and not because you have to.  A hot rod motor won’t make going to work every morning any easier, or better.  Like a custom barrel won’t make that 180 point Whitetail walk out in front of you.  But it is a great feeling just knowing that your car is faster than the one next to you, or that your rifle will out shoot the other rifles in the hunting camp.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Are Men Loosing Their Status in the Hunting World?

A few weeks back I was at the range sighting in a couple of rifles when a young lady sat at the bench next to me and started to load her Marlin 22 Mag.  I expected her boyfriend or father to show up at anytime, but by the time the cease fire was called, no one else had shown up.  I introduced my- self and asked if she shot here often, her answer surprised me.  “I try to shoot at least once a week, work permitting”, she said, “usually I come with my dad but I come alone if he is too busy”.  I started thinking about how many women I know who are hunters and more came to mind than expected.  You know my wife, Carol, hunts and had her own hunting television show, but there are many other prominent women in the Houston area who are big hunters too.

Our friend, Pam Zaitz, loved hunting so much that she started her own business making and selling custom women’s hunting clothes.  Her company, “SHE SAFARI” has become one of the largest hunting clothes lines in the U.S. for women and it now includes men’s hunting clothes.  Rumor has it that Pam will have her own hunting show next year too!

Another friend, Deb Cunningham, lives in the Houston area and has won the prestigious hunting award, “The Diana Award” from Safari Club International. The Diana award is for women, like the Weatherby Award is for men.  To win this award you need to have hunted on all of the continents and have shot more than 100 trophy animals.  You also must have exceptional volunteer service to the hunting community both locally and worldwide, be well liked by your peers and promote hunters and the sport of hunting as a great sportswoman.  The fact is, in Houston and the surrounding area, there are more Diana Award winners than anywhere else in the world.  I know of four in the local area.  On the other side there are also more Weatherby Award winners in the local area than anywhere else in the world too.  I can count four of them without thinking very hard. 

Many of the gun-makers have jumped on board with special rifles, shotguns, and handguns made just for women.  Stag Arms has an AR-15 type rifle which has pink accents on the receiver.  Savage Arms has bolt action hunting rifles with pink camo stocks.  Smith & Wesson have known for years that women like to have their own special guns.  The Lady Smith Model 60 revolver was designed specifically for that purpose and has been available for over 15 years.  This is just to name a few of the manufacturers who have started to build a line of firearms specifically for women.  There are several women hunting shows on cable TV.  These shows are very well received and are very well made. 

I checked with the NRA Hunting Rights and found that the fastest growing segment of hunters and shooters today are women!  Ten years ago, women made up less than 10% percent of the hunting population, but today, women hunters make up more than 25% percent.  There are many all women hunting clubs, as well as, women shooting teams.  The Olympics have classes for women shooting sports.  This should not be a threat to us men who hunt and fish.  I think it is a GREAT ADVANTAGE for several reasons.  First, I have a hunting companion who loves me as much as my sport.  Second, most women control where the money goes, it’s a lot easier to get extra money for a better South Texas deer lease or your next trip to New Mexico for Elk if she is included.  If you tell her it is for her because you want her to hunt with you and shoot the biggest buck on the lease, then she is all for it!  If she is a non-hunter, it is a pretty hard sale to tell her that she will be saving money by not having to buy meat for a year when you shoot the Big One!  I remember going on an elk hunt to Idaho and coming back to new living room furniture.  I told her that we could not afford new furniture and Carol would say “if you can afford to go elk hunting then I can afford new furniture”.  It is much easier on the pocket book to bring your wife with you hunting and to let her shoot the biggest elk in the woods than it is to come home to furniture payments for the next three years.   And the Third reason is that women influence the family lifestyle and the mindset of our future hunters and voters.  Can you imagine the future of hunting if women didn’t hunt?

The only problem I have had with my wife hunting is that she shoots bigger animals than I do. When we show up together at a hunting lodge, she seems to get all of the attention!  The outfitters seem to always have a special place for her to hunt for that special buck. In the last three years, she has brought home much bigger game animals than I have.  In fact, she now hunts more and shoots more than I do.  I have to stay at the shop and work to be able to keep her out hunting.  Maybe I should let her come home to some of her own medicine and have a new Harley or a BMW 1200LT in the driveway and tell her, “If we can afford for you to go to all over the world, hunting, then we can afford a new motorcycle.”  Yeah right!