Friday, July 28, 2017

Vicknair Bar and Wood

A few weeks ago a pattern stock showed up unlike any I had ever seen. I had been given a heads up by owner and gunsmith Dewey Vicknair ( The J-pegs preceding  the arrival really didn't do this pattern any justice, You had to hold it in your hands to appreciate it. Dewey said he had always wanted to build a double rifle of his own design, something different, something unique, something outside the box. I've heard this said more times than I want to remember, 99.9% of the time it's all talk and zero walk. But Dewey brought his bar and wood to life. Not having any of the metal work in hand I could only imagine how it would all tie together. What I saw was the work of a gifted tool, die and pattern maker, a skill that is becoming very rare today within my industry.

We had discussed the project before it was due to arrive, as Dewey was trying to give me any advantage he could think of to aid in the duplication process. At the last moment he epoxied struts, well fins, no perhaps girders would be a better term to the underside of the stock to reinforce the trigger plate area. Thank goodness he did as it added a substantial amount of support to a rather lean trigger plate and knuckle area. Once the metal was inlet the strength in that area would be more than adequate with the fins removed we just had to get it to that stage. 

The rest of the metalwork was made up with an extended top strap and trigger guard that terminated into the grip cap. There was no excess wood to be found anywhere in the design.

The pattern prep alone was a work of art both inside and out. Detail sanded then primer painted to give the maker a true visual of what he had envisioned, The interior surfaces glass bedded perfectly. So now the question was how to best hold and support the pattern and blank being machined ? That approach took a couple days to evolve. 

For the first day I laid the pattern on my bench and eyed it cautiously every so often as if it was a sleeping rattlesnake. The second afternoon it came home with me in a heavy canvas sack tied snug at the top, I wasn't taking any chances.

I finally decided on what type of attachment I wanted to use to anchor the front center into the pattern that not only allowed rigid support but also access for my stylists and cutters to as much surface area as was possible. This would give Dewey a reference or datum in the very same area that would now be occupied by this center. Dewey reminded me more than once about some pesky little recoil shoulder that was about to be buried under my blocks that he was worried about. Clearly he needed some vacation time. 

Fitting the blocks took a number of hours. Made from 2 parts that sandwiched the forward end of the stock and then tied together with three apposing 10x32 Allen screws. Once fabricated and installed a couple times this space age beaver trap was glassed together making it virtually integral with the pattern. 

24 hours later the epoxy had cured. I poked it with a stick and nothing moved, always a good sign.  The set-up was now ready to test drive and so I roughed the stocks exterior. As this phase places the greatest amount of stress on the stock and pattern I'd know pretty quick if this lash up had any promise.

Once I had the stock cut an 1/8" oversize I removed it from the machine and let it hang over the weekend hoping any pent up demons would be released from the roughed blank. Then I indicated both the pattern and oversized blank into the rotary steady-rest system. The rigidity for both was now significantly increased, so far so good. Slowly I began to remove wood from the walnut blank by decreasing the size of the stylist in relation to the diameter of the cutter in use. His instructions said "cut to zero unless otherwise indicated". I cut to zero.

When the last walnut chip hit the floor I exhaled for the 1st time in 24 hours. Before removing the stock and pattern from the machine I measured everything I could with my calipers, gage blocks and pins. Satisfied the stock came out of the machine and the next day was on its way back to Dewey to be inlet. 

This project was without any doubt the most challenging stock duplication I have ever attempted. 

Once again skill and daring has overcome fear and uncertainty. Now to finish up machining that lowly Boss stock.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dispatches from the field

Frank has finally put his 458 Lott Legend to use. Completed quite some time ago and taken on a number of safaris this rifle to date had always remained a brides maid never making it quite to the alter. On this Safari and using both the Swift 450gr A-Frames soft points and 450gr North Fork solids he finally broke the rifle in on this pair of West African buffalo bulls. This rifle has 3 sight systems at its disposal, seen below with a modern production Leupold 3X that came into use on this hunt it also was fitted with my receiver sight and Recknagel front ramp and sight. Then later on fit with a mount to hold a Trijicon RMR-06 red dot sight system on the front bridge. Frank likes to be prepared. Lets hope this rifle is deployed again soon.

LB has just returned from A Dall Sheep hunt in the Northwest Territories. He's weighing in a little lighter this week as it was a backpack hunt and was forced to donate pints of blood daily to the Canadian mosquito population.

Quite some time was devoted to sorting through his kit before the trip. Packing and re-packing again and again considering the actual real world use of deodorant when compared to its weight and amount of space it took up in his pack. Pondering if you honestly need a fork all that badly for 10 days? Is 15 rounds of ammo is enough, 10 would be lighter? Been there, done that and understand the process better than some. I must admit it was amusing to be included in some of these debates.

This is LB's third sheep hunt and likely not the last as the lure of where they live will draw you back a long as your able to climb and gut it out to the top of one more ridge line, into yet another valley floor and through one more glacial torrent.

The rifle used on this hunt was an early production Left Hand Stainless Steel Legend chambered for 280 Remington. As LB gets in a lot of trigger time the single shot he placed steeply uphill at 350 yards was not just sent on a wing and prayer. The ram died quickly without any drama. 

The final walk to a ram through the stone and grass is always a mixed bag of emotions, Until you've done it sounds like the same old song. I can assure you that it is so much more than the same old tune.

As I type this Ann is crossing the big blue on the return trip from Africa. She, her husband and Professional hunter Campbell Smith spent 10 days of effort on Ann's first Safari. There were a number of firsts on this trip, one was getting use to a new Left Hand 375 H&H Legend. Apprehension soon turned to confidence as the days of practice in the sand hills of Colorado began to pay off

When she and Cam hit the ground running I'm told the skinning crew was kept busy late into the night for most of the trip. Ann's other light rifle a well used Legend seen on this blog many times before chambered for 270 Winchester. I'm sure it was used with speed and precision when called upon to do so. There is zero loafing around when hunting with Smith, as every thing is done at a ground eating walk, you be sure of that.

Good Bones the 7mm Remington

Without question my favorite Legend Light Sporter cartridge is the standard 7mm Remington. When with the throat extended in length to allow a 175gr Partition some real breathing room and tailored hand-loads developed just adds greater versatility to this already stellar performer. Mated with a 24" barrel this bullet can be driven at an average accuracy sweet spot velocity of 2800fps to 2830fps. Using a 26" barrel  2875fps to 2900fps seems to be where this bullet wants to hum. The rifle below is the clients second Legend. His first being a 270 Winchester but that rifle was liberated by his son and so the only alternative was to get another one in the works.

The last 4 groups shot with the 175gr Partitions this rifle delivered an aggregate of .600. This load will be used for everything the rifle is called upon to shoot. 

Scoped and loaded with 5 rounds it tips the scales just under 9lbs. It is now time for owner to lay in the dirt, wrap up in the sling and get use to this Legend like he did with his last.

This rifle will no doubt see some serious use in the future and in time begin a history of its own 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Finished Butt Stock for the Stephen Grant

At my request I had Stephen Dalzell ( send me some pic's of the Stephen Grant side lock butt stock that he has just finished up. In a previous post I featured some photographs of the machine process for cutting the head area for that project. Mr Dalzell's talents are clearly evident and a continued career for this fine gun is as promising as the day it left Grant's premises for the first owner.

Let us hope the Grant will soon be back in the field. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Four For Four

When Lexi and I reached the truck there was a scramble for the remaining water bottles, still cold they went a long way to re-hydrating this pair of dry turkey hunters. That morning found us walking and calling through familiar territory. A fresh skiff of snow lay at our feet and a cold wind falling off the snow covered peaks above reminded us of similar opening weekends in the past.

This year however was different. As we walked from one glassing knob to the next, calling in between, we never heard a reply or saw a bird. As the leaves had yet to fully break out and with a blanket of new snow spotting a flock of turkeys should have been as easy as opening a door. The absence of any tracks or droppings, usually so profuse over the years that we hardly ever stopped to notice unless the track was large and fresh giving us a clue as to what potential mature gobbler may be that area.

Two miles from the truck we stood at the edge of the historical breeding center for that group of ridges and valleys and so far the place was as quiet as library. My daughter took the lead and we dropped into a sheltered valley that held a small meadow not to far from a roost site that is the hub of activity in that part of the ranch. If there is no sigh there, then what ?

Sure enough at the edge of the maples we find tracks from what appears to be three hens and one big footed gobbler from the night before as they headed to roost. Lexi picks a familiar path up an old two track the leads us higher up the mountain. Every now and then I send a string of yelps into the forest around us, there are no replies. In previous years we'd be hearing gobblers and hens all around us at this point on the ridge line but this morning the lack of any tracks in the road leads me to believe the long, cold protracted winter has taken its toll on the bird population. Birds on this property usually winter 3 miles from here in a flock of one to two hundred strong. I fear there are lot of breast bones to be found lying in the new spring grass. 

We do our usual loop, glassing and calling as we go higher up the mountain. We flush three mature hens on the walk and finally reach the Frog Pond and find it free of ice despite the cold spell. Lexi spots one of the ponds name sakes and lifts it from the shallows. In a frozen stupor the frog shows no reaction other than to press itself closer into her palm that is no doubt radiating a radically different body temperature.

We skirt the pond and soon come upon fresh turkey tracks from two hens heading north. With the property line only 150 yards away I give a half baked series of yelps to see if the birds are still in the area hidden in a stand of aspens. As the last yelp fades we are answered with a single gobble from what sounds like a mature bird and very close. We quickly find cover, set up the deeks and I begin to call. In retrospect we should have just sat down and called and forgot the deeks. The bird never answered us again. We stick it out for 45 minutes hoping that the bird might be coming in silent but any gobbler moving towards us would have been easily seen against the new snow. We finally picked up and worked our was around that patch of aspens to see if we could locate him from another ridge and then make a plan. The noon sun felt good as we glassed the area and badgered some crumpled sandwiches. With no bird in sight we back tracked then headed over to where the bird should have been. I gave a couple soft yelps and we received a muffled reply from far down the valley, this bird is traveling. With tracks to follow we finally topped a small ridge and I spot the gobbler loafing in the sun picking at some new grass shoots all by himself across the draw.

We drop into an aspen thicket out of sight and creep within a 150 yards of where he should be, set up and called for quite some time. Changing up the calls I broke out a 50 year old Lynch box call, an equally old cedar push pin and an old slate and peg. All have different tones and tonal change can make a difference at times. Over the next hour I softly call in the cadence of what I think sounds like a lonely hen, the gobbler unimpressed remains silent.

Has he gapped it again ? We finally picked up and slowly walk into a flooded meadow that offers a view of where the bird had last been feeding. I spot the long beards big bronze backside hot footing up the hill away from us clearly spooked. On the long walk back to the truck we spot two more sets of hen tracks in the rapidly melting snow. It's been a good day, we found a frog-sickle and enjoyed the exercise, often that's all you can expect. 

Lexi had to Life Guard the next afternoon until 3:30, when done she changed into her greens and we lined out for the woods. The plan this afternoon was to hunt near the roost where we found the gobbler tracks the day before. This plan is a long shot and has never worked in the past but its the last day of the youth season and we're limited on daylight. We roll the dice and start boiling up the valley floor. When we're 400 yards from our destination I hear a faint gobble across a swollen stream above us and to our left. Instead of trying to set up on this bird we continue up the valley and break into a tiny meadow at the base of three ridge fingers. As we enter the meadow another bird, this time a hen begins an alarm putt to our left and across the stream. She is concerned but doesn't bust out and flush.

Once in the meadow we bank hard right, slip up the hillside and onto another connecting two track. It is here we stop and I look for a suitable location to build a quick blind. In years past I have called in and killed two gobblers in the meadow below right at the crack of dawn but any evening attempts to date have always resulted in seeing birds but never closing the deal as you never know what direction the birds will come from. The roost is located another 175 to 200 yards steeply uphill behind us and out of sight. However over the years I have noticed that any birds across the creek will often come down one of the finger ridges dropping into the meadow will sometimes feed, loiter and display in the meadow until just before sunset and then as if pulled by a tractor beam walk swiftly uphill towards the roost site. The route taken to fly up is determined by the individual bird or birds. In short, its a crap shoot as to where you park your bottom. This afternoon I elect to set up just inside the edge of the trees slightly above the meadow and well downhill from the roost. Crowd the roost and scare the birds and you can kiss that spot goodbye for the rest of the spring. 

I pick a spot in a tangle of fallen limbs and drop our gear into the center of the nest. I walk forward to set up three Avian-X decoys, two hens and one Jake 25 steps ahead of us. Lexi clears out litter from the hide and drapes some lightweight camo netting on the front and sides of the limbs to further break up out outline. She pulls up face mask, slips on her gloves then settles in for the rest of the evening. I look over the set up one last time slip in the back of the hide and take my seat slightly behind and to her left. 

For the next hour we sit in silence. I then pick up a call and send a few soft yelps into the trees with my old Lynch box and see my daughters head slowly swivel to the right. Without any doubt she hears a reply while my 60 year old ears have detected exactly zero. For ten long minutes she never moves then slowly turns back to look at me. "Hear one ?" I whisper, she rolls her eyes, nods and just then I see a mature hen enter the meadow below us from our right. The hens feeds and softly yelps ever so often and I reply in kind as it begins to lightly rain.

Soon the hen has had her fill and walks back out of the meadow and vanishes. I then catch the glimpse of two younger gobblers entering the meadow from our left. Maybe one of these birds I heard on the walk up the two track earlier in the afternoon. The toms peck and scratch in the new grass and are soon joined by another pair of mature hens. Lexi is now on high alert, shifts her sitting position slowly and raises the butt stock off her thigh for a little more maneuverability. The rain stops the same time the boss gobbler arrives. He enters the meadow from our right coming off the end of one of the small finger ridges. 

He struts into the meadow and both the younger gobblers evaporate. No doubt this big tom has been kicking butt in the team ranks lately. The hens pay him little attention and all three birds begin to feed in our direction still well out of range. The long beard gobbles faintly twice more as he feeds in our direction. Lexi's barrel is now tracking the birds every step. The two hens slip into a draw out of sight and if the gobbler follows their path Lexi will never get a shot. I purr just a couple of notes and the tom raises his head looks in our direction and veers ever so slightly towards us. The sound of the safety going off sounds like a cymbal clash to me but the gobbler keeps feeding uphill in our direction. 

I think of all the afternoons that I have sat in this very spot only to have the birds slip around me just out of range time after time it's hard to believe we now have one almost in our laps. Then the bird notices my Jake decoy for the first time and its all but over. He drops into a display stance and drags his wings over the bank and into the two track. The bird is now well within range, almost to close really, I'm beginning to count backwards with anxiety as my daughter calmly aims down the rib waiting for a clear shot so as not to ventilate my decoy spread. The tom steps to the left to come at the fake Jake from another angle.

The bird never hears the shot, never flaps a wing, never kicks a drumstick, he simply folds up graveyard dead before he even hits the ground. A few neck feather drift on the breeze severed by the Heavy 7's. Lexi stands up for the first time in hours and walks over to the fallen gobbler. I sit in the blind for a while just to watch this kid of mine. The gobbler is as big as one can expect from our area, I myself have killed some as large but I've never shot a bigger one. Mature in every respect with a broken up burly beard and rounded over spurs he is packing around some serious heft. I muse that he should be as tender as Carbon-14 and my daughter laughs out loud but knows you thankfully take what you are given with appreciation whenever it's offered. Lexi is all smiles as she tags the tom and we recount the last half hour as we slowly pick up our kit for the long walk out. 

Soon we're walking down the valley as the sun begins to set behind us. We stop ever so often just to listen in the settling gloom. The words are few as we slip further down the valley, the bond between us woven just a little bit tighter this afternoon on a chilly hillside in a place we happily call home. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Uganda 2017

Bob Bledsoe just returned from another sucessfull hunt to East Africa. His have gun will travel professional hunter John Oosthuizen ( arranged this Safari in Uganda with Bruce Martin operator of Lake Albert Safaris and it would appear the pair put their best efforts forward once again.

Bob hit the ground running with his veteran 375 H&H Classic and his 300 H&H Legend. 

I have yet to hear all the details but as they say, a pic is still worth a thousand words. Well done guys !

Monday, April 10, 2017

Face Lift, the Nip and Tuck Part 2

As I had mentioned in Part 1 I now had a potential buyer that was interested in acquiring the Hagn 510 Express. I sent pictures of the rifle and in short order was again contacted by the interested party. The sale was as good as completed when the buyer made one small request. He wanted all the original engraving removed and then requested it be re-engraved by his favorite engraver or the sale would fall through, I now know what Kissinger must have felt like at times.

I closed the screen on my MAC and pulled the rifle out of the safe. The majority of coverage was on the sides of the receiver and lever with minimal but elegant coverage on some the hardware. The lettering could not be removed without dishing the barrel in three major spots so that was out of the question. What the hell, why not, it wasn't the first time I've been requested to do so.  I fired off an e-mail and agreed to remove all the engraving with the exception of the lettering as it would have to stay and I detailed why it was to remain unaltered. The buyer understood completely and agreed to pay for the requested labor to carry out the task ahead.

I left it up to the buyer and the owner to settle on a price. Once the sale was completed I was given the go-ahead and I pulled the rifle apart for the 1st time in 25 years. The barrel was removed and the receiver was set up on my surface grinder's magnetic chuck and 98% of the scroll work was removed from both sides over the next hour, sad in a way as I knew the amount of care and effort that went into the original job. Then the receiver and under lever were carefully wrapped and sent to be annealed by a professional Heat Treating company.

In due course the parts returned, now soft and the file work began. Chad Tarbet was given all the hardware as well as the barrel and began to remove the engraving from the these parts while I worked on the receiver and lever. For the next day and a half the sound of files, stones and paper on steel kept us entertained.

I had agreed to refinish the stock as well which despite its time in the bush was in excellent condition.   The removal of material from the receiver sides and both the top and bottom tangs required the wood to be sanded close to but not level with the frame. Dents and scratches from honest wear were steamed and leveled. 800 grit sand paper began to add a rejuvinated life to the wood.

As the refinish was in progress Chad polished up all the remaining parts to a 400 finish in preparation for the new engraver. Once the stock was ready for the final coats of oil the action was touched up one last time.

The engraver chosen for this restoration project by the new owner was Lee Griffith and as luck would have it lives only 10 miles away. Lee had had been involved with the planning for this face lift from the beginning so now the ball was in his court. As the original surface hardness applied to the action and lever had been ideal for strength and to prevent galling between the moving parts it was not at all ideal for re-engraving these parts as a file would skip across the surface, hence the need to have at least these two major components annealed. I explained all this in depth to Lee and reminded him that both the receiver and lever would need to be idealy re-carburized or color case hardened so choose your final selection of materials and technique in application accordingly. Now in the hands of the engraver we went on to other work.

Within weeks of delivery the parts to Lee I received a call informing me that 9% of the parts had coverage, the Gold Inlays had just been completed and it was ready to be pick up in the morning.

                                                          Gold Inlays ?????

I gathered up my courage and drove north to Lee's. Each side of the action had be engraved with an exquisite African scene with the back ground depicting a sun rise or sunset, you take your pic, this effect enhanced by the inlaid gold. The work was stunning. Lee felt we should Carbonia Blue the receiver and lever then coin finish or grey the scenes.

Now I only had one tiny question, and that was how will those gold inlays hold up in a carburizing furnace ? I knew the answer from a previous experience with a H&W Mauser bolt knob that had been prematurely gold inlaid before the carburizing. The results were not at all pretty. As we had discussed the re hardening process that would be required prior to projects completion at length I was a bit confused. Lee just smiled and said "this is going into a museum and won't ever be fired again so we won't have to worry about it".

                                       I'm not sure if I blinked, but I don't think so  

The only response that came to my mind was "It has my name on it, it will be hardened to make it completely operational and safe to fire, and this you can bank on". Lee blinked, twice.

On my way home I pulled into to Central Valley Machine as they regularly employ a variety of heat treating processes and for the next couple of hours Bret Wursten and I discussed a number of options. We called a few contacts in the industry and asked for their advise and expertise. The issue was the temperatures and process required to harden the receiver's surfaces and not melt or in any way damage the gold inlays. In the end analysis the only option was to send the receiver to Turnbull's and have the receiver and lever Color Case hardened as the process is done at lower temperatures. Not exactly what he had originally discussed but sometimes you need to change horses, sometimes in the middle of the stream, sometimes in a flood.

The Color Case procedure will certainly harden the surfaces of the lever and the receiver and not unduly effect the gold inlays. I'm not at all sure how Carboina blue will look when applied over polished case colors but everyone loves a challenge now and then.

                                                           To be continued.