Monday, November 30, 2015

Testing a Vortex Razor Spotting Scope Part 1

Over last year or so I have received a number of Web inquires as well as approached in sporting goods stores and then asked about my opinion of the Vortex line of spotting scopes. Those asking the questions were hunters or guides trying to make their dollars stretch a far as possible while at the same time satisfying the requirements for good optical performance. The price point maximum seemed to fall between the $800 and $1200 price range. So lets call it a potential investment of $1000 give or take.

I had never looked through, much less tested any Vortex Optics but did notice this year on my annual Antelope hunt in New Mexico that there were more than a few Vortex spotting scopes mounted on the tripods of other guys I guide with. You had to notice, you couldn't miss it. Judging the difference between a very good antelope and a net book antelope is akin to comparing the size of two shoes, such as a size 10 and a size 13 of the same color and make at 600 to a 1000 yards. Granted a real toad is a no brainer, its the "almost" bucks that require a good optical tool for real evaluation. We all guess, I prefer to guess smart based on what I can actually see.

An advantage of being in a guide cluster on an afternoon between hunts is having a variety of optics set up and focused on the same animal, rock or tree. Then having each guide look through the very same optics and compare the image in this line up. What is quite apparent when this happens is not every spotting scope or binocular offers the same image quality to each and every viewer. What I mean is regardless of price, objective diameter or lens coating there will always be one guy that insist that his vision and his eyes are better served by a particular optic regardless of brand or the cost. As long as the scopes are set on the same power, looking at the same bull or buck under the same conditions this anomaly will often occur. I have witnessed this many times over. So money doesn't always buy you contentment or world piece when it comes to optics.

With a serious test drive in mind I contacted Shamus Terry at Vortex Optics and made arrangements to purchase a Razor HD 16-48x65mm Straight Body spotting scope. This model fell into that $1000 dollar price bracket that others had questioned me about and was compact and light enough to carry all day without it feeling like a anvil at dark. Although my Antelope hunts were over and a last minute Shiras Moose hunt had just been completed there was my daughters Utah deer hunt to try it on as well as the continual accuracy test that are required in the shop on a regular basis.

The Razor arrived in a bomb proof box, that was nice to see. It came with two rubber lens caps that are not connected to the scope or each other in any way. There is a small hole cast into each lens cover for a lanyard, bungee, or log chain. I'm making the prediction that if you don't tether the lens covers in some manner they will come up missing in short order. This is not a failing of Vortex rather the nature of the beast industry wide. All lens covers seem to made in the color Black. I'd rather see them all made in Florescent Orange. While it wouldn't always prevent them from being left behind, I'd bet it would help keep them from becoming lost in the ground clutter more than once.

The Ocular lens attaches to the body by rotating the bayonet mount into the main body and features a permanent lock that prevents the lens from becoming unscrewed and falling off while your glassing. This is a must in my opinion. This was real pain in the ass on the early Leica Televid's. More than once I have had to fish my rogue lens out of the dirt down around my feet. The Razor also came equipped with a Nylon cover which I eyed suspiciously. Once out of the box I mounted the scope on a Bogan tripod and stepped outside the shop. About a half a mile to my east are the foothills of a mountain range that rises out of the valley floor and to the south of me an alfalfa field that has a resident herd of deer and flock of turkeys that can be viewed almost any day. I picked a ridge on the mountain to the east, found an interesting looking tree, focused the lens and ran the Vortex through its power range. I found the fine focus knob easy to adjust and comfortable to use. The eye relief is fairly short but adequate with both the naked eye and glasses. The scope stayed on the tripod until dark allowing me to look over the Mule deer grazing in the alfalfa until it was to dark to discern anything but blobs in the gloom. So far so good.

My daughter wanted to go to the range and get in some more practice before her hunt so we packed up the Razor and my Older Leica APO 16-48X62mm and hit the range one afternoon under overcast skies. Each scopes were mounted on a good solid Bogan tripod, set side by side then adjusted to the same power.  Over the next hour and half were used both scopes to monitor our shooting. 6.5mm bullet holes were easy to see out to the 300 yard berm through the Razor as well as the Leica. We compared the image quality between the older Leica and the Razor, her young eyes verse my older eyes. The edge to edge view in the Razor looked very crisp and light transmission was right there with the Televid. The light coming through the body looked 100 % natural without any tint.

At the end of the shooting session I was impressed with the Razor's performance. We made one more trip to the range before the Deer hunt was to begin. This time my daughter was shooting prone at an Antelope silhouette at 200 and 300 yards. As you can imagine seeing bullets holes in this target could be a challenge at times depending on the light conditions, mirage and temperature. The conditions that day were about ideal and as she shot I called her shots at both ranges. The Vortex was hanging right in there. So for those primarily interested in target shooting this spotting scope has some application to be sure.

Now to test the Razor in the field. Unlike my friend John Barsness I don't really have a set mechanical testing procedure anywhere near as comprehensive as his. I'm more a hands on, see if we can use it or break it kind of guy. With our experience at the range I decided to leave both my Leica's at home, go for broke and use the Vortex on my daughters hunt. We were lucky enough to be hunting on one of Bucks & Bulls-Guides and Outfitters leases in Northern Utah. Due to my daughter's academic workload we had only 24 hours to find a buck she'd want to try and shoot and put it all together if we could. I hoped we could be selective to a point.

Glassing was going to be especially important with so little time allowed for this hunt. While I do not go out of my way to place any of my hunting glass in harms way I don't baby sit them either. For as long as I have been using a spotting scope they have been mounted on my tripod and cantilevered over my shoulder 80% of the time when I am playing the part of the Fundi. To do otherwise can waste critical time when time is at a premium. To prevent the scope from unscrewing itself from the mounting base plate a secondary stop screw must be installed ahead of or behind the main camera 1/4x20 threaded stud or you are courting disaster. A cheap tripod and mount is never a good call when tossing a scope over your shoulder. A sudden shift in balance and the sound of a thud behind you is not a great way to impress your hunter. Within the first 1/2 hour the OEM supplied nylon cover went into the pack, I can see no use for this cover in the field due to its design as it takes more patience than I have to fight my way through the zipper system, in the field this cover is utterly useless. As I stated earlier I can see rubber lens covers being lost quickly without a leash on each of some sort.

We started the afternoon hunt and covered as much ground as we could optically often looking at deer well over a mile away. Buck after buck was given the hairy eyeball and the Razor allowed me to make the call to either commit to a stalk or continue to search. We counted points, we guessed at the age class, we picked apart maples and peered into timber. We put the Razor to the test in the best way I know how. As the sun was sinking a buck appeared on a ridge above us and I could tell Lexi was getting the itch to shoot. This was her second deer season and we still hadn't found "the" buck despite her all out effort the year before. As this ranch is managed for quality I felt we needed to continue to look and be as patient as we could afford in the short amount of time we had. Through my older Zeiss 10x40's Classic's the buck appeared mature but standing in the shadows of the maples I couldn't quite clearly make out the complete frame. However the the Razor plainly proved the buck to be of average framed 3x4, nice but not quite what I was looking for. Lexi looked through the scope and at this point I think she was hoping the scope would take a fall off the tripod and break into no less than 40 pieces. All that clarity was now clearly not working to her benefit or so it seemed at that moment. Based on what we saw I made the call not shoot the 3x4. Had we done so we would not have run into this bigger buck a little further down the canyon just at dusk. This buck was close enough that the Razor never came into play. Clarity can help you make better decisions, the proof is in the pudding.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Broken Glass

It is not to unusual to find a defective scope right out of the box or one that caves in within a couple sessions at the range. What are the chances of having two fail back to back?

Determining the scope has gone buns up is not all that difficult if you have the scope mounted on a rifle of known accuracy, provided you have very similar range conditions for testing and have the patience of a saint. Recently I had a Legend returned to have its current scope replaced with a Swarovski  Z5. 3.5-18X44mm. Let me state up front that I feel Swarovski makes an excellent product and I have installed very few that have been problematic.

This particular Z5 featured a come up ballistic turret that featured hold off hash marks for windage and offered a crystal clear image up close and way down range. This scope was replacing a Leupold V-3 4.5-14x40mm counterpart that my friend/client had used for years but he had also experienced some mechanical problems with this V-3 as well. While the V-3 had been had been on the rifle for many, many hunts here and abroad he decided to replace it with the Z5. The owner is a passionate Black Tail deer hunter and has a couple of hot spots where the shots can be at a minimum of 350 yards and then knocking on the door of 600 yards. From what he tells me there is no way to get closer without tipping your hand to the bucks so he and his hunting partner engage in a lot of practice out to 600 yards. I get more than a few pics at the end of each season with some damn nice Black Tails so they have their game plan wired pretty tight.

This Legend is chambered for 300 H&H, and hits the scale at just under 9 pounds scoped and loaded. This rifle has seen a lot of use but like a Land Cruiser is very dependable . With a number of loads this rifle will shoot well under an inch at 100 yards if you can control the rifle and recoil. So I removed the old scope and installed the Z5 leveled the reticle accordingly with a tool and procedure I have developed and snugged it down.

It took just a few rounds to zero the point of impact at 200 yards and set the zero stop. This zeroed 3 shot group was approximately 5/8". Then I cranked up the turret to the maximum allowable come up limit, reversed the turret 2 clicks to remove any backlash and fired another 3 shot group. The point of impact should have landed approximately 20" higher and directly 12 O,Clock above the 200 yard zero in a nice little cluster. However this was not the case. This new group was 20" higher as anticipated but was now just under 3" and strung in a horizontal line and a shade to the right. Hmmm?

Now don't get me wrong I can flinch just as well as anyone and really now is a 3 shot group valid anyway? I wasn't feeling off my game that morning, range conditions were ideal no, perceptible wind, the flag on the frame was hanging vertical, what the ????? So I reversed the turret back down to the 200 yard zero, allowed the barrel to cool and fired another 3 shot group. This group was once again 5/8" at the same 200 yards and was for all intents and purposes superimposed directly on top of the first group. I allowed the barrel to cool off again and then cranked the turret back up to the maximum, removed the backlash and send 3 more rounds down range. This elevated 6 shot group was now horizontally elongated to just under 4"?

As I knew the rifles accuracy history I did not pull out my test scope or continue shooting any further. I documented the groups with my Camera, wrote up a description of my findings that explained why I felt that the scope was having issues. Then contacted my Swarovski area rep and requested a return authorization # so the Z5 could be diagnostically checked by the repair department. The request was met with "by all means send it back" reply. In a weeks time the Repair Department concluded that yes there was mechanical malfunction with the ballistic turret and that the problem was now corrected. In short order the scope was returned, remounted, leveled, zeroed and then put through the same paces when the problem was detected. This time the scope operated as designed 100%. It is now in the field and will be put to good use when called upon to do so. An isolated incident you ask? Keep reading.

The very next scope I installed was to follow a similar MO in the field. This scope was a Zeiss Conquest HD-5, Rapid Z-800, 3-15X42mm. It was fit on an almost completed 700 chambered for 7mm Remington Magnum and bedded into a Shrike stock. Once finished this rifle was headed to the FTW SAAM Hunting Preparation course in Texas. The course is set up to allow the shooters to engage targets from spitting distances out to 700 yards. The Rapid Z reticle unlike the Z5 Ballistic Turret was developed to use a series of Stadia lines for hold over and windage to 800 yards eliminating the need to crank the turret. I have used both systems and understand  completely the limitations and advantages of each. After the SAAM course the rifle and this Zeiss Conquest were to be used on 3 western hunts beginning in mid September. That is if I could get it all assembled as this project was being done after normal hours and weekends. The time line was a little tight.

So with the Zeiss reticle leveled and zeroed on the 7mm I began doing load development for the rifle before sending it off to be blued and the stock painted. Like the Z5 the quality of the Zeiss optic was excellent and as I began to shoot the 7mm I felt this particular scope was a good choice for the shooting course and the hunts ahead. This Rifle was a drill from the first group I fired and with less than 40 rounds down the barrel I settled on one particular load for the SAAM course and then one other load for the later Elk Hunts. Both loads shot at or under a 1/2" at 100 yards. With the load work complete I pulled the rifle apart one last time and sent the metal off to Glenrock Blue ( and contacted my painter to have the stock primed and painted. When everything returned the rifle was assembled and the Zeiss re-installed. To get this rifle to the shooter going to the SAAM course and allow him adequate time to practice the rifle had to be shipped in the next 3 days, this is precisely when the bottom fell out of the Zeiss. Better now than at the SAAM course or on one of the hunts.

At about shot number 41, 42, or 43 I started to have horizontal and diagonal fliers, Hmmm ?????. This condition worsened as I shot more rounds. Instead of nice little triangles in the 7/8" range the groups were now in the 3" to 4" at 200 yards and growing. Well @$%^)!&% !!!!!!!!! Having seen this movie more than before I did not tear the rifle apart, did not check for loose base screws, did not increase or decrease the powder charge.

Miffed, I pulled the Zeiss and replaced it my fixed power Leupold 12X test scope and went right back to the range. Now granted this Leupold is not as optically as sharp and crisp as either the Z5 or the Zeiss HD and it has a maddening habit of loosening up the ocular lock ring about every 3rd shot but it has always, from day one, been mechanically honest. This scope will hold point of impact, rain, shine, gloom and doom. The 12X was quickly zeroed at 200 yards and I shot a 5 shot group with the very same ammo under worsening mirage and wind conditions that measured just under 7/8".

To confirm the crime beyond a shadow of doubt I removed the 12X, reinstalled the Zeiss and as I had anticipated shot another 4" plus group with the next 5 rounds also at 200 yards. Then once again removed the Zeiss and installed the 12x and shot another 7/8" 5 shot group at 200 yards. Time of death for the Zeiss 2:43 PM.

Having been a Zeiss dealer for over 2 decades I know that their Repair Department will fix whatever issue has gone south in this Conquest. To date I am not aware of what they have found.

For those of you that think this post was written to spot light a particular product or manufacture for ridicule you are very sadly mistaken as nothing could be further from the truth. Optical manufactures are working as rapidly as they can to bring to market the "next best" version that we the shooting public think that we should have? It's a wonder that they all haven't tossed in the towel and reverted their technology to making soda bottles or mayonnaise jars. We the public must shoulder some of the responsibility for these mechanical hiccups as we the public have requested our scopes be filled with everything under the sun and the kitchen sink. The next time you have a few spare minutes take a scope apart on your kitchen table, then reassemble it, I dare you!  What I wish to illustrate is that any product can have a bad day and require technical support. Frankly I have lost count as to how many optical cave-ins I have witnessed over the years. I have mentioned this to a number of rifle makers in the past with many more years at the bench that I and they have stated emphatically that they have "never" in their careers had an issue with a rifle scope. Usually when I hear this reply my eye lids begin to twitch and hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Some of these gentlemen have been and are still very active builders and swear that they really do shoot their rifles before they are shipped. Makes me wonder what sort of trouble I've created in a past life when I hear these glowing reports for everything optical, however I do not live under that same umbrella.

So we have 2 new scopes, back to back, out of the box that have given up the ghost in a short amount of time. Neither rifle could be considered a "Heavy Caliber" neither rifle was fit with a muzzle brake or any other scope bashing devise, none of the testing was done off hand with me wearing a blindfold. Why then did this occur ? Rather than try to analyze the exact cause it might be best to accept the fact that mechanical failures do occur in the best of products no matter their price or their pedigree. Any decent manufacture will clearly stand behind their product and resolve what ever issues occasionally surface. The same anomalies can happen with your toaster, 4 wheeler or your lap top. I of course have never had a single rifle I've made develop any problems what so ever.

Sometimes I just crack myself up, OK maybe a few needed some additional tweaking.

I ask you, what ever happened to the simple fixed power scope ? Life was simpler then. Lead core bullets didn't bounce off deer, you were not required to shoot at 1100 yards to secure elk meat and everybody knew how to clean their guns and use a sling. Those were the days.

As a followup:  The 7mm Magnum did make the SAAM course, being fit with a Nightforce 2.5-10x32mm Compact just before the course was to start. It has stayed zeroed, nothing has fallen off, no hydraulic leaks seen, nothing has gone south. This combination of rifle and glass were then put to good use a month later in Utah and Colorado. When you come into the possession of a good, honest, reliable scope heed my advise and treasure it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Centerfire Rifle Accuracy By William Hambly-Clark Jr

I received a copy of Centerfire Rifle Accuracy a month ago. It arrived via the Registered Mail from Australia and it was an instant hit.  The contents of this book are geared towards the construction and techniques used to build an accurate bolt action hunting rifle for the professional gunsmith and the advanced hobbyist/amateur.

I was first made aware of Mr Clark's book online almost a year ago. Those that had received this latest revision spoke very highly of it. I have to admit my copy was a gift from a friend that felt I needed all the help I could get. When I finally sat down and turned the page to the first chapter I was hooked. I only got out of the chair twice to make coffee, work at the shop stopped for half a day. Centerfire Rifle Accuracy should be considered a form of Continuing Education for any gunsmithing practitioner. I have since re-read a number of chapters. The procedures, deductions and engineering techniques Mr Clark covers are very well thought out.

At 564 pages it covers a lot of ground in regard to the truing of actions, bolts, gimbal 4 jaw set ups, threading, indicating and chambering both actions and barrels and why he prefers these methods to past procedures. The chapters devoted to die making, load development and barrel tuning are interesting to say the least. His coverage of glass bedding is in depth and should make the typical classic rifle maker either re-think his current procedures or never open the book again, ignore the facts and bury his head in the sand. The chapter on trigger construction and modification in itself is worth the price of the book. There is a short mention of an action that he designed and then tried to have produced to fill a void for Australian shooters that never made it off the launch pad. There is a chapter on fitting scope mounts that made me chuckle and reminded me of why I began making my own mounts.

This book does not cover the basics of stock making, finishing, checkering, feeding, bluing or the making of sights or other hardware. Its goal and intent is to steer the reader into the realm of building an  accurate rifle through well planned procedures and how to maintain that accuracy.

The book is filled with a lot of nicely done photography that I only wish were in a larger format. It is clearly evident that Mr Clark is much more than a "Capable" craftsman. Ladies and gentleman from what I can see and read there is no doubt Mr Clark can build both an accurate and beautiful rifle. The pictures of his Classic Rifles along side his Target and Varmint rifles attest to this fact. Mr Clark has been neck deep in a broad spectrum of rifle work be it walnut or fiberglass for quite a very long time. Being self taught should give hope to anyone thinking about stepping into the breech, no pun intended.

Much of his expertise was developed from a life time in the field using his rifles. A number of paragraphs are devoted to preparing a rifle for a particular type of hunt and the effort to zero the rifle for that style of hunting be it buffalo, hogs, dogs or crows.

Sadly there are closing paragraphs explaining why Mr Clark eventually closed his doors having to seek employment outside the trade. It is a common lament for those with great gun making talent throughout the last century, we are all diminished by these events no matter your profession.

Mr Clark gives much of the credit for this book to his wife Lyn who quite literally dotted all the I's and crossed the T's to assemble a shoe box full of crib notes into paragraphs, then chapters, and finally into the current text. No small task for the squeamish. Many thanks need to go to her as it is evident that this book has been a team effort.

This book can be ordered via e-mail to The cost will eat up the better part of $126.00 US if shipped by air. It is well worth the money and should be considered a tool purchase for any serious Rifle Maker as well as excellent reading material for any seasoned  rifleman. It is a wonderful read and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Hunting Mozambique with Hunters and Guides

Tony and John Oosthuizen began hunting together in 1984. Tony's first Safari was arranged and conducted in the South Africa's Londolozi Reserve for Buffalo and since then they have shared campfires for many multiple Safari's in Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The duo has just returned from Mozambique completing yet another trip.

This hunt was planned once again to look for Buffalo and to hopefully entice another Leopard into a tree. There would be the usual Plains Game to hunt, new country to be seen and effort to be applied but that is why you go, at least that is why Tony goes. I had put together a Classic 505 Gibbs for Tony a number years ago and he has put that rifle to good use ever since. This trip would be another reason to carry the Iron Sighted Gibbs and make getting close to a Buffalo Bull the challenge. John and Tony spent a lot of time crouched behind trees and termite mounds then on their hands and knees before finally getting into a position 40 yards from of a small group of bedded Bulls. A bit of time passed before the largest of them stood up and offered Tony the perfect shot, the 525gr TSX did not fail to deliver. The Gibbs is now showing the patina of prolonged time in the bush doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Throughout the Safari other game was taken with a Legend chambered for 340 Weatherby Magnum. This Legend has become an all purpose rifle for many of Tony's hunts here in the states and abroad. I find it gratifying that my rifles have played a pivotal part in all but one of Tony's Safaris. For 31 years this pair of Boy Scouts have shared the ups and downs of spoiled stalks, early rains, burning sun and sweet success. While Mr spots eluded the hunters on this Safari it wasn't for a lack initiative, yet another reason for planning the next trip. 

John's vast skill and experience as a veteran PH came through once again in an unrelenting effort to give each and every client the best of his ability no matter where the Safaris are to be conducted. This hunt was no exception. Together they have experienced the best and worse that hunt can throw at you and have remained close friends all the while, well done gentlemen. 

Further information about Hunters and Guides can be found at

Sunday, September 27, 2015

British Columbia Adventure, Part 2

When you ride into a camp late at night with any ram it tends to make folks walk up and take notice. Usually when I have ridden in late it was because we got turned around, buried a horse in a bog our had a rodeo right at sundown. Craig however was coming into camp, hungry, happy and bone tired. It had been quite a day. Reg saw the rams horns cinched in the rigging as he walked over to the tired string. Smiles break out, hands are shook, hats pushed back and a story is born. The emotions and camaraderie in a gathering of hunters fresh off the hill has been sadly suppressed by much of our modern world.

You can be too tired to eat. When you finally sit on your bunk and begin the process of stripping off the layers of wool, pile and polypropylene it almost becomes work just getting into a sleeping bag. Once in the bag your body triggers a complete reactor shut down. It is mid morning before you know it. Hot coffee and flap jacks help smooth out the wrinkles of aching muscles.

You walk over to the rams horns for the third time since you rolled out of the sack, hold them once again, feel the weight of them. You lift up the cape and press your face into the salt and pepper hair and breath deep. You do this a couple times as you know this moment only happens a few times in you're hunting career if your fortunate. You finish that 4th cup of coffee all the while talking about the rain, the stalk, the ride out, remembering yet another detail. There is no hurry to go anywhere today. The team stays in camp today and it is a happy camp.

Craig now has almost a week to look for Moose. But like the rams they have yet to see a Moose. For the next two days the Moose hunt draws a blank. The team rides into one valley after another, glass until their eyes bleed but have not picked up the flash of white paddles anywhere. On the afternoon of the third day the packer spots a bull a mile and a half across a valley. Soon two cows are spotted and the bull finally steps into the open. The guide is none committal about judging the bull from that distance, a smart move for an experienced guide. Craig however had seen all he's needed to see. A plan is made, a route chosen and they saddled up. When they get above where the Moose should have been they begin to optically pick the timber apart trying to locate the group of Moose. Soon the cows are spotted and then bull walks into an opening 175 yards down the slope. A quick horn assessment is made and Craig decides to shoot, it's now or never.  Craig wraps up in the sling and sends the first round towards the bulls shoulder.

The bull continues following the cows while Craig tries his best to place a bullet between Spruce limbs and pucker brush whenever he sees an opportunity. The bull stops for just a second in another opening and Craig fires his fifth round. This shot registers a definite reaction but again the bull continues into the heavy cover. The rifle is now empty and there isn't a Moose in sight.

Feeling at least some of his shots were accurately placed Craig gets to his feet and reloads the magazine. The walk down the slope reveals a Moose-less landscape, the guys spread out. For the next 40 minutes they look where they feel the bull should be. No blood is found, had they misjudged the range? The location? Had there ever even been a bull walking through this tangle of brush? The packer had filmed the event on his camera phone so they dig out the phone and review the footage. Sure enough there had been a Moose, it stumbled after the last round was fired, it was standing by that one big Spruce that was ? Crap !!!!! further up the slope than they had been looking. They converged on that tree and there lays the bull. It had expired after taking a few more steps. His Legend has claimed another victim.

Craig has shot a few big Moose in the past and this Canadian version was grand in every respect. You never really appreciate the size of any Moose until you really walk up to one and this bull was no exception. With a spread of 62", wide palms and outstanding fronts this bull was another dream realized. They sat down for a while to process it all. Laying before them was another testament to persistence. After a while they cleared away some brush for photographs and then noting the time began the chore of breaking down the 1600 pound bull. If you have ever engaged in this process you know damn well that it is not a 30 minute job. As the guide capes the bull the packer and Craig began to skin and quarter the carcass. Eventually the saddles are re-cinched and the panniers loaded while each horse protest in their own individual way with the newly added weight.

The packer is in complete control of this task. You do what you're asked, when you're asked and then stay out of the way. Transporting this kind of load is an art form that is learned from the school of very hard knocks. At last they are ready to travel, police up the site leaving the remains for a wandering Grizzly. Satisfied they head for camp.

Craig rides behind the horse carrying the horns and is amazed as the antlers just slice through the timber and brush as they covered ground for the next 5 hours. Bending green tree limbs out of the way and breaking off any dead timber that doesn't yield. Eventually they ride into base camp. Reg is there to meet them. "Wow, nice bull" he comments, the guide is still non committal on the size of the bulls horns. " Really a nice bull, guys" Reg exclaimed . They unloaded the horses, stow their gear for one more night and finally walk into the main lodge for dinner. Craig is still trying to suck it all in. On the long ride out he had a lot of time to recall the events of the last 17 days. While game has been hard to locate the plan to allow enough time and put in the effort has paid off. His gear was correct and had held out the elements, optics perfect and his Legend delivered when called upon. Sleep came like a freight train that night. There was no reveille call at dawn, the crew slept in.

Now with a few days left Craig wanted to fish, forget Grizzlies, Goats and Caribou the thought of sitting on a seat that wasn't rocking from side to side while grunting and farting up the trail sounded  like Heaven. Reg knew just the spot and soon is able to conjure some bomber Bull Trout. Any trout that comes into the boat between 24 "and 32" and weighs 12 pounds on average gets my respect no matter where you are.

I'd say that Craig had a hunt of a lifetime in a wilderness that is still vast, pristine and rugged. One goes into these trips with hopes and expectations yet often the cards are not in your favor no matter the effort expended or the quality of the outfit and the guides, It's hunting plain and simple, there are no guarantee's. This trip was one of sweat, effort and some hunting luck. Well, done Craig, Reg and the entire crew of Collinwood Bros.

Hunt information can be found at

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A British Columbia Adventure, Part 1

Craig is not new to hunting sheep and knows all to well the challenge of having to endure weeks of rain and snow born on glaciers blown in from the Arctic. His first 10 day Dall sheep hunt was shut out by weather. Above the Canadian border you just can't bank on weeks of fair weather and old rams anywhere are never plentiful. You need time to give a hunt like this justice. His philosophy since that first hunt is to always hedge your bets.

While prospecting for a Stone Sheep hunt Craig had contacted Reg Collingwood of Collingwood Brothers Outfitters ( He liked what he heard and requested to hunt 21 days if that was at all possible? Mr Collingwood complied, 21 days it was. Then the years slowly began to tick by.


Shortly after the hunt was a booked I got a call from Craig requesting information on a Legend, time to build, cost, weight and potential accuracy ? He didn't want a 6 pound 300 WSM or 11 pound Ultra Mag. The conversation wasn't 10 minutes old and I already felt a connection. He wanted either a standard 270 Winchester or a 30-06, that choice was really left to me. He didn't like to shoot beyond 350 yards, preferring to rely on hunting skill to get inside that self imposed boundary. He wanted the rifle to weigh scoped and loaded around 8-3/4 pounds. He wanted it to shoot well enough to land three bullets inside a cantaloupe at 300 yards if he did his part. He asked me if this was at all reasonable ? I said yes, perfectly reasonable.

The rifle was finished in early summer. Craig called a few times while shooting the rifle in Arizona's 118 degree temperatures to keep me posted on his progress. He like the Legends balance, its weight and the accuracy. He could indeed hit small fruit at 300 yards while shooting prone over his back pack. He spent a lot time with the rifle at the range and quickly determined where the 140 grain TSX's would land at 350 yards with a 200 yard zero. The installed Schmidt & Bender Summit had no dots, no stadia wires, no dials to adjust, just a simple duplex reticle. The Summit was adjusted to 6 power and left alone, if he had to thread the needle he could always crank up the power. After confirming the accuracy of the load I had developed he never fired another shot from the bench as his sling, his day pack and the dirt became his rest of choice. Time became short and he finally headed north.

The Spatsizi Mountains of British Columbia are damp on the driest of days. When he arrived in camp the weather set in and the temperatures dropped. An early winter front came knocking, testing the camps, guides, horses and Craig. The Legend went into a scabbard everyday despite the rain, sleet and snow. He diligently wiped the rifle down every night to the amusement of the guide and packer. Water, pine needles and leaves fell or poured out of the magazine box and barrel channel more than once as he cleaned off the rifle at the end of each day. Maintenance in the field is the key, it isn't going to clean itself.

For 11 days the rain, sleet and snow didn't let up. They rode and glassed everyday they could, hunted hard but so far had not found any legal rams. Most modern day sheep hunts would be coming to an end by this time, Craig had seen this movie before. They changed drainage's, changed camps and kept grinding it out. A decision was made to fly into and entirely new area but weather prevented a transfer that day. Grounded the team decided to ride up into a valley right out of the main base camp and spend that day at least in the field as they awaited for better flying conditions. A big ram had been seen in this drainage the previous year so going on last years memory they rode into the hills looking for a ghost.

Three hours in the saddle had them breaking out above the timberline just below the lip of huge grass covered mountain top plateau. As they dismounted, looking for a place to stretch and eat lunch, they caught a glimpse of three feeding rams less than 200 yards away. There was a mad scramble to ease the horses out of sight, gather up the rifle, optics and then relocate the group of sheep. They weren't sure if the rams had even seen the horses. On hands and knees they crawled forward to a small rise to see all three rams looking in their direction, above them and now 400 yards away. The Rams didn't appear alarmed and one ram was visually much larger than the other two. They felt they could cut the distance by backing up and once out of sight, cutting to the left while staying under the ridge line. They made this play and the maneuver cut the distance to 330 yards. This was day 13 in the field and all the pieces were finally falling into place.

The rams bedded down and not wanting to risk a marginal shot the team bedded down as well. Craig eased into a solid shooting position, clearing away ground litter and placing the guides back pack into a notch to give him the best possible support for a solid prone position. For the next two hours they quietly debated the legality of the largest and darkest ram. The body angle of this bedded ram made it difficult to confirm 8 annular rings or if the horn tips broke over the bridge of the nose. The stage was now set so Craig lay in his hide and waited. A light rain continued to fall, the ground grew cold, muscles began to ache but no one moved. Two hours later all three rams rose to their feet. The largest darker ram now turned his head from side to side, it was obvious his horns met all the requirements for being a mature legal ram and then some. All the practice in the Arizona heat and his confidence in his Legend was about to pay off. Having dry fired on the bedded ram for 2 hours his breathing was calm and collected, he slid the safety forward, settled the reticle on a predetermined spot and slowly took up slack in the trigger.

Dead on his feet the ram reared up on his hind legs, took two steps backward then fell 60 feet off a ledge and out of sight. There was no doubt he had centered the ram at his point of aim, the guide muttered "nice shot, I think ?". Craig slowly got to his feet, cramped from the protracted prone position ejected and pocketed the spent case. The words "that really was a nice shot" seemed to keep coming from out of a fog. The reality of the moment was finally settling in and his hands began to tremble. They gathered up their kit and planned a route across the canyon to where they thought the ram had fallen. Forty minutes later and safely across the divide they found the ram where he'd come to rest. Respect was quietly given as they ran their hands over the charcoal colored hair, smiles broke out, the light rain was forgotten.

The ram appeared to be in great physical condition, its coat dark, so typical of his clan. The annual rings placed him at 10 1/2 years old. The bullet had been placed perfectly, a testament to all those hours of practice. Pictures were taken and finally the ram was carefully quartered and caped for the long ride back to the main camp.

If you're a passionate wilderness hunter you never forget an afternoon like this. You carry it with you to remember when walking in this country is no longer physically possible. You accept the weather as it comes. Except the hours in the saddle and lung burning climbs up yet another ridge in hopes of seeing into the next basin and then beyond. Sometimes it all comes together. Now Craig had eight days to look for a Moose and irritate a Bull Trout if he wanted. The ride down valley didn't seem quite as long that evening.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Revisiting The Colorado School of Trades

Just before the Memorial Day Weekend I spent a day at the Colorado School of Trades giving three one and half hour presentations to the student body. I am a graduate of the School of Trades and was also an instructor for three years while I lived in Denver. I built rifles in my shop during the day and taught in the Stocking Making Dept. at night. I do remember having to monitor approximately 60 stocks being made at any given time as a real challenge. It was also a great learning experience for me to keep all those balls in the air. I don't remember having to sleep at that age.

The core of my presentation was geared towards my involvement in the trade for the past three decades and the evolving role of the Custom Rifle Maker today. I also addressed the past, current and future outlook for someone wanting to enter this profession from my point of view. My intentions were to ladle out the some honest realities for those in attendance.

The Power Point Presentation contained 115 images that visually walked through many of the procedures used to build both my Legend and Classic Rifles. I discussed a variety of themes in regard to form, function, accuracy and marketing. I touched on the importance engineering, design, jigs, fixtures and techniques required for this line of work and how the majority of this tooling would need to be made as it would never be found in a Brownells or Midway catalog. While brief at best, the subject matter did give the audience a glimmer of what to expect in this profession. I can assure you it was not all peaches and cream. I hope it clued up and gave insight to some of those in attendance that may want to travel this same road. In the words of Angus & Brian Young "It's a long way to the top if you want to Rock & Roll".

During a break for lunch I walked onto the floor and as usual made a nuisance of myself. One thing was apparent and that was the administration had elected to step up and invest in some very nice equipment for the students. I was impressed with the machine improvements, noting the addition of CNC machining centers and a CAD design area set aside for the students to design a part in Solidworks, program the part and then make that part. The welding section has wisely gone to teaching the use of TIG, a paint booth was in place for painting fiberglass stocks and they hope to install an oven for baking Cerakote soon.  

Walking among the benches it was apparent that little had changed in regard to the "hands on"part of the education. A lot of ground was being covered, as elbows and hands shaped, bent, beat, blended and transformed blocks of steel, wood and various synthetics into the finished projects. I didn't see anything at that time that looked as if it needed life support which is a testament to the instructors.

I do feel that these trade schools should be much longer in duration akin to those in the Europe but the educational systems and funding are radically different in each case. Apparently most graduates will be hired by companies such as Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, etc, others will become employed by smaller sporting goods stores or independent gun shops while a few others are considering traveling as contract armorer's for the military. I wonder if I could get a gig checkering M-24's ? 

I have stopped and visited CST every so often to make sure it was still there, looked, smelled and sounded the same. It does and I still feel a connection to this institution.  For me it was the key to the door that has carried me a long way. My hat is off the administration, instructors and students and I thank them for their recent hospitality and interest. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Remington 700 Shrike Synthetic Stock

This the first Rifle that I have put together using the Remington 700 Shrike stock that has been completely assembled and finished. These new stocks are manufactured for me by McMillan Fiberglass located in Phoenix AZ. McMillan has once again gone to the mat to insure the final product meets my satisfaction.

I was eager to test this stock in a variety of positions and over a period of several weeks shot it from every possible field position at our range. As it is very similar to the Legend Model 70 stock I was not anticipating any surprises but you never know until you wring one out. This 700 action was first fit with a # 5 barrel and chambered for the 404-375 H&H. The # 5 contour was used to insure the fore-end would be wide and deep enough for this common barrel contour to control the fore-end and settle comfortably into your palm, an English Splinter style it is not. This particular stock was made with the standard Fiberglass shell and a magnum fill interior. 

A second barrel was then fit using a # 4 weight barrel chambered for the 7mm-Remington Magnum. The Gunsmithing applied to this rifle was minimal. I trued up the face of the receiver and the recoil lug seats mechanically as well as the rear of the recoil lugs and the bolt nose. I did not re-cut the receiver threads or the bolt face as it was running .0003 across the face. The original recoil lug washer was replaced with a 1/4"thick aftermarket lug that was kissed with a surface grinder on either side. The OEM magazine box was used and a Williams Steel 1piece Floor-Plate and Trigger Bow was eventually  fit for the final installation. Finally the barreled action was fit with a Timney Calvin Elite to finished up the metalwork. With the 175gr Partitions and 162gr Hornady SST's sitting on top of case full of H-1000 this package will shoot at the .500 mark with the Nosler's with the SST's turning in groups in the low 3's. 

When I was making the pattern for the Shrike mold I made sure that the width on the underside of the stock would accommodate a variety of Floor-Plate assemblies such as the Standard Remington assembly, the Pacific Tool and Gauge, the Williams and the Sunny Hill assemblies. This stock is not designed to convert to an ADL or blind magazine assembly. You're going to have to use conventional BDL type hardware. 

The area around the action was shaped to accept the standard Remington 700 first and foremost but will also work very nicely with the Borden, Defiance, Stiller, and other currently produced 700 clones as long as the guard screw hole spacing and relationship of the rear tang angle is similar to the standard 700. It is the grip profile and feel that I most wanted to address when making this pattern. I have always felt that most 700 Stocks lacked any real cosmetic appeal due to the abrupt angel of the rear tang. Having used the standard 700 Remington for a couple Classic Rifles I also knew a cosmetic overhaul of the grip area was clearly possible. This stock is comfortable to shoot. With Cast Off built into the butt  and a comb height that just will allow the cocking piece to clear the comb nose this design places right eye comfortably looking down the center line of the barrel with both Low and Medium height scope rings installed on the barreled action. The stock comes out of the mold at 14" and the 4 checkered panels allow for additional grip purchase. 

This stock will be available in any of the McMillan shell and interior fill combinations and allows for a diverse application to meet about any need for a sporter stock using a Remington 700 platform. I feel this is going to be a popular addition to the already broad spectrum of aftermarket accessories for the 700 type actions. Orders have already been filled in the first shipment of stocks with others currently in the pipeline.  For any specific details or order information about the stock I can be reach at normal business hours at the shop.