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November 12, 2007

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Bombproof Guns: How to Make a Rifle Nearly Indestructible

Editor's Note: Are gunmakers selling their souls to cold functionality? We want your opinion. Post your answer in the comments section below.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to handle a number of English blackpowder double rifles that had been made between 1880 and 1900. Some of them had seen considerable hunting in Africa or India, and all of them had been in service for over a century, but they were still in fine shape. That’s because their owners had taken care of them, and because they had never encountered the terrors of North American hunting: airline baggage handlers, horses, sleet, snow, and the floors of pickup trucks.

A mishap can put a rifle out of action in an instant, or over a period of time. But we are now seeing rifles made that are nearly impervious to anything you can do to them.

STURDY STOCKS
Stock mishaps are not uncommon. I’ve seen two stocks break in the field, and a third break inside its hard case (without a mark on the case; how the airline managed that one I will never know).

The weakest point on a rifle stock is the grip. If a horse falls on your gun, or you run it over with a truck, or a ramp ape decides to drop your gun case just to see it bounce, there is a good chance that the stock will snap. That’s because natural wood has a directional grain, and if you stress it just right, it will give.

Wood also can come to grief through shrinking or swelling, or by getting soaked with gun oil over the years. The stocks of big-caliber guns may split right down the middle behind the recoil lug.

There are two high-strength alternatives to natural wood. The first is laminated wood, which consists of thin layers of wood glued together. This causes it to weigh more than the real thing but also removes the directional-grain problem, as the layers of wood are positioned with the grain running in opposing directions. Laminated stocks are also resistant to shrinking and swelling if they are properly sealed.

About the only drawback to them, aside from the weight, is that they’re ­ugly—particularly the camo-pattern lami­nates. Seren­geti Stockworks (serengetistockworks.com), however, builds lami­nates that are downright handsome. They use natural wood for the outer layers, and it’s hard to tell Seren­geti stocks from homogeneous wood.

Synthetic stocks are even more enduring, and most of them are lighter than wood. A cheap synthetic stock will snap on you just like a wood stock, but good fiberglass- or Kevlar-based stocks can take almost anything. I’ve seen Kevlar stocks that were run over by pickups, and while they had some dents and scratches, they suffered no other damage.

Nor will they absorb moisture. You can lead synthetics to water, but you can’t make them drink.

STRONG FINISHES
So that leaves the metal. Steel—even so-called stainless steel—enjoys rusting and will do so given half a chance. Many times I’ve hunted in the rain for a week and beheld rust on the bottom of the receiver, the trigger, and many of the bright-metal parts.

Bluing will retard rust for a while. I’ve never seen grease that would keep rust off under sustained wet-weather use. Not ever. The solution, which we are now just beginning to see in widespread use, is a whole variety of advanced rustproof coatings. Here’s a sampling:

• Electroless nickel is good if it’s applied correctly, but some of it is pretty bright for a hunting rifle, and its popularity seems to be waning.
• Parkerizing goes back to before World War II. In it, a greenish-gray chemical is bonded to the steel, and while it holds oil well and is fairly tough, it is exceedingly ugly. Some manufacturers still do it on their tactical guns.
• Lazzeroni uses NP3 on its rifles. This is a pewter-colored blend of nickel and Teflon.
• Charlie Sisk and Nosler employ Cerakote, a ceramic-based finish.
• Nosler coats its rifles’ internal parts with ­MicroSlick, a solid-film lubricant.
• Thermosetting polymers are the choice of Ed Brown (Gen III) and Mark Bansner (K-Kote).
• Remington uses Black TriNyte, which is a multilayer coating of electroless nickel and zirconium nitride.

If you’re interested in bringing this touch of high tech to your own rifle, Mark Bansner will K-Kote your gun for $300 (717-484-2370; ­bansnersrifle.com); and a fine Mississippi gentleman named Walter Birdsong (601-939-7448) will apply a penetrating coating he calls Black-T to everything metal except the chamber and bore for about $200.

Do these coatings work? I hunted in the pouring rain in northern Quebec with the Laz­zeroni rifle for more than a week, giving it no maintenance, and nothing happened to it. It’s never changed point of impact or developed a fleck of rust. Nothing.

Now, maybe someone will do something about scopes.

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Comments

Blue Ox

Didn't Browning use titanium parts in one of their rifles? I think it was the reciever but i'm not sure. Anyone own one of these? How is it holding up?

Bubba

I personally opt for wooden stock, blued metal. I never let weather impede my hunting!
To me, sitting around, disassembling, drying, oiling as necessary, and warm linseed oil are an added dimension to the hunt! I have one synthetic stock on a stainless rifle. It still gets the same treatment after a damp (wet?!) day out!
Guess I'm just kinda old fashioned about firearms.
Wood over synthetic.
Blued over stainless or coated.
Loving care before and after the hunt not two weeks later.
No such thing as indestructible! Some folks could destroy an anvil with a feather!

Bubba

Concerned_Soldier

The Harder, more indestructible, rust proof, the better. I have seen alot of soldiers give a weapon a beating and a beating of a cleaning, if you know what I mean.

The beauty is in the TOUGHNESS!! Its a secure feeling when I know my weapon will take all the elements. I can handle the fact that it don't have a high polished piece of wood.

Most of you men know, that a good ole' truck is way prettier than any sprots car!! Yeah it may look fast, but in bad weather and a bumpy road, I want a TRUCK!!

I want something that can take a beating!!! NOW THAT IS PURTTY!!

Great Post Dave, keep up the good work.

V/R

C_S

YooperJack

How in the hell did both our troops and the Japanese ever fight in such God-Forsaken places like the South Pacific. Were rifles used mostly as clubs and spears? Never haved hunted far from home, or took a rifle on an airplane. Always wanted to but now you've got me scared.

Bubba

C_S

I agree. If I'm in a war zone, I don't want, "bang, click.... OH, SH--!"
If I'm in a blind? Give me wood and bluing! If for some reason, it goes "click", instead of "bang"! No big deal!
Kudo's to you for your service and the defense of "our" country!
My hat is off to you!

Bubba

Bubba

YooperJack

With much trepidation!

Remember the statement by "SGT/MAJ Plumley" (Sam Elliot)in "We Were Soldiers"?
Moore (Mel Gibson) told him he probably needed to get an M-16. Plumley replies, "If that time comes, there'll be plenty of 'em layin' around!"

Bubba

YooperJack

Bubba
I've seen the movie and its on my list of movies to own on DVD. One of Mel Gibson's best. All I can say is yuck! To have to be in that situation.

YooperJack

Seriously:
WWII ranged from oppressive humidity in the swamps of Guadalcanal to the sub-zero conditions of the Battle of the Bulge.
Dave talked about several recent advancements that make guns more reliable. Was weapons failure major problem in WWII?

Bob Athay

Dave--

I think the key is to remember that all these wonderful, high-tech coatings still don't remove the need for routine maintainence. They can certainly reduce the frequency and effort involved. The question is how much, and at what cost? The outside of your rifle barrel may be impervious to the elements, but what about the bore, chamber, the locking lugs of the bolt and the recesses that engage the lugs? Not to mention, of course, the firing pin, springs, and the inner workings of the trigger, sear, safety, etc.?

I heard years ago that nothing is sailor-proof, but a rock comes pretty close. Same thing is true of hunters and their equipment.

Bob Athay

I promised myself years ago that I’d always stick to blued steel and walnut. But, when slogging through Virginia swamps for whitetails, I have to admit admiring a companion’s scoped Model 870 slug gun in black synthetic stock and parkerized finish.

Cameron Diaz may look good on your arm but Roseanne Barr is more useful in a bar fight.

ishawooa

Regardless of your choice of stock material and metal finish it pays to adhere to the following in the Rockies: Never leave your rifle on your horse when you are not in the saddle (if not tied with a short rope the sucker WILL decide to roll on the rifle and saddle), always use a chap leather lined leather scabbard or at least one that is well used and soft, never one of those so called wool lined cloth types which soak up horse sweat or rain and hold it, and always leave your rifle outside that warm tent or cabin at the end of the day (use your .44 or pepper sprayer to ward off grizzlies). It also doesn't hurt to take a can of Rem Oil or similiar substitute along on the trip. Remember airlines don't like aerosols.

I have and still use rifles of all types of construction. It took me almost twenty years to accept a synthetic stocked stainless version. Once I got over the fact that they are not as pretty as walnut and blue I learned to love them for what they offer in return.

This reconsidertion of thought all started in the mid-eighties when I watched a 1250 pound horse roll on a Weatherby .300 Fibermark. The next day the owner shot a fine mule deer at about 200 yards with one well placed bullet. Sooo I started rethinking the situation.

WA Mtnhunter

I'm not so sure Roseanne is nimble enough to be of that much use in a brawl. Ms. Diaz could certainly distract the opponent(s) long enough to place a couple of well aimed hits!

Steve C

I require no nimbleness from Roseanne. She’s just there to serve as the large and immoveable object to stand in front of me to deflect the blows while I run screaming from the bar.

jstreet

Roseanne could sing the national anthem again and burst their eardrums.

That would give you plenty of time to run like hell.

jstreet

I'd like to have a Remington slug gun with the Trinyte coating, permanently attached barrel, reworked trigger and drilled and tapped receiver.

Kind of what the old Ithaca slug guns were like (when you could still buy them). A real slug gun.

Dr. Ralph

I like pretty guns... nothing like walnut but more and more of my rifles are now black. It took some getting used to but everything around me is changing. There's some gang banger on the radio cussing me out and they call it music? Whatever... I suppose this is an improvement but for some strange reason the things I like are now considered old fashioned, out of date, and hard to find. Like that guy on the Fred Thompson debate said we're a bunch of far right whack job dying relics.

Dave in St Pete

Dr. Ralph,

Wood and blue may be dying relics but we far right whack jobs are the ones doing killing with our love of EBRs. So, don't worry (for either actually).

Bubba

Dr. Ralph

I've even considered synthetic/stainless! (Let's call it S/S!)
When I saw the first one's, I was terribly underwhelmed! Then Ruger came out with the (?) I suppose you might call it semi-skeletonized stock. I suddenly fell deeply in love with S/S. Problem was, at that period, I couldn't afford one. Now that I can afford one, they (Ruger) no longer offers the "semi-skeletonized" stock. Guess I better get busy and hit some gun shows before HRC hits the WH!
I think the S/S rifles are a very intelligent answer to an age old delimma. Short of using one to drive tent stakes, they are very durable!
Sitting in a gun rack? Give me blued steel and wood!

Bubba

Dennis Crabtrey II

On the Ruger "Paddle Stocks" as I've heard them called. They're absolutely BRUTAL in recoil transfer. They have 2 steel plates in them 1 under the recoil pad and one running length wise. Shooting one in 30-06 is no fun at all.

Clay Cooper

When Bill Ruger came out with the Ruger #3 in 45-70, He tried to blow one up by overloading it. The load was so hot; it melted the case in the chamber and busted the stock in three places. To me, this is what you would call Indestructible rifle at its finest.
By the way, last Saturday my Wife slammed a big doe with my 22-250. Dropped in her tracks like a ton of rocks. We waited 15 minutes and my friend bagged a nice 5 pointer that swooped in for the downed doe to get some instead the buck got a 30-06 Hornady 150 grain SST loaded with 53 grains of IMR 4064 @ 3080fps out of a 22 inch barrel. Ya-Ya I know, I gave David hell over loping off the barrel of his 338 RUM!

Dan

Hey I just got rid of that skeletonized stock on my ruger .243 stainless in favor of a brown laminated one, and I've never been so happy with it. It was my first bolt gun and I guess my tastes changed. If you ask me, brown laminate is a good compromise between beutiful natural wood and butt ugly black synthetics. It'll still allow that gun to do rainy day duty.

Dave in St Pete

Clay,

My Savage 30-06 came with a 22 inch barrel. I remember reading somewhere that with 22 inches you could get everything out of it and that a longer barrel would not help.

Clay Cooper

Dave in St Pete
22 inches you could get everything out of it and that a longer barrel would not help?
Excellent question Sir that I will answer for you.
Glad you brought up the question/info!
I’ve read that if you deflate your tires, this will make your 4x4 sink more in the sand
My Chronograph says that’s wrong, AKA: BS! So who is right? What you read in some rag trying to stay afloat to make money on something that sounds good or my Chronograph and everyone else in the shooting community? If 22 inches was the truth, it would have been the gold standard before time.
By the way, if you take a 30-06 with a 150 grain bullet military load, about 1.5 inches, the pressure will peak at 52,000 psi chamber pressure then at 24 inches the pressure at the muzzle will be 12,000 psi.
I’m a big fan of Army Colonel Hatcher!
Need to read Col. Hatchers notebook!!
Outstanding reading!!! You will find information that was discovered before the modern day Gee Whiz Goober Smootchers have discovered. This dovetails when Al Gore said he discovered the internet and Love Canal!

Clay Cooper

Dave in St Pete

A blast from the past from David Petzal!
Like Weatherby, Remington equips their .338 RUM rifles with 26-inch barrels in order to get every last foot per second from those huge charges of slow-burning powder. However, I will always trade off a few feet per second for a handier rifle, and I had my .338 RUM barrel cut back to 231/2 inches. Theoretically, this should have cost me lots of muzzle velocity, but in reality I lost only 38 fps and accuracy increased markedly.
Clay says, reduced barrel length resulting to accuracy increased markedly not related to barrel length. It was the byproduct of recrowning and or changing the barrel whip (tuning) of the barrel.
http://www.fieldandstream.com/fieldstream/shooting/rifles/article/0,13199,1174248,00.html

Dr. Ralph

I forgot about those Ruger stocks Bubba... come to think of it they are good looking to me too. Luckily I have a Knight LK-93 which is the Ruger's twin sister and we've already spent some time alone in the woods this year!

I have stayed away from the stainless steel (which really isn't anyway) just because the things are so damn shiny. You just can't tell me that if I can see it in the woods sticking out like a sore thumb from 100 yards or more that the deer can't see it. It may be true but I still don't believe it.

Last time I went out west was 2003 and when I got back somehow there was a crack about 3-4 inches long running along the bottom of my Rem 700 walnut stock. It is now in a camouflage stock and I have mixed emotions about this.




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