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Bombproof Guns: How to Make a Rifle Nearly Indestructible
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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.
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.
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.