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October 19, 2006

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The Second Life of Old Betsy No. 1

It’s very possible that between 1950, when it was made by Mashburn Arms Co., and 1972, when its owner Warren Page resigned as Shooting Editor of Field & Stream, that the 7mm Mashburn Magnum called Old Betsy No. I was the most famous big-game rifle in America. Of all the guns Page owned, this was his favorite, and with it he took 475 animals, all over the world, on heaven knows how many hunts.

Betsy_swisscheeseOld Betsy was, in some ways, a radical rifle. For one thing, she weighed only 8 pounds with scope, sling, and three rounds of ammo aboard. Page was among the first gun writers to recognize that 10-pound guns were not the thing to carry up mountains, and to this end, Art Mashburn drilled, routed, and hollowed out every last bit of wood and metal that Old Betsy owned. The stock is hollow, and the sight rib, and the magazine has been swiss-cheesed, and even the bolt knob has been scooped out (see photo--click to enlarge). The barrel was 22 inches long, not 24, and even the sling was a special lightweight model.

Page died in 1977, and Old Betsy was auctioned off. It vanished from view until 2004, when I got an e-mail from her third owner, a Page fan, gun nut, and engineer who wished to remain anonymous, and shall be. His e-mail was a request for information on Page, and later, via snail mail, came numerous photos of Old Betsy.

She was scarcely recognizable as the worn, battered rifle I had groped and fondled in 1972. Her new owner was, as people say, clever with his hands, and had transformed her into a thing of beauty. He steamed out all the dents and dings and refinished the stock. He replaced the buttpad, which had cracked, and removed the whiteline spacers at the fore-end tip and grip. He filed the chips from the grip cap, and made a brand-new set of screws for the scope rings. Her old Kollmorgen 4X scope was replaced by a new 6X Leupold.


Old Betsy actually looked better than when she was new, and I had to look very hard at the photos to recognize the rifle I had read so much about. Her bore, her owner says, is still bright and in fine condition, and she is still as accurate as she ever was.

I wish I had gotten the chance to buy Old Betsy, but I’m glad she’s where she is, and has an owner who shows her love and affection. May all our treasured guns have similar fates when we are no longer here to shoot them.


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Ralph the Rifleman

I first heard of this round when reading the Bob Hagel's 1st book;Shooting and practical ballistics for the American hunter, I believe was the title?
Anyway, Hagel really liked this round as well, and used it on a number of hunts.
I recommend to all this book as fine reading...it sparked my interest, so long ago, into reloading.

Dave Petzal

To Ralph: Glad you're here. I answered your question on a custom 8mm Rem., but I was vague and useless. If you're going to put that kind of money into a rifle, you have to take into account the fact that you may one day want or need to sell it, and you will have a hell of a time moving a custom 8mm Rem Mag.
Coincidentally, the best medium-weight rifles out there are made by Ed Brown Precision, and he does not chamber for that cartridges, but he does build them for the .340 Weatherby, which is maybe a little better all-around load. Also, he is very cheap for what he gives you, and I believe you already have enough to buy one.

RE: Bob Hagel's book: Before you use any of his recommended handloads, get right with God, because you're probably going to meet him soon.

Ralph the Rifleman

Amen..and thanks the info!

craig j. curtis

wow thats alot of shooting for one barrell and shes still accurate? the picture he sent you wasnt lit very well but its a beutifull sillouhette ! a famous gun owner does not a perfect gun make but with ol betsy i guess an exception we can make . i love to restore those old nicks and dings too .it must of been awsome to hold this rifle dave !

Ed J

To Ralph. I also recommend the 340 Weatherby. Even though Dave says he's vague and useless I know better. Vague and useless is standing in my gun cabinet. It's my first rebarreling job. A 1891 Argentine mauser rebarreled to 22-250. Can't load it up or you will have a bolt in your eye.

Mike Shickele

It's too bad that the new owner refinished it. The dents and dings help to tell the story. My dad used to insist that I cold blue the exposed metal on all of my guns; something about rust. Blah! That's what Sheath is for. Cold bluing never looks right, and the worn parts have character.


Mike Shickele

If you ever recommended the 340Weatherby mag to me, I'd think that you didn't like me.
The recoil from full-house loads is something else, or maybe I'm just a wimp.


O Garcia

How did they manage to lighten that gun when it had a "massive" Mauser claw extractor? Just kidding.

But the fact that the gunsmith was able to keep it feeding reliably after all that filing and drilling is just incredible. Just shows us how really good the old guys were (and still are).

How about his .375 Weatherby with the mesquite stock? I remember Dave writing about that rifle in his tribute to the First Lefty back in the 90's. Is that rifle still around? The .375 is probably one of Weatherby's best rounds, and he actually discontinued it. Now it is back.

Ralph the Rifleman

I had considered Ed Brown's rifles,they do seem like a good deal for the price. As for the .340 W.yes it has recoil, but with some added modifications we can tune them down a bit, if need be..for now the old shoulder seems to still be willing to play tag with hefty recoil.
By the way, this was Hagel's best "all around hunting" caliber choice..since it included hunting the big bears of Alaska.
Just as long as dies are available for reloading,I would be consider this chambering. I like loadin`my own medicine.

Dave Petzal

To O. Garcia: Don't know where the .375 WBY is. What stories that rifle could tell, and no telling how much game Warren killed with it. The first hunt he ever took it on was for moose in Quebec, and he shot a bull. But there was a cow standing behind the bull, and his bullet made dead meese out of both animals. Luckily, the game warden said that if they donated the lady moose to the local orphanage, the whole thing would be forgotten. Now, they'd put Warren in jail and beat him twice a day until he died.

Dave Petzal

To Ralph: The .340 doesn't kick all that bad. The .338 RUM is worse. As Ross Seyfried says, "If it can't be done with a .340 Weatherby, it probably can't be done with a rifle."

Mike Shickele

When someone shows up in Emerg. with a leg that is almost severed, though nothing else is wrong, after being ejected from a vehicle; it's not all that bad.
if a teenage girl gets a 1/2" laceration on her forehead, nothing else could be worse.
Please quantify for those that are ignorant to the sensation of recoil; as I would not want to see a newcomer thinking that a 340. weatherby "isn't all that bad".


O Garcia

I'm going out of topic here. No disrespect to anyone.

I just thought I'd mention that the new Remington 798 is actually the old (last year's) Charles Daly Mauser imported from Zastava of Serbia. Basically, the difference is the 798 is dressed in Remington style wood. Not much improvement there, IMHO.

Worse, the left hand version, available in the Charles Daly line, is now gone.

Now, if only CZ would produce its Model 550 in the southpaw version, I'm sure the old Lefty would be smiling in his grave. And Dave Petzal might buy one in .416, and dress it up to make it look like an old Rigby classic.

Mike Shickele

O Garcia
I'm glad to see that the 98, and mini rifles are now being imported bu a company that is totally reliable and imports all of it's products into Canada ( Believe it or not, this is often not the case).
I too have a couple of nit picks though. They didn't start with a Synthetic stock version, They're not importing the stainless model, and they're not having it chambered in 338WIN mag; You'd think that with a company with the pull of Remington, they would have insisted.


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