This Is My Rifle

There are many like it, but this one is (still) mine.

There comes a time in every relationship when one must decide whether to stay or go: to resign oneself to a partner’s shortcomings, or seek out a new one. Countless songs, poems, and paintings have pondered this dilemma; countless people have made the wrong choice and regretted it the rest of their days.

So it was with a heavy heart that I considered dumping my rifle of 26 years, a classic Remington 700 BDL I’d purchased at the Bozeman K-Mart in the summer of 1989. A wide-eyed 18-year-old, I’d returned to my boyhood home to attend MSU and make a life for myself in Montana. The rifle symbolized my nascent adulthood and the long-awaited shift from SoCal city-boy to emergent mountain man; it represented a closer connection to the land, a renewed kinship with its wildlife, and a life of outdoor adventure.

But after two and a half decades, my trusty ol’ Remington was falling apart. Hundreds of rounds had worn out the barrel, destroying both my accuracy and confidence. The stock showed gouges from falling out of the truck, into the stream, and onto the rocks. My once sweet and sexy companion was damaged goods.

Yet how could I abandon her, when we’d been through so much? We’d climbed mountains together, making lung-bursting ascents through the snow and cold, driven only by fresh elk tracks and the promise of a big bull spotted through the timber. With her on my arm, I’d crawled face-down through the sagebrush and prickly pear to sneak up on antelope. On our days alone in the deep woods, she’d been both partner and protector; any unruly bear, cougar, or wolf would face her magnum-caliber fury.

No, my faithful old rifle would not be handed over, traded out, turned in. We would stay together. But she needed some work. We’d give her a makeover: breathe in some new life, make her young and sleek once again. And with any luck, she’d be better than before.

The Team
Like surgeons building the Bionic Man, it takes knowledgeable, experienced professionals to assemble a good precision rifle. Here’s who I used:
Gunsmith: Bill Wood, Diverse Capabilities, Bozeman, 406-596-7618
Machinist: Dave Jaffe, Jaffe Machine, Bozeman, 406-587-8262

The Transformation
It began with a call to the gunsmith. We talked over goals and budget before the reconstruction began; I wanted durability and long-range capability without breaking the bank. First up was a replacement barrel, precision-machined and fit to my existing action; threading on the muzzle allowed for a recoil-reducing brake, or a suppressor if I so chose. From there, the barreled action was set into a lightweight composite stock, the barrel free-floating for increased accuracy. A new trigger and safety rounded out the mechanical upgrades, and a high-end scope, base, and rings went on top.

Three months and $3,500 later, the gunsmith handed me back my rifle. She looked different, for sure—the blemishes were gone, her lines more clean and modern—but it was still my old Remington. She’d been dipped in the fountain of youth, transfigured from a battle-scarred old beast to a chiseled athlete in the prime of life. My mind reeled with memories past and visions of those yet to be made. 

The Details
A bolt-action hunting rifle is a remarkably simple device, wtih four main components: barrel, action, stock, and optics. The core of any rifle is its action, and mine underwent a tune-up at the machinist's shop before being outfitted with new versions of everything else. 

  Before After
Barrel    Stock Remington    Ace Light Varminter
Muzzle Brake    n/a    APA Little Bastard


   Stock Remington

   Manners EH1

Scope    Leupold VX II 3-9x40    NightForce SHV 4-14x56
Scope Base    Weaver Multi-Slot    NightForce 20MOA Rail
Trigger    Stock Remington    Timney 1.5-3lbs.
Weight    9.5lbs.    10.5lbs.
Accuracy    Questionable    Impeccable
Overall Impression    Meh    Wowza

The Verdict
From the moment the stock met my shoulder, I knew I’d made the right decision. That familiar feel of the bolt in my palm; that familiar sound as each round slid from the magazine into the chamber; the way my fingers found the safety, the trigger, the bolt release—it all bred a sense of comfort and confidence. Even the scuffs on the floor plate were reassuring; she still showed a few minor scars from adventures past.

But her rough edges had been smoothed over. No more recoil slamming my shoulder; the muzzle brake reduced it to a wince-free love-tap. A lighter, smoother trigger gave me a cleaner pull, increasing accuracy. The stock’s size and shape allowed a better cheek-weld and clearer sight picture in the scope, whose clarity and oversized objective lens kept me dialed in and on target. My shot groups were tight. I put 30 rounds through her, from 200 to 600 yards, before I realized I’d been smiling the entire time. We were having a fine time, she and I, just like the old days. I knew we’d be spending a lot more time together.