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Preparing Your Rifle

Rifle
May 2005
Preparing Your Rifle For Inclement Weather
By Brian Pearce

In the fall of 2004, an opportunity to hunt Alaskan brown bear presented itself at rather short notice, and being addicted to such, preparations began immediately. Naturally the first step was to choose a cartridge, load and rifle. Alaska’s Prince William Sound region is spectacular country, but thanks to the cold, wet climate, a rifle must be ultra reliable, especially when we consider the great carnivore may bite if wounded or just irritated by someone being in its territory. Shots may be at just a few feet in dense alders along the banks of a salmon stream or hundreds of yards across a canyon or river.

With the capability of handling about any situation encountered with the great bears, a .375 H&H Magnum was the cartridge of choice. There were several suitable rifles residing in my rack, but some were too valuable to use under such harsh late-fall conditions.

Several years had passed since I had fired a particular Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless .375 H&H, but memory indicated it was accurate. Like other new Model 70s produced since 1994 and labeled with the “Classic” name, it features a claw extractor and blade ejector offering controlled round feeding – a feature preferred in a bolt gun for hunting big game, especially dangerous game.

The Model 70 also has several important design features that have helped make it popular with hunters, guides and shooters since 1937. The safety is three-position and mounted on the right side of the breech bolt sleeve, a natural location for fast access. When engaged in the rear most position, the bolt is locked and the striker blocked to prevent firing. The middle position allows the bolt handle to be lifted to remove a cartridge from the chamber but prevents firing, while the forward position is ready to FIRE.

The Model 70 trigger is incredibly simple with minimal parts, making it generally unaffected by dirt or sand and ideal for hunting in adverse conditions. There are no small parts to break or gum up that result in the action becoming unserviceable, and it is adjustable for weight of pull and after-travel. A hinged floorplate allows for easy unloading, and there are three guard screws that secure the action to the stock.

The Model 70 Classic Stainless featured a black synthetic stock, which created a couple of problems. The factory 13 5⁄8-inch length of pull is rather short for my 6-foot, 4-inch stature, and frankly the stock is just a bit soft for proper bedding to obtain best accuracy. Plus its texture is slippery when wet. All these problems could all be solved with a custom synthetic stock, which was ordered from H-S Precision, Inc.

While waiting for the new stock to arrive, Leupold Quick Release bases and rings were mounted and a Swarovski 3-9x variable scope installed. In the event that a bad fall on rocks or something similar was to damage the Swarovski, a Weaver Grand Slam 1.5-5x scope was also installed. Rings were mounted on the Swarovski and Weaver scopes and both were zeroed. If necessary, a changeover could be accomplished in a few seconds by turning the two release levers, lifting rings (and scope) out of the bases and the second scope installed.

This particular Model 70 trigger pull was a bit heavy, even when adjusted to its lowest setting, so it was carefully stoned to achieve a crisp, clean and easy pull, with practically no after-travel, an important feature for precise field shooting.

Several handloads were tried, but 74.5 grains of IMR-4350 behind the 270-grain Barnes flatbase Triple-Shock X-Bullet (TSX) and capped with a Federal 215 primer (Large Rifle Magnum) produced an extreme spread of 19 fps and grouped around one inch at 100 yards. Muzzle velocity from the 24-inch barrel was 2,650 fps. It was pleasing to see the new bullet produce such accuracy, as it is also a superb choice for the large bears. The TSX bullets are made from solid copper and feature a hollowpoint with precut faults that peel back (like a banana) upon impact, then act like an expanded solid creating large and long wound channels. Penetration has always been deep and straight as an arrow, even when striking bone.

The TSX has the same features as the X-Bullet, but there are four relief grooves cut around the shank. This reduces bearing surface and resistance, allowing the bullet to be driven faster, or to the same velocity with reduced pressure. And having worked with Triple-Shock bullets in 7mm, .30 and .375 calibers, it seems to be a more accurate bullet than the X-Bullet and gives noticeably less fouling.

Unfortunately, the new stock didn’t arrive in time for the bear hunt, which was my fault for giving such short lead-time to H-S Precision to produce it. A slip-on Pachmayr pad was installed on the factory stock to achieve the desired length of pull, give proper eye relief and aid in accurate shooting.

As expected the hunt was tough, with rain and/or snow falling almost daily. The Model 70 rifle and Swarovski scope were continually wet for nearly two weeks. Even in the tent at night, the humidity and moisture were such that the rifle and scope never had an opportunity to dry. And there was more than just water and ice. On the way back to camp late one afternoon, guide Ed Stevenson and I were having difficulty finding a suitable spot to cross a sandy bog. I carefully walked out on an area that felt semifirm on top, but suddenly sank. In an effort to keep from sinking so deeply that getting out would be a problem, I lunged forward to disperse my weight. Naturally the rifle was soon covered with sand.

After crawling out of the muck and back to solid ground, I dropped the three cartridges from the hinged floorplate, pulled the bolt and removed the firing pin. I then proceeded to immerse the rifle – scope and all – in the river (not to mention myself), shaking it vigorously underwater to help wash away the sand. The rifle was then “dried” (mainly the bore) and checked for function, then reloaded and the hunt resumed. The simple action design, along with the trigger mechanism void of small parts and springs, made it possible to keep hunting without completely disassembling and cleaning the gun at that very moment.

When the time came to take a bear, the rifle was ready and functioned like a Swiss watch, as three shots were planted vitally in rapid-fire persuasion at something close to 100 yards. The bear bellowed and roared loudly, unlike anything I have ever heard, then retreated into the alders. It took Ed and me a couple of minutes to find a suitable place to cross the river, then back to where the bear was last seen. The Barnes TSXs had done their job, as chunks of bear pistons, valves and crankshaft were scattered some distance beyond the bear, which had traveled 25 yards into the alders and lay dead in a huge pool of blood. Each of the three shots were vitally placed and exited the offside. (When a bear is bawling angrily at you, it is just a natural reaction to keep shooting!)

Upon arriving home, the H-S Precision stock was waiting, which was promptly fit to the rifle (but was not a drop-in fit, as it had to be opened up slightly). This is a first-class stock featuring a special blend of fiberglass, kevlar, carbon fiber and chemically expanding foam to give a unique blend of strength without excess weight. An aluminum bedding block positively anchors the receiver to the stock.

The H-S stock was custom ordered with a 14 1⁄4-inch pull and is of classic configuration (without a cheekpiece). The comb is noticeably higher than the factory original stock, but it is still low enough that the iron sights can be used. It also came with a black rubber recoil pad to disperse recoil over a large area, making the gun pleasant to shoot. The rifle fits like a glove, coming to the shoulder naturally and feels almost as though I could shoot ducks with it!

Besides offering a better fit for the shooter, the new custom stock features just enough texture to eliminate the slippery feel of some synthetic stocks. And the noise level when walking through brush is noticeably reduced. For those concerned with cosmetics, the “Granite” finish has a medium gray undercolor with speckles of white and black, adding to the overall appearance of a stainless rifle but would look equally attractive on a blue finish.

Using leftover ammunition from the bear hunt, I retired to my 100-yard range to check the point of impact (which should always be done when a stock is changed or altered). While the point of impact had shifted slightly from the stock change, the good news was that accuracy increased. The second group fired placed four shots into 5⁄8 inch with the fifth shot opening the group to just under one inch, probably my fault. After letting the barrel cool, three shots were fired that went into .70 inch – certainly plenty of accuracy for any big game that will be hunted with a .375.

While a synthetic stock can’t match the beauty of a high-figured walnut stock, they are tough as nails and remain ready at a moment’s notice to hunt in any kind of weather and without changing point of impact. For more information contact H-S Precision at 1301 Turbine Drive, Rapid City SD 57703; or you can visit online at: www.hsprecision.com.

Re-published with permission from the Rifle, May 2005 issue.