VOLUME 86-----------AUGUST 2009
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
August 3, 2009
Got some gun stuff to talk about this month.
I've been doing some serious thinking over the past few years, about buying a custom bolt action rifle. In recent months, those thoughts have been getting seriouser. (Yeah, even I know that ain't a word but I'm exercising literary license here) Even though I have guns enough for most any purpose, I've concluded that everyone should own at least one custom rifle in their lifetime!
First let's define the parameters of what I mean by the term 'custom rifle.' There are varying degrees of 'custom,' and I'm not looking for the one where the gun maker begins with a hunk of steel and a walnut tree and crafts a rifle therefrom. (You're right, that ain't a word either) I definitely can't afford that kind of custom. There we're talking about, "How much are you willing to spend?" and "The sky's the limit!"
At the other end of the 'custom' scale is the company or individual maker who will take an existing action, install and chamber a barrel in the requested caliber, and fit a stock of the buyers choice. In this case the components are usually garnered from numerous outside sources and, with varying degrees of fit and finish, assembled into the end product. Here we may be talking in the neighborhood of two to four times the price of an 'off the shelf' factory rifle from a major arms maker.
Of course, one can choose anything one's heart desires in between these two extremes of the 'custom' market, but when I finally decide to take the plunge, it'll be well toward the parsimonious end of the price scale.
The subject of custom rifles brought us to the Kalispell, Montana vicinity a couple of weeks ago. We stayed in a nice Best Western Lodge in the town of Whitefish. Ann and I had planned this mini road trip for a few weeks, but our entourage was expanded when Jennifer decided late in the game to go along with us.
"What does Kalispell, Montana have to do with custom rifles?" you might ask.
Well, at least two companies that headquarter in Kalispell, make and sell custom rifles!
One is Serengeti Trading Company. In May of 2005, Ann and I visited with Larry Tahler, one of the owners. Larry showed us around the facility and explained their processes. We learned about their products and were very impressed with what they were turning out. I wrote about that visit in my June 2005 newsletter, so I won't bother repeating it here. Go here to read that story: http://www.oldmissourihillbilly.com/june_05.htm
At this point I was going to refer you to the Serengeti web site, but based upon an email I received today, that would probably be superfluous. I did speak with Larry Tahler on the phone while we were in Kalispell, and he informed me something was in the wind regarding Serengeti's future, couldn't discuss it at that time, but would let me know what was going on when he could.
Effective today, August 3rd, Serengeti assets were sold to a company called Kilimanjaro Rifles, headquartered somewhere in Hawaii! Larry's email indicated they intend to add Serengeti to their own line of custom rifles.
At this point, I know very little about Kilimanjaro. I have made inquiries and will let you know what I learn in future newsletters.
Another Kalispell purveyor of custom rifles is Montana Rifle Company, and a visit with Company President, Jeff Sipe was on my agenda. Previous email exchanges confirmed that Jeff would be in town during our stay, so I confirmed by phone early on July 15th, and arrived at the Company office at 10:00 AM. The drive from our motel to Montana Rifle Company required a detour to drop Jennifer and Grandma at the Kalispell Mall. Apparently they preferred shopping to talking rifles that day.
Montana Rifle Company is located on State Highway 35 just East and North of Kalispell proper. There are no signs or street numbers visible from the road, so my first pass overshot the mark. I stopped at a nearby convenience store for directions.
"Go back the way you came, and it's the first driveway on your left past the nursery," I was told.
The company's operations are located in two buildings, one housing the barrel manufacturing and the other the office and rifle assembly area.
I soon found that Jeff is a 'hands-on' kinda guy for a Company President. When I entered the main office area I was greeted by Lindsay the office manager. (Whom, I suspect, is the person who really runs the place) She told me she would retrieve Jeff from the back.
My initial thought was that Jeff was probably making sure things were running smoothly with an 'eyes-on' approach. He was no doubt doing that, but he was also contributing to getting things done. When we later ventured into the production area, I found a double sided work station where Jeff was assembling a rifle on one side and applying the finish to a stock on the other.
Montana Rifle Company President, Jeff Sipe with a stock finishing project on his left, and a rifle assembly project on the right
During my visit with Jeff, and with some other research, here's what I've found about the company and its history:
The company was established in 1990 by Jeff's father, Brian, as a gunsmithing operation. In a short time Brian began making his own barrels. Today, barrel manufacturing is the mainstay of the operation and thousands are turned out each year. Barrels are made for national firms such as Remington and DPMS, among others.
In response to a question about the history of the company's rifle actions, Jeff said, "Dad began working on a design for a bolt action early on, and had the new action ready to go in 1999."
No mystery in finding a name. Thus was born the Model 1999 bolt action.
The Model 1999 action has been analyzed and written about by a number of nationally known writers, who universally describe it as a blending of features from Peter Paul Mauser's bolt guns from the 1870's and Winchester's pre 1964 Model 70, with refinements and improvements over both. What they all have in common is 'controlled round feeding' and the massive 'claw' extractor that contributes to their unfailing reliability to function in adverse conditions. The trigger mechanism and three position safety have Winchester Model 70 written all over them.
Model 1999s are available in long or short action lengths and either stainless or chrome-moly steel. Important to an old 'southpaw' who has always faced limited choices in bolt action rifles, all configurations are available in both left and right hand versions.
With barrel manufacturing on site, and having marketed 1999 actions to custom gun makers for a number of years, it naturally followed that Montana Rifle Company would graduate to putting together their own rifles. That step was taken about a year ago and complete rifles are now available.
With barrels being made 'in-house,' that is the component where the customer has the most options. Length, contour, and other features such as fluting or octagon configuration are available in both stainless and chrome-moly. There may be a longer wait for barrels with non-standard features, but they are available.
Actions begin as castings from an outside supplier, with the initial machining contracted out as well. This is the state in which most actions sold to other custom gun builders go out the door. Actions that are destined to become Montana Rifle Company guns receive final machining, polishing, and finish work in the Kalispell facility.
Rifle stocks are available in either walnut or synthetic. Stocks are purchased from a number of suppliers and are semi finished to fit the Model 1999 actions. You can see the various stock features and options on the company website at: http://www.montanarifleco.com/custom.rifles.html
The available walnut stocks, which were of most interest to me, are either glass bedded or come with an aluminum bedding block, depending upon the option chosen. I understand that about the only variations available in stock measurements are length of pull and whether a cheekpiece is included or not. Specifications like drop at comb, heel, and other measurements are pretty much standard as purchased from the suppliers.
Metal finish can be traditional bluing for chrome-moly or various colors of high tech proprietary Teflon coatings.
When asked about lead time from order to delivery of a finished rifle, Jeff said, "Right now we're 30 to 40 days out for a short action in either right or left hand or a long action in right hand. Long action, left hand may be 3 or 4 months because we don't have stocks available for those right now." I was also informed that non-standard barrel orders could add several months to delivery time.
Wouldn't you know it! The features on my want list include a left hand .280 Remington in stainless steel with an octagon barrel! Oh well, I guess I ain't in no hurry.
As you can find on the company website, prices for the various standard offerings range from just over $2,000 to around $4,000. I'm sure you could discover ways to add features and options that would increase those figures should you desire to do so.
There are several examples of the Company's rifles displayed in the front office. One that particularly caught my eye was the pink one called the 'Princess Rifle.' (The original 'Princess' was designed and built for Jeff's daughter and they all liked it so well they added it to the regular lineup) I decided that Jennifer and Grandma had to see that one so we stopped for a couple of photos as we left Kalispell, heading for Missoula on the 16th.
Left to Right: Jennifer and the Princess Rifle, Display Rifles, Office Manager Lindsay with Jennifer and Ann
The Kalispell/Whitefish trip was planned specifically for the purpose of ordering a rifle from either Montana Rifle Company or Serengeti. However, with the future of Serengeti becoming uncertain, I decided to put everything on hold until that issue became clearer.
The Montana trip was only the beginning of our travels for July. On the 25th we arose at 3:00 AM to hustle to the airport for a 6:15 flight to Phoenix. (We had not flown since 2004, and the commercial airline experience definitely has not improved) After landing in Phoenix, we drove a rental car to Tucson and checked into a suite at The Lodge at Ventana Canyon.
We were attending a surprise 50th Anniversary party for Ann's sister and brother-in-law, Sue and Clifford Zimmerman, on Sunday evening the 26th. Some 25 or 30 friends and relatives gathered at the Old Pueblo Grille for the soiree. The anniversary couple were duly surprised! The look on Clifford's face when he realized he was being greeted by his sister-in-law from Washington was priceless!
Our niece Laura and husband Dan Pence arranged the festivities and treated everyone to a nice dinner and celebration. Other relatives in attendance were nephew Chris along with Davis and Sydney, Dan and Laura's two older kids. Two year old Jackson spent the evening with Dan's mother. The 'far away' relative besides Ann, was Clifford's brother Wilbur from California. Wilbur and Ann were members of the original wedding party.
Wilbur, Clifford, Sue, and Ann
After our Sunday night stay in Tucson, and lunch with the Zimmermans on Monday, we headed back to Phoenix. We overnighted at a Best Western near the airport to be ready for a flight to Spokane Tuesday morning. I think I'll suggest that the next anniversary celebration be held in a cooler climate. The thermometer in the rental car read 116º F when we checked into our Phoenix motel!
The only reason we flew to Arizona was that we couldn't drive and get back in time to make preparations for Jennifer's birthday celebration. Jennifer turned 13 on July 31st.
On Friday the 31st Ann and I and Christi's Mother Julie, gathered at the Parman's house for that celebration. There we were treated to Rick's famous barbequed baby back ribs and all the trimmings.
Rick's Barbequed Ribs - Ann, Jennifer, Rick, Julie, and Christi
Gift opening resulted in a lot of items for Jennifer's bedroom redecorating in an orange motif, some jewelry, gift certificates, and other 'stuff.' The last item opened continued a 3rd generation tradition for 13th birthdays. I received a .22 rimfire rifle for my 13th, Rick got one for his 13th, and now Jennifer is the proud owner of a Henry Lever Action for her 13th. Ann and I provided the scope and mounts as part of our gifts.
Rick and Jennifer with their 13th birthday rifles
On Saturday, August 1st Jennifer invited 3 friends for a party that included swimming at neighbor Larry's pool, pizza at her house, popcorn and a 'big screen' movie in my shop building, and a sleepover.
And we still ain't done! Jennifer's favorite birthday meal is Japanese cuisine at ShoGun restaurant. This is one of those places where they cook the food on the table in front of you. In addition to the fried rice and veggies, the entrees included chicken, filet mignon, scallops, calamari, and shrimp. We were some of the first customers on Sunday evening August 2nd.
Jennifer at ShoGun in her Geisha get-up
Last month I posted a story written by my grandmother, Amy (Lesan) Parman, in 1923. Here is one of her poems. This one is about some of the pills she took for her arthritis. Not sure exactly when this one was written.
Here's another of my early poems. This one was published in 1998 in a National Library of Poetry volume called "Boundless Journey."
This month's hillbilly wisdom comes from American teacher, writer, and philosopher Bronson Alcott (1799-1834) (This one reminds me of many of our politicians)
"To be ignorant of one's ignorance is the malady of the ignorant."
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!