VOLUME 36-----------JUNE 2005
SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'
WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY
First thing this month I need to correct two errors in previous newsletters. In the December 2004 and January 2005 newsletters, I talked about my Browning .338 Winchester Mag. In both cases I referred to a Winchester Supreme factory load, and stated they contained a 225 grain Failsafe bullet. The correct weight for the bullets in these factory loads is 230 grains!
At first blush, this error may not seem to be a big deal, but when reloading ammunition, this is the kind of mistake that can cause trouble. A faulty memory regarding a bullet weight or powder charge can have disastrous consequences. This is precisely why we should always keep good records and reference manuals, actually check those sources, and not rely on memory alone. Consider me duly chastised! I should have looked at the ammunition box to confirm my information before making the statements.
On May 16th Ann and I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Larry Tahler and Rod Rogers, partners/owners of Serengeti Trading Company in Kalispell, Montana. H'mm, what is a company with an African sounding name doing in Northwest Montana? More to the point, why would a shootin', huntin', reloadin' Hillbilly be interested in such an outfit?
If your guess about the Hillbilly's interest includes fine custom rifles with beautiful walnut stocks, you're on the right track. Larry took time out from his busy schedule to show us around the property, explain their processes, and showcase a number of rifles and stocks in various stages of completion.
Larry Tahler showing us a finished Serengeti stock
I first learned about Serengeti rifle stocks from an article by John Barsness in the November 2004 edition of 'RIFLE Magazine'. Subsequent articles in other magazines and company advertising tells me they are now making custom rifles to fit into those nice stocks. More about the custom rifles later. When I found the company to be headquartered in Kalispell, a favorite 'mini-vacation' spot for Ann and I, a real life visit was only a matter of time!
Serengeti's operations are located in a semi rural area a few miles northwest of Kalispell. Current facilities are housed in a two car attached garage, and two outbuildings on the property. A third building, a large double wide trailer, is currently being readied for occupation. This expansion will enable reorganizing and segregating production operations. Hiring of additional employees should then enable the Company to bring 'in house' some work that is currently being outsourced.
Serengeti Trading Company was born several years ago with the acquisition of a proprietary rifle stock lamination process called ACRA-Bond™. Using high quality walnut and other traditional stock woods with this patented process, according to company literature, "offers the discriminating sportsman the beauty and feel of a classic, fine solid wood stock while being virtually impervious to the accuracy-robbing warping effects of temperature and moisture changes." Further, they state, "ACRA-Bond™ lamination provides the stability and weather resistance advantages of conventional laminated and synthetic stocks without the 'plywood' look of other laminated stocks, or the 'plain Jane' look of synthetic stocks."
Here Larry is holding a completed custom rifle featuring a premium grade walnut Serengeti stock
As they ask in the television show: "How do they do that?" Well, the process starts with cutting two fairly thick slabs from a traditional stock blank for the two sides. Then, three thinner layers are sandwiched between the outside pieces with the grain oriented to create maximum stability. Thus the five pieces making up the lamination, have only four glue joints. This, according to Larry, is why these stocks weigh very little more than an equivalent sized and shaped, solid wood stock! He says, "The amount of glue required is a big reason traditional laminated stocks are so heavy!"
I just pulled my Remington .338 Ultra Mag out of the safe and examined the gray laminated stock. I counted no less than 26 thin layers of wood in that stock, making for 25 glue joints! I happen to think the gray laminate on the stainless steel Remington looks pretty good, but I have to admit it's very heavy and esthetically, is a far cry from a nicely figured walnut stock!
By making the outside layers thicker than the others, the laminate joints are not nearly as noticeable as those on 'off the shelf' rifles. In fact, if the wood color is close to the same through all five layers, it's darn hard to see the joints when viewed from the side. If you go back and look closely at the butt stock on the rifle Larry is holding in the above picture, you can see a laminate joint just below the comb of the stock.
Larry tells us that they have tested a new three layer stock, using their patented laminating process, and find it just as stable as the five layer model. These three layer stocks are becoming available now, and the laminate joints are really hard to pick up on those!
A rack of laminated stock blanks, some sold, others awaiting your selection
Basic stock shapes now include eight or nine different variations, ranging from traditional classic, to ultra modern and configuration types from dangerous game rifles to varminters. Stocks can be fabricated from virtually any kind of wood tough enough for the purpose. Practically any stock shape your heart desires besides the basic styles can be made as well.
The stock nearest the camera was ordered with a steep drop from comb to heel, for an iron sight only rifle
Ann, holding a roughed out stock made from an African wood called Purple Heart
The Purple Heart wood is very dense and heavy. This type stock is usually used for large caliber, dangerous game rifles, where the extra weight and iron toughness help manage the recoil generated by some of these brutes.
Speaking of recoil, I must relate a bit of the very short conversation we had with partner Rod Rogers in the midst of training a 'first day on the job' employee named Giles. I'm sorry I didn't get a picture of Rod, but had I, you would see that he's a pretty good sized guy. We found that one of Rod's favorite plinkin' rifles is a .458 Lott! For those who may not be familiar with the Lott, it's basically a .458 Winchester Magnum on steroids! (I'm about six feet, 200 pounds myself, and I only want about a half dozen benchrest rounds from my little ol' .338 Ultra Mag in one sitting!)
The Serengeti Trading Company's next endeavor was to begin building custom rifles to fit into those beautiful stocks. While Serengeti will build you a rifle on almost any action you provide or specify, and with any brand barrel, they do purchase most of their actions and barrels from another Kalispell, Montana company called The Montana Rifle Company.
Montana Rifle Company's, Model 1999 bolt actions are similar to the Winchester Pre '64 classics, with obvious Mauser roots, and have some features that neither the Winchester or Mauser have. They are made in stainless or chrome-moly, long or short actions, and either left or right handed.
For that true 'custom touch' selected Model 1999 actions are slightly re-contoured, highly polished, jeweled, and called, oddly enough, the Serengeti Action!
Serengeti rifles are now offered in four lines, with a fifth in the testing stages. The current offerings are the African™, Montanan™, Red Mist™, and Walkabout™.
The African utilizes the Serengeti Action described above, and is designed to feed and function like the traditional dangerous game bolt action. Ultra reliability is the essence of this rifle. The Company literature lists twelve available calibers, ranging from the .25-06 up through the .458 Lott. Conspicuously absent from this list are any of the current rage of short, fat numbers like WSM's or Remington SAUM's. Suppose this tells us something about that 'ultra reliability in feed and function' for these highly hyped new cartridges?
The next model in the lineup is the Montanan. Unlike the African, where design and features are somewhat more narrowly defined, the Montanan is "a full custom rifle where anything goes." Almost any caliber that can be safely chambered is a possibility, along with features and options limited only by your imagination and your bank account!
An example of the 'fit and finish' of a Serengeti Rifle built on a left hand Montana Rifles, M1999 action
Next we have the Red Mist. Varmint shooters will know what this means! This rifle is built on the Model 1999 short action with a variety of stock shapes and smaller caliber cartridges suited for long range work.
What the Company calls the Walkabout, is just what the name implies. This is a rifle that features lightweight actions, featherweight barrels, and slim ACRA-bond stocks. These are built for the hunter who likes to move about, without feeling as though he or she has packed a cinder block around all day. The finished Walkabout usually hits the scales at around seven pounds or less.
We didn't get a lot of information about the next rifle model coming out, so I'll only say that its moniker is Tiger Cat™ and will be built on a 'Mini-Mauser' action. A prototype, in .204 Ruger caliber, is now in the hands of a well known Montana gun writer for evaluation, and we should hear more about it soon!
We were told that the current price range for these rifles runs from about $2,990 to $4,000+, depending how fancy you want to get. Yes, that's a lot of money, but certainly in line with other makers who operate in this arena between, well above 'off the shelf' and the ultra high end, top name custom shops.
Lead time, between order and delivery, is currently running 16 to 20 weeks. As soon as all the stock making is consolidated into the new building, and the metal shop is reorganized, it is hoped that lead time can be cut to as little as 6 to 8 weeks.
So, will Serengeti rifles shoot? Well, Company literature declares, "We test fire our rifles using factory ammunition with the expectation they will shoot 1 MOA or better. If they don't we find out why and rectify the problem. Test targets are shipped with the rifle."
Personally, I can't tell you how they shoot. If I were a 'real' gun writer, instead of just a hack with a website, an actual test might be in order. Maybe, if Larry and Rod like what they read here, they'll let me borrow a sample for a few days when I make my next visit!
Is there a Serengeti Rifle in my future? I guess time will tell. . . . But, if I first ordered Ann (affectionately known as Little Heifer) a Walkabout in something like a .260 Remington. . . . perhaps she would see her way clear to approving a left hand bolt action Montanan in something like a .280 for the Ol' Hillbilly. . . . Oh well, it don't cost nothin' to dream!
For more information on the Serengeti Trading Company, visit their website at www.serengetitradingco.com
As I wrote on May 1st, we were half way through spring turkey season and our resident turkeys had all disappeared from sight and hearing. While we seemed inundated with the dang things up until about 4 days before the opener, on April 15th they vanished like a puff of smoke in a 40 mile an hour wind!
I just continued to watch carefully, kept the decoys stationed southwest of the house where I could watch them, and hoped my luck would change. By golly, it did! It got worse!
A lone hen began spending some morning hours in the front yard, and would occasionally mingle with the decoys. We could also hear an occasional gobble, very faintly and far away to the northwest. No amount of either callin' or cussin' would bring a gobbler within sight! My camo was so good my wife couldn't even find me, and I still didn't get a look at a Tom!
Turkey huntin' suit
Well, maybe she didn't really want to find me! Anyway, the hunting regs say we'll have another fall season this year in our game management unit, so any unfilled turkey tags can be used then. I can attest, from last fall's experience, that the turkeys are a lot dumber in the fall anyway!
It's May 31st as I write this. I just got in the house from a shooting session with Ann's 7mm-08. Just as I was finishing, Ann came out to ask if I'd seen the turkey down by the target stand.
Sure enough, as I walked down to collect the targets, a turkey hen was peckin' bugs within 50 feet of the stand. She just sauntered off into the bushes as I approached. Even the sound of high power rifle fire don't faze them suckers if they know the season ain't open! (Yes, I know about the 'visible beard' thing during the Spring season, but this old gal will be legal in the Fall)
Now, back to the shooting. I've been wanting to try some Sierra 160 grain bullets in Ann's little rifle to see if it'll group them better than the 139/140 grain loads we've been shooting.
The 140 grainers are a Federal factory load with Nosler Partitions. The 139 grain load is a handload using Hornady SST bullets. Both these loads shoot into about 4 inches at 100 yards. While I'd like to improve upon this accuracy, Ann tells me I'm wasting my time. She reminded me again this morning, for the umpteenth time, "I've shot deer with that thing the last two years; one shot each! And, they didn't run off into the brush before they died like yours do!" (See what I have to put up with!)
I shot one three shot group with each of the four loads I had prepared, with average velocities running from 2340 to 2555 fps, from the 20 inch barrel on the little Remington Model 7. While I don't publish the powder charges I use, I will tell you they were all within the parameters of published data from several manuals. Components were: Hodgdon's H414 powder, Federal once fired brass, CCI #250 Large Rifle Magnum primers, and Sierra 160 grain PSPBT bullets.
While I admit to somewhat limited experience with H414 powder, I have had problems with wider extreme spreads and standard deviations than I like, when I have used it. This time I decided to use Magnum primers, as does Speer reloading data using this powder, to see if that helps. Of course, three shots with a given load is not a statistical certainty, so the jury is still out on this one.
Only one of the four loads that I tried exhibited a close extreme spread. This load averaged 2504 fps with an extreme spread under 6. The other 3 loads ranged from 35 to nearly 100 fps for extreme spreads. My next session will concentrate on the load with the low extreme spread, and we'll see where that takes us.
I'd like to say that the change to the heavier bullet resulted in making the little Remington a 'one hole shooter.' But, alas, such was not the case. The three shot groups ranged from three and a half inches to just under two, so I do feel progress is being made. I'll keep you informed as to how things play out as I continue the project.
I do intend to continue to work on this, even though I can envision a scenario where I get the rifle shooting into an inch, inch and a half, Little Heifer misses her next shot at a deer, and it's all my fault 'cause I messed with her rifle. Such are the hazards of married life!
This month's hillbilly wisdom comes from a discussion during our recent visit to Serengeti Trading Company in Kalispell, MT:
The 'Ol Hillbilly sez, "I have no intention of gettin' crossways with a guy who shoots a .458 Lott for a target practice plinker!"
Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .
'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!