While you're sitting around waiting to see how Civilization As We Know It ends, take this quick test:
Are you a hard-core big-game hunter?
Are you a very, very good rifle shot?
Are you willing to spend the price of a fine over/under shotgun for a plain working rifle?
If you answered yes to all three questions, you will be interested in what follows.
This is about two custom rifles I have been shooting for the past several months. They're synthetic-stocked bolt actions that don't look much different from any other guns. But they are state-of-the-art hunting tools, as good as rifles get.
The Mark Bansner Ultimate Rifle
Mark Bansner was a general gunsmith for 20 years before he put his own name on his own rifle. He specialized in building turkey guns, but rifles were his first love.
"The guy I sell to is a hunter, not a gun collector. He usually travels a lot, and he wants something that is light, accurate, doesn't take much care, and works right the first time, and every time."
Bansner's rifles are-well, festive. He offers a palette of 11 custom colors for you to choose from, such as Jade Tumbleweed, Confederate Grey and Black, and Black and Jade. And he makes his own stocks under the name High Tech. Formed from fiberglass and graphite, they are superb-extremely light and horrendously strong.
Bansner builds four grades of rifle. The least expensive is the High Tech, a Howa-barreled action that's tuned up and bedded in a High Tech stock. Above that is the Ultimate Rifle, built on a Remington 700 or Winchester Model 70 action, tuned and tweaked, and fitted with a Lilja barrel and a High Tech stock. If you haven't run out of money yet, there is the Sheep Hunter, which is based on a lightened Remington 700 action and weighs only 5 pounds without a scope. At the top is the Ultimate One, for which Bansner uses a stainless-steel McMillan action, a Jewell trigger, High Tech stock, and all sorts of bells and whistles.
The gun I tried out was a Remington-actioned Ultimate Rifle chambered for the hip and trendy .270 WSM. Despite the big 4XÂ¿Â¿Â¿12X Swarovski scope mounted on it, the rifle is only 71/2 pounds. Part of this weight savings comes from the stock, and part from the fact that Bansner fluted the rifle's hefty Lilja barrel. I shot 130-, 140-, and 150-grain ammo in it, handloads and factory, and all three bullet weights went into one group. Winchester factory ammo shot into 11/4 inch; my handloads averaged 3/4 inch. The most accurate load went into .227 inch.
Base prices are as follows: High Tech Rifle, $1,050; Ultimate Rifle, $2,595 (you supply the action); Sheep Hunter, $3,995 (your action); and Ultimate One, $4,195. Contact Bansner at Bansner's Ultimate Rifles L.L.C., Dept. FS, P.O. Box 839, Adamstown, PA 19501; 717-484-2370; www.bansnersrifle.com.
The Ed Brown Savanna Ed Brown has been a gunsmith for more than two decades and specialized in accurizing Colt 1911s. He began making rifles in 2000.
"I wanted to build a fine rifle that people could use, and use hard," says Brown. "A lot of my customers have spent a lot of money on beautiful wood-stocked rifles that they were afraid to take hunting. I build the finest rifle I know how, but it's not one you stand in the corner and admire."
He based his new gun on an action he designed himself-the Model 702. The bolt is distinguished by a blued spiral fluting groove that contrasts strikingly with the rest of the bolt body, which is left bright.
Brown uses McMillan fiberglass stocks that are made to his own pattern and offers a lengthy list of options, including muzzle brakes, Jewell triggers, custom barrel lengths and contours, and special-order calibers.
The Savanna is his standard model. It's not a light rifle, but it's perfectly balanced, and the stock has a wonderful feel. It comes chammbered for most of our standard-length, magnum, and shortfat cartridges. The Denali is a lighter rifle built for mountain hunting, and the Ozark is the lightest, made on a short action only with a special-contour 21-inch barrel.
The rifle I got to play with was a left-hand Savanna in that most useful of cartridges, the .30/06. It's a severely plain but beautifully made gun.
I shot a variety of factory ammo ranging from 150-grain to 220, from FMJ match ammo to round-nose soft-point, and the worst groups I got were 11/4 inch. The best was an eye-popping .168 inch, shot with Black Hills match ammo. As for handloads, the ones the Savanna liked went into groups measuring 1/2 inch to 4/5 inch. Every bullet weight I shot went to the same point of impact.
Base price for each of the three models is $2,800. For details, contact Ed Brown, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 492, Perry, MO 63462; 573-565-3261; www.edbrown.com.
And so, if hunting is your No. 1 priority, and you can shoot well enough to take advantage of what these rifles have to offer, and you have the money-I leave the rest to you. One thing is certain: No one is going to build you a better working rifle than these two guys.