November 05, 2008
Petzal: Kenny Jarrett, in Perspective
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
I now write regularly about big-game rifles that break the minute-of-angle mark, and I’m still uneasy about doing it because for a very long time such guns did not exist at any price. You could shoot for years without seeing that kind of accuracy.
In 1985, I was hunting in South Carolina with the great knifemaker and die-hard Secessionist George Herron, who told me about a gunsmith named Kenny Jarrett, down the road in Jackson, who was building sub-moa big-game rifles. Yeah, sure, I said, so George went into his shop and brought out six benchrest targets and a stubby 7mm/08 Improved that Jarrett had built on a Remington 700 action. Each of the six groups could be covered handily by a nickel. I was like to swoon, and had to grab a nearby canebrake rattlesnake for support. And down the road I went to to meet Kenny.
Kenny Jarrett was a farmer (and still is) with no formal mechanical training who became interested in benchrest shooting in the 1970s. Being mechanically aptituded, it seemed logical that he should build his own guns, and so he did just that, and began winning. He was also a whitetail hunter who often shot at long distances across beanfields, and it seemed to him that if you could build a big-game rifle that shot to benchrest standards it would make the deer sweat.
And so he did. His first big-game rifles were crudely finished and heavy, but he got them to the point where they would shoot a half-minute of angle or better. At the time, this was unheard-of, but word got around, and so did the rifles, and eventually Jarrett found himself in the gun business.
Over the years he has gone from a shade-tree gunsmith who built rifles out of other peoples’ components to the head of a small factory that makes barrels and actions and assembles, finishes, breaks in, and develops loads for, completed rifles. (Jarrett’s Kevlar and fiberglass stocks are made by a separate contractor to his design and specs. He gets his triggers from Jewell and his scope bases and mounts from Talley.) It employs 11 people, and smacks as much of aerospace as of gunsmith. He is the only gunmaker I know of who has an EDM machine—and an employee whose sole job is to keep the EDM happy.
A number of years ago he developed his own bolt-action, a three-lug design which he calls the Tri-Lock, and since then his rifles have taken on a distinctive look of their own. There are six different models, but the representative one is the Ridge Walker, a gun that typically weighs 8 ½-pounds with scope, has a 25-inch #3 taper barrel, and almost invariably comes with a muzzle brake of Jarrett’s own design.
He has his own line of proprietary cartridges, the most popular of which (in a walk) is the .300 Jarrett, a fire-breathing .30 magnum based on the 8mm Remington magnum. Jarrett loads it with 150-grain (at 3,500 fps) to 200-grain (3,000 fps-plus) bullets.
Every rifle is broken in and has a handload (or loads) developed for it, and no rifle leaves Jackson with fewer than 150 test rounds through it. They are very expensive guns, but from what I’ve seen they will outshoot anything else you can buy, when used with their tailored ammo. In .30-caliber and under, they will shoot a half-minute or less, and I’ve seen .300 Jarrett test targets—lots of them—that went under .200. There are plenty of factory rifles that will shoot MOA, and a great many custom guns will do much better than that, but I don’t know of anything else that will shoot to this standard.
And what Kenny will be remembered for is dragging everyone else along with him. The most influential rifle makers of the late 20th century are Chet Brown and Lee Six who pioneered the synthetic stock; Melvin Forbes of Ultra Light Arms designed and built the first truly light big-game rifles; and Kenny Jarrett, who said, in effect, “What you’ve got isn’t accurate; this is accurate.”
Long may he flourish.