A Top-Notch Working Rifle: David Petzal Reviews the Montana Rifle Company Model 1999 Ridgeline
In the beginning (1990), there was Brian Sipe, and he dwelt in the town of Kalispell in the land of...
In the beginning (1990), there was Brian Sipe, and he dwelt in the town of Kalispell in the land of Montana, and he labored as a gunsmith. And then sayeth he, “I could use a good source of barrels, so I might as well make my own,” and the people who used them made a joyful noise, but yea, it was not enough, for there was a shortage of good, controlled-feed actions abroad in the land, so once again did Sipe do it himself, and thus the Model 1999 action came to be. And in that year of 19 and 99 was born the Montana Rifle Co.
And eight years passed, and MRC was fruitful, but his labors lay heavy on Brian Sipe, who spake unto his son Jeff, saying, “It’s all thine now.” And scarce had one year passed but Jeff Sipe spake unto me, saying, “We know thou lovest Satan and his works, but would thee like to try out a rifle anyway?”
“Verily,” I said, “thou hast come to the right geezer.”
And that is how I made the acquaintance of an MRC High Country Series Ridgeline rifle in .270 Winchester.
The Model 1999 (montanarifleco.com) looks like a Winchester Model 70, but it’s actually a hybrid incorporating safety features–such as the elimination of extractor cuts and cone breeching in the barrel, which promotes strength–found on the Model 98 Mauser action. It retains the original Model 70 trigger, which is the best ever made for a sporting rifle, and can take scope bases made for the Model 70. A flat-bottom design with a massive recoil lug, the Model 1999 comes in chrome-moly or stainless steel, in right- or left-hand configurations. You have a choice of four sizes: Long Action (up to .458 Lott), Short Action (.243, .308), Professional Hunter (up to the .505 Gibbs), and Mini (.223).
What this does not indicate is that the Model 1999 is about the slickest, greasiest action of its type that I have ever used. It is slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. It is slicker than frog snot. It is slicker than Bubba Clinton.
Montana builds rifles in three series. First is the Classic, which means AA- and AAA-grade walnut stocks and no sights. This includes the Woodland, the Wilderness Supreme (very fancy wood), and the Safari Supreme, which has express sights and a barrel-band swivel and is chambered for large, horrifying cartridges. Second is the High Country series, which is the synthetic-stocked line. It comprises the Ridgeline (shown above), Timberline, Alpine, and Summit models, all made with blind magazines. There is also an Ultra Lite rifle (5 pounds 2 ounces without scope), a Princess Rifle in non-manly colors, and the Summit Alaskan (a synthetic-stocked dangerous-game gun in big calibers). Finally, the Tactical series includes the Marksman, Sniper Scout, and NATO, with all the appropriate bells and whistles.
**The Ridgeline **
The rifle I got last fall was a Ridgeline. It’s a pure working rifle with a tan synthetic stock and a good recoil pad. (Lone Wolf and Oregunsmithing make the stocks for MRC; each builds high-quality, pillar-bedded Kevlar-carbon fiber stocks.) The barrel is 24 inches long, not the standard 22 inches for a .270, and is somewhat heavier than usual. Even though the barrel and the action are stainless steel, they go out to Falcon Gun Finishing for a coat of flat black Teflon. The triggers are stainless steel as well, but because Teflon tends to get in the way on close-tolerance parts, it’s omitted. Weight is 6 pounds 7 ounces, and with a Leupold VX-3 3.5X-10X scope in Talley mounts, the whole package comes to 8 pounds. The trigger breaks at an ounce or two under 3 pounds, and like all old-style Model 70 triggers that are properly adjusted, it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.
Because I got the Ridgeline so close to hunting season I did not do lots of accuracy tests. I simply whomped up a handload with 150-grain Hornady SSTs that grouped into .913 inch and took four deer. I also cooked up a load with 150-grain Swift A-Frames that went into 1.024.
At $2,890, the Ridgeline is not cheap. But that’s $400 to well over $1,000 less than rifles of equivalent quality. If you’re looking for a be-all and end-all working rifle, verily I say unto thee, I don’t see how you can do any better.