Rifles photo

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In the past few months I’ve shot a number of very different and exceedingly good guns that I don’t have space to write about in the magazine. This, therefore, is the first in a series.

Cooper Firearms of Montana is probably best known for its gorgeous .22 rimfire bolt-actions, but the firm also makes varmint rifles and big game rifles, of which the Model 52 is the largest, and is chambered for most popular cartridges of .30/06 size. The Custom Classic (above) is the high-end version of the Model 52, and is a rifle filled with surprises, starting with size and weight.

The one I shot was a .280, and it is not your standard high-end .280. Most makers of fine guns, when building a rifle in this caliber, will strive for the classic “mountain rifle” configuration–slim lines throughout, 22-inch No. 1 contour barrel, 6 ½ pounds without scope. But after talking with their customers and dealers and listening to what they wanted, Cooper designers came up with something much different. The 52 CC is to the classic mountain rifle as Jessica Simpson is to Ms. Beau Garrett–voluptuous as opposed to lithe. There is a lot of it to hang on to. See photo for visual aid.

Rifles photo


The stock is made of fiddleback AAA claro walnut with a shadowline cheekpiece, steel grip cap, Lenard Brownell’s diamonds-and-ribbons checkering pattern and an ebony fore-end tip. Rather than the usual soda-straw barrel, the 52 barrel is a No. 2 contour and 24 inches long. The result is a rifle that weighs 8 ½ pounds without scope; with scope, my gun scaled 10 pounds, which is a lot for a .280, but on the other hand it makes the rifle easy to aim and cuts recoil down to less than you would get from a decent fart.

A classic mountain rifle either has a blind magazine or a hinged floorplate, but Cooper chose to go with that mark of the low-born, the sign of the road-hunter, the detachable magazine. Ah, but this is a Maserati among magazines, a gorgeous creation of highly polished heavy stainless steel that fits into the rifle so slickly that no one need know of your secret shame.

The Model 52 employs Cooper’s own bolt action and trigger. It (the bolt) is a three-lug design with an M-16-style extractor, a fixed ejector, and an extremely low bolt lift–I would guess about 60 degrees. It is also very, very slick. The trigger is excellent, and on my test gun it broke at 3 pounds, 1 ounce.

Is it accurate? Is a pig’s ass pork? Due to a hideous component shortage I was able to test it only with 140-grain Swift A-Frame bullets, and it averaged .651-inch. The Model 52 is guaranteed to shoot ½-minute of angle at 100 yards with match ammo, and I have no doubt the gun could do it.

Overall, this is a lovely rifle–there is no better word to describe it. The polishing and bluing are flawless, all the corners are sharp, all the circumferences are true, wood-to-metal fit is excellent. If I were teaching a class on custom-gun building, I would hold up a Model 52 CC and say, “This is what I’m after.”

The delivery time for a Model 52 Custom Classic is 8 to 12 months and the price is $3,195. If this is fancier than you’d like the M52 Classic is $1,595, minus the fancy wood and checkering. And they make ’em left-handed, too.