Rifles photo

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D’Arcy Echols is a Utah gunmaker who turns out the most expensive synthetic-stocked working guns I know of. His Legend rifle currently sells for $14,000. These past few weeks, courtesy of a Legend owner who very generously lent me one, I got a chance to see what goes into a rifle that costs this much. Broken down into components, it looks like this:

McMillan fiberglass stock, made to Echols’ own pattern.
24-inch Kreiger barrel (a number 3 taper, I think)
Left-hand Winchester Model 70 action with the original bottom metal

The metal is rust blued, the stock is plain black, and the rifle weighs 9 pounds with scope. It’s chambered for the .404 Jeffrey, an old but highly useful cartridge that Hornady just brought back to life. The .404 fires a 400-grain bullet at 2,100 fps, so this is a dangerous-game rifle. It’s been to Africa twice, and has about 500 rounds through it. It is, you might say, nothing more than a highly worked-over Model 70. And this is true, in the sense that the car that Jeff Gordon drives is a highly worked-over Chevrolet.

To understand Mr. Echols’ approach to gun building, let us turn for a moment to the world of shipbuilding. Marine engineers build ships to withstand the worst conditions they might reasonably encounter in their 30-year lives, say, sustained 30-foot seas. You can build a ship to survive 60-foot seas, but it costs more than the buyers will pay. If D’Arcy Echols were a shipyard, he would be building for 70-foot seas. His rifles are made so that even the most unlikely failures and malfunctions are eliminated before they have a chance to occur.

An example: I’ve never heard of the bolt handle coming off a Model 70 bolt body. Never. (The handle is press-fit on the die-cast bolt sleeve.) Yet it did happen to an African PH named Robin Hurt, and at a very inconvenient time. But Echols heard of it, and so his shop pins the handle to the sleeve with a steel dowel .200 from the rear of the bolt.

The McMillan stocks get their own special treatment. I’ve never heard of a McMillan stock failing, or even of a problem with one. But here’s what the Echols shop does: A secondary recoil lug (and it is a massive one) is welded to the barrel about 4 inches ahead of the receiver. The stock is then hollowed out from the secondary lug right back to the front of the receiver inlet. The cavity is poured full of Marine-Tex fiberglass, and when dry it’s drilled to accommodate three ¼-inch steel crossbolts, one behind the secondary recoil lug, one behind main recoil lug, and a third behind the magazine box.

(To be continued.)