A couple of posts ago, I defined a true custom rifle as one that is wood-stocked, one-of-a-kind, and expensive. Last week, in Safari Outfitters, I saw the very embodiment of such a gun, a .338 made some time in the mid-1990s, by Steve Heilmann, who did the metalwork, and Darwin Hensley, who did the stock. Heilmann and Hensley are about the best in their respective fields. There may be people as good, but I don’t know of anyone who’s better. You can see more photos of the gun here.
The photos don’t do this gun justice; you have to hold it in your sweating, palsied hands to grasp its true splendor, from the lovely rust bluing, to the flawless color case hardening, to the sensuous trigger, to the perfect 28 lpi checkering. It weighs 8 1/2 pounds but seems lighter and points like it was an extension of yourself.
Is it perfect? Not by my lights. The 14-inch length of pull is too long for me, and the steel buttplate (color case-hardened though it may be) is a hissing and a byword. I despise English-style cheekpieces, even when flawlessly done, like this one. But that’s not important. This rifle was the dream of someone who had some very strong ideas about what a hunting rifle should look like, and he had them realized in walnut and steel. If you think the price is high, I assure you that you would pay a lot more for a similar new gun now.