A friend who plays Golf once told me that the truly expert competitors in that sport have a hypernatural sensitivity to their equipment. Tiger Woods, for example, can drive two different golf balls and declare that Brand A has 5 percent more resilience than Brand B. Or he can feel that this club has a 10th of a degree less torque than that one. Tiger is unusual in how well he plays but not in how seriously he takes his equipment. When you dedicate a lot of time and effort to any sport, you find yourself getting fussier and fussier about your tools.
So it is with big-game hunting. Spend enough time afield and you get very picky about the type of firearm you carry. If you have arrived at that state, here are four extremely well made rifles that can delight even the choosiest among us.
JARRETT SIGNATURE RIFLE
Kenny Jarrett goes to slightly crazed lengths in his Jackson, South Carolina, shop to produce the most accurate hunting rifles on the planet, and he charges accordingly. His standard rifle, the Signature Model, consists of his ingenious Tri-Lock bolt action, his own barrels, and his own wood or fiberglass stocks. He will make you a working rifle or an engraved, gold-inlaid, AAAA-fancy walnut-stocked, checkered-to-the-nth-degree showing-off rifle.
Jarrett will build you anything from a .22 varmint rifle to a .50 BMG single-shot, but the overwhelming choice of his customers is the .300 Jarrett, a hypervelocity long-range thumper. A typical Signature rifle weighs 8½ to 9 pounds, depending on the scope. Included in the price for the rifle is the labor involved in working up custom handloads for it.
If you would like to be the Hunter With the Most Accurate Rifle in Camp (no matter which camp you happen to be in), give Jarrett a call. $6,880 for the basic Signature; 803-471-3616; jarrettrifles.com
MARK BANSNER SHEEP HUNTER X-TREME
Pennsylvanian Mark Bansner makes five different grades of rifles, but his most popular model, and the one I recommend, is the Sheep Hunter X-Treme. It is a very light gun (6½ pounds with a scope in the short-action model) that uses a much-worked-over Remington Model 700 action, a Jewell trigger, and a fluted Lilja barrel. The first-rate stocks are Bansner’s own fiberglass creations.
You may choose between different action lengths, but I like the short one best. Bansner built a Sheep Hunter for me some years ago chambered for the .270 WSM, and although there may be a better all-around rifle out there somewhere, I wouldn’t know where to look for it. $4,995; 717-484-2370; bansnersrifle.com
ED BROWN SAVANNA
Ed Brown builds light rifles and medium-weights, and I favor the latter, his standard model called the Savanna. Based in Perry, Missouri, Brown builds his own bolt action, has his fiberglass stocks made by McMillan to his own pattern, and favors Shilen barrels.
The Savanna, which Brown designs for long-range shooting, is made in .30/06, .300 Winchester and Weatherby Magnums, and .338 Winchester Magnum. The ’06 weighs 7½ pounds without a scope, and the others all scale 8 pounds minus glass-ware. It is still as nice to handle as any rifle you could heft. I have a Savanna in .338, and I’m saving for a second one. $2,795 for the .30/06; $100 more for the magnums; 573-565-3261; edbrown.com
NEW ULTRA LIGHT ARMS MODEL 20
Melvin Forbes of Granville, West Virginia, makes big-game rifles so light that they practically blow along the ground like tumbleweeds, and yet they have not been reamed, hacked, skeletonized, or otherwise tortured. The secret is a barreled action that has all the excess ounces designed out of it in the first place, and a graphite-reinforced Kevlar stock that weighs only 20 ounces.
Forbes chambers actions in a range of popular calibers, but his best is the 5-pound Model 20 rifle, which is built for .308-length rounds. An M20 in, say, 6.5×55, 7mm/08, 7×57, .308, or .284 will kill any game you want and do it without punishing you. In addition to being ultralight, NULAs are very accurate and damn near infallible. $2,800 for the Model 20, with left-hand guns $100 more; 304-292-0600; see one at newultralight.com