Why Heavy Rifles Are Out

A couple of weeks ago I got to handle a rifle that belonged to Colonel Townsend Whelen, which is as close as you get to touching a sacred object in this business. It was a Low-Wall Winchester, a custom-made rifle (as most of Whelen’s were) and it weighed a ton. I don’t think that Whelen owned a rifle that scaled less than 10 pounds or had a barrel less than 26 inches long. Part of this was due to the fact that he was tremendously strong, but his guns were typical of the time.

For much of the 20th century, strength was achieved by weight and mass. I can remember car ads from the 1950s boasting of how much cars weighed. This held true with rifles. If you look at an older Model 70 Winchester you see enough extra steel and wood to lay a railroad line. Same with the Weatherby Mark V action. I wonder if Roy Weatherby, and his designer Fred Jennie, would do it that way today.

All this came to a throbbing head last week when I visited the shop of ace gunmaker Mark Bansner, who has just come out with his own bolt-action, and makes his own fiberglass stocks. There is not a scintilla of an iota of excess steel or anything else in one of these guns. They are mere skin and bones.

Bansner's Ultimate rifles are strikingly similar to the Nosler Model 48 bolt-action, which is also boiled down to the nth degree. They are uncannily alike, and it is no accident. Both were designed by people who had done a ton of hunting, much of it in the mountains, and approached rifle design not as engineers, but as people who would have to carry what they built.