The late Roger Caras once observed that if rifles looked like refrigerators, there would be damned few rifles sold. Mr. Caras, who would have boiled all hunters in oil if he could have found a big-enough pot, was nonetheless an astute guy, and he correctly understood that a great deal of a rifle’s appeal is visual.
But Caras made that statement in the 1970s, before the era of “Powerful Assault Rifles,” tactical bolt-actions, and hybrids. The ideal at the time was a sleek, streamlined form that was pleasing to the eye. Even rifles of such surpassing worthlessness as the Winchester Models 88 and 100 were graceful.
But graceful is as dead as a SHOT Show where hunting animals is more important than hunting people. Now we have Picatinny rails, vertical grips, flashlights, strobe lights, red dots, infrared sights, monster scopes with bulging dials, plastic, fiberglass, structural aluminum, QD sling sockets, chassis stocks with knobs, screw threads, migrating combs, adjustable butt pads, and on, and on. It’s form following function, which is fine, but it sure as hell is not good to look upon.
That’s why, at SHOT, my eye was caught by a rifle that’s a throwback to rifles as I remember them from my youth. The kind that makes your heart go pitter-patter. The kind that I used to ogle on the 7th floor of Abercrombie & Fitch and dream of the day when I could afford one. It’s called the Montana Rifles American Legends Rifle, and it began as a limited-production gun that was named the 2016 NRA Gun of the Year.
Despite not having a rail or a knob to its name, the ALR made such an impression that it’s now part of MRC’s regular lineup. The ALR is based on the Montana 1999 Mauser-style bolt action. It’s made in left- or right-hand, long-action only (with short to come shortly), 24-inch #2 contour barrels standard in all calibers, matt blued chrome moly or all stainless steel, the original Winchester Model 70 trigger, and a stock of AA Turkish walnut (not American as the website says) with very nice bordered checkering.
Standard calibers, right now, are .270, .30/06, 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Win Mag, and .338. If none of these suit you, you can tell MRC what you do want, and if the request is not too ridiculous, the Montana folks will refer it to their Custom Shop, which will build a rifle for you. In my case, I already have a .270 and a .30/06 from MRC, and they are deadlier than cholera, so I asked for a .280, which is one of the great all-around rounds.
In building the ALR, Montana has very wisely decided not to compromise with the military-driven crazes toward Short and Light. It’s a substantial hunk of ordnance—45 inches overall, and my rifle weighs 9 pounds 14 ounces with a Leupold VX-6 scope on board. For a .280, this is a very heavy rifle. However, if you get one in .338 it’s just about the perfect weight.
I used to worry a lot about this stuff, and spent lots of money having stocks hollowed out and barrels bobbed and turned down to save a few ounces. My attitude now is, who cares? I’ve carried lots of rifles as heavy as this, and heavier, and sustained no permanent damage. If I were going on a mountain goat hunt I’d get something lighter, but I’m not about to go on a mountain goat hunt.
Moreover, weight is not an altogether bad thing. It absorbs the tics, twitches, and heartbeats that plague you with a light rifle, and it does a very effective job of eliminating recoil. My .280, with 160-grain loads, has 13½ foot pounds of recoil, which is hardly worth mentioning.
The ALR also has extremely good balance. It comes up much faster than you’d expect from a rifle of its size and poundage, and the weight lies right between your hands. This makes it a snap to shoot offhand. Remember offhand? That’s where you stand on your hind legs and aim with no support, not even a bipod.
Montana has chosen to retain the original Winchester Model 70 trigger which, as I’ve said on other occasions, is probably the best trigger ever made for a hunting rifle. It has only three parts, one of which being a big spring, and there is nothing that can go wrong with it; once adjusted, it’s adjusted for life—yours, and whoever gets the rifle after you. The downside is that tuning it requires both knowledge and skill with a small sharpening stone. For a mass-produced rifle, it’s not a good idea, but for a limited production gun, it’s great.
Next: Mysteries of the .280, and how did the ALR shoot?