Rifle Review: Montana ALR, Part 2

montana rifle company
The American Legends Rifle by Montana Rifle Company.Montana Rifle Company

As I wrote in the previous post, I was looking for a nice all-around big-game cartridge with which to spend my declining years, and went back to an old favorite from the late 1970s and early 1980s—the .280 Remington. The best job of describing the .280 in a nutshell was done by Layne Simpson, who said it was a .30/06 without the recoil. Like the '06, the cartridge can handle just about anything that can be killed with a rifle, but because its bullets are 20 to 30 grains lighter across the board than '06 slugs, it kicks noticeably less. I use 140-grainers sometimes for sentimental reasons, but I believe that the best all-around weight is 160 grains.* If you're a handloader you can stuff shells with strong 175-grain bullets, and you'll be astounded at what they can put on the ground, despite muzzle velocities that are only in the 2,500-2,600 fps range.

So, there I was with the Montana .280 and a ton of brass and boxes of Swift A-Frame bullets in 140, 160, and 175 grains and no factory ammo. Did I rush out and buy factory ammo? No, I did not (although I admit that it kills me to burn up expensive bullets like A-Frames punching paper). If you want me to go stampeding down to Cabela’s for factory ammo, send me money.

After a frustrating week loading with medium-slow powders, I accepted that the ALR didn’t like them, and switched to Reloder 22 and Reloder 25. Then we got cooking. The groups for the three bullet weights looked like this (average of five three-shot spreads):

  • 140-1.062"
  • 160-1.079"
  • 175-.687" No, that's not a misprint.

A word or two about the stock, since stocks made out of real wood are growing more and more scarce. The ALR stock was designed jointly by MRC and Boyd's Gunstocks, and of all the Montana stocks I've groped, this one is the best feeling. It has a nice, long, slim pistol grip and a forearm that's full without being bulky. The stocks are made in Italy, by a firm called Minnelli, and as I said in Part 1, they're AA-grade Turkish walnut (Juglans regia) rather than American black walnut (Juglans nigra). Juglans regia is tighter grained, stronger, and lighter than domestic walnut and makes a superior stock.

The handle on my rifle has all sorts of contrasting colors running from the butt to the fore-end tip, and considerable fiddleback figure for its full length. It is some pretty piece of wood. The action is glass bedded, and the barrel is free-floated. Since I’m obliged to say something critical of the ALR at some point, it’s this: There’s too much of a gap between the fore-end and the barrel.

The checkering is done by machine, and is about as good as hand-checkering unless the person doing it is a master.

Describing a rifle can’t always be done by giving a mechanical description. Sometimes the intangibles count, and this is such a case.

When I booked the rifle in at my FFL dealer, I had an offer to buy it before I got it out of the store. I can’t remember the last time that happened.

And: Back in the 1970s, when one of the big-name gunmakers was going into the tailspin from which it has yet to recover, one of its old-time employees told me bitterly:

“You know what the trouble with ***** is? On the weekends, the guys running the show play golf. None of them shoot.”

At MRC, as far as I know, everyone hunts and shoots. If there’s someone there who doesn’t, they’re kept in a closet. It shows in the guns they build.

The price for the blue-steel ALR is $1,502; for the all-stainless version it’s $1,623. How they manage to get something like this on the market for that kind of money is beyond me, but there you are. Montanarifleco.com

*For some perverse reason, the only commercial .280 ammo loaded with 160-grain bullets is Nosler Custom, which is sold with 160-grain Partitions. If they shoot in your .280, buy a bunch and smile. They will do it all.