Every sportsman should experience hunting with a true, one-of-a-kind, made-just-for-you custom rifle. If you have logged on the websites of some of the best one-man shops around the country, it’s no surprise how deep (read: expensive) you can get with regards to high-grade wood, engraving and a blueprinted barreled action.
On the other hand, many years back, I found there are so-called custom shops that are in fact in-house facilities within the plants of well-known firearms manufacturers like Remington, Weatherby or Browning. Still others like Dakota produce firearms for the general public, with the bulk of their work generating guns in a variety of bolt and single-shot actions for the discriminating field hunter.
Factory custom shops depend on the input of folks like you and me, and sadly, if the economy is sour, a gun of this high a caliber is the last thing a family needs as it considers apportioning its expendable income.
Winchester had a great custom shop down in New Haven, Connecticut. I know, because in 1986 I ordered a Model 70 with high-grade wood chambered in the .300 Win Mag back. Ruger had a similar shop in New Hampshire, but again, a change in upper management and the sluggish economy have closed the door on that option, too. I have also depended upon Thompson/Center for custom guns and barrels for my wildcat projects, and while they still seem determined to keep their shop open, their website has the following message: “Due to our restructuring of the T/C Custom Shop, we are temporarily halting our custom shop barrel process so that we can evaluate and improve it. A date for re-launching the Custom Shop has not yet been determined.”
What we are left with in the factory custom shop category are guns from Remington, Weatherby, Browning and of course Dakota—which is a good thing, as the costs of building through a major manufacturer can be sometimes as little as one-third the expense of running your order through the one-man shops of the better-known custom builders. How do they cut the expenses? It’s simple: The hosted shop literally takes the guns from the production side next store, eliminating the need to build actions from the ground up. Now, I am not saying that they just take a barreled action, place it in a nice piece of wood and call it a “custom.” There is a lot more to it than that.
Granted, they get the raw materials like the action and barrels from the production run, but here the similarity ends. From here the action is honed for smoothness, headspace is checked and tightened, and the barrel is checked for straightness and fired for accuracy. On most, the trigger gets a final touch for a crisp pull, and then it goes to the stock maker for that priceless piece of wood.
Remington moved the Remington Custom Shop in 2015 to Sturgis, South Dakota. Sturgis is now Remington’s center of excellence for Custom; Dakota, Nesika, Marlin, and Remington. They welcome visitors openly, and you can watch from a raised platform as craftsman busily engrave, profile wood or set an action into a stock. I have three rifles from the shop and can testify to their quality and shooting ability. My custom 40-XR (now being reintroduced) rimfire is perfect for small game; my 25/06 Model 700 has taken antelope in Montana; and my M700 in .222 Rem was made up for me with a number of special requests to include a fuller stock and medium-weight barrel. This is my favorite “walking” varmint rifle, and it has served me more than well in the field. While most follow pretty much the same format, let me briefly outline what you can expect from Remington.
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First, you start out with roughly 50 cartridge choices, which can be anything from the petite .17 Rem Fireball upwards to the larger Magnum offerings like the .458 Win. You can choose a barrel length from 16 inches to 30 inches, right- or left-handed, iron sighted or clean. Metal finish can be bright or subdued, and the wood goes from Claro, American or English walnut. Classic or modern stock designs are there for the asking, forend tips in rosewood or ebony and the grip cap can be stylized to include rosewood, ebony, solid steel or even a skeletonized cap. Finish can be gloss or oil, and you can order a traditional buttpad in “Old English” or a skeleton-type plate. Length of pull is up to you, and you can even have a nameplate with your initials inscribed.
Other than that, the sky is almost the limit, and for those who want something different, consider the No. 1 Rolling Block (no longer produced), African Plains Rifle and a host of other rifles that fall under the Hunter Grade banner. These include the North American Custom with satin blued or stainless actions. Along with the African Plains Rifle, the African Big Game (no longer produced) rifle is stocked with a laminated hardwood stock and a 26-inch barrel with an old-world contour. It can be had chambered in a variety of big-game cartridges. One of my favorites, the Model Seven Custom MS (Mannlicher Stock), is still listed with a large number of match (Model’s 40-XBBR KS, 40-XB Rangemaster, 40-XB Rangemaster Thumbhole Stock, 40-XB KS) and tactical rifles, while the Model 547 Classic replaces the 40-XR rimfire rifle. While I consider the 40-XR’s reintroduction to be a win, this new entry follows the custom trend with a bedded action based on the previous Model 504. Still another advantage with this gun is that the bolt has been reconfigured to emulate the feel and angle of the popular Model 700 centerfire rifle, with a stock profile to match.
Additionally, there is now a Model 700 Custom C, D and F grade that is available on a shorter turnaround, and while it includes most of the usual accouterments, engraving is not available on this “basic,” almost off-the-shelf custom rifle. Finally, high-grade shotguns in the form of the Model 1100 and Model 870 are still on the list and can be ordered with everything from a custom stock to heavy engraving. For more information, visit remington.com or call 605-347-4686.
As a young boy, I can remember enjoying reading Weatherby “wish books” on my bed on cold and rainy days. Just about every year, those thick books arrived, and in the back was a section on custom rifles. Well, the book seems to have died in the ensuing years, as did, at one point, the custom shop; but a few years back, the shop reopened for business. According to the custom shop spokesperson at Weatherby, they make the custom building process easy. They call it a three-step process: First you choose the barreled action, add the features to that action that you desire and finally you build a custom stock to your personal specifications.
If you are a Weatherby fan, the options are wide open. Naturally, the Weatherby proprietary cartridges are on the top of the list with barrel lengths starting at 24 inches and maxing out at 30 inches, with the options of a chrome-moly Krieger barrel, two, three or four contour, fluting and even a hand-honed action (which I fully recommend). High gloss is an extra cost option; matte blue is included in the price of the action. From there, you can pick and choose features like a kid in a candy shop.
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You can have the bolt checkered, have rings and bases installed or opt for receiver sights. Engraving goes from a simple Grade 1 to Grade 6, and you have a choice on which game animal you would like to have etched on the floorplate. My favorite part of the whole affair is the choice in wood, and Weatherby seems to spare no expense in providing an array of quality wood types, stock shapes, carving or checkering, recoil pads, lengths of pull and the usual pistol grip or forend tips. Remember those inlays that years back were trademarks of Weatherby rifles? Well, they are available and in a number of different configurations as is the choice of taking a production rifle and adding some personal features.
Additionally, Weatherby lists what they call “pre-packaged” rifles for those who do not want to wait up to a year for their rifle or need something for an up-and-coming hunt this fall. Among these is the popular Euromark, which was reinstated in 2011. Those ordering the Euromark will be treated to an out-of-the-ordinary (for Weatherby) oil finish and a smaller six- or nine-lug action, instead of the larger nine-lug action for standard calibers. The Mark V Royal Ultramark has exhibition-grade walnut, engraved accents on the barrel and muzzle, and a floorplate engraved with a scroll pattern. The Mark V Safari has one of my favorite checkering patterns—finished off with “AAA”-fancy French walnut, it’s a showstopper for sure. For those who want a heavy-hitting gun with a synthetic stock, take a look at the Mark V Dangerous Game Rifle (DGR). The Mark V Outfitter features a raised-comb composite stock, hand-honed action and left-handed models chambered in .257 and .300 Weatherby Mag. Finishing off our package rifles, the Weatherby Mark V TacMark is made for long-distance or tactical law enforcement duties. For more information, visit weatherby.com or call 800-227-2016.
Browning is noted for its high-grade production guns. At its famous engraving shop in Belgium, the company will favor your order on everything from side-by-sides, over-and-under shotguns, express rifles, semi-automatic rifles (the famous BAR), .22 rifles and even the Hi-Power pistol engraved in no less than four impressive patterns.
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I have always been a fan of the Superposed for upland hunting. Presently called the B25, you have a choice of more than two-dozen engraving patterns on this shotgun alone. The sample I had for photography has both a pheasant and a duck on the receiver, and it comes complete with floral engraving—all set on a natural finish. All of the wood is above average, with the proper grain, color and finish that will announce to all and sundry that you do indeed have in your hands a custom gun. For more, visit browning.com or call 800-333-3288.
Dakota has a wide selection of custom-made guns with just about every custom feature you can dream of on your rifle. The famed Model 76 is available in five different versions, from the Classic to the hard-hitting African. The Traveler is a unique weapon in that it breaks down into two sections that can be ordered with various barrel combinations in different calibers. The Model 10 is a single-shot offered in various calibers and stocks and with an assortment of possible features. Dakota’s Model 97 is a traditional weapon for the well-seasoned hunter. For small-game hunters with deep pockets, the Varminter is made to benchrest tolerances and is chambered in a long list of short-action varmint cartridges, including one of my personal favorites—the .20 VarTarg.
Also available is a Sharps replica chambered for both vintage and modern cartridges and scaled to 80 percent of the original size, making it a sleek rifle for hunting. The Miller is another single-shot, which is chambered for both commercial and wildcat small cartridges to include my all-time favorite—the .219 Donaldson Wasp. While I am partial to smaller cartridges in a single-shot, the Miller can be chambered in calibers ranging from the .17 Ackley Hornet to the .416 Remington Magnums—and beyond!
I have to say, the list of options, calibers and wood grades fills the better part of the Dakota catalog, and if there is something wanting, I cannot find it. With its various checkering patterns, grip caps, recoil pads proprietary cartridges and very high-grade wood, finishes and engravings, Dakota does its best to earn your hard-earned dollar. For more information, visit dakotaarms.com or call 605-347-4686.
In all of my experiences ordering and shooting custom rifles, I have never been disappointed with any of the shops with which I have dealt, and I look forward to trying out the newer rifles in the future. Truly, a factory custom shop is the place where dreams come true.