Skip to main content

The Truth About Lightweight Rifles

The Truth About Lightweight Rifles

Greg gives us his take on lightweight bolt rifles.

I was never a fan of lightweight rifles, and until I started sheep hunting a few years ago, I didn't see how any true rifleman could be. To me, the pound or two a light rifle saved wasn't worth losing the stable, muzzle-heavy feel of a real rifle. Now, thanks to advances in technology--stocks and metallurgy--and some good old-fashioned ingenuity on the part of the gun industry, I don't have to choose between light weight and that "real rifle" feel.

https://www.shootingtimes.com/files/2010/09/stmountain_121007a.jpg
In the high country, every ounce counts. Here, the author takes a breather on a bighorn sheep hunt in British Columbia. The rifle is his lightweight .300 WSM from Hill Country Rifles.

The first lightweight rifles were virtually identical to their standard-weight brethren, with the exception of their pencil-thin barrels. Those thin barrels certainly helped those rifles shed a pound or two, but they moved the balance point way back, resulting in rifles that didn't point naturally and were difficult to hold steady. That lack of balance was exaggerated by heaving chests and nerves--two things that always seem to be abundant at the moment of truth.


Later, some custom makers began skeletonizing standard rifle bolts and actions to save weight. The combination of lightweight, synthetic stocks and thin barrels made these rifles balance a bit better, but they had their share of faults. In the field, they were still more difficult to hold steady than sporter-weight rifles. They also kicked like mules. Most got around that with muzzle breaks, but that was at the cost of grumpy hunting guides who weren't too thrilled by having their ears blown out because their clients couldn't handle recoil.


My biggest beef with such rifles has to do with safety. I cannot see the wisdom of removing steel from an already-heat-treated pressure vessel designed to contain an explosion next to my face. I am not aware of any safety issues with such modifications, but those holes in the action are unsettling to me.

It wasn't until some better options came along that I willingly gave up my sporter-weight rifles.

The Custom Route

My first lightweight rifle was a custom .260 Remington built on a Model 70 action by the guys at Hill Country Rifles. The M70 action is no flyweight, but Hill Country shaved weight by using good components like a McMillan synthetic stock with the new lightweight Hunter's Edge fill. They also used Talley's ultralight mounts and a quality No. 2-contour barrel. Although the barrel is a bit thinner than I like, it still has a slight muzzle-heavy feel, despite weighing just 7.75 pounds with a Swarovski 3-9X riflescope and a sling attached.


Despite its light weight, that little rifle pounds those 6.5mm 140-grain pills into sub-half-inch groups with astounding regularity. And thanks to a good, straight-line stock design and quality recoil pad, it doesn't kick a bit. I was so pleased with it, I ordered an identical rifle in .300 WSM last year.

A European Solution

My Hill Country rifles are great, but they aren't as light as I would like in some situations. In preparation for a mountain goat hunt in B.C., I happened upon the little Blaser K-95. This sleek .270 single-shot has a 23.6-inch barrel yet weighs only 5.3 pounds. It has gorgeous wood, balances beautifully, and shoots like a house afire. Its faults are few--it's almost too pretty to tote up the mountains, and it kicks a ton. In fact, I didn't even think the .270 Win. kicked at all until I shot that little Blaser.


Still, that dainty rifle is a joy to carry. The fact that it is one of the most accurate rifles I've ever owned also inspires a great deal of confidence. Truth be told, I was not expecting sub-quarter-inch accuracy from a break-action single-shot, but I am not about to throw it away either. Still, I am not that adept at reloading it quickly, and it really is almost too pretty to hunt with, so I kept looking for other options.

Factory Offerings

The major manufacturers have also thrown their hats in the ultralight rifle ring. Ruger, Sako, Kimber, Remington, Browning, and Weatherby are some of the makers that offer lightweight rifles with thin barrels and synthetic stocks. In fact, I will have been on a Dall sheep hunt in Alaska with my lightweight .257 Weatherby by the time you read this.

https://www.shootingtimes.com/files/2010/09/stmountain_121007b.jpg
The author's New Ultralight Arms M24 in .30-06 (T) weighs only 6.5 pounds with this Nikon scope, whereas his Blaser K-95 in .270 Win. weighs 6.25 pounds. The author will probably drop another quarter-pound by switching to a more compact 3-9X scope before the next hunting season.

Remington and Browning chose the high-tech route to really shed some pounds. Remington's Alaskan Ti employs a titanium action, trim synthetic stock, and thin barrel to get the weight of its short-action models down to 6 pounds. Using similar technology, Browning's Mountain Ti weighs in at a trim 5.5 pounds. Both rifles balance well, shoot great, and are easy to carry. But titanium isn't cheap, and neither are those rifles. Both are priced north of a thousand bucks, which is considerably more than you'll pay for a standard A-Bolt or Model 700 at your local gunshop.

A Perfect Solution

I've long heard of Melvin Forbes's New Ultralight rifles. In fact, as I told Mel when we first spoke, I first became interested in his rifles when I was a junior in high school. That comment didn't go over so well, but Mel got me back. He talked me into placing an order before I got off the phone.

I ordered the Model 24 in .30-06, and it is a beauty. Its most striking feature is its tiny proprietary action. Forbes designed seven different action sizes to fit different cartridge families with minimal wasted space. Made from a solid bar of 4140 steel, the action is trimmer than Remington's Model 700 action, but it retains the exact same wall thickness. The result is a lighter gun of equal strength.

The Forbes actions are built to exacting tolerances; they are smooth and lock up tight. Everything is built to scale, including the diminutive bolt handle, which settles nicely in the hand yet is small enough that it's out of the way.

The New Ultralight Arms action has a Sako-style extractor and a three-function, two-position safety. By pushing down on the safety while it is in the "Safe" position, you can work the bolt. A Timney trigger and Douglas Premium Grade barrel are other welcome departures from the standard factory-rifle recipe.

With its classic lines, the M24's stock is one of its most unique features. It is scaled perfectly to the diminutive action. There is minimal drop, a Pachmayr Decelerator pad helps tame recoil, and a finished weight of 14 ounces helps keep the overall package light.

Unlike most custom shops who free-float their barrels, Forbes full-length beds his rifles. I've heard differing opinions on full-length bedding versus free-floating, but I have no complaints. My gun shoots under a half-inch with the CorBon 168-grain TSX load.

I fell in love with this rifle the first time I threw it to my shoulder. The action is exquisite, the stock fits me perfectly, and it balances like a real rifle should, despite the fact that it weighs about 6.5 pounds scoped and ready to roll. Recoil is noticeable but not bad given its light weight. I would not want to shoot a much bigger cartridge in the same package, but the old '06 is plenty of gun for almost everything on this continent.

On its maiden voyage, I used my New Ultralight Arms M24 to take a 1000-pound meat eland on the South Texas ranch of my good friend, Irvin Barnhart. Although it wasn't difficult terrain, the Model 24's light weight and exceptional handling qualities were noticeable. I am certain they'll be greatly appreciated when I carry this rifle in the mountains.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

The Glock 21

The Glock 21

Frank and Tony from Gallery of Guns spice up the Glock test using their non-dominant hands.

All About .300 Blackout

All About .300 Blackout

The .300 Blackout is here to stay, and we take some time to look at new technology surrounding this cartridge. Next, we pit subsonic rivals against each other before stretching the legs of this CQB round out to 600 yards from a short 9-inch barrel.

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Pinging Steel At Over A Mile Away

Big bore semiauto or a lever gun? We look at the futuristic .450 Bushmaster and how it compares to the tried and true .45-70. ISS Prop House gives us the rundown on the guns used in Enemy at the Gate. We ping steel with a .300 WinMag at over a mile.

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

Skills Drills: 3-Second Headshot

James Tarr runs through the 3-Second Headshot drill.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but during his lifetime he was popularly called the “pioneer benchrester.”  Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester Gunsmithing

Harvey Donaldson: Pioneer Benchrester

Joel J. Hutchcroft - May 07, 2019

Harvey A. Donaldson may be best known for his .219 Donaldson Wasp wildcat cartridge, but...

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military action, and a two-position  wing-type safety.Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review Rifles

Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - August 19, 2020

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military...

The .30-06 Hawkeye Hunter features a 22-inch stainless-steel barrel and a satin-finished walnut stock. Magazine capacity is four rounds. It is well made, accurate, and attractive. This is a fine rifle that is light enough to tote over hill and dale but heavy enough to hold steady for precise shooting in the field.Ruger Hawkeye Hunter .30-06 Review Rifles

Ruger Hawkeye Hunter .30-06 Review

Steve Gash - August 17, 2020

The .30-06 Hawkeye Hunter features a 22-inch stainless-steel barrel and a satin-finished...

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more .270 caliber (6.8mm) rifle cartridges  have not been introduced.5 Great .270 Rifle Cartridges Ammo

5 Great .270 Rifle Cartridges

Layne Simpson - May 28, 2019

Considering how popular the .270 Winchester has become, it's a great mystery why more .270...

See More Trending Articles

More Rifles

The Sako S20 hybrid rifle evolves with the owner, and it combines best-in-class versatility with superb accuracy.Sako S20 Hybrid Rifle Review Rifles

Sako S20 Hybrid Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - September 04, 2020

The Sako S20 hybrid rifle evolves with the owner, and it combines best-in-class versatility...

The new minimalist bolt-action rimfire rifles from Savage Arms are fun guns indeed.Savage Arms Minimalist Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles Review Rifles

Savage Arms Minimalist Bolt-Action Rimfire Rifles Review

Steve Gash - September 29, 2020

The new minimalist bolt-action rimfire rifles from Savage Arms are fun guns indeed.

The straight-wall .450 Bushmaster rifle cartridge is seeing a surge in popularity with new factory ammo and AR carbines like the Rock River Arms LAR-15M; here's a full review and test report on how the rifle performed with the Rock River Arms LAR-15M .450 Bushmaster - Reviewed & Tested Rifles

Rock River Arms LAR-15M .450 Bushmaster - Reviewed & Tested

Steve Gash - June 15, 2020

The straight-wall .450 Bushmaster rifle cartridge is seeing a surge in popularity with new...

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military action, and a two-position  wing-type safety.Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review Rifles

Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe Rifle Review

Joseph von Benedikt - August 19, 2020

The Husqvarna AB. Mauser Series 1100 Deluxe features a European walnut stock, a non-military...

See More Rifles

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Shooting Times subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now