September 23, 2010
By G&A Staff
It used to be that carrying smaller, lighter weight rifles meant you had to trade something off in comparison to "full-sized" guns--usually accuracy or power or range (or all). Not anymore.
By Dick Metcalf
I've always been a fan of short, handy rifles. I'd rather tote a lightweight and maneuverable six- to seven-pound, short-action hunting tool with an 18- to 22-inch barrel than lug a 24- or 26-inch standard-configuration gun weighing eight or nine pounds.
It's probably because I spent so many years working exclusively with handguns, so I'm into short and handy. My favorite factory-production hunting rifles have always been compact and semi-carbine bolt-action models like the Remington Model Seven, Ruger Ultra Light, or Winchester Model 70 Featherweight.
The barrel of all Ed Brown Damara rifles is fully free-floated, and a fine-fit threaded-on compensator is optional on the light-barrel Damara format.
My favorite of all hunting rifles these days is the new bolt-action Damara from Ed Brown Custom Inc. (Dept. ST, P.O. Box 492, Perry, MO 63462; 573-565-3261; www.edbrown.com), which is now available as a standard-configuration item in 7mm-08, .270 Winchester, .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum, and .300 Winchester Magnum, with stainless- or blued-steel Shilen barrel and optional muzzle brake. The Damara is the rifle I hunt with when I can hunt with what I want, and I've hunted with the Damara from Wyoming to Namibia.
It used to be that carrying smaller, lighter weight rifles meant you had to trade something off in comparison to "full-sized" guns--accuracy or power or range or all of those very important things. Today, thanks to improvements in modern quality-control firearms manufacture and advances in ammunition technology, lightweight shorter barrel rifles can fire cartridges with every bit as much performance (sometimes even more) than the biggest and heaviest of their brothers.
Ed Brown Damara
300 Winchester Magnum
|Manufacturer:||Ed Brown Custom Inc.|
|Caliber:||.300 Winchester Magnum (other chamberings available)|
|Barrel Length:||24 inches|
|Overall Length:||45 inches|
|Weight, empty||6.9 pounds|
|Sights:||None; Talley scope bases installed|
|Stock:||Brown Custom McMillan Graphite|
|Magazine Capacity:||3 rounds|
|Finish:||Satin blued receiver and barrel; black stock|
And when you step up from standard factory fare to what is coming out of the custom riflemakers, you're really in a different universe. For pure accuracy, performance, and functionality, I'll stack Ed Brown's new Damara up against any other configuration of any other hunting rifle in the world at any price.
I said the Damara is "new." In terms of its current configuration, it is, but the basic format has been in the Ed Brown inventory for several years. The Damara's immediate predecessor was called the Ozark, which Ed originally conceived as a custom-built high-grade analog to the Remington Model Seven, to appeal to weight- and size-conscious hunters like me.
It had a synthetic stock with a semi-Schnabel tipped forend like the original wood-stocked Model Seven and a 22-inch barrel. When Winchester introduced the .270 WSM and 7mm WSM cartridges back in 2001 and 2002, I asked Ed to build a pair of Ozark models for those chamberings with 20-inch No. 3 contour barrels--one blued, one stainless. I like short, but I also like a little bit of forward balance; it helps me steady down, moderates muzzle rise, and keeps me more kinesthetically aware of where the front of the gun is. (I'm the same way about handguns.)
When he put these rifles together, Ed told me I should really consider them as prototypes of the next generation rather than standard Ozarks because he was planning on making changes and formalizing certain features and calibers into standard "production-custom" models that would be marketed as off-the-shelf products through selected retail gunshops (including the Gun Libraries of all Cabela's retail stores).
He said he was particularly glad it was to be me trying them out because he had discovered over the 30 years we'd known each other that if there was a specific feature or type of rifle setup that I really liked he never got orders for it from anybody else. So one of the smartest things he could do if he wanted to create a bestseller would be find out exactly what features I liked in a gun and then build them exactly the opposite. I was touched.
Anyway, both my 20-inch semi-Ozark rifles (prototype Damaras) were sub-MOA accurate with factory ammo from the first rounds fired. I used the Ozark/Damara .270 WSM to take my first-ever B&C pronghorn in Wyoming at 384 yards, and I used the Ozark/Damara 7mm WSM in Namibia to take a half-dozen species of African plains game at ranges stretching to 454 yards.
The Damara's bolt design employs a three-position Mauser-type manual safety, a bolt-release button located on the side of the receiver , and spiral flutes that reduce friction and channel fouling or debris
I was particularly fond of their Model Seven-like semi-Schnabel forends, so I was therefore not surprised after I'd had them for about a year that Ed told me that stock configuration had proven extremely unpopular with his customers. One of the changes he was going to make with the new design was to utilize a new-design streamlined, round-tip, ultralight aluminum-pillar-bedded graphite stock made to his specifications by McMillan. Well, no real choice. I sent both rifles back to be restocked.
Then, in the fall of 2004, Ed called to say the final configuration issues had been settled. His new model lightweight rifle would be called the Damara (after the Damara people and their homeland in Namibia). It would be produced in five chamberings, with standard configuration featuring the McMillan-made ultralight stock and lightweight barrels with optional muzzle brakes (22-inch No. 11/2 on the 7mm-08, 23-inch No. 2 on the .270 and .30-06, and 24-inch No. 2 on the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum).
I remarked that 24 inches was a bit long for an ultralight rifle design and added unnecessary weight. Ed replied that balance was more important than weight. I observed that he could get the same balance and weight with the shorter barrels of slightly bigger diameter that I prefer. He said if he built them that way nobody would buy them. Ouch. Conversation over.
The Damara's magazine floorplate is based on the Remington M700 design and is released by a spring-loaded latch located at the front of trigger guard. The Damara's trigger is fully adjustable for weight of pull and overtravel.
THE DAMARA CLOSE UP
A few months later Ed delivered a review sample of a new Damara in .300 Winchester Magnum with a 24-inch muzzle brake barrel already set up with a Swarovski AV 4-12X 50mm scope on Talley bases. I gave it a close going-over and benchrest workout with four different commercial .300 Winchester Magnum loads plus one of Ed's favorite handloads. The results are listed in the accompanying chart. The gun easily shot under 1 MOA, just like my two previous versions.
The key to what makes the Damara (and the entire Ed Brown rifle line) so good is his Model 702 action. Most custom rifle builders start out with one or another name-brand factory action, which they then modify to suit their own particular tastes. Ed designed and builds his own, from scratch, one at a time on CNC machining centers. I asked him to characterize it in terms of existing bolt-action systems. Ed happily terms it a "hybrid," combining features proven in several other designs. Inspecting a Brown action, an experienced rifleman will see a little bit of the classic Mauser, a little bit of Weatherby and Remington, even a little bit of the M16.
|SHOOTING THE .300 WIN. MAG. ED BROWN DAMARA|
|BULLET||POWDER||MUZZLE VELOCITY (FPS)||STANDARD DEVIATION (FPS)||100-METER ACCURACY (INCHES)|
|Nosler 180-gr. Ballistic Tip||IMR-4350||70.0||2897||14||0.55|
|Hornady 150-gr. InterBond||Factory Load||3281||10||0.83|
|Winchester 165-gr. Fail Safe||Factory Load||3134||19||0.88|
|Federal 180-gr. Triple Shock||Factory Load||2945||21||0.75|
|Remington 200-gr. A-Frame||Factory Load||2829||24||1.00|
|NOTES: Accuracy is the average of five-shot groups fired from a sandbag benchrest at 100 meters. Velocity is the average of 15 rounds measured 10 feet from the gun's muzzle.|
In general, the Brown Model 702 action is a classic Mauser-type turn-bolt, with a short 90-degree bolt throw and dual, opposed front locking lugs. The bolt locks directly to the action. The extractor is a nonrotating M16 type, paired with an internal ejector. The carbon-steel bolt is .700 inch in diameter, has a welded-on handle, and is spiral fluted to reduce weight, distribute lubrication, and channel debris. Each bolt is hand-fitted to each receiver.
The spiral flutes are a particularly interesting-and neat looking-feature. Because they reduce the surface contact area between bolt and receiver, they allow a much closer fit. And they also provide channels into which fouling and grit or dirt are moved by the natural opening or closing of the action.
Conventional bolts, if tightly fitted, become stiff to cycle from such fouling--a real problem in some dirty, muddy, or dusty hunting and/or tactical situations. Incidentally, all of Ed's bolts up to now have been push-feed actions. Beginning at the 2006 SHOT Show, he will introduce a new controlled-feed bolt that will help smooth some of the inherent feeding irregularities of today's increasingly popular fatter, shorter, magnum cartridges.
The Damara comes standard with a soft rubber cushion buttpad and sling swivel studs.
An easy-to-operate, push-button bolt stop is located on the left rear side of the receiver, and there is a three-position safety lever on the right rear of the bolt shroud. The safety catch has three positions. The full-forward position is ready-to-fire; the middle position, with safety perpendicular to the bolt, locks the firing pin but the bolt may be opened (so an unfired cartridge can be unloaded while the safety remains on); the full-rear position locks both the firing pin and bolt.
The pre-heat-treated carbon-steel receiver body is 1.360 inches in diameter and machined with a solid rear bridge, round bottom, and a thick heavy-duty .300-inch collar-type front recoil lug. The walls of the front receiver ring are .185 inch thick with a .115-inch-diameter gas-relief hole drilled into the right side of the front receiver ring for the unlikely event of a ruptured cartridge case head. The standard Model 702 bolt head will take cases up to .460 Weatherby and .338 Lapua size, but Ed recommends a single-shot design for these huge cartridges as the magazine is not wide enough to ensure feeding.
Internal magazines are standard to the Model 702 action with front-hinged floorplate and release-button at the front of the machined steel trigger guard. Single-shot versions are available for long-action cartridges. The Model 702 trigger is attached to the lower rear of the action with two pins and is fully adjustable for weight of pull and overtravel.
Other standard features for all available Ed Brown rifle variations and models include match-quality, hand-lapped Shilen barrels, handpicked for the ultimate in accuracy. Each barrel is button rifled, hand lapped, air gauged, and optically inspected to ensure it falls into the "Select Match" category, which is .0003 of specs and uniform over the entire bore to within .0001. There is benchrest quality chambering, using Brown's own specially ground reamers, plus deep-countersunk barrel crowning for maximum accuracy and durability and socket-head action screws.
The Damara easily achieved MOA accuracy from the shooting bench and is the author's rifle of choice when he gets to choose what rifle to use for hunting big game.
The receiver is drilled and tapped to standard Remington Model 700 spacing, but the holes are threaded to a heavy-duty 8-40 dimension instead of Remington's smaller 6-48 dimension. Brown rifles come standard with Talley machined steel scope mounts already installed, using 8-40 scope mount screws. You can use any different brand of Model 700 mount bases on an Ed Brown rifle if you want, but you'll need to drill out their holes to the 8-40 diameter, and use the bigger screws.
Ed also strongly suggests that new owners allow him to supply and install the scope as well. He offers Swarovski and Nightforce scopes. All-weather McMillan fiberglass stocks are standard on all models, precision-bedded with aluminum pillars (custom wood stocks are available on special order). Standard length of pull is 13.75 inches with one-inch recoil pad. That's a little shorter than most factory rifles, which I like, because most all hunting conditions I ever encounter involve nonlightweight clothing that add too much length to the effective shouldering of the gun. Sling swivels are standard equipment.
Ed really believes what he was telling me about balance versus weight. He says, "We don't try to make a super lightweight rifle by compromising safety and accuracy, even though we are certainly capable of it. We feel you need a certain amount of weight, and particularly rigidity, to shoot a rifle accurately, and you need balance most of all. All our hunting rifles vary slightly in weight depending on barrel contour and caliber.
The Damara is our lightest weight rifle because it has a shorter barrel and action and lightweight graphite stock. It does not have a butchered action, which reduces rigidity. It is also quite a bit more compact, and thus handles much easier than a larger rifle. A lighter weight gun increases recoil and shorter barrels increase muzzle blast slightly. Make your choices accordingly, and remember that balance is more important than weight, and accuracy is more important than velocity."
Okay, Ed, I hear you. I'm thinking really seriously of having you make up another Damara in .325 WSM for an elk rifle for me. With a 20-inch No. 3 noncompensated barrel, of course!