April 16, 2013
By Joseph von Benedikt
Now and then, a gun guy will catch a glimpse of a truly unique firearm among reviews of polymer pistols or tacticool rifles. These beautiful works of art are a testament to old-style craftsmanship, but the price tag is usually just under a second mortgage. In those instances, we can only dream of what we'd snatch up had our bank accounts been bottomless; oh, the treasures we'd stash our safes with.
Alas, we're not millionaires — well, we don't know about you anyway — so our only option is to sit and let our minds drift to that phrase we've uttered far too often: "If only." You may have real-world responsibilities to take care of, but while we can still dream, here are some incredible custom rifles you only wish you could own.
Dakota Arms Model 10 Deluxe
gets two spots in this to-die-for gathering of fine rifles. Believe me, with the Model 10
, it's well deserved. If you're a fan of sleek, sexy single-shots, bluing so deep you could swim in it, and fine walnut checkered with unparalleled skill, the Dakota Model 10 is your poison. The Deluxe version adds exhibition grade walnut, case coloring, an inletted rear sling swivel and barrel-band front swivel, inletted gold oval, and other niceties to the aesthetic side, but don't be deceived — it will get the job done under the most grueling hunting conditions imaginable. Choose your caliber, from .17 HMR to .404 Dakota. Price: Somewhere north of $6,000.
Dakota Arms Model 76 Traveler
We aren't as lucky as sportsmen of old; they used to dismount with style from a train, carrying their takedown gun case under their arm, cigar clamped firmly in the corner of their mouth. We get free caressing by trained TSA masseuses, and have to visit a worn rubber conveyor belt to pick up our bulky, cumbersome airline-approved rifle cases. Or do we? Dakota Arms'
extraordinarily talented gunsmiths build startlingly beautiful takedown bolt-actions — like the Dakota Arms Model 76 Traveler
— that fit in a box the size of an oversize briefcase. Better yet, you can have two barrels fit to your action. How about a .300 H&H barrel paired with a .375 H&H, anyone? Order yours with exhibition-grade Bastogne walnut, case hardening, and just a touch of fine engraving — after all, these are dream guns, right? Prices range from $4,500 up — way up, if you're a gentleman of old-world taste and means.
Herschel House Flintlock Longrifle
Considered a master of contemporary, historically accurate blackpowder rifles, Herschel House builds longrifles without par. Word on the streets is that although he's built rifles for several major Hollywood pictures, he'd just as soon build a rifle for a hunter or fellow blackpowder competitor with an appreciation of history. An accomplished blacksmith, House forges most of the iron hardware he uses on his rifles, and prefers to fit each rifle to its individual owner. Significantly, though aesthetic quality is superb, each and every rifle is built to shoot very accurately, and built with the durability to last a couple of centuries, just as the historic rifles that inspire House.
Average build time? About a month per rifle. How do you get one? You might get really lucky and find one for sale at a high-end online auction. More likely you'll have to join the Contemporary Longrifle Association, attend the annual meeting in Lexington, Ky., meet the man himself, and in person convince him to build you a rifle. You'll never regret it.
Hill Country Rifles Custom .338 Lapua
Once an experienced long-range military shooter said that the .338 Lapua should replace the .50 BMG for all shoulder-fired rifles. When asked why, he said something to the effect that it's just as capable and would cause a lot less dislocated shoulders, blown eardrums, and detached retinas. If you want to ring steel at 1,600 yards or pick off poor destructive unsuspecting prairie dogs at 800 yards — but value your retinas — this guaranteed 3/8-M.O.A accurate rifle
from Hill Country Rifles
is you ticket to long-range happiness. Built on a Defiance Machine stainless action, Schnieder match barrel, and McMillan stock, this rifle is actually easy to carry at 12 pounds but won't hammer you to death with recoil, courtesy of a Badger Ordnance Thruster muzzle brake. As with most custom rifles, you'll have to order one, and wait time is some six to 12 months. Price: $5,000 to $6,000, depending on options.
Holland & Holland Royal Deluxe .577 Nitro Express
If you haven't dreamed about owning a British double rifle and Hemingwaying a path across the Dark Continent, you're a gun guy without taste. Pardon my abruptness, but there it is. One of the da Vinci's of work-of-art firearm makers, Holland & Holland
produces scandalously beautiful rifles at truly obscene prices. This Royal Deluxe .577 Nitro Express is more beautiful than Kiera Knightley and more capable than Chuck Walker, and you could purchase a nice house for less than the 170,000 English pounds it will bring. But hey, think of the plus side: It will only increase in value, and you could actually own something more beautiful than Kiera Knightley and more capable than Chuck Walker. That should convince your wife to let you take out the necessary loan.
Les Baer AR .223 Super Match
I once shot five clay pigeons in a row, missed one, and hit another — for six out of seven — at 600 yards with a Les Baer AR .223 Super Match
. Believe it or not — I hardly could at the time — all shots were fired from a simple prone-with-a-bipod position. Les Baer
guarantees ½ M.O.A groups out of his rifles, but I've never fired one that wasn't closer to ¼ M.O.A — truly obscene accuracy indeed. LBC match-grade parts (with the exception of a Geissele trigger) are housed in precision machined upper and lowers. Barrels are cut-rifled one groove at a time by LBC, and frankly, I haven't seen another AR barrel yet that touches them for accuracy. Myriad options exist, including your choice of rifling twist. Price: gallery=40,390.
Rifles Inc. Titanium Strata
Arguably the Dean of lightweight rifle makers, Lex Webernick personally hand-builds each super-accurate, uber-light rifle that emerges from his shop. At 4 ½ pounds, the Rifles Inc. Titanium Strata
is the bee's knees of Lex's line. Built on discontinued Remington Titanium actions, every receiver is skeletonized, blueprinted, trued, lapped, and mounted with an honest match-grade barrel. The stock is of unique, proprietary design, constructed of hand-laminated graphite, and the action is pillar bedded. A 'Quiet Slimbrake II ' takes the bite out of recoil, even with magnum calibers.
Even though these make our list of the most desirable custom rifles ownable, they are actually rather affordable at $3,500 plus customer-supplied action.
Shiloh 1874 Sharps Buffalo Rifle Quigley
Own this rifle, and you're guaranteed adventures in far-off lands, the ability to shoot wooden buckets at shocking distances, and most importantly, a girl like Crazy Cora. If you don't know what I'm talking about, hang your head in shame on the way to the video store to rent Quigley Down Under
. Built in Big Timber, Mont., these current versions of the classic buffalo rifle from Shiloh Rifles
(I can't call them reproductions — the quality is just too good) have panache beyond compare, accuracy to spare, and will take down anything you shoot at. Of single-shot operation, this rifle chambers the tremendously powerful .45-110 (.45 caliber, 110 grains of blackpowder); has a 34-inch heavy octagon barrel, pewter fore-end cap, case-colored receiver and hardware, and comes fitted with a Vernier tang sight. Price: $3,396.
Turnbull USRAC/Winchester Model 1886
, undoubtedly the master of vintage Winchester
restoration, is turning his talents to modifying newly manufactured Model 1886 rifles by Winchester Repeating Arms
. Extraordinary wood, spectacular color case hardening, and unique configurations are all part and parcel. This particular rifle sports a 22-inch half-octagonal barrel in .50 Alaskan caliber, with a ¾-length magazine. It's been restocked with XXX-grade fancy walnut in a pre-90,000 (serial number) style with ebony wedge; hand-checkered at 22 lines per inch.
Best of all to aficionados with a distinct opinion of how traditional Winchesters should look, the top tang has had the tang safety removed and filled; the hammer has been altered to have a traditional half cock. Stocks are finished with Winchester's original formula. The receiver, lever, fore-end cap and swivel studs have been case colored; the barrel and magazine tube have been rust blued, and the remaining parts have been charcoal blued. Price is $7,500, and worth every penny.