I am infatuated with my current favorite tactical rifle, one of the two 700 PoliceDM rifles reviewed here a few months ago. "#1 rifle," as it has been dubbed, offers an exceptional balance of power and accuracy for all of the distances at which I am capable of hitting a target. As equipped with some of my standard peripherals - Mike Miller's Quick Cuff sling, an Eagle Industries Shooters Stock Pack, Harris BR-1 Bipod, and most recently the AccuShot Monopod - it has served me admirably, and hopefully will continue to do so for years to come.
My initial plan was sending the "#1 rifle" out for a complete overhaul with new barrel, lapped bolt lugs, trued action, etc. The project base funding began to run just a little too low, however, when my move into a new home brought the immediate need to purchase a plethora of useful hand and power tools, and having to become a wizened little Yoda of the Yard.
Recoil is an inevitable consequence of speed with heavier projectiles, and one Newtonian Law that I, with my bantam size, can CERTAINLY do without. Other than a frontal lobotomy, a well-engineered muzzle brake is the fastest way to reduce recoil-induced fatigue.
Case in point, I had the opportunity way back in the fall of '92 to shoot one of the very first Weatherby Alaskans in .300 Weatherby equipped with their then-new removable "KDF" style muzzle brake. In fact, one of the darkened indoor range photos of this rifle graces the cover of the December '92 issue of The American Rifleman magazine. Even after several photo/shooting sessions from the bench, I felt physically no worse for wear. The recoil was comparable to a similar-weight sporter rifle in .308 or .30-06, but the muzzle blast (concussion is a better word) and flash were very severe indoors, even with molded ear plugs and 27 dB reduction rated earmuffs. I did not note a significant noise difference while behind the rifle shooting at the outdoor range, but standing to the side of the rifle while another shooter was engaging targets, the report did seem a bit sharper and the blast definitely caused a stronger pressure wave.
I have heard very good things about George Vais' muzzle brakes from serious folks in all facets of long range shooting. The coaxial, crazy maze combination of thirty two .205" diameter radial and ten .120" longitudinal ports (approximate measured diameters) developed by Vais have established quite a reputation for helping tame the shoulder pounding of the magnum pedigree of rifles. Vais claims the muzzle blast is no worse than a conventional non-vented muzzle, in part due to the longitudinal ports dissipating a lot of the high-pressure gasses. This is debatable, especially by a spotter, and probably would require some pretty sophisticated sound measuring equipment to find a definitive answer.
The quote in the latest Brownells catalog that a Vais brake "makes that .300 Magnum feel more like a .243" intrigued me to no end. I found just the one needed, the .875" diameter "Varmint" model brake in stainless steel. "#1 rifle's" muzzle is .825" diameter, and the oversized Vais brake can be turned down on a lathe to match the taper contour of the barrel. I selected a stainless steel version, the premise being that it should last longer than carbon steel and hopefully be a bit more resistant to both corrosion and high-pressure gas jet cutting.
The next step was finding a top quality gunsmith to install the darn thing within a reasonable time window. This was taken care of by logging on to the Internet and e-mailing a quick plea to George Gardner of GA Precision Rifles for installation of the brake, and another goodie that he offers to the shooting community - more on this in a minute.
I quickly boxed up the rifle and sent it off 3rd Day delivery; its arrival in North Kansas City, MO and the beginning of the work was flashed to me via an e-mail note. This is one of the great benefits of the info super highway over snail mail correspondence or pricey long-distance phone calls.
There are two printable comments that are probably at this moment being screamed at the screens of hundreds of PC's worldwide:
This rifle is for occasional tactical shooting matches and ammunition testing and evaluation purposes, NOT real-world, real-time, no holds barred life-or-certain-death, sniping. If Tactical Rifle Matches get to the point where FLIR and Thermal Imaging units are regularly being used to detect competitors, I'll take up crochet. Promise!
Use of a ground cloth/cover can resolve a large amount of muzzle signature. Couple that with the fact that there will be minimal use while shooting blanks on stalking exercises, and it is an acceptable trade-off for me.
Worrisome reflections from the stainless steel brake won't be a problem either, as when he installed the brake, George not only tapered the rear of it to match the factory barrel diameter, but also gave it a matte gray-black oven-cured epoxy finish.
Concurrent with the muzzle brake installation was the addition of an oversized bolt knob that I'll hereby dub a "Speed Bolt" knob similar in design and proportion to the knobs on Steyr-Mannlicher SSG P-II and IV series rifles. These are often standard equipment on a number of high-dollar custom tactical and target-type rifles.
George's replacement part is affixed by cutting off the factory knob with a 5/16" hollow face mill (also called a reverse spot facer) and then applying 5/16"-24 threads to the bolt handle shank. The interior of the "Speed Bolt" handle is similarly threaded, and the two parts are bonded with a permanent grade of Loctite adhesive. Dimensions for the "Speed Bolt" head are .585" wide at the attached end, tapering outward for 1.585" to a maximum diameter of .975". The edges of the knob are gently radiused to prevent wear and tear on the shooting hand. The external finish is a matte hard-anodized coating that evenly blends with the rest of the factory metal work.
This aftermarket part yields a more secure grasp on the handle under poor weather conditions, positive physical cycling of the bolt, and a slight bit of additional leverage during the opening and closing strokes due to the additional length. I have found the "Speed Bolt" knob to be quite a bit more efficient than the OEM oval checkered knob. Plus, the low product installation/cost and one week turn around time earns Mr. Gardner a Most Excellent! ***** five-star rating.
George e-mailed two very nice digital pictures of the finished product and the return tracking number upon completion of the work. That takes some of the suspense out of waiting for the box to arrive to see the end results. My other two 700 Police rifles will also receive the same bolt treatment to keep the ergonomics as close to identical with "#1 rifle" as possible.
After picking up the rifle at the local gun store and heading home to the carefully prepped workshop, the fun began. I checked the stock bolts for the proper 65 inch-pound rating: Check! The Badger Maximized one piece mount fitted, Loctited, and torqued down: Check! SWFA-supplied Leupold 3.5-10x40mm M-3 still in the Badger Maximized rings clipped into the correct slots on the scope mount and 1/2" nuts torqued to 65 inch-pounds: Check! Also in the bottomless package was a brand spanking new stainless steel Model 700 Magnum Length detachable magazine. Much pooh-poohing of the now factory discontinued Drop Magazine system has been done, most with indisputable proof on the particular examples in question. Both this particular magazine and the original matte finished one supplied with the rifle have worked flawlessly since their arrival. I have also attempted to become somewhat proficient with both loading through the stock and thumbing inert rounds into the magazine through the ejection port a-la the Model 700ADL /BDL versions, as every little bit of practice helps...
I then made a trip to the range to test the brake with Federal Gold Medal Match 190 gr. BTHP and some more experimental A-191 clone loads. Both the factory ammo and handloads felt noticeably lighter on the shoulder than before installation of the brake. I would go as far as to say it did drop the physical recoil sensation down to the level of a .243 Winchester or 6mm Remington. Average accuracy at 100 yards for 5 consecutive 5-shot groups was smaller than without the muzzle brake, and follow through on the shot was much easier with the brake in place. That is one of the great benefits of having a braked rifle for longer range targets.
Which brings up the subject of blank cartridge loads for the .300 Winchester Magnum. Now that, my Ghillie-clad friends, is truly a hard (if not impossible) to find commercially-produced item. The vast majority of blanks are designed for a LARGE muzzle blast and flash for theatrical use, NOT A GOOD THING for tactical shooters trying to hide from a hawk-eyed observer.
An e-mail to Sierra Bullets Tech Services solved the problem before it became a major annoyance. Their suggestion was a light charge of pistol powder and the remainder of the case filled with Cream of Wheat cereal. Something along the lines of what rifle cartridge wildcatters have done for decades to fire form their cases. But what about crimping the end closed in a manner that will develop a loud enough report and not expel a projectile that could endanger any observers? Potting an observer during a stalk is, as the British are fond to say, "Really Bad Form, Old Chap."
C-H Tool & Die/4-D Custom Die Co. just happens to make a .30 caliber Blank Crimp Die (part # BC030) that threads into a conventional reloading press. I e-mailed them to verify that it will work with the .300 Win. Mag., then promptly ordered a test sample. They informed me that there was a very large demand for this gem and it would be a few weeks until they got caught up with another production run. Time was not a severe problem, as I could quickly fabricate a cardboard end plug for the blanks if necessary.
I took a box of once-fired brass for "#1 rifle," deprimed it, cleaned up the pockets and vent holes, and then reprimed it using Federal Gold Medal Match primers (Part # GM215M) as I happened to have a large supply on hand for the A-191 clone load development.
I threw a light charge of Bull's eye via my Redding 3BR match powder measure directly into the case, and filled the remaining volume with Cream of Wheat cereal (you should have seen the priceless expression on my wife's face when, while standing in the check out line at the grocery store, Mr. pete "I Don't Eat Breakfast" R suddenly ran off and grabbed a box of single serving packets and then returned to the check out line). I loaded twenty cases this way, then placed them one at a time in the star crimp forming die and readied them for testing. Range firing revealed that the report was satisfactory, and the Cream of Wheat left a slight dust/ muzzle signature. I packed the rest of the blanks into a 10 round ammo sleeve and placed it in a zip-lock baggie for use at The Sniper Rendezvous.
During the construction of my Ghillie suit, I began to cogitate on the best way to discretely cover "#1 rifle" for observed stalking events. The simplest way is to paint the rifle in its entirety with a suitable color scheme. Difficulty arises here with exactly what is a suitable paint scheme? What is the "playing field"? A grassy field? Old-growth tree forest? The forest edge? Swamp? Beach? Desert? Mountain area? Or an insidious combination of any of the above?
One thing is for certain: the basic black-on-black "#1 rifle" sticks out in most of them like the proverbial sore thumb, especially the two big field busts: the muzzle and objective lens, which stand out as big black circles to the observer. Yet, I did not want to paint this particular rifle and be locked into one color pattern. The answer to the dilemma I found in a local hunting and fishing store this past August. Hunter's Specialties markets an elasticized cloth rifle/shotgun cover.
After purchase and partial installation of this Realtree Advantage camouflage pattern sock (for lack of a better term), I found it far too tight around the scope, rings, and bolt of "#1." The base concept is a sound one for a shotgun or smaller, slimmer sporter rifle. The problem is fitting this around a wide body tactical stock, large Badger scope mounts, and scope with large turret caps, such as the Leupold Tactical series. Even the M3 with its low and wide caps leaves quite a large signature.
Sitting around dumbly staring at the sock, the residual bits and pieces for my ghille jacket, and workbench odds and ends trying to figure how to resolve the size problem resulted in a simple, yet absolutely barbaric, solution. I ripped the main seam of the sock open from the buttstock end to the beginning of the barrel shroud. This resulted in a split that ended right at the base for the Harris bipod on the forearm. The bipod as "flitched" from my 700 Police .308 was already fully painted in a sand and OD green color, which blended well with the Advantage pattern sock coloration, and saved me the trouble of having to paint another one.
First, I affixed a series of self-adhesive hook and pile tape strips to the sock seam edges with a ribbon of Shoe Goo. Next, I applied weight along its length to evenly spread the Goo. I then put the sock in my car while at work to dry, as it was HOT and lockable (to keep the kids away from it). After drying for 24 hours, I again fitted the sock over the rifle and carefully incised holes for the scope turrets with a #11 Exacto knife, the rear cut off to fit just over the Butler Creek eyepiece cover. The cuts for the scope could be reinforced with denim or canvas fabric and more Shoe Goo for durability if their strength is perceived to be a problem.
The objective lens "black hole" I covered with a bootie made from a small piece of Advantage netting held to the objective lens housing with a couple pieces of precut Realtree Advantage camo tape affixed to a non-stick backer. The Gardner-modified Speed Bolt knob, ejection port, and rear of the stock I left bare, as they are covered by the Ghillie head net/veil. I carefully range tested this setup to ensure that there were no problems with the function of the rifle.
Installation of my modified sock takes all of two or three minutes from storage in a zip-lock baggie located in a detachable side pouch on my field pack to in place over the front end of the rifle. A similar sock could be made in both a winter white and desert pattern. An additional gauze roller bandage is in my backpack first-aid kit for just such a purpose. Further natural garnish can be added to the sock with more externally applied Velcro, rubber bands, or 550 cord to blend with local vegetation. Total weight for the sock is a whopping five ounces.
I now plan to spend a lot of time on load development, and maybe a new "match grade" barrel, Badger Ordnance barrel lug, Badger Ordnance floorplate, and a minor bit of action truing.