Often a hunting rifle will require some customising to transform it to what you want. It’s not always the case that ‘enhancements’ are to improve accuracy or aesthetics. The following are some of the changes I’ve done to my hunting rifles. On new rifles some modifications may void the warranty and if that is a major concern to you, then perhaps wait until any such period is over.
A proper bedding job which may include floating the barrel and sometimes using aluminium pillars often improves the shot-to-shot consistency of a rifle. On my .270 after it was pillar bedded, groups virtually halved in size. On the other hand, a Ruger .338 RCM already shot well and after floating and bedding, it still performed the same.
There are different schools of thought on how a hunting rifle should be bedded. Some argue that with a heavy barrelled varmint rifle the barrel should be completely free floating but with a light hunting barrel the bedding compound should support a centimetre or two of the barrel. Others say that with a full-length aluminium bedding block, to just bed around the recoil lug. There are several bedding compounds on the market ‑ I use a Ciba-Geigy with equal portions of resin and hardener, mix in some black die and coat the bottom of the action and action screws with a release agent.
It is advisable to watch someone who is skilled at bedding rifles before you attempt it yourself.
It’s hard to squeeze a heavy trigger without it moving the rifle off the point of aim. However, if the trigger is too light, especially when shooting offhand, it’s easy to inadvertently discharge the rifle a split second before you are properly aligned on the vital zone of the animal you are hunting. It can also be unsafe to have too light a trigger.
I bought a secondhand rifle that had undergone a trigger job and when I felt it at the gunshop, it seemed really nice and light. The problem was that upon being cocked, occasionally it would discharge – a dangerous situation. When the trigger was made heavier, there were no more infrequent discharges. Unless you really know what you are doing, trigger jobs should be left to the experts.
There are some good after-market trigger units that are superior to the factory triggers. For a heavy varmint rifle on a Remington action, the Jewel trigger (with top safety and bolt release) is exceptional set at 16oz. On a walk-around hunting rifle, I’m usually satisfied with the factory trigger if it can be adjusted to 3lb let-off.
When shooting rabbits in the 1980s in the Hunter Valley with a .220 Swift during one late afternoon, I borrowed a mate’s Remington 40-X chambered in .22-250 before he re-chambered it to .22-250 Ackley Improved. His rifle had a much heavier 27¼” barrel compared to the factory medium heavy 24″ barrel on my Remington 700. What impressed me about his rifle was the way it held dead still. When my rifle was eventually re-barrelled, a much heavier 27″ barrel was put on. What a difference it made when trying to keep the scope still on a 350-yard rabbit.
The original barrel on a .17-222 would not shoot the 25-grain V-MAXs accurately despite exhaustive testing and having a one in nine twist. Although it shot the Hornady and Berger 25-grain hollow-points okay, it is the V-MAX that has an acceptable ballistic coefficient. When the barrel was replaced with a Pac-Nor one in nine twist 3-groove stainless barrel, not only did it shoot the 25-grain V-MAXs well, but there was less copper fouling of the barrel and groups would not significantly open up after about 19 shots without cleaning.
Often factory barrels shoot fine and you wouldn’t replace one of these with a custom barrel until it’s been shot out.
Some rifles have a magazine length which is a fair bit longer than the standard length of the cartridge it’s chambered for. For example, the Winchester Model 70 magazine is much longer than the standard length of the .338 Win Magnum cartridge. The 225-grain Barnes TSX protrudes deeply into the case if seated at the standard length of 3.34″.
After having the chamber long-throated, those projectiles can be seated out further at 3.52″ without touching the lands and the cartridge still fits in the magazine. More powder can be added to increase the velocity of the projectiles. The 225-grain TSX projectiles chronograph at 2950fps out of the 25″ barrel on my .338 Win Magnum giving velocities close to .340 Weatherby Mag equivalents. The spacer is easy to remove from the magazine.
Many hunters like to have iron sights as well as the scope on their hunting rifle. These can be useful if the scope suffers damage or is knocked out of alignment or for close-range shooting in thick cover.
On low magnification of the scope the front-sight ghosts into the sight picture and I prefer not to have it. If the iron sights are attached by screws, they are easy to remove. If they are a fixture, I have them ground off and the area re-bead blasted if a stainless barrel or the barrel re-blued if chrome moly.
Heavy dangerous game rifle
The magazine was extended on my CZ so it can hold four of the large .450 Rigby cartridges. On heavy dangerous game there’s always the possibility that the animal will charge and in such a scenario you won’t have time to reload the magazine.
The big bore magnum cartridges put quite a deal of stress on the stock so a cross-bolt was added in a critical area to reduce the risk of the stock splitting under recoil. The heavy recoil can cause the front sling swivel to catch on any rest or even injure the left hand if the forearm of the stock is not held firmly. So a metal barrel band sling swivel alleviates this. The big bore rifles need to weigh more than normal hunting rifles and a metal barrel band sling swivel is stronger than a sling swivel screwed into a wooden stock.
Although the plastics in modern rifles are generally superior to those used 30 to 40 years ago, I formed a preference for metal parts when the aggressive bore solvent I used to clean a rifle reacted with the plastic internal magazine housing. On that rifle when experimenting with different torque settings on the action screws, the same plastic magazine housing/triggerguard cracked. Although the custom-made steel magazine housing/triggerguard is heavier, it is vastly superior to the factory plastic piece which was replaced.
I try to replace plastic parts with custom-made steel options where possible. Titanium, if it were easier to work with and less expensive, would be even better in some applications than steel because of its light weight, strength and corrosion resistance.
Wood stocks look and feel good but they can swell up in bad weather and alter the point of impact. They scratch and become damaged easily and are heavy. Some factory synthetic stocks have too much flex in the forearm, don’t feel right or are not pleasing to the eye. The relatively inexpensive factory synthetic stock on the Ruger Hawkeye in contrast is stiff enough, rugged, has acceptable aesthetics and feels okay, so I am happy with it.
A McMillan Edge stock can significantly reduce the weight of a rifle. McMillan stocks are high quality. On heavy barrelled varmint-type rifles I quite like the HS-Precision stocks with the full-length aluminium bedding block. There are a variety of good quality after-market stocks available.
Usually with some testing of various loads you can make your rifle shoot quite well for hunting purposes. However, I had a rifle that I couldn’t make group satisfactorily with any load combinations tried.
The inside of the barrel was checked and seemed okay. The action was correctly bedded into the stock and the action screws had the right torque. The factory crowning of the muzzle was redone and the bolt lugs checked to ensure they engaged evenly – no change. The bolt face was squared – no improvement. I decided to put a custom stainless barrel on.
When the gunsmith checked the front of the receiver he said that it wasn’t square and the thread was not cut right. The gun shot really well with the new barrel and after he squared the front of the receiver and cut a new thread. He thought the problem was the front of the receiver and thread rather than the old barrel.
If you are putting together a light mountain rifle, the Talley one-piece aluminium scope mounts and an aluminium bolt shroud will save several ounces. An aluminium floorplate also cuts the weight. None of these parts by themselves saves much weight but together and with a lightweight stock and a thin profile barrel, a very light mountain rifle can be had.
These are only a few of the many ways you can customise your hunting rifle.