Man, by his nature is a tinkerer. From the time we are little boys we like to take things apart, modify them, improve them, change them, fix them up. Even as adults, the urge is an itch that has to be scratched. Is there a hunter/shooter who has not walked into a gun shop, eyed the weapons on the used rack and not longed to take one home, give it a good cleaning, make a few changes and just see how good it shoots? I doubt it. So what the heck, a man never has too many guns, right?
I am always on the lookout for the perfect project rifle, so when I ran across the used gun rack at my local sporting goods store, I naturally eyed the ones that looked interesting and kept coming back to a Ruger Model 77 in .257 Roberts. From the start, it fit all the criteria I have set for a "project rifle."
First, it was for sale by a reputable dealer at a fair price for the condition the rifle.
Second, the caliber was one I found interesting and would make a dandy deer round for whitetails in the southeast and even antelope and mule deer if a trip to the west presented itself.
Third, the Ruger, like most other moden quality production rifles, was not in need of any major gun smithing work. It was scope compatable, had a good single stage trigger and a modern, safety.
To make a truly custom rifle, there are several factors that must be addressed. First is accuraccy. How well does the gun perform on the range? This is the first question I always ask, before spending time and money investing in the other aspects of making a rifle perfect. Once I am satisfied the rifle will shoot well(either straight from the store or with some modifications, I then move to the next phase which is the fit and finish of the rifle. This encompasses overall lenght, and wood condition. Finally, I turn my attention to optics, for a rifle will only perform as well as the optics mounted on top.
While the Ruger was the perfect project rifle, it was not without flaws. After firing a test group, it became apparent the accuracy was less than I had expected.
Many things can contribute to poor accuracy, but thankfully, most are readily corrected.
A fouled barrel, excessive forend pressure, unstable bedding, a loose scope or a shot out barrel can all be the root of the problem. It really is a matter of trial and error and I do the cheapest, easiest fixes first and work up the line from there, ultimately rebarreling the action if neccessary (luckily, it seldom is).
The forend of the stock was pressing against the underside of the barrel. The bore also looked dirty and possibly neglected; two possible accuracy related problems and a good starting place.
Disassembly of the rifle was quick and easy, the action screws were removed and the barreled action slipped easily from the stock. An inspection of the trigger assembly and action turned up nothing that would raise a red flag. These was no rust or corrosion.
The scope was removed along with the scope rings. The bases on a Ruger are integral to the action. On actions where bases are required to mount a scope, the base screws should be checked for tightness.
I decided to start with the basics and give the gun a good cleaning. With today's high velocity loads, combined with pure copper bullets like the Barnes X bullet, copper fouling can build up and destroy accuraccy. A casual cleaning will just not get the bore clean.
Luckily though, there are several companies that make good copper solvents. I take a patch and soak it in solvent and run it through the bore several times. Then I let it sit, and give it time to work. The next step is to run a brush through the bore. With copper solvent, a nylon brush should be used as the solvent will eat away a copper or bronze brush. I soak the nylon brush in solvent then pass it through the bore ten times. After the bore has been scrubbed, I start running dry patches through it. If there is copper fouling, the patches will come out with a blueish, green tint. I repeate this whole process from the start until the patches come out clean. After I am done, a light coat of oil (applied with a patch) keeps the bore from picking up any surface rust.
Next the wood in the barrel channel was removed to eliminate the pressure point on the barrel. This was done by using a dowel rod, wrapped in sandpaper and worked in the channel. Multiple re-fittings of the barreled action and stock were needed to judge the outcome. Had the barrel not been allowed to free-float, glass bedding of the action would have been a must.
Selecting a scope was the hardest part of the process. The selection came down to one of two. A Leupold Vari-X II, or a Cabela's Alaskan Guide. The Cabela's scope was already mounted on one of my favorite big-game rifles, a .35 Whelen, so I opted to leave the scope there since it was zeroed and I had plans to hunt wild hogs in some heavy brush later that year.
The Leopold was also on a rifle, a bull-barrel .243, but it was not the scope I wanted on that rifle, so it got the call for the Ruger. After bore sighting, the rifle was ready for another trip to the range.
Using the same ammunition utilized for the initial test, after cleaning, sanding the forend and adding a new scope, the .257 Roberts now grouped inside one inch.
Now that the gun shot well, it was time to address the fit and finish.
The exterior of the metal was cleaned of tape residue with Goo-Gone. Final inspection found the bluing in great condition with a little wear around the muzzle, likely from being carried in a gun scabbard on an ATV.
Touch-up bluing was a a great option.
The stock was a tad too long and now was the time to tackle that project.
After removing the recoil pad from the stock a wrapping of masking tape was used to mark the amount of the stock to be shortened. The tape will also reduce splintering. Using a fine bandsaw blade the excess length was removed. The tape was removed and the recoil pad replaced. The pad was sanded to again match the stock contour.
The stock was now ready for refinishing. There are a number of good refinishing kits on the market, each with complete instructions. Since the stock of the Ruger had only very minor blemishes, I opted to do just light sanding and a hand rubbed oil finish. The checkering was still fairly sharp, so I left it as is.
A new sling and the rifle is ready for the opening day of deer season. It fits me perfectly, is accurate enough to cleanly harvest a deer at any range I feel comfortable enough to shoot at. Best of all, I did all the work myself and derive great please when carrying it afield.
Look for a project rifle the next time you visit your favorite gun shop. It's a fun way to create a custom shooter, just for you.
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