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July 2005
Gerhard Schroeder

Certain types of work we really don't mind. Some tasks are downright enjoyable. That sort of thing happened to me in the spring of 2005. My son Josh had moved to Bozeman, Montana the previous August. To study, he said, but I'd bet decent amounts of money that exploring the snow-covered slopes on his snowboard was the primary objective. Either way, he's in Montana now, and I'm envious. That feeling intensifies every time I watch some hunting action from the big sky country on the MEN'S Channel.

A few months back Josh had inquired about his 'old' shotgun. He's not the passionate hunter like his dad or uncle. Turns out that his room mates did some bird hunting. And remembering the mountain of prime red meat that his big Arizona bull elk had yielded, he reached the frugal conclusion that hunting could be both exciting and a measurable benefit to the food budget. The kid needed some hunting tools!

Well, his 'old' shotgun, actually a brand new H&R from WalMart at the time, then with its stock cut way back to fit the frame of a 10-year old, had found a new home with young boys eager to slay doves. And though I could easily lend him several big game rifles for deer or elk, none were of such status that I could just let them permanently reside in Bozeman. So, suddenly I found myself on a mission - find sonny boy an inexpensive but rugged set of meat guns.

The shotgun dilemma solved itself almost too easily. Within days I was fondling a used but very nice Remington 870 Magnum. I would not see Josh for awhile, reason enough to get this pump bloody in Arizona first. Allow me here to personally thank a couple of mallards and scaups for their support in this matter. They also delighted on the dinner table! Also my apology to the 870, I much prefer stack barrels. The pump lags in all categories, except shell capacity (though I never hurt anything with that third blast). But for the money, I can't fault this great country for embracing pump actions. Josh visited at the end of February, and gladly took the 870, plus several boxes of field loads.

The rifle need took longer to fulfill. At the next gun show I spied this fine-looking piece, but could not quite recognize it. So Herr Oberst (Kelly) got a "what is that one"? I will never forget how his eyes lit up when "that's a Sako - you'd better buy it NOW" rolled almost threatening across his lips. It actually was an H&R, built on a Sako L61 action. Luckily, the .300 Winchester Magnum bore was filthy, so reducing the price to 'really great buy' went swiftly. The real issue, however, was with the Oberst. Let's just say that he made it quite clear that this Sako in disguise was his rifle, and he would buy it from me soon. Maybe he had a point. This beauty belonged in the hands of a rifle connoisseur, instead of a young might-be-hunter who won't appreciate this treasure. I played with it for a few weeks, never having touched off .300 Mags before, and then reluctantly turned it over to Kelley. It is a fine rifle indeed, although there's too much shine off the blueing. And I know Kelly would have killed me if I'd taken spray paint to fix that!

Back to the drawing board. My ideal scenario would have been to go to the next Crossroads gun show and pick up a Remington 700 in .308 Winchester, scoped, for about three bills. Well, there weren't any, nothing even close to it. This is always a big show, and hours later we were literally in the last building, when I spotted a sporterized Springfield. Wanting to accomplish my mission, with little haggling it was in my hands for 140 bucks. Just then, and I mean less than a minute after money had changed hands, my other scout, Mike's buddy Ken, returned with exciting news that he had found 'my rifle'. To which I replied that I had just picked up the 30-06. Curiosity had kicked in, however, so I pried for details. "Savage 7Mag, ugly as hell, only $140". "What's wrong with it?" "Nothing besides the paint".

Dammit, I had to check it out. The Savage was literally on the last table in the last building. Oh yeah, it was really ugly, too! When the guy before me put it back down while his head was slightly swaying side to side, I fetched it up for inspection. All moving parts were functional, the barrel rust free but in need of a few soaked patches, and the trigger that typical factory atrocity. I've never studied Savage rifles, so this seemed like a later model. It had that Savage logo laser-etched onto the bolt body. It even had Leupold scope base and rings. But the stock, man! If you've seen most of my guns, beauty certainly does not come to mind. This Savage, however, even made me gag. It looked like somebody had 'upgraded' the stock with pool deck paint, dark green, rough like asphalt, and shiny. I can't stand 'shiny' on weapons, and hate it on hunting equipment. Cussing out the trigger, I put that thing back on the table, then made a face as if I'd do the lady her biggest favor ever, and asked if she'd take $125 for it. There was silence, for a least half a minute, while her mental gears were grinding hard. "OK".

'Ugly Green' received a closer checkout at home. The 7mm Remington Magnum chambering did not surprise me. It seems that at each show there's one on every other table. The caliber seems to be falling out of favor. For meat, I can't find much wrong with it, except that you will know when it goes off with full-house loads. Anyone going after a new rifle would be better off with one of the recent short magnums. They have practically the same field performance, but come in a much handier, better balanced outfit. OK, so I did not find my beloved .308. Heck, for Montana the 7mm seemed even more ideal. At least from what I've seen on the MEN'S channel, one is more likely to make a longer shot at big critters. Besides, it isn't my shoulder that will be pounded. The bore cleaned up nicely. Locking lugs showed decent engagement marks. And the barrel already avoided all contact with wood. Overall, this is an 'average' tool. Average weight, average barrel length and thickness, average bolt smoothness, average balance.

In short order some old 7mm Mag brass, left over from my stint with a Ruger #1, was filled up with a variety of recipes. The trigger does have adjustments for engagement and over-travel, so those got tweaked. Pull weight remains high due to that wire spring that can not be easily improved - that I know of, anyway, and a $70 aftermarket gadget was out of the question. Overall, though, that trigger turned out 'not so bad', very crisp, may two or three pounds heavier than desired. I had already found a good deal for a fixed 6-power Leupold in the local paper. Josh's meat gun was now anxious to make noise.

Say what you want about "salvage" rifles. They may look cheap, but the word out there is that they do shoot. This one was no exception. All loads, and I mean from 100 to 175 grains, from super light to maximum, shot under an inch. Lesson learned: trigger weight seems not as critical as trigger travel (yes, I had placed a folded towel between shoulder and stock). The point is that after about eight or so 3-shot groups with all those different loads the Savage had proven itself as accurate indeed (more than it has a right to, if you'd ask me). No need for further paper perforation when dealing with a meat gun. I would not have complained about groups twice their actual sizes. Better yet, the deer and elk loads (162 gr Hornady soft points on top of 65 grains RL22 and 175 Nosler Partitions fueled by 62 gr RL22) as well as a plinker load (140 gr Rem SP with 53gr RL15) shot so close together that from a practical point of view you can just hold 'on'.

Of course I got off the bench with it. Same result here, that heavy crisp trigger wasn't too much of a liability to slap rocks offhand. I fired the rig about sixty times and declared it 'ready for meat'. On the way home the thought occurred that if I had to hunt with this thing from now on, I might not complain too much. Back in the garage the 7mm bore enjoyed a few more patches. One final task remained. Retrieving two cans of 'Extra Flat' camo spray paint (I would not want to waste this precious stuff on a weapon that doesn't shoot), the entire outfit (OK, not the lenses and muzzle) became personalized, a tan base coat interrupted by dark green stripes. There's nothing magic about this custom look, just easy to do. Some may argue that this Savage is even uglier now, but what do they know? With a cheap gun like this wielding spray cans didn't take a lot of nerve, either. I installed a sling, and mission accomplished, the rig is 'Montana ready'! A minute-of-angle rifle in potent-enough caliber and with Leupold scope for two and a half bills - now that's inexpensive and rugged!

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