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>> The Perfect Elk Rifle :: By Marshall Stanton on 2001-08-09
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Campfire talk eventually comes around to rifles and cartridges, and pursuit of the mythical perfect rifle.  This wet, dreary, cold windswept night was no exception.  Our camp, situated near the west boundary of Crater Lake National Park, was an odd mix of hunters, many of whom I had only met a few months before.  I had moved from Klamath Falls, Oregon to Medford, Oregon, that year in a transfer with my employer, and although not that far from my roots, still the company of companions had changed, and in the spirit of camaraderie, I had been invited to join in with some of my fellow workers and their annual elk camp.  

Our hunting area was vaguely familiar to me, as I had hunted it several years before for a few days during an earlier hunt to the Huckleberry Mountain and Thousand Springs area hunting fall black bear.  We camped at about 5,800 feet elevation, near the Union Creek divide, with the huckleberries being past their prime, and all the underbrush in full, vivid fall color.  Fire danger was extreme, as there had been no fall rains, and the summer was unseasonably hot.  The temperatures setting up camp were in the mid 60's, and evening breezes gave just the slightest hint of fall, being just somewhat chilly.

The first two days of season proved both uneventful, and unbearably hot in the late afternoons.  Amongst our party only a few cows and calves had been seen, and no sign of a bull.  However, the night prior to our third day afield, a fast tracking storm blew in with a bitter cold furry, and morning greeted sleep deprived hunters with a windblown mixture of snow and rain.  Winter had begun in the high Cascades!  Game kegged up tight in thick hemlock and spruce thickets, not moving the entire day, and being filled with anticipation that comes with changing weather all members of our hunting party spent the entire day afield expectantly seeking those big bulls that move down out of Crater Lake National Park with the coming of snow.  

Well, the game simply didn't move, and all we succeeded in doing was getting thoroughly soaked to the bone and chilled to teeth chattering depths.  Most hunter's gear after this wet, sloppy day was equally soaked and evening chores after dinner included drying out packs, outer clothing and equipment.  Of course all guns sorely needed careful attention before retiring for the night.

The storm finally abated nearly ten o'clock in the evening, and a bright, clear star-studded canopy unfolded above us as the temperatures plummeted.  The camp fire was stoked high, and we took to task cleaning and oiling our rifles around the campfire.  Sure enough, the talk of elk, rifles and cartridges grew from a few disinterested comments, to a roaring debate.  Represented in our camp were virtually all of the standard belted magnum cartridges, from 7mm Remington Magnum to .375 H&H, and each hunter in turn, and  many out of turn, sang the praises of their pet loudenboomer.

As for me, well, I had been working on a new heavy game brush rifle that late summer and early fall, putting an E.R. Shaw barrel on a VZ24 action chambered for .458 Win. Mag.  The rifle was still in the white, and the stock unfinished, bedded and glassed, and a Williams receiver rear and shorty ramp front sights installed and sighted in with preliminary loads.  This rifle, at this point with a very block effect stock, unpolished barrel and action, with the stock military safety, and no cartridge designation stamped on the barrel, was one ungainly looking ugly stick to be sure.  I had soaked down the stock with a generous amount of tongue oil before departing for elk camp, and given the barreled action a once over of gun oil.  My ammo consisted of handloads using Lee 510 grain RNGC bullets sized .459" loaded over a stiff charge of H335 in a mixed lot of fire-formed brass.  Being very much on a shoestring budget, and bulk brass as we enjoy now, not then available, my .458 Win. Mag. brass supply consisted of everything from 7mm Remington Magnum to .338 Win. Mag. cases that had been fire-formed with a charge of Red Dot and cornmeal to straighten them out.  Amazingly, this rag-tag assortment of brass, and the very generic bullet managed to shoot better than I could see the iron sights with this half-baked project gun!  Being the newest and latest edition to my shooting battery, of course it had to go elk hunting!  Our terrain and cover dictated shots at a maximum of 125 yards, so the .458 should have been potent elk medicine!

Now, with a mental picture of my ugly stick, we re-enter the elk rifle conversation.  As the praises and accolades rose first from one and then another about their particular rifle, while we cleaned them, I held my tongue, and said little, just an uh-uh here and an hmmm there.  Finally one of my new compadres had to ask the inevitable question.  "Stanton, what's that abortion you're carrying?"  Without a hesitation, I replied, "Oh, this, it's just my generic magnum, you might call it the perfect elk rifle!" 

"What do ya mean 'generic elk rifle'? There's no such thing!"

"Oh, sure there is.", I replied "Toss me one of your cartridges and I'll show you!"  My pigeon bit hard, and threw me a .375 H&H.  I carefully made sure that the military safety was in the upright position to lock the firing pin, then dropped the big .375 down the chamber and closed the bolt behind it, then opened the bolt and extracted the round like I knew what I was doing (what I didn't do, was try to eject it!  Instead I simply pushed the case down, free of the extractor) and handed the round back to it's owner.  One-by-one, each of our hunting party passed me their pet cartridge, and deliberately, and dramatically, I chambered them after feeding from the magazine, then ejected them each after chambering with a gusto and bravado, to display the "versatility"  of my home-grown elk rifle.

Heads shook, and voices grumbled as my hunting partners each stumbled off to their sleeping bags.  While being great guys, they weren't exactly gun gurus, and marveled at such a wonderfully flexible rifle!  We all returned home after several more days without another word being spoken about rifles, elk and cartridges, and I never did say any more about my wonderful all around elk rifle!  It was a grand time!

Yes, they were great guys, but other than work, and enjoying hunting we really didn't have much in common.  Following years were spent in other camps, but this one has always been a great memory.

I wish I could take credit for being so quick witted about my response, but my friend and many time hunting partner, Peter Thorniley had a similar experience with a .450 Watts that he scratch built, and it was his wit that inspired my reply that wonderful evening...

 

 Please, keep in mind that the above story is not meant to express or imply that a .458 Winchester Magnum, can or should be fired with any other ammunition other than that for which it was chambered.  A potentially dangerous or fatal result can occur if any other belted cartridge were to be fired in these guns.  It is possible to chamber most belted magnum cartridges in a .458 Winchester Magnum, but at no time should they ever be fired in any firearm other than those which are specifically chambered for that round!

 

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