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
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
"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
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...
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!