The Column, No. 27:
2007 American Custom Gunmakers Guild / Firearms Engravers Guild of America Show
By Chuck Hawks
Guns and Shooting Online's Gunsmithing Editor and Firearms Engravers Guild member Rocky Hays and I attended the combined 2007 American Custom Gunmakers Guild / Firearms Engravers Guild of America Show. The Silver Legacy hotel and casino in Reno, Nevada (again) hosted the show. Running concurrently in a separate venue at the Silver Legacy was the American Bladesmith Society knife show. So there was plenty for your hard working representatives from Guns and Shooting Online to see and do in Reno on January 26th, 27th and 28th, 2007.
We stayed at the Silver Legacy, which offered entirely satisfactory rooms, a good coffee shop, and excellent service throughout. It has proven over the years to be an excellent venue for the Show. The El Dorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus properties are all internally connected, so anyone staying at any of the three hotel/casinos has access to all and never needs to step outside unless they choose to do so.
What you see at the ACGG/FEGA Show is a convention hall full of tables displaying beautifully made and engraved firearms. Everywhere you look there is beautiful metal work, high-grade walnut stocks, precise inletting, lavish engraving, and bountiful hand checkering at 22, 24, 26 lpi and finer.
One of the highlights of this year's Show was the ACGG #22 auction arms, named "A Pair of Sevens." This is a set of two custom built American classic hunting rifles, a 7mm Mauser and a 7mm Rem. Mag., based on Mauser 98 bolt actions. A maximum of 4,000 raffle tickets were to be sold, at a price of $20 each, with the lucky drawing winner becoming the owner of A Pair of Sevens.
These two rifles were displayed, with accessories, inside of a glass-topped coffee table (made by gunmaker Jim Dubell), which was included with the rifles as part of the prize. The metalwork on these exquisite rifles was by James Dubell (Colville, Washington), stocks by David Christman (Delhi, Louisiana), and engraving by Diane Scalese (Big Sandy, Montana). The rifles were stocked in English walnut from Don Cantwell Wood Products, bottom metal and triggers were donated to the project by Ted Blackburn (CNC Specialty Products Inc. of Levan, Utah), and Leupold & Stevens donated a pair of riflescopes to the project. Rocky, representing Guns and Shooting Online, purchased a ticket but unfortunately did not win.
The great majority of the custom built rifles on display at the Show were either bolt action or single shot types, with a small smattering of double rifles. Classic calibers such as 7x57, .270 Winchester and .30-06 seemed to be the most popular. The Mauser Model 98 and Winchester Model 70 actions were the most common basis for custom bolt action rifles. Ruger No. 1 and Dakota Model 10 falling block actions were popular for single shot rifles. There were also some custom built single shot and bolt actions, the latter mostly based on Mauser 98 principles. The smaller number of custom built shotguns on display were usually double-barreled guns.
Stocks for rifles and shotguns were made of wood, usually high-grade walnut. Thin shell European walnut predominated. Outstanding checkering in generous patterns was the norm. I don't remember seeing a single synthetic stock, or even a laminated wood stock, at the Show. Nor do I remember ever seeing so many examples of fine, wrap around checkering in traditional point and fleur-de-lis patterns on display in one place.
Rifle stocks of the modern classic style predominated. Straight combs and shadow line cheek pieces were common. Pistol grips were typically moderately curved and slender, as were forends. Ebony or black buffalo horn forend tips set at 90 degrees were popular.
Many "classic" or "American" style production rifle stocks are superficially similar to the typical custom stock, but the custom built stock is thinner and feels much better in the hands. It can, of course, also be made to measure. Most factory built rifle stocks contain too much wood and need to be drastically slenderized. The more time you spend handling custom built rifles the more you appreciate the differences.
For these exotic and expensive custom built rifles, Leupold was the overwhelming riflescope brand of choice, mostly VX-II and VX-III models. I estimate that Leupold scopes were selected by the custom gunmakers and their customers at about a 50:1 ratio over all other brands combined. Our friends at Leupold & Stevens must be very pleased by this overwhelming vote of confidence at the highest level.
I am also fortunate (actually, I consider it good judgment) to live in the Pacific Northwest, which remains a hotbed of custom gunmakers and firearms engravers. I was able to meet gunmaker Reto Buehler (Medford, Oregon), gunmaker Al Lind (Lakewood, Washington), gunmaker/metalsmith Jim Dubell (Colville, Washington), stockmaker Kent Bowerly (Redmond, Oregon), stockmaker Dennis Earl Smith (Tygh Valley, Oregon), stockmaker Gary Goudy (Dayton, Washington), stockmaker Bruce Farman (Bremerton, Washington), checkerer Kathy Forster (Portland, Oregon), and checkerer Pat Taylor (Canby, Oregon).
Widely missed and fondly remembered by several of the gunmakers with whom I talked was my friend the late Larry Brace of Eugene, Oregon. Larry was one of the founders of the ACGG and I am proud to own two of his custom rifles, which have each been the subject of a Guns and Shooting Online article. Technical Assistant Bob Fleck also owns two Larry Brace rifles and Gunsmith Rocky Hays is still using some of Larry's tools, so we here at Guns and Shooting Online are acutely aware of his contribution to the Pacific Northwest gunmaking tradition.
I had a nice chat with Ralf Martini of Martini & Hagn Gunmakers, Ltd. Located in Canbrook, British Columbia, Ralf and Adof Hagn are building custom single shot rifles on the "System Hagn" falling block action, and also classic bolt action sporters on Mauser 98 actions. Together, we are attempting to arrange for a Guns and Shooting Online review of a Martini & Hagn falling block rifle.
I also passed a few minutes discussing German guns with Dietrich Apel, representing the German Gun Collectors Association, U.S.A. The Association web site can be found at: www.germanguns.com
Engravers showed shotguns, rifles, and handguns displaying their handiwork. And most of the custom gunmakers' guns were also engraved, with credit given to the engraver. I was able to converse with engravers Lee Griffiths (Hyde Park, Utah), Wm. Gamradt (Missoula, Montana), B. Kahau Chrisman (Cottonwood, Arizona), and of course our own Rocky Hays (Eugene, Oregon). George Sherwood, another fine Oregon based engraver who engraved my Winchester Model 21 shotgun as well as my Larry Brace .270 rifle, passed away several years ago and was sorely missed. Anyone who appreciates fine engraving needs to attend the ACGG/FEGA Show.
What do true custom rifles cost? Well, the price list from Hill Country Rifle Company (New Brunfels, Texas) shows that a "basic" wood stocked, American classic hunting rifle starts at $10,000. That does not include the cost of the action (figure $800 to be safe), stock blank (probably another $700 for high grade walnut), or extra embellishments such as wrap-around forend checkering (add $300), rust bluing (add $600 minimum), or engraving (the sky's the limit).
What it does include is a hand-stoned action, polished and jeweled bolt, factory tang reshaped to a sculptured pre-war configuration, a Krieger or Lilja barrel (installed, squared, and trued), custom hand inletting, HCR pillar bedding, crossbolts, and a satin hot blue of metal parts. You get Ted Blackburn bottom metal, a re-configured trigger bow, and a Jerry Fisher solid grip cap. The made to measure pistol grip stock features a shadow line cheek piece, up to 24 lpi (four-panel) point pattern checkering, 90 degree ebony forend tip, inletted sling swivel studs, hand rubbed oil finish, and a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad.
You also get a hunting rifle that looks, operates, and handles like a dream. It fits you, not "Mr. Average," and every time you throw it to your shoulder to sight on a game animal you'll be glad you spent the money.
After the Show, Rocky and I enjoyed cocktails and dinner with Jay and Kara Strite of Krist & Strite, Inc. Rocky does the engraving on the Krist custom revolvers, an example of which can be seen on Rocky's web site at: http://www.chuckhawks.com/newton-grant_engraving.htm
This was my first ACGG/FEGA Show, as I usually attend the SHOT Show in Las Vegas, which creates a scheduling conflict for me. But this year I chose to skip the SHOT Show, since it was held in Orlando, and that allowed me to attend the ACGG/FEGA Show instead. The Show is free to ACGG and FEGA members and accredited members of the press (like, ah, Guns and Shooting Online). The public is welcome, but is charged $20/day to attend. Since the show can pretty well covered in one day, it is $20 well spent. I had a great time at the Show, which hopefully will not be my last. I hope to see you in Reno next year!
Copyright 2007 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.