Wolf in sheep’s clothing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARichard Hampton knew what he wanted when he went to rifle maker Bob Harvey and pressured him into building his dream stalking rifle

I read with interest Mike Yardley’s article in November 2012, titled ‘A Sniper in Gentleman’s Clothing’ and thought I’d share my own, similar project with you. Some three years ago now I decided I was in the market for another custom build. Bob Harvey built my first some seven years earlier so back I went. In brief, the requirement was to use a 140-grain Sierra Game King bullet and get it travelling at 3,000fps from a barrel no longer than 26in with a 1:8 inch twist rate. I also wanted the rifle to be built on a traditional action, an original Mauser 1909 to be exact, and to look outwardly like a traditional, wooden-stocked hunting rifle. A high degree of accuracy was also a fundamental requirement.

After some research I found the ideal calibre, the 6.5×68. As this round was specifically designed to fit into the magazine box of a standard Mauser action it would be ideal. This calibre was the subject of Byron Pace’s ‘Calibre Hunter’ article in January of this year, so I won’t go into the history of it now. The only issue with the standard factory loads is that RWS does not load a 140-grain Sierra Game King bullet. As I already handload, this didn’t really present a problem as I could buy the brass and load my own.

Armed with my bright ideas and full of enthusiasm, I went to discuss this potential creation with Bob at his workshop. The sign on his workshop doors reads “Bob’s workshop, full of wisdom and all things mystical”. It is the last bastion of political incorrectness, and I love it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter I’d told Bob what I’d like him to make for me, I was subjected to the sort of over-the-glasses withering look a school teacher gives a petulant child. Fortunately I am used to this; traditional gunsmiths are a rare breed indeed. We discussed the action, which was no problem as he’d got two in stock. The barrel would be a Lothar Walther offering and all I needed to do was look on their website and select my choice of action, barrel profile, length, twist rate, calibre chambering, crown and moderator thread. Easy. Then the bad news arrived from the barrel manufacturer. I should say at this point that the standard twist rate for a 6.5×68 is 1:9.8in. This will not stabilise the long 140-grain projectiles adequately, hence my requirement of 1:8in. After some dialogue with Lowthar Walther I finally got my way and they made the barrel I wanted.

action was the next item we turned our attention to. The longer 140-grain projectiles are too long for the standard magazine box unless seated very deeply in the cartridge case. I wanted to be able to seat the bullet close to the lands and have the rounds feed through the magazine box unhindered. To ensure the correct length from base of case to bullet I used the Hornady Lock ‘n’ Load comparator with a dummy case I made up with the bullet of my choice. Bob cursed me repeatedly for this as it would mean he had extra work to do. He loves a challenge really. The bolt handle also had to be reshaped to a more useful angle and the bolt face had to be opened up slightly to accept the base of the 6.5×68 case.

Next was the iron sights, trigger and scope mounts. No traditional rifle is complete without iron sights. It’s like a dog with no ears – just wrong. All of these are available from Recknagel so we sat down and picked the appropriate components out of the catalogue. As you would expect from a German manufacturer, the quality is excellent.

The scope mount is a bridge type mount which spans the receiver and is removable in seconds, leaving low bases that allow the iron sights to be seen clearly. While it may not look the most traditional it works very well and supports the Nightforce scope equally so. I like the Nightforce scopes for their build quality and wide choice of reticles available in any scope. This is something most European manufacturers could learn from.

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As the muzzle is screw cut for a moderator we needed a method of hiding the threads when the moderator was not fitted. Bob had the great idea of fitting the fore sight to a bush. This means the fore sight screws onto the moderator threads and therefore completely hides them, ensuring the traditional look. The rear sight is a standard affair that can be adjusted easily.

Next on the agenda was wood. My choice is oil-finished English walnut, and Bob sourced me a stunning piece. This was shaped on the outside to a classic style and inlet to suit the now barrelled action complete with trigger. The barrelled action was then treated to a quality bedding job to ensure a proper fit.

that was left was for me to decide on decoration. I have always liked colour hardening so the magazine floor plate, bolt shroud and pistol cap would be treated to some. A little oak leaf engraving would also add to the Germanic theme. With that, the metalwork was sent off to be blacked and the woodwork chequered and oil finished by Bob.

Many moons passed and eventually I received a long-awaited telephone call. My rifle was now complete. When I arrived I was over the moon to see the end result. Now the fun was really about to start… once we’d got past the barrel break-in phase. This is boring but necessary. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores here as there is plenty of information on barrel manufactures’ websites for this. Barrel break-in complete, the load development could now begin.

Load data for the 6.5×68 is scant at best so I took another approach. I have the Sierra loading manual, which contains load data for the .264 Winchester Magnum. This is a very similar case capacity to that of the 6.5×68 so it would be a good place to start. I prepared my usual ten different loads, the first of which was the very lowest load less two grains of powder. For this trial I chose IMR 4831 as it’s a good all-rounder along with my usual Federal Gold Medal Match Magnum Primers. I always load four rounds per charge weight, shooting three over the chronograph to see how they group, taking note of the speed, and keep the fourth so I can copy it when I make up my next batch.

The first batch produced a group of about 1.5in at 100 yards with a muzzle velocity of 2,550fps through the Jet Z moderator. Not a bad start but more was expected. The following loads were then worked through steadily, ensuring the barrel was given chance to cool between strings and the occasional cleaning patch pushed through. The group started to shrink as the velocity increased. I got the 3,000fps I was after with loads to spare. By this time the three shot group had begun to cloverleaf nicely so I had already reached my goal. I kept going with my loads until I had used them all as a matter of interest. The heaviest load I used was pushing the 140-grain Sierra Game King out at 3,260fps and still achieving a cloverleaf group. I was stunned by this performance. The cases delivering this load showed absolutely no signs of over pressure whatsoever.

Once I’d settled on my load and run a batch off I took the rifle down to my local range and tested it at 300 and 600 yards. With basic hand-loaded hunting ammunition it will group 2-3in at 300 yards and 6-8in at 600 yards. I have no doubt this could be improved upon with target quality ammunition but 2-3in at 300 yards is more than good enough for stalking.

I have now been using this rifle for two years and there are a few scratches and marks showing up to add a little character. It’s shot Red, Fallow and Roe and does not cause any undue meat damage. The calibre is extremely flexible in application and is very accurate. Barrel life is said to be 1,000-1,500 rounds. This doesn’t sound much compared to a .308 but if you shoot 50 rounds a year through it that’s over twenty years of use. All in all it’s been a very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable journey and not as expensive as you may first think. I’m already planning the next one. ν

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