Time For a New Hunting Rifle – Sort Of

I’ve carried the same rifle deer hunting since the 80s.  I decided it was time for an update.  

The old rifle was a Remington 700 BDL in .30-06.  I bought it second-hand from a “friend of a friend” back in about 1988.  The rifle was left-handed (as am I) and it hadn’t been shot much but was a bit beat up cosmetically.  But I got a deal.  

I refinished the stock and the rifle looked nice, but I never got it to shoot very well.  I didn’t have the tools or the knowledge to do much with it for several years, but eventually, I had the bolt lugs lapped, pillars installed, action bedded, barrel floated, and a Timney trigger installed. 

After that, it shot “ok for hunting” (about 1.5 minutes I would guess).  The felt recoil with this rifle was always a bit more than I thought it should be.  I blamed that on the stock design.

  Some time ago, I built a 6.5-06 rifle for target shooting only (I had no intention to hunt with it – too heavy).  I wrote about it here.  I did this on a bit of a whim because of the popularity of the newest 6.5 cartridges.  I’ve been a .30 caliber guy all my life – .30-30, .308 Winchester, .30-06.  

I’m now a “born again” 6.5 guy.  I love this 6.5-06 cartridge and I decided that the old .30-06 needed a makeover.  

The old .30-06 became the doner rifle.  I kept the action, bottom metal, trigger, and glass from it.  I ordered a new barrel and stock.  

Action: Stock Remington 700 with the bolt lugs lapped (LH).

Trigger: Timney.

Bottom metal: Stock Remington 700 BDL. Barrel: Criterion Remage, 24 inches, sporter contour, chambered for 6.5-06.

Stock: Bell and Carlson sporter stock, BDL, long action, left hand.

Glass: Vortex Viper HSLR (6-24 X 50 FFP, MOA reticle).  

So I took the old .30-06 apart, spun the old barrel off, and installed the new one.  There is no machining required with the Remage barrel – just a barrel nut, a wrench for the barrel nut, and a set of headspace gauges – easy.  

The Bell and Carlson stock is designed to be a “drop-in.”  And for the action and bottom metal, I found that to be true – an excellent fit.  But B&C didn’t account for the Remage barrel nut.

  And – this stock was designed to duplicate the factory stock – the barrel channel was not free-floating – in fact, it had a pressure point up front just like the old original stock once had.  

Bell, in their instructions that came with the stock, warns against free floating or making any mods to the stock – this will “void the warranty.”  Right or wrong, I convinced myself that this would not do.   I opened the barrel channel up to accommodate the barrel nut.  I then glass-bedded the action and recoil lug with the “pressure point” in place in the stock – I did this to keep everything centered and to try to minimize how much rework I would have to do to the channel.  

Once the bedding was set up, I opened the barrel channel so that the stock did not touch the barrel.  I used the old “dollar bill” measurement – it was floating. 

Bell claims their aluminum bedding block extends from the back of the receiver to the front sling swivel stud.  I thought this should have worked.  

Took the finished rifle to the range for a test (using ammo loaded for the 6.5-06 bench rifle I had built earlier).  The results were not good.  Two and a half minutes at 100 yards was about the best I could do.  

Back to the drawing board.  I thought about ordering a different stock but couldn’t find one that met my needs and was free floating.  I did some research online and found that the old “dollar bill” measurement was probably not enough clearance. 

So I went back to the shop and opened the barrel channel up to around .040 to .060 clearance all the way around.  

As I mentioned, on that first range trip I used ammo I had from the earlier 6.5-06 build.  I got lucky – none of it SB sized and it chambers easily in both rifles.  In the earlier build, this ammo was about at max – I was starting to see pressure signs. 

In the sporter build, no sign of pressure at all.  My assumption (I have to take a few more measurements) is that the sporter barrel has a little more throat cut into it (more free bore). 

Anyway – I bumped the charge up a little for the next range trip after opening the barrel channel up.  

Of course, at this point, I’m thinking I’ve made a huge mistake.  I’ve voided the warranty on the stock, torn apart a trusted old hunting rifle that has served me well for decades, and have a “new” rifle that shoots worse than the old one.  I’m not feeling too good about this.  

The next trip to the range was quite a learning experience – and is the reason I decided to write this article.  

Since this is a hunting rifle, the only shot that is likely to count is the first shot (or maybe two) out of a clean, dry, and cold barrel.  So I thoroughly cleaned the barrel and took cleaning supplies to the range.   At the range, I cleaned the barrel and waited between each shot.  Every shot came from a cold clean barrel.  This of course takes forever and I’m not known for patience. 

The results were dramatic.  Group size at 100 yards came down to between .6 and .7 MOA.  But if I let that barrel warm up even a little, the group opened up to about 2 MOA.  The rifle is very sensitive to heat – run 5 rounds through it and the last two will be off 2 inches at 100 yards.  Keep it cool and clean – it will drive tacks.  I now wonder – in all my years of reloading, dialing, and tuning hunting rifles, how much I’ve been chasing heat.  If you take nothing else away from this article, take this paragraph with you – trust me.  

Now for the load.  The 6.5-06 is a wildcat, as far as I know, there is no factory ammo available for it.  Everything I’m working with here is hand loads.  In the sporter, my amped-up load showed no pressure signs and it printed quite well on the target. 

Because this is a wildcat, I’m not going to publish the exact recipe here (every rifle ever built may be – and probably is – different).  I’m running IMR 4350 behind a 143gr Hornady ELD-X bullet and using CCI BR-2 primers.  The load is near the max according to published data.

  After my encouraging trip to the range, my neighbor and I strapped a Magneto-Speed chrono on the rifle to see what I had.  

G1 BC on the bullet is .623.  Velocity (avg) 2933.  The standard deviation is slightly over 5 FPS.  Good load!   That is supersonic out to 1500 yards (or more) and retains 1500 ft/lbs bullet energy out to 500 yards.  Couple that with .7 MOA and I’m very happy with this hunting rifle.  I think she’ll do just fine.  

I should probably note:  I make my 6.5-06 brass from new Lapua .30-06 cases.  I neck turn the brass and I use bushing dies so that I can accommodate the neck thickness by changing bushings.  I also sort the loaded cartridges based on overall concentricity.  The range results above are all cartridges with .001 or less overall concentricity.  Out of a batch of 40, about half will be at or less than .001 TIR.  Redding comp dies.  

The upgrade, from what I already had, was the new stock and new barrel – about $700 evenly split between the two.  Not too bad 40 years later.  


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