By Stan Trzoniec
Custom Winchester Model 94 lever gun (top) and finely engraved Remington Model 1100
A custom rifle, like a Ferrari, is something we all dream about, but somehow never get around to purchasing. Not only is the cost prohibitive, but the wait from conception to finished product can take years.
But there is an alternative, and for those wanting a top-flight rifle to carry on a hunt of a lifetime or to pass on as an heirloom, listen up!
These guns are called factory customs, and just about every major manufacturer has them stashed in one corner of the plant. All are set up just for folks like you and me who want a special rifle but don’t want to take out a second mortgage to get one.
Remington, Weatherby, Browning and Winchester all offer factory customs, and Ruger now has joined them.
Delivery of one of these guns takes about a year. The choice of caliber is pretty much unlimited within standard cartridges. Accessories can vary from a simple engraved grip cap to the very best in wood. Here’s what’s available ...
Tucked away in the Mohawk Valley of upper New York state, the Remington Custom Shop is still run by my close friend Tim McCormack. Tim has been around for a long time, and his enthusiasm for the product shows in every rifle or shotgun that’s sent on its way from the plant. In fact, if you are in Ilion, N.Y., just stop in for a look. Visitors are welcome, and you can watch from a raised platform as craftsmen busily engrave, profile wood or set an action into a stock right there in front of you.
Buyers begin by selecting a cartridge. This can be anything from the petite .17 Remington to the larger magnum offerings like the .458 Winchester. Next, they choose a barrel length from 181Ú2 to 26 inches. The rifle can be a right- or left-handed model, with iron sights or a clean barrel. Metal finish can be bright or subdued. Wood choices are Claro, American or English walnut.
Classic or modern stock designs are there for the asking, as are fore-end tips in rosewood or ebony. The grip can be stylized to include rosewood, ebony, solid steel or even a skeletonized cap. Finish can be gloss or oil, and you can order a traditional buttpad in “Old English” or a skeleton plate. Length of pull is up to you, and you can even add a nameplate with your initials.
What upland hunter wouldn’t be happy with this Remington Model 1100? Fancy engraving is expensive, so budget your fantasies accordingly.
Popular customs from the Ilion plant include the No. 1 Rolling Block and the African Plains Rifle. A Model 700 Custom C grade is now available on a shorter turnaround. While it includes most of the usual accouterments of a custom gun, engraving is not available on this almost off-the-shelf rifle.
Having ordered three factory customs from the shop, I can vouch for not only their quality, but also their accuracy. My custom 40-XR rimfire is perfect for small game. A .25-06 Model 700 has taken antelope in Montana. Another Model 700 in .222 Remington with a medium-weight barrel is my favorite “walking” varmint rifle.
I can remember reading Weatherby “wish books” on cold and rainy days when I was a boy. Just about every year, those thick catalogs would arrive, and in the back was a section on custom rifles. The book seemed to have died in the ensuing years, and so did the custom shop. All that has changed, and the shop is now back in full operation.
Weatherby spokesperson Dean Rumbaugh says selecting a factory custom is a three-step process: You choose the barreled action, add the features you want, then order a stock built to your personal specifications.
The options are wide open, and for many Weatherby fans, the proprietary calibers are at the top of the list. But if you want the likes of the .22-250 Rem, .243 Win or even the bone-crushing power of the .416 Rem, they’re there for the asking as well.
Barrel lengths run from 24 to 27 inches. The longer tubes sport an Accubrake, which reduces felt recoil and muzzle jump. You can have the bolt checkered, rings and bases installed or receiver sights added. Engraving goes from a simple Grade 1 to Grade 6, and you decide which game animal to include on the floorplate.
My favorite part of the whole affair is selecting the wood. There are plenty of options here. Stock designs include classic, Monte Carlo and modified Monte Carlo, and wood grades are Exhibition or Exhibition Special Select. You can select carving or checkering, recoil pads, length of pull and the usual pistol grip or fore-end tips. Remember those inlays that were trademarks of Weatherby rifles years ago? They’re available, too, as is the option of taking a production rifle and adding some personal features to it.
Winchester’s custom shop offers both what I call “production custom” and fully outfitted custom rifles and shotguns. I have a new Model 70 that was made for me in 1986 and still remains unfired. Chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum, it represented a rather huge investment for me. Complete with a full fancy stock, it’s really too pretty to take out in the field and use.
You can order just about anything from the Winchester catalog, including bolt-action rifles and lever guns, and have it decorated to the hilt. One of my favorites is the Custom Ultimate Classic, which has a half-round, half-octagon barrel, full fancy wood and even inletted sling swivel studs.
The Model 94 Custom Limited Edition would make a fine entry into the collector or investment market. It includes all of the details of a full custom-made rifle but is more in line with production prices.
Still another rifle that got my attention is the Custom African Express model. All decked out with English walnut and an “Oberndorf” styled floorplate, this is yet another prime example of an unusual rifle from a unique shop.
Of course, Winchester would not be Winchester if it did not allow options, and a full range of engraving, checkering and other delights are offered in bolt and lever guns.
Winchester has a novel approach to factory customs: Options are grouped as packages to both streamline the operation and to keep costs within reason.
A few months back, I visited Sturm, Ruger’s new custom shop in Southport, Conn., and spoke to Bill Ruger Jr. in his office in Newport, N.H. The shop is called the “Art and Decoration Studio,” and, as Bill told me, “whatever the gun enthusiast desires” is available here. Ruger has staffed the shop with gifted engravers and craftsmen, and the work is on par with, and in some cases exceeds, just about anything on the market.
I just finished photographing some examples for a Ruger brochure, and you can take my word for it that all of the work done here is strictly first-class. This brochure is now available from Ruger’s corporate headquarters.
These fine shops provide a service that all outdoorsmen can enjoy with a modest investment. Every sportsman deserves to own at least one fine gun in his lifetime. Don’t pass it up.
Reprinted from the November 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine