By Jon R. Sundra
The author says he’ll never part with the .375 JRS made for him by the Winchester Custom Shop. Winchester offered the chambering for a couple of years in the late `80s.
Good thing I don’t have a pack rat mentality and that I’m not sentimental about guns. I couldn’t afford it, because over the 36 years I’ve been writing about guns full-time, literally thousands have passed through my hands. The vast majority of them I parted with having no regrets. However, there have been a few that, in retrospect, I dearly wish I’d kept. It’s what real estate people refer to as “seller’s remorse.”
Not that I’ve actually sold a lot of guns, mind you. In fact, I’ve sold relatively few. The same can be said for the number I’ve traded or given away. Among those, and the hundreds and hundreds of guns I’ve returned, there’s probably a dozen or so that I regret not keeping. As a result of those ill-advised divestitures, there’s about an equal number of guns that I can’t see myself ever parting with under any circumstance.
In the former category, there was the Browning T-Bolt, a neat little .22 rimfire rifle made in Belgium by FN and marketed in the U.S. by Browning from 1965 to 1974. The T-Bolt was based on a unique straight-pull action that required nothing more than a rearward pull and forward push of the bolt handle. The locking lug was a round, dime-sized chunk of the right receiver wall that fit flush when the action was closed. It was the slickest thing, and I had to have one.
I’d owned several .22 rifles before that T-Bolt, so I had a pretty good idea of what kind of accuracy to expect from a sporter-weight rifle. I often wonder if that T-Bolt was as accurate as I remember it. Or was I just less critical back then? All I know is that I’ve yet to test a sporter-weight .22 that I thought was more accurate than that little Browning, and a lot of targets and fox squirrels would attest to that if they could.
The author with his first Cape buffalo and his custom Ruger No. 1 chambered in his .375 JRS cartridge, a rifle which, alas, he no longer owns.
Unfortunately, the T-Bolt came into my life at a time when I could at long last start pursuing my first love - centerfire rifles and big game hunting. As a result, the T-Bolt only had my attention for a brief time before being relegated to a back shelf of my gun rack.
One day, while casually inspecting my guns, I noticed some rust appearing just above the seam line along the barrel channel. Upon removing the barreled action from the stock, I was appalled to find that every square centimeter of the barrel and receiver that had contacted wood was badly pitted. I couldn’t understand it because that rifle was never subjected to rain or snow without being thoroughly cleaned, dried and oiled.
I later learned that in the mid-60s, Browning had purchased a bunch of walnut for which, believe it or not, salt had been used in the drying process. Literally every Browning firearm stocked with that wood had rusted, just like my T-Bolt. Browning made good on all those guns, but by then I’d long since traded off my T-Bolt in disgust. It’s one gun I wish I still had, if for no other reason than to see if the passage of time tightens groups.
Another gun I wish I still had is my custom Ruger No. 1, with which I took my first Cape buffalo in old Rhodesia, my first elephant in Namibia and a 46 1/2-inch Sable in Zambia. It was originally a No. 1-H Tropical model in .375 H&H that I’d rechambered for my .375 JRS. The wildcat is simply an “improved” version of the grand old .375 H&H based on what was then the brand-new 8mm Remington Magnum necked up to .375. It’s a very practical wildcat in that you can safely fire factory .375 H&H ammo in it in a pinch. Doing so simply fire forms the cases to the JRS chamber, or you can just neck up 8mm Rem Mag brass or neck down .416 Rem cases. Either way, my version squeezes nearly 2,700 feet per second from a 300-grain bullet, enough to generate about 150 fps and 800 foot-pounds more energy than the standard .375 H&H.
Lending a distinctive appearance to the gun was the fact I’d switched the original Alexander Henry-style forearm that comes standard on the model 1-H - one I’ve never liked - for the one that’s furnished on the No. 1-B Standard Sporter.
One evening while some friends and I were dining at a restaurant in Chicago, the owner (also a friend) caught me at a weak moment and offered to comp the entire meal for eight, for the Ruger. As a bonus, he threw in a bottle of 1955 Chateau Margeaux for me to take home. When I said no, he upped his offer to two bottles. Maybe it was because by then I’d stopped using that rifle for dangerous game - or maybe it was the wine I already had in me - but whatever the reason, I agreed.
Yes, the dinner was memorable, and on the two occasions I opened the wines, they were celestial. But if I had to do it all over again, I’d still have the Ruger.
Another Ruger No. 1 for which I have seller’s remorse is a 1-B in 6.5 Remington Magnum. It was over 30 years ago that I ordered the gun as a barreled action through the company’s press relations department. I had a spare buttstock and a 1-B forend on hand, so when the barreled action finally arrived, I stuck the wood on it and proceeded with whatever editorial project I’d ordered it for in the first place. What I didn’t realize was that Ruger never chambered any of its Model No. 1s for the 6.5 Rem Mag, at least not as a cataloged item.
To make a long story short, a prominent Ruger collector contacted me. He was quite persistent, and not thinking there was anything really special about the gun, I relented. There may be other No. 1s out there in 6.5 Rem Mag that made it out of the factory; but I know there was one for sure!
Two other guns I regret parting with were the Remington 591 and 592, the first and only production rifles ever chambered for the 5mm Remington Rimfire Magnum. I particularly regret having returned those guns to Remington now that we have the .17 HMR and .17 Mach 2. Announced in 1969, the 5mm Rem was truly revolutionary at the time. It was based on a unique bottlenecked case that launched a 38-grain jacketed bullet of .204-inch diameter at 2,100 fps. Essentially, it did 30-plus years ago what the new Hornady rimfires do today.
The only difference between the guns themselves was that the 591 was the “clip” fed version, while the 592 had a tubular magazine. The rifles (as well as the cartridge itself) were much more accurate than any .22 Win Mag rimfire I’d tested up to that time. Moreover, the 5mm’s 38-grain jacketed bullet was more streamlined than those of the .22 WMR. The 5mm was faster, hit harder and had a flatter trajectory, which made it an effective groundhog cartridge out to 125-140 yards.
Little did I know when I returned those guns to Remington that within a few short years, both they and the great little cartridge for which they were designed would be out of production. Today, the guns are real collectors’ items, as is the cartridge itself. An unbroken box of 50 is worth quite a bit, I’m told.
Under the “Guns I’ll Never Sell” heading is a Winchester Model 70 chambered in my .375 JRS. Around the mid-1980s, the Winchester people asked me if they could start offering my wildcat as an option through their Custom Shop. Not that they actually needed my permission; it was really a courtesy call that I greatly appreciated.
About a year later, a package arrived unexpectedly from U.S. Repeating Arms, and in it was a Model 70 Custom Express grade in .375 JRS. It has the standard Winchester barrel stampings, but the receiver carries no serial number - just a simple “JRS” on the right side. Cool!
Another gun I’ll never part with is the original Remington 700 on which I built my original 7mm JRS, a .280 Rem-based wildcat which maximizes the powder capacity of that slightly lengthened .30-06 basic case. The rifle is unique in several other ways. For one, the stock is an all-walnut laminate, but the layers are stacked horizontally rather than vertically. I built the rifle at a time in the late ‘70s when that was the only wood laminate that Fajen could get. It’s a terrible-looking thing because it’s simply a stack of 5/16-inch-thick strips of wood. Luckily, with nothing but end grain visible on either side, it soaked up the stock finish to where it turned very dark and you can hardly see the seam lines.
Another unique aspect of the rifle is its barrel; it has a step in it like on a military Mauser. E. R. Shaw had fitted the barrel, but when they returned the barreled action to me, it was of a heavier contour than I wanted. Not wanting to wait for them to make another barrel, I had them stick that one on a lathe and turn it down to a smaller diameter starting about 5 inches from the receiver. It looks kinda neat!
I lapped the action on that rifle to where it was so smooth that elevating the muzzle just 15 degrees from horizontal would allow the unlocked bolt to slide fully open. Contributing to that smoothness and lack of bolt friction was a 2-inch piece of coat hanger wire that I had brazed to the upper left edge of the magazine follower so that it didn’t intrude into the bolt raceway. I brought that follower with me to the Remington writer’s seminar shortly thereafter and showed it to one of their engineers. It took a while, but two or three years later, the follower on the Model 700 was changed accordingly.
I hunted with that rifle almost exclusively for several years and took more game with it in more places than any other rifle I’ve ever owned. It’s long since been retired; in fact, it still has a strain gauge epoxied to the barrel from the time when I brought the gun to Bill Davis’ ballistic lab for pressure testing. If I were sentimental about guns, this rifle would head the list.
Then there’s the highly customized Ruger No. 1-B barreled in John Lazzeroni’s 7mm Tomahawk by Broad Creek Rifle Works. This rifle has a custom quarter rib that, unlike the original, contacts the barrel its entire length and is machined to accept Talley rather than Ruger scope rings. I’ve always considered the No. 1’s ring spacing much too narrow, so I had new saddles cut so the rings would span the entire body tube of the 6x42 Leupold scope I planned to mount.
The hammer has been Swiss-cheesed to lighten it for a faster lock time, and there is a Moyers replacement trigger. The safety’s thumbpiece, which normally sits on the receiver tang and often interferes with ejecting cases, has been recessed into a milled slot. The forearm hanger has been extended and threaded to accommodate an externally accessible nylon-tipped screw that applies dampening pressure to the otherwise free-floated barrel. Through a small access hole in the forearm, a hex key is used to increase or decrease dampening pressure to tune the barrel for best accuracy.
This Ruger has seen action in the Selous Reserve of Tanzania and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. It’s a true one-of-a-kind and another of those guns with which I’m not likely to part.
Reprinted from the November 2005 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine