By Bob Robb
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Patrick Holehan. I hadn’t, either, until a few years ago when I went on a Coues’ deer hunt that Holehan outfitted in Sonora, Mexico. At the time, I just thought he was another guide and outfitter - both tasks at which he proved quite capable - and it wasn’t until later that I learned that his real trade is building fine custom rifles. At this, he is one of America’s best.
Holehan started shooting at age 7 with his father, who began taking him hunting when he was 12. It was then that his interest in rifles began, a fascination that took him to the well-known gunsmithing school at Trinidad State Junior College right out of high school, from 1978-81. After graduating, he began doing some repair work for a gunsmith in Tucson, Ariz., and he began doing some custom work while attending the warranty schools offered by such nationally known gun manufacturers as Smith & Wesson, Remington, Browning and others.
After nine years, Holehan decided it was time to up the ante, and he began doing stockwork and metal finishing for Frank Wells, a Tucson custom gunmaker well-known through America for the quality and accuracy of his rifles. During this time, Holehan helped build some very fine guns, including a handful auctioned off at Safari Club International chapter banquets. One of those rifles, the third rifle of SCI’s Most Dangerous Game series, sold for $105,000 at auction.
Stockwork is one of Holehan’s specialties, and you can be sure the finished product will be a thing of beauty.
It wasn’t long before Holehan began building his own custom rifles, and in the fall of 1994, he opened a shop and began producing his line of P.L. Holehan Custom Rifles for select clients in 1998.
Holehan is one of a small number of custom gun builders to make the entire rifle, including stock and metalwork, in his own shop. For a guy like me who loves fine rifles that both look good and are designed to be extremely accurate and functional under demanding field conditions, walking into his small shop is like a kid strolling into a candy store. To watch him work is to observe a fine craftsman become totally immersed in the task at hand.
The heart of a standard Holehan rifle is the action. “I only use Winchester Model 70 actions,” he told me on a recent trip to the shop. “I am a believer in the controlled-feed action with claw extractor, and the Winchester actions have proven themselves over time.”
Holehan takes this action and “double-square bridges” it, a labor-intensive procedure that helps bring unmatched stability to the scope mounts. It is especially helpful when using quick-detach mounts. One set of Talley double Allen head or double lever rings are supplied with each rifle. He then reams out and recuts the original factory-interrupted thread on a center to 1 1/16 x 16 threads per inch. The lug surface is recut, the receiver ring is trued, and the bolt face is recut and trued on center. He then hand-laps the lugs, and all working surfaces are honed and polished. The bolt-release pad is built up and checkered, and the bolt assembly jeweled. The trigger is then set to the customer’s desired pull weight, and the action is reassembled with Grizzel-style one-piece bottom metal, including a hinged floorplate.
Holehan uses cryogenically treated premium-grade Krieger-cut rifled barrels, which can be chambered for all standard or wildcat cartridges the action will accept. The metal is finished in a handsome satin-blue.
When it comes to stocks, the customer can either supply his own blank or choose one from Holehan’s large selection of premium stock blanks. One of his specialties is stockwork, and you can be sure the finished product will be a thing of beauty. An ebony fore-end tip is installed, and crossbolts and ebony plugs are added when necessary. Either a 1/2- or 1-inch Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad is installed at the customer’s desired length of pull. The stock is pillar-bedded and fiberglass-reinforced. A machined metal grip cap and front and rear metal sling swivel studs are added, and the entire stock is finished in satin oil, then hand-checkered in a standard point pattern with a wrap-around forearm and three-panel grip at 24 lines per inch.
You can also choose a laminated stock on any rifle, and one of Holehan’s rifles, the Alpine Hunter, comes with a blind-box synthetic stock.
There are six basic rifle models in Holehan’s Hunter series. All are available in either right- or left-handed versions. They are the African Hunter, Safari Hunter, Classic Hunter, Lightweight Classic Hunter, Long Range Hunter and Alpine Hunter.
Both the African Hunter and Safari Hunter are beefy rifles, with the African Hunter weighing approximately 101/4 pounds when finished. It is built on the Dakota Large Deep Box action because it will accept the largest African dangerous-game cartridges like the .404 Jeffrey, .416 Rigby, .458 Win Mag and so on, with a magazine length of 3.85 inches. The Safari Hunter weighs about 9 1/2 pounds. Both are built in the deep-box fashion, with a No. 5 contour barrel standard with an additional recoil lug on the barrel when needed. A barrel- band front sight is installed, including a sight blade and hood, along with a rear express sight with one leaf standing and one leaf folding.
The Classic Hunter is built along the lines of the traditional American bolt-action hunting rifle. It features a No. 3 contour barrel and either a blind box or standard box magazine. Finished rifles weigh about 7 1/2 pounds with the blind box, and 8 pounds with the standard box. The Lightweight Classic Hunter has these same clean lines, but is built on a short-action Winchester Model 70 action for right-handers, and the Dakota 76 short action for left-handers. In addition to being an excellent choice for hunters looking for a lightweight rifle, it is ideal for women and small-framed men. It features a No. 3 contour barrel. Finished rifles with a blind-box magazine weigh about 6 1/2 pounds; those using a standard box weigh about 7 pounds.
The Long Range Hunter starts with a premium Krieger barrel that Holehan flutes in the shop, then sends out for a second cryo treatment. It is then mated to a laminated stock of the customer’s color choice. These guns are slightly heavier for accuracy purposes. The finished rifle weighs about 8 3/4 pounds.
The Alpine Hunter is an ultralight hunting rifle featuring a No. 2 contour barrel and blind-box synthetic stock that can be finished in a variety of colors. The finished short-action model weighs about 6 1/4 pounds; the long-action model is only a half-ounce heavier.
Of course, as a true custom gunmaker, Holehan can deviate from his standard rifle designs and meet a customer’s individual wants and needs. For example, synthetic stocks can be fitted to all rifles for those who want to take their rifle on a serious hunting trip without fear of scratching up the beautiful original wood stock. Customers can also provide their own action as well as their own stock blank.
You can also upgrade the basic rifles for an additional cost. Donald Patch does some incredible engraving for Holehan, including Lynton McKenzie-style scrollwork, chiseled relief backgrounds, engraved animal heads on floorplates, and more. He can also cut your initials on a grip cap.
For more information on Holehan’s rifles, call (520)745-0622 or log onto www.plholehancustomrifles.com.
Reprinted from the October 2006 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine