I am often asked, Why a custom rifle? The arguments against having one made are normally something such as, “Factory rifles are just as accurate,” “Factory rifles work just fine,” “I can get just about any caliber I need in a factory rifle” and so on. They are, for the most part, correct arguments. Factory rifles today, I am often asked, Why a custom rifle? The arguments against having one made are normally something such as, “Factory rifles are just as accurate,” “Factory rifles work just fine,” “I can get just about any caliber I need in a factory rifle” and so on. They are, for the most part, correct arguments. Factory rifles today, in the main, are very accurate. As a rule, they do work just fine–or at least good enough. And most factory-made rifles are available in most calibers on the market. Why, then, a custom job?
Well, before I attempt to answer that reasonable question, it is first necessary to define just what a custom rifle is and, by inference, is not. Most dictionaries will define “custom made” as being made to individual specifications or some variation of that statement. Following that definition, a custom rifle is one made to an individual’s order in fit, finish and function. Any caliber for which a reamer is available or, in some cases, for which any cartridge (custom reamers can also be made) can be ordered. The only restrictions placed on the buyer are basically determined by time and money.
Custom rifles run the gamut from a barreled action–sometimes a custom barrel, sometimes not; action sometimes “blueprinted,” sometimes not; bedded into a commercially available synthetic or laminate stock and sent out the door–to a full-blown custom job. The full-blown job includes reworking the action, fitting a custom barrel, utilizing hours of highly skilled labor making absolutely certain that the resulting action feeds cartridges from the magazine with all the effort of cutting butter with a hot knife, then whittling a lovely stock from a stick of customer-selected walnut. The customer decides what checkering pattern he wants on the stock and how many lines per inch. On the metalwork, the customer decides if he wants a matte finish or high-gloss, hot-bath blue or slow rust blueing, open sights or scope only. The list goes on and on.
There are several makers that do all the metalwork as discussed above but then fit the metal into a synthetic or laminate stock. There’s nothing wrong with that, assuming all the rest of the work is done. Many hunters prefer synthetic or laminate stocks, and there are makers out there that will provide just what they want. One who jumps to mind is D’Arcy Echols. He went so far as to design a synthetic stock for his Legend rifles and persuade Kelly McMillan to build them for him. Echols leaves no stone unturned in creating these rifles, and they are in every way custom rifles. He is also perfectly capable of building a wonderful walnut-stocked rifle should the customer prefer it.
The David Miller Company, consisting of David Miller and Curt Crum, crafts a line of custom rifles utilizing a wood laminate stock. Called the Marksman rifle, it is very popular with its clientele. The Marksman doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that are incorporated in the Miller Classic custom rifle, but it costs about half as much as the Classic.
Other makers take a straight factory-barreled action and custom-stock it. Most do little, if anything, to the metalwork. In this case, the resulting rifle is not really a custom rifle; rather, it is a custom-stocked factory rifle. There’s nothing wrong with that either, assuming that the price is consistent with the labor involved.
Most custom makers are somewhere between those extremes in what they do. There is a place in the trade for all of them. I sort of draw the line at taking a factory-barreled action and a commercially available synthetic stock and putting them together and calling the results a custom rifle. To me, it is not. But the rest are fair game.
Now that we’ve defined a custom rifle, I’ll answer th
e question posed by the title of this piece: Why? Well, there is really only one justifiable reason, and that is because you want one. No other reason is necessary, or proper. Personally, I treasure my custom rifles and take great pride in owning and using them. I’ve owned many factory rifles in my life, all of which served a purpose and did so quite well. I still own a few. However, I’ve never had the same attachment to them as I have to my custom jobs.
Some say it is snob appeal. Perhaps in some cases that is so, but it is not in the vast majority that I’m aware of. Most aficionados who I know own custom rifles for the same reason I do: because they enjoy and appreciate them. These rifles are, in essence, a part of the family.
I recall Jack O’Connor once writing that he felt so strongly about one of his .270s, he intended to have it buried with him. He didn’t, however. He was cremated, and the rifle is, I believe, in the Jack O’Connor Museum in Lewiston, Idaho.
Whether he changed his mind or the family made the decision after his passing, I can’t say. But I’ve never seen or heard of that kind of attachment to a factory rifle.
Sources: Gary Goudy, (509) 382-2726; Stephen R. Heilmann, (530) 272-8758, www.metalandwood.com; Lee Helgeland, (406) 837-2041; Shane Thompson, (208) 547-0383