September 23, 2010
By Craig Boddington
John Lazzeroni's long and short magnums are the fastest of their kind. His rifles are no slouches either.
By Craig Boddington
John Lazzeroni doesn't just design guns and cartridges; he uses them.
I think it was 1965 when I first met Roy Weatherby. He flew into Kansas City to speak to the Kansas Rifle and Pistol Association meeting, and I got to accompany my uncle, Art Popham, who knew Roy and acted as his "escort." I was a gun-crazy kid, and I had just taken my first big game animal that year. I must have bombarded the poor guy with questions while he tried to prepare for his speech.
Fifteen years later I was a fledgling writer, and Roy Weatherby was extremely kind to me, and I thought the world of him. He worshipped at the shrine of velocity. I don't agree that velocity is everything--especially 40 years ago, when so few bullets would hold up under increased bullet speed--but I truly believe that Roy believed. He was a zealot, and our business has been much the poorer since his passing.
It has been nearly 20 years since I met John Lazzeroni. I didn't like him at first. He can be brash, impudent, abrasive and stubborn. But like Roy Weatherby he is also a zealot. I recognized this early in our association and suspected I might be seeing some of the traits that Roy Weatherby might have displayed in the 1940s and '50s, so I gave "Lazz" more rope than I give most people I initially dislike.
I'm glad I did. John Lazzeroni is a zealot, and zealots can be difficult to deal with. The thing is, however, is that underneath the brusque exterior and the mule-headed stubbornness, Lazz is a really good guy, and over the years we have become, I think, pretty good friends.
I will never fully endorse all of his concepts--and he will never stop trying to win me over, because zealots must proselytize. But we've actually had a lot of fun over the years, and we've called a draw on some interesting arguments. (Okay, I called them draws. Lazz figures he always won.)
John Lazzeroni has a successful business in motorcycle accessories, especially inter-helmet communications, which allowed him to start Lazzeroni Arms. He came out of the starting gate with a media blitz touting his ultra-fast Lazzeroni Magnum cartridges with their whimsical names and the Lazzeroni rifles that fired these cartridges.
A longtime wildcatter, he started with his line of long magnum cartridges, based loosely on, mostly, .416 Rigby exterior case dimensions (in some cases the .404 Jeffery), but with extra-heavy brass made to his specifications so that he could comfortably increase pressures and velocities.
In the early years, I chronographed a lot of Lazzeroni loads in a lot of rifles, and this, perhaps more than anything else, is what changed my opinion from skepticism to respect: There ain't no blue sky in Lazzeroni's figures. His velocities, within a very tight range, are true for the stated barrel lengths.
Even before he'd finished fleshing out his long-magnum line he'd begun cutting them down to create the equally extensive line of Lazzeroni Short Magnums.
Lazzeroni Arms got a lot of editorial ink because he marketed heavily but also because his products were interesting and, refreshingly, did exactly what they were supposed to do. By the mid-1990s the majors were worried--just as they were worried by competition from Roy Weatherby in the 1950s.
Life would probably be simpler if the majors had simply struck a deal with Lazz to chamber for his cartridges (which Savage did briefly with the 7.82 (.308) Patriot) and load his ammo, and I can assure you there were some discussions. But Lazzeroni's case is just a bit too broad to fit into many existing bolt actions, at least not without extensive retooling.
The L2005SLT action, like its long-action counterpart, has a straight bolt handle and three-position safety on the cocking piece.
So the majors went their own way, Remington with the Ultra Mags and Short Action Ultra Mags and Winchester with the Winchester Short Magnum and Super Short Magnums. Weatherby stayed belted, bringing out its .30-.378 and .33-.378, which are, respectively, similar to Lazzeroni's 7.82 (.308) Warbird and 8.59 (.338) Titan.
I firmly believe the Lazzeroni magnums were largely responsible for what amounted to a second era of magnum mania, with even more big, fast, new cartridges than we saw in the first go-round in the late 1950s and 60s.
Has Lazzeroni gotten much out of this? Uh, no. It doesn't take an economics degree to understand that the proliferation of somewhat similar factory magnums darn near cut off Lazzeroni's, er, essential parts.
The good news is, despite serious efforts, the majors have not put Lazzeroni out of business. They haven't even dampened his spirit much. And despite really serious efforts, they haven't equaled, let alone surpassed, the performance of his cartridges. In fact they cannot and will not.
Being a bit of a dreamer with a dreamer's impractical bent, Lazzeroni designed his cartridges, then found actions that could house them. They're out there, but there aren't many. Larger firearms manufacturers must use cartridges that fit their existing actions because it isn't cost effective to reinvent the wheel.
Also, major manufacturers with large production runs must be very concerned about safety margins. Lazzeroni ammo is loaded warmer than larger manufacturers are comfortable with.
The result is that the Lazzeroni magnums remain at the top of their velocity class, caliber by caliber. Their flagships are undoubtedly their two .30 calibers: the 7.82 (.308) Warbird long magnum and the 7.82 (.308) Patriot short magnum.
The Warbird is the fastest .30 caliber available. With Lazzeroni's loads in a 26-inch barrel you can expect 3,700 fps from a 150-grain bullet and 3,500 fps from a 180-grain bullet. Add two inches of barrel (which Lazz prefers) and you can expect up to 3,825 fps from a 150-grain bullet and just over 3,600 fps from a 180-grain bullet. Zowee.
The short Patriot isn't exactly slow. The 150-grain bullet should clock over 3,250 fps from a 24-inch barrel nearly 3,350 fps from a 26-inch barrel. His 168-grain load should produce about 3,150 fps from a 24-inch barrel and up to about 3,230 fps from a 26-inch barrel.
Lazz himself doesn't like 180s in the Patriot. Case capacity starts to tell and velocity drops, but in my rifle with a 22-inch barrel I get about 3,050 fps from a 180-grain bullet. Do your cross-referencing. This is a short cartridge, .308 Winchester case length, that falls between the .300 Winchester Magnum and .300 Weatherby Magnum in performance. It is the fastest .30 caliber short magnum.
John is as serious about his rifles as his cartridges. The Lazzeroni Model L2000 Series was introduced in 1995, initially in long action only. Featuring a beefy synthetic stock, McMillan action and the longest barrel John could talk his customers into, the L2000 was the embodiment of what he thought a hunting rifle should be. I used several of them in several chamberings, but the one I used the most was a 7.82 (.308) Warbird.
The rifle was wonderfully accurate and extremely reliable. It was a fine rifle, pure and simple. Over several seasons it accounted for quite a bit of game, but the most memorable hunts I used it on were in the Yukon in 1999 and in China in 2001.
The Lazzeroni L2005SLT Global Hunter, chambered to 7.82 (.308) Patriot and mounted with a Leupold VXR 4.5-14X scope is suitable for about any game, anywhere, any time.
On the Yukon hunt I really needed the Warbird's capabilities. Most sheep hunting doesn't really require serious long-range shooting. This time was the exception. It was late in the day, and the best Dall ram I have ever seen was feeding in a little valley, but his bachelor group was drifting up into some cliffy stuff where we probably couldn't follow him. The range was 525 yards, but the wind was dead calm and I had the Warbird. The ram spun at the shot and went down.
The only small problem is that the L2000 was extremely heavy. With a 27-inch barrel, a big stock and a big scope the darned thing weighed over 12 pounds. On that hunt in the Yukon it darn near killed me. I'm not sure I'd have gotten up the mountain to my sheep had my old Marine Corps buddy, Mike Satran, not traded off with me and lugged that monster part of the way. I would never have taken it to China, where elevations ran to 18,000 feet, except that I knew we'd use horses at least some of the time.
I talked to Lazz about this (at some length, until I was blue in the face), but there's that innate stubbornness of the true zealot. He was adamant. The capability was worth the weight, and the weight made the rifle more stable and reduced recoil. All true.
Still, there is a limit on how much weight one can carry up a mountain, and as we get older that weight goes down, not up. So as much as I loved the capability, I mentally relegated the Warbird to 4WD hunts.
I'm not exactly sure when Lazz started to soften on this. I suspect he heard from more than one client, so maybe it occurred to him that, just every once in a great while, a customer might be right. It seems more likely that he came to his senses all by himself.
He and his brothers, Jim and Jeff, started doing a bit of sheep hunting themselves, and there's nothing like a sheep hunt to make you reconsider every extra ounce you're carrying. Too, John Lazzeroni isn't all that much younger than I am, and he might have started to feel those extra pounds. We all do, sooner or later.
The L2005 series is a radical departure. The first to appear, in 2005, was the L2005LLT (Long Magnum Light). Light it is, especially in comparison. With its standard 26-inch barrel it weighs 7.4 pounds. A big scope will up that, of course, but it's a sound starting point, and in fact is a minimal starting point in the powerful Lazzeroni chamberings.
The stock was another departure. Gone is the radical rollover cheekpiece that was becoming a Lazzeroni hallmark; in its place is a very conservative and, to me, much more attractive American classic-styled synthetic stock.
(L.-r.) .300 WSM, .300 Winchester Magnum, 7.82 (.308) Patriot, .300 Weatherby Magnum. The Patriot cartridge is the fastest of the .30 caliber short magnums and nearly matches the Weatherby — but from a shorter barrel.
The L2000 hasn't disappeared. It exists within the L2005 series as the L2005LLR (Long Magnum, Long Range), with the old-style stock and a 27- or 28-inch barrel. Yes, it's a bit heavier, which I'm all in favor of until you have to carry it too far.
There are a few other rifles in the line, but perhaps the ultimate evolution of the Lazzeroni rifle, and certainly the greatest departure from its starting point, is the L2005SLT.
You can probably figure by now that the L2005SLT is the Short Magnum Light. Yes, and light it is, weighing in at a trim 6.1 pounds. Obviously there is less metal in the short action, but a primary weight savings is in the barrel, with a standard length of 22 inches on the SLT.
While Lazzeroni likes long barrels (so do I), a lot of people don't. You do lose some velocity with the 22-inch barrel, but as we've seen with all the short magnums, the burning efficiency of the short, fat case minimizes the loss. And as long as you're comparing equal barrel lengths, the 7.82 (.308) Patriot is the fastest .30 caliber short magnum.
So, to my thinking, the most recent Lazzeroni rifle, the L2005SLT, represents significant development, though I suppose it's arguable as to whether it's advancement or not. Kinda depends on your preference for short and light versus long and heavy, but the performance level in a six-pound rifle€¦well, that can't be argued.