A .270 On Safari
September 23, 2010
This High-Tech Custom rifle comes in handy in the African bush and beyond.
I suppose I'm not quite old enough to truly appreciate or understand the influence Jack O'Connor had on the popularity of the .270 Winchester cartridge. He died in 1978--I was 10, still two years away from receiving my first hunting license. And I was far too young to even consider a career in outdoor publishing, writing and editing gun and hunting stories, which would lead me down some of the same hallways through which O'Connor once strolled.
The author used his High-Tech Customs .270 with handloaded 150-grain Swift A-Frames to take this South African impala.
But I am thankful that O'Connor's words helped drive widespread interest in the .270. It is unquestionably one of America's favorite big-game cartridges, and I count myself as a serious fan. Over the years, I've shot many and owned several rifles chambered in the cartridge. Some of them shot very well, but I never hung on to them very long, believing that none of those rifles had everything I wanted. But that all changed three years ago during an NRA convention as I chatted with riflesmith Rich Reiley.
Reiley operates High-Tech Custom Rifles (Dept. RS, 3109 North Cascade, Suite 102, Colorado Springs, CO 80907; 719/667-1090; www.htcustoms.com) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and had just finished building me a .243 predator rifle, which he had in his display at the convention. When I had fondled the rifle long enough and set it back in his display rack, a trim little stainless sporter caught my eye.
"What's this?" I asked, reaching for the black synthetic stock.
"You didn't see that? That's a little .270, and I think I've got it sold," Reiley told me.
"That's too bad," I said, having noticed its 24-inch barrel, narrow fore-end and grip. "This is exactly the kind of .270 I've been looking for. Lean and handsome. Does it shoot?"
"You know better than that," Reiley replied.
I shouldered the rifle, cycled the bolt to check the chamber and dropped the three-pound trigger. Clean and crisp. I knew I had asked a foolish question and put the rifle back in the rack.
"I'll see ya, Rich. I gotta get back to work," I said. "Talk to ya later."
The following week I got a phone call. "Hoots." It was Reiley. "Aren't you going to Africa in a few months?" he asked. "What are you takin'?"
"A .338," I replied.
"You know that .270 you were ogling at NRA? I want you to take it with you," he said.
"I thought you sold that gun,"
While on safari in South Africa, the author's High-Tech .270 came in handy on smaller plains game. However, loaded with 150-grain A-Frames, it's potent enough for large animals such as gemsbok.
"I did. I sold it to you. You'll get it via FedEx next week. I want you to put it to good use in Africa," Reiley told me.
I tried to ask him how much he was asking, but he cut me off midsentence. "We'll work that out later," I was told. "And I'm sending you some handloads."
Then he hung up on me.
The handloads arrived first, the same day I got a phone message from Reiley: "Hoots. Did you get the handloads? Bill Hober said you should be happy with the bullet performance. I've seen a lot of guys use them on elk with excellent penetration."
Bill Hober owns Swift Bullet Company, and the handloads were fitted with 150-grain Swift A-Frames. A few years ago, when Reiley became disenchanted with running a machine shop, he began spending more and more time working on old rifles for clients and building new ones when there was time. He also began guiding for elk outfitters in Colorado and eventually for brown bear outfitters in Alaska. Naturally, he shoots quite a bit and spends several weeks a year putting clients to within range of some of this country's largest game animals. He's developed quite an attachment to the A-Frame (actually, he prefers a 140 for general use in the .270), and I shouldn't have expected the handloads to contain any other bullet.
The rifle came two days later, every bit of it "all business," just as I remembered. Like many custom rifles offered today, this one is built on a stainless Remington Model 700 action with all the care and detail that any fine rifle should receive.
Built on a Borden Rimrock stock and outfitted with a 3-9X Nikon Monarch variable, the rifle weighs seven pounds, two ounces.
The recoil lug and receiver face are true and square to the bore axis. The bolt is made to slide along its lapped raceways smoothly, its twin lugs locking tight to the receiver in complete contact. The bolt shank, too, is elegantly fluted in a spiral pattern along its length.
While this last feature is not all that uncommon anymore, the real benefit is not widely revealed. Depending on your taste, bolt-shank fluting is mainly a cosmetic enhancement. There are some gunmakers who tout such a feature as allowing the bolt the ability to clean itself as you cycle the rifle. I suppose flutes could carry dirt away from the receiver but with no greater ability than they have to carry dirt right into the trigger mechanism. If you have that much dirt gummed up in your rifle, you need to take it down and clean it anyway, fluted or not.
What the fluting does offer, however, is less bearing surface between the bolt shank and the receiver housing. This is indeed beneficial. As you slide the bolt to the rear of the receiver, a fluted bolt will cause less friction between the two parts, therefore providing a smoother, seemingly effortless bolt stroke. I like this feature, and I happen to think the fluted bolt shank looks good, too.
Unlike most accurized or custom rifles b
uilt on the Model 700, Reiley likes to modify both the front end and the rear end. Remington safeties are fine--"on" and "off"--but High-Tech guns feature a unique little enhancement. It comes in the way of a three-position safety that Reiley has been installing on 700s for about five years now. "It's the old Mauser style," he says about the New England Custom Guns version he uses. It's a color-cased unit that is both functional and attractive. "And it locks the firing pin, not the trigger sear, which is a great safety device," says Reiley. I've always been a three-position-safety fan, and this one certainly adds a touch of class to an already attractive rifle.
The bolt face on any Model 700 that comes out of the High-Tech shop also has been enhanced to include a large Sako-style extractor, especially on rifles chambered to dangerous-game calibers. Like the three-position safety, the oversize extractor is an added touch that beefs up the reliability factor of the rifles Reiley builds. Now, I've never had a Model 700 fail to extract, but according to Reiley, there's no point in building it any other way.
Mated to the .270's slicked-up action is a 24-inch Lilja barrel with a very slender taper measuring .610 inch at the muzzle, where a two-step crown protects the standard 1:10 rifling.
The matte-stainless metal rides in great contrast in a textured black Rimrock stock. At one time Rimrock stocks were built in the Pacific Northwest. Today they're built by Jim Borden of Borden Rifles in Springville, Pennsylvania.
A three-position safety is an unexpected touch on a customized Remington 700.
Borden, an accomplished competitive rifleman, is a mechanical engineer who quit his job in 1994 to build rifles full time. These fiberglass stocks are of the highest quality and durability and are available to fit most popular action types. With its graceful and classic lines, narrow fore-end and grip, the High-Tech .270's stock is what first attracted me to the rifle at the NRA convention. The barreled action is glass bedded, which Reiley has executed perfectly. No gaps or gouges--every line is smooth and snug.
With a 3-9X Nikon Monarch UCC scope and Talley rings and mounts attached, the rifle weighs seven pounds, two ounces.
You can imagine that I was eager to find out if the rifle shot as well as it looked. I shouldn't have worried. The A-Frame handloads containing 57 grains of Reloder 22 shot well under an inch with ordinary regularity. And with the 24-inch barrel, muzzle velocity hovered right around 2,893 fps.
So off to the Dark Continent I went.
The muzzle is touched off with a two-step crown to protect the lands and grooves.
Though I'm a big .270 Winchester fan, it isn't a caliber I would ordinarily think of when it comes to hunting in Africa. Osmosis, I suppose, had led me to believe that bigger is better in Africa. And having now been there twice, I can certainly tell you that most of the time, it is. Thirty caliber and up is what most African Professional Hunters recommend for plains game, and my choice in a .338 was a perfect one. But so was the .270. The dreamy African animals--like gemsbok, zebra and eland--are big and tough. But some of the smaller or more fragile animals such as impalas and even kudu don't demand the use of a fat bullet.
In all actuality, with a 150-grain A-Frame, even wildebeest and gemsbok can be taken cleanly with a well-placed .270 bullet. But I ended up taking both rifles to South Africa, and I decided to swap them out from time to time, knowing that the .338 was more than enough for anything I wanted to shoot and the .270 would still work if I placed my shots accordingly.
As it turned out, on the days that I carried the .270, it was the smaller animals that provided shot opportunities. The first was a very large, old impala ram that I shot at something like 100 yards at a fairly steep downhill angle. The old ram, with horns worn short by age, took one bullet quartering away. The A-Frame clipped one lung, and the ram required a follow-up shot--both bullets penetrated completely. The second impala was shot broadside, square behind the shoulder, at a distance of about 65 yards. That ram ran probably 30 yards and piled up, pierced on both sides.
The hunt took place with Harry Claassens Safaris (27-16-34-95-6166; www.harrysafaris.co.za), a respected PH who has access to several properties and just about every variety of game throughout the southern half of Africa. Long about the sixth or seventh day of the hunt, he and I were talking about the lack of warthogs on the property we were hunting. It was decided then that I would take a ride with another PH the following morning to an agricultural area where warthogs had become pests to the local farmers.
As soon as we pulled up to a dry riverbed that was several hundred yards wide running between two fields, we began seeing the stocky beasts scurrying around in the brush. We parked the safari car, I stoked up the High-Tech Customs .270, and we set out on foot.
A fluted bolt shank makes for less bearing surface between bolt and receiver and, ultimately, smoother cycling
At first, most of the warthogs we stalked up on were small boars or sows with piglets. We waded through them, and about eight or nine pigs later we ran into a young boar that stood facing us at about 50 yards. Off shooting sticks, I placed the crosswire right at the bottom of the boar's brisket and squeezed off a good shot. That boar turned and ran off into the brush with a cloud of white, powdery earth in its wake. Following closely behind it were our two trackers.
It was unlike anything I'd ever seen. Warthogs, not unlike wild hogs here in this country, can take a bullet through the heart and still manage to cover 100 yards or more before they expire. Likewise, they don't often bleed very well, leaving little sign by which to track them. So while it was a sight to behold, watching our trackers run off through the brush was entertaining but totally understandable; the warthog made it at least 125 yards with a 150-grain A-Frame centered perfectly through its chest. Had I made the same shot with the .338, I doubt the outcome would have been any different.
Even at 50 yards I wouldn't say that was an easy shot, which brings up another impressive point about the rifle: It flat-out shoots. I have yet to own a rifle oth
er than this one that shoots so well with so many different bullets. Just a couple of days ago I had it to the range to gather some more information for this story. Through it I shot some of the A-Frame handloads I had left over from Africa, a half-box of Federal Premiums loaded with 150-grain Nosler Partitions and a half-box of Hornady Light Magnum 130-grain InterBonds. All three of them shot well under an inch at 100 yards. I've also shot Winchester's 150-grain Partition Golds and handloaded 130-grain Swift Sciroccos through the rifle with similar results.
This warthog boar was taken with a single shot through the brisket and into the heart, but it still managed to run better than 100 yards through the African bush.
The least-accurate loads I've shot through this rifle--Remington Premier AccuTips--still managed an inch and a quarter and worked quite well on a wild hog I shot in California two summers back. The first shot was perfectly broadside at about 150 yards, but I hit the pig too far back. As it ran off toward the top of the ridge, I took a second shot and missed. Then the pig paused just shy of the top of the ridge, and a third shot anchored it where it stood. Follow-ups were critical after the first botched shot--the smooth stroke of the fluted bolt certainly helped me get them off quickly.
Having shot a couple of his rifles over the years now, one thing that I have come to understand is that Rich Reiley is not a slap-them-together gunmaker. He's a shooter, a hunter and, above all, a perfectionist. He's not interested in assembly lines. He's only interested in making one rifle at a time and to have it work to the best of its abilities. He likes to build a basic rifle that is beyond basic in performance. And best of all, he'll build you exactly what you want, whether it's a monstrous .416 that weighs less than the average deer rifle or the perfect little .270 that you've been waiting for all your life. You decide what you want in a rifle; the only thing Reiley does is make it perform to your expectations.