Art Meets Alloy: Hunter's Dream Guns from 2015 Safari Club International
February 12, 2015
Safari Club International, or SCI, is at the forefront of the battle to preserve the rights of hunters. Considered the 27th largest political action committee in the United States, SCI recently helped win two important victories for hunters in Michigan and Maine.
The annual SCI convention in Las Vegas is attended by thousands of hunters each year, and it offers an opportunity to meet with hunting guides from all over the world. We also get the chance to view some of the most stunning taxidermy, from lions to grizzlies to full-sized elephants and even a faux smilodon. The convention also showcases some of the world's finest firearms. While many people immediately associate SCI with big bore rifles, the convention also hosts custom long-range rifles, takedown rifles, scout rifles and lever actions as well as a number of fine shotguns and handguns.
The list of vendors at SCI includes small custom gun makers, large, well-known brands and a number of classic Bond Street British gun companies. Some of these guns are true works of art, often costing more than most of our homes, which require hundreds and sometimes thousands of hours of hand labor to build. But not all of the guns at SCI are expensive, in fact some are downright affordable. No matter whether you're a hunter who has crossed the globe or never gone beyond your back forty in search of game, there's a gun at SCI Show for you. And even if we can't afford them all, isn't it nice to dream?
Here's a roundup of some very beautiful guns from the 2015 SCI Hunter's Convention:
CZ-USA makes, well, just about everything now. From semiauto handguns to pump, semiauto, side-by-side and over/under shotguns. The company has one of the most extensive lines of rimfire bolt-actions on the market, and they recently introduced a new push-feed bolt gun, the 557. But African hunters have long appreciated the solid CZ 550 Mauser action, known previously as the BRNO 602. These rifles are durable and trie to Paul Mauser's original design, with a full-length claw extractor and quality iron sights. The CZ Custom Shop can turn your dangerous game rifle into a work of art (like those rifles pictured above), with upgraded wood, engraving, different coatings and recoil reducers. The latter is extremely important on the really big CZs chambered for cartridges like the massive .505 Gibbs. Prices for a stock CZ 550 .375 H&H run around $1,200, but with all the embellishments and extra finery these guns can reach the $10,000 mark. Either way, you've got one heck of a dangerous game rifle.
I did a double-take when I walked by Lex Webernick's Rifles Inc. booth at SCI. The rifle on display seemed to have a Diamond Plate design, and upon closer examination, the bolt and barrel had a unique and striking cross-cut fluting design. It's just one of the cool things that Webernick can do when he sets his find to build a custom rifle, and there's a reason the guns coming out of his Pleasanton, Tex., facility are in such high demand among serious rifle cranks. Webernick is a master of machining, and he also knows how to build a rifle so that it is extremely light, manageable to shoot, and deadly accurate. Webernick builds a variety of different package guns (with customer-supplied actions) and these include the 5 pound Lightweight Strata, the Classic, Safari, and the Canyon and Master's Series long range rifles. Pricdes range from $2,900 to $3,500, which is a great deal for the kind of rifle you're getting back.
Dakota Arms, which is part of the Freedom Group, has been building beautiful hunting rifles in South Dakota for years. They consistently manage to churn out some of the most accurate, toughest and best-looking American guns you'll find. Their flagship is the Model 76, which is available in both an African and Safari line for dangerous game, a lighter Alpine version for mountain hunting and a new Professional Hunter series with a composite stock.
All Model 76 rifles have a full-length claw extractor, three-position safety, and the wood-stocked models wear some of the finest walnut you'll find anywhere, and there are takedown models that simplify transport. The Dakota custom shop can build the gun to your liking, and Dakota also offers a lineup of proprietary cartridges including the 7mm .300, .330, .375, .404 and .450 Dakota cartridges.
Boss & Company
In Boss' 203-year history, the company has only built about 400 shotguns, so that should tell you a little something about the brand's exclusivity. Queen Victoria had the London-based company build a shotgun for the Duke of Buckingham, and Ernest Hemingway was a Boss fan. The Boss design is highly sophisticated and each receiver takes around 1,400 man hours to finish.
Characteristic of the brand is the narrow Boss action that is a result of locking lugs that are placed on the side rather than at the bottom of the action, and the 115-year-old trigger design requires many hours of hand assembly and machining to complete. Most of the Boss guns that have ever been released to the public bear the company's Boss Best Rose and Scroll engraving pattern which, as you would expect, is masterfully hand engraved. The wood is better than anything you'll see on any gun anywhere, and the wood to metal finish is immaculate. There's no doubt that Boss & Company is, well, the boss when it comes to fine London shotguns. But these Venus de Milos of the scattergun world carry a hefty price tag; roughly what you'd pay for a large four-bedroom home in the suburbs or a new Ferrari. Still, if shotguns are your thing they don't get better than this.
Italy Val Trompia is the home of some of the world's finest gun makers and engravers, and the Fausti Sisters introduced their brand-new Italyco over-under in 2015.
It's a round body shotgun with exquisite hand engraving and beautiful hand-select Turkish walnut stocks, and all of the work on these guns is done in Fausti's facility outside of Brescia, from the advanced CNC machining to the engraving. There's a standard boxlock version as well as the SXL sidelock model, and these guns are as durable and functional as they are beautiful. Prices start at $7,500, and Fausti now has their own distribution facility in the United States. Fausti's Boutique line also allows customers to take an image and have it engraved onto the metalwork of their shotgun by some of the very best engravers in all of Italy. Bellissimo.
Mauser is one of the oldest names in firearms, and in 2015 the company is offering production Model 98 rifles with grade 5, 6, or 7 wood. These guns are built around the storied German gun company's historic model 98 action, and they are among the finest dangerous game rifles available anywhere. The new M98 has a few upgardes, including an improved trigger and a familiar three-position safety. The action is smooth and solid, the walnut is excellent, and the wood-to-metal finish is second-to-none. Prices start at about $12,500 for their Model 98 Safari rifles, but the company also offers their sophisticated Model 03 switch-barrel rifles and their more budget-friendly M12, which starts under $2,000. All of the Mauser rifles are extremely well built and very accurate, and there's now a synthetic-stocked version of the M12 that will withstand the harshest elements.
Nosler has a long history of producing fantastic brass, bullets, and loaded ammunition, and the company now offers two of their very own cartridges, the hot .26 and .28 Nosler. They also make a number of different Model 48 rifles, including the wood-stocked Heritage ($1,895) and the 22-inch-barreled Outfitter with iron sights and a synthetic stock ($1,895). The Limited Edition Nosler Custom Rifle (NCR) comes with a beautiful walnut stock with ebony foreend cap and your choice of three Leupold VX-3 scopes with custom reticle that shows holdover points to 500 yards, a Pelican case and two boxes of Nosler Custom ammunition. The NCR rifle is limited to 500 units is available in .280 AI, .300 WSM and .338 Win Mag and costs $4,495 with an estimated delivery date of 3-6 months.
Savage rifles were on display at SCI, and the reasons are easy to understand; Savage makes accurate, durable rifles chambered for a variety of different hunting cartridges at a price that most of us can afford. Take, for instance, the company's Bear rifle (pictured above). It comes with a durable stock and stainless barrel and action, Savage's outstanding Accutrigger, a switch-off muzzle brake, and it's deadly accurate. I tested the Bear Hunter in .300 Win. Mag. and found that it shot around an inch, which is perfectly good for a rifle at this price point, and it's now chambered for large-medium cartridges like the .338 Federal and .375 Ruger, so no game is off-limits. The Bear Hunter costs around $1,000.
John Rigby & Co.
Rigby is another of the big-name London gun makers that has a history of producing some of the very best British Best guns of all time. A few years ago the company brought back their bolt action rifle, which featured a Mauser action and was chambered in .416 and .450 Rigby, and was it ever stunning. Equally as stunning was the price, which was under $15,000 for a brand new bolt gun. Sure, that's a lot of money, but in the rarified world of exclusive British safari rifles it's a steal. I had a chance to shoot one in .416 Rigby and it was something I'll always remember, in part because the rifle's excellent design and heft (you don't want to climb Kilimanjaro with the thing) made the .416 quite tolerable. 2015 was a big year for Rigby because they've built the very first of their Rising Bite double rifles in 83 years, and it was on display "in the white" at SCI.
Ruger's rifles are on prominent display at SCI, and the company has long produced dangerous game rifles for those who hunt the largest and most dangerous animals on the planet. On display at SCI were the 77 Hawkeye African, which comes with an excellent walnut stock with ebony forened cap, removable muzzle brake and durable iron sights. The tough-as-nails Guide Gun with Green Mountain Laminate stock made an appearance, with its stainless steel barreled action and its short, maneuverable 20 inch barrel. Both rifles are available in right and left-handed versions, and both are available in a number of chamberings including Ruger's outstanding .375 and .416 Ruger cartridges. MSRP on either of these rifles is $1,240. Also available in limited numbers exclusively through Lipsey's is the Number 1 rifle (pictured above), chambered for .375 H&H Magnum.
Justin Sip Custom Guns, Inc
Justin Sip began building custom guns in 1990 and in 2007 he opened his own shop where he now produces some of the finest guns on the market, each built to customer specs and standards. Like many good custom builders, Justin can build just about anything you want, from falling-block rifles to long-range guns and serious dangerous game rifles. One of his specialties are takedown guns with return-to-zero abilities, so you won't find yourself halfway around the world with a gun that doesn't shoot where it's supposed to. Sip had several of his current projects on display in Las Vegas, including several take-down models with multiple barrel sets as well as a beautiful custom takedown .416 Rigby built on a Mauser action. The gun has, among other things, a trapdoor in the stock that holds four additional rounds in addition to the 4+1 capacity of the rifle itself. And when you're hunting the really dangerous stuff you want to know that you've got ammo in reserve. If you can imagine it, Justin can probably build it for you.
German company Heym makes a variety of bolt-action and double rifles for the most discriminating shooters. Many professional hunters rely on Heym guns to protect themselves and their clients in the most dangerous safari situations. Each part of these rifles is built in-house to the tightest tolerances. The 88B double rifle actions are built with a triple-lockup design with double lugs and a Greener cross bolt and feature non-automatic safeties, cocking indicators, standard ejectors, and articulated front triggers. Each 88B double rifle (pictured above) is stocked to customer specifications, so you know the rifle will fit your body structure and the sight picture will remain consistent. The PH model comes with minimal adornments but all of the quality and durability that serious hunters demand for a price that is very competitive among high-quality double rifles (prices start at $17,000). The PH is available in classic dangerous game calibers like 450/400 3-inch Nitro Express and .470 and .500 Nitro Express as well as others, and you can opt to purchase a set of 20-gauge shotgun barrels for practice or wingshooting.
Westley Richards & Company
Westley Richards is another of London's best gun makers, having produced the finest shotguns and rifles available anywhere for over 200 years. In 1875 the company developed one of the first commercially successful hammerless side-by-side guns based on an Anson & Deeley action, and in 1884 they pioneered an ejector system that would eject spent brass by opening the action.
Today, Westley Richards is one of the world's foremost producers of bespoke side-by-side guns, both shotguns and rifles, and their firearms are second to none in terms of mechanical function, style, fit and finish. For the customer who can afford them, the craftsmanship of Wesley Richards' big-bore double rifles is second to none. On display at SCI was a magnificent .577 Nitro Express double rifle with loads of gorgeous hand engraving and some of the prettiest walnut you'll ever see. They aren't for everyone, but you don't have to have deep pockets to admire the beauty and engineering of each WR rifle on display.
The current Winchester Model 70 Safari Express is based on the tried-and-true Model 70 action, favored by hunters around the world for almost eight decades. In its basic form, the Model 70 Safari Express is a high-quality, American-made working rifle with a full-length claw extractor and three-position safety, and it's available in .375 H&H Mag., .416 Rem. Mag. and .458 Win. Mag. MSRP is $1,499.99 in any chambering, which is a bargain among serious dangerous game rifles.
If there's any question regarding the Model 70's durability or the impact this rifle has had on dangerous game hunting in Africa, it's worth noting that Wally Johnson's 1938 Model 70 .375 rifle (pictured below) was on display at Jamy Traut Safaris booth at the show. That production rifle has probably traveled more miles and taken more African dangerous game than almost any firearm in existence today, and despite a long, hard life and daily use and abuse it's still functional, as capable of taking down the world's largest game today as it was when John first carried it in the early twentieth century.