September 23, 2022
Best of The West is an outfit in Cody, Wyoming. The company specializes in long-range hunting, and they’ve been at it for almost 20 years. Since their founding in 2003, BOTW has moved from using components made by other manufacturers to using products that they spec and build. These aren’t common rifles and scopes that you’d expect to find at your local gun store. They fill a niche role for those dedicated to preparing for the long shot, even though most of us would prefer to shoot as close as possible.
The Mountain Hunter
This series of bolt-action rifles are custom-built affairs that allow the consumer a number of options. Chamberings can range from 6mm Creedmoor up to .375 H&H. Of course, both short- and long-actions are available. For those looking to trim every possible ounce, titanium actions are also available for those same long- and short-action cartridges. Barrels can come in both stainless steel and carbon fiber with radial or side-port muzzle-brakes. There are a number of color options, as well, but the stock is made of carbon fiber.
All these options mean the customer gets what the customer wants — provided the check clears. These are not inexpensive rifles, but they are made from the best components by folks who have been writing the long-range hunting handbook for a couple decades. Pulling apart the rifle and it’s obvious that Best of the West (BOTW) takes no shortcuts.
The action is made by Defiance Machine (defiancemachine.com) to BOTW specifications, and it is similar to the Rebel model. These actions are made from pre-hardened 416 stainless steel with a one-piece 4340 chromoly steel bolt. These materials are the peanut butter and jelly of the bolt-action world; they promise maximum durability for the long haul. No combination has been around longer or is more thoroughly vetted than these two materials when paired in this arrangement. Defiance figured out how to manufacture the ideal hunting action a long time ago. These actions are as symmetrical and concentric as anything can be made, and they have a track record to prove it.
A couple of key features that make this action ideal on a hunting rifle — other than feeding and extracting flawlessly — are the 8-40 screws used to attach the scope base (or rings) to the action and the durable bolt release that can withstand years of abuse. The larger 8-40 screws and hardened steel dowel pins ensure that even the heaviest scopes stay put when paired with some of the harder-recoil cartridges. The larger screws also do a better job of making sure the scope base or rings don’t come loose over time. Like most bolt-action rifles, the bolt release does double-duty as the bolt stop. I’ve seen those fail on other actions. A friend once pulled the bolt out the back of his receiver and launched it about 10 feet behind him! Granted, he was working the bolt in a hurry, but so do most of us when it’s time for a second shot. The bolt release/stop on this action is vastly improved versus factory offerings and this one is almost certain to never fail in the field.
BOTW has a couple different trigger options between Timney Triggers (timneytriggers.com) and TriggerTech (triggertech.com); Guns & Ammo’s test rifle arrived with a TriggerTech trigger set at 3 pounds. This trigger is Trigger Tech’s “Special” with an adjustable pull weight between 1 and 31/2 pounds. One small Allen screw just forward of the trigger shoe is all it takes to see that entire range. BOTW also times the trigger perfectly, so there’s no sear drag on the bolt’s cocking piece when working the action. Timing the trigger like they’ve done also means there’s no unnecessary firing-spring compression during primary extraction. This yields the lightest and smoothest bolt lift possible for a two-lug action.
Carbon Fiber Bits
Carbon fiber is a useful material when paring down weight on rifles. It’s a lot lighter than wood or fiberglass, and it’s stronger than both. The carbon fiber stock on this rifle is made by Forge Carbon (forgecarbon.com) from New Zealand, and it’s an example of carbon fiber done right.
The carbon fiber exterior is well-shaped and ideal for use on a rifle. The forend measures 13 inches long, forward from the front action screw, and is 11/2 inches wide and flat on the bottom. That’s a mighty fine forend that is long enough for positional shooting in the field. The flat underside means it’ll ride backpacks and field rests well. There is a flush cup where there would normally be a sling swivel stud, so there are no protrusions to interrupt the rifle’s underside. This forend is one of the most shooter- and sling-friendly forends I’ve tested, but the downside is the difficulty in attaching a bipod if the shooter desires one. I would normally shoot off a bipod to evaluate accuracy and I couldn’t with this rifle. While accuracy was still exceptional, there was some slight horizontal stringing with even the best groups.
The carbon-fiber shell surrounds a dense fill that gives the stock excellent strength and rigidity. There are two aluminum pillars that surround the action screws. The aluminum pillars and the bedding job done on the action anchor the barreled action in place and provide a stable and stress-free home that yields accuracy. Wyatt’s (wyattsoutdoor.com) stainless-steel internal box magazine makes feeding smooth, and it supports cartridges up to 2.95 inches in length. The bottom metal is Hawkins Oberndorf model (hawkinsprecision.com), which consists of a hinged aluminum floorplate with the floorplate release shielded inside the triggerguard. This is my preferred BDL-type bottom metal because it is light and reliable.
The barrel mated to the receiver is also wrapped in carbon fiber; it’s made by Proof Research (proofresearch.com). The Sendero Light contour on this rifle measures 26 inches long and paired well with the 6.5 PRC chambering. Proof Research carbon fiber barrels have been excellent performers for me and I’ve had a chance to evaluate a bunch of them over the years. They are my first pick when weight is a consideration because the carbon fiber allows me to keep the barrel long without a noticeable weight penalty. Proof’s Sendero Light saves a handful of ounces compared to the Sendero contour. BOTW includes an effective three-port brake on the barrel, which did an excellent job of dampening recoil.
When it came time to put the rifle through its paces, the Mountain Hunter performed like I’d expect a premium rifle would. Average group sizes across three types of ammunition hovered right around half-MOA for three shots at 100 yards. The best group measured an even .3-inch with BOTW’s in-house ammunition. Federal Terminal Ascent wasn’t far behind it with a best group of .38-inch.
The Mountain Hunter is a premium product by any definition. It isn’t for everybody, but it’d be impossible to find fault in any of the components or how they were assembled.
Best of the West Mountain Hunter Specifications
- Type: Bolt-action (Defiance)
- Cartridge: 6.5 PRC (tested); others chamberings available
- Capacity: 3+1 rds.
- Barrel: Proof Research Sendero Light, 26 in., 1:8-in. twist
- Overall Length : 47.5 in.
- Weight: 7 lbs., 2 oz. (rifle only)
- Stock: Forge Carbon
- Length of pull: 13.5 in.
- Scope: Huskemaw Tactical Hunter 5-20x50mm
- Trigger: 2 lbs., 15 oz. (tested)
- Finish: Matte
- MSRP: $9,648 (scope included)
- Manufacturer: Best of the West; 866-754-7618
Extra: Huskemaw Optics
Huskemaw isn’t a name that most associate with optics. I once heard it was an English-speaking reference to Inuit “meat eaters,” a story with which I’m unfamiliar. However, Huskemaw Optics make innovative scopes that do an excellent job of simplifying a complicated task. The key to success was their turret and reticle designs.
The turret comes with a cap that is easy to remove, even when on a hunt. The bright blue turret that sits underneath is engraved for the bullet type, velocity, hunting elevation and ambient temperature. Exact environmental conditions of a hunt are hard to predict, but Best of the West (BOTW) indicates that the elevation only has to be accurate to within plus-or-minus 2,000 feet, and the temperature only has to be within 20 degrees of what’s engraved on the turret for the distances shown to be accurate. Once the hunter sees his prey, he ranges it and then dials that distance on the turret for a hit. The turret has an inner and outer sleeve, so there is enough distance on the two sleeves to get out much further than I’d ever want to shoot at game — well past 1,000 yards.
Wind is more problematic, but BOTW and Huskemaw have a solution for that, too. The second focal plane (SFP) reticle has hash marks along the horizontal stadia that correspond with a 10 mile-per-hour (mph) full-value wind. Engraved on the turret is the elevation correction required from zero, but also hash marks to hold at a particular distance for a 10-mph wind. If the wind is only blowing 5 mph, cut the number in half. If it’s blowing 20 mph, double it. The hash marks on the horizontal stadia are designed for use at maximum magnification, but the value can be cut in half when magnification is halved. For example, if the turret says to hold two hash marks at 700 yards at 20X, dialing the scope back to 10X means the shooter should use the first hash mark. While there is some math involved with the system, it is easy enough to do with some practice and minimal experience.
Huskemaw scopes offers good image quality and great durability. The lenses inside these scopes are bedded to prevent movement and a shifting zero should the rifle and scope take a tumble in the field. Few optic brands go to this extreme to ensure a reliable scope. Huskemaw Optics has a good fit for anyone looking to simplify long-range shooting or hunting, while also desiring maximum reliability in field conditions.
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