Over the last few years, I have felt the need to complement driven game shooting with stalking. The art of approaching a roe deer in the Belgian Ardennes, the selection of a stag among a slow moving herd in the Scottish Highlands or the endurance needed to climb up mountains then to shoot a chamois in Austria are experiences that embody the purest traditions of hunting.
Whilst travelling for those pursuits, I have generally used the locally provided rifle, a reliable and accurate yet uninspiring product of German or Nordic origin. These rifles are sometimes fitted with a sound suppressor and often lack aesthetic qualities to match the quarry or its environment. Adjusting to a new rifle and scope on each occasion and being surprised by unexpected low or high recoil, all subtracted something from the experience.
“…these craftsmen don’t just produce objects; they instil their soul and passion in matter.”
A handful of legendary riflemakers offer their clients the ability to tailor a rifle to their needs down to the smallest detail, and I succumbed to this temptation, being at the age when neither pension nor child education casts too long a shadow on one’s finances. With the help of a London-based gunsmith, I started to define the optimal object.
The first issue to deal with is the calibre. I settled on the .30-06 because of the wide range of bullets currently produced, as well as their ubiquity from the Americas to Zanzibar. The available bullet weight and energy is appropriate for all the larger game you may pursue, with the exception of most of Africa’s dangerous game. Lastly, the recoil is more than acceptable.
I found that for the practical sporting range, say inside 250 yards, ballistics for most calibres will be, once zeroed appropriately, accurate enough. I have been tempted by the stunning ballistics of an 8×68, but there is a trade off – the recoil is 50 per cent higher than that of a .30-06. I will adjust for the 30 yards of Maximum Point Blank Range Difference between the two (316 vs 287 yards respectively).
Having chosen a classic bolt action, thoughts were given to the placement of the safety. Don’t just think rifle, think rifle and scope. This should generally eliminate options such as the flag safety in favor of the side safety. In doubt, think of what is easiest to operate with half frozen fingers in soaked gloves.
The scope, a Swarowski 1.7-10×42 with an illuminated reticule, was probably the only concession to modernity, otherwise supported by a Holland & Holland mount system. Light and streamlined, yet sturdy, this mount offers an easy on and off positioning of the scope without need to zero it again.
Large pieces of well-figured Turkish walnut are rare to come by, so I reviewed a number of blanks before lovingly staring at a grossly cut piece of wood that, sprinkled with water, allowed me to hope for the dark yet marbled stock that I had been dreaming of. As the rifle would be used exclusively with a scope, I opted for a Monte Carlo stock shape, allowing for the cheekbone to be supported to position the eye in the alignment of the scope axis rather than in the alignment of the sights on the barrel, an inch or so lower.
Having turned down the creature comforts of a suppressor and bi-pod (just one step short of the swivel mounted hunting rifle), I asked for the take-down option, allowing to separate barrel and stock and diminish the size of the case. As alluded to previously, we must travel if not light, at least compact.
I know that when I take delivery of this rifle, I will leave most of my excuses for a poor shot behind; the moment of truth cometh.
The team at the Holland & Holland Gun Room and Shooting Grounds were of biblical patience when guiding me through this process. Their advice came with the invitation to come and see the rifle in various stages of its production at their workshops. I can only recommend taking such an opportunity if it presents itself. I came out with the reinforced belief that these craftsmen don’t just produce objects; they instil their soul and passion in matter. Enjoying the result of their work is no longer an expense, it is a privilege.
This article originally appeared in Fieldsports Magazine.