I had a pretty awesome childhood. As young as eight years old, it consisted of days, and often weeks completely on my own, wandering thousands of acres of Texas hill country land and creeks. During the day, I ran, climbed, swam, fished and hunted as I desired. My nights were filled reading about war in books and hunting in magazines, and the National Geographics I got from my uncle Frank.
To many people, that may sound lonely. But I wasn’t alone. I had my own dog and my own gun. For a young boy, it was heaven on Earth.
The dog was Max, a 90 lb pit bull/black lab mix who could be uncontrollably vicious to anyone who threatened me, and at the same time, unfailingly patient and loving. I was told more than once that I smelled like Max. That was a matter of pride for both of us.
The gun was, at first, was a Savage Model 24 in .410/.22 Magnum. Later it was a single shot with interchangeable 20 gauge and .30-30 barrels. Eventually, as will all things, a great dog died, a boy grew up, and I moved away. But I still have those guns, and I still hunt with them.
Thirty years after I took my first white tail deer with a slug from that Model 24, my son did the same, holding that same rifle. We dove hunt with the 20 gauge all season. All these years later, I have many guns of many different action types and calibers.
But I don’t have the gun. I don’t have the gun that I as a boy dreamed I would have as a man, walking the “long grass” of Africa searching for the Black Death, wading the cold streams on thawing islands, on lookout for Kodiak Bears, or in British Coloumbia, in the thick of the trees, hunting moose. I didn’t have the gun I dreamed of traveling the world with, the gun capable to taking anything on Earth.
Oddly enough, I ended up traveling the world, but it was with different guns, the M16 and M4. And my prey, although certainly no less threatening than the Cape Buffalo, was a different animal altogether.
Like that great dog and my childhood, that time has passed as well. I’m finally at the point in my life where I am travelling, not on orders, but still on a mission. That mission is often a hunt, and I’ve finally been able to book some of those adventures I’ve dreamed of for the last 40 years.
Ah, but the rifle. I still didn’t have the rifle. The last rifle I’d ever need to own. The last rifle, capable of hunting any animal on Earth. This year, though, I decided to get it.
As you might imagine, I had some decisions to make. Caliber, however, wasn’t one of them. The rifle would be chambered in .375 Holland and Holland Magnum. Not the largest of the big game cartridges, but the smallest capable of legally and ethically taking the Big 5.
The .375 H&H is just over 100 years old and remains one of the most versatile calibers made. It can be loaded with a 350 grain bullet to velocities over 2,200 fps to reliably kill any animal on the planet. With a well constructed bullet, penetration is exceptional.
It can also be downloaded way down to launch a 225 grain round at 2,000 fps for target practice or hunting deer, antelope, and the smaller black bears in North America. And there’s a variety of rounds and recipes in between. I’ve asked many African game guides what caliber they would choose if they could have only one, and .375 H&H won by a landslide.
Also not up for discussion, the rifle will feature wood. Fine wood. I understand that synthetic stocks are more durable, theoretically. I say theoretically because I’ve several guns over 100 years old, and one that’s 200 years old, all with working, solid, wooden stocks. A high quality, wooden stock isn’t just beautiful, it’s proven in a way no other material can possibly say it has been. So wood. That’s settled.
What hasn’t been settled is the action. My first thought was a full stocked bolt action rifle in a Mauser-type action. That would be the obvious choice. But the obvious choice isn’t what I dreamed of owning. The stories I read as a child were usually of double rifles, or single shot English sporting rifles. Walking around with my own single shot rifle and shotguns, this made perfect sense. One animal, one shot, careful and sure. As a child, I thought this was how real hunters did it. How could it be any other way?
So then the last bit was settled. A Ruger No. 1, which has always been one of my favorites. Relatively inexpensive, the No. 1 is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, action types available for modern sporting usage. The rifles are chambered in many calibers, I’ve seen them in everything from .243 Winchester all the way up to the punishing .378 Weatherby Magnum.
They come in a variety of stock styles and barrel options. For me, none of those things mattered but the action type. After looking online, I happened to see one at my local Cabella’s, a new Ruger No. 1 Tropical chambered in .375 H&H. I bought the rifle and 20 rounds of quality ammunition for just under $800. It was an easy sell.
The reason that the barrel and stock option aren’t important to me is that I’ll be scrapping both. I also intend to improve the good, but not great trigger, as well as change the sights a bit.
Before I got to changing things, I wanted to see what the stock rifle will do. This one has a 24-inch medium heavy barrel. One of the great things about the No. 1 is that, because of the extremely short action, a 24-inch barrel handles like a 20-inch barrel on a similarly chambered bolt gun.
I found it to be a very handy rifle, easy to shoot off-hand and from the kneel. It’s not terribly comfortable at the bench or from a rest, and I looked to change that as well. With an Atibal Nomad scope turned all the way up, mounted in the supplied rings, my average group for four groups of five shots equaled 1 3/4″ at 100 yards. I’d like to see better, but actually, for my purposes, that’ll do.
Recoil is stout, especially from the bench, but not altogether punishing. A 20-round string leaves me a bit sore, but unbruised. Of course, there were no problems with feeding or extraction at all. The action is smooth and worked perfectly.
Although I’m an amateur wood worker and gunsmith, this is a job for a professional. I met that professional last year at the Team 5 Medical Foundation’s SHOT Show fundraiser. John Stewart of Kiote Rifles had one of his precision .308s there, and the quality and workmanship of that rifle was absolutely exceptional.
After talking with Mr. Stewart, I was convinced I wanted one of his rifles. I just didn’t know which one. When he told me he was looking for something new and interesting to work on, I had just the thing in mind. The No. 1, but redone.
Mr. Stewart wasn’t the first quality gunsmith I asked about the project. Everyone else either told me no, or did not instill confidence. These were all good smiths, but they did what they did, and only what they did and none of them specialized in the No. 1.
Mr. Stewart’s attitude was refreshing. He wanted to do what he hadn’t done, but with the same (sometimes maddening) attention to detail and quality that he had focused on with his precision bolt guns. He agreed to take on the project.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, we walked through dozens of details and questions, many of which I just had to leave up to him. He took the project in directions I wouldn’t have gone, but I was glad he did. After hearing that I wanted to shoot it both iron sighted and with a low power optic, he suggested a hidden adjustable riser inside a modified wooden stock. I was wary. He sent me a sketch.
I was sold.
The stock would be made by Armstrong Precision Gunworks out of the great frozen north of Canada. They sent some photos and I picked out a gorgeous piece of black walnut with practically holographic grain.
I’ve seen hidden risers on some of his bolt gun stocks, and hidden is the right word. Not only would the No. 1 have an adjustable comb, but the shape of the stock and fore-end would be like no other No. 1 made. A little nicer shooting from a rest, its shape would also manage recoil better, and add some weight to the gun. Weight on a belted magnum is good.
Mr. Stewart is going to try to improve the gun’s accuracy with a custom 26-inch Pac-Nor barrel. I’d really love an octagonal to round barrel, but so far neither I nor Mr. Stewart have been able to find any high quality manufacturer who will cut that profile. If anyone out there has any leads, I’d appreciate it.
There’s going to be quite a bit of work for Mr. Stewart after the barrel is cut, because both sights and the scope mounting rib are on the barrel itself. Mr. Stewart will also be in charge of bringing that trigger down to to 2.5 lbs and polishing it up to break crisp and clean.
Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Stewart will send the rifle off to have all the metal master-blued and polished. At some point, we’ll change the front sight a bit as well, and I haven’t decided on what glass to mount on it yet.
All in all, it will be a very different Ruger No. 1 than we started with, and hopefully, a much better one. The goal is a beautiful, robust, one-of-a-kind rifle that will be comfortable to carry and shoot, weight around 10 lbs, and hopefully be a little more accurate.
I expect the project will take some time, but hope to have it ready to hunt with some time this winter. I’ll be filing you in on its progress, as well as its future hunts. If it ends up as we all hope, I expect this to be the last rifle I buy for a long time, and certainly the last rifle I’ll ever need. Well, we’ll see about that.