than 25 calendars have been worn out since I loaded my first cartridge. Looking back, it
seems the years were counted out like pocket change - quickly, casually and without much
Still, my memory remains
remarkably bright regarding the details of that initial handloading experience. Perhaps
this is due to the fact my life was changed that day, substantially and in several ways.
Perhaps the gratitude and admiration I feel for the man who was my teacher have something
to do with the clarity of these recollections.
In the summer of 1972, I was working for the
National Shooting Sports Foundation. My boss, the president of that outfit, was Warren
Page. Those who followed the shooting press during the 1950s and 1960s are liable to
remember the name. Warren had been the shooting editor at Field & Stream. He
was an internationally respected big game hunter, a winner of the Weatherby Award and a
champion benchrest shooter at the national level. Warren also had a hand (one way or
another) in the development of such factory cartridges as the .222 Remington, the .243
Winchester, the 6mm Remington and the 7mm Remington Magnum.
People who knew him personally will tell you
Warren Page was a man with an explosive temper and a scalding tongue. I never saw much of
his difficult side. For reasons known only to him, he treated me with kindness and great
generosity. Since he signed my paychecks, he knew to the penny how much money I was
earning. He knew, too, that I had a wife, two small children and a serious rifle habit.
So, from time to time, when I expressed a yearning for one of his rifles, he would sell it
to me for $200. The price was always the same. These were custom rifles, mind you. In
retrospect, I do not believe the money mattered to him. He had simply settled on a nominal
number that was low enough to be within my means and high enough to discourage my walking
off with the entire contents of his gun room.
So the first rifle I ever loaded for came from
Warren's rack. It had been built by Bliss Titus on a Model 98 Mauser action. It was
equipped with a 4x Kollmorgen scope. The chambering was .280 Remington. The barrel was
slender and 22 inches long. In all, the Titus rifle was handsome, wonderfully light by the
standards of the day and nicely accurate. At the price paid, it was a gift.
Under Warren's tutelage, I went up the
learning curve quickly. The second rifle I ever loaded for was chambered to a wildcat
cartridge. The barrel was marked in this fashion: "Built by P.O. Ackley for Warren
Page - .257 Ackley Improved." The action was a 33/40 Mauser. Taken together, the
Stith scope and its mounts could only be described as a contraption. The scope had no
internal adjustments. The mounting system incorporated a leaf spring that, theoretically,
held the scope in the bases under tension. The rear base was a sort of V block with two
screws extending diagonally up through the sides of the base and bearing on the rear of
the scope tube. Windage and elevation changes were accomplished, theoretically, by turning
these screws in or out. Problem was, when one of the screws was turned, windage and
elevation were both adjusted in some unpredictable degree. It is no accident this
arrangement disappeared from the market decades ago.
Naturally, Warren had loading data for both
rifles. He urged me to take advantage of the superior performance afforded by his
carefully designed handloads, as compared to factory ammunition. Being what you might call
technically and mechanically challenged, I was apprehensive, but he prevailed.
One Saturday morning, I went to his house in
New Canaan, Connecticut, and Warren conducted a private clinic for me. He put the
appropriate components for the .280 Remington load on the bench, showed me how to set up
and operate the equipment, talked me through the loading of two or three cartridges and
left me alone to finish 40 rounds. Come to think of it, maybe the anxiety associated with
that session at the bench accounts for my near-perfect recall - unfired Remington cases,
150-grain Nosler Partition bullets, IMR-4350 powder. The charge was approved by the
then-current Speer manual, though it would be considered a trifle heavy today. Life
without lawyers is good, so I will keep that datum to myself. Only the primer employed and
the overall cartridge length are less than certain in my mind, but I believe the cap was
the Remington 9 1/2.
That afternoon we drove over to the Campfire
Club and put some of my newly crafted ammo on paper. Three-shot groups consistently
spanned less than an inch. Five-shot strings were not so impressive due to overheating the
light barrel. Right then and there, I became a convert to handloading.
In the fall, a trip to Texas gave me my first
chance at game with the Titus rifle. Not far from Kerrville, I took a 10-point whitetail
buck. Since that bright and shining day, I have used handloads for virtually all my
hunting. Only when on a hunt with representatives of Remingchester do I shoot the
mass-produced stuff. Contrary to what you sometimes hear from hunters who depend on the
factory product, my ammunition has been utterly, absolutely, completely dependable.
Warren has been gone since 1977, and I live in
Texas now. Thanks to the start he gave me, I have managed to earn a modest amount of
money, in even more modest increments, by writing about handloading. On the subject of
writing, I am obliged to add that he also helped me edit and sell the first magazine
article I ever wrote. It would be fair to say he was the one who launched my alleged
Thus ends the first installment of this new
column. Where we will go and what we will do in the next issue is anybody's guess. I have
made some priceless friends because of our shared interest in the product of the
hand-powered reloading press. Without exception, they are people who are willing to give
freely of their knowledge, so I have even acquired some useful information. Finally, there
are stories to tell concerning guns and loads and how they have performed in practical
fact. Do come back.