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The Original Silver Bullet
Rifle Magazine
July - August 1999
Volume 31, Number 4
ISSN: 0162-3583
Number 184
On the cover...
Ron Spomer's 6mm Remington Model 70 Winchester coy
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No one makes the perfect coyote rifle, so I designed my own and had it custom built. Sometimes a shooter's gotta do what a shooter's gotta do.

The definition of the perfect coyote rifle is, of course, open to interpretation, and yours might not be the same as mine. Terrain, habitat, hunting tactics and personal preferences enter into these things. I hunt on the open plains and Rocky Mountain foothills by hiking and calling with some spot-and-stalk shooting mixed in. One shooting opportunity might come at 10 yards running, the next at 350 yards sitting. Plus, on occasion, the tool might be called upon to handle the odd prairie dog, 'chuck and even plains whitetail. Therefore my ideal prairie wolf rifle is a compromise of sorts - a responsive, quick-handling bolt-action repeater that can shoot far, flat and accurately.

This does not include the heavy-barreled, heavy-stocked varmint rifles so popular of late. They're simply too heavy and slow to swing into action. I discovered this several years ago when I called a coyote toward my Savage M112BVSS .22-250 Remington. I'd mounted a Harris bipod on the forend stud and was all set to pick off distant dogs, but my first customer broke out of tall sage at 200 yards and ran straight toward me, nonstop, bounding in and out of view until it popped up within bow range. It was still moving faster than I could swing that heavy rifle when it passed behind me at squirt gun range.

Certainly varmint rifles are wonderfully effective for concentrated long-range shooting, but coyotes are rarely concentrated, and when you call them they're more often at 50 yards than 300. During a typical day in Kansas, I might carry my rifle six miles and shoot it once. Then again I might fire it five times in rapid succession as two or three dogs race in simultaneously to eat me - like they tried to do one December morning.

"You watch the southeast. I'll watch the southwest," I whispered to my partner Tom as we wriggled into position against fence posts between a milo stubble field and a green winter wheat field. Tom warmed up his caller with a short series of soft cries so as not to frighten any close, timid dogs. None came. He cranked up the volume and wailed. A minute later the tiny, rim-lighted silhouette of an inquisitive coyote poked over the wheat field horizon. "Out front," Tom whispered.

"I've got him." The coyote was approaching steadily but cautiously, stopping every few yards to study the situation. Meanwhile, a more aggressive beast appeared in the milo stubble, leaping the rows eagerly in its effort to reach dinner. When it reached the end rows, a 55-grain Hornady .22 slug stopped it at about 40 yards. The explosion put the distant wheat field dog into retreat, but a series of frantic distressed pup calls from Tommy stopped it at about 350 yards, maybe 400. The morning sun was behind it and those are tough lighting situations for judging range, so I hesitated, which was a good thing because in my peripheral vision I caught the motion of a third coyote circling behind us. I spun, centered it at 8x and dropped the hammer of the Ruger Model 77 .22-250 Remington. The shot was too much for the wheat field coyote. This time it turned tail and didn't look back, neatly dodging several bullets.

That's the kind of fast action that inspires me to carry a repeating rifle weighing somewhere between 8 and 9 pounds, scoped and ready to rumble. I find that weight an acceptable compromise - light enough to move quickly, heavy enough to shoot accurately. The bolt action is my "speed" compromise. Admittedly a pump, autoloader and perhaps even a lever action would cycle rounds more quickly, but probably not as accurately. The inherent potential accuracy of the bolt action is too important to ignore, at least for me. When a dog holds up at 250 yards or I spot one at 350 yards across a big flat, I want the confidence a sub-MOA rifle provides. Coyotes are relatively small targets, particularly when they stand head-on facing you.

Yes, I'm aware that someone out there knows of someone's brother's uncle who has an old Remington slide action that dumps three .270 slugs into a dime every time it's fired from a bench, but I don't own it, and my odds of finding that rifle's twin are not encouraging. Yes, a number of the latest Browning pumps and autoloading rifles fitted with BOSS attachments have been shooting sub-MOA. Many serious coyote callers shoot Ruger Mini 14s, too, figuring they'll get more chances to tumble running coyotes at close range than to snipe sitters at 350 yards. This is all well and good for those folks, but as for me, I'm hooked on the turn bolt. I use it for deer, sheep, elk, moose and kudu. Why not coyotes? I like how a sporter-weight bolt action balances, and I appreciate the fact the bedding and trigger pull can be easily tuned for optimum accuracy. After decades of practice, I can lift, pull, push and drop the bolt quickly enough.

(1) The Zeiss 3-9x scope is mounted in Leupold Quick Release rings and Weaver-type bases. (2) Rifles Inc., out of Ceader City, Utah, did all the critical metalwork on the custom Model 70.

Over the years I've hunted prairie canines with Winchester, Remington, Savage, Weatherby, Sako, Ruger and Browning bolt-action rifles plus a single-shot Dakota, a break-action Thompson/Center Encore, a lever-action Winchester and even a few shotguns. I've fired a variety of cartridges including .222 Remington, .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, .243 Winchester, 6mm Remington, .260 Remington, .25-06 Remington, .270 Winchester, .270 Weatherby Magnum, .284 Winchester, .280 Ackley Improved, 7mm Remington Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, .30-06 and .300 Winchester Magnum. While all of them proved more than capable of handling the biggest and baddest old dog coyote I ever came across, some were a tad weak for long shots, and many were excessively aggressive at any range.

(3) A closeup of the Model 70 bolt shows the gas block behind the locking lug. (4) The lines of the chechering blend nicely with the run of the wood.

Most years the value of a coyote pelt encourages gentle handling. The ideal bullet goes in and doesn't come out, which is why between 1972 and 1990 I shot most coyotes with .22-caliber rifles, usually the .22-250. The old Hornady 50-grain SX bullet at about 3,300 fps went in and stayed in, which meant good news at the fur buyer. Unfortunately, at those scaled-back velocities, the little slugs were not the best long-range performers, dropping more than they needed to and drifting considerably in the wind.

These days, what with pelts nearly worthless and coyotes more pest than commodity, I've determined the best combination of flat trajectory, minimal wind drift, adequate power, suitable bullet styles and low recoil is delivered by the 6mm Remington fired through at least a 24-inch barrel. Some of the new lightweight, frangible plastic-tipped bullets from Nosler, Hornady and Sierra disintegrate inside a song dog's confines, causing instant death and no pelt damage. This, of course, requires a good center hit. Fringe shots will tear holes, but that applies to any bullet from any centerfire.

Admittedly the .22-250 Remington and .220 Swift will fly hot on the heels of the 6mm Remington, but these days I like the slight advantage of the 60- to 80-grain .24-caliber slugs for bucking wind drift at extreme ranges and for adding a bit of punch. The .25-06 Remington actually does all this slightly better than the 6mm but at what I consider an unnecessary cost in recoil and muzzle blast.

According to the RCBS.Load computer program, a 55-grain, .224-inch Nosler Ballistic Tip sent on its way at 3,900 fps and sighted at 250 yards will drop -2.4 inches at 300 yards, -10.8 inches at 400. In the mythical 10 mph crosswind it will blow 8.1 inches off course at 300 yards, 15.3 inches at 400. Compare that to the 70-grain, .243-inch Nosler Ballistic Tip launched at 3,700 fps. It lands -2.5 inches low at 300 yards, -11.2 inches at 400. It drifts 7.31 inches at 300 yards and 13.6 inches at 400. The 85-grain, .257 Nosler Ballistic Tip starting life at 3,600 fps drops -2.6 inches at 300 yards, -11.5 inches at 400 and drifts just 7.02 inches at 300 yards, 13.1 at 400.

I'm not sure there's enough difference in any of those numbers to fight over. Some folks will run with the .25-06 because they like the idea of the slightly heavier bullet's killing power at 400 yards in addition to the absolute minimum wind drift. Others will go with the .220 Swift to reduce powder and bullet costs plus maximize trajectory. I'll compromise with the 6mm Remington, enjoying the 1/34 inch less wind drift than the Swift at 400 yards and not worrying about the 1/2 inch increased drop at that range. As I see it, the only real problem with the 6mm Remington is that no one manufactures it in a repeater with a 24-inch barrel.

Check the major rifle manufacturer's catalogs and you'll see what I mean. No production bolt-action repeater sporting a two-foot barrel is reamed for 6mm Remington. In fact, you'll have difficulty finding anything chambered in 6mm Remington. In the 1998 catalogs all I could find in that superb chambering were three rifles: a Remington Model 700 Varmint Laminated Stock with 26-inch heavy barrel, which is great for long-range varminting but too unwieldy for roaming the plains and swinging on little wolves running by at shotgun range; a Ruger No. 1 Varminter with a 24-inch tube, which is another great long-range rifle but a single shot and a rather heavy one at that; and an Ultra Light Arms Model 20 - a wonderful rifle but about three times the price of your run-of-the-mill Model 70 or Model 700. (Considering the Model 20's fit, balance, rugged construction, light weight and excellent out-of-the-box accuracy, I almost bought one Ð until I saw a certain slab of raw walnut. More on that later.)

Obviously the 6mm Remington shopper hasn't a lot to choose from. Now, if you don't mind settling for second best (in my humble opinion), you can go with the .243 Winchester. Just about every bolt-action rifle (European and American) plus many lever actions, pumps, break actions, falling blocks and autoloaders currently being manufactured are chambered in .243 Winchester. That isn't a bad cartridge, not bad at all. The case has only 4 percent less volume (about 2 grains water) than the 6mm and will generate velocities within 50 to 150 fps of the larger 6mm. Some folks can live with that. What's another 100 fps, after all? A half-inch at 300 yards? Maybe 1.5 inches at 400? Not enough difference to worry about but enough to sway this shooter's opinion. Besides, since this was to be my special coyote rifle, why shouldn't I indulge myself? The first "modern" cartridge I ever hunted with was the 6mm Remington, so nostalgia and a bit of romance played a part in my selection.

Another option would have been to buy a .243 Winchester and rechamber it to 6mm Remington or a .243 Improved. By blowing out the .243's wall taper and changing the 20-degree shoulder to 30 degrees, case capacity is almost identical to the 6mm Remington. The drawback is you reduce the resale value of your rifle, nonstandard chambers not being popular with the general shooting public. Besides, if I'd wanted to play the "Improved" card, I could have opted for the 6mm/.284 wildcat. There's no end to this modification business once you get started. No, I decided to stick with a factory cartridge, and the 6mm was it. With that, I began considering parts.

Below, while the one-in-12-inch twist wouldn't stablize the 100-grain Nosler Partion, it worked fine with the Remington factory 80-grain Sierra Pro Hunter. Right, the handloader has a variety of components to choose from for the 6mm Remington.

Oddly enough, the genesis of this particular rifle actually began with the stock. While touring the Reinhart Fajen plant in Lincoln, Missouri, a few years ago, I spied a heavily marbled slab of English walnut in the select room. Dark mineral grain swirled through the buttstock like chocolate syrup stirred into half-melted ice cream, then straightened into horizontal streaking with a slight upward angle through the grip and forend. Functionally it was a nearly perfect slab of wood. Cosmetically the marbling was a bit too open for traditional tastes, which is why the asking price was only $600 instead of the $850 written on neighboring sticks. Regardless the price, it was lust at first sight. Later, when I saw what custom shop manager Donnie Gemes's artisans could do with a slab of walnut, I knew I wouldn't sleep nights until I possessed that chunk of tree and had it shaped to cradle a barreled action.

Given the quality of that blank, the rifle quickly took shape. A classic, high-grade walnut stock simply had to be married to a classic action - the Winchester Model 70. Neither possessing a pre-64 action nor desiring to pay the freight to acquire one, I turned toward its modern equivalent, the "new" pre-64 style action. Though not an exact replica of the original, the new action is just as stylish, just as effective in controlling cartridges on their ride into the chamber and just as dependable at extracting them with that big external Mauser-style claw. (Not that I worried about getting caught with an empty stuck in the chamber while a coyote charged.)

Actually, the new Model 70 actions sport several improvements over the originals. For one thing they are made of our newest high-quality steels and are cut with tight tolerances on computer numerical control (CNC) machines. For another, the new bolts include a gas block collar that stays in the left raceway to divert blowback gases should a primer blow or a case rupture. Of course, the extractor claw still blocks gases along the right side raceway, and the long groove cut in the bottom of the bolt face directs gases down into the magazine slot. A third advantage of the new action is the antibind groove cut into the right lug that mates to the right rail in the receiver. This isn't so important with a short-action length, but it can't hurt. Finally, the new pre-64 claw action comes in a true short-action length, which makes for a stiffer, more compact rifle overall. The original Model 70 action came in standard length only and employed bolt stops and a blocked magazine to accommodate .308-length cartridges.

As I am an armchair gunsmith at best, I had to hire someone to actually put this gun together, and Lex Webernick at Rifles, Inc. in Cedar City, Utah, was my choice. Over the years I've had the pleasure of shooting and hunting with a number of Webernick rifles, and all were precisely made and inspirationally accurate. My favorite Alaskan rifle is a Rifles, Inc. Strata Stainless .280 Ackley Improved that puts three 150-grain Barnes X-Bullets inside .5 inch day after day. Lex works diligently and finishes projects on time. This means a lot when you've seen your dream rifle in your mind's eye and can't wait to get your hands on it.

The 6mm Remington offers fine versatiltiy, covering most everything form praire dogs and marmots to extended range shots at antelope.

Naturally I consulted with Lex about my ideas and asked for his recommendations. He applauded my choice of Fajen for the stock work and Winchester for the action. Then he recommended a one-in-12-inch twist Shilen barrel, his own accurizing overhaul (square the action and barrel, lap the lugs, work the trigger, etc.) and a Teflon finish to the metal. At this stage in the project I anticipated using the "coyote" rifle for pronghorns and prairie deer from time to time as well as rockchucks and ground squirrels, so I questioned the twist rate, which historically has not stabilized 100-grain .243-inch slugs. Lex argued for the 12-inch twist because he'd had excellent results shooting the new Hornady 55-grain, .243 Ballistic Tips at one in 12. Besides, he explained, I could always load 85-grain X-Bullets or Nosler Partitions for pronghorn and deer. I had to admit 5 to 15 grains of bullet wouldn't make much difference. Given that I have a number of more suitable rifles for big game, I probably would shoot the new 6mm at 'chucks and prairie dogs more than deer anyway. So one in 12 it was.

While Lex set to work on the steel, I consulted with Donnie Gemes about the stock design. His classic Winchester Model 70 stock pattern included a cheekpiece that I didn't want, so he shaved it off. Next, since I have relatively short fingers, I requested a slightly smaller than standard pistol grip and forend. For checkering Donnie recommended 22 lines per inch in a wraparound pattern on the forend. Checkering on the grip side panels would just meet over the top. No double borders, flowers, loops or weaves. Just a simple, precise checkering that would provide a good grip in cold, wet weather.

I was ambivalent about a forend tip but eventually opted for an ebony nose as it is traditional on classic stocks. I did have a hankering for a skeleton buttplate and grip cap with checkered wood inside, but price considerations nudged me toward a checkered steel cap and Niedner buttplate instead. These steel caps better maintained the stock's traditional, western North America style anyway. I toyed with the idea of including some engraving on the action but decided to keep the metal clean both to save costs and, again, to stick with the simple western style. Winchester's standard checkered bolt knob band would be the only metal ornamentation, and that would blend nicely with the checkered grip cap and buttplate.

At that time, September 1997, the Fajen custom shop was turning out stocks in about 90 days. Donnie said he'd get my blank into the system as soon as possible and asked that I have Lex send him the barreled action in the white as soon as he had it ready. Stock and metal would then go back to Lex for application of a Teflon finish and final assembly. If I were lucky, I might have the gun in time for some hunting yet that winter.

Initially I'd figured on standard blued steel for this rifle, sticking to its classic theme, but considering the rifle's rather esoteric chambering and job description, a modern metal finish wasn't such a bad idea. Even though I was looking forward to enjoying the rifle's good looks, I also planned to hunt it and hunt it hard. A day in the Rocky Mountain foothills can bring rain and snow as well as sun and dust.

Right on schedule, Fajen finished the stock by the end of December, and Lex delivered the fully finished rifle shortly thereafter. It was as pretty as I'd hoped and weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces. The trigger broke sharply at 2 1/2 pounds and there was just enough space between stock and barrel to slip a standard sheet of typing paper through. The recoil lug was bedded in epoxy. To ensure the stock absorbs as little moisture as possible, I treated all internal surfaces with tung oil. Through a summer of high humidity in the Midwest, a dry, warm deer season in Kansas and a snowy subzero coyote hunt in South Dakota, the stock retained that fit, though the paper is beginning to drag. I might need to sand a bit more relief into the channel.

Because I wanted to shoot and hunt with this rifle as much as possible, I increasingly saw it as a dual-purpose tool rather than strictly a coyote rifle. Thus, I decided to fit it with two scopes, one for long-range sniping at ground squirrels and 'chucks, another for stalking coyotes and pronghorns. To accommodate two scopes, I mounted Leupold Weaver-style bases, then secured each scope in Leupold QRW rings. The varmint scope was a Nikon 6.5-20x44 with adjustable objective lens. For general hunting I chose a classy Zeiss Diavara C 3-9x36 MC. This is Zeiss's one-inch scope built especially for the American market where the larger 30mm European tubes haven't quite caught on. To my eye the one-inch tube looks just right atop a classic American bolt-action rifle, and this one is no exception. Predictably, image quality is outstanding.

With rings attached, the Zeiss weighs 1 pound, 2 ounces, taking overall rifle weight to 8 pounds, 11 ounces. Add sling swivels, nylon Uncle Mike's sling and five 80-grain rounds in the magazine and the field ready carry weight is right at 9 pounds, 5 ounces - no ultralight, but no 13-pound varmint rig either. The Nikon with rings weighs one pound, 7 ounces, so even in its varmint guise, the rifle still comes in under 10 pounds.

I initially bore sighted each scope with a Simmons mechanical bore sighter that put me within 2 inches of point of aim at 100 yards. The Shilen barrel was initiated by cleaning it judiciously but carefully after each of the first 10 shots, then after every second shot for 10 more using a nylon-coated Dewey one-piece rod and a Stoney Point bore guide.

That completed, the new "Model 70" 6mm Remington began showing its potential. It dropped three Remington 75-grain V-Max boat-tail factory loads into .559 inch at 100 yards, three 80-grain pointed softpoint Remington factory loads into .652, three 70-grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullets driven to 3,500 fps with 46 grains of H-414 powder into .866 and three of the same bullets loaded to 3,731 fps with 49 grains of H-414 inside .758 inch. As these loads were built around new factory brass, I anticipate even better groups with fireformed, neck-sized brass. Looks like coyote medicine to me.

With heavier bullets the slow-twist barrel didn't fare as well. Nosler 100-grain Partitions in Federal Premium factory loads punched egg-shaped holes in the target and didn't group for beans. I got the same tumbling bullet holes and ragged groups with the long 85-grain Barnes X-Bullet. This was a disappointment as I'd hoped that one of those bullets, especially the X-Bullet with its blue XLC coating, would become my big game medicine for this rifle. Ah well, there are plenty of other good bullets to try.

The 95- and 85-grain Nosler Partitions will be next up. This spring I'll see how the 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips perform. I anticipate driving them 4,000 fps which, on calm days, should take much of the range estimation out of cross-canyon 'chuck shooting in Idaho and Nevada. I'm also watching development of Barnes's new XLC-coated varmint bullets. They could be real screamers with minimum fouling.

Thus far my "coyote" rifle has accounted for nine of 10 prairie dogs fired at, one coyote at 185 yards (all with Remington's 75-grain V-Max factory ammunition) and two whitetails dropped with 80-grain Sierra Pro-Hunter softpoints in Federal Classic factory loads. I think this semicustom Fajen/Rifles, Inc. 6mm Remington Model 70 will prove to be just what I was aiming for and more: a responsive close-range sporter for called coyotes with the stability, accuracy and velocity to reach cautious prairie wolves out to 400 yards. In addition it'll be more than adequate for long-range varmints and a good open country stalking rifle for plains pronghorns, mule deer and whitetails. Last but not least, it'll be as much fun to look at as shoot.
Montana X-treme
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