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Awesome Art
Rifle Magazine
October - November 1999
Volume 34, Number 5
ISSN: 0017-7393
Number 201
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More 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 concern.

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 career.

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.

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