Briley Manufacturing took a Field Tests reader’s gun and turned it into a topnotch hunting arm.
Before David Burns winged toward Kazakhstan, Field Tests equipped him with a brand-new .264 Winchester Magnum bolt-action project rifle put together for the magazine and Burns by Briley Manufacturing of Houston, Texas. The five-month development of the $2,000 project rifle, which began as a .270 Weatherby Magnum, highlights the technical challenges inherent in building a lightweight, potent, and reliable hunting rifle.
The project began because Burns, a Safari Club member who has hunted widely in the western United States, had lost confidence in his five-year-old factory .270 Weatherby Magnum. Thus, when he decided to travel to the former Soviet state of Kazakhstan to hunt Asian ibex, he wanted a lighter, more accurate rifle, and he asked us to help him put it together.
Burns said he purchased a black-stocked .270 Weatherby Weathermark five years ago. The gun, which had a 26-inch barrel, helped him take caribou, deer, antelope, aoudad, mouflon, Hawaiian goats, hogs, and sheep. Despite the confidence these experiences gave him, he recently missed a buck one morning, after he had sighted the gun in the night before. Also, a Harris bipod that he has used religiously finally reamed out the sling mount and gave way. Over the years, he’s also become disenchanted with other facets of the .270 Weatherby’s performance. He notes that the ammunition is expensive. A common retail price for the ammo is between $23 and $30 a box. Also, the gun as it comes from the factory is heavy. Scoped and outfitted with a sling, it tipped the scales at 10 pounds. The ammo added additional ounces. Most important, Burns believes he never got out of the gun the accuracy Weatherby claims for its products. He said he never got the gun to put four shots in a 2-inch circle.
To improve these performance aspects of the gun, we turned to Chuck Webb, general manager at Briley Manufacturing. He suggested the gunsmithing equivalent of a full makeover: new cartridge and barrel, new stock, and new optics and mounts.
“Choosing the right cartridge is always the first and most important step,” Webb said. “The .270 Weatherby Magnum, as far as velocity and energy are concerned, is a good pick for ibex- and deer-sized game, but the ammunition is hard to find and it’s very expensive. Also, from the gunsmithing perspective, it’s hard to make the Weatherby rifles shoot accurately because the barrels require a lot of freebore to keep pressures down. For us to tighten up the barrel dimensions enough to make a Weatherby shoot, we have to accept higher pressures. It’s not a good trade-off, in my opinion. We can take a standard magnum like the .264, which is very flat shooting and just right for the ibex, and make it shoot very accurately.”
Another factor that mitigated for the .264, Webb said, was his intention to lighten the gun as much as possible. Though he intended to salvage the Weatherby’s receiver and bolt, he planned to rebarrel the gun, mill the receiver, and replace the stock with a slightly lighter model. Also, he decided to mill custom aluminum bases for the scope mount. These weight savings would bring the completed gun weight down about a pound. A hotter round might necessitate a muzzle brake to ease recoil in the lighter gun.
To begin the process, Briley technicians disassembled the .270 Weatherby, removing the factory stock and unscrewing the blued Weatherby barrel. Briley sent the stripped receiver to Shilen Rifles, Inc., of Ennis, Texas, to get a new stainless-steel tube screwed onto the receiver. In the meantime, Webb contacted stockmaker H-S Precision of Rapid City, South Dakota, and ordered a new stock for the gun.
Webb said he preferred the H-S Precision stock because that company makes lightweight, rigid, durable replacement hunting-rifle products. He particularly likes the aluminum base built into the stock, which gives a solid, unchanging surface on which to mate the barreled action to the stock.
Then Briley riflesmith Bobby Pitchford began working with the parts. The first step was to glass the front-lug area of the H-S stock to index the barrel to the stock. With the barrel’s serial number pressed into the bedding plastic, Burns has an exact reference about where the barrel sits in the stock channel. Next, Briley milled the receiver to remove about 4 ounces of weight. To reduce weight further, Briley drilled out the steel bolt handle and skeletonized the magazine box.
Then Briley reworked the original trigger by grinding, respringing, and adjusting its settings. Pitchford polished all the sear surfaces on the trigger and then adjusted the trigger to get the weight to break between 23/4 pounds and 3 pounds. Next, the gun’s scope mounts and rings were replaced. Briley machined new mounts in place on the rifle to ensure they lined up with the bore. Also, Briley matte-finished the brilliant stainless Shilen tube, an appropriate move on a hunting rifle. Cosmetically, the assembled rifle is a blend of different shades of gray. The stainless tube has a flat, even sheen that picks up the color of flecks in the stock. The blued surfaces of the receiver and scope contrast nicely with the flat gray color of the stock. The grooved surfaces of the milled receiver pick up the lines of the barrel, which gives the gun a clean, integrated appearance.
The drop in the H-S stock makes it sit well in the standing and kneeling positions. In standing, the shooter can hold the gun in position, anchoring the elbow to the ribcage, while keeping the head erect, looking through the center of the scope. In kneeling, the soft rubber recoil pad sticks comfortably in the shoulder and allows the shooter to construct a stable field-shooting position.
Of course, the gun had to shoot or all this effort was worthless. Pitchford fired Remington 140-grain factory ammo into a 5/8-inch group. When David Burns lined up an ibex in the exotic land of Kazakhstan, his rebuilt-from-the-ground-up Briley conversion would put three shots into a group that can be covered with a quarter. If he missed, he could have attributed it to any number of factors—except the gun.
For more information on the products, contact Briley Manufacturing, Dept. FT, 1230 Lumpkin, Houston, TX 77043, telephone (800) 331-5718 or (713) 932-6995; fax (713) 932-1043; H-S Precision, Inc., Dept. FT, 1301 Turbine Dr., Rushmore Industrial Park, Rapid City, SD 57701, telephone (605) 341-3006, fax (605) 342-8964; and Shilen Rifles, Inc., Dept. FT, P.0. Box 1300, Ennis, TX 75120, telephone (214) 875-5318, fax (214) 875-1442.