Monthly Archives: November 2013

Sauer 202 Forest Takedown 9.3×62 & .30-06 Review

 

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I have an oft mentioned Kalahari Lion hunt rapidly approaching, and I decided it was time to switch to a takedown after loading my .375 H&H Ruger RSM and its giant Pelican case on countless aircraft. I secretly pined for the small cases of the wealthy hunters travelling on the same aircraft as me, seeing all those sweet, briefcase-esque little cases in the special firearms pick up area while I retrieved what could be a dead body in a box. Granted, my Pelican was sized big enough for two full length guns, my rifle and my assembled Ruger Gold Label side by side shotgun, making matters worse. The change I sought was drastic however, as for my third departure for the dark continent I bring far more than the usual backpack, boots, and guns; my wife and two young sons accompany this time. That will add significant luggage burden, which no doubt I’ll be expected to shoulder and pack being the lightest traveller of the bunch. Solution? Ask head office’s permission for a travel rifle. Permission was granted after effusive explanation of the benefits and increased ease of travel, and I purchased two competing designs to see which suited me more. Never could determine what I liked in ten minutes at the gun counter.

First purchase and applicant for the new job of right hand rifle was this, the first push feed of my modern era, having been an ardent and even belligerent proponent of controlled round feed in every bolt action I bought for a good while now. Figuring it was time I sample the future, as items like the IWI Tavor and Keltec KSG arrived in the mail for testing for this site and I found to my surprise I actually liked them and saw legitimate merit in new designs, I broke out of my comfort zone and ordered. It was also a departure from my favourite chambering, the venerable and multitalented .375 H&H, for something just a bit less effective but not prohibitively so, and milder. I had been meaning to give the 9.3×62 a good workout for some time as well.

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Chief reason for purchasing this Sauer Forest Takedown however, was its versatility, as I bought it with more than one barrel. Indeed, the Sauer 202 like many true takedowns can be assembled with various “front ends”. The Sauer 202 uses a barrel extension machined integral to the barrel with the lug recesses neatly machined inside, ala AR10 / AR15 design, this allows perfect pre-headspacing of multiple barrels if desired. The 202 uses a three lug bolt, featuring two rows of lugs, for a total of six lugs- very strong. Extraction is accomplished via a Sako style hook, and ejection a standard push feed spring loaded plunger. Three lugs means a 60 degree bolt lift, something I have yet to find appreciably different from the 90 degree Mauser style bolt lift I’m so very familiar with, though many will appreciate the more truncated travel of the bolt handle in a three lug system.

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I gravitated towards the Sauer 202 Forest Takedown because it is a true takedown, unlike the standard 202 and Mauser M03, among others in the class. The others, and standard 202, simply separate barrel from stock or variations on this theme, leaving you with a full length stock and a rifle perhaps a foot shorter than it was initially, but not half the length like a true takedown where the stock splits as well. I chose the Forest in particular due to its 20″ barrel, and proven hard hitting chambering of 9.3×62. It is a trim, handy little package that handles a lot like a heavy Model 94 Winchester carbine. Heavy, I should note, it certainly is, at 9 pounds even as a .30-06 and 9 1/4 pounds as a 9.3×62. The flip side of this, is the weight is back and “in the hands” thanks to the trim 20″ 9.3 barrel, and recoil is so mild you’d assume you’re shooting the .30-06 when it’s actually the 9.3 barrel in place. Speaking of weights, I didn’t scale the trigger, but it was superb and crisp at about 4 pounds.

The sights for the 9.3 Forest barrel befit the Forest moniker, they are extremely large, with a dayglo yellow marked rear blade and a red fibre optic front post. I’m an iron sight guy, have hunted using them exclusively now for approaching a decade, and I found them far too coarse. Decent for saving your bacon up close, but for sharp shot placement further out, seriously lacking. The .30-06 barrel sights were better and more traditional, with a gold blade up front and a cleaner dark steel rear blade. Finish on all of the Forest metal is Ilaflon, an extremely durable and 100% waterproof metal coating that renders the 202 Forrest essentially weatherproof; a very handy and nice touch in fine rifles. I’m as guilty as any of rust specking pricey guns because I have a nasty habit of using them in the field. I wish more fine makers added such common sense features, I may have one of the first Cerakoted double rifles soon, but that’s another matter.

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Now to change barrels on the 202 Takedown, you simply depress the front fore end sling swivel stud, a slick and perfectly integrated catch for the fore end you don’t even notice is there until you use it. As a side note the rear sling swivel can be removed in a very German engineered manner the same way, push the centre of the stud down, and pull it out. With the front swivel stud depressed, you pull the fore end forward and away from the barrelled action. With the bolt open, the barrel is free to be pulled out the receiver, being only a friction fit in the receiver. It is quite a tight fit that requires a strong pull to separate, it’s a good idea to have a film of oil on the near mirror finished barrel shank. The very tight fit is a good thing as there is no slop as a result, and very German in its fit and precision, as mentioned the shank is almost mirror smooth. There is an integrally machined key on the underside of the barrel and matching keyway in the receiver, that ensures the barrel stays timed perfectly, and can’t rotate.

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The barrels are retained chiefly by the bolt, as the lug recesses as mentioned are machined right into a ring on the breech end of the barrel, which the bolt lugs engage to lock up the action for firing and always ensuring barrel, bolt, and receiver are tightly bound as a single unit. Secondary barrel retainment, such as when the action is open for bolt cycling to chamber a new round, is achieved by the tight friction fit of the barrel in the receiver ring and ultimately the tapered fore end barrel channel and tension rearward on the fore end provided by the takedown mechanism. The channel’s taper combined with the tension from the takedown assembly ensures the barrel is held back in the receiver even under severe jolts. You can change chamberings, or barrels rather, in the 202 Takedown in five seconds if well practiced, it is slick, and simple. You need to stay within the family of cartridges to avoid requiring a second bolt and magazine, for instance 9.3×62 and .30-06 share essentially a common case, you could also have .270, or .25-06 and 9.3×62. If you have a magnum 202, you can run any manner of spare barrels within that range, but not 9.3×62  or .30-06 or the like without a second bolt and magazine, not cheap.

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One aesthetic feature I appreciated, and rare in firearms, is all the controls are matching. Both safety buttons, yes there are two and I’ll get to their operation shortly, the magazine release, and the swivel studs both the fore end release and the rear all work by depressing a button. All take approximately the same force, and are approximately the same size. The safety buttons and mag release are all absolutely identical in appearance, ringed low buttons about 3/8″ in diameter. The safety is interesting, and I really liked it. There is a button in the trigger guard, in front of the trigger, which you press up to go to “FIRE”, a connected button behind the bolt rises to expose a red ring, indicating ready to fire. There is also a red cocking indicator that peeks out the back of the bolt when the rifle is cocked on a closed bolt. To turn the safety back on, depress the button behind the bolt to hide the red ring. It is extremely fast and intuitive in use, and I never put my finger in the trigger guard unless intending to fire, so the position in the trigger guard suits me just fine. It is really nice not having to shift your grip in the slightest to silently operate the safety. For the magazine release, mags will cleanly drop free with gusto in a way reminiscent of a black rifle, thanks to a spring on the edge of the magazine well that keeps the mag under positive spring pressure. This ensures there is no rattling, a well thought out, and again very German touch, and it also drops the spent mag out quickly and cleanly.

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I did experience an issue I had read about, and that was the first shot flier after assembly of the rifle, all successive rounds grouped very tightly. I presume this is a result of slop being taken up, and barrel / bolt / receiver being jarred into proper alignment on the first firing. The flier was close enough to still hit home at hunting ranges, staying well on an 8.5″x11″ target at 100 yards relative to the following “good” rounds, I’d say average 3-4″ from the others, but it is still a curious and slightly disconcerting trait. Following advice I had been offered online, I found thumping the butt of the rifle against solid ground or a bench fixed this, so after changing barrels or assembling, give the rifle a rap on the butt pad against a firm surface and it will from then group tightly from round 1. Following assembly and use I did not however handle it as aggressively as I would hunting in Africa for weeks, and I wonder if all the time in a Land Cruiser’s gun rack jostling about, climbing steep granite gomas for views, dropping the rifle and so forth could work the tolerances open again to the point you’d get the flier without having disassembled it. I would thump the butt on the ground every morning as a precaution, not a procedure I would like to see being necessary unfortunately however. My double rifle, notably, does not suffer from this reassembly flier.

The rifle, really through no fault of its own, is also extremely susceptible to the classic push feed jam, or double feed. It was extremely easy to jam the action when purposely running a “bolt stutter”, that is to go forward partway, bring the bolt back, and go forward again as in a panic situation or when working the rifle at an awkward angle. It was quite a chore actually to attempt to clear the jam I induced through the small port offered for ejection on the 202, compared to the massive ports I’m accustomed to on American rifles and Mausers where essentially half the action is open to air. This, combined with my slower performance, and poorer hits by far, on 25 yard and closer speed drills versus the more powerful double rifle quickly made the decision for me with which I’ll hunt Lion. The slower nature in which I worked the 202 but more importantly the poorer hits, despite the lighter recoil of the 9.3×62 versus the .375 double, has everything to do with my preferences and practices and not the rifle, I’m just stating what I found in use. The ease of jamming the rifle solid reaffirmed my earlier notions on controlled round feed and dangerous game rifles.

A Classic Push Feed Jam, The Double Feed, not Sauer’s Fault but a Reality

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Would I recommend this to a friend? No.

I’m afraid that the cost, at about $6,500+ retail in the US, over $7,000 in Canada plus spare barrels makes this slick, but still push feed, fairly standard rifle cost prohibitive. The trouble is there are so few takedown, quality bolt actions available period, so if it’s something you need these are well thought out, solid rifles. I just didn’t find them appreciably different, and actually found it lacking in ways compared to even just my Ruger. The checkering, clearly manually done and that I appreciate, was quite rough with uneven checking and overruns, in fact a friend I helped learn to checker did a better job on his first stock, I expected better at this price point. You can see what I mean in some of the safety button photos, and I’ve added a checkering specific photo below, this checkering would be swell on a Ruger but at on a rifle that retails at $7,000+ here… Anyhow, the rifles’ big trick, the takedown feature and main reason I bought it really, just isn’t worth the $5,000 more over my Ruger RSM to me when I can invest in a double rifle instead, that does something appreciably different from my Ruger and still breaks down just as easily. That is the path I took, and I will review the Merkel 140AE .375 I chose shortly.

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The Right Tool for an Unfortunate Job: A Double Rifle & A Wood Bison Bull

Bison Bull & Merkel .375

The Right Tool for an Unfortunate Job: A Double Rifle & a Wood Bison Bull, Cleaning up a Poacher’s Mess. 

Today I had a rather peculiar, unfortunate, and extremely rare experience. I work remote in Northern British Columbia, Canada, hundreds of kilometres from town, flying helicopters for what I describe as my real job. Returning to camp for fuel mid day, I saw three men and two pickup trucks on the only road into the area, they had their doors open and were looking at the bush talking, nothing unusual except outsiders are quite rare up here. What had caught my eye however was the mess of tracks, human and Bison, all over the area in front of them in the snow. This morning, there were three Wood Bison hanging around near our camp’s front gate, extremely close to where these men were. I immediately suspected Bison hunters, which isn’t uncommon as the herd while closed for hunting is of course open to Treaty 8 Aboriginals, who take substantial numbers every year. For instance three were killed just today that I know of including the one in this article. However hunting this close, literally at the gate of our hangar and camp is unheard of.

Just previous to my fly over, over ten shots were heard in quick succession at camp, the shooting being a maximum of thirty or so yards given the footprints on the road and blood on the side. I called our boss to have him check out what the men were up to, most importantly because they were a hundred yards from our hangar and had been shooting. He found three Caucasian males, immediately defensive and stating they were with a band member who was somewhere in the bush, and that they had indeed shot a Bison. The vehicle plates were covered in snow and ice, and the men not exactly friendly and somewhat agitated now having been overflown low by a helicopter and then questioned in person, so he grabbed vehicle descriptions and left. I called it in to the BC RAPP line, and was connected with a conservation officer named Mike in minutes. Mike and an officer from the next town who happened to be hunting in the area immediately hit the road, hoping to cut the men off as they had left in a hurry after being approached.

My .375 Merkel double rifle is with me as I practice and prepare for a February Lion hunt in the Kalahari, and I offered its and my services to Mike, I couldn’t have had a better tool at hand for the unfortunate job. The officer requested I shoot the bull at the base of the skull if I could find him, so as not to destroy evidence from the wounds, putting the bull down would both relieve its suffering and provide evidence that may otherwise walk off to the Wolves. Also a death I wouldn’t wish on any creature. Tracking was simple, though in dense boreal, given a fresh dusting of snow and a slight blood trail. Wood Bison, North America’s largest land animal and a bull the largest example of the largest species, don’t walk lightly either. It wasn’t difficult to follow them the roughly one kilometre they had travelled, and I came upon them in a small clearing; clearly the shooters just didn’t care. Bumping into the wounded bull, laying down, and two other standing Bison accompanying it at thirty or forty yards I caused them to start, and I sat down and waited in the hope they would settle quickly. They can cover unbelievable ground, and though the tracking was easy, I had no desire to chase them deep into the thick boreal forest just before dark.

It worked thankfully, five or ten minutes after all sound ceased I followed the tracks again. My mind on the tracks and considering how the largest of the three, the one lying down, had got up with a significant limp and was leaving more blood on the snow now, I happened to catch sight of a very large dark mass less than twenty yards to my right. It was the bull, he was huffing laboured breaths, and just behind a dense row of black spruce. The other two Bison had carried on and he had stopped scantly a hundred yards down the trail from my waiting place. I have been charged by a Bison bull when I unfortunately happened into his personal space, and I don’t recommend it. It was likewise an experience I was not keen to relive. I found myself caught in the awkward middle ground of being extremely close to a wounded and agitated example of the largest thing in North America, and yet not having a good shot courtesy of the black spruce jungle between us. From my previous unwanted Bison experience, I knew the trees meant nothing to him and he could charge through them like tall grass for me, but my rifle needless to say had more severe limitations.

Mindful of Mike’s instructions, I also didn’t want to do what I did in Zimbabwe with a different Bovid, Cape Buffalo, at scantly further range and that is dump two .375′s into the centre of its shoulder as quickly and accurately as possible. I had previously shot that bull mortally once, and in that case insurance was cheap. In this case I couldn’t mess up evidence, and I also couldn’t even see the base of his skull; I saw bobbing horns, and hump, and a whole lot of massive dark body. I decided to risk manoeuvring for a shot, that meant getting a little closer ultimately up to just over ten yards, and skirting up more in the hope of an avenue through the bush for my .375 pill. I found a gap between two black spruce I managed to move into rough alignment with what I was quite sure was the spot, judging from the horns, seeing a several inch wide window of dark hair in what I imagined was the correct place. I was concerned about him bursting out the spruce my way, or running again, so I didn’t waste any time and immediately took the shot. He blessedly fell on the spot, twitched a few times and that was it. I called Mike to let him know he was down and I’d meet them on the road to lead them in when they arrived, which would be another couple hours.

I found him wounded apparently only twice despite the volumes of gunfire, likely by a 7mm Mag (the cases found), one to the shoulder / high leg, the hundreds of pounds of muscle turned it into a nasty flesh wound, and one through the throat in front of the shoulder, the source of most of the blood it seemed. Blood had spread substantially through the hair on his neck, leg and shoulder, likely spraying when fresh. He ran and moved with a pronounced limp, but not nearly as badly as it seems he should have. They are the toughest thing on the continent, not just the biggest. It should be noted in comparison a Wood Bison is larger than the Cape Buffalo, substantially so in the case of the really big Wood Bison bulls. This fellow wasn’t a giant, but rather typical, and still an enormous animal no Moose or Elk will come close to for weight and sturdiness of build. If you’re one of the lucky British Columbians, Albertans, Yukonians, or Northwest Territorians to draw a tag for a Wood Bison, use enough rifle. To me that means at the very least a 200gr .300 as a bare minimum, it’s only fair to the animals. Admittedly, they could be killed, like anything on the planet with even a well placed .270, but there is no insurance, and using enough gun is just plain right. The overkill engineered into African standards wouldn’t do so badly for us over here if people practice enough to use them, but that’s another article.

Wood Bison Are Big: The Rifle is Just Under Three and a Half Feet Long

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That’s today’s unexpected ending. I received permission to take these photos, and couldn’t have been happier with the Merkel’s performance or the comfort it gave me in an unexpected situation mere paces from a wounded bull. Thanks for reading folks.

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Reaching Out The Old Fashioned Way: Iron Sights to 1,000 Yards

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If you’re like me, and if you’re interested in long range shooting, you may have fallen into a trap at one point where you were led to believe you needed a heavy, specialty precision rifle rig to be able to reliably make the fabled 1,000 yard shots. 1,000 yards at one time seemed so distant and impossible to me I thought I needed the absolute best gear to be able to get there. I built those fifteen pound rigs, many of them, and used them very successfully, running through the gamut of brands at the time; Remington 700′s and a 40X packaged in several successive forms of the AICS, Leupold Mark IVs, IOR Valdada glass, barrels by Lothar Walther, Krieger in multiple, Shilen, and Pac-Nor polygonal and standard all tried. I designed my own wildcats and tested for countless hours dreaming up concoctions throwing Bergers and AMAXs far down range. It became a money and technical game I didn’t enjoy for several reasons:

1. I despised how much gear, and how heavy and long it was, I was packing to my shooting spots had become. No more scabbards or soft case, a simple slim rifle of eight or nine pounds. I found myself hauling Pelican cases, portable reloading gear, wind gear, shooting mats, and all manner of things afield. It had become a shooting expedition, not a pleasant range afternoon.

2. The amount of time I spent doing things other than shooting, like loading wildcat rounds in small lots making countless tweaks, waiting for parts, contemplating builds was getting to be extreme. I much prefer just shooting, and you don’t need the best gear to do that, in fact you may find you have more fun without it. You’ll also find you shoot a lot better using a inferior rig more, than a perfect rig less. By the end I was shooting 1,000 yards as well with an iron sighted Garand than the beginning with a 15lb, wildcat chambered, Mark IV wearing monster.

3. Cost. Like all things in life, if you get into bigger is better, the returns diminish to a point it can become frivolous. I stepped out early, in reality, before really going off the deep end. Not to worry, I now do that in antiques, doubles rifles, and hunting. However I enjoy those a lot more.

Now, those who enjoy the technical side of long range shooting, the ultimate precision, take no offence. For me, it is simply not my focus, hunting is and always will be. I thoroughly enjoy 1,000 yard shooting, and all long range shooting for that matter, but I am very content with a few MOA out there; those who take it more seriously likely won’t be. And there’s nothing wrong with that! This brings me to when I started picking up my basic rifles, and just trying them, really far. I’ve always enjoyed milsurp shooting, and run a match based around them once a year. We shoot a postal tournament consisting of a common target at 100, 200, 300, 500, and 1,000 yards. I have shot every range now, still only failing to succeed at 1,000 by mere inches. Next year. The match requires you to hit a standard piece of printer paper, 8.5×11″, and scores points based on how close you are to bull, with basic points scored for simply hitting the sheet of paper, which becomes important at 300, 500, and 1,000 yards.

The Milsurp Match Target, and Five Very Close 1,000 Yard Holes

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We built our own personal 1,000 yard range, and I set the a goal of posting the first milsurp 1,000 yard score, hoping for 5 points (paper hit). I failed literally by mere inches- but we’re getting there. Tricks I’ve learned along the path I’ll share here, one of the most common things I hear about shooting beyond 300 yards with iron sights is disbelief, many it seems consider irons 100 or 200 yard implements. With excellent sights like the Garand’s and M14′s, with practice you can match your scoped friend’s performance beside you, to their utter astonishment. First time I shot 500 yards beside a good friend of mine with irons, he was shooting a Remington 700 Police .308, I rang the 6″ by 12″ 500 yard steel comfortably and repeatedly with the iron sights, and on our leaving the range he said to me, “I’ve seen impressive, but that was unbelievable.” Wouldn’t you know it later that week he was doing it too, and the first time he saw it, it seemed absolutely impossible. I assured him by the end we’ll be connecting twice that far, 1,000 yards, with the same sights.

One of the most important things people don’t often know about irons and long range is you don’t need to hold for centre on the target, this is why so many people say “I can’t see anything past 200″ or the like with irons. Once you obscure the bull on the target with the irons and muddy things up, it gets a lot harder to be precise. I find it much more efficient to dial in extra elevation, and hold for the bottom edge of the target, adjusting my sights for my rounds to hit centre. With a white target, you can get perfect elevation holds everything using irons if sighted for the bottom of the paper. This works on any manner of target as well, it is just particularly easy on a white piece of paper. Simply rest the target on top of the front sight post, no more wobbling about the obscured middle of blurry bull hundreds of yards away, now the target is in full view no different than a scope. Functionally, this way irons are little different than a 1X scope- until the light fades.

I use this same technique at 1,000 yards. Our target board at 1,000 is six feet by six feet square, and appears close to the width of a .062″ NM front sight blade on my Garand. I rest the entire target board on top of the post, as the printer paper target is almost invisible at that range, and I also find windage very easy to judge as you simply centre the target on top of you blade windage wise as well as elevation. Ultimately, it allowed my Krieger barrelled Garand to put five rounds of M118 Special Ball (Lake City Match) into jut over 2MOA out there on the first attempt on the new board, missing my milsurp match target by inches. I’ve accepted a deposit on my Garand, and will be building likely a Mauser based rifle with a Lyman rear aperture sight for the same purpose. Hopefully, it will put me on the 1,000 target for the first time before anyone else does- especially my friend mentioned above who now knows it’s not witchcraft. So pick up whatever you have, even a hunting rifle in .270, and reach out- you’ll be surprised what can be done. We were even connecting with 500 yard steel with an SKS, so don’t bother yourself with the assumptions you need the best gear to even have a chance, it’s simply not true. And if you’re like me, you’ll have more fun long ranging on the cheap anyhow.

Almost Feel Bad Shooting This Stuff… But it Works. 

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