From The Accurate Rifle, September 2001

    I’ve known the Editor to become a bit peevish about the tendency of serious shooters to become victims of Advanced Tunnel Vision… which is to say the benchrest shooters only read benchrest-oriented articles, ditto for highpower shooters, ditto for the tactical camp, etc., etc. The good Editor has been known to discuss such intellectual insularity on occasion in sulfurous terms; frequently in the middle of such a diatribe the southern end of a northbound horse is used as a point of reference. Be that as it may, the article you are reading (and hopefully will continue reading) has a very generic title, as you might have noticed. As I understand the strategy here… "Maybe some of them will read the entire article before they realize it’s not about their sole shooting area-of-interest. Maybe some of them will learn something useful generally, if they’re not careful". His choice of words, not mine… I certainly wouldn’t talk to you that way. Now, stay with me for a couple of paragraphs at least, would you? If I haven’t got your interest by then, well, go wander away, and play in traffic if you like.
    In very recent times veteran police marksman T.J. Pilling turned to master gunsmith Frank Smith (who has long owned Lone Star Guns in the northern Dallas suburb of Plano) to build him a downright serious state-of-the-art custom bolt action rifle in .308 chambering. At the 2000 HHS International School in Wichita Falls, Texas the rifle punched the tightest group among 24 students in T.J.’s class. "We shot at 900 yards, prone, in a 40 mph wind," T.J. said. "It was an excellent school, but conditions were horrendous." The equipment of the students ran the gamut of custom benchrest rifles from just about every top maker, T.J. said. The students fired 160 shots over three days. And the Frank Smith-built rifle consistently shot the tightest. "It’s a tack driver," T.J. related. "It consistently shoots sub-half MOA in field conditions. And we didn’t have the luxury of shooting off of benches."
    When planning of the rifle started, T.J. specified certain things that he felt were "must-haves"… A Remington 700 ADL action. Remington trigger with a 2.5 pound pull. Douglas Contour No. 7 air gauged premium barrel, 4140 Chrome moly, 24 inches, 1 in 10" twist. McMillan A2 fiberglass tactical stock. Free-floating barrel with action epoxy-bedded at front and rear. Leupold L.E. M1 Vari-XIII 3.5-10x 40mm Side-focus scope on Leupold mounts.
    When we were getting the specs for that rifle, the thought struck us that the gun would be roughly as rugged as your average Abrahms tank… and we concluded, "Yup, that’s what we want all right."
    Then, when they built the rifle initially, they built it with a Douglas Medium Sporter barrel, not the Douglas No. 7 contour originally planned. Why, you ask? Well, we’re dealing with serious rifle cranks here, and serious rifle cranks are often in the process of proving (or disproving) a theory. The new rifle shot phenomenally well in real field conditions (as opposed to benchrest). It was consistently shooting 3/8 inch groups… but once that medium weight sporter barrel picked up any heat, it started to throw rounds. Now a case can be made for the idea that this is not a matter of concern to a SWAT sniper… since they virtually never get into extended fire-fights of the kind that has empty cartridge cases covering the floor. That argument was summarily rejected; "should be good enough" was not acceptable as an answer.
    The solution was the No. 7 contoured barrel, which Smith and Lone Star gunsmith Clyde Funk laboriously lapped, crowned and bedded. "It’s state-of-the-art," T.J. said.
     The Douglas barrel was free-floated in the McMillan stock, Clyde explained. "All you really want to do is to clear area so you have 100% contact on the back of the recoil lug, leaving the sides, the bottom and the front clear; you want to have 100% contact on the front of the action and with a No. 7 countour, you would be 3 inches in front of the guard screw."
    On the rear of the action, from the rear guard screw, there would also be 100% contact, Clyde said. "The only reason at all why you would want to have contact anywhere between those two areas is just to keep crud out of the gun."
    Because of the solid contact with the action, there is no torsion on the action as the screws are tightened up, allowing the same pointing every time. "The action bedding torque on the screws becomes less critical and you’ve got a bigger sweet spot."
    The action was blueprinted with specialized tooling from Dave Manson Precision Reamers in Grand Blanc, Mich. (PS Advertiser). The job involved recutting the receiver lugs square to the boltway and to the same height; recutting of the receiver threads to .010-inches oversize and square to the boltway; truing the front receiver ring and reaming the recoil lug to the correct oversize diameter.
    He supplied a piloted tap/mandrel, a piloted receiver reamer and a recoil lug reamer, all made from High Speed Steel, carefully hardened and ground, Manson said.
    The piloted tap/mandrel is 1 1/16"-16, ground .010-inch over standard pitch diameter for truing receiver threads. Two hardened, tapered bushings are carefully fitted to the tap’s pilot, Manson said. These bushings engage the receiver boltway to center the tap and compensate for different receiver I.D.’s.
    The receiver reamer is used to cut the minor receiver thread diameter to the correct size for tapping with the 1 1/16"-16 +.010" piloted tap/mandrel and cut receiver lugs square to the boltway and to the same height, Manson said.     In order to save milling machine set-up, the recoil lug reamer is used to open the hole in the recoil lug so a barrel shank, threaded to the +.010" diameter will fit properly, Manson said.     The rifle was chambered specifically for Federal’s 168-grain boat-tail hollow point .308 cartridge, the pre-eminent round for precision law enforcement shooting.
    "You have approximately a 15 to 20 thousandths jump to the rifling when the round is chambered," Clyde said. This allows for any variations in manufacturing so the bullet doesn’t engrave on the rifling when you close down, he explained.
    "It’s made so you have the minimum jump from throat lead into the rifling itself," he said. "Anything with a shorter ogive would have a little bit longer jump and may not be as accurate."
    At the muzzle, about 2 inches was trimmed from the blank and finished with an 11 degree target crown and a flat face on the barrel itself. "The eleven degree crown allows the hypersonic shock wave coming out as the bullet exits to not impact the base of the bullet."
    And while some custom gunmakers may favor other barrels, Frank has had good luck with Douglas. "I’ve never had a bad barrel from them in over 20 years of dealing with them," he said.
    Because of the reception given the rifle by the SWAT team’s other marksmen, the Garland PD has commissioned Smith to build one for the department. "One thing the Garland Police Department prides itself on is buying the best state-of-the-art that’s on the market -- and we’re not afraid to get rid of equipment if it doesn’t perform," T.J. said.
    "Most of the officers shooting at the level of today’s precision marksmen involved in law enforcement have a good quality firearm," he said. "All of them will shoot MOA or less. The proof in the pudding is when you really wring the weapon out on the firing line. And that’s when you start to draw attention to what the weapon will do."
    The real test, though, is when a hostage’s life is on the line.
    "Chances are you’ll never get a second shot," T.J. said. "Generally you’ll get one shot and take care of your business… or you’re in trouble. And obviously the hostage is in trouble too. We need that equipment to perform to its Nth Degree in all situations."
    T.J. has been with the Garland PD since 1979 and recently was wounded in the line of duty. He’s been a precision marksman since 1983, has attended every major tactical firearms training school and served for seven years as rangemaster at the Tri-City Police Academy near Dallas.
    The Garland PD has been hosting its own schools for years and the SWAT team as a whole has been training SWAT teams for over 20 years.
    To ask Frank more about his custom work, you can email him at:

    Robert G. Wieland, a retired wire service journalist, is active in Cowboy Action Shooting and was among the first instructors certified to teach the course required to obtain a Texas concealed handgun license.

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