Guns and Gear

A Lightweight Custom 7mm RSAUM Rifle On A Budget

By M.L. McPherson, GUNS Magazine

My brother Stan and his wife Helen were in a location and situation allowing them to do more than their share toward clearing Stan and my parents’ estate—emptying out and cleaning the house, yard, painting, etc. My situation did not allow me to do anywhere near my share. So, as small tokens of appreciation, my friend Austin Metcalf built Helen a very special custom walking stick, and I built Stan a custom hunting rifle.

For the latter, I started with the Savage 11/111 Lightweight Hunter in 7mm-08, which is a fine rifle, perhaps an ideal choice for hunting smaller species of deer. To complete this rifle and make it handier and more suitable for elk hunting, I made the following changes: Installed 2-piece aluminum Weaver-style scope bases; Installed lightweight aluminum Leupold rings; Installed customized Leupold VX-3, 4.5-14 scope; Skeletonized butt section of stock; Changed bolt heads from standard to magnum; Fitted 26-inch 7mm No. 2 contour Shilen barrel chambered in 7mm Remington SAUM; Modified two magazines; Built and installed custom muzzlebrake.

For this work, I used tools and parts obtained from Brownells and Pacific Tool & Gauge. My machinist friend, Randy Arndt, helped with finishing and installing the brake.

The Savage action is already lightened with cuts on the receiver and a spiral-fluted bolt. The way the Savage is designed and built optimizes customization. Caliber changes are easy as are barrel changes. The only limiting factor is the magazine, one reason the 7mm RSAUM was chosen. Leupold’s Custom Shop allows personalizing of the scope as well.

I would have preferred to chamber this rifle in .284 Winchester because this would have allowed 3-round magazine capacity and the .284 gives enough performance for Stan’s needs (his lifetime tally of deer and elk, using the .284 and the .280 Remington, far exceeds 100). However, the .284 case will not work in the only magazine available for this gun). Conversely, the 7mm SAUM fits this magazine perfectly.

At under 7 pounds, loaded, with scope and sling, this rifle is exceptionally handy. It is ideal for my brother’s elk and mule deer needs. A very mild handload, using Enduron IMR 7977, launches the 7mm, 154-grain Hornady SST at 3,010 fps, with 1/2-MOA accuracy. Several propellants might give higher velocity, but 7977 is far less sensitive to temperature variation, practically eliminates copper fouling and gives phenomenally uniform velocity.

No doubt, we could find a load safely launching this bullet faster, but that would add little to the usefulness of this gun for Stan’s needs. It might not be possible to find such a load giving similar accuracy, so any such effort would be a gamble.

Mic zeroed the rifle while developing this load. Prior to the hunt, Mic adjusted the scope to center shots 3-inches high (above) at 100 yards for a 300-yard zero. This shows why Mic chose the 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum case (below), rather than the preferable .284 Winchester or the more common 7mm Winchester Short Magnum. The body of the 7mm SAUM case fits perfectly behind the magazine indentations that holds rounds back against recoil. Mic bought 100 Norma cases, giving his brother a lifetime supply for this big-game rifle.

For superior retained energy and improved terminal performance, we might eventually look for a similarly accurate load using the more efficient 168-grain Nosler Extended Range AccuBond with its 24-percent higher BC. If so, we will work with 7977 and look for good accuracy at about 3,000 fps.

Besides dramatically reducing recoil, the custom LAW brake (I made in my shop) minimizes added noise to the shooter and dramatically reduces downrange noise. Therefore, firing the gun is less apt to disturb downrange targets. Stan demonstrated this when he killed an elk. His bull was 453 yards distant, across a canyon. Two small bulls were below him, at about 275 yards. Seven cows and calves were near his bull. The shot didn’t spook any of those other elk. Only after his animal crashed to the ground did the remaining elk herd up and wander off.

Leupold is looking into offering custom reticles to the customer’s specifications. A reticle I designed should suit Stan’s needs. It has guides to help him estimate distance to either deer or elk, and to indicate aiming points once he has estimated the distance. When Leupold offers this service, I will have this reticle installed in Stan’s scope. Leupold already added custom markings to the VX-3 4.5-14X scope, and these adornments are a fine addition to this custom rifle.

The folks at ROBAR NP3 plated the metal parts. It would take an entire article to explain this electroless plating process and to detail how durable, attractive, slick and corrosion resistant this advanced metal finish is. What I will say here is simply this: However good you think NP3 might be, it is better.

ROBAR also engraved the barrel with the appropriate legend. This added a fine touch to this special rifle.

The Savage Model 11/111 started life as a 7mm-08. A versatile platform for a custom rifle, it has now had the bolt head changed and a new Shilen barrel installed in 7mm RSAUM, all in an Austin Custom stock. Note Leupold scope (inset, personalized in the Leupold Custom Shop), NP3 plating and LAW muzzlebrake. Not attached is the handy, lightweight Limbsaver sling. The second magazine (on the bench) highlights the single drawback of this conversion—limited magazine capacity holding only two of these fat rounds—but magazine functionality is flawless and 3 shots should suffice. If not, a quick magazine change is available. Stan’s rifle is posed on the amazingly handy Hench Bench. Mic uses this sturdy, folding, 17-pound bench when varmint hunting and zeroing in the field.

The folks at ROBAR NP3 plated the metal parts. It would take an entire article to explain this electroless plating process and to detail how durable, attractive, slick and corrosion resistant this advanced metal finish is. What I will say here is simply this: However good you think NP3 might be, it is better.

ROBAR also engraved the barrel with the appropriate legend. This added a fine touch to this special rifle.

My total investment, from sling through scope, was $2,500. Fair compensation for gunsmithing would be about $500, putting total fair-market cost near $3,000. This seems quite reasonable for such an accurate, durable, low-maintenance, handy and effective custom hunting-rifle package.

Just before Stan’s hunt, in September 2016, my sons Jody, Joey and I spent a weekend working up handloads for this rifle and for Joe’s .300 WSM and Jody’s .338 Lapua. Using Enduron propellants, we easily found phenomenally consistent, sub-1/2-MOA loads for each gun.

Spending time with my sons developing loads: A blessing. Being there when my brother blooded his new rifle for the first time: Icing on the cake. Seeing my brother’s eyes light up when I presented this gift: Priceless.

Custom 11/111 Lightweight Hunter

Maker: Savage Arms
Action type: Bolt-Action
Caliber: 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum (7mm SAUM)
Capacity: 2+1
Barrel length: 26 inches (Shilen)
Overall length: 48-1/4 inches (with brake)
Weight: 5-1/4 pounds
Finish: ROBAR NP3
Sights: None, drilled and tapped for scope
Stock: Walnut, BASE
Price: $991 (before custom work)

VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm

Maker: Leupold & Stevens
Magnification: 4.9-14.4X (Actual)
Objective Diameter: 40mm
Eye Relief inches: 4.4 inches (4.5X), 3.7 (14X), Internal Adj. Range, 67 inches at 100 yards elevation & windage
Click Value: 1/4 MOA
Tube Diameter: 1 inch
Weight: 13 ounces
Overall Length: 12.6 inches
Reticle: Duplex
Price: $649

Thanks to GUNS Magazine for this post. Click here to visit GUNSMagazine.com.

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