The tale of the “phoenix” rifle, part one

Gerald Scott - Contributing columnist


Gerald Scott

Contributing columnist


The folklore of ancient cultures scattered across Europe, northern Africa and Asia includes albeit widely divergent descriptions of birds that are reborn from their own ashes. The Greeks and Romans called this bird the phoenix and considered it to be a good omen.

My personal phoenix is neither a bird nor a myth. It’s a .243 Remington Model 788 rifle that began its former life an unknown number of years prior to 1982, when I bought it for my then 12-year-old son to use deer hunting. It served him very well until he graduated from high school, joined the US Navy and literally sailed away.

An occasional foray aside, the Model 788 spent the next 25 years at the back of my gun rack. In fairness, I should note that this situation wasn’t the rifle’s fault. Aaron’s unbroken series of one-shot deer kills had more than proven both the caliber’s and the rifle’s worth. The problem was, given that the hunt didn’t require the use of muzzleloading firearms, I simply couldn’t pry my fingers off of the slightly gussied up .30/06 Springfield 1903 A3 I’d been shooting since my college days.

Then a few years ago, my much-abused back and shoulders “suggested” I dust off the little Remington. In two successive years, circumstances tempted me into taking shots–from a good rest–at well over 300 yards. I killed both deer, but I so detested having to aim a guesstimated distance above my target in order to hit it, I swore never to do so again on live game.

Fast forward to the 2015 Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) conference, where I spent a most enjoyable afternoon consistently dinging steel targets at 200 yards with a .50 muzzleloader. The secret was the scope mounted on the rifle. Its multiple vertical aiming points could be preregistered to allow dead on holds way on out there. (More on this next week.)

By the time I’d returned home, an idea had begun to gel. Although it disappeared from Remington’s inventory for a number of years, the Model 788 hadn’t literally died in a flaming crash, before being reintroduced a few years ago. But I wasn’t interested in making a copy of the same old bird. To the contrary, I intended my phoenix to be a new creation.

I got in touch with some very professional people at Hawke Optics and explained that I was trying to maximize the long range accuracy of a .243 bolt action with a standard barrel. After giving careful consideration to what they had to say, I ordered an Endurance 30 with a mil dot reticle.

It wasn’t until the scope arrived that the fact it had a 30 mm tube, instead of the standard one inch tube penetrated my brain. The larger tube offers very real advantages, especially in terms of clarity, but–and you can take my word on this–finding 30 mm rings and bases in Sedalia is only a little bit tougher than finding zebras.

Meanwhile, one of my favorite editors asked me to evaluate and report on one of Boyd Gunstocks’ products. When I spoke to one of the company’s PR people, I asked him if there was any chance the company produced stocks for a 1970’s vintage long action .243 Remington Model 788. He replied, “Of course we do. What color would you like?”

So now I had–or soon would have–a pristine barrel and action, a top quality scope and a custom stock. All I lacked was a trigger capable of letting all the other parts of the puzzle give their very best performance, and I knew exactly where to get one. Timney Triggers was the benchmark by which all other custom trigger manufacturers were judged long before this old shooter picked up his first firearm, and the company remains so today. I didn’t have to ask if they made a trigger for the Model 788; I just ordered one.

I have (almost) enough skill to have assembled my creation, but I wanted all of the components to be crafted into a whole by a master. So I hauled everything to Triple River Gunsmithing in Warsaw and told Harlan what I had in mind. When he finished, the rifle was fiberglass bedded in the stock, the scope was perfectly aligned with the bore and the trigger performed flawlessly.

But beauty is as beauty does. Next week we’ll take my creation out into the real world and see what happens.

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]

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