July issue of Russian Hunting Magazine printed my interview with Richard Show, a gunsmith and gunmaker from Pensylvania, U.S.A. Rich is known for his double rifles on shotgun actions, and he built 24 DRs on Russian Izh-43 action. I couldn’t fail to ask him his opinion about these guns, double rifle making in general, and what it takes to be a small-scale gunmaker in the US. This is the English text of the interview that I sent Rich for verification, along with some photographs he sent me. Thank you once again, Rich, for all the pains you took to make this interview happen.
– Richard, let’s start from the beginning: how did you get to be a gunsmith?
– I started working on gun’s when I was 16 years old. I worked at many trades all the while, learned the machinist trade, taught myself to weld and have many certifications, and was working on guns in the evenings and over the weekends. When it comes to guns, I am self-taught, but things always came easy to me, I just thought about what I wanted to build and it was like doing it all my life. And in 1974 I opened my first shop. I built many bolt action guns and repaired revolvers and pistols.
– Do you need a special license for that?
– As long as you work for yourself or friends, you don’t, but if you want to make money on that you need a Federal Firearms license. That’s not too hard if you have no criminal background and have a place of business to store guns in, with an alarm system. It could be in a basement of your own house as long as it passes inspection and does not violate any local or state zoning laws.
– Does the government control your current activities in any way?
– The most important thing is to have everything properly recorded. The gun (a firearm is the action or lower receiver of the gun even if there are no parts or barrel attached to it) has to be tagged the minute you bring in into the shop and recorded in a bound book by the end of the day. If an A.T.F. agent walks in and sees a gun without a tag, he can order it destroyed. And the A.T.F., the police and the F.B.I have the right to search the premises and your books without them obtaining a search warrant.
– How are consumers protected from dangerously bad guns: is there any certification or proof required?
– Lawyers take care of that. When you think what they can do to you in court if anything go wrong, you’ll triple check everything. There are no certification or proof laws, this is mostly not necessary.
– When did you begin to build double rifles?
About fifteen years ago I decided I was going to retire and only work my shop and build only double rifles.
– How does one make a DR out of a shotgun?
I remove the barrels and ribs, then, on dovetail or demibloc barrels I cut them in front of the chamber and turn them into a monobloc. And if it’s a monobloc gun, I simply remove the barrels out of it. I use rifled blanks which I purchase from different barrel makers. They are 28″ in length and 1.25″ in dia. I then turn them on my lathe to the profile I want on a tracer that I designed myself. The blanks are bored and rifled only so I have to turn and chamber them myself for the caliber I want. Then there is a preliminary regulation with temporary sights so that I know how high to make the ribs.
– Is regulation of a DR as difficult as all gunmakers in the world have it?
– Oh, yes! A double rifle can be as temperamental and unpredictable as … no, I won’t say as what, lest they call me a sexist. Regulating is absolutely essential. Many, including myself, tried to figure out a formula or some other way how to get around it, but to no avail. Regulating the barrels to point of aim can be nerve racking it can take from 4 to 100 rounds. One time I barreled up a rifle and fired two rounds 1/4 in apart at 75 yards I never had to move the barrels again. On a couple of occasions I had to replace one of the barrels.
But this will be clear later, and before regulation I mill the ribs and sights, or one of my quick detachable scope bases which I make myself (if the client wants it). I use a silver bearing solder to attach the new ribs then I start to regulate the barrels. When you want to move the impact 1 inch at 100 yards you can only move the barrels .001 of an inch, that’s how precise this job is.
– Why did you choose to build some of your DRs on Russian actions?
I prefer the German actions over all others, Sauer, Kettner, etc., I like their strength and high quality. But well-preserved samples can cost a lot. On some cheap brand new actions there can be problems with heat treating problems. I like Baikals because they’re inexpensive and built like a tank. I had been searching for a reasonable priced action to build double rifles on. One day I walked in a gunshop and spotted a 12 gauge Bakial in the rack. It was priced at 300.00 dollars so I bought it for experimental gun. I chambered it for the 45/70 round. I used and abused that gun for four years, and it handled everything. That particular gun is still in use and will shoot into 1.5 minutes of angle.
– What kind of game do people hunt with your DRs?
– I hunt Whitetail deer with one of the first rifles I built, on a .410 Baikal action, a 30-30 Improved. It was an instant success everyone wanted to buy it but I kept it for myself. It killed many deer, at least one in a season, and I never used more than 1 shot. Other rifles are built to be used for dangerous game, up to and including an elephant.
– An elephant with a Baikal?
– To tell the truth I don’t know if anyone actually killed an elephant with one of my rifles, but at least one of them is pretty capable of doing it. I built it for a doctor, on 16 gauge action, for a wildcat round that is equivalent to .450 Express 3 1/4 case. The bullet weight is 500 grain, at 2000 fps muzzle velocity – that’s nearly like .458 Win. Mag. That’s sort of elephant rifle for the poor, because the components are cheap and readily available, and self-loaded ammo can cost as little as $3 for shot. I had to add about 1 1/2 pounds of weigh to that rifle, or the recoil would be unbearable.
– Can Baikal side-by-side action handle this pressure?
– They can handle a couple of rounds with well over 45,000 psi pressure without damage. Through my first experimental gun I put loads I can’t put in writing. But I do all I can to reduce chamber pressure. For instance, I free bore the chamber a little. There are other tricks, such as use straight sided cases as there is less thrust against the breech face.
The resistance which the case offers to the barrel is very important. which adds to the volume chamber. One of the English ways of proof testing is to oil a round and fire it in the chamber. I should take a minute to tell anyone who shoots how important it is to clean your chamber and wipe off your cases with alcohol before firing so the case grips the chamber wall and creates less thrust on the breech face.
Some of the large rounds I build for actually have very little pressure for there size. The large volume of the case and using slow burning powder I can usually keep the pressure around 30 to 35,000 psi.
– In Russia Baikals are known for instable quality. Did you ever have any quality issues with them?
– I have built a total of 24 doubles on Baikal actions and the only trouble I had was with the single trigger with double triggers. I built one on a 12 gauge with false side locks. I replaced the barrels with two E. R. Shaw rifled blanks. The gun was chambered for the 3 inch magnum. I was using 50 cal. machine gun brass to make the cases. I regulated it with Brenneke black magic shells a load that pushed 600 gr. slugs at 1500fps. After having both barrels go off at the same time on five occasions I was through with the single trigger.
– What cartridges do you build your rifles for?
I like 30-30 Improved for deer hunting, that’s a 30-30 Winchester fire-formed to a straight case with a 40 degree shoulder. Some people order fully rifled 12 gauge barrels to use in shotgun-only zones. There are some exotic cartridges – the .450 wildcat I mentioned earlier, and a .40-60 Winchester I built on a .410 action, that was convenient because I could use the gun’s original extractors. But the most popular cartridge is the .45-70.
Except double rifles I built a number of Cape guns – that’s a side-by-side with one shotgun and one big-bore rifle barrel. Two of them I made for customer in Costa Rica. He owns cattle and horse ranches and hunts Jaguar that have turned cattle and horse killers. One almost killed him onetime and that’s how I met him. He saw one of my guns on a gun auction and gave me a call. I made him two Cape guns, one a 20 gauge shotgun on the left barrel and a .45-70 on the right, and the other was a 12 gauge on the left and .45-70 on the right. We have since became friends and I have been Invited to go to Costa Rica for a Jaguar Hunt He credits me with saving his life four times with my rifles.
– Have you any experience with factory double rifles by Baikal?
– I have only handled one of the Remington Baikal rifles sent to me by a customer who bought two .45-70 from me. It was a 30-06 and he could not get it to regulate. I must admit I was not impressed with it. I removed the factory sight and replaced it with a barrel band sight blade of my own. I soldered the middle barrel adjustment and regulated it for a 180 gr. bullet and soldered the front barrel band. I have heard that the factory .45-70 is to light and kicks like the Devil.
– What do you like most about these actions?
– I love this action for its strength and simplicity. It is logically designed and made very well. There are some things that only a gunmaker can appreciate. For example, I like the way that the stocks join up with the action. The crescent shape of the action tends to compress the grain of stock together under recoil rather than split the grain.
– Is there any difference in quality according to what brand Russian guns are sold under?
– I tried a few of the Remington actions but felt they were inferior ,maybe too many corners cut. And the barrels were not as well regulated. It feels like Remington guns are lighter, but from the point of view of double rifle making it’s not an advantage.
– Would you change anything in them?
– The stock. I’d like better wood, perhaps with a little a cheek-piece. I think that the wood really was a big problem for them on the American market. Nobody likes light-coloured wood here, everybody wants dark walnut. I think it cost them a lot of sales here.