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Ann's Corner

VOLUME 112-----------OCTOBER 2011

SHOOTIN', HUNTIN', AND RELOADIN'

WITH THE OL' MISSOURI HILLBILLY

October 10, 2011 - This month we're doing a trial of a different way to include my web page photos.  In the past I've used thumbnails on the main pages, which allowed them to load faster for those with dial-up connections.  Now that most folks have faster connections, I'm leaving the full size photos in the body of the newsletter to see how it works.  Let me know what you think.

As usual, the harder I run the behinder I get!  My project to get some handloads with 160 grain Sierra bullets worked up for the Weatherby Vanguard has stalled out numerous times for other activities.  So far I have around 80 or 90 once fired cases cleaned, resized, and trimmed to length with de-burring, chamfering, primer pocket cleaning, and priming yet to go before I can get powder and bullets installed.  Probably need to get a move on as our early deer season opens this coming Saturday.

Saturday's opener brings choices and decisions for Ann, Jennifer, and I.  In our GMU any whitetail deer is legal game, during the early season only, for hunters 65 and over and those under 16.  So, do we engage in population control and shoot does, or hold out for mature bucks.  The bigger bucks don't usually begin appearing until the late buck season in November and antlerless deer are not an option then.

Other activities that kept us busy in September included Board of Directors duties at the Elks Lodge and Jennifer's high school cross country meets occurring once or twice a week.  One of those cross country meets was in Missoula, Montana at the Mountain West Invitational.  The course is a three mile venue laid out on the University of Montana Golf Course.  This is a big deal with high schools from all over Montana and several surrounding states represented.  The four J.V. and Varsity events had in the neighborhood of 400 runners each!

Little Heifer and I decided to take a break from home duties in conjunction with our trip to Missoula, so we stayed in Montana for a couple of days after the September 24th cross country meet.  On Sunday the 25th, we traveled to Kalispell in preparation for a Monday visit with Master Gunsmith Gene Gordner of Kilimanjaro Rifles.

Back in a 2009 newsletter, I included a story about Kilimanjaro.  Very briefly, the demise of Serengeti Trading Company's custom rifle business in Kalispell, resulted in a frequent customer of theirs buying Serengeti's assets and patents and starting a new company called Kilimanjaro Rifles.  Erik D. Eike, a Honolulu attorney and worldwide hunter, was that Serengeti customer.  For more details about Erik and the birth of Kilimanjaro, read the September 2009 Newsletter HERE.

Kilimanjaro's business model shuns the traditional 'factory' concept by having their work done by specialists in their own shops rather than reporting to a central job site each day.

As Erik told me in a recent email,   "We have each of our gunsmiths and artisans set up in their own shop in what I call an 'old world' style. They are happier that way, and it shows in the quality."

Erik went on to say,  "Gene makes many of our guns himself, and serves as our Master Gunsmith, quality control on all, and his shop would be the best for you to visit. He is just a few minutes outside of Kalispell.  Let us know when you will be in town, and we will arrange a visit."

Meet Gene Gordner:

Gene working on bottom metal inletting on a stock featuring 'Stealth Lamination Technology'

Gene worked for Serengeti when Erik took over the company and is now the 'go to guy' when it comes to overseeing the ultimate overall quality of the end product.

Gene's shop is in the basement of his home near the shores of a small lake just outside Kalispell.  A native of Pennsylvania, he left home in 1973 to join the U. S. Marine Corps.  He built his first gun, a muzzle loader in 1975 while still a Marine.  From there he progressed to rebuilding and remodeling Mausers and '03 Springfields.

After leaving the Marine Corps in 1977, Gene says,  "I went West to become a Mountain Man."  After a short stint in Canada, he settled in the Kalispell area and tells me,  "My training has been from old timers throughout my life and travels. Kalispell has been a haven for world class gunbuilders for a century, the wealth of information here is astounding."

He goes on to name names of Kalispell area gun makers:  Monte Mandrino, Jerry Fisher, Lee Helgeland, Les Bauska, John Buhmiller, Monte Kennedy, John King, Brian Sipe.  Some of these names I recognized and others I didn't, but plug one of them into an internet search engine, along with the keyword 'gunsmith,' and you'll see what he means.

Gene credits some other folks for providing guidance and inspiration as well.  "A classic perfectionist master gunbuilder, Tim Mitchell, walked me through my first flintlock rifle from scratch, step by step. Aaron Quade did the same with my first bolt gun. John King, a premier master in the singleshot rifle world, and former tool and die maker, has been a great source of information and inspiration over the years.

He goes on with, "I can't say I'm self taught, but I never went to school in the classroom.  My schooling was from my great friends in the trade who helped fuel my passion for fine rifles."

After seeing some of Gene's work, I can attest to the fact that he had to have taught himself a lot.  The work approaches perfection.  In Gene's interview for the Serengeti job he displayed ten rifles he had built for himself, and believes that consummated his being hired.

Gene is married, has four grown children, and three grandsons.

Some of Gene's earlier work - a flintlock musket.

Lockworks on a blunderbuss.

Business end of that Blunderbuss.

One of the most touted features of Kilimanjaro rifles is their laminated stock technology.  Originally developed by the late Mel Smart and then known as ACCRA-Bond, Stealth Lamination involves cutting a stock blank into three slabs.  The three pieces are then re-oriented to take advantage of both appearance and grain strength and glued back together via a patented, proprietary process.  This is said to provide a stock that looks as good as traditional walnut, and is impervious to warping due to temperature and moisture changes.

I can not personally attest to the anti warping claims, but I have examined a number of rifles with this stock technology, and one must look very closely in order to determine that the stocks are not one contiguous piece of wood!  In the beginning the stock blanks were cut into five layers for lamination, but extensive testing determined that the three layer technology was just as stable and looked even better.

Little Heifer holding a completed rifle with the 'Stealth Technology' stock.  This one is built on a Sako Model 85 action but I didn't note the caliber.  (Don't drop that thing, Darlin', I'm guessin' that would set us back around fifteen grand!)

A work in progress.  This one is a .416 Rigby, built around a 'Granite Mountain' action, which is basically a Mauser action on steroids.  The ultimate owner of the rifle drove in from Minnesota for a stock fitting session just before our visit. 

Gordner is touted by some gunwriters as being one of the best in the business when it comes to fitting a gunstock to a person, so I asked about the process that he goes through to do that.  It is, of course, best to have the person on site to do the fitting, but custom guns are often completed and delivered without the buyer ever seeing more than pictures of the process.  In those situations, Gene asks them to measure a gun that fits them well and send the measurements.

Length of pull, drop at comb, drop at heel, and pitch between heel and toe are critical measurements.  From there you get into cast-on or cast-off, thickness of comb, cheekpiece or not, Monte Carlo comb or not, etc. etc.  In most situations this gets the job done satisfactorily, although occasionally the semi-finished gun will be sent to the buyer to 'try on', and then be returned for final adjustments and finishing.

Once the measurements are recorded, a pattern stock is chosen with those dimensions and set up in the stock duplicating machine for initial shaping and inletting of the customer's chosen stock blank.

Stock duplicating machine.  One spindle holds the cutting tools and the other is the guide that follows the contours of the pattern stock.

A wall full of patterns to choose from.

 

So there you have it about our visit with Gene Gordner at Kilimanjaro.  I'd like to tell you that I ordered a gun for my collection, but these rifles are a bit out of my league.  The Serengeti line has a base price of $6,995 while the Kilimanjaro starts at $12,995.  The Artemis line is designed specifically for women and the way their bodies are built and carries a base price of $9,995.  Any of the choices allows for enough extra cost options to more than empty any bank account in our name.  For more information, visit the company website at www.kilimanjarorifles.com.

This month's hillbilly wisdom I'm paraphrasing from the reader board of the Golden Rule Brake Shop in Spokane Valley:

No matter how rich a man becomes, he cannot buy back his past.

Well, It's time to shut down here, So . . . .

'Til next time, Keep 'em shootin' straight, shoot 'em often, and above all, BE SAFE!!!!!

THE OL' HILLBILLY
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