05 May 2010

The Stephen Marlow Project

Here's another great example of an offhand target rifle that was shared by one of our readers. However, this offhand rifle by Stephen Marlow is different than the rifle we looked at last week in that it was made from the Billinghurst underhammer action kit that is available from Muzzleloader Builder’s Supply http://muzzleloaderbuilderssupply.com. For a closer look at the underhammer action Stephen chose, you can read about it further down the page at my posting at the Underhammer Action Round-up.

In addition to his interest in building muzzleloading rifles, Stephen is also the President of the Texas Shooting Sports Complex, www.txssc.org, an NRA Training Counselor, Chief Range Safety Officer, and a Shooting Sports Instructor for both the local 4-H and Boy Scouts. I don't know where he ever found the time to build a rifle!

For this project Stephen decided to go with a 36-inch .50 calibre barrel with a 1:60 twist that would provide high velocity to the round balls that he planned to shoot out to 200 yards. The rifle finished out at 54 inches in length and a hefty 12 pounds.

He wanted to build an offhand target rifle with a full pistol grip like those of the late percussion period. However, the mode in which the offhand rifle is mounted and held generally required special consideration as far as length of pull and stock configuration is concerned. Usually, hunting rifle stocks don’t provide the best offhand fit and offhand stocks don’t do well for snap shots that present themselves in the field. Each discipline has its own design parameters that must be considered if you wish to enjoy sweet success.

An offhand rifle is not held in the same manner as a hunting rifle. Generally speaking, the hunting rifle, when aimed from a comfortable offhand hold, is held at about a 30 degree angle from a line across the shoulders of the shooter. The offhand target rifle, on the other hand, has a shorter length of pull which allows it to be held in tighter to the chest. In fact, it is held at about 10 degrees or less. Holding the rifle up tight against the shooters chest provides a much more stable frame from which to control the rifle.

Such a stance is further secured by bracing the left elbow (for a right hand shooter) up tight against the rib cage. With the proper fit of rifle to shooter, the idea is for the shooter to simply stand up straight and have the rifle fit. Adding a palm rest to the forearm of the stock provides even greater ease in supporting and controlling the rifle by the left hand as Stephen demonstrates above.

You may recall that at some time or another you've picked up a rifle and had to contort your neck or arms and shoulders in order to fit the rifle. One might tolerate that poor design in a hunting rifle where you are only taking one or two shots at a time. But in a target shooting situation, where you may be shooting a 20-shot string, craning your neck and shoulders to accommodate an ill-fitting stock will fatigue the body rather quickly and accuracy suffers badly.

There is a certain beauty in a properly proportioned offhand rifle such as the old schuetzen rifles. They were fit to the shooter like a glove. The shooter simply stood in a natural pose and the rifle fit the pose perfectly.

Stephen is a pretty savvy shooter and understands all of this geometry business and to be sure that he got it right, he made a mock up of his rifle in Styrofoam. That’s right – Styrofoam. I thought it a rather ingenious idea that allows the builder to quickly and accurately determine the perfect shape of the buttstock for his style of shooting.

 Here's the layout sequence from the cardboard to the 3-D styrofoam model 
and finally laid out on the mesquite slab and ready for the bandsaw.

Once Stephen had the Styrofoam stock whittled to fit him, it was a simple matter to transfer it to the prime slab of mesquite that he had harvested from the back 40. For you younger guys, that’s farmer talk for the backyard. That piece of mesquite had a tight curve in the grain that Stephen took advantage of by using it in the transition from the pistol grip to the body of the buttstock.

1. A sharp chisel is essential for clean, crisp inletting of the tangs. 2. A depth gauge really helps in achieving consistent depth of the tang channels. 3. & 4. The evidence of skill, patience, and sharp tools is evident in the perfect fit of the top and bottom tangs. 5. Once the action was fitted to the stock, rough shaping could begin. 6. After careful fitting of the deep-pronged buttplate, shaping of the stock's perchbelly completed the roughing in of the basic shape and proportions.  

After careful finishing of the MBS Billinghurst action kit, Stephen carefully fit the action to his prized stick of mesquite and a beautiful rifle slowly began to emerge as seen above and below.

 Here the photos are self explanatory as we see the forearm take shape. 
Stephen secured the forearm to the barrel with a traditional pinning method.


Once completed, Stephen took his prize to the range. He stated, "It was my honor to have several of our instructors take a shot with this fine rifle at our NRA Shoot Day. We hosted 100 or so Venture kids at the Lost Pines Boy Scout Camp near Bastrop – a semiannual event."

Although somewhat finished, Stephen is still searching for the right sights for his new creation. He knows that he will be using the Merit rear sight insert as provided by The Merit Corporation, www.meritcorporation.com, fitted to some sort of ladder tang sight and a Vaver front globe that he just acquired. I'm hoping that once he's found what works best for him, maybe we'll hear more as he works with his new offhand rifle to develop a winning load.

Thanks Stephen for sharing your work with us. You've not only built a wonderful rifle, but your work of photo-documenting it has given us a great look at your build.

Yet another inspiration for those of you who are getting the bug to build an underhammer rifle.

Come on in - the water's fine!

                                  All photos copyrighted by Stephen Marlow 

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

I can attest this is a beauty to hold and shoot as I've shot it! The current sights, while maybe not the finished product, worked fine as I popped the target at 100 feet on first shot. The balance and symetry were amazing, the gun simply beautiful. For a first try and learning new skills, Stephen has produced not only a fine firearm, but a work of art.

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About Me

Roger Renner

Hi. I've been a student, admirer, and designer/builder of underhammer guns for over 30 years. In that span I've built over 200 semi-custom underhammers exploring the possibilities from the ordinary to the exotic. In 1996 I founded Pacific Rifle Company to explore the market's interest in a high-quality underhammer rifle. Thankfully, that interest was, and still is, there. I sold PRC in 2006 but continue to craft high-end underhammers as I am truly afflicted with underhammeritis - which can be contagious!