It was not long after moving into our new house on the outskirts of Humble, Texas that I read an article about squirrel hunting. My wife had often related how many times her family had dined on squirrel and after my Mother-In-Law had moved in with us, the squirrel stories were related once more. We won’t even begin to discuss the culinary delights of dining on squirrel brains as described by both of my beloved women. Part of their history was the use of shotguns when perusing the wily beasts. I can appreciate feeding one’s family and the need of bringing home a full bag but my interest was purely of the sporting nature.
Never having been much of a shotgun aficionado, except for home defense, and being intensely interested in weapons of the single shot type, I was lead to the concept of hunting squirrel with the .22. That interest and the close proximity to a vast tract of uninhabitable timber, lead to the purchase of components for a single shot rifle.
At the time, the only new single shot, bolt action rifle not of the strict survival type or the Ruger 10/22 available in the Houston Metro area was an inexpensive Savage Stevens Model 36. You will remember I said “inexpensive”. I believe I gave in the neighborhood of $65.00 new for the gun. Even back then (1990) $65.00 was not much money for a .22. The trigger was horrible. It was a dragging, creepy, and rough release with considerable over-travel once the sear actually broke and the rifle was definitely in the “knock about” class for looks.
I began by disassembling the trigger group and polishing every sliding, pivoting and engagement surface paying particular attention to the engagement angles of the sear and hammer (all crude stampings). I was attempting to create an angle of 90 degrees on the sear/hammer engagement surface with as short and smooth a sear travel ledge as possible without making engagement questionable. Virtually every surface that I found in the trigger group had tool marks or burrs of one sort or another. I think I disassembled and reassembled the trigger at least thirty times doing incremental sear/hammer engagement modification. Eventually, the trigger did become acceptable but still retains the mile-and-a-half over travel from the factory.
In the past decade Savage Arms has come a long way in the quality control department. I believe this is in large pert to upgraded digital machining equipment and an employee ownership of product attitude.
To the rifle I mounted a Bushnell Sharpshooter 3 X 9 power scope with claw type ring mounts. I actually paid more for the telescopic sight and mount than for the platform itself (That Bushnell sight has a story all its own.).
When I finally got to the range, I was truly disappointed in the groups the rifle printed. I used every common flavor of ammunition available at the time searching for a diet the little rifle “liked”…to no avail. That evening, when swabbing and scrubbing the bore, I discovered what I thought was a piece of debris lodged in the rifling about an inch and a half from the muzzle. I scrubbed and scrubbed and eventually made the “debris” shine! Inspection revealed the front sight mounting hole had intruded into the bore. It was then a quick trip to the local gunsmith to have the offending portion of the barrel removed and the muzzle re-crowned.
What a difference an inch of crappy barrel can make! From that day on, no varmint was safe within 150 yards if the air was calm and I had solid rest. I found a few more expensive brands of ammunition would make the rifle print very tight groups but only marginally better than the Federal High Velocity long rifle lead projectile. That is now the “standard” load for this and my other .22s. The second trip to the range was very gratifying as the original concept for this platform was as a dedicated squirrel hunter. It was so accurate that it soon found service in the Never Ending War of the Snakes and as my go-to Crow Population Control Device. It laid to rest at least three score of the Black Demons and snakes too numerous to count. I have used the platform as an introduction to marksmanship tool, plinker and even brought a few squirrels and rabbits to the bag. The anti-glare objective lens shade is a toilet paper roll covered with electrician’s tape (the same that’s been on there for nigh on 20+ years).
I also experimented with the use of the CB Cap loading. You can think of the CB Cap as a strong air rifle powered by a few grains of smokeless propellant rather than compressed gas. The CB Caps tended to be a pretty dirty load. It often made me wonder if the propellant was actually “smokeless”.
At one time the rifle wore a modified small engine muffler for use as a suppressor (You know, trying to be a compassionate neighbor…kinder, gentler, you know.) but found the noise reduction marginal with all loads and the CB Caps required major sight adjustments and range restrictions. When using the suppressor and high velocity loads, the noise generated by the escaping muzzle gasses was markedly reduced; however, because the projectile is still traveling at super-sonic speed, there is a definite crack associated with bullet strike. Most of the time the shooter really does not hear that part of the report because he is dealing with the muzzle gas portion of the shot sound sequence. The rifle has not worn suppression for 15 plus years but where we are now living, once again, is bordering on woodland and the raccoon population abounds. One never knows about these things until one’s own garbage can is assaulted by local vermin.
As an aside, this summer I was conscripted to install a new mailbox mounted atop a redwood post affair. My Chief Financial Officer (my lovely wife) instructed me to stain/seal the new post with some concoction she came home with from the hardware store. It too is a redwood stain. As I was painting the post, I continually remarked to myself what a beautiful rifle stock finish the color would make. It only took two days for me to think about the little Model 36. I had stripped the ugly brown shoe finish from it the same year I put it together. It was now a pleasing but unremarkable blonde handle. Yesterday, I removed the barreled action and hardware from the Savage in preparation for a little re-finish job…to “redwood”.
Oh, and it just so happens I “found” a new small engine muffler the other day.
One never knows about these things…
I assembled the rifle again yesterday. The top coat is gloss polyurethane. You can tell I am no “wood guy” but I think it came out nicely for such a trustworthy, inexpensive weapon.
I hope you enjoy the story and photos.
“The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter can not be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”