Alpine 7WSM

By Lucas Beitner

For the 2011 hunting season, I carried a 14.5 lbs rifle into the wilderness, a custom 270 Winchester (see article). It was as accurate and ballistically capable as it was heavy. A 28" varmint contoured barrel and AICS were the biggest culprits in the obese nature of this rifle. Not yet thirty years of age, I can carry the extra weight with little negative effect overall. The long barrel when traveling cross-country was probably the greatest setback. By the time the 2012 hunting season was weighing heavily on my mind, the thought of taking my 270 into the wilderness led to almost involuntary back stretching. Perhaps a gear upgrade would be appropriate in the rifle department. The 270 was meant to serve in match shooting as well as hunting. My next rifle would have no double duty stipulations.


Ron (of Benchmark Barrels) and I started kicking around ideas for a more appropriate alpine hunting rifle. I was thinking of a 23" varmint contour, Ron was thinking 25". Based on our past experience with the cartridge, we were both thinking 7WSM. I used one for competitions 6 years ago, and had taken one buck at 550 yds with it. Ron has also used the 7WSM in competition and has taken numerous game with his "7's" all the way out to 857 yds. Even Ron's nephews Caleb (10yrs old) and Jarred (16yrs old) took bucks at 506 yds and 430 yds respectively with the cartridge. The 7WSM is a hard cartridge to beat when it comes to hunting. The comparatively poor barrel life isn't a major drawback for a dedicated hunting rifle.


Another option was thrown into the mix when Ron and I started testing and demonstrating suppressors for Cascade Armory. Not only do suppressors cut down noise and recoil but they're just down right fun to use. Spotting for a shooter using a suppressor is noticeably nicer. You expect the harsh crack of a braked magnum, but instead there's no muzzle blast and the noise level is similar to a .22lr. We thought it might be nice to run the rifles suppressed for hunting. Although we often split up, in the past we have seen two good bucks together. A suppressed shot might allow a little extra time for the second hunter to collect. A suppressor could be removed and stowed away allowing for easy travel through thick trees or brush.


The idea behind our Alpine 7's is absolutely nothing new. Many long range hunters have already "been there, done that". Many high country hunting rifles use light barrel contours. I just couldn't get myself to ask for anything lighter than a Remington varmint contour. I know one can often use much lighter contours and still achieve excellent accuracy (I've got a fluted number 5 contour in 260 rem that's exceptionally accurate). Going with the varmint contour was simply insurance that the rifle would shoot very well, insurance that is paid for by carrying a little extra weight. For the suppressor it's also nice to have a little more meat on the barrel to provide a better "shoulder" for it to bottom out against. The next item I had to decide on was the stock. I would have used a Grey Bull Precision stock, like the one Ron used on his rifle, but there were availability issues at that time. I was interested in trying a Manners stock, but I just couldn't afford it. After a lot of searching I found a decent compromise, the Bell and Carlson Medalist M40 style. It was only $210. The stock has a semi vertical grip, a higher than usual cheek piece, an aluminum bedding block and comes in at around 2.6 lbs. We both went with quick clip DBM systems, and Leupold Mark 4 scopes.

Weight Breakdown:

Long action Remington with oversize recoil lug: 1 pound 12 ounces

23" Varmint Contour barrel, fluted: 3 pounds 8 ounces

Bell and Carlson stock w/bedding: 2 pounds 14 ounces

Quick clip DBM system: 7 ounces

Thunder Beast 30 cal Suppressor: 1 pound 2 ounces

Rifle total weight with suppressor, optic (Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14x50), bipod (Harris 9-13") and sling:
12 pounds 8 ounces

With load development Ron and I parted ways. He decided to stick with the 168gr Berger VLD's we've had so much success with in the past. I decided that with the much shorter barrel and the use of H4350 (a fairly fast powder for this cartridge size) the 140gr Berger VLD might work very nicely as well. The 168 would have less wind drift but the 140's made the rifle slightly less "hold sensitive". I settled on a load of 62gr of H4350. This gave me a muzzle velocity of 3150fps. It proved to be exceptionally accurate. I would often shoot a few groups to zero or check zero. I would always seem to get at least one screamer group in the .1's (for 3 shots). The rifle was consistently printing in the .3's and better. Long range testing was equally impressive. Due to the use of the lighter bullet I was not intending to shoot game much past 750yds even in perfect conditions. Out to and even beyond that distance making first round hits in practice was simple.

Ron and I spent a lot of time in the months leading up to hunting season practicing with our rifles and scouting for high country bucks. The closer we got to opening day the more confident we were in our equipment and our options for good bucks. Some of those scouting trips were adventures neither of us will ever forget. As old men we will likely look back on these times as some of our best days. With everything going so well, and expectations so high, we couldn't have predicted a turn of events. With an unusual heat wave (record setting dry spell) and unprecedented wildfire activity in Washington State the hunt didn't start out on a positive note. Bear season starts over a month earlier than the "High Buck Hunt". Unfortunately for us, there had been some activity in the canyon where we expected our big bucks to show up. This is simply a reality when hunting public land. Even when you find an area that most aren't willing to go into, there are some who know how to use horses, llamas and other stock animals to get in many miles. The heat (and possibly also the smoke) seemed to make the deer limit their movement.

We still managed to see legal bucks every day, some better than others, but nothing that we felt like taking home. We hoped that things would calm down and the bigger bucks would make an appearance. They didn't, even so, there was plenty to hold our interest. That high country holds a lot of wildlife. We saw several elk and even called in a nice bull (from 600yds to under 80yds) one afternoon by whistling and raking trees with branches. Most days we saw at least four different black bears, and a coyote or two. Even mountain goats made an appearance. After a few days with no big buck sightings we decided to move to another area. Our other spot was miles away and the heat made travel during the day inhospitable. Analyzing our options we decided to do most of the hike at night or at least the portion that followed a trail making travel easy with our headlamps. So we hiked into the early morning, making camp in time to catch a few hours of sleep.

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Alpine 7WSM - 2

The next morning we broke camp and started a steady climb away from the trail. After several thousand feet of elevation gain we moved slowly through canyons where we'd seen bucks before the season. Ron had taken the suppressor off his rifle and I left mine on. We decided if we suddenly saw a deer, I would get my rifle out (since the can was already in place) and Ron would dig out his range finding binoculars. We were traversing an area of loose shale and rock on a fairly steep slope. A snow pack was straight ahead. I figured with the warm weather we'd been experiencing the snow would be soft enough to dig in foot holds. I took my walking stick and probed the snow. It was not soft at all, the sun was blocked by the mountain for too much of the day, crampons would be required to cross. Ron caught up and we discussed whether to strap the crampons on or just go around, climbing above.


We had just decided to go around when I noticed movement below. It was a little 3x3. Before I can say anything, Ron says, "There's a little buck." "And he's coming right at us," I added. Ron then informed me there was a bigger buck behind him. I had not noticed this other deer. As we'd planned before, I started unstrapping my rifle from my pack. I was trying to do so making little movement. "He's got us pegged," Ron informs me, I ask if I can move any faster. Ron says to go ahead. I took the walking sticks and looped the straps over the opposite stick creating a makeshift rest. As I try to line up on the buck I keep sliding down on the rocks, requiring me to reposition myself again and again. I don't get on him immediately as he was in the shadows and I had difficulty picking him out. I was on borrowed time at this point. I had to make a decision quick. It was not easy to size him up.

Ron asked, "How good is he?" I tried to focus even harder. "It's hard to tell. I think he's a 4x4. I guess I'd better shoot him." He begins to turn away for an escape, but I've already started squeezing the trigger. The muffled shot returns a thump that can only be the sound of a bullet hitting an animal. He goes down quickly, only managing a few yards. As it turned out he wasn't what I was after, but the meat would be just as good either way. He was just under 24" on the spread and spindly compared to last year's buck. He was a 4x4 though, and a respectable buck for this state. I just really don't like to pack young deer that far out of a wilderness!

With the high buck hunt behind us it was time to start thinking about main season. Ron, his nephew Colton (18 years of age), and buddy Danny headed to a "honey hole" on the east side of the Cascades. The weather was not so good and it started to rain as soon as camp was made. The whole first day not a single deer showed itself. The next morning the rain continued steadily. They tried to convince themselves no self-respecting deer would be out in such conditions. Experience had taught them otherwise and in spite of the rain they were out at first light glassing the canyons and ridges were they'd seen good bucks before. It wasn't long before they spotted three bucks: one 4x4, one 3x3 and a spike. The deer bedded down across the canyon. Ron continued to glass, hoping to find an even better buck.


Eventually he decided to take the better of the three, he whistled loudly to get the buck to stand. It was 461 yards out. Ron made the necessary scope corrections and fired his 7WSM. A good hit, the buck went downhill about 30 yards and dropped. It was time for Colton to put previous shooting practice to use. The other bucks went higher on the hillside, confused about what had happened to the more mature buck. The yardage this time was 514. Colton squeezed the trigger after Danny dialed the additional elevation on the scope. Another good hit, the buck went down but was then sitting facing them directly, still alive. After instruction from Ron, Colton put a final bullet under the chin, a fantastic shot from over 500 yds!


Ron's guiding for nephews was hardly over. He promised his sister in Montana that he'd come out and guide three of her sons for deer. The boys were David, age 19, Jeremy, age 18 and Joel, age 14. Ron had less than a week to try to get bucks for these first time deer hunters. Even with the time constraints Ron knew some shooting practice would be required. Not only would Ron be able to teach them techniques for successful field shooting, but he could learn the capabilities of each hunter to make sure realistic and ethical shots were taken.


Our friends Eric and Ann Miller of Sage Flats (out of Jordan Montana) had a perfect place for someone to get acquainted with long range shooting. Sage Flats offers shooting classes, shooting competitions and builds custom rifles as well. With the accuracy of these 7WSM's there's hardly a better tool to learn with. With proper instruction all three boys were hitting steel out to 940 yards in the prone position. Knowing that prone shots are not always available in the field, Ron took the time to teach them how to shoot from improvised rests. They learned fast! Ron gave each of them two rounds to hit the 400yd gong standing off of a tripod. The two older boys made hits and even the youngest only missed by inches. Amazingly, all three collected their first bucks. David took his buck standing with the rifle rested on a tripod at 125 yards. Jeremy's buck was taken in the same manner at 225 yards. Joel took his buck from the prone position from 340 yards. All made first round hits and downed their bucks humanely. There is no doubt in the ability of these rifles. The combination of tolerable recoil, flat trajectory, and reasonable weight make them ideal for so many hunting situations. Ron was quite impressed with the shooting ability of all his nephews. It's one thing to shoot well when practicing, but putting it all together in the field with a buck in the crosshairs is quite impressive.


We may not have taken trophy bucks during the 2012 season, but we were able to hunt harder, farther, and with absolute confidence. We were ultimately successful in stocking our freezers until next season. The rifle is the most interesting tool we use while hunting. We spend so much time practicing with them, we analyze them for areas of possible failure (extractors, magazines, bolt handles firing pins/springs, etc.), and yet we spend the least amount of time actually using them in the field. It's the few seconds that your rifle spends doing its job that determine the outcome of countless hours of effort previously invested. In a way the rifle is second only to the hunter himself in determining the results of a hunt. A special tool indeed! As my age increases it is quite likely that I will continue to lighten my hunting rifles. I hope to try many different types of hunting and nearly as many variations in my equipment.

Suppressor legalization:
The following bill was attached to HB 1016 in Washington state Bills/5112.pdf

Game laws… see "Hunting equipment and Methods/Prohibited hunting methods"

Legal to use suppressors for hunting in your state? A good resource, but double check for good measure. WITH SUPPRESSORS-STATE LAW COMPILATION.pdf

Lucas Beitner has been hunting big game since age 10. He mostly enjoys backpacking into the high country for black tails and mule deer in the Cascade Mountains. Lucas spends much of the off season scouting and hiking. He also enjoys competing in practical/tactical long range shooting matches.