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Stainless and sabots - a success story.

We seem to be entering the age of silver-gray. No, I don't mean hair color; I'm talking about stainless steel rifles. In case you haven't noticed, all the majors are now producing versions of their respective flagship rifles in matte-finished stainless steel.

Browning started it all with their Stainless Stalker about five years ago and since then Ruger, Savage, Remington, Weatherby, and Winchester (USRAC) have joined the fray, the latter three just this year.

Recently, I asked a number of dealers how they were going about selling stainless, if indeed they had to "sell" it at all. The consensus was that these guns have become well-enough accepted to sell themselves, providing the customer does not have any strong objections based solely on the appearance of the guns. In other words, if a silver-gray rifle in a black synthetic stock -- which typifies all six of the guns we're talking about here -- turns a customer off, what can you do to make a sale?

Who Wants Stainless?

Predictably, I think it's the younger shooters who seem to be taking to stainless a lot more readily than their dads. Indeed, one dealer from Michigan told me he could count on one hand how many customers over age 30 had purchased stainless rifles from him...and he figured he'd sold around 50 of them over the last two years.

When I asked these same dealers whether they thought it was appearance that attracted customers to stainless or the actual benefits it offered, most said the initial attraction was purely a cosmetic one. It seems that as long as the customer has no pre-disposed aversion to the unconventional appearance of what in essence is a black and silver rifle, the maintenance-free (almost) and longer barrel life aspects of stainless then become strong selling points.

Although the bore should be cleaned just as frequently as a conventional chrome-moly one if one expects top accuracy, the stainless rifle doesn't need the same pampering to keep rust away. A soaking from rain or snow (or for that matter just the morning dew that can accumulate on a rifle left outside), that would otherwise require it be taken out of its stock and dried, just isn't necessary with stainless.

While few hunting rifles are ever "shot out," the extended accuracy life that stainless barrel offers is nonetheless powerful selling point. There is, after all, a perceived value in the fact that stainless will provide another one or two thousand rounds of top accuracy, even though the likelihood of that rifle being shot even 1,000 times total is unlikely.

Then there's the synthetic stocks these guns wear which makes that half of the package just as impervious to the weather as the other half. Of course weatherproof, dimensionally stable stocks are not unique to stainless guns, but it is another feature they have going for them.

It would seem, then, that although the basic attraction of the stainless steel rifle is primarily cosmetic, the genuine advantages it offers over traditional blued steel and walnut are not lost on the consumer. It's no wonder stainless is "in," and I for one think it's going to stay that way for a long time.

The Success of the Sabot

It's amazing how much has happened in the world of slug shooting these past several years. For so long this has been the most neglected segment of the shooting world with regard to new product development in guns and ammunition; now it has undergone a veritable renaissance.

It all goes back to the BATF's ruling exempting the rifled 12-gauge shotgun from its list of Destructive Devices. Theretofore, any rifled bore over .50 caliber (the 12 gauge is .73 caliber) was illegal for sporting use. Once the legal way was cleared, the barrel-making firm of E.R. Shaw in Pittsburgh, Pa., was first to develop fully rifled 12 gauge barrels with which they furnished the gunsmithing trade and also fitted to their own customers' guns.

Concurrent with Shaw's rifled 'shotgun' barrels was BRI's development of the .50 caliber sabot slug. BRI's weird-looking, wasp-waisted projectile encased in a two-piece plastic sleeve never shot all that well in smoothbores, but when pushed through a rifled bore the results were so much better that it forever changed the way we looked at slugs.

Another obstacle that has since partially melted away was the fact that the laws in many states were written in such a way as to either outright prohibit the use of a rifled 12 gauge gun, or at best to cloud the legality of its use. Some game departments have since come around to allowing it, some haven't.

Meanwhile, the success of the Shaw/BRI connection prompted Hastings of Clay Center, Kansas, to get into the game by offering replacement rifled barrels for the more popular interchangeable-barrel shotguns. That in turn spurred the major manufacturers to see the potential of doing the whole thing themselves.

Today we have Benelli, Browning, Ithaca, Mossberg, Remington, and Winchester producing pump or semi-auto shotguns with fully rifled barrels and/or rifled choke tubes; Shaw and Hastings are still each doing their after-market things. New custom makers like Randy Fritz of Tar-Hunt Custom Rifles of Bloomsburg, Pa., are building bolt guns specifically designed for one thing only: to shoot saboted slugs as accurately as possible.

On the ammo scene there's Olin-Winchester having acquired BRI a couple of years ago, now making the saboted ammo themselves, as does Federal. Activ is producing an excellent Brenneke-type slug, and the Rottweil people will soon be introducing a new version of the famous Brenneke slug itself.

All this interest in rifled bores and saboted slug loads has further prompted the ammo makers to take another look at the taken-for-granted mediocrity of the Foster-type slug.

The Foster is the cup-shaped chunk of lead that the Big Three ammo companies have been loading for oh-so-long as "rifled slugs" and which had a reputation for abysmal accuracy when fired through conventional smoothbore barrels. Even here improvements in both accuracy and velocity have been realized by fitting smoothbore barrels with rifled choke tubes, thereby maintaining the potential of using one gun for both winged game and deer.

While the combination of rifled accessory tube and Foster slug can't match the accuracy and flat trajectory the saboted rounds offer, they're a damnsite better than what slug shooters of a generation ago had to accept. If today's worst being better than yesterday's best isn't dramatic progress, I don't know what is.
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Title Annotation:Special Intelligence; stainless steel rifles and saboted slug loads
Author:Sundra, Jon R.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 1, 1992
Words:1082
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