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Century Arms Double Rifles

Restoration Project - Raick Freres Double Rifle Chambered in .405 Winchester

by Les O'Rourke

The mystique of double rifle is an enigma in today's hunting scene which is largely dominated by the bolt action magazine rifle. There is really no need for these high priced, beautifully made, superbly balanced arms. Bolt actioned rifles will handle calibers of sufficient stopping power for all of today's hunting, from Elephant, lion, buffalo or rabbit. So its no longer a valid argument to suggest that the double rifle has any advantage that would possibly excite the interest of a hunter or sportsman. Try telling John Taylor author and professional hunter that and he would chuck a right wobbly before stalking off into the Veldt with his favorite light double across his shoulder closely followed by his gun bearer carrying the heavy rifle. How could you possible compare the balance and finish of a smooth handling side by side double with the unbalanced noisy magazine rifle. Taylor claimed that after firing that first shot and then quietly breaking the action to replace the spent shell in the still of the deep bush and stepping forward to select a second target with both barrels charged is only possible with the break action double. The metallic rattle of the bolt in a magazine rifle would precluded the chance to reload the chamber without alerting the game to exactly where you stood thereby not allowing an unhurried second shot. Or the smooth action of taking the second shot with the left barrel by slipping your finger to the rear trigger as you tamed the recoil, bringing to a sudden halt a charge or stopping the departure of a second beast. John Taylor spends nearly 20 pages , in his book 'African Rifles & Cartridges' extolling the virtue of the double rifle and denigrating the magazine rifle a poor second best. He declares that the magazine rifle leads to sloppy shooting due to the feeling that accuracy can be compensated for by rapid fire, resulting in wounded animals and slaughter on a grand scale. Further he goes on to put the bolt action rifle in the same bag as the semi- auto in his estimation of poor ethics and sportsmanship. But really my only excuse for liking the double rifle so much is a romantic notation of a tenuous connection to the great white hunters of yesteryear. Its nearly impossible to pick up a double and after admiring the fine lines and balance, throw it to your shoulder and not see elephant, lion or rhino over the bead sight. All of this is really an excuse for my latest excess in acquiring a light double Belgium built Raick Freres rifle that came out of India chambered in .405 Winchester. I don't really need this rifle, not really, although I will be using it at the Big Game Rifle Club meets at the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia's Little River Rifle Range and will be defiantly taking it afield after Sambar deer next winter. And yes I did see charging Elephant the first time I put the rifle to my shoulder despite it being regarded a less than adequate calibre/cartridge combination for the large beasts. I first saw this rifle in its original condition at John Saunders shop Century Arms in Whitehorse Road Balwyn Victoria. John is an enthusiast purveyor of fine doubles, and Century Arms is a first and final stop for many large bore rifle shooters in Melbourne. The badly pitted exterior of the 25 3/4" barrels with back yard made and fitted scope mounts, down at heel stock and less than inspiring, poorly maintained action was off set by the almost mint bores. The left hand firing pin was missing and the ejector springs were either too weak or broken, but it still stirred dreams deep with in this frustrated armchair African Veldt wanderer. John had purchased the rifle on one of his tours of the Sub-Continent looking for such pieces to import, restore and re-sell. The rifle did not look much in its original condition but it still had that element of mystery and tradition that has seen its like snatched up by collectors and shooters the world over. The unlikely 405Win. chambering was a common enough event in early years in both Europe and England but it had not been done since Winchester drooped the cartridge in 1936. It found favour in India where it was used on all manner of game including the more lightly built Indian Elephant. First thing to do was have the stock replaced as close to original as possible, so I accompanied John Saunders to Bacchus Marsh 45mins west of Melbourne where custom stock maker Geoff Slee has set up shop. We had taken a piece of highly figured walnut that John thought would be suitable for the project but I was a little worried about the lack of straight grain in the grip area. The 405W. is not a hard kicking calibre but still I preferred a straight grain in the thin grip. So after talking to Jeff for a while it was finally agreed to use a piece of walnut that Geoff had on hand that showed good grain with a little fiddle back and the required straight grain in the grip area. I opted to have a cheek piece added to the stock and had the length of pull set at 14" to suit my short build. Jeff would pantograph the original stock and fore end than allow for the cheek piece while maintaining the straight lines and slim grip forend. The scope would not be refitted and so no allowance was made in the height of the stocks comb to accommodate one. The oil finished hand rubbed stock was finished in remarkably quick time and the rifle reappeared at Century Arms. The finely checkered and highly rubbed stock was in stark contrast to the rough exterior of the untouched metal work. Wood to metal finish was excellent showing the great care taken by Jeff to follow the lines of the light box-lock. The original horn grip cap had been re-fitted to the new stock along with a new solid recoil pad. The straight line grain of the walnut that Geoff had chosen had been made to stand out with careful blending of oils in the finish. Next step was to have Rolfe Bachnick the resident gun smith at Century Arms go over the action and barrels to remove the blemishes of neglect and time. Working slowly so as not to alter the dimensions of the action in relation to the new stock Rolfe carefully filed the metal work back to a bright metal finish so that t could be then sent to Phill Vinicombe to be re-engraved with the original sparse design. Rolfe had also cut out the scope mounts from the sight ramp, fitted the new two leaf rear express sight and cross filed the rib to hide the next to invisible marks of the removed metal. Phill faithfully followed the old design using diagrams and reference books that are stock reading in his trade. A sought after engraver I am always amazed by the fast turn around in his work. There is no faulting his skill and it is not surprising that his talents are recognized over seas and is sent work from such makes as Purdy and Holland & Holland. The Action and Barrels were then returned to Rolfe who dismantled the action and ejector mechanism, so that it could be sent overseas to be colour case hardened. While this was happening he slow blued the barrels, top lever and forend crown as well as making a new striker pin, to replace the broken one. While all of this was happening I had been busy chasing up a set of .405W dies and trying to source a supply of .411 300grain projectiles. I had thought of using cast projectiles but after looking at the ballistics decided to try and find a supply of jacketed projectiles. My immediate thought was to check the Woodleigh chart but although they make projectile in most of the big bore calibres and in fact do make a .411 400grain projectile I was afraid that the rifle would not handle the heavier pill. Finally a suitable projectile was found, in the Barns catalogue, a .411" 300 grain semi point. However a long delay was anticipated as these had to come from the States. So as a stand by and fun load I put together a hand full of Bertrum cases loaded with 56grains of 2209 sparked by a Remington large rifle primer and a 200 Grain Speer .410 pistol projectile. Hardly a Samba load, let alone Elephant. By the time I had finally mixed up this little load the colour case hardened action had been returned and Rolfe had started re-assembly and fitting the stock. This is a necessarily slow process as the action undergoes some slight changes in the colour case hardening process that requires the use of lamp black and fine files/polishing to remove any slight rises. The ejector spring was replaced, as was the broken firing pin and the completed rifle assembled. It was magnificent, the muted colours of the action against the slow fired blued barrels set in the warm finished stock all complete with the skilled marks of Jeff Slee's checkering and Phill Vinicomb's engraving brought together by Rolfe's careful work. The finished rifle weighed 7lb. 12ozs. is 41-1/2" overall length and promises to be a delight to carry into the high plains after deer. Raick Freres of Liege is not one of the top makers true but still it felt right and pointed beautifully while standing in the shop. The Barnes X projectiles had still not arrived so at the earliest possible moment (next day!) I drove off to the range to see how it would shoot. I did not really expect much using the cobbled loading but I just wanted to fire the 'new' rifle. Placing a target at 50 meters I carefully took a centre of black hold and fired the right barrel, the trigger was a little creepy but released smoothly enough, with out checking the hit I fired the left barrel, which had a crisp trigger let off. Recoil was negligible. Checking the target, I found both shots high up in the white approximately 120mm above the point of aim. The next two shots were in the black but still high after taking a 6 o'clock hold. Dropping the point of aim 25mm below the black so that a sliver of white showed I fired 2 sets of left and right combinations. All four shots were on line with the centre bull with the left barrel seeming to group slightly to the left of centre. Three carefully aimed shots using the right barrel only, cut the centre of the bull and confirmed the pattern of the barrels. I could not believe it. The rifle showed remarkably good accuracy considering the undersized/underweight projectile. There was a tendency for the cases to stick due to powder residue entering the chamber, no doubt, due to using too slow a powder with such a light projectile. Unburned powder flakes could be seen in the barrel and chamber and were clearly present when cleaning. So I think I'll try using the faster burning ADI 2208 in a similar load while I wait for the Barnes X projectiles to arrive, the first load showed absolutely no signs of pressure in the light double. John Saunders had over seen the whole process with a critical eye directing the efforts of all involved to finally arrive at what is a beautifully finished box lock rifle that has the classic feel it no doubt originally exhibited. For any one seeking a classic double or bolt action rifle I can not too highly recommend a visit to Century Arms in Whitehorse Road Balwyn Victoria. Century Arms also import Laurona Double side by side express rifles from Spain in 9.3 x 74R as a modern classic at a very reasonable price.

P.S. Just prior to posting the story I managed a trip to the range to test the new loading.

The .200garin .410 Speer ws still a light load to shoot using the faster loading of 56 grains of ADI 2208 however they printed about 25mm higher at 50 yards. Another load using Woodleigh 400 grain soft point projectiles in .411" over 48 grains of ADI 2208 produced groups at point of aim but as expected with considerably more recoil. I would treat this load as maximum for the 400grain pill.

None of these loads should be taken as gospel and are only listed as an indication of what can be expected in this particular rifle. There is very little reloading data around in regards to the .405 Win. so approach any reloading with great care. home
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