Talking to the Gunsmith: Robert Gradous

To follow the entire series on my custom rifle build, click here.  (The most recent will at the top of the page.)

Yesterday morning, I called Robert Gradous, a very well known and respected gunsmith.  He is known for building tactical and hunting rifles and comes highly recommended in many circles as one of the best.  I have done a great deal of research and was to a point where I needed some expert advice to make any further decisions.  As dialed his business number, and as I heard his phone begin to ring I felt nervous.  Who am I to think I am going to call such an expert and hold a conversation about rifles.  After all, he is a master in his craft, and I am practically a complete novice.

“Hello?” He said.  So, I replied, “Hello, my name is “Lil Chantilly” (names changed to protect the innocent.) Suddenly, he was a little grumpy, and asked the purpose of my call (he thought I was a telemarketer because he had been getting too many sales calls before mine.)  I was thinking, this is going to be harder than I thought.  I replied, a little quieter than I planned, “I want to talk to you about building a rifle.”  Suddenly, his voice lightened and warmed and he quickly apologized for being rough at the beginning of the call.  From that point on we had a fantastic conversation – all about my new custom rifle.  At one point during the very beginning of the conversation, he even said, “Well, I’m not an expert, but…” This made me smile, he was very humble and he put me at ease.

I let him know that I want to build a rifle suited for me, one that I am going to practice high powered tactical shooting out to at least 1200 yards.  Also, I would like to use it for competition in tactical matches, eventually.

He asked me a few more questions about the components I would choose:

    • What action am I going to use?  My answer: Surgeon or Big Horn Arms tactical short action.  Mr. Gradous said he had built rifles with both kinds of actions, and thought either would be fine.  He preferred the Surgeon Actions, he thought it was more solid, had better repeatability, etc.  UPDATE:  See the article I wrote comparing the two actions here.
    • What type of stock?  My Answer: McMillian.  We discussed the A5 and A3.  I let him know that I had used a rifle with an A5 stock in the past, but after some research thought that the A3 might be better.  He said he had an A5 available and offered to weigh it for me so we could base part of the discussion on weight.
    • Did I want the ammo to feed from a 10 round magazine?  My answer:  Yes 5 or 10 rounds.  This was important if I want the rifle to feed from a magazine rather than become a single feed – so we could talk about bottom metal.
    • What size bullet and type of cartridge? My answer: I let him know I had narrowed it down to a 6mm (243 or 6XC) or 6.5mm (260).  This was one of the best parts of the conversation.  He made me giggle – and I decided I really liked him.  He started talking about how some men building rifles get a little too much testosterone, and think they need .338s, when out to 1200 yards a 6mm will be just as accurate.  He gave me his opinion on the cartridges I mentioned.  He said the 243 accuracy would drop off around 900-1200 rounds.  He said the 6XC would possibly be good up to 3000 rounds, but I should definitely use the 6mm 115 DTEC bullet and seat it just above the powder.  He said a 6XC will be accurate to 1/2 MOA every single time.
    • He finally got to a question I had no idea about, he asked what barrel contour was I looking at?   My answer: I have no idea – I seriously did not know.  He gave me more homework: To research a Remington Sendero contour.  I found a chart that compares various contours.  I linked it here.  I also need to research “Marksmanship Training Unit (MTU) Contour”, although in the reading I have done since the conversation yesterday, there is a lot of talk about MTU contoured rifles being impractical due to weight.
    • What type of barrel?  Krieger or Bartlein? My answer:  I have not decided.  We discussed that either one would be a great choice.  He did recommend fluting the barrel, and said I would save about 1/2lb on weight that way.
    • What type of bipod?  My answer: I had not settled on one yet.  Some options are Atlas and Harris.  He did ask me if I had seen a “Henry Rempel” ski-bipod, and I had not.  So, he gave me homework to do – research this option.  I have discovered this bipod is popular for F-Class competitions.  He said it is the closest thing to bench rest stability in a prone position.  He said it will raise the barrel 3″-12″ off the ground, and you can also cant the barrel and lock the bipod in place.  This is definitely one heck of a bipod!
    • Did I plan on using an adjustable cheek piece?  My answer:  yes.  “Ok” he said, “This is where a lot of weight comes from .”
I did discuss the timeline of this project, and he again had me smiling.  He said (regarding schedule), “All gunsmiths lie.”  He went on to explain that he is a one man shop and that he works on what he feel like when he wakes up that morning.  I chuckled, and just told him that was completely fair, and that I had time.  As the conversation grew to a close, I forgot I had been nervous to call – my mood had morphed into near elation.  This is so exciting!
I have never built a rifle for a girl, so this will be a first.
“I have never built a rifle for a girl, so this will be a first.”  He said that without judgement, without bias – just fact.  That did surprise me, and I caught my breath.  I did not have anything to say to that except that I was thrilled at the prospect and I was very grateful for the time he spent discussing all these details.  With that, we ended the call and I went to work researching the things I did not understand so I could further develop my plan.

 

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6 thoughts on “Talking to the Gunsmith: Robert Gradous

  1. Now that’s the way to do it- go to a real expert. It drives me nuts when I go into any gun store and there’s some sales person who often doesn’t really know much about guns, and a new shooter is asking them stuff.
    Think of asking a typical car salesperson about the engine in the car you’re thinking of buying. They might be able to tell you how many cylinders it has.

    If asking tech stuff about guns etc, first ask the person what background they have. If they just started selling guns and last week they were selling waffles, run away form them.
    If you are lucky enough to be able to talk to a real honest to God gunsmith, and get his/her advice…you’ll be better off.

    1. CI,

      Thank you – I have to tell you, there is nothing like talking to someone like that. One mark of a true expert is when they say, “Well, I am not an expert but…” (Especially when they have such a fantastic reputation.) Most of the truly brilliant, educated people I have ever met will be the first ones to say they still have a lot to learn. (As opposed to the yahoos who act like they know it all, but couldn’t find their way out of a paper bag.) Also, he was willing to give me the contact info to other gunsmiths that he recommended if I wanted to get other opinions. He was just a really genuine guy.

      I also loved that he took time to discuss, in a teaching manner, some of the ideas I needed to understand better. And, the fact he gave me more homework to research.

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