We drove away from the Southern tip of Indiana, straight into the heart of God’s Country. My rifle mentor, $$$, and I traveled over the rivers and through the woods, my rifle parts in tow. Since the day I decided a custom rifle would be the answer, I have been waiting to personally deliver my parts to the Gunsmith. This was not just any Gunsmith. I was delivering my parts to Alan Brown of A.J. Brown Arms Co. Alan is a well-known smith with a stellar reputation. He recently retired from a very long and successful career supporting the Navy and Marine Corps at NSWC Crane where he worked in the Weapons Prototype Shop. Alan has had a hand in the Mk12, Mk13, Mk18, SPRV, and Mk262, to name a few. Chances are if you’ve ever handled a precision rifle from NSWC Crane, Mr. Brown has had his hands on it at one time or another. We found the address, after only driving past it once, (a new record) turned around and pulled into the drive of his home.
If you’ve never had the chance to visit, or drive through, some of the small towns in Indiana (or some of the other mid-western states) you’re missing out. These are places where everyone still waves at you when you’re driving by, refers to you as “honey or sugar”, and if you stop and get a bite at a local diner they will ask you if you need directions when they don’t immediately recognize you. Some of the nicest people on the planet will be found in these rural towns. We guessed his shop is there on his land, as there was an out building next to his house, we don’t actually know as we didn’t tour it – but maybe next time, if we are lucky!
I will admit I was just a bit nervous, as this was my very first personal experience with the gunsmith I was hoping would build my first custom rifle. I felt something, quite rare in my day-to-day grind – nervous but excited! I knew I was unprepared to answer some of the technical questions a man of his experience would see as common knowledge. The good news was, I had a friend to lean on, and hopefully he would be able to cover my gaps in knowledge. We rang the door bell, Mr. Brown invited us in and we sat there in his living room, the three of us chit chatting. After about two minutes I realized there was no need to be nervous and I was positive I made the right choice asking him to build my rifle. When the time was right, we got around to talking about the build for my rifle.
One of the first things Alan said about it was, “Why a 6XC?” I reminded him that I really don’t know anything, (mainly as a disclaimer for anything silly I was bound to say) and then I began explaining. I let him know that I wanted a 6mm, and he said he agreed with the 6mm decision 100%. I also talked to him a little about the distance I would be shooting at and my goals for the rifle and myself. I let him know that $$$ and his brother compete in tactical long range competitions and I have set a goal to join them. Alan is truly a very nice and kind person, and as we talked, I really warmed up to him and hung on every word. He said that he really liked a 6BR, especially at less than 800 yards. I had researched 6BRs, so we talked about that a bit. He did say that 6BR is not a tactical round. He did understand my reasons for choosing the XC and he mentioned his concerns were with some of the characteristics of the first lots of cases, he then went into details that honestly, were a bit over my head. He was extremely complementary about David Tubb and his marksmanship though!
We talked about some of the other pieces of my build, I told him that I brought a Big Horn Arms short action, and that I had considered a Surgeon but ended up with the BHA. He said he was glad I had chosen BHA- he agreed with that decision. I let him know that I brought Krieger #8 match contour barrel, he looked at it and we decided on a 28″ finished length. I told Alan that I had read that I could get up to 3,000 rounds through a barrel using a 6XC, and he agreed that was possible – especially if I was not too hard on the barrel. (Meaning, if I would shoot 5-10 rounds and let it cool between.) He said that when people put round after round through their barrels without giving them a chance to cool down, barrel life is reduced. Alan has certain barrels he prefers. Remember, he has built and tested hundreds and hundreds of rifles, and had experience with high numbers of various components of these rifles. Because of some of his experiences, he has a preference for Shilen match select and Douglas barrels. Still, he also said that he chooses his barrels based on the caliber of the rifle he is building and that the Mike Rock 5r .30cal barrel is one of the best out there (mental note). He said that he has found that some manufacturers are better at certain calibers than others.
We spent time talking about my McMillan stock, Alan had no problems with this choice. While we were talking, he took my action and Surgeon bottom metal and fit them together within the stock, just to make sure that everything would integrate as planned. There was just a moment that it seemed we were going to have a problem, but Alan worked at it a bit longer and found that I had ordered the correct bottom metal and these parts would work fine.
At one point $$$ and Alan were conspiring against me! $$$ said he planned on shooting out a barrel before I retired from the military, before I even got the chance to shoot my own rifle.
“My stock is too short for you!” I replied quickly.
“We can just add some spacers in the butt pad for you and it will fit you just fine.” Alan said as he took $$$’s side. Seriously guys? Ha ha!
There was some paperwork for me to fill out covering all the details we had just discussed to get the build on contract, and this might be when some of the most interesting discussion occurred. This discussion was between $$$ and Alan. Have you ever been in a grocery store line, and you hear someone speaking another language, and every now and then you hear a word you recognize? Well, that is almost how I felt listening to their discussion. I might be exaggerating – but not by much. They talked about various bullets, calibers, AR-15s, .223 loads, Accuracy Internationals, BC’s, and tangent and secant ogive bullet designs like most of us discuss the weather. $$$ pretty much immerses himself in gun information, always trying to learn something new. He viewed this visit as an opportunity to learn — I know he enjoyed the visit with Alan just as much as I did.
Not only did we deliver my rifle parts, but the great discussion alone was more than worth the drive and the time – I could have listened all afternoon! Alan welcomed us back if we were in the area, which I would love. I said good-bye to my rifle parts – until the end of the year, we thanked Alan for his time and headed back home. My mind was spinning on the drive home with so many ideas running through my head. I think somewhere in that discussion I had said something about the “next rifle I build.”