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Montana Rifle Company Model 1999 in .358 Norma Magnum

January 25, 2012.

I like rifles – a lot.  I also like hunting western big game – a lot.  This means that I’ve been driven to accumulate a growing collection of really outstanding western big game rifles.  When I started searching for my latest rifle I pretty quickly found my way to Montana Rifle Company.  MRC is a Montana-based company that designs and produces rifles on a proprietary controlled-round feed action. 

I’ve carried the rifle they built for me on two hunts now, and the performance and durability this rifle offers are the very definition of outstanding western big game rifles.  It’s taken me a while to write about the rifle here because, unfortunately, the elk and bears I pursued didn’t cooperate, and I was never able to get the grip-and-grin photos I had wanted to go along with the story.

But I finally set my bad luck and my desire for a kill shot aside so that I can get on with talking about the rifle.

The Company

The company, managed by father and son Brian and Jeff Sipe, started out as a barrel maker in the early 1990s, and shortly thereafter began development of its own action, an enhanced version of the Winchester Model 70 action which it calls the Model 1999.

Montana Rifle Company Model 1999 action

When word of MRC’s actions began showing up in the gun press, everyone was excited about the design of the action and the availability of an option for controlled-round feed actions. 

I was excited too, and did a lot of research before deciding to buy an MRC rifle.  When I first went on the internet to research rifles built on MRC actions, I came across mixed reviews.   (As you may have noticed, people on the internet can be opinionated.) Some owners have had wonderful results and swear by them; other owners might pick up a deal on a used custom rifle built on an MRC action and not be as pleased.

Jeff Sipe, who left his position with Kimber Rifles to help run the family business, has heard all of this feedback. 

“Our actions were originally intended as gunsmith actions – actions that would be fine-tuned by a skilled gunsmith as he built a custom rifle,” he told me when I first talked to him about a rifle.

“If we sold someone one of these gunsmith actions and he put together a rifle and didn’t have the right skill set to lap and finish the rifle, yeah, that action very well may have come across as a little rough.”

Jeff was confident in the inherent qualities of the design and manufacture of the Model 1999, but frustrated by inconsistent execution of the rifles people were building around them.

“When I took on a management role with the company, the first thing I wanted to do was eliminate the room for situations like that.”

Over the last several years Jeff has managed a critical stage of the company’s evolution – to that of a full-blown rifle manufacturer.

“When we manage all aspects of building our rifles we can make sure that the actions are lapped and fitted and finished correctly, and we know the results are going to be consistently excellent.”

The Custom Rifles

The Model 1999 custom rifles produced by MRC are offered in specific configurations. 

Their Classic Series rifles are truly beautiful, with upscale walnut stocks and all the fit and finish you’d expect from a high-end rifle.  Prices are $2,200 and up.

Montana Rifle Company Wilderness Supreme

Those of you that know me won’t be surprised that I went right past the gorgeous Classic series to MRC’s High Country series of synthetic stocked rifles designed for field use under harsh conditions.

The High Country rifles are packaged in multiple configurations – known as the Summit, Timberline, Ridgeline, and Alpine. Basically what you’re looking at, though, is a choice between a  green, gray, or tan finish on the stock, plus a decision to go with a stainless finish or a Teflon finish over the stainless component.

Montana Rifle Company Ridgeline

The High Country rifles run in the $2,650 to $3,000 range.  It’s safe to say that this isn’t an insignificant amount of money.  But as far as value goes, this is a very attractive price for what you get.  Working with an independent shop like MRC allows you to build exactly the rifle you need, one which may very well not exist in the lineup of one of the large producers.

When you order a High Country rifle, you’ll need to tell Jeff:

  • What caliber you want (he catalogs 81 the last time I counted),
  • What color you want the stock (he typically works with 2 synthetic stock manufacturers and offers 3 standard color configurations),
  • The contour of the barrel (a #1 for a super-lightweight mountain rifle? or maybe a #5 for long-range setup? or anything in between),
  • The length of pull on the stock to ensure that your rifle shoulders like a dream,
  • Whether you want your rifle shipped with add-on options like a muzzle brake, fluting, or engraving
  • The exact length of the barrel (26 inches – OK.  How about 20? – also OK.  Maybe  23.5” – OK.  You decide). 
  • And, you typically get more than 1 barrel twist rate to choose from, too, if you’re really picky about details.

The point is, although MRC packages their rifles in standard configurations, you are not getting a “standard” factory rifle.  MRC can give you the rifle that is perfectly tailored for your hunting needs.

My MRC 1999

The quest for a perfect elk rifle was what led me to MRC, and my specs included:

  • Controlled-round feed action
  • Light weight
  • Stainless action and barrel
  • Chambering in .358 Norma Magnum (very much like a .35-caliber version of a .338 WinMag, but not a commercial success, and not offered in any current production factory rifle)
  • A 23” barrel (long enough to burn powder efficiently, but not so long that it will get hung up in timber)
  • A #3 contour barrel (perfect for a lightweight .35 caliber rifle, I figure)
  • A synthetic gray stock (not offered on any factory rifle that I’m aware of – most everything synthetic is still black)
  • Engraving on the floorplate to include my name and the date the rifle became an heirloom of my family

MRC was able to meet my needs down to the last detail.  Not to mention that I knew the rifle would be hand-crafted by an experienced riflesmith who was fanatically dedicated to ensuring the quality of his product. 

None of the big manufacturers offered a rifle that was ideally suited to my vision and to the way I hunt, and working with MRC provided the solution. 

I ordered the rifle in November of 2009. Jeff built and delivered the rifle to me in the spring of 2010 with plenty of time to get it ready for the 2010 Colorado elk season.

The fit and finish were gorgeous, nicer than any other custom rifle I’ve ever ordered.

(Note that the photos of my rifle were taken after I put 100+ rounds through the rifle and carried it on hunts in the Colorado mountains and Alaskan coast.)

While I knew the rifle would be nice, I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to call something chambered in .358 Norma “a pleasure to shoot.”

But I was wrong.  My MRC put a huge smile on my face at the range, both from its accuracy and its ease of shooting.  It shot any ammo I put through it into less than an inch, which was somehow better than I expected from such a large caliber (I guess I assumed a big cartridge like this would make me flinch, but not with this rifle).  I got best results with Norma 250-grain Oryx factory loads going into less than an inch.  250-grain Nosler Partition factory loads from A-Square went in to about an inch. 

While the Norma Oryx loads won the accuracy contest in my rifle, I prefer non-toxic ammo, and eventually decided to hunt with 225-grain TSXs that shot about 1 MOA.  Larry Barnett from Superior Ammunition loads these for me.

 

The Lone Wolf stock and recoil pad on my MRC do a great job of mitigating recoil.  Like I said, I was a little intimidated by the recoil of a .358 Norma in such a lightweight rifle, but this gun is just easy to shoot.  The stock has plenty of texture to ensure a solid grip, and has a solid feel to it without being heavy.

I usually shoot Remington 700s, and have always been happy with their push-feed actions.  But I have to admit that the MRC controlled-feed action did give a greater sense of, well, control. While I'd personally take a Remington action over an original Mauser 98 action any day, the finely tuned MRC controlled-feed action is the nicest, smoothest action I've ever personally used.

MRC 1999 Action

MRC 1999 Action Bolt Release

MRC 1999 bolt

The three-position safety (a significant improvement over two-position safeties like you find on the Remington 700) moves smoothly from locked to safe to fire.

Attention to detail shows through in all aspects of the rifle, including the custom engraving I asked Jeff to do, and the stainless sling studs that came standard.

MRC 1999 Action Floorplate Engraving

MRC 1999 sling stud

 

The Factory Rifles

But there’s even more to the story. 

Montana Rifle Company has evolved from barrels to actions to custom rifles, and the evolution continues.  They just recently released a production line of rifles – still built on their outstanding Model 1999 action.

“With each new year we are growing and trying to make a better product for our customers,” says Jeff Sipe.  “The Production rifles were just the next phase of growth. We have continued to learn new manufacturing processes to make better parts, faster and more productive. And we will continue to do that in the future.”

That makes sense, but still, I was floored when I first saw the production rifles on MRC’s website.  Their MSRP is in the $999 to $1,099 range, the same range you’ll see for a Winchester Model 70 and just a little more than what you’ll see for a Remington 700.

The MRC production rifles offer a tremendous opportunity to own a custom-quality rifle for a factory-rifle price, and should definitely be on anybody’s short list when shopping for a new rifle.

Choices include a wood or synthetic stock and a blued or stainless barrel, resulting in 4 models. 

The walnut-stocked version is known as the American Standard Rifle, and comes in the blued ASR model or the stainless ASR-SS model. 

The synthetic stocked version is known as the Xtreme Weather Rifle, and comes in the blued XWR model or the stainless XWR-SS model.  The stock on the XWR is a Bell and Carlson.


Montana Rifle Company XWR-SS

MRC is offering a great selection of 22 cartridges, including highly utilitarian rounds like the .30-06 and .270 and well as more specialized choices like the .264 Winchester Magnum and 7mm RUM.

The production rifles, unlike the custom rifles, are right-handed only (at least for now).

There’s also a Dangerous Game model if you’re interested in seriously large cartridge – including the 338 Lapua, 378 Weatherby, 416 Rigby, 460 Weatherby, 505 Gibbs).

I haven't seen the production rifles yet, but these are going to be a game changer. A rifle this nice, and this well engineered and built, and offered at a price point to compete with mass-produced factory rifles has to be on everyone's short list when you're shopping for a new rifle.

Bottom Line

Think about it, guys.  These are high-end rifles at a mid-range price – offered in custom and standard configurations – produced by guys in Montana that are obsessed with rifles, love to hunt, and are good job-creating businessmen.   If that doesn’t get your interest, I’m not sure what will.

I didn’t have any hunts in my 2011 fall lineup that really called for a .358 Norma, so I didn’t get to carry my MRC this past fall.  That left me feeling a little restless, the result of which may be a call to MRC to order one of their new factory rifles in .270 Winchester.  That way, I’d always have an excuse to grab an MRC when I load up the truck.

Check them out for yourself at http://www.montanarifleco.com.

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