By: Jim Kushner
I have been thinking about buying another rifle for a while now. I have always had an interest in the 6.5×55 Swede cartridge. It is an old military cartridge that is supposed to have a good reputation for accuracy and as good a reputation as a hunting round. It shoots bullets from 100 to 160 grains with 120 & 140 being favorites for hunting. I am not sure why this cartridge appeals to me so much, maybe just the fact that it isn’t one of the everyday calibers you hear about. One of the last things I read about it was written by a very popular outdoor magazine gun writer. He was asked to pick 3 cartridges for hunting and the one he named for deer was the 6.5×55.
I found a supplier of Howa barreled actions at Budsgunshop.com and there was the Swede barreled action on sale. That got me thinking about building my own gun and after some research on what was available in stocks and what was involved in a project like this I decided to order the barreled action and a stock from Boyd’s.
My barreled action arrived yesterday. My FFL completed the paperwork and I was out the door and on my way to building a new deer rifle. Build may be a bit inaccurate as I will be mostly just bolting on the components that I want as they arrive. It is kind of nice being able to do all my gun shopping without ever leaving the house, other than this one trip.
The barreled action consists of pretty much everything other than the stock. It is drilled and tapped for scope mounts, it does not have open sights. I have a set of Weaver scope bases and rings ordered from Brownell’s and the stock is coming from Boyd’s. I chose the Weaver bases and rings because they are a proven design that I have used in the past. I am confident they will do the job long after I am gone.
In examining the new rifle I was pleased to find everything neatly packaged in a well protected foam and cardboard box, it was also heavily oiled and wrapped in a plastic sleeve. The action opened and closed smoothly and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the factory two stage trigger broke at about 3 lbs. The finish is a dark blue/black color with the Howa logo imprinted on the detachable floor plate. The gun lacks any fine polish that you might find on a more expensive model but this is not unexpected and the finish is still attractive. My goal here is to build a hunting rifle, I could easily spend a whole lot more if I wanted a high grade wood stock and polished metal. All nice features but like a fancy automobile, at some point you spend more time worrying about it getting scratched than you do just driving it. I intend to drive this deer rifle as much as I can.
When the scope bases arrive I will install them and then I expect it will be several weeks before the stock arrives from Boyd’s. That will give me time to make a final decision on what scope to mount. I have narrowed it down to either a Leupold 3x9x40 or a Weaver 6x 38 fixed power. I have the Weaver 6x on my Remington 760 and have been very pleased with it but am leaning toward the Leupold and it’s American made, lifetime warranty. On the other hand, The Howa is made in Japan and so is the Weaver scope so maybe it is a fitting choice. We will see. There are some other features to think about, eye relief, size and weight, clarity, etc. Price of course is a factor, especially when it comes to scopes. I could easily spend far more on a scope than on the rifle itself. One veteran gun writer said you should buy the rifle of your choice and then mount the best scope you can afford on it.
Update on these two scopes. It appears that Weaver scopes are warranted for the lifetime of the owner. The only problem with lifetime warranties is that you will need to have your receipt and most of us seem to misplace those things after a few years, in my case it’s usually lost just prior to needing it. I will have to try to remember to keep the scope box, which ever one I end up buying and leave the receipt inside. Another thing I have learned is that the Weaver scope is a little bit shorter and lighter than the Leupold but only a few ounces and maybe an inch or so. The only potential issue with that is there could be an issue with getting the proper eye relief when mounting it on a long action gun. I am not sure how much the stock will affect that but there are ways to correct this if it becomes an issue. I will take some measurements before I make an order. Again, I am leaning toward the Leupold but the price difference between the two is fairly substantial and that alone makes the Weaver a tempting choice. Back to the best scope you can afford idea.
After the scope there is not much left to do before taking my new rifle to the range. I think I will want a sling at some point before I start hunting with it. I have a couple of slings that I swap between rifles thanks to quick release swivels. Boyd’s will install swivels for additional cost but I am confident I can manage that on my own.
This rifle/cartridge combination has a pretty good reputation for accuracy. My FFL said he will load a couple of boxes of ammo for me, he has two 6.5 x 55 rifles and said he has a favorite load. I reload myself but will need to buy dies for this cartridge. I would like to work up a load that shoots small groups in this rifle. That is one of the real advantages to reloading, you can try different combinations until you find a particular load that your rifle really likes. Hunting with a rifle that shoots tiny groups gives you a lot of confidence when it comes to taking a shot that may require you to thread the needle on some small target due to brush etc.
The scope mounts arrived yesterday so I attached the two piece bases and checked to see if the rings line up ok with the scope. (this is a pretty simple process and there are several good videos on you tube that are helpful) Fit of the bases seem to be ok based on my scope measurements but I won’t know for sure until I receive the scope. Because this is a long action receiver there is less room between the rings to adjusting the eye relief. I ordered the Leupold scope yesterday also. I decided on the VX2 4-12×40 with duplex reticle. My only reason for getting the 4-12 power is that it was the same size and weight as the 3-9 and I found one online that was under 300 dollars, a really good price. I tend to prefer fixed power scopes for deer hunting here in Northern Mi. so this will be different for me but then again the bolt action is going to be different for me also. The older I get the more unlikely it seems that I will get a chance to hunt out west or some other place where long range shots are common but I will hopefully have a rifle capable of the job should that ever happen.
The stock arrived from Boyd’s within a week of placing the order. I was surprised as there was a message on my order invoice advising that they were working hard but had fallen behind and there may be a delay in shipping the order. I assume the stock I received was from inventory as it came so soon and it already had sling swivel studs installed. A small money & time saver for me. Thank you Boyd’s.
The color sample pictures on Boyd’s web site are pretty small and I was not entirely sure about this particular laminate stock color when I placed the order. But I could not be happier. The finish is satin, it has a little shine but just enough to look good without being glossy. I ordered their “fleur de lis ribbon” checkering pattern. It is very well done and again, I could not be happier. The checkering is really the only option I ordered, the ½ inch thick rubber recoil pad is standard and has the Boyd’s logo on it. If you check the Boyd’s website you will see that they offer a number of options to customize your stock. I have always liked the look of a checkered wood stock without any for-end cap or white line spacers. As you can see, that is exactly what I got.
Now the really important part, mating the barreled action to the stock and creating a working rifle. Boyd’s advises that this may take some fitting and should probably be done by a qualified gunsmith which I am not. I do have experience in woodworking and have been taking apart and cleaning guns for many years so I was confident that I could do this.
I placed the stock in my gun vise and removed the two action screws, removing the floor-plate from the receiver. The first test fit showed that the inletting around the action was just a little tight on the back edges. A little careful sanding and a couple more test fittings and it slid into place, not to tight but no wiggle either. The floor-plate was the same thing, a little careful sanding and it went into place and fits nicely. I noticed one minor issue along the barrel channel. It is almost touching the barrel on the left side and is noticeably wider on the right side. While this could certainly be better I think I can live with it. The barrel was free floating other than a small spot near the forend. I wrapped a dollar bill around the barrel and slid it under the stock until it stopped. Then I used a small piece of blue painters tape to mark that spot. I did the same thing moving the dollar bill from the middle of the barrel toward the front until it stopped. That told me where the wood touched the metal and with a little more careful sanding it was done. I installed the two screws that hold the floor-plate, stock and receiver together and I was done. The whole process took about 45 minutes. (One of the holes in the stock was out of alignment a little but I was able to fix that with a round file and just a couple of careful passes)
In my initial research I read one comment from a Boyd’s customer who also purchased a laminate stock. He apparently over tightened the screws and cracked the stock. I am still unsure about how tight they should be so I stopped after they were just snug. I am going to do more research on this and ask my gunsmith for his advise. I suspect that snug is ok especially in a lighter recoiling caliber but will check the screws occasionally to see if they stay that way.
The scope arrived a couple days after the stock. With the gun back in the vise I set the new scope in the bottom rings. There is almost no room for adjustment but I shouldered the gun and looked through the scope several times and the sight picture looks good. I made sure the cross hairs are level and attached the top rings. I do not have the torque wrench that is recommended for tightening these screws so I made them tight but was careful not to overdue it. The 6.5×55 cartridge is not overly powerful so recoil in this rifle, which is just over 8 lbs. with scope should be fairly mild. A heavy recoiling gun would require a little more care in mounting to ensure that nothing moves. I will still check with my gunsmith on torque recommendations.
Due to the early arrival of the stock this project is all but done and much sooner than I had planned. I am almost ready to bore sight it and then fire my first shots. Overall I am very pleased with the way this came together and all of the pieces necessary to do it. The Howa actions and rifles have a reputation for quality and accuracy. Legacy Sports International has an excellent catalog listing all the firearms they supply along with the many combinations of barreled actions available.
I will be back with an update as I work to find the perfect load for this rifle/cartridge.
Jim can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org