Montana's hotshot rifles 

Sometimes the best arms are the ones at hand

Buy local. It's such a common slogan these days that few of us ponder the meaning. But behind the buzzwords is a philosophy. Vegetables grown on local soil don't needlessly consume fossil fuels in transportation. Timber felled and processed into finished lumber at a family mill keeps the calloused hands of neighbors busy and oils the local economic machine instead of enhancing the stock ticker of a national chain.

Fair enough, you might say—it's easy to find all sorts of top-quality, made-in-Montana products, from lumber and produce to Thanksgiving turkey and beer. But what's a Montanan to do about another beloved item—a rifle?

If you aim to buy local, you're in luck.

Of all the Montana-made hard goods for sporting folks—drift boats, backpacks, fly rods and wall tents, among them—rifle-shooters just might have the finest range of options. Many of them can be found under a single roof.

click to enlarge JACK BALLARD

Housed in an unpretentious metal building in lush farm country in Kalispell, the Montana Rifle Company is one rifle-maker that perfectly weds the values of community-based consumerism and fine firearms. With local owners and a dedicated workforce whose morning commute scarcely allows the coffee time to cool, the company is quietly garnering a reputation for rifles with impeccable accuracy, innovative finishes and superior design at a price within reach of almost any committed enthusiast.

The heart of Montana Rifle, founded in 1999 by local gunsmith Brian Sipe, is an action of his own design. For those unschooled in the mechanics of the modern rifle, the "action" simply refers to the mechanism that transfers the cartridge from the magazine to the chamber at the rear of the barrel, and then holds it in place for firing.

click to enlarge JACK BALLARD

For several decades, two rifle actions have dominated the nation's custom rifle-making craft: the Winchester Model 70 and the Mauser 98. Incorporating the best features of the Winchester and the Mauser—the smooth, reliable trigger and three-position safety of the former, and the beefy cartridge extractor of the latter—Sipe created an action best described as a hybrid of the two. Dubbed the Model 1999, it also features an improved gas venting system that protects the shooter in the unlikely event there's a primer blowout. (A rupture in the primer, the component that ignites the powder charge, can shoot vapors toward the face.)

For hunters, the most important qualities of a rifle action are durability and ease of operation. Montana Rifle's 1999 action excels in both. When I arrived for a visit to the company's headquarters, Jeff Sipe, Brian's son and the current owner, was putting the finishing touches on a rifle. While I waited for him to complete his work, I plucked a rifle from the rack in the showroom. Working the action, I found it silky smooth. My thumb easily reached the three-position safety, the mechanism gliding forward and aft with just enough tension to clearly feel the various positions without binding.

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