Until quite recently, bespoke in rifle terms referred mainly to finish, with beautiful wood, fancy engraving and gold inlay. Nowadays you can still have burr walnut, engravings of your favourite species and gold inlay, but performance and accuracy will be more important, which is why the bespoke rifle today amounts to much more than whim or luxury.
Steve Bowers of Specialist Rifle Services is a self-effacing precision tool-maker who has been making bespoke rifles for the past 20 years.
He has supplied celebrities and, more significantly, many professional stalkers, who rate his work highly. He also makes parts for other rifle-makers.
At his Gloucester premises he designs and builds to the client’s specifications and even manufactures his own stocks. Having constructed the rifle, he then develops a specialist round to complement it, and has a test facility where you can try it. That isn’t to say that it won’t fire factory ammunition with acceptable results, but for the very best performance use his. He is a tremendous enthusiast and has the disarming ability to put you at your ease immediately and not make you feel inadequate.
Of course, the main advantage of a bespoke rifle is that you can match guaranteed precision and accuracy to the type of stalking you do and your preferences regarding handling and comfort. Whether for stalking reds on the open hill or running boar in a German forest, the rifle can be designed with your needs in mind.
The project starts with an action – either custom made or a re-build of an existing action – to which the barrel is added. With barrels varying in price from £200 for a basic factory blank and from £500 for a match-grade version, the choice is huge. Among other things, length, weight, profile and twist rate are taken into consideration. Bowers even makes fully moderated barrels no thicker than a traditional heavy barrel but with massively improved balance when compared to many forward-weighted moderators. Or what about the supersonic/subsonic barrel capable of firing moderated high-velocity, deer-legal ammunition or fully moderated subsonic ammunition for vermin control?
The stock can be in a choice of woods, or laminate or synthetic, and may be traditional or thumbhole, tactical or target. Bowers can carve and finish a wooden stock according to the client’s instructions. Despite the myriad technical options at every stage, he will guide you through the process, explaining in simple terms what each choice will mean for you, the rifle and its performance.
When I visited I saw several finished examples, ranging from a heavy, long-range, long-barrelled, beautifully stocked, custom hill rifle in 30.06 through a short, light, handy working .308 woodland rifle based on a rebuilt Sako action, to an ultra-lightweight example in .243 designed for a man partially disabled by back problems. I test fired an African plains rifle – light to carry but in 30.06 – and managed a pleasing 3⁄4in group at 100 metres despite using 180 grain factory ammunition of a type not designed for that particular rifle.
The cost of rebuilding an old rifle starts at £2,500 plus VAT, and it will transform a tired and worn friend into a slick and tight performer while retaining the character of the original. For a full bespoke project prices start from £6,000 plus VAT. Whatever you choose, it will fit your stature, style of stalking and your personality, give you the confidence of knowing it has been finished to the highest standards and guarantee you many years of reliable service. Comfort, accuracy and longevity are Bowers’ aims.
Price from £6,000 + VAT
Maker Steve Bowers, pecialist Rifle Services, Gloucestershire
Tel 01242 863005