I once wrote an article about an expensive custom rifle for a magazine that had an older demographic. I got a bunch of letters saying it wasn’t “custom.” The reason? My rifle had a synthetic stock and spray-on coating on the metal. The old guys who wrote me all had shaky handwriting and used yellow lined paper. To their thinking, a custom rifle had to have high-grade walnut with fine-line checkering and a deep glossy blue on the metal. Without those features, they said, it wasn’t “custom.”
While some of this belief is generational, it’s also subjective. The word “custom” means “Made or performed according to personal order” (or so says Merriam-Webster), so I contend that anytime you “order” a rifle built to your specifications, it’s custom.
The challenge is one of cost. I often build my own, but doing so requires many thousands of dollars’ worth of tooling, and a lot of time invested to learn the secrets of precision machining. That’s why, when you order a custom-built rifle from a gunsmith, it’s going to cost you.
But today, there is an alternative. You can get a custom rifle from E.R. Shaw for about the same price as a mass-produced factory rifle.
Roll Out the Rifles
E.R. Shaw is a Pennsylvania based company that has made rifle barrels for decades. In fact, a lot of their work is for gun makers, including some very big names. If you have a few rifles, chances are you already have a Shaw-made barrel on one of them.
Some years ago, Shaw started offering complete rifles as well. They build them on the well-respected Savage 110-style action that is modified to their specifications. Today, a customer can custom-order a rifle, picking options much like choosing an a la carte dinner off of an extensive restaurant menu.
They offer a lot of custom features that you might find from a top-end custom gun builder, but at production-gun pricing. E.R. Shaw will blueprint the action, lap the bolt lugs, cut a custom minimum-spec chamber in the barrel, and glass-bed the action in the stock you select—all the accuracy-enhancing procedures that the big-time custom gunmakers do.
Since they make their own barrels, Shaw can make you a rifle in just about any chambering you want, from .17 Fireball through .458 Lott. They even offer a bunch of wildcat cartridges, including all the Ackley Improved cartridges. (In fact, I recently ordered a .35 Whelen Ackley Improved barrel from E. R. Shaw for a switch-barrel rifle project.)
Ordering is simple. Go to ershawbarrels.com click on the box marked Mk. VII Custom Rifles, and follow the directions to put together exactly the rifle you want. Once you have the cyber-build finished, submit the design and Shaw will get back to you with a price. If you decide to order, you will get a phone call to make sure all the details are exactly correct.
The rifles start at well under $1000. My latest E.R. Shaw rifle is a 6.5-284 Norma with the best option offered in each of the selection categories, and it cost only $1,121. That’s about what you will pay for a decent factory bolt-action rifle from the big-name gun makers. You can order a hunting rifle, a target rifle or a precision rifle for long-range shooting. You can even order a custom AR-15.
The Custom Build
Choosing a Cartridge
The first step is to choose a cartridge. No matter which cartridge you desire—from something as common as the .308 Winchester or as exotic as the .375x8mm Magnum—they can make it for you.
I picked 6.5-284 Norma, a cartridge that was initially developed for long-range shooting, because I wanted a rifle that to use for whitetail deer at long distance. I paired it with a new Tact Toric 3-15 scope with a ballistic reticle. The rifle is so accurate (see my range results below) that I use it for long-range target shooting competition as well as for hunting. (I’ve hunted with it in two states, and on one stand in Mississippi I had deer 400 yards away, and was ready to take a shot if an animal that I wanted showed up, but none did.)
Action and Trigger
The choices for the action are chrome moly or stainless steel, polished or matte. My choice was stainless steel in matte finish. Instead of using a barrel nut, as Savage does, E.R. Shaw custom fits the barrel by threading it directly to the action—a more conventional process. This custom fit provides a better-looking rifle, in my never-humble opinion.
E.R. Shaw blueprints or tunes the action, which improves accuracy even more. The rifles come with the Savage Accutrigger, or you can add the Timney trigger. Mine has the Accutrigger and it breaks at 3 pounds, 14 ounces. To be honest, that’s a bit heavy and I am going to install a Timney. While the Savage trigger is adjustable and a fine trigger, I like the feel of a Timney better. I will probably change mine and regret not ordering it to begin with, since doing so would have saved me a few dollars in the long run.
Left-handed shooters will need to pay a discrimination tax of $20 for not being one of the commoners. I am a lefty in all things except rifles, and share your frustration and pride with that affliction.
Next up is the barrel. You pick the material (chrome moly or stainless steel), finish (polished or matte), length (from 16 to 26 inches in one inch increments), and contour. All the barrels are button rifled and the twist rate is listed when you order. My 6.5-284 Norma has a twist rate of 1:8 so it will stabilize long, heavy bullets.
You can order the barrel plain, with straight or spiral fluting. The latter is an E.R. Shaw trademark (in fact, E. R. Shaw has a patent on spiral fluting). I ordered my barrel in sporter weight, which measures .655-inch at the muzzle. It’s 23 inches, just to be a bit different. Stainless steel, matte finish, with spiral fluting.
Last up is the stock. You can pick from a couple of laminated wood options, or just plain wood. (They are developing a new synthetic stock that should be available soon.) I chose the laminated wood in nutmeg color. It’s a bit heavy, but is stable in all weather and just about indestructible. Currently, all Shaw guns are of a blind-magazine design, meaning the bottom of the magazine does not protrude through the bottom of the stock, so no opening floorplate—although they are working on a removable box-magazine version.
The current time from ordering to shipping is about 10 months. When the rifle is completed, E.R. Shaw will ship it to your FFL. You wind up with a custom rifle, and enough money saved to buy a scope and a lot of ammo.
I have four E.R. Shaw rifles now, so I guess you can say I like them. They’re chambered in .25-05 Remington, .358 Norma, .375 H&H, and this newest one in 6.5-284 Norma. They all have the spiral fluting because I think that identifies the gun as an E.R. Shaw.
The Author’s E.R. Shaw Custom Bolt-Action Rifle
Cartridge chambered and tested: 6.5-284 Norma
Magazine: Blind magazine (does not protrude through stock, no opening floorplate)
Barrel: Stainless steel
Rifling: Button rifled
Twist: Right-hand, 1:8 twist rate
Lands & Grooves: 6
Barrel Length: 23 inches with spiral fluting
Trigger: Savage Accutrigger
Trigger pull weight on test gun: 3 pounds 14 ounces
Sights: Drilled and tapped for scope mounts
Safety: Top tang safety, 3-position
Stock: Laminated wood, nutmeg color
Overall Length: 44 in.
Length of Pull: 13.5 in.
Drop at Comb: 0.75-in.
Drop at Heel: 0.75-in.
Weight: 7.5 lbs.
Metal Finish: Matte
Cost of rifle as built: $1,121
Range test results for three, 3-shot groups at 100 yards (machine front rest with sand bag, toe bag in rear).
|Ammo Type||Ammo Velocity @ 15 ft.||Energy||Average Group Size|
|Norma 156-grain Oryx||2792 fps||2701 ft.-lbs.||0.83 inches|
|Nosler 129-grain AB-LR||2920 fps||2443 ft.-lbs.||0.81 inches|