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Seller: Farmington River Trading Company
Company: Farmington River Trading Company
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Country: United States
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ALPA ARMS GRAND SLAM 284 WINCHESTER
THIS IS THE FIRST ALPHA WE HAVE HAD; IT IS AN EXCEPTIONALLY WELL MADE RIFLE. BASICALLY HAND MADE LIKE THE FINE DAKOATA RIFLES FOR A FRACTION OF THE COST. THE WORKMANSHIP IS 2D TO NONE AND RESEMBLES A FINE CUSTOM.
THIN LIGHTWEIGHT BARREL AND SLENDER STOCK PROPORTIONS MAKES THIS A FINE MOUNTAIN RIFLE
CHAMBERED IN 284 WINCHESTER; THESE ARE KNOWN FOR EXCEPTIONAL ACCURACY AS WELL AS QUALITY (SEE ACCOMPANYING ARTICLES)
SCOPE IS NOT INCLUDED BUT MAY BE AVAILABLE (INQUIRE)
THE FOLLOWING IS A REPRINT OF AN ARTICLE GOING INTO SOME DETAL ABOUT THESE FINES GUNS
" * I remember a time not too many years ago when most bolt-action big-game rifles weighed 9 or 10 pounds when outfitted with scope, sling and a magazine full of cartridges. Barrels were long and fat while stock from was anything but trim. However, as the years rolled by, it finally dawned on various gunmakers that, typically, big-game rifles are carried much more than they are shot. Although neither can be classified as flyweights by today's standards, the pre-64 Model 70 Featherweight and Remington Model 725 with their thin barrels and various parts made of aluminum, headed the trend in rifle weight in a new, albiet controversial, direction.
Prophets of the old school snorted and fretted and told of visions of hunter racing up tall mountain, only to watch helplessly as all manner of trophies fled over yon ridge. You see, light rifles can't be held steady enough for such goings on when one is huffing and puffing from racing up mountains--or so the tales went. And, as the story continued, skinny barrels couldn't be depended on to place a bullet or three inside a washtub at 100 paces.
Meanwhile, members of the opposing team kept right on dropping big game across plains and canyons with the few lightweight rifles then available, all the while enjoying the luxury of their superior portability. Poor fellows, nobody had told them that it couldn't be done.
Today, we know and most of us admit that a rifle doesn't have to be heavy to be plenty accurate for shooting big game; one has only to test an armload from various gunmakers to prove it. They're available with barrels ranging in length from ultra-short to not-so-short, chambered to cartridges both short and long. Their hefts range from honest flyweights to published weights born from the imaginations of overly enthusiastic Madison Avenue types.
Racing along at the front of this pack is a neat little rifle built out in Texas. At a nominal 6 pounds for the Custom grade and 6-1/2 for the Grand Slam, it can be one of the lightest available, or it can be a bit heavier. Although its barrel is skinny like the rest, its length is neither too long nor too short-it represents a compromise between maximum handiness and portability with minimum sacrifice in performance. It's called the Alpha rifle and from here on it differs a great deal from its competition.
One of the more unique designs incorporated into the Alpha is its bedding system. If you remember, back before fiberglass stocks were in vogue for benchrest competition, it was popular to bed actions atop aluminum V blocks or U blocks inletted into wood stocks. This was done in an effort to stabilize the barreled action by isolating it from the wood stock because wood in its natural form is anything but stable. This method, now called pillar bedding, is still used in building benchrest rifles for Hunter Class competition where bolt actions are restricted to the repeating type.
Just like the benchrest rifles, the Alpha action rests atop two flat-bottom aluminum blocks with their tops machined to a concave contour matching that of its receiver ring and bridge. Stock and action are held together by two slotted-head screws through the floorplate assembly, through the U blocks and into the receiver mass. Since the rear screw is located forward of the trigger bow, the tang floats as does most of the barrel. The barrel is glass bedded just forward of the chamber and just back of the fore-end tip, with consider on a good load, I've used this rifle during two season when hunting whitetails in the rainy southeast, and on at least a half-dozen occasions both rifle and I got soaking wet. To date, the Alpha's point of impact has not changed a smidgin since it was zeroed over two years ago.
Since I have had opposing experiences with other wood stocked rifles, I'll have to credit the Alpha bedding system for such year-to-year stability. In fact, I've also used several big-game rifles with fiberglass stocks for quite some time and rate the Alpha close to the same level of inherent stability. I say close rather than equal because, being wood, the forearm could conceivably warp and deflect the barrel off zero. It hasn't done it yet but it could. However, Alpha Arms has now covered that potential problem with the Grand Slam rifle. I'll cover it farther on.
The Alpha action measures 5-7/8 inches from back of receiver bridge to receiver ring face. It's a strong and safe little medium-length action. At the front of its .870-inch diameter bolt body are three husky locking lugs, positioned 120 degrees on center. Because of the triple lug design, bolt rotation is reduced to 60 degrees. Bolt throw measures 3-3/4 inches. Except for a small opening for the lateral extractor, the .100-inch-thick bolt face wall encircles a cartridge head with a solid ring of steel. The ejector is the commonly seen spring-loaded plunger type.
The bolt body has two holes drilled through its wall for venting powder gases out through the ejection port in the event of a ruptured case or pierced primer. The receiver ring has two gas vents located adjacent to the breeching area. At the rear, a massive, flanged bolt shroud caps off the bolt body and the rear of the receiver, serving to deflect escaping gases and propellant particles well away from the shooter's line of sight.
A flat, metal tail peeping out from beneath the bolt shroud indicates when the firing pin is cocked. Over on the left side of the receiver bridge sits a neat, unobtrusive bolt release. It works every time its grooved tab is pressed. Bolt travel is smooth and quite wobble-free. This is a result of a close fit with the receiver. The bolt handle knob is pear-shaped and hollowed for weight reduction. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope mounting bases made for the Savage Model 110. Alpha Arms stocks Buehler mounts and will install them on the rifle prior to shipping if you would so desire.
The trigger was designed by Alpha's creator. Homer Koon, and is adjustable for sear engagement and pull weight. Fresh from their factory boxes, the Grand Slam and Custom triggers pulled an average of 43 and 32 ounces, respectively, with a uniformity of 2 ounces. The Grand Slam's trigger creeped a bit before releasing and considerable overtravel was there, too. The Custom's trigger had neither of the above and broke like an icicle in December. After a bit of tinkering, I had the Grand Slam trigger operating just like the Custom.
When engaged, the safety mechanism actually lifts and blocks the sear but does not lock the bolt from rotation. This allows the rifle to be unloaded with the safety on. When Homer designed this safety he obviously had whitetails at close range in mind--it's very quiet and almost "click"-free when pushed to its off position.
The Alpha has a one-piece triggerguard/floorplate assembly, meaning the latter does not hinge open for emptying the magazine of cartridges. Either aluminum or steel is available, the latter adding 3 ounces to the total weight. Cartridge travel from magazine to chamber is controlled by lips formed at the top of the magazine box in lieu of the action rails. This feature allows the owner of an Alpha to rebarrel from, say, .243 Winchester to .284 Winchester without modifying the receiver rails. Rather, he simply replaces the box. I definitely like the shoulders formed inside the magazine box; they prevent cartridges from creeping forward during recoil and keep their lead tips from being deformed by contact with the front of the magazine box.
The Alpha barrel has a graceful contour, measuring 1.150 inches at the chamber and tapering to .560 inch at the muzzle. Rather than the barrel being threaded directly into the receiver ring, it is threaded into a steel insert which is press-fitted into the receiver ring. The insert, made of type 4340 steel, contains integral locking lug abutments. The recoil lug is also an integral part of the insert. According to its maker, this method of barrel attachment allows a higher degree of control when heat-treating the surfaces which withstand backthrust from the locking lugs.
Two metal finishes are available; dull matte and semi-gloss. The Grand Slam shown herein has the former while the Custom has the latter. Leupold's 3-9X Compact and the Conetrol Huntur Grade mount, both with matte finish, look supper good on the Grand Slam.
Depending on caliber, the Alpha rifle comes with either of two barrel lengths. Rifles in .243 Winchester, 7mm-08 Remington and .308 Winchester have 20-inch barrels, for an overall length of 39-1/2 inches. Barrels chambered to .257 Roberts, .284 Winchester and .25-284 are 1 inch longer. I'm glad to see the crew at Alpha Arms give the .284 another chance at popular acceptance. For big-game hunting with a short-action rifle, this cartridge has no peer. Although Browning and Ruger offered bolt guns, and Savage a lever action in .284, to my knowledge the Alpha is the first factory rifle to be offered in the .25-284 wildcat. In case you're not familiar with this cartridge, cases are easily formed by squeezing down .284 case necks in a RCBS sizing die. It's a ballistic twin to the longer .25-06, once a popular wildcat before Remington gave it a permanent home.
Several other chamberings are presently being considered; .222, .223, .22-250, 6mm-284, .338-284, .35-284, 6.5mm Remington Magnum, .350 Remington Magnum, .358 Winchester, etc., etc. If any of these strike your fancy, write to Alpha Arms, Inc., Dept. GA, 12923 Valley Branch, Dallas, TX 75234. Or, you can call them at (214) 243-8124. A brochure is also available on the Alpha rifles.
Two Alpha models are available--the Grand Slam and the Custom. Let's look at the Custom first. This rifle has a classic-style stock, sans cheekrest, of presentation grade California claro walnut. It is hand-inletted, hand-finished with oil and hand-checkered 22 lines per inch. At the rear is a solid rubber pad while the forearm terminates with ebony. The grip is capped with checkered steel, a la Niedner style, and studs are there for attaching a carrying sling. The bolt body is jewelled for aesthetics and for smoother travel to and fro. This rifle is absolutely beautiful.
Now for the Grand Slam. As Jim Hill, chairman of the board at Alpha Arms, aptly put it, "The Grand Slam is a rifle with the stability of a fiberglass stock; the beauty, feel and quietness of wood and the toughness of a tire tool." His claim for excellent stability from a wood stock is backed by all sorts of torture tests, including complete submersion in water for hours on end with no increase in moisture content. Here's how they do it.
Grand Slam stock blanks are made by laminating .045-inch-thick layers of hardwood together with space age resins. I count 34 layers of wood just forward of the floorplate. Wood absorbs moisture because it is made up of tiny hollow cells of cellulose, much like a sponge. In an effort to prevent fluctuations in moisture-content during use, wood stocks are usually coated with a moisture-proof finish, but most eventually fail because they are subject to damage. Consequently, rather than merely coating their stock with finish, the fellows at Alpha Arms impregnate its wood fibers throughout with resin. This is accomplished by subjecting the blank to tremendous vacuum pressure during the curing operation. One might say that the finish is in the wood rather than on its surface. In fact, this is exactly what it is.
After the stock is shaped, it is finished to a satin hue on a buffing wheel. The resin darkens the wood, giving it the appearance of tangential (slab-sawed) walnut. The stock on my Grand Slam is the same color as the Custom handle. You have to see it to believe how attractive this stock really is. As a side benefit, it is said that scratches in this wood can be removed and the factory finish restored by light sanding and buffing. Remember--the finish is in the wood, not on it.
The Grand Slam bolt body is fluted and the stock is cored at the forearm and butt for weight reduction. This is necessary because the extremely high density of this wood makes it heavier than stocks made of natural wood. The stock is not checkered and I was told that any effort to do so will result in conventional checkering cutters wearing out like they're going out of style. Otherwise, the Grand Slam is the same as the Custom including its bedding system.
According to the nitpicker in me, the Alpha safety tab sits a bit too deeply in its recess for fast work in close places. On the other hand, considering the large number of citizens hopping aboard the product liability bandwagon these days, I'd say the safety is exactly as it ought to be. Perhaps someday we'll see a tang safety or perhaps a safety on the bolt shroud.
One thing about the Alpha Custom that puzzles me to no end is how Alpha Arms can maintain such a high level of quality in the inletting, finishing and checkering, all done by hand, plus gorgeous wood and still make a profit at what they're selling this rifle for. The borderless, ribbon-style checkering pattern is not the easiest to execute properly, yet it is all but flawless on the Custom test rifle. Finish on both rifles is excellent and the wood appears to have grown around the metal. I've seen stocks from custom makers that were no better and yet they cost as much or more than an entire Alpha rifle. Should you think that such praises are pouring forth because I'm trying to please a rifle maker, you're dead wrong. Don't take my word for it--go see for yourself.
All this is fine and dandy, but it's now time to see how two of these rifles shoot. The Custom, a .284, came with Buehler mounts and I installed Conetrol mounts on the Grand Slam, both holding Leupold 3-9X Compacts. RCBS dies were used in preparing handloads for both rifles. With both cartridges, I concentrated my efforts toward bullet weights that would be suitable for the pronghorn and whitetail hunting I had in mind for the two rifles.
The Winchester factory load with a 150-grain Power Point bullet was the first to be digested by the Custom. It produced an average of 2,814 feet per second (fps) in the 21-inch barrel or some 100 to 200 fps faster than most .270 Winchester 150-grain factory loads fired in a 22-inch barrel. This stuff is hot as a firecracker! Only problem is, it really doesn't shoot worth beans in the Alpha rifle.
At first, I was puzzled over the poor showing of Winchester's ammunition but the probable reason finally dawned on me. Since the .284 was designed to function in Models 88 and 100 rifles, it is loaded to a nominal overall length of 2.8 inches. The magazine in the Alpha action measures 3 inches long inside and its chamber throat is cut to allow bullets to be seated out accordingly. By my measurements, the factory bullet free-travels .190 inch in the Alpha chamber before engaging the rifling. This may not be the sole culprit but I can't see how it can help accuracy any. Simply stated, if the owner of one of these rifles in .284 Winchester expects to squeeze top accuracy from it, he'll have no choice but to handload. But then, this is pretty much the story with just about any rifle in any centerfire caliber.
As is customary with this new generation of Alpha rifles, a group fired at the factory was included with the Custom. Their load, 55 grains IMR-4250 behind the 140-grain Sierra, clustered three shots into .650 inch. Obviously, someone out in Texas is a better shot than I because the very best I could squeeze out of the rifle with their load was an average of 1.35 inches. Of course, my reloading components came from different manufacturing lots which could be the difference. Also, it's possible that our methods of testing big-game rifles differ--I shoot three shots as fast as possible, then allow the barrel to cool down completely before firing the next string.
One thing is certain about lightweight rifles: their barrels heat up extremely fast when burning over 50 grains of powder in their bore, especially during hot weather. The mercury was hovering in the mid-90s when both rifles were tested and it took close to half an hour for their thin barrels to dissipate the heat from three rounds.
As is often typical of rifles with skinny barrels, the Custom would place its first two shots quite close together and then string the third out of the group. With practically every load tried, the first two shots would either cut into each other on paper or land no more than 1/2 to 3/4 inches apart but the third bullet usually went astray to varying degrees. If averages of two-shot groups were the standard by which we judge the accuracy of big-game rifles, my Custom would be considered an honest 1/2 to 3/4 MOA rifle. Come to think of it, how many head of big game have you killed with the third or fourth shot?
As it turned out, Speer's 130-grain boattail is the star performer in this particular Custom. That's just fine with me, because I've taken quite a number of whitetails, mule deer and pronghorn with its flat base cousin and it has yet to let me down. It's a most deadly little bullet and pretty, too. Nipping closely at the heels of the 130-grain Speer is the Hornady 139-grain flat base. Their 139-grain boattail did not live up to expectations, which was a surprise considering how well it does in several of my other 7mm rifles. The Custom didn't care for either of the 145-grain bullets from Speer and did only fair with the 140-grain Sierra bullet.
Lest you think I'm disappointed with the Custom, I'll leave it like this; seven loads averaged less than 1.5 MOA--if I can't thi what I'm shooting at with this kind of accuracy, I may as well take up something less demanding in the way of outdoor sports. Considering its light weight and thin barrel, I consider its performance to be most excellent. I'll give up a few tenths of an inch in accuracy any day of the week for a rifle that feels and handles like the Custom does.
As a rifle to be used for shooting deer-size game, I consider the Grand Slam in .25-284 to be a genuine tack driver, or at least the one I'm shooting is. Of some two dozen loads tried, three consistently broke the minute of angle barrier; five averaged between 1 and 1-1/4 inches and three stayed inside 1-1/2 inches. This rifle is a keeper.
In contrast to the Custom rifle's performance, the Grand Slam clustered its three shots into uniform groups with very few exceptions. The difference could be in its bedding or perhaps the barrel. I really don't know. It is for certain one fine rifle; Alpha Arms will sell lots of these.