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Thread: Rimfire Benchrest rifles (Calfee SPEC rifles)

  1. #1
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    May 2010
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    Rimfire Benchrest rifles (Calfee SPEC rifles)

    When I got into Rimfire Benchrest (RFBR), many, if not most, were shooting factory rifles of one sort or another. All of these had been modified to some extent.
    Some still had factory barrels others had aftermarket triggers, all had three inch stocks. This was a time of discovery and everything you could imagine was being tried.
    Everyone was looking for a better mousetrap.

    Back then the Lilja tight bore barrels were the custom barrel of choice, although many others were also being used.

    One of the more surprising things I saw was Winchester 52s fitted with Remington 37 barrels. The thought was the Rem. 37 barrels were better than the Winchesters.
    Selby Wright won the 1992 BR-50 Nationals with Win. 52 with a Remington 37 barrel. Many preferred the Remington 37 complete rifles,
    over the newer Rem 40X rifles mainly because of the barrels.

    Others shooters bought new Anschutz 54s, Super Match rifles, the same ones you see used in the Olympics. They were put in benchrest stocks, tuned up, then off to the range.
    Later on Anschutz built a rifle named the “BR 50”, it became fairly popular. But buying a new rifle to compete did not always workout how one hoped it would.
    By the end of the second year of shooting the “new” rifle and being beat by much older guns we began to realize it took time, and many rounds down the barrel to make a rifle shoot really well.
    Some caught on earlier than others.

    Then there was the East German Suhl 150 problem. We figured it was a problem. We spent thousands on our Anschutz rifles, and they spent hundreds on the Suhl 150s, and they got a better result.
    Our brand new high dollar Anschutz 54s were beautiful, very well machined, looked great, these Suhls were rough, not very pretty, but shot lights out.
    Seemed all they had to do is put a Suhl 150 in a benchrest stock and go shoot. They had great barrels and triggers. Jim Williams from Stone Mountain, Georgia did just that.
    He imported Suhl 150s by the caseload. Had them restocked, found ammo for them, and sold them in different grades. Grade 10 being the highest.
    These were fairly low cost rifles that would put you in the BR-50 winners circle. One of the most famous of these Suhl 150 shooters was Harry Deneen and there were many others.

    Not everyone went this way. We also had full on custom rifles being built. If you went to the BR 50 Nationals, or later on to the ARA Nationals you would see everything you could image,
    and some you couldn’t. Many full time machinist were in the sport and some very talented hobbyist. They created some of the most interesting shooting contraptions.
    Everything from full on rail guns to single shot, remove the entire bolt to load a round. ARA rules allowed just about anything you can haul to the bench to be shot.
    And the guys went wild creating new ideas to make a better mousetrap. As I said, the early days were a time of discovery and it was a very exciting time.

    This trend went on for quite awhile but slowly settled into rifles and equipment you see today. Standard 3 inch benchrest stocks, some straight lined, some not,
    standard length, and weight barrels, custom triggers, muzzle devices, and high quality scopes. Today one could call most of the rifles being shot in RFBR cookie cutter rifles.
    You’ve seen one, you've have seen them all.

    Improvements have made in all the equipment we use, especially in the rests. The one piece rest have became very popular. The Farley type rest has a significant following,
    but some still use two piece rests with sand bags. IR 50/50 three gun rules requires this type of rest set up so many have stuck with it.

    Many smiths have built killer rifles. But at this time I would like to focus on the rifles known as “Calfee Spec rifles”.

    William (Bill) Calfee has built many benchrest rifles, as well as pistols. But among the finest he ever produced were the series he called his Spec rifles.
    Some of these rifles have went on to become known around the world. They have won everything there is to win in RFBR.

    Of course you can say the same thing about other rifles he built that weren’t Spec rifles. Rifles like Raging Inferno, Deuces Wild, Rooster, True Grit, Chisum, Tack Driver, and TDX.
    As good as these guns were they were not Spec Rifles.

    These non-Spec rifles were built by the customer providing Bill with a bedded stock, an action, barrel blank, trigger, and muzzle device.
    Bill assembled these pieces into a finished rifle. Some of these rifles had lapped, and post chamber lapped barrels. This enabled them to shoot right from the start.
    There are many stories of people receiving one of these rifles and winning the first match they shot with it. I received Tack Driver on Thursday and won matches Saturday and Sunday with it.

    When these rifles were sent to their new owners, Bill told them not send money until they were happy with the rifle. If you are not happy, send it back, and Bill would pay the charges.
    This was a standard practice with Bill Calfee rifles. I know of no other smith’s that offer this.

    SPEC rifles were, and are very special. SPEC rifles were built from the ground up by Calfee. They had special treatment. Most had special graphics, many had the complete action jewelled.
    He treated these as his pride and joy. He put the same care and attention into these as he did his pistols. All Spec rifles have their Spec number on the action.

    I thought for years there had to be at least a hundred SPEC rifles, they were winning everything. But to my surprise there were only 7 Spec rifles built.

    I, like others, thought the first three “Project rifles” Calfee built were Spec rifles but they were not.

    Project Rifle 1. This rifle was built, but I can find no record of whom it was built for, nor what happened to it. This is one of two Calfee rifles that have simply disappeared.
    The other was Night Train, but that is another story.

    Project Rifle 2. Was built for John S. Esposito and was sent to him in Texas.

    Project Rifle 3. Was auctioned off. It was named “Tennessee Stud”. Jim Pepper won the auction and in the process coined the term “Spec rifle”.

    Jim Pepper wrote on his bid for Tennessee Stud that he would like to bid on the “Calfee SPEC rifle”. That term “Spec rifle” gave Bill the idea of calling all future project rifles Spec rifles.

    The first rifle identified on the action as a Spec rifle was Spec 4. Merlin. That is how the Spec series was born. Tennessee Stud, project rifle #3. is now owned by Chuck Morrell.

    The SPEC rifles were:

    SPEC 4. Merlin.
    SPEC 5. Black Death
    SPEC 6. Duke Of Earl
    SPEC 7. Paladin.
    SPEC 8. Marcia
    SPEC 9. Georgia Shaker
    SPEC 13. Carolina Gold

    There was to be a SPEC 10. To be named “The Virginian” but it was never built.

    The very mention of these rifles will get some people's back up. But this is history and it is time to let it go.

    I can’t count the number of National, Regional, and State Matches these rifles have won. A few are still on the range, and still at the top of the game.

    There is no doubt these rifles have had an enormous impact on our sport. They have made all of us better shooters, drove us to building better equipment, and got us to where we are today.

    Beating a Spec rifle, any Spec rifle became a goal. At least it did for me. When I see one at a match, I shoot harder, use the best stuff I have, and give it my all.
    I want to beat that Spec Rifle if I can. Spec rifles represent a high standard, a standard I want to meet or beat.

    Ever noticed how when you get fixed on something, how everything about it can bother you.
    When I first heard the name “Black Death” SPEC 5. I thought what a stupid name for a rifle. I’ve never been into spooky movies or any of that sort of stuff.
    Then I learned that a guy named Allen Bates owned that rifle. Now that was a bit much.

    You get it?? ‘Allan’ as in Edgar Allan Poe.... “Bates” as in The Bates Motel…

    As macabre as all that sounds it was nothing compared to the slaughter Allan Bates put on the field at the Professional Shooting League (PSL) match in Saint Louis, MO. in 2011. He clobbered us good.

    Mike Sherrill now owns Black Death, and he is still using it to flog us with when he gets the chance.

    I was never lucky enough to own a Calfee SPEC rifle, and I’m still a little jealous of those that did. There will never be another one built, but they will always hold a special place in the history of our sport.

    If anyone knows more about these SPEC rifles please post it here. I would really like to know what happened to SPEC 1. Just can’t believe someone would have such a rifle and never compete with it.

    There are many rifles built by other smiths, that have had an impact on our sport. Please feel free to share your stories here.

    TKH
    Last edited by tonykharper; 10-08-2018 at 09:03 AM.

  2. #2
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    Name of Spec 8

    Spec 8 name is MARCIA

  3. #3
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    May 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom View Post
    Spec 8 name is MARCIA
    Tom,

    Thank you. I've changed my post.

    TKH

  4. #4
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    Not all those SPEC rifles elicited as much fear for everyone. I spent much of my time in rimfire benchrest competing against Spec 4 - Merlin. The fellow who bought it competed quite often in the NE. It was routinely beaten and the original owner who shot it for many years has a total of 7 HOF points. He also shot a Calfee sporter that can only be described as a dud. Calfee is/was a good gunsmith but he did not have the midas touch for everything he made.

    I once went to practice at my local range and met a fellow who had a Calfee rifle. He was an older gent and never shot in any matches. It didn't take him very long to announce he had a Calfee rifle. I tried to encourage him to shoot at our local matches but never saw him again. I remember not being too impressed with his targets. That may be why we never saw him at our matches. Not sure if that was Project Rifle #1. If Calfee sold that rifle to a guy in NY, that could be it.

    I want to add that back "in the day" the Time Precision rifle was used by some and one even won the ARA Nationals in 2005.

  5. #5
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    May 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill B View Post
    Not all those SPEC rifles elicited as much fear for everyone. I spent much of my time in rimfire benchrest competing against Spec 4 - Merlin. The fellow who bought it competed quite often in the NE. It was routinely beaten and the original owner who shot it for many years has a total of 7 HOF points. He also shot a Calfee sporter that can only be described as a dud. Calfee is/was a good gunsmith but he did not have the midas touch for everything he made.

    I once went to practice at my local range and met a fellow who had a Calfee rifle. He was an older gent and never shot in any matches. It didn't take him very long to announce he had a Calfee rifle. I tried to encourage him to shoot at our local matches but never saw him again. I remember not being too impressed with his targets. That may be why we never saw him at our matches. Not sure if that was Project Rifle #1. If Calfee sold that rifle to a guy in NY, that could be it.

    I want to add that back "in the day" the Time Precision rifle was used by some and one even won the ARA Nationals in 2005.
    Good to hear from you Bill.

    While it is true not everyone that ever owned a Calfee rifle, even a Spec rifle, was a winner.

    But in all fairness I have to mention Merlin did go on to win A Professional Shooting League (PSL) match in the hands of Todd Wooten.

    I know you will never admit it, but Calfee rifles made you a better shooter. I remember your "UnCalfee" rifle. That my friend was motivation.

    You brought up Time Precision Rifles. Would love to hear more about them and those who shot them.

    TKH

  6. #6
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    The Time Precision rifle may still be produced. There is still a website (see link). When I started in our local non-sanctioned matches, there were a couple of guys shooting them. I remember them being famous (or infamous) for being very hard to load. Some would use fuse holders to load them. They had/have a coned breech, no loading ramp, dual firing pin, and a small port. They have/had front locking lugs and no or lousy ejection of the empties. I'm trying to remember the name of the guy who won the ARA Nationals with one in 2005. Dearl Lane??? That name comes to mind but I'm not positive. I remember hearing that it shot one lot of old gold box Lapua very well.

    http://benchrest.com/timeprecision/N....22_rf_br.html
    Last edited by Bill B; 10-04-2018 at 05:21 PM.

  7. #7
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    Arizona
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    FWIW, I don't care who builds the rifle, if you have not matched it to killer ammo it will be beat regularly. However, when you are fortunate enough to have a Calfee, Eck and perhaps some others it does take away many of the variables and allow you to identify ammo worthy of the gun. That is when they shine and make most shooters look better than we are.

    Steve

  8. #8
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    upstate, N.Y.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill B View Post
    Just as a point of correction: I'm a competitive, motivated kind of guy (as are you). I didn't need a Calfee in BR to motivate me. I give credit to Calfee for his sporter profile barrel and he did usually build a very good rifle - - But - - - it was Gordon Eck and his guns that made me a better shooter. I give him most of credit for my few successes. The "Un-Calfee" name was obviously a tweak as it was an example of a very good shooting rifle made against all the tenants of Calfee's rantings as to what it took to build a "killer" rifle. It wasn't spec'd out or purpose-built to be that, but that is what it was. The "Un-Calfee" was a fortuitous build; using a SAP action, a cut-rifled barrel, and non-straight lined stock. It was thrown together to test the then new 2500X action. I sold that rifle to a new shooter who (as far as I can tell) has not yet shot a match. If he ever does, that rifle will be at Fairchance. I hope he does get in the game as that rifle is too good to be sitting on the sidelines.

    I'm aware that Todd Wooten won a match with Merlin, but Todd could (and has) won matches with lots of other rifles. I just know that Merlin was routinely beaten by our Eck rifles here in NY. It wasn't a bad rifle, just nothing special and spent most of the time in mid-pack. There were certain conditions where it would come to life, but most of the time it was fairly ordinary.

    The Time Precision rifle may still be produced. There is still a website (see link). When I started in our local non-sanctioned matches, there were a couple of guys shooting them. I remember them being famous (or infamous) for being very hard to load. Some would use fuse holders to load them. They had/have a coned breech, no loading ramp, dual firing pin, and a small port. They have/had front locking lugs and no or lousy ejection of the empties. I'm trying to remember the name of the guy who won the ARA Nationals with one in 2005. Dearl Lane??? That name comes to mind but I'm not positive. I remember hearing that it shot one lot of old gold box Lapua very well.

    http://benchrest.com/timeprecision/N....22_rf_br.html
    Busky,
    What Tony is attempting here is to provide some very valuable history here which obviously may be less comprehensive than some would prefer.
    The point is, he is going above and beyond to provide the community a service, hopefully laid out a chapter at a time, not really looking for persistant counterpoints. For once.....have a little class.
    Last edited by tim; 10-04-2018 at 03:06 PM.

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