25 July 2008

Elk Rifle Repair: Sako 308 Winchester, cracked wrist (& personal history)

This entry began as a simple account of repairing an older rifle. In the process, though, I came to realize that for me a rifle is no mere utilitarian tool, but is imbued with personal & cultural meaning (see Deetz 1977).

Since my parents' divorce, Dad (Gene Munday Jr.), sister Kate, and I ("Paddy" at that time) lived with our grandparents, Beryl Nell (Fitzgibbons) and Gene Munday Sr. on High Street in Bradford, Pennsylvania. I shared a room with Dad, who was just getting out of the trucking business and working as a driller for Dick Cordner's little oil company. He worked the midnight tour (pronounced "tower" in Bradfordese), and most evenings caught a few hours sleep listening to the voice of "hillbilly singers"--newcomers like Patsy Cline and established performers like the late-great Hank Williams on his favorite radio station, WWVA.

One Saturday afternoon, Dad came home half-drunk, which was not unusual, and happy, which was very unusual. In fact he was ecstatic, and his excitement rubbed off on me--not yet 5 years old. He was holding a brand new rifle, caliber 308 Winchester. It was from Montgomery Wards and the barrel was stamped as such, but it had a Sako L57, "made in Finland," action. Dad had somewhere learned about the virtues of European rifles (perhaps through his service with the Army Aircorps, or a high school friend that had become a Browning Arms salesman).

It was a fine rifle, and turned out to be super-accurate with its Weaver K4 scope. Most everyone at the time hunted with lever action rifles, usually either a Model 94 Winchester in 30-30 (or some variation, such as Gramps' Model 55) or a Model 99 Savage in 300 Savage, and usually with open sights. These rifles were doing good to shoot 5-shot groups of 3 inches at 100-yards. Dad was never much of a hunter (as Gramps liked to say, "He wouldn't make a wart on a hunter's ass.") but he was an outstanding rifle and pistol shot. While the rest of the gang would shoot offhand and hope to hit the Kendall logo on a 5-gallon pail at 100 yards, Dad would rest the little Sako over the hood of his Mercury station wagon and consistently shoot 1-inch (aka "minute of angle" or moa) groups.

I don't recall Dad ever killing a deer with that rifle (or any other), even during Pennsylvania's notorious 2-day doe season. In 1967, the day before the Monday opener of buck season, we were at Gramps' oil lease "sighting in the rifles." It was my first year of legal hunting, and I had no rifle. The best I could hope for was to use Gramps' little 20 gage Winchester Model-12 shotgun with slugs. In a last minute deal, Gramps' good friend Bernard Dutka agreed to loan Dad one of his Savage M99s if Dad would allow me to hunt with the Sako. Bernie explained that the boy needed a rifle to hunt deer with, and his lever action might be too complicated for a novice hunter to shoot safely. But there was a hitch, Bernie went on: "If Paddy [that was me] kills his buck on opening day, then you, Junior [that was Dad], have to give him that rifle."

"Deal," Dad confidently agreed. He had never killed a buck in over 20 years of hunting, so how could he think I would? Crazy like a fox, old Bernie. Next morning he had me stalking along with him on a ridge above Wolf Run. Bernie was a master outdoorsman, and I swear he could herd whitetailed deer like some men herd sheep or cattle. As we walked slowly through the mixed forest of big cherry, beech, maple, oak, and hemlock, we soon had a herd of a dozen deer walking just ahead of us. All does.

But then we heard shooting on a nearby ridge. Bernie stopped us, each of our backs against a large tree. Soon, a spike buck came running toward us through the timber. Bernie dropped to one knee and his 300 cracked. The buck went down just 30 yards or so away from us and began licking its foot. "Kill it, Paddy!" he whispered firmly.

For what seemed forever, I stood aiming at the deer, the front sight sweeping out circles around it. Then the sight settled just behind the deer's shoulder, the 308 boomed, and the deer sprawled out dead. I had previously field dressed one deer and many rabbits and squirrels, and with Bernie's guidance (and sharp pocketknife) the job went quickly. Bernie pulled off his leather belt and we (well, mostly Bernie) dragged the buck a mile or so back to the road. Pennsylvania deer hunting rules: because he had only wounded the deer whereas I had killed it, the buck -- and Dad's Sako rifle -- belonged to me:

I bought a Lee Loader to reload my own cartridges and reduce the cost of shooting, and for the next five years I shot several hundred rounds through that rifle each year. By the time I graduated from high school and headed off to college, the rifle had developed a crack through the wrist, on the top side just behind the rear action bolt.

While I was at college and working at 6-month co-operative job placements, Dad and his friend Bob Thomas ("BAT") shot the rifle often, including several lots of military ammo. The crack opened up, Dad had the rifle restocked by a local gunsmith, and all seemed well.

After graduation from college, I bought the rifle of my dreams -- a Winchester Model 70 Featherweight in .257 Roberts -- and the old Sako stood in the closet.

Then I moved to Montana 20 years ago, the .308 Sako became my elk rifle and I began shooting it more frequently:

I like the Barnes bullet because they are all copper (no toxic lead) and have reliable expansion and near 100% weight retention (this one came out of a cow elk):

Once again, the little rifle developed a cracked wrist:

This time, I decided to repair it myself instead of having a new stock made for it.

My initial plan was to drill two transverse holes through the wrist -- one near the top, where the wrist arcs down from the main stock; and one where the wrist joins the buttstock. But I did a little web-based research, and from the Brownell site and other places I learned that the usual technique for repairing a crack of this type is to drill lengthwise from the stock inlet and parallel to the crack. A threaded metal rod is then epoxied into the hole. This method has the advantage of being an "invisible" repair.


  • 1/4 inch threaded metal rod (I used stainless steel, although brass is said to be preferable)
  • slow curing, high-strength epoxy


  • variable speed drill
  • long 1/8 inch drill (for pilot hole)
  • long 1/4 inch drill
  • syringe with plastic tubing (to inject epoxy into hole)


  1. remove action from stock
  2. cut threaded rod 1/2" shorter than crack
  3. file flat on one end of rod, then cut a screw slot with a hacksaw
  4. drill pilot hole 3/4" longer than crack (in my case this was 2&1/2 + 3/4 = 3&1/4")
  5. drill 1/4 inch hole 1/2" longer than crack
  6. mix and inject epoxy to fill hole about half-deep, taking care to force air out and fill the bottom of the hole
  7. screw in rod until excess epoxy is forced out (use a small rag to collect excess epoxy)
  8. fill hole completely with epoxy
  9. stand stock butt down, smear a thin coating of grease (as a release agent) on rifle action wherever it might contact wet epoxy, bolt action to stock, allow epoxy to cure one week before shooting

Here's the stainless steel bolt with a slot cut into it:

Time to go to the range. I've been working up an accurate load with Barnes TSX all copper bullets. So far, I've been keeping the powder charge and other variables constant and varying the bullet seating depth (i.e. the overall cartridge length). Here are two 100-yard, 5-shot groups. The 2&1/4"group on the right is with the bullet seated long and nearly touching the rifling lands. The 2" group on the left (with 4 shots in a 1" group) is with the bullet seated about 0.030" deeper. Not bad for an old rifle (and my eyesight):


James Deetz, In Small Things Forgotten: the archaeology of early American life (Doubleday, 1977). This is a great little read about the importance of artifacts such as gravestones, houses, and dishes in our lives.


Anonymous said...

Pat, I have never had much interest in the world of blogging. However, you blogs have proven to be the exception. My family and I have read every post you have written and enjoy them as much as anything we have found in bound print.

I ran across a link to your blog page while searching for references to elk hunting in the Wisdom area. Since that time, the information and pictures have delighted every member of my family. My wife, (Ruth) enjoys the science related posts, as she specialized in the field of soil sciences before becoming a full time mom. My seven year old daughter (Samantha) enjoys the wonderful pictures. Especially, those of animals. I enjoy the hunting, fishing, and hiking posts.

My family and I moved from Oregon to Bigfork, MT. three years ago after I was furloughed from the airline that I flew for. We love it here, and we love the people of Montana. We want to say thank you for all of the time and effort that you dedicate to sharing these experiences with others.

Don Edwards (dke727@yahoo.com)

EcoRover said...

Don, thanks for checking out my blog and for the kind praise.

Wisdom is certainly a good elk hunting area, particularly in the earlier part of the season or before the snow gets too deep.

Some ranchers will give you permission to hunt, and Hirschy's have a block hunting program.

Best wishes to all of you!

makar said...

You place your gun next to a blooded elk and take a picture of it? Do you feel like a real man now?

EcoRover said...

Well, Makar, death and pain are intrinsic parts of life, and to be a human animal is to kill nonhuman animals. I prefer to take moral and environmental responsibility for my own food. Hunting is a deeply spiritual quest and has been since way before the paintings at Lascaux. Also as human animals, we are defined (in part) through our tools--whether they be words, the Internet, clothing, or rifles. The film "Avatar" got it right, by the way.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story!