On your right, ladies and gentlemen, is something I’ve hankered after for many years. It’s a Christensen Arms “Hunter” rifle that I’ve fittingly named Thor the Hammer.
[Update: In a fit of insanity, I sold this rifle a couple of years ago. I blame it on addled thinking arising from an extended period of poor health and a long hospital stay. But I still own its former companion, the near-duplicate Christensen Arms Hunter in .204 Ruger which I’ve named Speed the Pow (with apologies to David Mamet). They are both truly, truly wonderful rifles.]
For the gun geeks who always want to get to the stats first:
- The barrel is 26″ x 1″, a very thin tube of rifled stainless steel tightly over-wrapped with many layers of bonded carbon fiber. This makes a barrel that is much lighter than an equivalent stainless steel barrel, but also much stronger and (some say, others disagree) less sensitive to heat.
- Stainless steel Remington 700 action with jeweled spiral-fluted bolt.
- X-Mark-Pro trigger tuned to a 2.1-lb release. This is Remington’s new adjustable trigger and it works very well indeed.
- Titanium Removable muzzle brake. This is a radial brake, meaning it has 8 longitudinal rows of 4 rows each, each hole approximately 3/16″ (5mm) in diameter. A dished thread cap is included for when the muzzle brake is not used.
- Caliber is the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum (aka “.300 RUM”). This is one of the recently crop of super-magnums that eclipse conventional magnums by as much as conventional magnums eclipse similar non-magnums. To put it in perspective, the .300 RUM at full power is to the .300 Winchester Magnum as the .300 Winchester Magnum is to the ubiquitous .30-06.
- It weights an amazingly light 6.4 lbs. To accomplish that the carbon-fiber barrel is a big start, but likewise the synthetic stock, the titanium muzzle brake, and the makers even drilled lightening holes in the bolt handle and bolt knob.
So: My long-range rifle needs are met. In fact, quite over-met: This rifle can generate 4400 ft-lbs of energy at the muzzle, deliver over one ton of energy at 600 yards, and even at 1000 yards the bullet is still carrying more energy than Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum does at the muzzle.
But: It’s a 6.4-lb. rifle. That’s a very lightweight rifle. For a super-magnum rifle, it’s a feather-weight. Huge energy in a very light rifle means ferocious recoil. A bit of simple math and physics proves that to be true: Recoil with full-power 180-grain / 3250fps load: 48 ft-lbs of shoulder wallop. That’s massive. Downright painful. About like having a concrete fence block dropped on your shoulder from a yard up.
Most people would consider the recoil of a 7mm Magnum rifle to be quite heavy, even punishing. Well, the recoil of Thor the Hammer would be equal to two 7mm Magnums fired at once. That’s insane. Heavy 12-gauge shotgun loads would be powder-puffs in comparison.
In return, though, it does deliver that 180-grain bullet with a trajectory flatter than the best varmint loads, such as a 55-grain spitzer in 22-250. It’s the ideal varmint load for half-ton varmints the next ridge over.
And of course, with 100 grains of very slow-burning powder going up the pipe each time, these things are known barrel-burners. You could conceivably burn out a barrel the same day you got it, if you happen to have a shooting shoulder that is, say, made of granite.
So you may ask: Why would a smallish, arthritic, middle-aged man even look at such a thing, much less purchase it? ‘Tis a wonder, no? But….. there is an answer.
You see, Remington designed the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum to be the ultimate do-it-all rifle. It’s the baddest .30 caliber cartridge made, fully capable of knocking off any game you can see at any distance you can see it. (Well, maybe not elephants. But with the right bullet – maybe a copper-jacketed steel solid – you could take a pretty good poke even at an elephant. Dumbo would certainly not enjoy it, I guarantee. Considering that elephants are made of mere meat, it would likely shoot through an elephant.) It remains supersonic out to a full mile. But it was also intended to work well at more mundane tasks, right down to serving as a light, comfy deer rifle. So how do they do that?
A rifle with a throttle
Remington sells ammunition for the super-magnum acts above as “.300 Remington Ultra Magnum, Level III.” That’s the full-power, Hammer-of-Thor ammo.
But of course not every critter requires a whack from the Hammer of Thor. So for smaller critters (say, umm, elk) Remington sells Level II ammunition, with is loaded down to match the ballistics of the common .300 Winchester Magnum. Back off to just 1400 yards to keep it supersonic, and keep the sheep and goat shots to, say, 1000 yards. You know, ranges where you only need binoculars, not planetary telescopes, to see your target.
And for plinking and garden pests such as deer and black bear, there’s .300 RUM Level I, which duplicates the ballistics of that perennial plinker and poodle-shooter, the .30-06. This is the indoor-practice loading, I guess. And with the reduced loads Thor is not longer the extreme shoulder-masher it is with the full T-Hammer loads.
Of course, another part of the explanation for such an unexpected purchase by a recoil wimp lies at the pointy end of the rifle: a large muzzle brake. People who have fired these with and without (ha!) the muzzle break say it makes a huge difference on the high-power loads, somewhat less on the wimpier Levels II and I, but a big difference nevertheless. Many of those folks also say that they won’t willingly fire it without the muzzle break ever again. They also won’t fire it without both earmuffs and earplugs because one thing a muzzle brake also does is greatly increase the felt blast and concussion.
(Fair warning: Firing a full-power .300 RUM Level III load with the muzzle brake is absolutely deafening. I mean that quite literally: Firing this rifle at full power with the muzzle brake with no hearing protection, particularly in a semi-enclosed firing range, will leave you almost completely deaf for some time afterward. Your ears will ring for hours and you will have at least some permanent hearing loss that will last forever. No kidding. Don’t try it. It just takes once.)
But on the other hand, Power Level I is like a .30-06. My first big rifle was a .30-06. (Of course I’d had far fewer birthdays then.) I can live with the recoil of a .30-06 (I don’t like it, but I can tolerate it) as long as I don’t try to go through boxes of it in a day. And with the muzzle brake and Power Level I, one individual reported it to be about like a .25-06. I can definitely live with a .25-06. (One of my two favorite rifles is a German-made Sauer 202 in quarter-bore-’06. Big blast, mild recoil.)
Feeding cereal to your rifle
And then there’s the magic “cereal” known as “Trail Boss.” It’s a rather fluffy gunpowder with strange Cheerios-shaped grain kernels that leaves a lot of dispersed air space inside the cartridge case. It’s such a low-density powder that it’s impossible to overload a cartridge. The manufacturer of Trail Boss states it’s safe to fill any case with it up to the base of the bullet, no measuring required because it’s impossible to overload the case with Trail Boss.
With most cartridges a full-case load of Trail Boss results in a half-load (by velocity), quarter-load (by power). For the .300 RUM it turns Thor into something between a .30 Carbine and a .30-30, an old-time cowboy gun and deer rifle. And with even less Trail Boss powder the .300 RUM can be loaded all the way down to .32 ACP pistol power levels. (That might seem pointless, but after all , how much killing does a tin can need?)
A big advantage of some of the Trail Boss light loads is that, because they put far less stress on the rifle (not to mention the shooter), they can be phenomenally accurate. Many report groups of a half-inch or so at 100 yards with loads that would still be very effective for typical deer or black bear. Popping in an even lighter load would be just the ticket if, while hunting big critters, you come across a tasty bunny. If you plan to eat that bunny it’s best not to blast him with the full Hammer load and thereby scatter him into a sub-orbital trajectory of small parts and a fine red mist. A few very light loads in your pocket solves that problem.
It’s still a huge cartridge case. Small mammals could live in it. So it’s going to be a bit wasteful of powder for what it does compared with, say, a .308 Winchester or a .32 ACP. But a .308 or .32 ACP won’t take down armored Imperial troopers at 1200 attoparsecs. It’s all about versatility.
Much to go
Of course this is only the beginning. So far I haven’t even fired the rifle and there’s much to go before that happens:
- Fit sights to it. I’ll probably fit a temporary scope to it just to do some testing.
[Update: I’ve attached a Leupold Mark 4 4.5x14x50 LR/T scope with illuminated mil-dot reticle, attached via 30mm A.R.M.S. throw-level mounts to a Warne steel Picatinny rail. Considering the recoil and the weight of the scope I’d debated whether to open up the mounting screws from 6-32 to 8-32, but for now I’m going with the standard 6-32. I hope that does not lead to stitches above my right eyebrow.]
- Inspect the bore. New bores are not always smooth and a rough bore is a pain forever. If I see much roughness I’ll start by putting a 10-round set of David Tubb’s fire-lapping loads through it. Those have worked well for me once before (on a Weatherby .243), but I’m open to alternatives.
- One alternative I’m considering already is Ultra Bore Coat. John Barsness speaks very highly of it and to me that’s a serious consideration.
Two question remain
Two important questions now loom:
- What scope to put on it. A very versatile rifle merits a scope that enhances that versatility. And for once I’m not looking for the lightest scope possible because additional scope weight helps dampen the recoil. But it does have to be a scope that is absolutely, positively recoil-proof. That includes the mounts, else one day I pull the trigger and watch the scope flying overhead, or perhaps embedded in my forehead. I’m open to inputs and arguments. [See update above.]
- What to name it. Any important firearm should be named, of course. “Thor the Hammer” has been the working name, both for its evocation of the Norse god’s powerful weapon and because the name of the manufacturer (and company founder) is Christensen, a Scandinavian name. But the permanent name is not yet set and I’m open for suggestions.
[Thor the Hammer it stays.]
[Further update: This article was originally published in 2010 in another blog of mine. I’ve moved it to this more-current blog to give it more visibility and provide some updates. I’m also happy to note that Thor the Hammer was used by its new owner, my great friend and twin-brother-from-another-mother Randy W., to nail an elk in northern Arizona. Way to go, bro!]