In Hawaii, mention you’ve got a gun and the more radical of your acquaintances might picture you toting a particular type of big-wave surfboard. As a Midwestern kid who grew up dreaming of riding ocean waves, I always imagined that’s what I’d be using on my first trip to the Islands. Instead, this past summer, I carried a gun in the more literal sense—a new custom rifle from Bergara meant to tame not waves, but the wild inhabitants of Maui, including a trophy axis deer.
Earlier this year, Bergara, the Spanish maker of gun barrels, announced the formation of a new custom rifle shop headed up by Master Sgt. Dan Hanus, who recently retired from the U.S. Marine Corp’s Precision Weapons Section. In his former position, Hanus was responsible for sourcing and building uber-accurate rifles and handguns for some of the world’s most elite units. Considering his credentials, Bergara couldn’t have chosen a better man for the job of starting a custom-rifle shop.
By the time you read this you’ll be able to log onto the Bergara USA website and build your own custom rifle from the ground up, or to put it a bit more accurately, from the barrel up, as each is obviously fitted with one of the company’s quality pipes. Bergara has a reputation for building accurate barrels thanks to a five-step process that starts out with a bar of stainless steel straightened to within .004 inch deviation. From there, the barrels are drilled and honed before being button-rifled and put through a final high-temperature treatment. The barrel on my test gun also had been treated with a nitride finish for resistance to rust and corrosion.
If a company puts this much emphasis on its barrels, it’s safe to say we can expect the same attention to detail will go into any receivers that are engraved with the Bergara name. The one-piece receivers are milled from solid bar stock steel; my test gun featured a dual-lug bolt milled with eight spiral flutes. The enclosed bolt face features a single claw extractor and plunger-style ejector. Tolerances are tight, with very little play in the action. It locks up solidly. The company says it will also build rifles around receivers of the customer’s choosing.
A custom gun with such a high-quality barrel and receiver deserves good company, so the Bergara Custom Shop makes the best available to its customers. Once the barrel and receiver have been chosen, it’s up to the buyer to determine what components he wants from a selection of some of the best in the market, including triggers from Timney and stocks from McMillan.
Earlier this year, to kick off their custom-rifle business, Bergara initially rolled out a line of five pre-built rifles, listing two tactical models and three hunter models, including a take-down version—all of which can be further customized with the addition of muzzle brakes, custom finishes and sight/optic packages. Illustrating that point, the gun I carried on Maui and subsequently tested on my range was a mash-up of the Long-Range BC-15 Hunter and Sport Hunter BCR-13 models. It featured the BC-15’s Bergara Custom Action in .300 Win. Mag. with a machined Picatinny rail and No. 5-contour barrel, but it was set into a more traditional McMillan Hunter stock rather than the A3 Sporter style. The test gun came to me fitted with a Konus Pro-Plus 3x-10x-44mm scope.
If I were building this gun for myself, I would remove the magazine floorplate release from inside the trigger guard. This is merely a personal preference driven by the fact that more than once while shooting from a solid benchrest the floorplate popped open at the shot. Other than that, fit and finish were near perfect.
In addition to flawless function, a custom gun should deliver accuracy on par with the accompanying price tag. For the most part, the Bergara lived up to the price of admission. Using premium factory ammunition, it was capable of printing groups well within an inch. However, typical of most custom-grade guns, the Bergara was a finicky eater. While those two boxes of ammo showed promise, Remington Premier A-Frames wouldn’t group inside 1½ inches. The lesson here is if you’re going to spend the money on a custom rifle, don’t scrimp on what you feed it. Take the time to try different loads before settling on what your rifle likes best.
There are mountain rifles and beanfield rifles, but have you ever heard of a rainforest rifle? It rained off and on during the few days we hunted on the slopes of Haleakala on Maui, where both axis deer and hogs emerge from the verdant brush late in the afternoons. The Bergara’s nitride finish stood up to the conditions without showing a hint of corrosion. At 9 pounds scoped, this rifle is a little heavy for spot-and-stalk hunting in the hills, but despite my opinion the gun rode on my shoulder comfortably during the double-time march required to get into range of a nice axis buck before it slipped into cover. That added weight also helped settle the crosshairs despite heavy breathing and an accelerated heartbeat, allowing for an accurate 153-yard shot on the point of the buck’s shoulder to drop it where it stood and eliminate any need to track it through the thick brush.
During my trip to Hawaii, I was able to fulfill that adolescent dream of riding a few waves of the oceanic variety, but my favorite is still the wave of emotion upon tagging that axis buck. In fact, I’m already planning a return trip and once again I’ll pack along a shoulder-fired gun rather than one of the surf-riding variety. Whether that will be a custom rifle from Bergara remains to be decided, but, with just a few modifications, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one of the company's rifles for the Island-bound hunter chasing that endless summer.