2006 is quickly coming to a close and for most of us it has been a good year. Our March trip to Africa was extremely successful with 90 animals being taken and all but 4 being record book animals. We had a chance to hunt in a totally different area way down on the bottom end of South Africa in an area called Baviaan. The animals there were very hard to find and equally hard to connect with. Shots there were universally long, often well over 250 yards, which is a long shot with a handgun. But it was a good hunt and my 11th in Africa.
Quite a few new guns were released during the year from just as many companies. We saw Winchester falter and eventually go completely out of business. Finally to be revived by sister company Browning. In the future apparently Winchester long guns will be made by Browning but still carry the Winchester name. That is still an assumption as no firearms have yet to be built or released. I had a fellow e-mail me a while back saying he had heard that Winchester was planning a line of handguns. I doubt this very seriously as they will need to stick to what they do best, which is long guns. Do you know why Winchester has never built handguns, other than a very few revolvers in the 1870's? Apparently Oliver Winchester had a long meeting with Sam Colt and they had a gentleman's agreement that Winchester would not build handguns and Colt would not build rifles.
There were other companies in trouble during 2006. Dakota Arms has been faltering and on the brink of going under. Whether they manage to pull themselves back up is still yet to be seen. For a short time early in the year S&W was in dire straits with a lack of cash flow. They managed to weather this with several large contracts with foreign countries for their new Military and Police semi auto pulling their fat out of the fire. In fact they have done so well this past 6 months that they have recently bought out Thompson Center Arms, the makers of the fine black powder rifles and the extremely popular Encore and G-2 series of handguns and rifles. That sale is set to go into effect in about a week.
Several new cartridges were released this past year, some of them managed to stay alive, many did not. The Winchester line up of WSM and WSSM cartridges faltered feebly and then failed completely. Whether they will be picked back up by Browning is still
unknown. Several rifle companies that chambered the WSM and WSSM cartridges have already dropped them.
One of the premier rifle companies is set to release their own line up of proprietary cartridges in 2007. Ruger is set to release the new 375 Ruger, which is supposedly somewhere between a 376 Steyr and a 375 H&H in length but have at least as much power as the H&H, if not more. Ruger has done well with their 204 Ruger cartridge and the 375 should do as well, if not better. Ruger, with their new owners are said to be considering several new offerings for 2007.
The 17 calibers are still strong in the 17 HMR and the 17 Mach 4. This was a bit of a surprise to me as I simply didn't believe the 17s would do very well in this country. The 5.7 cartridge, while not a new cartridge, became very popular in '06 with the H&K handgun and then the rifle.
Marlin worked with Hornady to develop their Lever-Revolution with special soft tipped ammo for the lever guns to stretch their ranges to 400 yards and long barreled lever guns to shoot it in. Although still not completely readily available both the guns and the ammunition seem to be off to a good start. Marlin has re-introduced the L.C. Smith line up of double barreled shotguns and first impression is one of a very well made double gun and one that is sure to garner it's share of the double gun sales in this country.
Savage and Mossberg both managed to fill a void in the rifle field that has been vacant since the old Remington model 788 was dropped years ago. That void is one of a well made lower priced hunting rifle. The Savage is actually a reincarnation of the Stevens line of rifles with it's grey nylon stock and seems to be doing very well. At a price just under $300 the gun is smooth of action and well balanced. In fact just as well feeling as some 3 times it's price. That gun is the Stevens model 200, and is a very well made rifle for the price.
The Mossberg rifle is something they haven't done in quite a while. It is actually made by Mossberg. Their older centerfire guns were made mostly by Howa in Japan. The new Mossberg model 100 is equally as well made as the Stevens and with their camo stock, is a very nice looking gun as well. Both should end up being a very good seller when the sales totals are tallied up. My hat is off to both Savage/Stevens and Mossberg for doing something that no other gun company had the balls to do and that is tool up to build a rifle for the blue collar hunter who cannot afford the increasingly expensive Remingtons, Rugers, Weatherbys and such.
Taurus made the cowboy shooters sit up and take notice as they released their new Gaucho revolver. They took the Single Action Army and did it one better, improving it in every way. Their new version of the old Colt Lightning rifle is extremely well made and although still not easy to find it is extremely sought after in the cowboy shooting field.
Ruger's New Vaquero finally became easier to get this past year after a slow start with some minor internal problems. Their special 50th year anniversary models with their flattop frames and a style much like the original models is also doing very well. Ruger is also one of the very few companies to come out with a scout rifle, a short barreled rifle with a scope actually mounted on the barrel several inches in front of the action. From what I hear they are way back ordered on this one too.
One of the disappointments, to me at least, was the long list of guns that Remington is marketing with their name on them yet they were made in Russia. These were the exact same guns sold by EAA up until recently. Now they are marketed with the Remington name on them and just under that it says,, "made in Russia". A new gun that is made by Remington is the model 710. When this one was released it elicited a universal yawn from those seeing it for the first time. A dull grey nylon gun with a horrible action that takes Hercules to work the bolt. The Stevens or the Mossberg completely overshadows the Remington offering. Shame on you Remington.
Freedom Arms released their new 500 Wyoming Express cartridge and a gun to go along with it. One of very few belted handgun cartridges ever developed, this one is doing very well for Bob Baker and friends at Freedom Arms.
S&W released their new AR-15 copy called the MP-15 and a very well made gun it turned out to be. They are way back ordered on this one. Charter Arms got back in business during the year and are cranking out their dependable little revolvers.
It was a good year for us too with several new cartridges introduced or re-introduced. Our new 280 GNR was released for the encore handgun and rifle, as was the new 257 GNR, both based on the 405 case. The new 440 GNR was released for the encore and lever gun shooter. This one is a 50 Alaskan necked down to 44. It thumps on both ends. The new 455 GNR is doing well, mainly on large dangerous game. It is basically a 475 Linebaugh case necked down to 45 caliber. In the encore or 5 shot revolver we have taken quite a few orders for this one.
We re-introduced our original 375 GNR and the 224 GNR, both in the stretch frame revolvers. We plan to build both of these on the Ruger maximum frame with our own heavy duty 5 shot cylinders and heavier barrel. We re-engineered the 224 GNR so that it would work in a revolver. It is basically the 357 Maximum case necked down to 22 caliber. It duplicates the 222 ballistically.
The 375 GNR was one we had out in the late 80's in the Contender but are now offering it in the 5 shot revolver, encore or G-2 barrels. It is a 445 Super Mag necked down to 375.
Our reloading manual was released in mid spring and covers most of our cartridges. I plan a few extra pages to cover the new cartridges for those that have them. My handgun hunting book was slated to be released by Christmas but I took so long getting the first draft to the printer that we are running a bit behind.
2007 will hopefully be a good year as well but with the results of the recent elections looming over our heads, the year may hold some unpleasant surprises for us in more ways than one. Let's hope that this time next year we will be looking over another good year behind us.