The 788 project: Part 1
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- The Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway
- The rules
- Design an airgun contest
- The 788 project
- Remington’s 788
- First trip to the range
- Free-floated barrel
- Relieving the barrel channel
- Ten-shot 50-yard group
- Timney trigger
- Glass-bedded action
- So what?
The Godfather’s Gold Gun giveaway
Before we dive into today’s report I must tell you about a new feature on the Pyramyd Air website. It’s called Build Your Own Airgun. It’s an interactive set of pages that allows you to configure certain airguns the way you want them. Think of it as a custom shop where you are the builder. You put all the parts, features and finishes together for a certain airgun and then give your creation a name. Pyramyd Air will put your choices together and construct the airgun you have purchased. From that point on, every gun of that model with those same specifications will carry the name you have selected.
In August I tested the Ataman AP16 Standard PCP air pistol for you. In Part one I made this remark at the end: One last thing — I have one last thing to tell you readers, but not in this report. If you remember West Side Story — Something’s coming! Something BIG!
Well, today is the day you learn what that something is. I got to design the pistol I tested for the Ataman AP16 review through the new Build Your Own Airgun software and Pyramyd Air gave me that AP16 pistol. I designed it and and called it the Godfather’s Gold Gun. They also gave me a second one to give away to one lucky reader. So, all you who poor-mouthed the gun because of its cost — you now have a chance to own one, free and clear. I quote a conversation from that first report,
“Let me understand. We have a 15-18 fpe, 22 cal pistol which is a repeater and very loud, working in the 300 bar zone, for 1.000$. How can I justify the +600$ difference between this and the Marauder pistol, which has the same features plus shroud, ok without open sights? Looking back at BB’s review it gave 32 shots with almost 30fps deviations. That’s for the regulator missing…” Bill
Yes, you are right. Also, there is the TalonP. You need to remember though that this is for those who make more than I. It also gives me something to dream about. In addition we can compare the results of the top tier to what is more reasonably priced and make a decision from there.” RidgeRunner
Okay, Acadian and RidgeRunner, if you feel the Godfather’s Gold Gun isn’t right for either of you because of the price, you are free to withdraw your names from the giveaway and I will honor your wishes — Ha!
If you live in the United States and are a registered reader of this blog, you have a chance to win the Godfather’s Gold Gun. The prize gun will be the same gun that I tested for this blog.
The rules are simple. To enter this contest you have to be a registered reader of this blog. And you must live in the United States. I can’t account for all the airgun legislation around the world, so I’m limiting this contest to the US, where the gun is universally legal. Oh if the state you live in has anti-airgun legislation that prohibits owning such an airgun, then I guess that leaves you out, too. Please know your state laws if you want to be in the drawing.
I will select one day in October, and all eligible readers who submit comments to the blog on that day will be entered into the drawing. Your names will go into a random drawing, one entry per reader, regardless of how many comments you make on that day. The name drawn will win the gun, as long as they are registered and I have their email address. There is no way to stuff the ballot box in this drawing, but you also don’t have to do much to be eligible. Good luck to all!
Design an airgun contest
I have had just one official entry in the “Design an airgun” contest so far. Yes, that is also an official contest and so far the only entry is winning! I have read comments from lots of readers who have designed airguns while daydreaming on their couches but the prize will go to the “the niftiest design that the most people could build.” People can’t build things that only exist in your mind. The contest runs until the end of September.
I haven’t announced the prize for this contest, but it has been selected. It will be something that will surprise all of you. I think it’s a very fitting prize for a contest like this.
Okay, enough chatter. Let’s get to it.
The 788 project
Don’t you hate it when some gun writer tells you all about some vintage gun that he just loves, and it’s something that’s been out of production for decades—perhaps even longer than you’ve been alive? But he has one, and, by golly, he writes such enticing things about it that you just have to get one for yourself. Well, sit back, dear reader, because that’s exactly what I’m about to do.
I’m going to tell you all about the Remington 788—a rifle shrouded in mystery and urban legend. A regular Area 51 escapee, with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal rifles.
This article is the beginning of what I call the 788 Project, in reference to the Remington 788 rifle that many of us tried and found wanting back in the 1960s and ’70s (1967 – 1983) . The 788 was a budget bolt-action rifle for those who wouldn’t spend the extra to buy a Remingtom 700. We found the 788 wanting because most of us who bought them were young and stupid and we naturally bought the mostest-powerfulest 788 they made, which was the one chambered for .308 Winchester. Furthermore, if you were cheap like me, you didn’t even buy ammunition to go in it. You got a belt of 7.62 mm machine gun ammo (don’t ask) and carefully removed the metal links. Setting aside the orange-tipped tracer rounds, you then filed two crossed notches deep into the tip of each bullet, making what you hoped would be a Dum Dum round that would expand in game like a soft nose, more or less.
It turned out to be less, as fate would have it, but that didn’t matter. The 788 is a light rifle, and the kick from your liberated machine gun ammo loosened your fillings. You probably didn’t fire a total of 100 rounds out of that cannon before you allowed some other fool to pry it out of your hands at the next gun show. But you shot it enough to know you couldn’t hit anything with it. So the Remington 788 was an inaccurate rifle that also kicked like a mule.
Let’s see—you bought a 6.5-pound rifle in a caliber better suited to 8 pounds or more. You then fed it military “spray and pray” ammunition that you first deformed with a file. And, let me make a stretch here and guess that you scoped it with the cheapest Japanese variable you could find, held fast in a premium set of K-Mart scope mounts. Golly! You went to all that trouble and the rifle still wouldn’t shoot for you? What gives?
All sorts of urban legends sprang up about the 788. Everyone had an opinion of what it was and why it was like that. Things like—because the bolt’s locking lugs are in the rear the action is somehow “springy,” and unsuited to powerful cartridges. Or, the 788 proved so accurate that it eclipsed Remington’s more expensive models and therefore was discontinued to stop the harmful competition from within the company.
There was even a Wikipedia entry for the gun that is as fictional as all of the urban legends put together. It states things like “…the 788 retains a cult following for its accuracy, despite several serious design flaws.” Flaws”, I must point out, that the Wiki entry didn’t address. I can’t locate that entry now, so apparently somebody updated it.
Now that I am older, and still stupid, thanks for asking, my thoughts turned once more to the 788 I had abandoned back in 1973. I was led there not because I nurtured a secret love for the 788, but because I held a much older fascination for the .30-30 Winchester cartridge.
My handloading experience had suggested way back in the 1960s that the rimmed and long-necked 30-30 might be one of the most accurate cartridges ever created, though no evidence to that effect had ever surfaced. In the world of super-short magnums and continual incarnations of the AR 15 in another as-yet undefined 6mm, the only press given to the 30-30 is its dubious distinction of being one of the first cartridges designed for smokeless powder and the unprovable contention that it has harvested more deer than all other cartridges, combined.
I wanted to explore the remote possibility that the 30-30 might also be the best-kept secret in all of firearm-dom. However, there seemed to be a shortage of 30-30 target rifles with which to test my theory. Why is that, do you suppose?
Finding myself without the means to explore my theory, I started looking for rifles that might substitute for the target rifles that were missing. You know what I mean. You can’t locate a single-shot Stevens 44-1/2 in the caliber you are interested in, so you turn to the Remington 40X as a substitute. But there didn’t seem to be a spare 40X rifle in 30-30, either. Likewise the Winchester model 70 Target or a good heavy barrel Sharps seemed not to have been made in the “Thutty-Thutty”. In fact, as I expanded my search it appeared as though there was a plot to keep the 30-30 out of accurate rifle actions altogether.
My 788 in 30-30 at the range, preparing for a baseline test.
Then I stumbled across a vague reference to the Remington 788 that said of all the chamberings, it seemed ideally suited to two—the .44 Remington Magnum and the 30-30 Winchester. It seems that the 788 has a special two-piece bolt for just these two calibers that allows the rear body to rotate while the front remains still. This makes it well-suited to feeding a rimmed case from a box magazine.
That discovery prompted me to revisit the rifle I had abandoned four decades earlier, only this time with some important differences. The 30-30 cartridge is certainly lower in power than the .308 Winchester, so I knew the recoil would be significantly less. In fact, it might turn out that the 788 is more or less right for a cartridge of this power.
It might also be that the 788 was in fact never entirely suited to the .308 cartridge in the same way that the model 19 S&W revolver isn’t entirely suited to full-house .357 Magnum cartridges. It’s true that both of these firearms are safe with the recommended cartridges, but it’s equally true that there are warnings and cautionary tales of undue wear that results from the strain of firing many full-house rounds through them. So, in fact what you have with both the Remington 788 in .308 and the Smith model 19 in .357 Magnum is a gun that’s chambered for a certain cartridge, but for gosh sakes don’t shoot them very much!
The realization that the 788 might be a fine rifle for the 30-30 round caused me to realize that my earlier horrible experience could have been prevented by rational thought. Don’t expect a snubnosed revolver chambered for .500 S&W Magnum to be a good plinker, and don’t think that a Remington 788 in .308 will be anything other than a jaw-slapping headache machine. Suddenly the world came into sharp focus. I understood why everyone was selling their almost-new Marlin .45-70 Camp Rifle with most of the first box of ammo remaining.
But a 788 chambered for the right cartridge might be all the wonderful things ever said about the rifle. And I needed a good accurate 30-30. So I set about obtaining a 788 in 30-30 for what I labeled the 788 Project. That was when I discovered, about 40 years too late, that many other shooters had come to the same conclusion long before I did. Remington 788s in .308 were being given away with a half a pound of cheese. They were being bundled with .22 autoloaders and included in their sales, as in, “Buy this fine Ruger Mark II for $250 and we’ll throw in a like-new Remington 788 in .308. Or you can buy just the pistol, alone, for $300.” That’s how the 788 in .308 fares today. I’m kidding, of course, but not that much.
The same rifle in other more suitable calibers commands some value. Of these, the .44 Magnum is at the top, with horrendous asking prices of $1,000 and more. The 30-30 comes next, with some of them asking up to $750. However, like anything else, if you shop around just a little you can usually do much better. I was able to snag a nice 788 in 30-30 on the internet for just $500, plus shipping and registration. So I have about $575 in the rifle, landed in my gun room.
First trip to the range
It wasn’t long before I made the first trip to the range to sight in-the rifle. Since things were just getting started I used factory ammo and was able to put five rounds in about an inch between centers at 50 yards. During this first session I noted that the recoil was quite mild with the 150-grain factory rounds. It certainly wasn’t causing headaches the way the .308 had.
This 0.973-inch five-shot group was fired by the Remington 788 with Winchester Super-X 30-30 factory ammo at 50 yards. That’s not the cartridge shown.
The Remington factory trigger was heavy, breaking at 4.5 lbs. And it is single-stage—a feature I detest in a rifle I’m shooting for accuracy. Still, the release was very crisp and the blade stopped moving upon firing, which adds crispness to how it feels—at least in my perception.
Remington unfortunately made the 788 trigger non-adjustable, and at the price point they commanded I can understand why. If the 788 trigger could be adjusted to a superior light glass-rod performance, why would anyone have to spend the extra money for a 700?
The trigger of my rifle did not hinder accuracy, so it was left as it came from the factory for the time being. But the wood rifle stock was another matter. Using a dollar bill it was easy to determine that the barrel channel was putting uneven upward pressure on the barrel. The 788 has a thinner barrel that heats up quickly, and nothing brings it out like shooting strings from the bench. So relieving the barrel channel was the next step in the quest for accuracy.
Most shooters agree that a free-floated barrel is more stable than one that contacts the stock — especially in a firearm where the barrel heats up. As the barrel heats it expands, putting variable pressure on the barrel channel, which pushes back in uneven ways. If this happens while you are shooting a group, it will cause the group to open noticeably, which was happening to me during that first trip to the range. The solution is to remove enough wood from the barrel channel that the barrel cannot contact the wood even when it heats up.
Of course a hot barrel isn’t something to strive for, because it will wear much faster than one that is cool. So you still have to wait a reasonable amount of time between shots to keep from overheating the barrel, but there is a special tool made expressly for opening the barrel channel. I used it.
Once the barrel was free-floated I returned to the range with handloaded ammo to see how well the rifle shot. There were four different charges of the same powder, each differing by a half grain weight and every charge hand-weighed. One stood out from all the rest.
The load was a relatively light one of 22.5 grains of H4198 behind a Remington 125-grain pointed soft point bullet. A standard Remington 9-1/2 large rifle primer lit the fuse. This wasn’t an attempt at finding the ultimate load for the rifle, because there were still things to be done to improve how it shot. All I wanted was a good baseline load I could use for comparisons.
This new load gave a 10-shot group measuring 0.824-inches from a rest at 50 yards. That’s hardly earth-shattering, but it is good enough to be a control load as the gunsmithing progresses. I shoot ten-shot groups rather than five-shot groups to save time and confusion. Five-shot groups are rather random when real accuracy is concerned. Ten-shot groups are about 40 percent larger, on average, so there is no need to shoot excessive numbers of them.
Ten-shot 50-yard group
Since I didn’t test the rifle with this ammo before floating the barrel I can’t comment on whether the accuracy improved, but the stability certainly did! On this particular day I shot a total of 50 rounds from the bench to find the best load, and while I did allow the barrel to cool between shots, the rifle exhibited no tendency to open up as more shots were fired. I attribute that result to free-floating.
The best ten-shot 50-yard group with 22.5-grains of H4198 powder and a 125-grain Remington pointed soft point bullet measures 0.824-inches between centers.
With this baseline established I decided to upgrade the trigger. Timney makes a fine drop-in trigger for the 788. It’s modular, adjustable though still single-stage. The ad says that the travel stop can be adjusted, but I haven’t found that feature yet. But after a relatively easy 45-minute installation I now had a trigger that broke at 1 lb. 7 ozs. with certainty.
The safety on the Timney didn’t have adequate clearance and could not be applied when the action was in the stock. The installation instructions warn of this, so it came as no surprise. Once I examined the area of stock that needed to be relieved, a quick touch or two of a Dremel tool with a rasp bit opened things up and got the safety working again.
Was the next step was to glass-bed the action? A friend who had owned a 788 told me that free-floating the barrel was good ju-ju, and glass-bedding put the frosting on the cake. He stressed that the recoil lug was the most important part to be bedded—that the rear of the action wasn’t nearly as critical. He also warned me about the possibility of a recoil lug that wasn’t set at an exact 90-degree angle to the line of the stock. If you glass-bed one like that, it will serve to anchor the action in the hardened bedding compound.
A word about the stock is needed at this point. While a great many 788s have a light-colored hardwood stock without any figure, the earliest ones were made of walnut. Mine is one of those. Fortunately for me, walnut is the softest of the hard woods and perhaps one of the easiest to work. That comes in handy when you have to remove a lot of it for the bedding work.
Why am I telling you all of this in what is supposed to be an airgun blog? Good question and I have a couple answers that I hope are good. First, we have been talking about reloading firearm cartridges and this is a first look at what can be done with a little work. There is more to be done and this 30-30 is an ideal way to proceed.
We are also looking at the AirForce Texan — a big bore rifle that also comes in .308 caliber. Until now I have restricted my remarks to the .458 Texan, but Ton Jones told me he killed a Nilgai antelope on a Texas exotic game ranch with a .308 Texan. It was a one-shot instant kill that dropped the 600+ lb. animal in its tracks. He wasn’t hunting Nilgai that day but one wandered out in front of him while he was looking for several hundred pounds of wild game meat for a large barbecue. His guide argued against the shot, but Ton knew he could put the bullet into the heart-lung area where it would be a humane kill. When he told the guide he would pay the trophy fee if the animal went more than 50 yards the guide said to take the shot and when he did the antelope dropped straight down.
The Nilgai is a large antelope from India that can weigh up to 680 lbs.
I would never recommend going for a 600+ lb. animal with a .308 big bore air rifle, but if that’s all you have it can be done. I have contacted Mr. Hollowpoint to acquire several different bullets for my .458, but he is away on a hunting trip. So I thought I would also test the .308 and .357 Texans, since I have bullet molds for both calibers. This 30-30 test came up as I was researching for that and I thought why not continue to test it, as well? I was going to submit the article to Firearms News, but I am no longer writing for them and this is too good a project to abandon. So you guys get it!
We have covered a lot of territory today. There are two contests for you, plus I have started telling you about my Remington 788 project. I hope you get something from this report.
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