An interview with Sam Kolb of Bullpacs hunting packs.
By Steve Joseph
Steve Joseph How did Bull Pacs get its start?
Sam Kolb About 20 years ago, some elk hunters out of Lewiston, Idaho, packed out an elk on some rickety old aluminum pack frames and swore there had to be better equipment out there for the job. Their search left them empty-handed, and since they ran a machine shop they decided they’d make their own. After several years and countless hours, they finally fine-tuned a frame that was super strong, pretty lightweight and much more comfortable for those long packs out of the mountains loaded with elk.
Though they weren’t really interested in making that part of their machine shop production, they had the production aspect all figured out. Their mother, Janice, moved back to Lewiston and was looking for work when the business idea was born; the shop would manufacture Bull Pacs and Janice began sewing the components, assembling packs and shipping orders. In 2014, Janice decided she wanted to retire from pack production, and after months of training and passing of the baton, our family moved Bull Pacs to Vancouver, Wash., where we have continued with pack production and started working on new accessories and ideas to go with the Bull Pacs.
SJ What sets Bull Pacs apart from the other packs?
SK We’ve always had a passion for good, solid hunting gear. When I first laid eyes on the Bull Pacs, the solid design and workmanship definitely stood out. Once I tried it on, I loved the way it fit and was convinced it could comfortably handle any load I was able to shoulder. I couldn’t wait until the next season to try it out with a load of elk meat! That was 14 years ago and I have packed thousands of pounds of game on my original Bull Pac, with very few signs of wear and tear. I was actually surprised at just how tough and comfortable Bull Pacs really were, whether packing out elk quarters or just hiking the backcountry in pursuit of the next big adventure!
SJ What about accessories that are available?
SK We have started producing a number of new accessories to outfit new or old packs. Our most popular addition is the rifle mount, which mounts securely to the Bull Pac frame and provides hands-free use when hiking or packing meat, but still allows quick access to ones rifle without removing the pack. We have also developed a decoy extension that allows a person to securely strap on super-tall loads that are otherwise unwieldy to haul around. We have started carrying RAM Mount accessories to facilitate attachment/use of flashlights, Go Pro cameras, spotting scopes and cameras or other similarly threaded electronic equipment. We have a couple different sizes of game bags for bone-in quarters or boned-out meat. We also have Bull Pac Straps for quickly cinching download on the pack frame for hauling meat and/or gear. And we are just finishing up an axe mount similar to the rifle mount to facilitate safe axe hauling. We have several other ideas we are working on, with things to come in the future.
SJ Speaking of, where do you see Bull Pacs heading in the future?
SK We are excited to continue the company’s legacy that’s built on quality, durability and personal customer service that Bull Pacs has provided to the outdoor community for years. While we love the Bull Pac, we are also working on a number of accessories and other innovative adaptations that will make your Bull Pac useful in a number of different applications. We hope to continue to grow as a grass roots pack company that represents solid, no-nonsense gear that gets the job done and doesn’t let you down, for the everyday hunter.
SJ You have a lifetime warranty. How important is that for your customers?
SK We do our best to produce products that will provide decades of worry-free use. What good is a warranty if it craps out on you in the bottom of the canyon? However, as we all know, anything mechanical can break. If you have something break, slip and land on a rock and bust a weld or have something you don’t think held up as it should have, we will happily take care of it and make it right! We pride ourselves on customer service that’s second to none. We treat our customers how we’d want to be treated and don’t make excuses if an issue arises. More people like a company that stands behind their product, and we make sure our customers feel appreciated and are well taken care of!
Fred Zeglin Most importantly, we are staﬀed by highly gun-literate people, but personally, I graduated from the Lassen College Gunsmithing program back in 1984. I have made a living in gunsmithing and custom guns for over 30 years now, and I’ve published two books, Wildcat Cartridges and the Hawk Manual. My next project is to put together several instructional booklets about gunsmithing.
Not too long ago, I was approached by the American Gunsmithing Institute to make instructional video courses, and I created two videos: Taming Wildcats: Custom Cartridge Design and Fabrication and Reloading A to Z. I have both taught and run NRA Short-term Gunsmithing programs, and coordinate and teach the Firearms Technology program at Flathead Valley Community College.
ASJ It sounds like your scope and depth of knowledge is profound!
FZ In a nutshell, I have chambered and headspaced so many barrels that I lost track of the count long ago. Because of my work developing cartridges for clients and for my own interest, I was forced to learn about headspace at a level that most gunsmiths never feel the need to understand. If you’re going to design new cartridges, understanding headspace is essential.
ASJ It sounds like you enjoy teaching. What is your philosophy when working with students?
FZ When you teach classes it’s necessary to carefully break down the processes you’re discussing to make sure you impart the information the students need. This close evaluation of processes will increase your understanding of the subject in a unique way. If you are teaching others how to headspace a barrel, you better know exactly what you’re talking about.
ASJ Your company name is 4D Reamers. Is that all you oﬀer?
FZ We are constantly adding new tools. Right now we have almost a thousand reamers. In addition to that, we have headspace gauges that work with the reamers and a lot of other gunsmithing tools.
ASJ What other tools do you rent?
FZ We have some AR-15 specialty tools, sight installation pusher tools for several popular pistols, shotgun choke tools in several patterns and gauges, hydraulic dentraising tools for shotgun barrels, specialty taps and dies, crowning tools, forcing cone tools and lots more. Essentially, if it’s small enough to ship in the mail, we might well have it.
ASJ Tell us about the quality of your tools.
FZ We’re often asked if the reamers are sharp. I really have to laugh when I hear that question. I understand the reason that people feel the need to ask, but the answer is right in front of them. We have been in business a long time and repeat customers are our life blood. So, we make every eﬀort to keep all the tools in the best possible condition. We want our clients to come back over and over. If we did not provide good tools, this would not happen.
ASJ Who is your typical client?
FZ That’s an interesting question. We have a lot of hobby gunsmiths and guys who just want to ﬁx up one gun. We also serve the professional gunsmith community; professionals rent more tools simply because they have the volume of work.
A few of our professional clients are benchrest gunsmith Gordy Gritters, Pac-Nor Barrels, Jack First Distributors, Brockman’s Riﬂes. You know these folks have great reputations with their clients and they would not do business with us if we did not take good care of their needs for sharp, quality tools.
FZ When tools return they are inspected under magniﬁcation. Most clients are very careful with the tools. They understand that the next time they need a reamer they will want a sharp tool, so being responsible with them is just natural for most clients.
Once in a blue moon a tool will be damaged. What I like about the gun business is that it’s populated with people who are all about personal responsibility. Most are nice enough to call up and tell us there is a problem; some write a note and send it with the tool. In nearly all cases they simply abide by the rental agreement and take care of the damage.
When a tool shows wear and needs to be sharpened, we ship them oﬀ to professionals who specialize in this. We endeavor to make sure every tool is sharp and in good condition. We encourage clients to call right away if they are unhappy for any reason. Happy clients come back, that’s what we want.
ASJ Why do people rent tools when they can buy them?
FZ If we are talking about a hobbyist gunsmith, tools can be rented for a tiny percentage of what they cost to purchase. Save money on tools and you get to do more projects – it’s simple math.
Professionals use us because they often need tools that they will only use once or twice during their whole career. We often hear, “I have a tool box full of reamers that I never use.” Obviously that’s a huge investment in tools that just lay around. Shops will purchase reamers for calibers that are popular in their area. But the one-oﬀ chambers are better handled by ordering a rental. The overhead cost is so much lower and most shops just charge the rental to the client, so there is no investment at all for the shop. Plus, they can oﬀer every chamber we have tools for without buying a single one. If we have 1,000 reamers, they have 1,000 reamers.
ASJ Do you ever sell reamers?
FZ On a custom order basis we do sell reamers and gauges. Most of these orders are for non-standard reamers. Some folks want special dimensions, so custom orders are the best solution to that requirement. We are not a reamer maker, so we buy all of our reamers from the various reamer makers across the country.
We also sell Dakota bolt knobs in ﬁve styles, Dakota grip caps and inserts, Cerosafe chamber casting metal, instructional videos and many other gunsmithing-related products.
ASJ You also sell barrels. Tell me more about that.
FZ We oﬀer custom Savage drop-in barrels. These barrels are for the popular Savage 110 family of bolt actions. There are many places you can order pre-ﬁt Savage barrels, but what we oﬀer is access to our library of reamers. If we have the reamer, you can have a barrel chambered for the caliber. Nobody has as many calibers to choose from as we do.
We will only stock barrels that we know we can count on to be accurate. Blanks are CNC turned to the taper of the client’s preference, and we handle all the chamber and crown work in our shop, so that we can assure a proper set up for accuracy.
Stainless steel and chromoly (blue) steel barrels are both available. We have a small stock of blanks that we list on the web site. Custom orders can be ﬁnished in as little as four to ﬁve weeks, depending on the speciﬁcs of the order, and we are competitive on price.
Our accuracy speaks for itself. We have yet to have a client complaint. I love that ability to provide a high-quality product that surpasses the client’s expectations. ASJ
Editor’s note: For more, see 4-dproducts.com.
If you have ever thought of getting involved in precision shooting, or are already immersed in the Precision Riﬂe Series competition, Bartlein Barrels is an industry name to know. Frank Green, Tracy Bartlein and Andy Kihn, who all previously worked for Kreiger Barrels, founded Bartlein Barrels and built it into what many are familiar with today – and for good reason.
Green sat down and gave us the ins and outs (pun intended) of their process and concepts of what makes them one of the best in the industry.
American Shooting Journal Who are the people behind Bartlein Barrels?
Frank Green We are experienced shooters, reloaders and hunters who have been working in the ﬁrearms industry collectively for over 30 years.
ASJ What is your title and tell us more about your background?
FG My title depends on which hat I’m wearing at the time. For the most part, I would say sales and technical service manager. I also do research and development for gun manufacturers, and riﬂe testing.
ASJ How did Bartlein get involved in the PRS?
FG Well, GA Precision-built riﬂes are used in the PRS more than any other builder, and GAP is one of our top customers. Also, other customers like Wade Stuteville at Stuteville Precision, who used to be one of the lead guys at Surgeon Riﬂes, Surgeon Riﬂes, Accuracy International, Dave Tooley, Marc Soulie at Spartan Riﬂes, Mark Gordon at Short Action Customs and several other makers use our barrels, and not just in PRS. You can ﬁnd our barrels in short- and long-range benchrest, F-Class and Palma matches, high-power riﬂe matches and many others. A lot of people say that we are the go-to barrel maker. Becoming involved in the PRS just happened naturally.
ASJ Why would someone choose your barrels over another maker in the industry?
FG The uniformity in our barrels and bore ﬁnishes are second to none. Our riﬂing machines are so accurate that we can carry the twist rate to the fourth decimal point (example: 11.3642). The process of single-point cut riﬂing is the most stress-free way to riﬂe a barrel. The twist is exact. Other forms of riﬂing can have variances due to the process they use. Also, the bore and groove dimensions are more uniform.
We pre-lap (a smoothing process) our barrels before riﬂing and ﬁnish-lap the barrel after riﬂing. There is no need to ﬁre-lap or conduct any other sort of bore polishing to the barrel. Contrary to what others say, a lapped barrel will not wear out earlier versus an unlapped one. In our experience, our barrels will typically last longer than a button barrel. Our desire is to make the best and be the best.
ASJ What types of barrels do you oﬀer?
FG We oﬀer chrome-moly steel (CM 4140) and stainless steel (SS 416R).
ASJ Which steel do you think is better?
FG Neither, from what we can see. If we had to pick one, we would lean towards the chrome-moly, possibly because it lasts longer, but how long a barrel lasts is subject to many variables: type of powder being used; how it is being shot and cleaned; types of bullets being shot, etc.
ASJ People often ask what “T-style” riﬂing is. Can you explain that?
FG We call it transitional riﬂing, but some refer to it as either gain twist, progressive twist or incremental twist. We can cut virtually any twist into a barrel, subject to tooling, of course, and we can start the twist at 1 in 14 and end up at 1 in 7, and have it uniformly increase from the breech to muzzle. We can also increase it very slowly, say, from 1 in 7.5 at the breech to a 1 in 7 at the muzzle.
“A cut barrel, even with a straight twist, is more uniform and consistent than a button barrel”
ASJ What are the beneﬁts of the transition-style riﬂing?
FG I’ll quote a great bygone-era barrel maker named Pope:
“The advantages of the gain twist are three: A) A lower twist rate at the breech gives less friction to the bullet, causing it to start easier and quicker, giving the powder less time to burn in front of the chamber, therefore less fouling than in a barrel with a uniform twist at the same muzzle pitch; B) The slight change in riﬂing angle, in connection with choke bore, eﬀectively shuts oﬀ any gas escaping and prevents gas cutting, which is another cause of imperfect delivery; C) It holds a muzzle-loaded bullet in position much better than a uniform twist.
I will add some more to this. First, I feel this applies more to a lead-bullet shooter than a jacketed-bullet shooter, but some of the why and why-nots do overlap. With a transition-style barrel the bullet cannot go to sleep. The riﬂing is always putting a fresh bite on the bullet as it goes down the bore of the barrel. This is why I always go back to a cut barrel being better than a button barrel.
A cut barrel, even with a straight twist, is more uniform and consistent than a button barrel. With button riﬂing, the button can hit a hard or soft spot in the steel, and it will slow the button down. The button could speed back up and complete its twist, but either way you end up with a non-uniform twist. This and a twist that keeps getting slower towards the muzzle are accuracy killers and consistently lead to problems such as ﬂiers. Even a slight gain in twist will help accuracy and not hurt a jacketed bullet. What has been conveyed to us – and this goes back to Pope’s ﬁrst point – is that shooters have noticed that they can run a slightly heavier powder charge versus a shooter with a straight twist barrel.
“More damage is done from cleaning than physically shooting the gun”
ASJ There are a lot of diﬀerent schools of thought on cleaners, and what types to use. What do you recommend?
FG We do not recommend things like Iosso bore paste. The paste cleaners get imbedded into the bore, so the next rounds ﬁred through the barrel will damage the bore. There is no way to be sure you have removed it completely from the barrel after cleaning, and some shooters have claimed that their barrel starts fouling right after use. We feel so strongly about this that we will not warranty any barrel cleaned with it. If you want to use a paste-type cleaner, we recommend Remington bore cleaner or JB.
ASJ What about cleaning brushes, do you recommend using them?
FG We only recommend using cleaning patches and solvent. If a shooter insists on using a brush, then we recommend one caliber smaller or an old worn-out one. Wrap a patch around the brush and push it breech to muzzle, unscrew the brush before pulling the cleaning rod back through the bore or over the crown. More damage is done from cleaning than physically shooting the gun.
ASJ Many shooters don’t even clean their riﬂes, and swear by this. What do you think?
FG I shoot them, I clean them, and the biggest reason is carbon fouling. The carbon fouling will keep building up and can cause pressure issues. Also, as the barrel wears over time, it won’t hold accuracy as long between strings of ﬁring. So you have to clean the barrel. I do not recommend not cleaning at all.
ASJ Frank, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Your knowledge and expertise are greatly appreciated.
FG My pleasure. Thank you. ASJ