Decision to hold ‘old-style .22 match’ leads to an adventure in restoring legendary Stevens single-shot.STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT
Among the guys I shoot with, there is an increasing interest in old or old-style .22 rifles. The guns we like the most are the old single-shots, such as those made by Stevens, Remington and several other makers. One friend of mine said he thought that the popularity of shooting .22s would rise in the near future, and our feelings and interests certainly follow what that friend had predicted.
The reason .22s are being focused on in this black powder column is simple: most .22 rimfires can be considered black powder cartridges. The .22 Short is our oldest self-contained metallic cartridge, appearing in the first Smith & Wesson revolver in 1857. The .22 Long followed within a few years, and in 1885, the greatest cartridge of them all was introduced: the .22 Long Rifle. Both the .22 Long and the .22 Long Rifle used 5 grains of black powder and the only real difference between those two cartridges is their bullet weight, usually 29 grains for the Long and 40 grains for the Long Rifle.
There are kits available for reloading .22 Long Rifle cases with black powder. I have not tried one of those yet, but now I’m thinking that I should. If I do get to use one of those reloading kits, a report is likely to follow.
WITHIN OUR SMALL clan of black powder cartridge shooters, one of the guys thought about putting on an “old-style .22 match.” We talked, and then set about putting such a match together. Our plans included two novelty paper targets (a “turkey” and a “beer can”) to be shot at from just 25 yards, shooting offhand. Five or 10 shots would be taken at each of those targets. Then we’d move to 50 yards for a bull’s-eye target, which would be shot at from the sitting position while using cross-sticks for muzzle support. The bull’s-eye target would absorb another 10 shots.
The paper targets would be followed by another 10 or 20 shots, taken offhand again, at various gongs and clangers for a plinking portion of this informal match. For our little band of shooters, this match would consume 40 to 50 rounds of .22 Long Rifle ammo and it shouldn’t take more time than just the morning. Shooters would be awarded with meat or other prizes, similar to what we give out as prizes in our more common black powder cartridge or muzzleloader matches.
At this point, the old-style .22 matches are still a subject of thought. Although we did have one match scheduled, it had to be cancelled because of the virus shutdown. We still hope to have it, perhaps later this year. That rescheduling simply gives us more time to iron out any details, in addition to getting some fine .22 rifles for shooting in the match. One rifle I had never owned is a Stevens Favorite, a .22 that I have admired for several years. Others in our group were buying used Favorites, mostly the Model 1915, and using them as-is or having the old guns restored. A restored Favorite seemed to me a perfect way of getting well-equipped for more good .22 shooting.
THAT IDEA LED to my search for a used old Stevens Favorite Model 1915 and I found one for just over $200. A friend looked at it and, having a well-studied background in the details of Stevens Favorites, told me my gun is a “parts gun,” made up from parts on hand, which is just fine with me. This one has the part octagon barrel, which I do prefer. Other Favorites had either round or full octagon barrels. And on my gun, the outside of the barrel was in better shape than the bore. Actually, the bore of this old, well-used .22 wasn’t that bad, but the chamber area had some disturbing pits in it. When the gun was fired, those pits in the chamber made extraction of the fired case rather difficult.
The pitted chamber was quickly cured by simply relining the barrel. That was inexpensive and it gave me a Favorite with a brand-new bore. This old rifle was too far gone to be considered a collector’s item, so relining the bore was a completely positive move; it brought new life to the old gun and made it serviceable once more.
At least, it would be serviceable for younger eyes. The rear sight on the barrel was just a little too close to my eye for me to see it clearly. To fix that, a new Marble’s tang sight was ordered for the old Favorite from CPA Rifles (cparifles.com). Peep sights are my favorites and I’m quite happy that CPA Rifles had a sight in stock for this favorite to wear.
BUT BEFORE MOUNTING the Marble’s tang sight on the rifle, I boxed up the gun and sent it to C. Sharps Arms to have the barrel reblued and the action color casehardened. This rifle would have far more value to me as a shooter in restored condition than as a relic from the past that looked like it should have had better care. There was a little metal work that needed to be taken care of too and I knew my friends at C. Sharps Arms, particularly Pat Dulin, would see that things were done correctly. I gave Pat only general instructions of what I wanted done; how to do it and how well it could be done were up to him.
You might remember that C. Sharps Arms restored a Remington rolling block in .50-70 caliber for me. Actually, this .22 is the fifth rifle I’ve sent to the company for restoration, including three rolling blocks that I’ve rebuilt and sent to them for bluing and color casehardening. I’ve always been well pleased with their work. If you have any questions about restoring an old rifle, contact them at csharpsarms.com.
One thing that was not discussed with Pat was how long the restoration of this .22 might take. So I was highly surprised when it came back to me after only two or three weeks! (We can’t count on that happening every time, due to their workload.) To me, this rifle looks fantastic and I do appreciate the work that was put into it. Also, that “little metal work” that I mentioned was fixed perfectly. (Some terrible engraving had to be removed.) Getting the gun back so soon was a very pleasant surprise.
THE NEXT THING to do was to shoot this new-looking rifle. That was done the next morning, and a box of CCI standard-velocity .22 Long Rifle ammo was taken along. Getting the tang sight adjusted for both windage (those Marble’s sights are windageadjustable) and elevation was no trouble, once I figured out which way to make the adjustments.
Then bullets from the little rifle just seemed to pour through the middle of the target. That’s the only paper target shot at with this rifle so far, but more will be coming. And there was no chance of going back home with any unfired cartridges.
All of the remaining ammo was fired at gongs and clangers from 25 to 100 yards, getting hits often enough to feel quite successful. Of course, I give all of the credit for those hits to the rifle. Now I call this rifle “My Favorite” and I can’t completely relate how pleased I am with this little gun. It certainly will see action when we get that old-style .22 match up and running.
In fact, this .22-caliber Stevens Favorite is giving me so much shooting pleasure that I don’t understand why I waited so long to get one.