Shortly after writing last month’s column about the current state of the used custom-rifle market, what should fall into my lap but a certified Al Biesen rifle, built on an FN Mauser action.
By accident or serendipity, browsing one of my usual gun-dealer websites, I spied the words “FN Mauser Sporter,” at a pretty reasonable price. It seemed worth a look, so I went to the page and, buried in the description, found that it bore the name “Al Biesen, Gunmaker,” on the barrel. Obviously, the dealer did not realize what he had. He even misspelled Biesen’s name in the description, thereby defeating anyone who might have an automatic search engine scouring the web for Biesen rifles.
The rifle had been listed that very day. The next morning, I called at 9:59 (they open at 10:00), and by 10:04 the rifle was mine.
Briefly, it’s a .270 Winchester on an FN Deluxe action, with a Canjar trigger, three-position wing safety, Oberndorf-style floorplate release, and 22-inch Douglas barrel. The stock is a lovely piece of walnut with contrasting grain underlaid end to end with fiddleback. It has a horn forend tip, checkered steel grip cap, and Pachmayr “Old English” recoil pad. A couple of anomalies: One is the modest Monte Carlo, and the other is glass bedding around the action. The rifle came complete with Redfield mounts and a Leupold Vari-X III 3-9X scope. Total price, including shipping, $2,530, or roughly half to a quarter what that rifle should be worth in an auction.
The checkering job alone is worth the price of admission, being vintage Al Biesen recessed fleur-de-lis, 26 lines per inch. Except for a slight ding here and there, it is pristine.
Biesen was a great craftsman, but people who knew him better than I did — I met him only once, and then very briefly — insist he would have been annoyed to be called an artist. He built rifles for hunting, not to hang on walls or sit in vaults. Every minor function of the rifle is perfect.
Its first time to the range, with an assortment of .270 ammunition, both factory and handloads, it did not fire one errant shot. The largest three-shot group was 1.18 inches, center to center; several groups with a different handload averaged about three-quarters of an inch. A ten-shot group using Tom Turpin’s favorite hunting load of H4831 behind any good 130-grain bullet, was a study in consistency: Seven shots went into 1.27 inches, with three fliers out to the right stretching the group to just under two inches. By this time, the barrel was pretty hot, but those fliers were probably my shooting. There was absolutely no tendency to walk shots up or down as the barrel heated.
I measured the chamber and maximum overall length using three different 130-grain bullets. The SAAMI spec for the .270 is 3.34 inches; with a Nosler Partition, mine is exactly (!) 3.34 inches. Not 3.339, or 3.341. Exactly 3.34. Seated to that length, the base of the bullet is in line with the base of the neck, which according to purist ballistic theory should deliver optimum accuracy.
This kind of technical precision, combined with the wood, workmanship, and finish, is what sets a fine custom hunting rifle apart from even a deluxe factory product. I should add that it has that magical feel when you pick it up, with its slender, slightly pear-shaped forend and slim wrist. It brings a smile to the face of everyone who picks it up. That feature alone is noteworthy, especially in an era when even an expensive “custom” stock is shaped on a duplicating machine, with more consideration given to ease of checkering than to hunting-rifle ideals.
Out of curiosity, I logged onto Gunbroker and typed in “FN Mauser” to see what came up. There were 141 hits, of which about 20 were complete rifles. None came remotely close to the quality of the Biesen, and some were downright horrible, but the opening bids demanded for three of them were more than I paid for my new prize, and one substantially so.
If there’s a lesson in this, it is simply to keep a watchful eye. Even knowledgeable gun dealers can let a gem out of the stable for a pittance from time to time. The trick is to be waiting with your rope when the barn door opens.--Terry Wieland