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Firearm enthusiasts all share the same weakness, of which owning only 1 gun is probably our biggest. There is always a good reason for another gun and every sales person understands the need to have user friendly “spouse” paperwork.

Whether we own a custom gun or not, all aspire to the art and functionality of individually built fine guns. Why spend that much money on a fine gun? The only poor person is a person who only has money and no fine guns.

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Pioneering and innovative gun designs

It is not unusual for Ales Spendal to lie awake at night contemplating innovative designs for his next proto-type custom gun. It is probably fair to say that his overriding design criteria is lightweight and elegance. Whatever Ales does, his goal is to set new standards in fine custom guns. Let’s take a look at his latest pioneering build.

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Ales chose a 308 Winchester caliber to make a rifle weighing in at a hair over 2 kg without a scope. The gun shoots sub MOA groups at 100 m using factory ammunition (RWS 165 grain HIT). Both lighter and heavier bullets are accurate in this rifle, but Ales chose 165 grain in order to get the Kahles ballistic turret rings made.

Spendal round body 308W

The Kahles Helia 3 was an obvious choice. A small elegant gun needs a classy elegant looking scope. The Helia 3 with illuminated reticles has set new standards in 1″ scopes. Ales Spendal and Kahles have much in common when it comes to pioneering groundbreaking new products. Look at the lines of this gun without optics.

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The gun is a single breakdown gun with inside mechanism. Many Europeans ask Ales to make guns with hammers because of the nostalgia associated with the history of a hammer system. The Powder Keg requested an inside mechanism with opening by means of the lever under the trigger guard.

Spendal round body weighing 2kg

The engraving is “simple but elegant”, the product of master engravers from Ferlach Austria. Their is a small head of a Chamois, chosen because The Powder Keg considered this particular gun more marketable in Europe (single action breakdown type). The gun was primarily built as The Powder Keg signature gun to get more women involved in hunting and sport shooting, hence we consider South Africa to be a big potential also.

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The straight stock design and 308 W caliber ensures that this light gun is easy to shoot (minimal recoil). The gun is threaded for a muzzle break (included). Shooting with the break compares to shooting a .22 caliber. Spendal guns are made with high grade exhibition stocks; I have come to take this for granted and almost forget to reference it.

Spendal Royal Combo

The 500 NE by Ales Spendal is a familiar icon of The Powder Keg; seen in our adverts and on our stationary. Ales intended for this big bore to be paired with a 12/12 side by side and to be called the Spendal Royal Combo. Given the high investment of the “Combo” I negotiated with Ales at the time to break the “Combo” and for me to buy the 500 NE stand alone.

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This unique custom big bore helped The Powder Keg establish a leadership reputation in big bore and custom guns. That success has now allowed The Powder Keg to purchase the 12/12 side by side and to complete the original intent of a Spendal Royal Combo. The shotgun remained in a “white” condition after I broke the “Combo”, which allowed The Powder Keg to participate in the final engraving.

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The same engraver from Ferlach Austria who engraved the 500 NE engraved the 12/12 side by side. This is a work of art carried out by the best. The 12/12 side by side is again part of the original intent of Ales, a Spendal Royal Combo.

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It does not get any better than this “Combo”. The Powder Keg and the worlds finest gun maker joined to make the “Combo” a reality for generations to marvel on. Why a COMBO and not a PAIR? Ales never produces any two guns the same, that is his stamp of authenticity of what hand made and custom guns should be.

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It is hardly possible to think how such a COMBO could be further enhanced. Below are two Herucus Blomerus custom knives hand engraved by the same engraver to match the engraving of the COMBO.

Knives Combo

Ales Spendal was at Huntex 2017 to meet and talk with customers.  This Ales Spendal Royal Combo and Herucus Blomerus knives were on display.

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Grulla Family Pair

The Powder Keg has invested in a GRULLA FAMILY PAIR to showcase. A Pair is typically 2 identical shotguns, the intention is that the shooter always has a spare that fits and shoots the same. The Powder Keg philosophy of family put the emphasis on a pair of shotguns for 2 generations of family like “father and son” or “husband and wife”.

216RB CAL12 310311508

We chose a combination 12/12 and 20/20 side by sides with round body side lock actions. Our selection was biased to a parent and child combination, although today the 20 Gauge popularity is soaring; and so is the popularity of the traditional side by side.

216RB 310300813 .

The model selected was the Grulla 216 RB (round body) with Purdey style engraving. Our selection included a higher quality wood and cased in leather cases.

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Round body side lock actions are in our opinion more modern than the traditional square body actions and given our focus on younger generations we opted for the more modern round body. The round body is also in my opinion more sleek and elegant.

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Visit The Powder Keg and see Grulla shotguns and bolt actions available for sale; also sold off a price list and made to order. The approximate time to complete a shotgun is 6 months; The Powder Keg prepares the import approval in this time so that the shipment can leave immediately that the guns are completed.

Awesome 9.3 mm calibres

The Powder Keg ammunition boxes

The Powder Keg ammunition boxes

I started off this blog with the title “my favorite caliber” but recognized the ridiculousness of the definition being an owner of many calibers which I enjoy; and the different application needs. I was immediately in “no man’s land”. But this introduction does give flavor to how much I enjoy the 9.3 x 62 in bolt action and the 9.3 x 74R in double guns. I should add that my favorite SA hunting caliber is a 375 H&H.

Having lived in Europe for the past 11 years I have developed an affiliation for European calibers. The 9.3mm calibers are suitable for all European large game, including pigs and bear. Europeans shoot primarily for meat hence meat damage is a critical decision factor that hunters evaluate.  Wild boar or brown bear are dangerous animals when wounded and most hunters prefer to err on the side of a heavier caliber.

Shooting range Ljubljana Slovenia

Shooting range Ljubljana Slovenia

Let me start off with a “like” that is less relevant to production rifles; the ability to custom make a 9.3 x 74R double in a sleek, slim, elegant light design because of the smaller action and lower recoil than say the 375 H&H. I don’t like big heavy guns and with the 9.3 x74R you can custom build a slim light design gun with normal recoil and proven killing effectiveness. For the same reasons I like a 20 gauge shotgun. The short action of the “equivalent” 9.3 x 62 cartridge in bolt action is particularly useful also.

Spendal 9.3x74R double - elegance takes on a different meaning. Likely owners would part with their spouses before parting with this double:)

Spendal 9.3x74R double – elegance takes on a different meaning. Likely owners would part with their spouses before parting with this double:)

More relevant to aspiring owners of a standard gun in 9.3mm caliber is the inherent accuracy. I am yet to find one that cannot shoot 1 cm groups. Ales Spendal told me yesterday that he would be pig hunting with a Merkel Helix rifle and a Delta scope for press reviews. We did not have time to develop loads but I suggested we try 2 loads using Peregrine bullets and see how it does. Without changing the dies which were set-up for my guns, I loaded Peregrine VGR3 bush masters 250 grain using 57 grains of Vihtavouri N150.

Ales Spendal shooting the 9.3x62, using a Delta scope - Delta optics fast becoming the GoTo choice in the value segment of optics.

Ales Spendal shooting the 9.3×62, using a Delta scope – Delta optics fast becoming the GoTo choice in the value segment of optics.

We just back from the range, the results prompted me to write a blog that I had long threatened to write. The group was 1/2 cm (photo included).

3 shot group - 9.3x62 - Peregrine VGR3 250GR

3 shot group – 9.3×62 – Peregrine VGR3 250GR

Another 3 shot group loaded with 58 grains of VV N150 was almost as good, but not being sure of velocities we will stay on 57 grains (we forgot to delete previous readings on the MagnetoSpeed V3 ballistic chronograph).  Having spare factory ammunition and realizing our mistake we then tested the speed of a premium brand and found much lower speeds than advertised and speed variations of 15%. Readers probably don’t get excited with such results but I do because these facts collaborate opinions. I have strong opinions but I always adapt to facts.  My observations:

  • Load for a 9.3mm calibre if you want to maximize effectiveness. Generally I have found factory loads tested to be substantially below their published velocities,
  • Peregrine VGR3 bullets are proven reliability in the field. Add to this the exceptional accuracy I have achieved with first load attempts in every instance! This could be luck or that the bullets are “load friendly”, either way I just get more hooked on Peregrine VGR3,
  • Peregrine recommend a seating depth on the first “ring” but because I have loaded with existing die set-ups the bullet seating was always further out. With the flat nose I have never had an issue with magazine capacity or compressed loads.

Ales Spendal and I have a few things in common, we are both perfectionists, principle based, disciplined and we only sell what we believe in and shoot.  This is the reason that I can represent The Powder Keg brands with passion. What Ales and I do not share in common is technical skills.  He is an artist, a technical and machining wizard whereas there is no choice of words of how useless I am in this sphere 🙂

My favorite medium bore hunting rifle in Europe

The Stutzen is light and short, ideal for many European hunting conditions

The Stutzen is light and short, ideal for many European hunting conditions

I must start off with the qualification of “favorite”, I am referring specifically to my hunting rifle and not custom guns that I keep for the pleasure of their art. The Blaser K95 Stutzen fitted my criteria for a short and light gun, ideal for maneuverability in a hide, especially in the dark. I wanted a rifle that was a pleasure to carry in the mountains at elevations above 1000 m for the hunting of Chamois (Gams). Shooting from a hide does not require numerous shots and hence my preference for a single shot breakdown gun. If needed I can reload quickly, be it not as fast as a bolt action rifle.

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Further benefits of a short breakdown rifle is the transport convenience, my Stutzen fits perfectly into the shorter Blaser soft case for local transport or the standard Attache hard case for more arduous travel conditions. This may not seem such an advantage to many but I can assure you when 5 of us travel in one vehicle to Croatia to hunt – space matters.

The short Blaser soft case is ideal for local hunting transport

The short Blaser soft case is ideal for local hunting transport

The Attache model comes standard with a hard case, ideal for travel. A breakdown gun allows for a small case

The Attache model comes standard with a hard case, ideal for travel. A breakdown gun allows for a small case

Having decided to buy a Blaser K95 Stutzen I had to choose the caliber. Ales Spendal tried hard to convince me not to buy a 7x57R and to rather buy a 7x64R which he said was more powerful and versatile than the 7x57R. I wanted a classic European caliber and they don’t come more classic than a 7×57. The R is simply a cartridge with a rim that facilitates grip for extraction because typically these guns are not fitted with automatic extractors. Being an avid reloader I knew that I could load a 7x57R to do the same or more than standard factory ammunition in a 7×64.

Being a short barrel I wanted a caliber with less case capacity to ensure 100% powder burn. This can be achieved with fast burning powders in bigger cases but where possible I avoid half filled cases or the need for fillers. I am not averse to high recoil but if not necessary, why? The Stutzen is a short light gun, more effected by recoil and muzzle blast than a longer heavier barrel. In the caliber 7x57R there is minimal recoil and muzzle blast. I have never regretted that 7x57R was my caliber of choice.

GS Custom 120gr 2950 fts and Peregrine VGR3 150gr 2600 fts. The bushmasters shoot 1" higher at 100m

GS Custom 120gr 2950 fts and Peregrine VGR3 150gr 2600 fts. The bushmasters shoot 1″ higher at 100m

Before I got to know and use Peregrine bullets I was on a path of standardization on GS Custom bullets because I liked the idea of banded bullets and the lower pressures. I loaded my 7x57R with HV 120 grains and easily reached 3000 fps out of a 20″ barrel. I settled at 2950 fps and the gun shoots like “hell” – the target on the left shows a 4 bullet group at 100 m. I do allow barrel cooling between shots.

When I arrived to hunt Chamois with this short rifle the guide of more than 30 years experience was very skeptical and even more so when I said that I only had 4 rounds. There could be winds at the high elevations. We climbed the mountain in the darkness of morning and reached the peak dividing Slovenia and Austria at first light. With the help of a ballistic turret I shot the Chamois at 320m.

Chamois shot at an elevation of 1600m on the mountain peak that divides Slovenia & Austria. Shot at 320m with my 7x57R Stutzen using premium bullets

Chamois shot at an elevation of 1600m on the mountain peak that divides Slovenia & Austria. Shot at 320m with my 7x57R Stutzen using premium bullets

I recall setting the ballistic turret with Ales Spendal; at the same time he was setting the ballistic turret of a 300 Win Mag. None of us could believe that a 7x57R with a 20″ barrel was more flat shooting that the 300WM at a distance of 300m, proven by the fact that we adjusted for less clicks at 300m with the 7x57R than for the 300WM (be it only 1). Off-course further out it would change with the sectional density of a 300WM bullet. My 7x57R set at 100m, 4 clicks up at 200m, 4 more clicks up at 250m and 5 more clicks up at 300m!

Having got to know Peregrine bullets I fell in love with the Bushmaster range for European hide and pig hunting. I loaded 150 grains VGR3 and reached 2600 fps without any pressure signs. I am sensitive to write this because by the time you see signs of high pressure you have already overstepped the mark. I normally test rounds at a higher velocity and settle back on a lower velocity for safety. I like that GS Custom and Peregrine bullets allow this option because their accuracy is much less sensitive to velocity changes than traditional bullets.

I was fortunate that the 150 gr Peregrine bushmasters shoot precisely 1″ higher than the 120 gr GS Custom bullets at 100m so I don’t need to change scopes or scope settings when switching between the two loads. Also, I got awesome hunting accuracy the first time without changing the seater die setting! I leave the ballistic turret set for the HV 120 gr because anyway I only opt for bushmasters at shorter shooting distances. I dropped a pig with the bushmasters without the pig moving an inch. The main reason that I have moved from GS Custom to Peregrine (both are great) is that in some calibers I experienced “problematic” concentricity on seating GS Custom bullets. I came to the conclusion that the greater bearing surface of Peregrine bullets eradicated this problem. Also I love the flat point Bushmaster for instant knockdown results.

Night vision fitted to front of scope, no need to sight in. You see your own scope reticle

Night vision fitted to front of scope, no need to sight in. You see your own scope reticle

The main accessory I use on my 7x57R is a night vision which attaches to the front of the scope. The use of night vision is mostly illegal but there are places that it can be used for certain applications. It is rare to shoot pigs from a hide before darkness. The same for brown bear. I chose a night vision model that had the versatility to attach to different rifle scopes and without any need for setting or changing the setting of the scope. The picture below gives some indication of the size of the night vision.

the night vision just looks big against the backdrop of a Stutzen

the night vision just looks big against the backdrop of a Stutzen

Another feature I added to the stock of my Stutzen is the magazine carrier in the butt of the stock. My GS Custom loads are too long to fit but this can easily be fixed. I have procrastinated in remedying because the Peregrine bushmasters fit perfectly. I like this feature for hunting in Europe because you seldom need more than 4 bullets. A driven pig hunt is different but then I don’t use a single shot breakdown gun on a driven pig hunt. I waited and then chose a Chamois engraved pistol grip cap from Blaser to remind me of the first quarry taken with this rifle.

A smart accessory that ensures you never arrive at the hunt without ammunition

A smart accessory that ensures you never arrive at the hunt without ammunition