My 284 Shehane is my favourite rifle, built as a mountain rifle for hunting further and deeper into the Alpine in the search of elusive Sambar deer, it has achieved its performance goals and then some. I’ve chronicled its development on social media, as well as in prior posts focusing on my decision making process. Now looking back, I couldn’t be happier with each and every decision. So as I sit down to some venison chorizo, I decided it was well time to report on getting the rifle built and the initial load development. Especially as the next post is all about the rifles first journey into the Victorian high country and the subsequent spoils of that adventure.
‘Building’ the 284 Shehane
After all the mountain rifle planning (checkout the detailed post on that process here) possibly the worst part of any new rifle build began, the ordering and waiting for parts. First up was getting a new Gen3 Bolly UPH carbon stock made, thankfully as I was utilising a Tikka T3 action I avoided having to wait for the rifle to be bedded as the Gen3’s come with integral carbon fibre bedding block, carbon recoil lug and moulded in carbon pillars.
Then onto the first challenge being the barrel. As the 284 Shehane was intended to utilise modern high BC projectiles I needed a fast twist (1:8) barrel and 26″ of it, turns out there wasn’t one coming on the next Australian bound shipment. So after many calls both locally and internationally I finally managed to source one, well actually 3. They were months away and would only barely arrive in time so I needed everything absolutely ready so that it would be as pain free as possible for the gunsmith. Making sure you have all the components ready to go before taking up space in your local gunsmiths storage dramatically improves the chances of it getting done quickly. Hopefully with a local supplier of Proof carbon barrels, this will be the last of the supply issues of these fantastic barrels.
With that covered and with the reality I was looking at a long wait time, I took the opportunity to organise some hard to get Norma factory 284 brass and a custom die set from Whidden. Both the Brass and dies are of exceptional quality and I cannot complement either brand enough especially with dealing direct with Whidden Gunworks, absolutely fantastic customer service and patience. I also took the time to install an Atlasworxs alloy OTM trigger guard along with a Lumley Titanium Bolt handle and Carbon fibre bolt knob to my Tikka action. To finish the action off nicely and to get the most out of my scope, I fitted a 20moa Tier one picatinny rail. Then finally the package arrived, 3 proof barrels, 2×26″ 1:8 .284 and 1×24″ 1:8 .284.
All the pieces, Stainless Tikka T3 Action, Bolly UPH gen3 Carbon Stock, Proof Carbon Barrel, Whidden Dies and Norma 284 brass.
With it all in hand I grabbed the APA M18x1 Little Bastard brake off my Ritter and Stark SLX as I wanted interchangeability with that rifles accessories (Little Bastard purchased from the good folks at Huntsman Firearms who do their best to keep the APA brakes in stock and should definitely be the guys you call when looking for your next self timing muzzle brake) and quickly drove up to Ziersch Custom Rifles (ZCR) so he could put it all together. I also want to note that I had a number of rounds pre-seated in the 284 Norma brass so ZCR could optimise a short throat for me for optimum accuracy out of lighter projectiles while I was still fire forming.
Thankfully with all the pre-emptive discussions and ensuring that I had absolutely everything ready to go ZCR finished the rifle in good time. I wasted no time fitting the Tangent Theta 315M optic using Porter Machine Works 30mm Low rings (all the details on the chosen scope can be found here). Then connect my favourite bipod (Atlas PSR), strap on the triad stock pack (an essential piece of hunting equipment, not for lifting the cheek piece but for simply having a handy ammunition carry on the rifle) and begin load development.
284 Shehane Load Development
If you build a rifle with tier one components utilising a gunsmith who builds internationally competitive rifles, you always hope for match grade performance and considering the builder my expectations were high, thankfully ZCR’s expectations of their own work is higher still. ZCR simply did a phenomenal job with the rifle (as he always does) and was a pleasure to deal with. With what I think is absolute mountain rifle perfection in my hands I utilised my impatience to justify purchasing 2 boxes of factory 284 Winchester ammunition which happened to be on the shelf at my go to gunshop, Fisher Firearms. My logic at the time being that I could shoot the rifle the same day I got it, zero the scope without wasting bergers (which were and still are in very short supply!!) and that the Winchester cases would be useful for developing a high pressure, high velocity 284 Shehane load without having to wait to finish fire forming my 284 Norma cases.
I did a quick barrel clean just in case something nefarious had hidden in the barrel from the workshop, bore-sighted and then fired the first round at a large piece of paper with a single central aiming mark set 40m away. My procedure is to then aim at the aim point and dial to the impact. To check for copper fouling I cleaned the rifle and was pleasantly surprised by minimal copper. I then moved across to a target at 90m (98 yards) which was a large blank piece of paper and fired 5 shots with my first impact being my aim point. The result was a complete shock, 5 shots into .5moa, with the 4 shots after the initial punching a crazy .25moa group, .25moa to the right of my initial impact and point of aim, just ludicrous! This was only a taste of what was to come thanks to ZCR’s exceptional gunsmithing and the proof barrel. I will point out that I didn’t clean the rifle during the 5 shot string or after it, with a quality cut rifled barrel I clean it when its dirty and don’t subscribe to ‘break in’ procedures with modern barrels.
With the promise shown from a couple random boxes of factory 284 ammunition I headed to the reloading bench. I set the die to match the planned fire forming round the rifle was chambered for and primed the first 12 cases with plain old Federal blue box 210 primers. Without much planning I got the charge master to throw a dozen charges in 3 charge weights .5 grains apart of 2213SC. I then seated the 168gr Berger VLD hunting projectiles and trundled down to my shooting spot and setup a target at 106m (116yards). My Plan was to find a best guess for where a node with the 168 Berger’s and virgin brass was. My plan from there was to refine and finish load development of ‘fireforming loads’ so that I could hunt with the virgin 284 Norma brass. I was hoping to avoid having to do a round of load development with the cases improved to 284 Shehane, prior to my rapidly approaching alpine Sambar hunting trip.
Speaking with ZCR and after much research all indications were that fire forming 284 Winchester to 284 Shehane was not one that suffered poor accuracy, re-enforced by reports of many world competitive F class shooters actually fire forming during major matches and winning! What followed with my first 12 reloads was still cause for surprise, celebration, then gratitude and respect for ZCR’s workmanship. The worst group was 0.5MOA. I wasn’t even using match primers which in my experience have better SD’s and better accuracy.
Time was short so after zeroing the scope for 56.5 gr loads I loaded up a batch at that charge, cleaned the rifle for the third time and headed to the gong at 400m to see how much vertical was in the group (giving me a real SD) and also to get a firm estimate on muzzle velocity.
It was during this shooting session that my appreciation for the Tangent Theta 3-15×50 entered new heights, I was already a fan of the Gen2 XR for long range hunting, but that reticle coupled with the insanely good glass of the Tangent Theta and simply the best turrets I have ever used, I’m now one of those guys who will look anyone in the eye and state with conviction, Tangent Theta make the best scopes in the world.
Recoil management with the APA little bastard was superb despite being a 30cal brake on a .284 and I was easily able to spot my own shots, shooting 5 into the upper left corner of the target. Despite the wind picking up a bit, being time poor before the hunt it was a case of simply putting the elevation difference into the Kestrel calculating a new estimate for muzzle velocity, dialling for the increasing wind and then going again. To then manage a .2mil/0.688moa into the centre of the target, it was all looking very promising. I still smile just thinking about the minimal vertical in the group and now with an estimated muzzle of 2800fps (while fire forming!), it was time to true the velocity as best I could at 850m
Initially at 850m, I was worried it was all falling apart, 5 shots at the target, no impacts and couldn’t see a single splash to assist with the corrections. Checked the wind with the kestrel and the range with the TerrapinX, the worry and doubt crept in, the only thing I could think of was the velocity was off and I was hopefully just hitting soft ground. So in the jeep and drove up and around to the target to find a scene of happiness, a 5 round divot just above the target in the soft earth. Perfect, I was going faster than I had initially estimated from the 400m target.
Back down to the 850m line, recalculated with a MV of 2846 and sent another 3. First was an impact, then the second connected as well, then I got cocky and didn’t pay attention to the increasing wind condition. The kestrel probably tried to warn me, but if you don’t look at what it is saying then it is of little use and the third shot went left, no matter, I saw the splash and it was inline with the target. 2846fps it was and I was ecstatic with the rifle, the scope, the barrel, everything. The rifle was doing everything I wanted it to and to knock a sub MOA target around with less than 60 shots down the barrel at 850m was a massive relief considering I was heading to the alpine on a 5 day hunt, 3 days after this test!
With that, I was done, I was ready to drive 12 hours east with my new rifle that I was already incredibly happy with for a 5 day backpack hunt in the Alpine National park of Victoria in search of the ghosts of the Australian bush, Sambar deer… or as I also like to call em, venison sausages and small goods.