Years ago, Gary Larson, author of the comic strip The Far Side, published a panel showing two bears in the woods, standing over a rifle lying on the ground. One bear says to the other, “Thunderstick? You actually said, Thunderstick? That, my friend, is a Winchester .30-06.” Rifle loonies normally define any rifle by the same characteristics, the maker and the chambering, though not necessarily in that order. Usually the answers are obvious, such as a Winchester .30-06. Occasionally, however, they are not. The more “advanced” among us can often identify the parts used in what we term a “custom rifle,” but still have no idea who made it.
Among the first of my several “mystery rifles” appeared a decade ago on the used rack of a local store, and was glaringly identifiable in many ways, including its historic era, the 1950s and ’60s. The stock was made out of finely-figured walnut in what many called the “California style,” with a high “rollover” cheekpiece, the top cresting like a wave on Malibu Beach, and a “hooked” pistol grip separated by a white-line spacer from its zebra-wood cap with an ebony diamond inletted into the center.
In many California stocks, the forend tip was made of the same wood as the grip cap, angled at 45 degrees both at front and rear. Instead, this heavy-barreled rifle was apparently made to shoot off sandbags, with an uncheckered beavertail forend with flared sides vaguely resembling a canoe. There were no sling swivels or studs to hang up on bags during recoil, perhaps causing fliers.
While obviously very well crafted, I long ago came under the influence of Jack O’Connor, who claimed California-style stocks gave him “a case of the vapors” (according to one dictionary an archaic term for several mental conditions). The rifle’s action, a Model 1936 Mexican Mauser, intrigued me far more, since I was still occasionally turning old military Mauser actions into sporting rifles. At one time, good Mexican actions were desired for making custom sporters, since they were small-ring actions, designed around the 7x57 Mauser, and lighter than standard large-ring 98 actions, so could be made into light big-game rifles.
The action on the rifle was nicely “sporterized,” featuring a bolt handle with a checkered, hollow knob filled with the same walnut as the stock. The safety lever alongside the tang indicated a modern, adjustable trigger. The barrel was stamped “243,” with no decimal point or last name. I knew the action alone was worth at least $500, and the price tag read $350, so I bought the rifle with the intention of rebarreling and restocking the action.
However, I was still curious about the gunsmith, so I removed the stock to look for any indication. There was none, but a search of the “Custom Rifles” sections in my old Gun Digest annuals resulted in two rifles with stocks shaped much the same way, including the forend. They were made by Anthony Guymon, a custom gunsmith in Bremerton, Washington, from the late 1940s to early 1960s, and an internet search came up with a few more.
Many Guymon rifles were elaborately carved, or made of very contrasting laminated wood. Apparently, he did mark his rifles, including using custom-ordered Pachmayr recoil pads, and his catalogs called them “Guns of Distinction.” None of these details precisely fit my rifle, except for what Guymon called the “streamlined” forend. However, he also ran a gunsmithing school, and it may have been made by a student.
The trigger resembled a Timney, with the works between two pieces of sheet metal, but it also lacks any maker-marks. The stock was nicely epoxy-bedded, common in that era. I examined the bore with my Gradient Lens Hawkeye and found smooth cut-rifling with only a hint of throat erosion.
I next made the common mistake of “shooting the donor.” The rifle turned out to be very accurate and comfortable to shoot, partly because the stock dimensions closely resembled those of modern “tactical” stocks, including the nearly vertical angle of the hooked pistol grip. As a result, the .243 remains just as I found it – except for a 2.5-8x Bausch & Lomb scope in windage-adjustable Redfield steel rings, both “period correct,” which brought the weight to 12 pounds.
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