Here is a report on a kit gun that I recently completed. This kit is offered by Deer Creek Products, PO Box 246, Waldron, Indiana 46182. The last phone number I show for them is (317) 525-6181. I'm not a Deer Creek promoter and have no relationship with them at all. I offer up the contact information as a courtesy to Deer Creek and to any reader who may wish to contact them.
Deer Creek offers this gun as the Deer Creek Rifle. It's available in .45, .50 and .54 caliber. The .45 and .50 guns are 15/16" barrels and the .54 is a 1" barrel. All of the rifles come with 32" barrels. They offer another rifle called the Deer Creek Northwest Rifle. The Northwest Rifle appears, in the catalog, to be exactly the same as the Deer Creek rifle except it has a steel nose cap instead of pewter. I bought this kit about 18 months ago, so my pricing may be out of date, however, the kit sold for $189 at that time.
Deer Creek makes their own barrels and proudly refers to their guns as "American made". That's a bit of a stretch, given that the lock is definitely Spanish and several other parts are identical to those one finds on some Spanish made guns.
I attempted to cajole Deer Creek into making me a .58 caliber barrel but was unsuccessful. Since this gun was probably going to end up in the hands of my grand son, I did ask them to try to pick out a nice piece of wood and they did do just that. I was very pleased with the figure in the maple stock and would probably have had to pay extra for a stock with this figure from a stock supplier.
I have to this date built four ML rifles from kits and one from scratch. I'm no magician with tools and will tell you now that If I can build this kit, just about anybody can do it! In some ways, kits are more difficult than scratch building since the kit manufacturer has predetermined the barrel inletting and lock position as well as the butt plate inletting along with the length of pull. This rifle had the lock inletted in the correct position to match the barrel and nipple drum. It took very little work in repositioning the tang and the barrel to get it just right. The butt plate on the other hand really needed some wood removal in order to get a good metal to wood fit. Problem is that the length of pull is rather short on this rifle, measuring at 13.75" I settled for a less than perfect fit of the butt plate rather than shortening the length of pull any further. Thirteen and three fourths probably does not seem short at all, but for some reason when held to my shoulder it seemed much shorter than that. It probably has to do with the overall fit of the rifle.
The stock precarving is pretty good. There is enough wood left to allow for some shaping and finishing but not so much that you end up re-carving the stock. all in all, the stock was very easy to work with except for the fact that the figured maple can be prone to chips under the hands of a ten thumbed builder like myself. On the other hand, I asked for that problem, didn't I? The barrel channel and the barrel key inletting was about as perfect as you will find on any kit and required no re-positioning. The barrel fit nicely into the channel and the key ways fit the key slots perfectly.
The most disconcerting thing about this kit was that the set trigger while ok but not great, would not contact the sear of the lock when the front trigger was used unset-set. The problem was a combination of several things or only one. You can take your pick! First, the sear was not long enough allowing the front trigger to pass by the tip of the sear without contact. Second, the trigger inletting was shifted slightly to one side of the stock. Third, the lock might be a bit small for the 1" barrel which positions the lock further to the side of the stock centerline. In any case, I solved the problem during the build by putting a short tubular extension on the sear. In the end, the extension was removed from the sear and the gun finished with the triggers functioning only in the set mode. This is a problem that I'll revisit later but at this time the tubular extension (brass) did not seem as though it would hold up to long term use and might come loose jamming the triggers while taking that shot at a once in a lifetime buck or bull!
The steel under rib was predrilled as was the barrel and the thimbles. They all went together flawlessly. The nose cap is referred to as "puter" in the Deer Creek catalog. It may be pewter or pot metal. I'd not know the difference! It fit well and polished up nicely. Since the metal would not take browning, it was left in the white. The barrel key escutcheons appear to be made of nickel silver and likewise would not take a brown and were left in the white.
The patch box, once polished up and browned, had a nice look to it. The patch box inletting was a bit undersize and I thought a bit mis-shaped. It was very difficult to get a good fit of the patch box to the precarved stock inletting, at least for me. In my experience, it can be easier to inlet a part from scratch than to try to match to pre-carved inletting. At least that's my excuse for a rather poor looking finish on the patch box fit.
The barrel is a high point on this kit. The rifling is 1:66 twist, .010 to .012 deep and seems quite clean and well done. Based only on eyeball of the rifling at the muzzle, I'd rate this barrel as superior to a Green Mountain barrel which, by the way, I rate as a very good barrel. The sights did not make a good impression. The rear sight is an adjustable notch type sight that had the notch precut. The front sight was a brass base with nickel silver blade. The notch on the rear sight is way too wide for that thin front sight. Further, I'm not a fan of silver front blades because of the glare in the sun. At least that's my thoughts on the sights. Your thoughts may be the opposite of mine. At any rate, in the end I dug through a box of sights on hand and put a wider steel blade on the front and a fixed steel sight on the back. It suited me fine but sights are very much a matter of personal preference and vision acuity.
I won't go into detail on the finishing of the rifle. Wood and metal finish are very much a matter of personal preference and can be done in many different ways.
Now, it's off to the range for the fun part; shooting!!
Some will consider my next step as controversial but I do this with nearly any new ML rifle. I fire lapped it! The reason is simple; no matter how good a barrel looks to the eye, there are usually enough burrs and sharp edges in any cut-rifled ML barrel to tear up the patching, ruin accuracy and hang onto the BP fouling. One can shoot these new barrels two or three hundred times to smooth them out or you can shorten the process by lapping the barrel. I choose to fire lap to speed up the process. I've lost count of the number of ML barrels I've fire lapped over the last 10 or 12 years but all of them have benefited from the process. Contrary to the crys of the naysayers, no barrels have been ruined or damaged. On the other hand, they probably could be IF DONE INCORRECTLY. I'm going to explain my method below and suggest that if you set out to fire lap any barrel that you obtain materials designed for fire lpping and FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS!
I used fire lapping supplies obtained form Lead Bullet Technology (LBT). The system involves rolling lead slugs in the compound between two steel flats and then firing them AT LOW VELOCITY. I picked up a box of 20 Hornady Great Plains bullets in .54 caliber and rolled the abrasive into 10 bullets. At the range I fired these bullets over a charge of 20 grains of ffg powder. After each shot the barrel was wiped thoroughly to remove fouling. After ten shots the barrel was given an overall thorough cleaning and was ready to move on to shooting round balls.
I started off with 80 grains of Graf fffg, a Hornady .530 ball and a moderately tight patch. Eighty might seem a bit hot for starters, but this rifle is destined to hunt elk in less than two weeks. My goal was to arrive at a reasonably accurate load with adequate power for big game hunting. I don't normally shoot from the bench with ML guns but load testing and initial sight in are an exception. This rifle has a wide butt plate and not too much curvature. End result was that it was comfortable to shoot from the bench. The first group went somewhat low and to the right at 50 yards. Not as tight a group as was hoped for though so a different patch material was tried. The next group tightened up a bit but was still not as good as expected. Another patch material was retrieved from the shooting box. This material was thinner and it scattered three shots into a 16 inch group!! Next I tried a patch material that was a bit thicker than all the previous. This stuff was a winner. The groups were very tight.
Now, all that remains is to adjust the sights. Having gone to completely fixed sights, the tools for the job are a hammer, a brass rod and a file. Tapping the rear sight over a bit brought the groups to a vertical centerline without much ado. The elevation adjustments must be approached carefully since it involves filing the sight down to raise the point of impact. Too much sight removal with the file can only be corrected by installing a new front sight and starting over. After three more groups with cautious filing applied after each, the balls were impacting at the exact point of aim which was the 6 o'clock point on the bull. Since my big game shots are rarely over 50 yards and will not be exceeding 75 yards, the 50 yard sight in was probably ok but could be just a bit higher in case of a 75 yard shot. Rather than hit the sight with the file again, I opted to increase the powder charge to 100 grains to see what the results would be. Voila! Three shots went into a cloverleaf about 1.5 inch above the point of aim. The rifle is ready for Big game season!
Some final conclusions on this kit. Although the lock left a lot to be desired, the overall kit is pretty good and the barrel is obviously very good. At $189 (note added on 1-30-2005, the current price is now $200) this kit just may give the buyer a little more than they pay for and even though there were a few frustrations with some aspects of the kit I would probably buy and build another. As a matter of fact, I probably will do another. Once this years ML big game season is over, this rifle will go to my oldest grand son and will be his first big bore. It will probably need new sights to suit the lighter loads he will be shooting but that's easily changed and we will probably re-visit the trigger function so that he will not be tied to a set only trigger.
So, that's it for the build and sight in, now all I have to do is hunt well enough to give the rifle it's chance on an elk! That will be a whole different report unless of course it's too embarrassing to mention.