February 26th, 2023
Sunday GunDay: Transformer — F-TR Rifle Built from Varmint Rig
We’re having a wicked winter in some parts of the nation. California is experiencing blizzards and snow-bound highway closures. In the middle of the nation, major snowstorms hit many states, and 470,000 customers lost electrical power after an ice storm in Michigan.
Rifle Transformed from Ordinary Varmint Rig to a Stunning F-TR Machine
As an antidote to these weather-related worries, for this Sunday GunDay we’re offering a bit of beauty amidst snow — a handsome rifle showcased in a white winter wonderland. This handsome rifle started life as a rather ordinary .204 Ruger Rem VSSF varmint rig. With a new barrel, a new stock, and a stunning flame-pattern hydro-dip coating, this is now an ultra-accurate .223 Rem F-TR competition rifle.
Flames in the Snow…
Forum Member Brandon Schlund (aka “Bois Blanc Boy”), photographed this handsome flame-themed F-TR rifle against the snowy background of Michigan’s Bois Blanc Island. Brandon posted this to our long-running Pride and Joy Rifle Forum thread. He notes: “This is my first F-TR build, which started out as a stock Remington .204 Ruger. I had the action blue-printed, firing pin was bushed by Speedy, and I had a new bolt handle and knob installed by John Pierce.” This rifle is now fitted with a 3-groove Pac-Nor 1:6.5″-twist barrel chambered in .223 Remington to shoot the 90gr Bergers. Other components are: Kelbly KTS stock, Phoenix bipod, and Sightron 8-32x56mm SIII scope. Brandon says: “It took a long time to get this gun where it is now but I’m truly happy with it!” Here’s the “before” photo:
The Transformation — F-TR Comp Rig Made from Rem .204 Ruger Varminter
Report by Brandon Schlund
This rifle started out as a “plain Jane”, factory Remington VSSF II. I shot it on varmint hunts in factory configuration. Then I decided to transform the rifle into a .223 Rem F-TR gun. As the .204 has the same bolt face as a .223 made sense to go in that direction since I would be able to use the gun for varmint hunting as well as F-TR.
While I had shot some F-Class matches with my dad (Joe Schlund aka Bench on AccurateShooter) it wasnt much. When we did a PD hunt in Wyoming I primarily shot my .204 but I decided I wanted a cartridge that could reach out a little further and also do double duty — competition and varminting.
CLICK HERE for full-screen photo.
The first step in transforming this rifle was selecting a barrel. We ordered a Pac-Nor, 1:6.5″-twist, 3 groove, 30.5″ heavy Palma contour. This was then chambered with a PTG .223 ISSF reamer with 0.169″ freebore to run the .224 caliber heavies. I went with Pac-Nor because both my father and my brother Mark (aka Labrador2 on AccurateShooter) owned Kelbly-built F-TR rifles with the same barrels. Mark and my father couldn’t be happier with the results. Pac-Nor has great customer service along with a short wait time.
I sent the barrel and the factory Remington 700 action down to Kelbly’s where they did the chambering and cut the threads. While Kelbly’s had my action I had them blueprint it. A Kelbly KTS stock with the three-way buttplate and adjustable cheek piece came next. After getting behind Dad’s rifle and Mark’s gun there was no reason to look any further. With all its adjustments, the KTS stock fits very comfortably.
Loading for the .223 Rem with H4895 and 90gr Bergers
As a .223 Rem, this rifle has proven very accurate — it’s a bullet-hole cutter at 100 yards (low twos easy). Our best load is with Hodgdon H4895, 90gr Berger VLDs, CCI BR4 primers. This load is running at about 2835 FPS but YMMV (remember this is a LONG 30.5″ barrel). The Bergers are loaded .008″ into the lands with base-to-ogive of 2.035″.
Our loading technique may be tedious — with lots of sorting and measuring. But brother Mark, father Joe, and I all enjoy the steps. Our three .223 Rem match guns all love the same load which makes loading much easier. Believe it or not we use a Hornady Lock-N-Load progressive ammo plant, which is great when loading for three guns. Our consistency is fantastic with run-out a mere .001-.0015.
We also turn necks and weigh our primers. Does neck-turning and primer weighing really make a difference? Who knows but we try to eliminate more variables since we have to the time to do it, and we actually enjoy the procedures.
Pierce Engineering Installed Action and Modified Bolt
Being from Michigan, Pierce Engineering has done a lot of work for my family’s guns. For this project the Pierce team bedded the action and glued in a single-shot follower. The stock bolt handle/knob was too short for comfort in the KTS stock. Pierce added a longer handle and tactical knob to the bolt. I then installed a .223 Rem Lapua case base into the knob.
The complete .223 Rem rifle ready to shoot F-TR, as fitted with 8-32X56mm Sightron and Phoenix Bipod, weighs 17 pounds, 15 ounces.
Flame Graphics by Camo Creek Hydrographics
After the action was bedded by Pierce, the stock was sent to Camo Creek Hydrographics in Fenton, Michigan. I selected a flame-style design which Camo Creek applied through hydro-dipping. The stock went back to Pierce’s shop, which applied three coats of clear over the entire stock. The clear-coating really enhanced the flame graphics.
Firing Pin Bushed by Speedy
I sent the bolt to Thomas “Speedy” Gonzalez to have the firing pin hole bushed as otherwise the load could crater the primers pretty bad. Knowing I’d be shooting heavy-weight .22-Cal bullets with a stout load this was a good idea. Speedy also cut his trademark grooves into the bolt shroud which looks amazing. His work is top notch! There is zero cratering now, even with the hottest of loads.
Competition Components — 8-32x56mm Sightron and Phoenix Bipod
For an F-TR rig you need a quality high-magnification optic and a premium, wide-base bipod. I installed a 8-32x56mm SIII Sightron. This was another easy choice because of the attractive price and because my family has four other Sightrons that work great.
I installed a fore-end Picatinny rail to attach a Phoenix Bipod. I extended the Mariners wheel handles by adding short sections from an aluminum arrow shaft. This lets me adjust elevation without stretching forward. I also installed a Calvin Elite Timney Trigger set at 6 ounces.
$2500.00 Invested in Rifle Transformation and Upgrade
How much did this all cost? Brandon tells us “I have roughly $2500 into the rebuild of the gun from a .204 Ruger to the .223 Rem.”
Bois Blanc Island in Michigan
Here on Bois Blanc Island we don’t have many amenities, but we do have the ability to shoot 550 yards at our local gravel pit on state land. It’s snow-bound right now as you can see. But later in the year this will be our close-to-home training center.
Winter at Bois Blanc Island, Michigan — Here’s the gravel pit where we can load test during
warmer weather. When I took this photo, it was a “balmy” 10-degree day.