By Scott Mayer
The folks at Gibbs Rifle Co. have a history of taking surplus military rifles of arguably minimal collector interest and turning them into sport specialty rifles that have a serious “fun gun” factor and “tough as nails” demeanor. Perhaps the best known of them are the Summit and Quest chambered in .45-70 and .308, respectively. Those were built on surplus Enfield actions and were not attempts to reproduce any sort of historical military gun at all. Instead, they were practical, utilitarian rifles that made good use of surplus military and some new parts. “Commercial sporterizing,” probably best describes it, and as Gibbs puts it, they “…take the best features of historic military arms and translate them to meet modern sporting needs.”
In the fall of 2012, Gibbs is introducing a new sport specialty rifle called the Pig Buster that’s every bit as tough as its predecessors, and in true Gibbs Rifle form, makes good use guns that might otherwise never see a live round again. The Pig Buster is built on reactivated 03A3 Springfield actions, and was originally conceived as something of a “scout” rifle. Gibbs showed the first one at the 2012 SHOT Show, and darn near everyone who handled it said, “That’s a hog hunting rifle,” and thus the Pig Buster was born.
There are generally two main types of hog hunters: those who go high-tech with night vision and suppressors, and those who see their gun as a tool on the level of a hammer. The Pig Buster is military tough, and definitely for the latter. I don’t know what it is about the gun, but holding it triggers something in me that makes me want to bludgeon something with it as much as I want to shoot it.
In a nutshell, they’re reactivated drill rifles with modified synthetic drill rifle stocks and new four-groove barrels topped with new-production No. 5 Jungle Carbine flash hiders. Metal parts have a super-tough, olive-colored Parkerizing treatment and stocks given a new green and black “spider web” finish. Chamberings are .30-’06 or .35 Whelen, both of which are more than suitable for makin’ bacon. Each Pig Buster comes with a new-made Malcom Hi-Lux/Leatherwood 2.5-power scope mounted in a new reproduction Redfield-type steel scope base, The cost of the complete set up is $725.
If you’re like me and are inspired to use this rifle with not so delicate a touch, then you might want to opt for an 03A3 rear peep sight that simply attaches to the rear receiver bridge–but you’ll have to find the sight on the surplus market, it’s not an option on the Pig Buster.
Deactivated guns are ones that have been made inoperable and I’ve seen a lot of stink raised about reactivating them because you can’t safely reactivate every one. Whether you can or not depends a lot on how a gun was deactivated in the first place, and to what degree. I’ve seen reports of companies reactivating Garand receivers that were cut completely in half, so suffice to say nothing short of miracles are possible by someone knowledgeable about welding and metallurgy. Gibbs has more than 50 years of experience reactivating tens of thousands of guns, including machine guns, and it’s not a process the company takes with a cavalier attitude. If a gun can’t be reactivated safely, they won’t bother. It’s not worth it.
These rifles were originally working 03A3 rifles from World War II that were deactivated for drill use by welding a steel rod in the bore so a bullet cannot pass through. To make sure someone didn’t simply swap barrels to make a working gun, barrels were spot-welded to the actions. Heaven forbid someone actually manage to chamber and fire a live round in a gun with its bore welded shut, so firing pins were removed, and bolt faces welded closed so even if you did replace the firing pin, it couldn’t reach the primer. Lastly, the magazine cutoffs were spot-welded in place. You remove the bolt from an 03 by placing the cutoff between “on” and “off,” so spot welding the cutoff prevented someone from putting in an active bolt.
Reactivation is a little more involved than simply reversing things. To begin with, not every one of these drill rifles is suitable for reactivation, so Gibbs hand selects which ones to use. Next, Gibbs breaks the welds and scraps the barrel and bolt.
There’s no sense in removing the rod from the bore and trying to salvage the rifling when you can simply use a new barrel. The barrels are fitted with new reproductions of No. 5 Jungle Carbine flash hiders because the barrels are only 18 ¾ inches long and, depending on your load, produce spectacular fireballs from the muzzle.
I’m personally not so concerned about the muzzle flash. Instead, I like the fact that the hider is also the mount for a No. 5 bayonet. One method of hunting pigs is to bring the boar to bay with dogs, hold it with a catch dog, and then dispatch it up close and personal with a large knife. I’ve handgun hunted pigs with dogs and there’s a little too much excitement going on for me to get my face that close to a pissed-off pig slashing its razor-sharp tusks at everything nearby. Instead, mounting a No. 5 bayonet on the Pig Buster would provide a margin of safety so I could use it like a spear and stick a pig from a little distance, and if I chickened out at the last minute, could always blast it instead—poor form or not!
Reactivating bolts is a little dicey because the heat used on them during deactivation welding can anneal the metal making the bolt lugs too soft to be safe, so instead of taking any risks, Gibbs uses its supply of original, un-issued 1903A3 bolts that were made by the U.S. during World War II. The only modification they do is to give the bolt handle a little sweep so it clears the scope when cycling the action.
Pig Buster stocks are repurposed drill rifle stocks. I’ve seen grousing on Internet forums about the suitability of them because they weren’t originally intended for use on firing guns. It’s true that they weren’t, but that doesn’t mean there was any specification to make them unusable for firing guns, either. They’re not plastic like you think of used on newly made kids’ BB guns. Instead, they’re dense synthetic more like nylon and solid all the way through except for the compartment space in the buttstock.
Gibbs is not far from me so I was able to go by there and see for myself what the stocks are like before and after modification. No doubt, the “before” stocks took a beating from drills, but I’m pretty confident in saying they’re a lot sturdier than any value-priced synthetic stock on the market today, and they’re way more sturdy than any wooden stock. I’m pretty sure I can curb stomp one with a small car and not break it. Inside the stock, the molded inletting mates almost perfectly to the action, but understandably is not nearly as tight as you get with a true bedding job. Generally, the more intimate the mating surfaces are between the action and the stock, the more accurate the rifle.
As for the modification, original 03A3 Springfields had 24-inch barrels and full-length handguards and stocks, so Pig Buster stocks are abbreviated to better suit the 18 ¾-inch barrels. Both the handguard and stock are cut off just in front of the rear barrel band and rounded smooth at the front before getting the green/black spider web paint job.
While visiting at Gibbs, the owner, Val Forgett, III, and I, decided to pop a few caps with the Pig Buster, so we went to the public range at the new Peacemaker National Training Center in nearby Inwood, WV. Some folks think that review guns are cherry-picked before going out to writers, but I can assure you that was not the case. The rifle had only recently been assembled and the scope just snugged into the rings. This would be its maiden trip to the range, so we had to square the reticle and zero it before attempting any shots for accuracy.
The little Hi-Lux/Leatherwood scope has a ¾-inch tube, which is quite a departure from the norm for a lot of shooters who are more used to one-inch or even 30mm tubes, and its 2.5x magnification makes pinpoint accuracy a challenge until you get accustomed to using it. With that magnification, you’re never going to have the target precision a higher magnification provides, but for hunting situations I find myself on the lower power end of things more often than the higher. When hunting it’s generally good practice to keep your scope on a lower setting. What that does is allow a shot if you suddenly have a close-range shot opportunity. If you have an opportunity at longer range, you usually have a moment to crank up the magnification, but rarely do you have that when the situation is reversed. If you have a scope cranked up to 9x and are suddenly presented a shot at 75 yards or less, it’s going to be hard for you to find your game in the scope because everything is so magnified.
I’ve previously used the Hi-Lux/Leatherwood brand scopes when reviewing Sharps-style rifles and can say they’re extremely well made and hold their zero. Unlike the original Malcom scopes they replicate, these are water- and shock-proof, sealed to prevent fogging, and the lenses are coated for a clear, bright image. If you want a more powerful scope, there aren’t many ¾ tube options. Most of the ones you find are billed as “rimfire” scopes where you get what you pay for, so sticking with the Hi-Lux/Leatherwood is your best option for an optic. When you look through this scope with both eyes open, the svelte, steel body all but disappears leaving you with a sight picture that’s more like crosshairs superimposed on the target instead of viewing them through a tube. The crosshairs are really fine, which makes it easier to aim more precisely despite the low magnification.
Forgett brought along a mixture of military surplus ammo for the zeroing, and Remington 150-grain roundnose factory loads to see how well the gun shoots with ammo similar to what a pig hunter might use. He bore-sighted the rifle at the range the old fashioned way by removing the bolt, looking through the bore, and centering an object in it. Without moving the gun, he aligned the crosshairs on the same object resulting in the first shots being on the target backer at 100 yards. A few shots and scope adjustments later, the rifle was on paper where Val shot a really nice one-inch, three-shot group. After another adjustment, the rifle was zeroed in and between the two of us we were consistently shooting groups that measured around two inches or less. Groups got larger as the barrel heated up, which is often the case with rifles, but even the largest group, 2 ¼ inches, was pretty darn good considering the barrel was really hot and the bore arguably dirty and was easily “minute of pig.”
Gibbs kept the original two-stage military trigger on the Pig Buster instead of going with an aftermarket single-stage unit. On a two-stage trigger, there is a long, light take-up prior to the trigger reaching its full pull weight and it takes a little getting used to if you haven’t used one before. Judging by the small groups we were shooting, it’s safe to say neither of us found the long take-up the least bit distracting or problematic. I did not have a pull gauge with me to measure it, but I estimate the pull weight to be around 4 pounds.
Also kept original is the safety lever. It’s a tab on the cocking piece at the rear of the bolt that you flip up to put on “safe” and flip down to the left to “fire.” In the safe position, it rests right up against the scope and might be difficult to operate if you have really thick fingers. If that’s the case, then Dayton Traister makes a low profile Mark II replacement safety lever your gunsmith can install.
In doing my homework prior to my visit to Gibbs, I read concerns from shooters about recoil from the Pig Buster. The .30-’06 really is the upper recoil limit for most shooters and, fired from a carbine-size rifle, it’s worse because the gun is lighter so it really does kick harder, and the muzzle blast is a lot louder and closer to your face and that rattles folks just as much as the kick. At 8 ¾ pounds though, the Pig Buster is in the same weight class as full size guns so you don’t experience any more actual recoil because of weight, and the flash hider does a decent job of directing the muzzle blast away from you. I’m probably not the best judge of recoil because I shoot a lot and am conditioned to it, but in this case I made a conscious effort while shooting the Pig Buster to gauge whether or not I thought recoil was over the top. It’s not. Even though the gun retains the drill rifle’s steel buttplate, so long as you keep it tight to your shoulder and maintain a good cheek weld and follow through, recoil won’t be any worse than shooting any other .30-caliber non-magnum deer/pig rifle.
I have to hand it to Gibbs for coming up with the Pig Buster if for no other reason than it revives drill rifles that would otherwise be wall hangers. Springfields were such well-made guns that to me seeing one inoperable is as sad as seeing a bird dog that’s too old to hunt be left at home on opening day. You don’t have to be a pig hunter to appreciate the Pig Buster. It is what it is: a utilitarian rifle that you can beat the ever-lovin’ snot out of and not worry about hurting it, and it shoots groups every bit as tight as most modern sporting rifles. Best of all, if you ever get a chance to pig hunt, you can carry a No. 5 bayonet with you and at the moment of truth decide if you want to go up close and personal with just the bayonet, fix it to the flash hider and have a margin of safety, or simply pull the trigger.