Joey's 35                                    BY BWB Team Member Mark Scheeren

Building and customizing a rifle, any rifle, to your personal specifications can be a trial and error process that can get expensive and frustrating. So my goal with this article is to provide a roadmap to help save you that experience as much as possible. I will stay focused on discussing the Remington 760/7600 for the time being as it seems our community tends to favor them for the tracking discipline. Of course, as time rolls on, I will address all kinds of guns and topics about them, but for now, we have much to discuss on the mighty pump. In this article I will concentrate on cost effective modifications – not the gamut of full bore customizations that can break the bank and overwhelm the typical gun tinkerer. A person with a little knowledge, some cash and ability, can build one hell of a deer slaying machine with this platform as a starting point.

In this article we will be describing specifically the conversion of a used 1992 Remington 7600 with a jamming issue in 35 Whelen, into probably one of the slickest little tracking canons I’ve had to date (and I’ve owned quite a few).

Two years ago I went into a local gun store and saw this particular Remington 7600 in 35 Whelen – one of my favorite rounds (my first love is the 257 Roberts – but that’s a story for another day). It was wood stocked, was in good shape with some bluing loss, a stock dulled from carrying, was fairly dirty, with a clip that seemed ill-fitting. The rifling in the barrel was very sharp, the action was smooth, and there was no rust to be seen. All in all it was a fairly typical specimen of a 25 year old pump action Remington that had been “hunted.” I put my $500.00 down and took the plunge. While the price may be steep to some of you, that’s because it is – a 35 Whelen, used or new, always commands more dough. It’s the nature of its rarity and cult like following. You could get the same rifle, in the same condition, in say, 30’06 or 308 for $100 to $150 less. But I’m a sucker for the “poor man’s magnum.”

I took it home, cleaned it thoroughly, and then ran some live rounds through it. It jammed on every round. A few days later it was boxed up and sent to Hillbilly Rifles to get the jamming issue fixed among some other modifications I had specified. When I got it back the jamming issue was fixed. So now I had a very nice, fully functional Remington pump in my hands.

My youngest, Joey, really loved the feel of this pump action. At the time he had a 30’06 pump that was stock and he could feel the difference in the action and fit and finish when he handled the whelen; these older guns tend to be smoother. That is when I decided to modify it some more for his liking (and size) and give it to him on his 14th birthday this year. (Each of my kids get there first “real” hunting rifle when they are legal to rifle hunt here in New York, and this was obviously the gun of his dreams.)

Before I go too far, here is a quick review of the jamming issue and in laymen’s terms how Nate fixed it. I bring this back up because when a 760 or 7600 jams it almost always comes down to the magazine. It’s a simple problem that is common with the newer style magazine that comes with 7600’s; the feed lips are bent wrong from the factory. These bent lips send the round into the square edges of the receiver just before the chamber causing it to jam there. With feed lips fixed, I now had a magazine optimized for the gun and it fed and extracted like butter.

Joe’s Specifications – “Make it like Hal’s Dad!”

My boy wanted a rifle that resembled the more typical tracking rifle than what I had. So, essentially I was now starting with a nice 35 Whelen 7600 with wood furniture…and a son asking to let go of elegance and replace it with lightness (get rid of the scope, mounts, etc. and the heavier wood furniture) indestructibility (go to synthetic stock and forend and ghost sights) and shortened dimensions for his 85lb frame. His size created some other issues – recoil! A light, shortened, open sighted 35 whelen is punishing to shoot for even some experienced shooters. So reloading reduced loads now became a priority as well.  

Let’s start with the smaller custom fit. One of the most popular discussions about this rifle in general, especially when concerning peep or open sights, is the high comb stock and its inherent awkwardness with iron sights of any kind. Left original, it is set up for scope use, and has a 13 5/8” length of pull with no recoil pad. This is too long for a kid’s frame, (and mine as well – as I’m only 5’8” with fairly short arms) and especially too long if you are wearing wool or any kind of heavy hunting shirt. The simplest way to handle this is to buy a black synthetic youth 870 20 gauge low-comb shotgun stock from Remington’s Parts department website. This is the option I picked for Joey’s pump – cheap and maintenance free and allows for a perfect sight line to peep sights. It already includes the Remington 1” recoil pad which is an excellent pad, and has a reduced 13” length of pull. This is still a bit too long for him, but is leagues better than the original length (that 5/8” reduction really matters). He will grow into it. It fits me perfectly with wools on and I’m 5’8”. They do also make a 12 3/8” youth synthetic 870 shotgun stock for smaller kids like my son, but I found that with a heavy recoiling rifle, it is a bridge too close…his thumb comes back and smacks him on the nose at the gun’s report – not too confidence inspiring. However, you might be able to make use of this very short stock for these smaller shooters with a 243 or 7mm08; but any caliber larger and you’re going to create an accuracy destroying flinch in your young shooter.

You can also spend quite a bit more and purchase a walnut 20 gauge 870 low-comb stock and cut it to length if you prefer wood furniture. This requires more money and work. A third option is the wood laminate youth stock that comes in at the 13” length as well. You can purchase matching forends to any of these types and styles of stocks in synthetic, walnut, or laminate from Remington, Boyd’s stocks and all over Ebay etc. for cheap. My suggestion is to pick and install the buttstock first and make sure that it fits the user properly and then get the matching forend. I installed the standard Remington brand matching black synthetic forend on Joey’s 35, again from Remington’s parts department online. One thing to note, the buttstock screw that holds the stock onto the receiver is a different length in the synthetic stock than it is in the various wooden versions. Make sure you get the matching screw when you get a new length stock! Lastly, some kids will like a scope. In this case you can keep the high comb stock and cut it to length. This is much easier with a wooden stock than with a synthetic stock, especially if you are doing this at home and have little knowledge on the process. To be honest, I have a local gunsmith perform these functions with either a wood or a synthetic stock because my skills and tooling are lacking here in general. I like it to look clean and proper – like new.

When it comes to peep sights, the Williams WGRS receiver peep sight is the most popular at around $35.00. It’s simple to install, requires no drilling or tapping and installs in the two rear receiver scope mount screw holes. You can get a matching red fibre optic front sight from Williams that is the correct height and works very well in the typical dim big woods lighting. The newer 7600’s have a one piece front sight. That is the kind that Williams offers in their kit with the rear peep sight. If you have an older pump with the two piece front sight (dovetail design) you will just get the correct height dovetail fibre optic sight and install that with a brass punch. Williams will provide you the correct height front sight if you call them direct.

I suggest that you sight in the gun with the peep sight aperture installed. After you have sighted in the gun with the aperture installed, I then unscrew and remove it, making the peep sight turn into a larger ghost sight. When you look through the now larger hole, you want the blurry rear sight to be large and almost disappear when focusing on the front sight and the deer. Do not worry that the now more open styled “ghost sight” is almost undetectable to your eye when looking through its larger hole because believe it or not, that overall sight picture is still highly accurate. The sight picture is now very open and bright and easy to see with the smaller aperture’s restricted view removed from the equation.

Another peep option is the XS ghost sight by XS Sights, Inc. I think these are the best peeps sights made today, alongside some quality peeps made by their rival, Skinner Sights, Inc. Both companies build high quality and elegant ghost and peep sights. I’ve tried them all. My oldest son has an XS ghost sight installed on his Marlin 336 and it is a quality piece – but at $95.00 it’s pricier. Also, because they sit higher than a Williams peep you will need to experiment with front sight height which can be frustrating and get expensive if you don’t get it right the first couple times. For the purposes of the budget minded, I think the Williams set (that has the front sight included) is a better bargain and easier to install and sight in. That is what I installed on Joey’s Whelen; it’s time tested and proven by hundreds, if not thousands of trackers through the decades.

Now to the trigger. Truthfully, for the budget minded, no modifications are needed here. Most shots while tracking are very close or are “slap shots” at running game (meaning you slap the trigger when the sight picture shows shoulder while performing a shotgun swing). The 7600 has a shotgun trigger (870) that is not the best, but again works for the purpose intended. However, if it bothers you, Timney Triggers has a spring kit that you can install yourself for cheap, and different gunsmiths can make a true rifle trigger out of the stock trigger on your gun if you prefer that path. I had this work already completed on Joey’s rifle, so he gets lucky on that one! Its 3lbs with no creep and rivals the Rem 700 trigger. It’s pretty amazing and was fairly cheap to have done.

Many people have commented and asked about the olive drab green Cerekote finish on Joey’s gun. These metal finishes seem to be a popular fad right now, but I think it is a fad that will stand the test of time. Let me say outright that I am a convert. Having a tracking rifle that you don’t have to worry about exterior rust is a big deal. This, of course, is a bigger investment compared to the other modifications listed and really does not fall into the budget we are trying to emulate here. But I mention it because I find it downright wonderful. If you are keeping a rifle for many years or plan to pass it on to your kids, and you plan to hunt hard with that weapon, then I think this is one investment that is worth every penny. It makes the metal on the gun grippier, and the Cerekote is baked on so it fuses to the metal in a way that seems nearly indestructible. Even when tightening screws that have been coated, the finish doesn’t mar or chip – it’s tough stuff. A lot of different companies and gun shops will now customize the finish on a rifle for you, and I think it is a worthy upgrade for sure. With all that said, a well taken care of 7600 in a blued finish will last lifetimes if cleaned and oiled regularly. However, the newer parkerized bluing on some of the more recent 7600’s is not nearly as impervious to rust as the older deep bluing that came on the rifles. It takes daily cleaning to keep rust away if you are in the northeast hunting every day with this newer kind of finish.

Even though Cerekoting is tough stuff, it does not allow you to neglect the cleaning process as a whole, but it does allow for more time in between exterior cleanings. It has to be remembered that all the interior lug surfaces, trigger internals and barrel rifling, etc. are still bare raw metal and open to rust should it be neglected.

The last modification is a simple Uncle Mikes barrel band sling swivel stud. Take the time to remove the front sight and carefully slide the slightly opened band down the barrel to the desired spot before tightening it. Then reapply the front sight. Don’t try to leave the front sight on and bend open the band to get it around the barrel, as that will break it, misshape it, or weaken it. Make sure it is 2 or more inches in front of the forend (with the forend in the closed breach position) so it does not impede on the pump’s sliding motion. Also, take the time to line up the sling stud so it points down properly or it looks wrong and cobbed.

With all this said, these are the common modifications that I have completed on most of the pumps I’ve owned (with the exception of the trigger job and Cerekoting – these were extras I did for Joe) to make them more reliable, more accurate, and lighter than stock. They are also very common with others based on the amount of discussion about them on the blogosphere out there. While many veteran trackers already know about the majority (or all) of these customizations, I still wanted to take the time to get them all down in one place for the beginner, or the guy or gal coming over to the Remington pump for the first time. Here’s a list of typical and economical modifications made on a used Remington 7600 or 760 in good condition:

·         Average used 30’06, .308, .270 or .243 7600 in good working condition (gunsamerica.com or gunbroker.com): $450.00

·         Remington Synthetic low comb 20 gauge youth buttstock $80.00 (Remington.com)

·         Remington synthetic forend $49.50 (Remington.com)

·         Williams Sight – WRGS peep sight and fibre optic one piece front sight $58.00 (Williamsgunsight.com or midwayusa.com)

·         Timney Trigger Kit $100.00 (midwayusa.com)

·         Uncle Mikes Barrel Band sling mount and sling swivels $12.99 (Midwayusa.com)

·         Used Project Total = $750.49 +  avg. shipping costs for parts of 30.00 =$780.49

Add $200 to that total if you decide to start your project with a brand new 7600. Also, should you pick a rare caliber, or make modifications with walnut furniture, or add in real custom touches like Cerekoting, full trigger jobs, and the like, the price can begin to climb into a fairly expensive project. But the point is clear here; for less than $1000.00 you could have brand new, nearly indestructible, reliable, accurate deer slaying machine, that with proper care, will last a lifetime of hard hunting enjoyment. All being said, that’s quite a deal! Here’s to Joey’s 35!

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