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Thread: .450 Alaskan help

  1. #1
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    Question .450 Alaskan help

    I have come to own a beautiful Winchester 71 that a gunsmith artist converted to .450 Alaskan long ago. The original owner passed away 40+ years ago and it has sat in storage since that time. There was no information as to who made the rifle and the friend I purchased the rifle from is the son of the original owner and he was a small child when his father passed so he has no info on the rifle. However there are clues on the rifle and in the work that was done that are distinctive and I thought perhaps someone who is knowledgeable with such conversions may be able to solve the mystery of who did this work. The barrel is marked on the left side of the barrel near the reciever".450 ALASKAN" the right side of the barrel is marked "B." and below that "6-65". The fore end tip is unique and beautifully made with a clever fixture anchoring the cap to the barrel that is distinctive in design and was well thought out and executed (see pictures). Additionally the barrel has 12 deep grooves and lands and the rifle has a full length magazine tube with a distinct fixture at the muzzle end and even the barrel is scalloped out to provide a snug hollow for the mag tube to set securely into at the muzzle. An intermediate eye relief 2x Leupold scope was mounted on the barrel sometime after the rifle was built (unfortunately) but it is clean. As the design and fixtures are distinctive as are the markings on the barrel I hope that someone familiar with these conversions from "back in the day" may recognize who the craftsman was that built this fine rifle. I have attached a couple photos. Thank you for any information you may be able to provide as to solving the mystery of the origin of this beautiful rifle.
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  2. #2

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    You got me. Mine was produced early on by Harold Johnson of the Johnson Kenai Rifleworks in Cooper Landing, and is marked JKR 450 Alaskan on top of the barrel about 6" forward of the action, with no markings on either side of the barrel like yours. There's a bit of information on this page including a photo of the round. It references Johnson's use of a different forend cap arrangement to deal with the recoil forces (in order to keep the magazine tube and forend from popping off in recoil), but mine is different in detail than yours. Mine also has a shorter magazine than yours, terminating just in front of the forend.

    A couple of years back someone here on the site stepped forward as a descendant of Harold Johnson, if I recall correctly, and provided lots of additional info on the rifle, but memory fails exactly who and when. Do a search or scroll back a ways, and you should come up with it.

    I've reloaded quite a bit for mine, starting with Remington 348 Win cases opened up using a custom RCBS neck expanding die that I got with the rifle, along with a set of Pacific custom loading dies. Along the lines of the data in the link I provided, it's proven best with hefty charges of IMR-3031. Mine has a 22" barrel and averages 2190 to 2210 depending on the individual lot of powder with the 400 grain bullet and the same charge they list, making me suspect the rifle used in compiling the data also had a 22" barrel.

    It's a comparatively light rifle (receiver sight) at just under 8# , but a joy to carry. The butt is an oversize "shotgun" version and not at all painful for me to shoot, even if it's a little hard to keep my front foot on the ground in uneven terrain rather than the range. The very straight comb is a help, too. The recoil pad is old and virtually inflexible now, but it still doesn't bite when I shoot. It fits me perfectly, which could be another factor. Smaller friends (I'm 6'4" and 220#) who've shot it only did so once after being eaten alive by recoil due to poor stock fit for their frames.

  3. #3
    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Suspect the "B" with date 6-65 is the barrel makers mark (William Bruton ?). Bruton, an apparent associate of Johnson, was co-developer of the .50 B&M Alaskan (Harold Johnson's original .450 Alaskan (which was a .348 Winchester necked up to .458) necked up to .500 (A semi-WAG).
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    I know that the famous barrel maker John Buhmiler made barrels at some point for Harold Johnson. I don't think he marked his barrels like this one. Also, the rifle doesn't conform to the design of the forend cap that I have seen on Harold Johnson's rifles. It seems really odd to me that a custom barrel maker or rifle maker would sign his masterpiece with a simple "B." (Unless you were sooo famous everyone would know that was your mark). It is obviously the work of a very experienced smith. Just seems so odd to have a one letter signature. The quality of the lettering is as good as the best I have seen on any firearm so lettering was not a problem and so lacking a full inscription identification as to the maker on such a beautifully made piece seems a mysterious quirk.

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    Johnson made his original first 50-that he called "the Fifty" from a lathe turned USAAF 50 BMG barrel He also use inverted 50 cal GI bullets.
    Right after the war-components were hard to come by.
    Buhmiller made the first barrels. I have a 450 Fuller and a 450 Alaskan on pre -war 1930s long tang Model 71. The Fuller is a Deluxe M-71 with highly figured walnut and va cheekpiece. Similar to T. Roosevelt's 45-90 Special Order 1886 . Johnson's JKR rifles were marked on the barrel.
    Bill Fuller preferred his 450 version with a longer neck and 20 degree shoulder rather than the 35-40 degree shoulder of the Alaskan.
    My Fuller barrel is 22 in medium heavy, sights are the Winchester 98 A bolt peep.

    Best bullets are the Kodiak 405 gr bonded core-by AK Bullet Works-Juneau. Next is 400s by Woodleigh, followed by Hawk 400sFP

    Old Threads should'nt die..

    Some Alaskan cartridges look like a 45-90, an extended 45-70. They are not the original Harold Johnson bottleneck 450. The original has case body slope or taper-and it is a bottleneck with a pronounced shoulder. If its a straight taper-its not the "real thing".

  6. #6

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    Cool looking rifle. I have always wanted a Mod. 71 in .450 Alaskan. But, the cost is something I don't want since I like my old Marlin 45-70 and can push 405 grain bullets at close to 2,000 fps mv.

    The .450 Alaskan has this mystique about it as does it's origin. Most credit Johnson and Fuller with it's creation and my understanding is Johnson was more of the stock maker and Fuller more of the machinist. at least that is what I picked up from reading about them. Below is a copy from a post I did years ago.

    "I have a book titled "James .458 Watts". He is/was an old Alaskan who lived the life, walked the "Valdez Trail", hunted Alaska, Africa, experimented with guns etc. He corresponded and met with Keith, Weatherby, OConnor, P.O. Ackley, Harold Johnson, Bill Fuller, Winchester reps and I forget who else. He claims a big ownership when it comes to the .450 Alaskan and a host of other.348 Wildcats, the .458 Watts, .458 Win. Mag., .416 Taylor ad some other interesting stuff. Anyway, I would encourage you to find a copy of the book, read it and form your own opinion. It is a great look at old Alaska. Those old timers could walk and walk and walk......................."

    James Watts lived and taught school in Seward for many years and spent lots of time all over the Kenai hunting and shooting. His wife and her brother were his constant hunting companions. How many of us would walk over the hills from Seward to Skilak, shoot a brown bear, make camp and start eating on it and make up some brown bear jerky before moving on? They had a silk tent made for them by Abercombe & Fitch in New York, my how things change.

    One thing remained constant with Mr. Watts, he liked big bore rifles!

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    Talking And the Story Continues......

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  8. #8

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    I have to quit reading this thread or I will be sneaking into my wife's purse for money to buy a .50 Alaskan! With my 45-70 I can get about 1,950 fps mv with a Kodiak Customs 405 grain jacketed bullet and a case full of H322, and over 2,000 with same weight in a LBT hard cast. But, it ain't enough and those big bears know it!

    I need the big .50 with a half octagon/half round 22" medium heavy Mag na Ported barrel, a Skinner Express peep sight, some nice walnut, a good old rust blue finish and my Filson Packer hat. I will fear no beast! Any one making a .60?

    I wish Marlin would stretch their 1895 out a bit and beef up the innards and chamber a 45-90 and .50 caliber and some one would make good jacketed and cast bullets for them in loaded ammo, have to have that in order for a cartridge to survive. Also need the right twist rate and throated for long bullets. I doubt it will happen in my life time. Woe is me.....

    I think I will go to the safe and get the Marlin 45-70 out and fondle it for a while, I am a simple man..........

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