The history of the rifle revolves around just a few men. The Hawken brothers gave the muzzleloader respect. Browning applied a level of engineering rapidity and genius of which has never been matched. And, Mauser concocted a rugged, metallic work of art that is spoken of as if it were the Holy Grail. For those who John Barsness calls “rifle loonies,” Hawken, Browning, and Mauser are gun god disciples.
Another revolutionary rifle advancement occurred in the early 1980s. That’s when a machinist, mold maker, high school shop teacher, and a part-time gunsmith perfected the bolt-action sporting rifle by applying as much attention and ingenuity to the stock as to the steel. Remarkably, they were all the same person and you may have never heard his name. Why? Associates who invested in his creation insisted the company be named Ultra Light Arms. This seemed reasonable at the time but what these investors did not foresee was the trend these gravity-defying rifles would start. A plethora of copycats soon emerged. They were marketed as “ultra lights,” thus marginalizing the name of the rifle that created the genre.
Ultra Light Arms became lost in a sea of lesser quality knock-offs, and ultimately, the inability of mass-produced, lightweight, bolt-action rifles to deliver premium performance diminished the entire concept. True rifle loonies believed, like Townsend Whelen said, “A man will travel farther, hunt over more country, have a better chance of coming on game, and be in better condition when he does if his weapon is light.” They learned through the writings of Aagaard, Carmichael, Barsness, and Petzal, the origin of the lightweight bolt-action rifle and about the man who made it a reality: a West Virginian named Melvin Forbes.
Melvin Forbes had cast rifle magic. During the last 30 years, he’s built a legion of riflemen who, while they might not understand the magic, trust it. As unfathomable as it may seem, three out of four of those who buy a New Ultra Light Arms rifle buy another – most often within 12 months. What Melvin Forbes has been unable to do is wrap up all this wonderment up into a package that will fit inside a single paycheck of the average American. His name may never be as well known as Hawken, Browning, and Mauser. But, for the fortunate few who believe, his name is just as revered.
Melvin Forbes’ name belongs on the list of iconic rifle engineers because he realized the rifle stock is just as important as the steel He is a rifle magician and his magic – science – is real. If you want to experience it first hand, all you have to do is believe and write a check. But when you do, Melvin will tell you, “That’s my rifle, you’re just paying to have it on permanent loan.”
By: Richard Mann