None of us are the equal of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tale hero Natty Bumppo – aka Hawkeye. But we all aspire to have a rifle we adore as much as he revered his; a rifle he called Killdeer. For most of us, that search has spanned many years and cost countless dollars. With each new acquisition we find faults and begin the quest again. Many of those fortunate to find their own Killdeer, found it deep in the hills of West Virginia. Where one man forever changed the concept of the perfect hunting rifle.
Melvin Forbes of New Ultra Light Arms attended his first SHOT Show in 1985. He walked on the floor with a few rifles so light those who handled them thought the glass had been removed from the riflescopes they were wearing. His rifles and his skill at crafting them became legend.
Why? Maybe Townsend Whelen said it best in his 1927 book, Wilderness Hunting and Wildcraft: “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.” Not only are New Ultra Light Arms’ rifles feather light, they’re wicked accurate and unimaginably rugged. This is because Forbes figured out how to combine the precise machining of metal with a hand built, aerospace industry inspired carbon and Kevlar fiber stock. A stock dimensionally designed to perfectly interface with a human.
During his 30-year span of rifle building – and never missing a SHOT Show – Forbes helped a competitor develop their own lightweight hunting rifle. He also built rifle stocks for another custom rifle manufacturer. And, he has sold his company twice. Colt, who soon after went bankrupt, bought it first. Then, Forbes Rifles purchased it. They too folded, after realizing the man who divined them could only properly cast the magic these rifles held.
Of all the models available from New Ultra Light Arms, the most overlooked is the ultra compact Model 20 Short Action. These rifles are designed around cartridges like the .223 Remington and .30 Remington AR, with a maximum overall cartridge length of 2.4 inches. Finished rifles weigh a scant 4.75 pounds and stretch to less than 39 inches with a 20-inch barrel. They also balance better than the scales of justice. This means they’re the kind of rifle Cooper’s Hawkeye would want were he still with us, deer slaying and fighting Indians.
Forbes has a built a one-time-only Model 20 Short Action rifle and chambered it in one of the hottest selling cartridges of all time, the .300 AAC Blackout. A 20-inch barrel with a threaded muzzle and an incredibly unbending stock round out the package. The result is an ultra compact and lightweight carbine suitable for the majority of hunting done in North America. Fully loaded and paired with one of Leupold’s new VX3i 1.5-5X riflescopes, the combination weighs a scant 5.9 pounds, with a Leupold VX3i 1-5X riflescope. Scout rifle like in utility, but modern in configuration, this rifle shoots like it’s at a bench rest match but handles like a samurai sword.
The rifle is called the Pathfinder and the name doubly fitting. First, for those finding paths in the wilderness, this is an ideal companion. It holds five plus one cartridges, is capable of accurate supersonic and suppressed fire, will work on game up to about 400 pounds, and, zero it once and it will stay sighted in forever. Second, in 1840 When Cooper wrote his fourth Leatherstocking novel he named it, The Pathfinder. He considered this endeavor a “hazardous experiment” because he was reviving the hero Hawkeye, who had been allowed to die in his third book. The Rifles of New Ultra Light Arms have almost died twice, once at the hands of Colt, and again at the hands of Forbes Rifles. They’re back and Melvin Forbes is back in full control.
Dave Petzal, the Rifle Editor at Field & Stream, once wrote Melvin Forbes, “…is the most mechanically aptituded human being I’ve ever met…” I’ll not argue with that but I will add something. The New Ultra Light Arms Pathfinder might be the most all-around useful rifle a human has ever put hands on. It might be the Killdeer of the 21st century. This unique, one of a kind rifle is now available for sale.
By: Richard Mann
A version of this article was originally published in the 2016 edition of SHOT Daily