Covering Your Tracks

Winchester Model 61 Custom Scope Mounts

by Hamilton S. Bowen




In the course of some horse trading, I took charge of a relatively nice Model 61 Winchester, one of the most elegant and sleek .22 rifles imaginable. Like most of the high-quality .22s Winchester made up until the early Sixties, this one exhibited very nice polishing, bluing, and fit and finish. The gun wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but it still had almost all of its original finish with minimal dings and wear. But there was one serious flaw. It had been quite disfigured by two sets of scope-mount holes at some point in its career. I took the gun in with the idea of turning it into a nice carbine, so the holes would eventually need to be properly repaired by welding.

The holes nagged at me a good deal. Two were right smack in the middle of the grooved receiver top, and the other two were on the barrel in front of the rear sight. At first I couldn’t imagine what sort of scope would account for such a hole pattern. When a tape measure revealed that the spacing between the two pairs of holes was 7.2 inches, a light came on. Some chap had installed himself a fancy, target-style scope on the Model 61. With the typical ‘minute of angle’ mounts of the day, the 7.2-inch spacing meant that each minute of movement in the rear mount would produce a 1-inch change in the point of impact at 100 yards.

This old Unertl scope is a typical example of the target and varmint scopes of yore, very business-like and effective because they keep no secrets. Based on past experience, it would be a delight to use.

A previous owner must have thought a great deal of the little rifle to outfit it with a scope that probably cost more than the gun. I happened to have on hand a nice Unertl 6X scope that I’d acquired through yet more trading. It had previously been mounted on a small-bore target rifle with a funky bolt handle which in operation interfered with the windage knob. Consequently the rifle’s owner had reversed the mounts. At some point, we’ll set them aright. I figured the scope would serve well on the Model 61, and with its low power, its well-detented, half-minute adjustment increments would be adequate for field use. We could cover up the offending holes and concoct a handsome, useful, short-range, period-style varmint rifle in the bargain.

Without these blank bases from Steve Earle, this project would have foundered.

The first order of business was to scare up a set of bases for a target scope, a task which I wrongly assumed would easily accomplished with the aid of the Brownells or Champion’s Choice catalog. Instead, I found that the bases now available are mostly confined to competition guns currently in production or to highly popular survivors. None were of a height, length or hole pattern that could be easily adapted to the Model 61. Poking around on the internet led me to the website of Steve Earle Products, which proved to be a treasure trove of bases for vintage rifles. Bases were available completely machined, but what I found to be more to my liking were uncut blanks that I could adapt to the Model 61.

One of the bases would have to be tapered, and both would have to be cut to proper height. I knew it would be a nearly impossible task to hold them in the unassisted milling machine vise for the necessary work, and I envisioned having to spend at least a day making a fixture that would enable me to do an hour’s worth of machining. Luckily, Norman Griffitts, the chief luminary of Southern Precision Tooling and a veritable tool-and-die-making wizard, happened to be visiting my shop when I was contemplating the work ahead. He observed that it would be no trouble for him to burn out a simple mill-vise clamp on his wire EDM machine. He took one of the scope bases with him and in due course presented us with a beautifully made fixture that would secure the bases by their dovetail rails, both right-side up and upside down. Now we could put the screw holes and counter-bores in the top bases and shorten and taper the bottoms to fit. Armed with Griffitts’ fixture, the job was pleasure to do. Finding the center of the base was as easy as finding the center of the vise jaw spacing with the fixture and part clamped in the mill vise. The part also could be removed and returned to the vise with great repeatability, and that considerably reduced the work time involved.

Without this fixture from Norman Griffitts, this project would have been more an exercise in tool making than gunsmithing.

The key to successfully completing the project was knowing the height of the receiver top above the top of the barrel at top dead center and the diameter and rate of taper of the barrel. Armed with this intelligence, it was a simple task to produce bases from the blanks. The only tricky part was matching round contours, then figuring working heights. I had a couple of ball-end milling cutters that quite closely matched the receiver and barrel contours. With a depth micrometer and caliper, I could review results easily. I also used a very straight, straight-edge to verify results between bases. In the proper light, the human eye can see very small gaps and read parallelism very closely, certainly close enough to do for the target mounts, which use spring-loaded plungers to hold the scope tube against the mount’s positioning and adjustment pins.

Milling the taper on the front base with a ball endmill.

One can still err in a couple of ways in this relatively simple operation. Mercifully, I avoided the first trap of getting the mounts properly oriented for left and right, probably because they had to be installed backward with the scope and mounts at hand. The bases are notched only on one side for the knurled attachment screws on these particular mounts nor are they unidirectional on tapered barrels where mounts cannot be reversed without compounding the taper the wrong way. Also, if you make a tapered cut and decide to adjust the taper, be sure to remember to account for the taper already there. Suffering from a congenital family ailment known as BPS, or Bowen’s Preoccupation Syndrome, I did not take that into account and had to engage in a bit of brow-furrowing to sort out why a re-taper cut didn’t accomplish what was intended.

Unertl scope adjustment knobs bear a suspicious resemblance to micrometer thimbles and work on the same principle. Note scope’s serial number.

Griffitts is now producing his fixture in limited quantities for the gunsmith trade. Craftsmen working on varmint rifles or rifles for long-range black powder or high-power competition will find it invaluable. He also offers a similar fixture for Weaver-style or Picatinny scope-bases or blank stock suited to more contemporary rifle and handgun projects.

At the end of the day, thanks to Steve and Norman, we managed to cover the offending holes in the Model 61, reclaim an orphaned scope and turn back the clock a notch or two. The little Winchester will be a most agreeable addition to the resident stand of great old .22s and should take a respectable toll on beer cans, pine cones and any small critters that don’t know their place.

This combination of rifle and scope may be a case of the tail wagging the dog, but it is still a pretty racy combination, even perched on a post in the rain.




Southern Precision Tooling
4937 Indian Warpath Road
Maryville, TN 37803
(865) 977-6168



Steve Earle Products, Inc.
24 Palmer Rd.
Plympton, MA 02367
(781) 585-3929