The Echols Legend: James Reece’s choice for the first target on his list

James Reece, the protagonist of my novels, is a Navy SEAL Sniper, but the weapon that he selects to begin his quest for vengeance in THE TERMINAL LIST and to snatch souls on Medny Island off Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia in SAVAGE SON is not something found in an armory in Coronado or Virginia Beach.

Instead, it is one of the finest hunting rifles in the world, hand-built “by a master in Utah.” That master is my friend D’Arcy Echols and the rifle is an Echols Rifle Company Legend.

Initially I didn’t have a backstory on how Reece’s father, Tom, came to own such a unique and expensive rifle, but now, thanks to Los Angeles based actor and former United States Marine Michael Broderick, I now know how he got it.  Click here to watch the ten-minute short film Fathers and Sons starring Michael Broderick and former Army Ranger Tim Abell.

What’s so special about this rifle? Plenty…

D’Arcy Echols is a Virginia native who grew up hunting local game, with dreams of hunting wild sheep and elk in the mountain west. He attended gunsmithing school at the Colorado School of Trades and has made Colorado and Utah his home states ever since. After working alongside Jerry Fisher, the Obi Wan of American custom gunmaking, D’Arcy set out on his own and began crafting fine sporting rifles for discriminating clients. He quickly gained a reputation as one of the most meticulous makers in the trade. His customers sought him out due to his careful attention to detail and no-stone-unturned approach to gunmaking, but those same qualities left many clients afraid to take his rifles on backcountry hunts where the rocky terrain, driving rain and blowing snow could play havoc on the French Walnut stocks and blued metal. The rifles themselves could stand the abuse but their owners could not.

Aside from being a gunmaker, D’Arcy had spent many years as a professional guide. That experience gave him the ability to see countless hunters and their rifles in the field and taught him what works and what is prone to failure. Combining his significant experience as a gunmaker, hunter and guide, he set about solving his dilemma. His solution was the Legend, a rifle built with the same commitment to excellence as his Classic rifles but, instead of the fine walnut, using a more durable and less labor-consumptive fiberglass stock. The stocks are built using a mold of Echols’ own design by McMillan Stocks in Arizona—a company that provided numerous stocks to the SEAL Teams over the years including those on the TAC-50 sniper rifle and NSW .300 Win Mag that I used in training and on the battlefield. Echols builds his Legend rifles using G-series Winchester Model 70 “Classic” actions which were built in New haven, Connecticut before that facility was closed. These actions use the features that made the Pre-’64 Model 70 famous as the “Rifleman’s Rifle”, including the full-length non-rotating extractor and the fixed ejector.

Because these rifles were built using mass production methods, some of their tolerances leave much to be desired. For this reason, Echols effectively rebuilds the actions: single-point re-machining the receiver threads, re-facing the receivers, squaring the bolt faces and otherwise ensuring that every surface is concentric, true and square. Like constructing a building on a perfect foundation, this process helps ensure that the rest of the build will be successful. The factory magazine parts go into the trash and a cartridge-specific heat-treated steel magazine box, follower, spring and trigger bow and floorplate assembly are fitted. Triggers are rebuilt and tuned for a perfect break. Plenty of custom rifles shoot tiny groups but are plagued by reliability issues that hamper their real-world performance, this is never the case with a Legend as hours upon hours are spent ensuring that each rifle feeds, fires, ejects and extracts 100% of the time. Match-grade barrel blanks, usually made by Krieger, are fit and chambered by-hand on Echols’ manual lathe using techniques to ensure that the chamber is perfectly concentric with the action raceway, down to .0001”. The stock is then carefully pillar-bedded to the action and magazine parts in three separate operations so ensure that the everything fits perfectly.

Unfortunately, the Winchester Model 70 support parts have become increasingly difficult to find so, in true D’Arcy Echols fashion, he is now building his own.  Called the LX-1, this new action represents four decades of experience and wisdom.  As of January 2021, D’Arcy has one fully tested prototype and is building his first run for clients.  I am going to have to add my name to D’Arcy’s list.

James Reece’s Legend was built in .300 Winchester Magnum, a cartridge that I relied on for many years in the Teams and one that I know well. Reece’s choice of optic is a Nightforce 2.5-10x32mm, which is a fantastic all-around scope that is equally at home on a Mk12-style AR or a precision hunting rifle such as a Legend. Nightforce doesn’t catalog this scope any longer but they make them from time to time and are available on the used market. Reece’s scope uses a MIL-DOT reticle and 0.1 MIL turret adjustments for windage and elevation, which makes the math easy. My experience overseas made me a great proponent of Nightforce’s MIL-DOT reticle since the “dots” themselves do not obscure the target when making windage holds at long range. This doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re trying to hit a running insurgent at 600 yards.

A rifle is only as reliable as its optic and that scope is only as good as its mounts. Echols isn’t satisfied with any of the mounting systems on the market so he custom builds a set of scope mounts for every rifle and scope, creating a rock-solid system that holds the optic securely but without stress due to the close tolerances used. With the 150-plus hours of labor that D’Arcy puts into building each Legend in his one-man shop, he only makes around 10 of them per year; he refuses to sacrifice quality for quantity’s sake. His waiting list is long and his prices reflect the hours of labor and custom-made components used in their construction.

When Reece needs to make a sniper shot in THE TERMINAL LIST that must look like a hunting accident to law enforcement, he uses an Echols Legend in .300 Winchester Magnum. He chooses this rifle to disguise himself as a hunter on the opening day of Wyoming’s September deer season, and because it is accurate, reliable, and portable. And when he needs to jump a rifle into Russia in SAVAGE SON, the Echols Legend is strapped to his side.

I chose to feature the Legend in my novels because it represents the pinnacle of craftsmanship and I’d be hard pressed to think of a better bolt action rifle to hand down from father to son.