Craftsmanship shines for first graduates of gunsmithing class

Zach Miners, Douglas Budget photo

DOUGLAS — Douglas Macdonald, 66, took great pride in showing off the craftsmanship of his rifles to the people who visited his table. One of them was a rifle he designed using a dark, smooth slab of English walnut wood. 

He was just one of about a dozen students in Eastern Wyoming College’s first gunsmithing class who were showing off their creations to members of the public during the school’s gun showcase and open house on May 13.

The two-year gunsmithing program, established last year, prepares students to make, reproduce, maintain and modify firearms according to blueprints or custom specifications using hand tools and machines in the campus shop. 

The program is designed to provide students with hands-on training to learn the gunsmithing trade and develop skills to gain employment as a gunsmith. 

All of the students there were second-year students graduating this spring. A handful of them said they planned to open their own gun repair or custom shops after they graduated. 

Macdonald, however, who is also the caretaker at Ayres Natural Bridge Park, was looking forward to something else. 

“I just want to have a degree on my wall,” he said. 

It would be Macdonald’s first college degree. 

During the event, students in the program displayed their assortment of guns and discussed their process of constructing them. None of the guns were for sale, but visitors still enjoyed learning about the students’ process and how they planned to use the guns, either for hunting or for sport. 

Many of the guns were fully functional. 

At his table, Chris Schellinger of Douglas showed off several Remington-, ArmaLite- and Weatherby Vanguard-style rifles that he had tuned up, modified and enhanced using other materials and parts. 

Weatherby, for instance, donated parts like the barrel to his guns and the guns of others exhibited at the show. 

Schellinger said he particularly enjoys working on long guns. 

“There’s nothing quite like metal to wood,” he said, adding, “It just feels good.” 

He said he has spent about one semester working on each firearm. 

After he graduates, he plans to continue gunsmithing, he said, and perhaps provide his services to local law enforcement agencies. 

Other students were focused on developing new approaches to gun design. 

Jeffrey Russell of Casper showed off a modified version of the Remington 700 rifle that he constructed using carbon fiber. The gun, he said, is still extremely durable with high stiffness, but at six pounds it’s roughly half the weight of similar rifles. 

Russell said he plans to open a gun repair shop in Casper after he graduates. 

Another student, Garret Person of Riverton, said he’s been working on guns since high school. He was showing off a variety of fully functional rifles he had constructed nearly from scratch, as well as his grandfather’s old Ruger Redhawk revolver, which Person had cleaned and gutted. 

He said he plans to open a custom gun shop somewhere in Wyoming. 

“Anyone can buy a regular AR,” Person said. But he wants to provide a buying experience that’s more “tailor fit.”