"Cap" obtained his SASS alias from his father: Martin J Ahlman Sr., who was a rodeo bronc rider and master gunsmith who was known as Coyote Cap. The senior Martin Ahlman passed away in 1965.
Cap started gunsmithing in 1950 with his father, who was the original Coyote Cap. He was nine years old when his father put him to work hand loading "Wildcat" and "Bobcat" cartridges for special rifles his father custom built for use by Movie Stars and big game hunters in Africa and Alaska. In addition to big-game rifles, he made small game rifles for local shooters.
Marty learned about quality control through his father's way of doing things. His father would have him hand load twenty-one cartridges per box. The twenty-first. cartridge was his father's Quality Control program, and Marty learned at a very young age that there is no room for error in quality, and the word "impossible" takes a determined individual a little longer to figure out.
His father would randomly take one cartridge from inside of the box and fire that round through the customer's new custom rifle. The bullet from that cartridge had to land in the middle of his target or Marty would have to load the whole box over again. Like many fathers, his taught Marty to be precise!
Coyote Cap (Marty) was drawn into Cowboy Action Shooting about fifteen years ago when he and a friend attended a SASS match at the Ben Avery shooting range north of Phoenix, Arizona. He regrets that he didn't join SASS at that time.
His father's old shop is probably the largest private gunshop in the nation with twenty-six employees and nine full time gunsmiths. Marty's job was to handle the bluing department. He was drawn into the business of doing custom action work for CAS firearms by accident while working for his brother at Ahlman's Inc. in Morristown, Minn.
His brother asked him to go on a short trip to a shooting range in Madison Lake, Minnesota. A few of the cowboys with the Key Cities Conservation Club of Mankato were putting on a Key Cities Cowboys cowboy action shooting match.
The organizer was Rex McBeth, AKA Coleman Pitts, who owned the Guns of the Pioneers museum and gun store in North Mankato, Minnesota. Rex was also the master of ceremonies of the Jessie James Days, Great Northfield Days Bank Robbery.
While working in the shop one day, Rex McBeth brought in a model 97 and nobody wanted to work on that old gun, so Cap volunteered.
He enjoyed making that old gun work fast and smooth, so he let some of the other cowboy shooters know that he would slick their guns for them to make them shoot faster and more accurately. That first Model 97 started his love affair with this job.
It was not until he went to other Cowboy Action matches around the country that he made the fateful decision to open a small Cowboy Action Gunsmith Shop at his home, and quit his job in the bluing department of his brother's shop. He had already had problems with one lung and the bluing salts were bothering the other lung.
Although Cap is one of the best Winchester Model 97 Gunsmiths in the country, this is not his only specialty. Quite the contrary and to assume so is not correct.
He has developed several design changes to Ruger New Model Revolvers, Derringers, Baikal Shotguns, Stoeger and Norinco Double barrel shotguns, Winchester and Norinco 97 shotguns, Marlin rifles, Uberti rifles, Winchester rifles, and Winchester 1887 lever guns.
Why is he so well known for the 97? There is simply so much work out there to be done to the 97, that they have taken a front seat for the moment. The Winchester and Norinco 97 Shotguns represent a little more than half of the nearly 1,200 action jobs done in his shop.
Cap is proud of his ideas for new inventions that he says tend to pop into his head at around three in the morning. He is most proud of the opportunity to help other shooters who's CAS guns have failed on the firing line. He has often been able to do quick and free repairs for these SASS members. He enjoys this contribution and is grateful for the opportunity to assist shooters and organizers of SASS matches.
A career should be fun and the most fun Cap is having is in the development and testing of the new Norinco 1887 lever action shotguns. The project has evolved so much that additional improvements should be made to all new Norinco shotguns. The improvements will come out of new Custom Shops in China that are being set up to produce special order Classic Cowboy and Traditional Cowboy competition shotguns.
It would take too long to list every change being made to these custom guns, but Cap reports that customers will be able to order a new Norinco 99, 97 or 87 shotgun with their SASS number as the serial number of the gun. The improvements to the guns will be dramatic with gold lettering and a gold Stage Coach roll stamped into the frame right above the gold SASS number that doubles as the serial number of the gun.
Cap feels the most important advice he can give to a hobbyist is that some guns need to be carefully studied before taking them apart. This is because an incorrect reassembly can render them inoperable. It can actually be dangerous in the case of the Winchester 97.
His case in point is that the 97's have two screws with the same thread size, and these screws can be accidentally switched around. When this happens, the critical shell flag on the right side of the carrier will not operate.
If this condition is left uncorrected, it will eventually result in an out-of-battery discharge with the potential of hurting someone standing to the right of the gun. It may split the right side of the frame if a hot field load is used. Other than that, the Winchester 97 is a very safe gun.
It should be noted that this condition does not exist on the Norinco shotguns. On the Norinco, these screws are not interchangeable and there has been no known reports of any safety issues. The Norinco is a modernized version of the Winchester 97 so it has more safety features than the original.
Cap also has some advice for hobby gunsmiths and when they should turn the project over to a professional. He says that, "when you get to a point where you feel uneasy with doing a specific hobby repair to a Cowboy firearm, listen to your inner voice and send the gun to a specialist who has plenty of experience in that kind of gun." At the very least, call the specialist and see if you can get some free advice.
At Cap's age, he thinks he should be retired, but his love of Cowboy Action Shooting sport has rekindled a fire he is having problems putting out.
Editor's note: After doing this interview, two changes took place that need to be told to readers. First; Coyote Cap is addressing some management issues with his shop and asks that people only send guns to him after verifying that he has the resources to do the work. He does not like to see them show up unannounced.
Second; there was a presidential order placed on Norinco that prohibits them from importing into the United States. It was unclear as to what effect this might have on the importation of their shotguns or the development of the Norinco new copy of the Winchester 87 lever action shotgun. Cap has provided input on this situation that is added as a post-script to the story about him.
Cap reports that the Chinese shotguns are not actually made by Norinco. Norinco is the exporter of the guns, but they are made in three separate factories in China. They are a very small portion of the manufacturing that takes place in these factories.
Interstate Arms Corporation imports the 99's, 97's and new 87 Norinco shotguns that are going to be called the Cowboy Classics. IAC only needs to find another exporter for these smaller companies in order to import the new Cowboy Classic series of guns.
The "Cowboy Shooter 97" already exists, as seen in the SASS Cowboy Chronicle ads, and can still be ordered. The presidential ban should only have a very temporary effect on the supply of these guns.
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