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Taking Stock in America Print
Product Reviews
Written by Russell E. Taylor   
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Taking Stock in America
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Taking Stock in America

Article and Photographs
by
Russell E. Taylor
©  Sniper's Paradise 1999

 SKS

Savage 112FV

ArmaLite AR-15

 Enfield #4 Mk1

Savage 110FP Tactical

Custom-Built .416 Remington Magnum

Ram-Line

(Original)

(Original)

ATI FiberForce

McMillan A-2 Tactical

Richard's Micro-Fit


It's no secret that people enjoy expressing their individuality. How they choose to do so varies from person to person -- as one might expect when talking about the subject of "individuality."  For those of us who shoot firearms, oft times this individuality manifests itself in some sort of cosmetic improvement. For those of us involved in cowboy action shooting, nearly the first thing all of us do when we buy our first single-action revolver is to swap the standard grips that came with the gun for something better. "Better," from shooter to shooter, is a matter of function, appearance, or both. In the case of a cowboy six-shooter, however, the dull and unattractive grips are usually replaced with those made of real or imitation ivory or pearl, stag horn, perhaps a deep and luxurious walnut, or a selection from the various other woods that particularly appeals to the aesthetic tastes of the gun's owner. And in choosing different grips, the owner may also be interested in larger or smaller grips that will more properly fit his hand. He may also be looking for grips that will alter the angle of the gun when he is holding it, thus improving it's point ability.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise to anyone that one of the first things a rifleman does is to change the stock on his rifle as a way of expressing his own individuality. However, unlike the cowboy shooter, a modern-day rifleman using a bolt-gun has many more reasons to change the stock on his rifle -- and accordingly, just as many options to choose from. Having replaced the stocks on some of my production rifles, and also having had custom rifles built for me, I thought I'd review a few of the stocks that are available today, and offer some of my thoughts about what to look for when buying one.

Five Reasons for Changing the Stock on Your Rifle

Ergonomics

Simply stated, you can't shoot a rifle very well if it doesn't fit you. As someone who is taller than most of you, the things that fit you usually don't even come close to fitting me, which is certainly true in the case of riflestocks. Because my arms are longer than those of most men, I have a hard time feeling comfortable shouldering any rifle that wears a factory-standard stock. The length of pull just isn't right, the whole situation just feels wrong, and I know it affects my shooting. So most of the time, I either replace the entire stock with a longer one or add a one-inch spacer (maybe two) plus a recoil pad. And even if I do replace the stock, I usually end up adding the spacer and a recoil pad anyway. I've never had a stock that didn't fit me because it was too long.

Besides the length of pull, there's the matter of what style of grip you prefer. Personally, I like a stock that affords me a vertical "pistol" grip situation. Rifles like my AR-15, my customized Savage 110FP Tactical that wears a McMillan A-2 Tactical stock, or Bwana, my custom-built .416 Remington Magnum with a Richards thumbhole stock, all allow me to get the right "feel" when I'm shooting. These stocks allow me to better position my shooting hand in such a manner that I can more effectively engage the trigger while controlling the tension I apply to it when making the shot. An example of a rifle which, to me, puts my hand in a bad position to pull the trigger is a standard-issue Enfield battle rifle. With my exceptionally long fingers, the whole setup immediately feels wrong when I wrap my hand around the wrist of an Enfield's buttstock and reach for the trigger with my forefinger. Because I like Enfields, though, I have a couple that now wear synthetic stocks. Such stocks, while not only being affordable from companies like Ramline and Advanced Technology, are simple to install and can make the difference between a rifle that's nearly impossible to shoot and one that feels like it was made just for you.

The forearm on a riflestock is equally important in how it fits you. Each of us, with the length of our arms varying from man to man, will support the front half of the rifle by placing his hand in a different position underneath the forearm of the riflestock. Typically, unless this portion of the stock is abnormally short, there are usually few problems for most shooters. One notable exception, however, is when the stock maker has built a recess into the forearm of the stock, with the intention of purposely encouraging the shooter to use that spot for his support hand. Such a feature may be fine for one shooter out of twenty, but for the rest such a design "feature" quickly becomes a design "flaw" -- and one that is often hard, if not impossible, to work around. Generally speaking, for the stock of a tactical rifle, it's usually nice if the bottom of the forearm has a gentle but constant upward angle that progresses from just forward of the trigger guard to the end of the forearm itself. When sighting on a target, the angle underneath the forearm allows the shooter -- if resting his rifle on a support such as a backpack, sandbags, or a rolled-up field jacket -- to easily make slight adjustments in elevation by simply sliding the rifle forward or rearward, thus raising or lowering the muzzle of the rifle, respectively.

Other considerations that involve a riflestock's ergonomics are the thickness of the wrist of the buttstock, the height of the comb, and whether the recoil pad allows the shooter to sink the stock into his shoulder. If the wrist of the buttstock is too thin, or too thick, you'll probably not be engaging the trigger in the best possible manner. If the top of the comb is so low that it is impossible for you to see through your scope when you have a proper cheek-to-stock "weld," you will compensate for it by raising your cheekbone off the stock -- and when you do this, you're introducing a variable (inconsistencies in positioning your head against the stock of your rifle, shot after shot after shot) that you don't want. And finally, if the butt of the stock doesn't fit into your shoulder properly, it can make it hard to get proper eye relief, assume a good cheek weld, or to align the crosshairs on the target without canting the rifle -- or all three of these things.

Weight

I don't know of anyone, after having humped an M-60 machine gun in the field for several hours (without a sling, by the way), who ever complained about having to give it to someone else to carry for a while. Weight is also a consideration when choosing a new riflestock. First, there are certain advantages to having a heavy riflestock, primarily being that a heavier rifle allows you to be steadier when making your shot, especially if there's a bit of a breeze and you have to take your shot while standing or kneeling. Second, however, the disadvantages of having a heavy riflestock all have to do with accelerating your level of fatigue when carrying the rifle in the field for prolonged periods of time, even if you are carrying the rifle over your shoulder by using its sling. For a military sniper in a tactical situation, having to carry additional weight is generally about as welcome as having a venereal disease. However, just as when carrying any type of load, there are some things you can do to make life easier for yourself, and I'll discuss them later.

Strength

Shooters usually believe heavy stocks are strong ones, but such reasoning is flawed. While this notion was perhaps true at one time, many years ago, constantly-evolving technology has given us materials and processes that have made strong and light riflestocks a reality. What do I mean when I talk about a "strong" riflestock? I'm talking about how much the stock swells with heat and humidity, how much is shrinks when cold, how resistant it is to cracking when it's dry, and whether or not it soaks up water and swells to a new dimension -- changes such as these directly affect the way a rifle shoots. I'm also talking about a stock's ability to withstand relatively minor damage such as occurs from everyday use. In other words, if the stock is mistreated a bit, is it capable of being repaired or does it have to be replaced?

Utility

Utility? Besides holding the barreled action and giving the shooter something to hold on to?

Yes, by all means, utility.

Does the rifle have swivel studs for mounting a sling or a bipod? By what method is the barreled action installed into the stock -- via a clamping system, an aluminum bedding block, or pillars? Is there an accessory rail built into the forearm? Is the underside of the forearm tapered in an upward angle as described earlier, or is it flat and parallel to the barrel? Is the bottom of the forearm flat or rounded? Does the stock have an adjustable cheekpiece? Does it have a buttplate that's adjustable for length of pull and cant of the rifle? Is the surface of the stock textured to provide a better gripping surface in wet conditions? Is the buttstock hollowed out to give the shooter a place to store cleaning supplies or other items, or to add weight if he needs to change the balance of the rifle? Will paint adhere to the stock? If so, what kind of paint? In fact, is the riflestock's material even capable of being painted without destroying the stock itself? If you're going to do a lot of crawling with the rifle, are the studs for the sling on the side of the rifle so you can tuck the latter in close to your body? If you're using a magnum-length action for a magnum-length cartridge, will the bolt clear the comb of the stock when you're removing a live round? Is the stock modular (can parts be replaced without having to replace the entire stock)? Does the stock facilitate mounting accessory lights and various sighting devices? Does it have a collapsible buttstock? Will is accommodate a left-handed shooter (which isn't very important, of course, unless you're a left-handed shooter)?

Like I said, "utility." If you think you want a new riflestock, what are you going to expect from it?

Aesthetics

Oh heck, let's be blunt and to the point about it. The most important thing about choosing a riflestock is -- how cool it looks! Right? Oh, come on now, you can tell me. Hey, it's alright, really. We like having the best looking cars, the prettiest women, the fanciest stereo equipment -- and we like our rifles to look "cool" too! Even guys who camouflage their stocks with cans of spray paint try to give their work "that special touch." (When it comes to painting a rifle, if you think "camouflage is camouflage," you haven't seen the camo jobs I've seen!) Personally, however, I think the most beautiful stocks in the world are laminated wood stocks! If you ask me, the swirling lines from the layers of epoxy that combine with the grain in the wood, along with the varying shades and colors, give laminated stocks a rich appearance unequaled by any other stock-making material. And besides being beautiful, laminated stocks are strong! They resist changes in climate very well, especially if covered with a coat of weatherproofing sealant, and they're usually much more affordable than synthetic riflestocks of similar design, strength, and features. Laminated stocks can be made from woods of any color -- light brown and dark brown, brown and black, black and green, and any combination thereof. Additionally, you can further alter the appearance of a laminated stock by staining it, as lightly or as heavily as you want, with whatever color stain you would like.

Then, there's your boring, everyday, run-of-the-mill walnut. Enough said on that.

And of course, as I mentioned, there is a wide variety of synthetic stocks to choose from, both in terms of material composition and general design. Synthetic stocks are typically somewhat stronger than laminated stocks and generally are more resistant to changes in weather. The most common riflestocks are made from Kevlar, fiberglass, plastic, Rynite, rubber, or graphite -- and sometimes two or more of these materials are used in combination to improve strength and rigidity while keeping weight manageable.

"The Stock Market"

Having been around guns for over 33 years, I've certainly seen my share of riflestocks, both good ones and bad ones. I'm at the point, then, where I feel fairly comfortable answering most of the questions I receive about the types of stocks that are on the market and where they can be found.

Just like building race cars, the same saying applies: "Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?" Riflestocks, especially the ones most people call "tactical" models, can range in price from affordable to expensive, depending on what those terms mean to you -- and for those of you who might be inclined to order a stock from one of the "names" in the industry, be advised that the more features you want included with your stock will affect how long you wait to take delivery. With these things in mind, let me tell you about some of the stocks that are currently available.