Customize Your Rifle

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There’s little doubt that most serious hunters dream of one day owning a custom rifle that has been built exactly to their specifications. But for many, it’s just not in the budget.

Thankfully, there are numerous, very high quality factory offerings on the shelf that offer up great accuracy. But if there is one thing that most share in common, it’s less-than-impressive stocks. Even higher end factory rifles are often fitted with relatively poor quality synthetic stocks and on lower end rifles, stocks are typically less than satisfactory.

Synthetic stocks on factory rifles are often made from plastic and can be overly heavy and, in some cases, not overly durable. I’ve actually had two factory stocks break on me over the years. One was on a fairly expensive rifle – it broke right at the sling swivel as a result of mounting a bipod on the rifle. The other was a less expensive rifle that cracked at the pistol grip for no apparent reason. I’ve also had front sling swivels pull out on three different stocks.

Thankfully, there is a very good and affordable option for upgrading the stock on a factory rifle, which brings the rifle into the world of semi-custom performance – adding an aftermarket stock. These run the gambit from off-the shelf options to stocks made exactly to your specifications. Some are fairly easy for the consumer to install and others require the services of a gunsmith.

Aftermarket stocks can increase accuracy, reduce weight, improve fit, offer added durability and with the addition of a custom paint job, they can look pretty darn cool.

While there are numerous aftermarket stock companies in North America, not all will custom make a stock to your specifications. While custom, aftermarket stocks come with a higher price tag, for my money it makes sense to get one fit to the shooter and the rifle. Otherwise, you aren’t likely gaining much over the factory stock you are replacing. The whole point of replacing the stock is to improve the performance of your rifle and to increase your shooting pleasure.

Most custom, aftermarket stocks are made from fibreglass, which offers superior strength and stiffness. But for those in search of a lighter weight option, graphite cloth can be used, rather than fibreglass. Graphite stocks are not recommended for heavy recoiling rifles, but for a lightweight mountain rifle, it’s ideal. Kevlar is another material occasionally used in manufacturing stocks, but it comes with an added cost with no real benefit over fibreglass.

Last year, my wife, Vanessa, decided she need a new stock for her Tikka T3, which we decided to order from McMillan. To keep the weight down, Vanessa decided on a graphite stock. After having Vanessa’s length of pull measured, the order was placed.

The stock came ready to drop the action and barrel into, but Vanessa wanted to have the action pillar bedded. The jury is out on whether bedding the receiver actually increases accuracy on a high-end stock, but the Tikka shot so well before replacing the stock that she wanted to ensure that accuracy was maintained. We never tried shooting the rifle with the new stock prior to bedding so I can’t say whether it made a difference of not but it would be an interesting experiment on my next project rifle.

Vanessa also elected to have the stock custom painted, rather than choose one of the custom colours available. Most stock makers offer a wide variety of colour choices and more detailed paint schemes. She elected to go with a green base colour with very subtle pink webbing. It was definitely personalized to her tastes.

While the Tikka came it at a slim six pounds, three ounces before the new stock, we still managed to shed three more ounces with the new stock. Not a huge savings in this instance, but with some rifles it’s possible to shed a pound or more. There is no more efficient means of lightening a rifle in most cases than by changing the stock out. For the budding mountain hunter on a budget, this can be a great way to turn a heavy old favourite into a serviceable mountain rifle.

Whether fibreglass and graphite stocks can withstand the elements better than wood is debateable, but there is no question that these composite stocks can handle whatever you throw at them. I, personally, would not own a mountain rifle with a wood stock. I know I can count on 100 per cent accuracy, regardless of the weather, with a composite stock.

Increased accuracy is typically another benefit of changing stocks. We did see a slight increase in accuracy with the Tikka, although it shot very well before so we didn’t expect anything dramatic. On some rifles the change can be amazing, especially those with pressure on the barrel. Stocks like the McMillan allow the barrel to free float, eliminating contact points, and they are precisely inletted from a solid piece to ensure there is no uneven pressure when action screws are tightened. This, combined with the rigid nature of composite stocks, can change an average shooting rifle to a tack driver with the simple change of a stock.

While the benefits listed above are pretty good reasons to upgrade a stock, fit is likely the most important one. While Vanessa has a fairly long length of pull for a woman, most off-the-shelf rifles are a half-inch too long for her and if one wants to upgrade the recoil pad, the problem is exacerbated. When Vanessa was measured for her McMillan stock, the additional thickness of a quality recoil pad was factored in so when the stock was completed, it was the appropriate length of pull with the recoil pad installed.

Adding an upgraded recoil pad to a factory stock can throw length of pull out by a couple inches or more. This can lead to poor fit, resulting in poor accuracy and increased felt recoil. Proper fit is critical, especially for smaller-framed shooters shooting heavier recoil cartridges. With a proper fitting stock, even the smallest shooters can typically handle heavy recoil cartridges.

In addition to the correct length of pull, you can choose a style of stock that suits you or a certain style of hunting best. A wide variety of grips, comb heights, forestock thicknesses and cheek piece styles are available. You can even choose between a variety of finish textures. A custom stock really is made for an individual.

If a custom rifle is not in the cards for you in the near future and you are looking to enhance the performance of your current rifle, a new custom stock might just be what the doctor ordered.

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