A Look at the Precision Rifle – Part 3 Stocks

The McMillan Rifle Co. A-5 stock is made with an adjustable cheek hood that can be easily manipulated in the field.

The McMillan Rifle Co. A-5 stock is made with an adjustable cheek hood that can be easily manipulated in the field.

A properly fit stock is paramount to precision shooting. The stock is the foundation in which the rifle action and barrel become one with the shooter. The more precisely the stock fits the shooter, especially in the length and cheek area, the better eye relief and alignment with the scope will be achieved.

An improperly fit stock is immediately noticeable because the shooter wiggles his head around to get a full picture in the scope. Unless the stock of your rifle is custom made to fit you, or you get lucky and get one off the rack that fits perfectly, some adjustment might be needed to get a proper fit.

Rifles are made to fit average-sized shooters with some variations in the length of the stock and the angle in which it drops from the line of sight. They will work for a wide variety of shooters. The more the stock is customized to fit the shooter, the more precisely and quickly the shooter will be able to shoulder and get a good sight picture in the scope.
Although the wood-stocked rifle is more than adequate for hunting, the professional marksman should have as precise a rifle as he can.

There is no other choice. Get a rifle with a custom-built stock or fit the rifle with a stock that can be adjusted to fit perfectly. Actually, the adjustable stock has merit over the custom stock in that it can be adjusted in the field for slight modifications to account for heavier clothing or awkward shooting positions.

Butt length can be adjusted with spacers, recoil pads, or by cutting off a section and re-fitting the butt plate. Sniper or precision-grade stocks from H.S. Precision are designed with adjustment devices built right in. The stock can be adjusted to length and locked out in position.

The stock is built heavier in the cheek area, the grip, and the forearm to better suit the precision rifleman’s needs. It is machined to fit the action of the rifle and the barrel taper. It can be purchased in whatever color or camo that fits the use or mission. I have one of these stocks on a .308 I built from a Remington 700 action. The stock needed a bit more height in the cheek area for me and I accomplished it with a cheek pad from Blackhawk. I didn’t need much and the soft pad did the trick.

H.S. also produces stocks with adjustable cheek areas that can be lowered or raised to precisely fit the shooter. Precision stocks are usually a bit heavier than sportsman’s stocks — a favorable feature if it doesn’t go overboard, especially if it is to be carried much in a sniper’s role.

McMillan Rifle Co. also makes custom stocks. They manufacture complete precision rifles and stocks in a wide variety of configurations. One of their most popular, because it addresses most of the shooter’s concerns, is the A-5. It has a wider and flatter beavertail forearm and the action and barrel fit lower in the stock.

The A-3 pistol grip and dual-purpose butt hook help stabilize the rifle whether shooting on sand bags or controlling the butt with the off hand. The length is adjustable with aluminum plates that can be added or removed, and the cheek weld is made with an adjustable hood that can be easily manipulated in the field. It also comes in many colors and camo.

The above stocks — although they are part of the Army’s M-24 sniping system — look much like a regular hunting stock in basic shape. Skeletonized stocks, like the Choate Ultimate Sniper Stock designed by Maj. John Plaster, have all the ergonomic features a precision rifleman could need in a stock. It is highly adjustable in the cheek and length department and has hollow areas that can be filled with lead and epoxy to add weight.

The butt bottom is flat with a height adjustment screw for laying on surfaces or sandbags. The front of the forearm is angled to adjust the height of the rifle by moving it back and forth on the rest. It is built from high quality composite materials and machined to fit specific actions. This stock is well thought out and deserves a look for anyone putting together a precision rifle.

Weight is an important feature of the precision rifle. The heavier barrel and stock steady the rifle and reduce felt recoil. I like a police marksman rifle around 10 to 12 pounds. Usually these are .308 Winchester, which is not a shoulder-buster, but the extra weight keeps the scope on target during the shot.

The Choate Ultimate Sniper Stock is highly adjustable in the cheek and length department and has hollow areas that can be filled with lead and epoxy to add weight.

The Choate Ultimate Sniper Stock is highly adjustable in the cheek and length department and has hollow areas that can be filled with lead and epoxy to add weight.

It isn’t so heavy that it can’t be packed to a hide easily or carried on a longer rural set up. Most hunters don’t like the heavier rifles because they are going to pack it around all day, but I like a happy medium in my hunting rifles. The number five contour on a barrel is heavier than a hunting barrel but not a full target or sniper weight. I like a stock that fits me properly and has an action that is bedded solidly and correctly and is lighter than a sniper grade stock.

Fiberglass and composite materials have replaced wood for stock construction and are far superior in rock solid bedding, which is also an important function of the stock. The composite stock is impervious to weather and will not warp, swell or cause different pressures on the barrel that affect accuracy. Also, aluminum blocks that have been machined to fit the particular action of a rifle can be secured with epoxy into the composite stock to get consistent bedding when torqued back together after cleaning.

The solid bedding of the action in the stock cannot be overemphasized. The aluminum block is now becoming the standard for bedding the action because it is a super-solid way of attaching the action to the stock. The rear of the receiver and the barrel must also fit perfectly. The rear of the action should also be a tight fit in the stock and not move during recoil, and the barrel should be floated, that is free from any contact with the stock.

When I fitted the .308 rifle to the H.S. Precision stock, the only modification I needed to do was mill out some aluminum for an after-market precision trigger. The stock was machined for the factory equipment. I epoxy bedded the receiver for a more solid fit, but it was really not necessary, just me being a little fussy.

The aluminum bedding is so superior, many manufacturers and gunsmiths are pillar-bedding actions in composite stocks that didn’t come with an aluminum block welded in. This entails drilling out the holes where the screws fit through the stock to accommodate an aluminum pillar and welding it into place with a high-quality bonding epoxy. This aluminum pillar will contact the action and the trigger guard assembly precisely so when the action screws are tightened, the action, stock and pillars become one.

In some cases wood is still an acceptable material for a stock and can be modified to improve performance. Pillar bedding can also be used to improve a wood stock. The old method was to bed the action in an epoxy/Fiberglas mix inside the stock that would strengthen the wood-to-metal bond. The barrel channel was either bedded out to the end in glass or floated out with bedding material in the channel to keep it from warping and contacting the barrel. This was and still is one great way to improve the wood stock. The pillars take it a bit further and the aluminum gives even more strength. This gives the utility of a light wood stock for hunting and a good solid bedding job.

The action and barrel fit lower in the A-5 stock. The pistol grip and the dual-purpose butt hook help stabilize the rifle.

The action and barrel fit lower in the A-5 stock. The pistol grip and the dual-purpose butt hook help stabilize the rifle.

I re-barreled a Winchester Model 70 short action in .308 thinking to make a lightweight medium sized game-hunting rifle. When it came to the stock, I didn’t want to make it unduly heavy with a tactical stock. The wood was in good shape so I just machined out a couple pillars from some T6 aluminum stock and installed them with Acra-glas. Brownells carries the pillars already made and all the resins to do the job; and it all comes with detailed instructions. The length of the stock was already fit to me and the scope mount I used was the perfect height for proper cheek weld.

Some cheek adjustment can be made in mounting the scope. Using higher or lower mounts can help and are worth looking into, especially on a non-adjustable cheek stock. This is quickly apparent with the AR-type rifles. With all the scope attachments on carry handles or flat tops, getting the correct cheek height is tough, especially if the rifle is set up for more precise shooting. I like the Magpul adjustable stock for the AR.

I mounted a Leupold Varmint scope to the flat top and couldn’t get my face low enough to see a proper sight picture. By raising the scope with a quick mount block and using the adjustable cheek piece on the Magpul, it now shoulders quickly with a good sight picture.

Although rifles may differ slightly because of the preferred utility of the tool, there are some factors that can be beneficial to the shooter’s performance. I like my rifles to be as accurate as possible no matter what the purpose, and with all the options to choose from, proper fit and solid bedding are going to be my first concerns. As far as color and finish, unless it is for a specific purpose, I leave fashion to my wife.

Editor’s note, this article appeared in the August 3, 2009 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine. To Subscribe, Click Here


ABCs of Rifle Shooting

ABCs of Rifle Shooting

The ABCs of Rifle Shooting by David Watson holds to the idea that shooters should hone their skills and streamline their equipment to achieve the desired results, rather than merely seeking out the newest pieces of equipment. Learn to put the time, effort, and training into the firearm you use—whichever you choose will be an accurate rifle because you’ve adapted to using it, not because it’s the latest and greatest, or most expensive model.

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