As Jon Sundra notes in his article on the new Mossberg Patriot elsewhere in this issue, a rifle's stock has everything to do with how a gun is perceived. Looks count for a lot. But stocks are obviously more than window dressing. They are the foundation for your barreled action, affecting barrel vibrations and contributing to accuracy. They are also your interface with the rifle. How well you shoot a gun is hugely influenced by how well the stock fits or how easily you are able to conform to its dimensions.
If you want to dress up a favorite old beater or breathe new life into a rifle that's been relegated to the back of the safe (and possibly make it a better shooter in the process), replacing the stock can be the ticket. And if you're building a custom gun — whether DIY or through a 'smith who leaves stock choice up to you — you're going to have to figure out what the rifle will wear.
I found myself facing this question while contemplating a rifle rebuild. So I borrowed three stocks from McMillan and shot them on a standard-contour Remington Model 700 in .280 Rem. The three stocks — Remington Mountain Rifle, McMillan Hunter and Game Scout — barely scratch the surface of the models McMillan offers. It builds custom stocks for about any rifle action you can think of, in a wide variety of painted and molded-in finishes.
Of my samples, the Mountain Rifle and McMillan Hunter have their patterns molded in, while the Game Scout is painted. All three are what the company calls "custom drop-in" — a package including a completely inletted stock with painted or molded-in finish, Decelerator or Limbsaver recoil pad and machine-screw swivel studs. Mine came with pre-installed, machined-in bedding pillars, a $28 option, and you can also add such extras as base cups (for 360-degree swivel designs), Picatinny rail sections and more. The Game Scout and McMillan Hunter can be inletted for right- or left-hand actions; the Mountain Rifle is right-hand only.
Made in the USA, they're built of hand-laid fiberglass, with multiple layers of eight-ounce woven cloth laminated under pressure with epoxy resin. The receiver area is filled with solid fiberglass, and the fore-end is filled with epoxy and glass beads. The buttstock hollow is treated to dense two-piece foam as a filler to deaden sound. I "thwacked" all three with a wooden dowel and did the same to several plain Jane synthetics, and the McMillans were noticeably quieter.
These are custom stocks, and custom doesn't come cheap. Today you could buy a budget rifle for less than what the Remington Mountain Rifle and McMillan Hunter stocks — $593 as tested — would run you. And at $840 as tested, the Game Scout will set you back more than, say, a Remington 700 SPS. However, McMillan also offers less-expensive versions with less inletting and fewer features.
The inletting is outstanding on all three, and they all had a 13.75-inch length of pull. The action dropped in without fuss every time, and action screws started easily. McMillan says it's not necessary to glass-bed barreled actions in its stocks, but there's enough play around the recoil lug area (as there would have to be to accomplish no-fuss installation), I know I'd bed at least around the lug because it would make me feel better.
Finish is great on all samples. As the company notes, you're going to see some mold lines and sanding marks on stocks with molded-in finishes due to the manufacturing process, and these are visible on my samples but not annoyingly so. Paint job on the Game Scout is perfect. Swivel studs screw into metal fittings and include polymer washers between stud head and stock. The Pachmayr Decelerator pads are well fitted.
Following is a look at the individual stocks. I shot each from the bench, offhand, sitting off sticks and prone off a daypack — about a box of ammo per stock. If you're comparing weights, the BDL wood stock I took off the test rifle weighs two pounds, four ounces.
Remington Mountain Rifle
Slimmest and lightest of the trio, the Mountain Rifle tips the scales at two pounds, one ounce. The svelte grip is 4.5 inches in circumference and 1.3 inches wide. The fore-end tapers from 1.8 inches wide at the front action screw to 1.2 inches at the tip. The comb is dead straight, and the buttstock's left side is treated to a shadowline cheekpiece. The molded checkering is in a traditional bordered point pattern.
The marble finish — 50 percent olive, 25 percent black and 25 percent tan — was well done and gives an overall impression of camo, and in fact I think it looks better than most camo stock patterns. And while I liked the slim grip when I first picked it up, its sweep angle doesn't suit me because the reach to the trigger is too long. I had a hard time getting my finger square to the trigger. In sitting and prone in particular my finger wanted to locate on the outside edge. Granted, I don't have long fingers, but I wear a medium glove so it's not like I'm some freak of nature. However, if it fits your hand better than it does mine, the Mountain Rifle would be an ideal choice for a lightweight hunting rifle.
It's done up in a brown-and-black marbled "McWoody" pattern, but that's not what grabbed my attention. This turned out to be a super-comfortable stock for me. Its grip is substantial without overdoing it and features a palm swell. The grip measures 1.7 inches wide at the swell and has a 5.2-inch circumference just above the swell. The fore-end taper is the same as the Mountain Rifle and also has a bordered point molded checkering, although in a different design. Weight is two pounds, four ounces.
I loved how the stock handled in all positions. Yes, Monte Carlos transmit more felt recoil than straight stocks, and I can feel the difference — even in a workaday caliber like the .280. But it's not like I came away feeling as if I'd gone a couple rounds with Joe Frasier (I'm showing my age, I know), even when burning through an old box of Hornady Light Magnums.
I do like palm swells, and this one feels great and puts my trigger finger in the right position with plenty of clearance in all positions.
This one had me at hello. I'm a sucker for the paint scheme, a textured process McMillan calls Speckletone — in this case black and tan specks over an olive base. And the optional adjustable cheekpiece...well, I'm beginning to think I'm missing the boat by not having the feature on a lot more rifles.
I have plenty of experience with adjustable-height cheekpieces, but they've always been on competition rifles. The Game Scout's design has me thinking about it as a better (albeit more expensive) hunting rifle alternative to a strap-on cheekpad.
At two pounds, six ounces, it's the heaviest of the bunch because of the extra parts for the cheekpiece and also because it's slightly beefier. The grip is an ambidextrous vertical design with a six-inch circumference and 1.8-inch width at its widest point.
At first I thought I wasn't going to like the grip in positions other than prone and from the bench, but I was wrong. It was more than fine from both sitting and offhand. Despite the girth I had no problems getting my finger squarely on the trigger face, and there were no issues with finger drag.
There are two adjustable cheekpiece options available for the Game Scout, one with thumbwheel adjustment and the clamp-style version I had. I do wish there were reference marks to enable you to go right back to your sweet spot after lowering the cheekpiece for cleaning. I love the texturing on the Speckletone finish, although I'd probably add a strip of moleskin on the comb for extended range sessions with rifles that have any level of recoil.
Depending on what you want or need, any of these would be great choices to restock a hunting gun. While the Mountain Rifle wouldn't work for me, the McMillan Hunter and the Game Scout certainly would. I'm having an incredibly hard time deciding which one I would pick. However, if you called me on it, I think I'd go with the McMillan Hunter model but with a Speckletone paint job.
Range facilities provided by Angeles Ranges.