Injection-Molded Rifle Stocks – Black Sticks of the Firearms Industry
First off, I am not talking about the high quality synthetic/composite stocks produced by manufacturers like McMillan. I am referring to those lightweight, injection molded plastic stocks sold by virtually every major firearms manufacturer in the United States.
These stocks are marketed as weatherproof, resistant to damage and inherently more accurate than their laminated or solid wood counterparts. Chuck Hawks wrote a superb article on these and other synthetics entitled "The Rifle Stock," which can be found at http://www.chuckhawks.com/rifle_stock.htm. My comments are simply an addendum to his article, based on personal experience.
Most of these stocks are manufactured by the injection-molding process. Although the initial set up of the equipment is more expensive, the stocks themselves are cheap to make. The reason these black clubs are marketed with all the hype of snake oil medicine is that they allow the manufacturers to sell their rifles at a higher profit margin.
You cannot miss these buffys on the gun store racks. The seam lines from the molding process are clearly visible down the center of the stock and they are essentially hollow when you remove the barreled-action. Simple plastic crosspieces typically support the barrel and secure the action.
What is wrong with injection molded, synthetic stocks, aside from the fact that they are uglier than homemade sin, made of plastic and promise to be forgiving of the hunter/shooter that is not very careful with his equipment? Let’s look at each of their supposed virtues one by one.
Are these black sticks weather-resistant? Of course they are. Polymer materials degrade very slowly over time. Are they resistant to damage? They are when it comes to scratches and dents. However, they can warp in hot weather, especially if exposed to sunlight in your car or truck during the summer months. They may also become brittle in cold weather and fracture. Injection molded stocks are actually less durable, and no more waterproof, than laminated wood stocks.
Are they inherently more accurate than wood stocks? Absolutely not! In fact, most are too flexible to be a solid bedding platform for the barreled action and will not perform as well as a factory-installed walnut, hardwood or laminated stock. To bring their accuracy in-line with a proper stock, you will have to bed the entire barreled-action.
Last but not least, the increased recoil due to the lightweight stock, especially in magnum calibers, will make most shooters flinch. That flinch may well cost you the trophy of a lifetime; or worse, result in a wounded animal that escapes to suffer a slow and painful death. If you are shooting a rifle in a caliber less than .270, a plastic stock is probably satisfactory in terms of recoil, but any larger caliber needs a heftier stock.
That summarizes the alleged benefits of injection-molded stocks. The following paragraphs outline one of our experiences with this type of stock.
We bought a new bolt action rifle chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum with an injection-molded stock. The price was right and it came equipped with a Sightron SII 3-9x scope. I won’t mention the rifle’s brand name, because all the major manufacturers are guilty of marketing these junk stocks. The gun was not too bad looking for a rifle with a plastic stock, but it kicked like a Missouri mule. We had Charley Robertson of Score High Gunsmithing in Albuquerque, New Mexico install one of his famous muzzle brakes. It still kicked like a mule. The gun was just too light for the caliber. We might as well have been shooting the barreled-action.
The only solution was to order a wood stock and start over. Mary decided on a Boyds Ross laminated wood stock from Don Bitz, who owns Stockey’s in Lake Worth, Florida in purple. The stock arrived a week before our recent sheep hunt in south Texas. As promised, the stock was virtually drop-in, requiring only a bit of light sanding to smooth out a couple of minor rough spots. Being short on time, we just packed the rifle up with the rest of our gear and headed for Texas. Either it would shoot straight when tested on the ranch rifle range, or Mary would have to use her .270 Ruger M77 for the hunt.
After the usual 2-day drive, we arrived at the Double C Ranch in Crystal City, Texas for our hunt. Mary quickly unloaded our gear and headed for the ranch’s range to sight-in her restocked rifle. After her first two rounds to zero in our new loads, she claimed that the gun had much less recoil. In fact, we delayed our hunt for over an hour while she played with the rifle, firing over 25 rounds. After each round, she turned to me and exclaimed, "This is really fun to shoot." It is not very often that anyone actually shoots a .300 Win. Mag. for fun. Fortunately, it was accurate. Mary just kept poking holes in the 100 yard bullseye until there wasn’t much paper left. It reminded me of those carnival shooting booths where you had to shoot out the star with a BB gun.
My bride of almost 22 years decided to use that .300 Win. Mag. on her sheep hunt. Granted, that is a bit of overkill for a 200 pound sheep, but I am not going to argue with a woman who is three inches taller than me, 25 years younger and shoots like Annie Oakley. I may be old, but I am not stupid! After two days of hard hunting, she dropped a beautiful gold medal sheep at 150 yards with one shot. (Our article about this hunt can be found on the Hunting Stories page.) However, our guide, Kevin Cross, may be deaf for the next month. That’s the price one pays for hunting with a muzzle brake.
The next time a rifle with a plastic stock appeals to you, think again. It is ugly, kicks like a mule, ugly, and overly flexible. Did I mention that they are ugly? Few hunters will ever hunt under conditions where the limited benefits of a plastic stock would be an asset. For the record, most of those injection molded stocks are NOT resistant to the solvents present in modern bore cleaners. However, plastic stocks do have at least one practical use: They can be used as an emergency boat paddle in case of you’re up a creek without one. (Sorry for the pun.) Save your money and buy a rifle with a proper stock.
Copyright 2009 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.