Ask any group of rifle shooters which stock material is the best and you will get as many different answers as there are people in the group. This is usually because there are different definitions of “better”. What better means to one shooter could be completely different with the next.
For those firearms collector types who love the beauty of a firearm with a story associated, the look of worn metal, and the appeal of aged finely crafted wood, the only answer is all rifles stocks should be made of wood.
For the more tactical group who drag their weapons through the muck and rough environments, then expect them to perform consistently day in day out, the only answer may be synthetic. Still others prefer the shear weight and appearance of laminate wood. So in order to answer this question correctly the definition or meaning of “better” must be clarified.
For the purposes of this article, I will define “better” as the material that delivers the most consistent performance in allowing the shooter to hit his target day to day and first time every time. The shooter already fights a number variables in meeting these goals like changing barrel temps, wind, ammo variation, and environmental affects only to name a few. My opinion is there is no need to add more for the shooter to manage to the mix of what he already deals with. After all, the goal IS to hit the target.
For consistency in accuracy through the normal variables present in ammo, environments, and shooters, a synthetic stock performs the best. These stocks can be advertised as polymer, plastic, or by many other names but they all mean the same thing.
Does everyone agree?
Not hardly. Many experts will tout the superiority of the good old fashioned stock made of solid walnut as being the most consistent way to carry and shoot a barreled action. Many of these people are basing their beliefs on their experiences which is completely understandable.
I have searched for data from an experiment that someone has conducted on this subject but have found very little. Certainly nothing that proves conclusively which stock material is better. So this article is based on my 30 plus years experience in precision shooting an about the same amount of time in the plastics industry.
Solid wood rifle stocks
In truth, wood has a tendency to swell and contract constantly based on humidity and other factors. Just spend the night in an old wooden house. When it gets really quiet all of the creaks and pops from the wood’s expansion and contraction will make you think the thing is about to collapse. The same thing happens with wooden stocks or anything else made of wood although not to as high a degree.
If you have ever traveled with a rifle in a wooden stock from that has been zeroed at low altitude in warm weather, to a place that is at a high altitude and cold, I will bet that you had to re zero your rifle before competing or going to the hunting stand. That is because the wood has changed with it’s environment. If the wood couldn’t do this it would crack.
I am not saying that rifle stocks made from wood are worthless. There have been many game animals taken with wooden stock rifles since the first hunt with rifle was conducted. I am only saying that synthetic, or plastic with the right design is better for consistency.
When you take a rifle out of the safe that hasn’t been shot since last deer season and you take it to the range to check it, have you ever had the point of impact be very different than where you zeroed it last year. There are many things that could cause this but most likely your wooden stock has changed a little due to the environment it has been stored in or is in currently.
Laminated wood rifle stocks
Laminate wood rifle stocks are just layers of thin wood glued together in different grain directions then cured in drying ovens. They are basically just very thick chunks of plywood. Because the wood grain is in different directions and bound by high tech glue, they are much stronger than solid wood and much more resistant to expansion, contraction, swelling, etc.
Because of this, they are much better at keeping point of impact consistent from day to day, and shot to shot.
Are they the pinnacle of rifle stock material to ensure consistent performance? In my opinion, and experience, no. Many will disagree with me here. Although they are much better than solid wood, in my opinion, they are not as consistent as a synthetic material.
Even though the laminate structure and glue does make the wood stock very stable and resistant to the environmental factors, it is still made of wood which expands and contracts, but to a much smaller degree than solid wood.
Is it enough for the normal shooter notice? Probably not, but if you are a long range shooter or just a little picky about maximizing accuracy, like I am, you might notice it over time from both short and long ranges.
With that said, laminate wood stocks are much more attractive than most synthetic stocks in my opinion. Each shooter has his own preferences and must determine if a few thousandths of an inch in group size at 50 yards is more important than how the rifle looks. If you are not a benchrest shooter the answer is more than likely no, and a laminate stock will serve you well.
One of my favorite laminate stocks is the Keystone Yukon and Extreme, pictured above. It will fit .920 inch bull barrels with a drop in fit, no additional fitting required on a standard 10/22.
They come in the woodland camo pictured above and an electric blue laminate finish. I love the thumbhole while makes it really comfortable to shoot allowing a vertical hold on the pistol grip. This position naturally allows a smoother trigger pull.
The stock gives the small rifle a big gun feel which I have always preferred.
It also provides for a very secure mounting of the action and the barrel is free floated once everything is tightened down. These stocks were built to last a lifetime and will improve the accuracy and stability of point of aim on most rifles. Check them out here at Cabela’s
Another good laminate wood stock is manufactured by Volquartsen shown above. It is of very high quality and has an outstanding appearance and design (pictured above in red). As with all Volquartsen parts, these stocks are very expensive, relatively speaking, at around $310 and up. If your search is for top quality and top level performance, and you are willing to pay for it, check out the Volquartsens here.
Synthetic rifle stocks
The word “synthetic” just means that the material or object it is describing is man made and doesn’t occur naturally. In the case of a rifle stock it usually means the stock is made of plastic polymer or some mixture of polymer and material like nylon.
The word polymer means the same thing basically. A polymer is just a type of plastic with a specific chain of molecules that have been joined using a chemical process to create a material with desired properties.
There are some types of plastics, used in the production of bottles for instance, that can degrade over time when exposed to the elements continuously. Without getting into a chemistry lesson in plastics, just know that the material rifle stocks are made of is designed to not to degrade in the outdoors environment, show high strength in relation to weight, and last forever.
This is why environmentalists are against burying any plastic materials in land fills. It is said to take hundreds of years to break down. That’s long enough for me to consider plastic to be a durable and a permanent rifle stock material.
As I stated earlier, polymer stocks are usually just not that appealing visually. If you are willing to do a little work yourself, and like me enjoy improving your rifles, they can actually become a blank canvas which allows some very creative paint or coating jobs.
Stock design also can play a part in how well the stock performs. Areas that are designed to be too thin will cause problems. This is the issue with the synthetic stocks Savage currently supplies with their new A and B22 rifles. The fore end of the stock is designed to be way too thin. So thin you can actually twist it with your bare hand. This is done to lower manufacturing costs.
I have written an article on how to easily stiffen these stocks and the technique works great while increasing total weight to add to stability. Check out the article here. See the rifle in the photo below, it is a an older model Savage FVSR 93r17 but the newer versions have the same issue.
Once the weak areas are thickened appropriately, this rifle became capable of half inch groups at 50 yards and the point of aim has proven to be completely stable.
Instead of going to the trouble of having to thicken a brand new stock, you could go with one of the after market stocks below. They are all polymer but have some differences.
Below is a simple table comparing the features of the major aftermarket 10/22 stocks available today. It just makes it a little easier to narrow down your choice. I’ll go into a little more detail below
Magpul Hunter X22
The Magpul X22 pictured above is my number one pick. It has the most positive features per dollar spent. It has all of the standard features of a synthetic stock but length of pull can adjusted by adding or removing spacers at the butt end of the rifle.
It is designed to accomodate the heavy bull barrels up to .920 inches and comes with multiple ways to attach a sling. The stock is designed for an easy drop in fit.
It is offered in a number of colors, even pink, and it thick enough in all of the important areas to yield great stability. At 2.7 lbs it is the heaviest of all stocks compared above but not so heavy you wouldn’t want to carry it.
There is a cheek riser available for the rifle but it must be purchase separately as an option.
The grip is at 60 degrees to the alignment with the bore which gives a great position for the right hand to make a precise trigger pull. It’s ready to attach any of the latest M lock accessories and is priced at around $127. It is an exceptional value as backed up by it’s customer rating of 4.7 on Amazon. For more details check them out here.
If you are looking for an aftermarket stock that has all of the features of the more expensive stocks on the market but is much much lighter, the Axiom could be the one for you. At 1.8 total pounds it is feather light.
Length of pull is completely adjustable but there is no accommodation for a cheek riser. Most shooters won’t need one as the comb height is very high to begin with.
The barrel is completely free floated while providing a very stable anchor for the action through the polymer frame. The barrel channel is designed to accommodate even the largest bull barrels up to .920″.
This one is a great answer for anyone looking for a good tactical application where accuracy is still of the utmost importance.Victory Titan
The Victory Titan is in the same class as the Magpul X22 with one feature that puts it in a class of it’s own. It has an aluminum bedding system for the action. Aluminum provides a much more stable platform than polymer alone which results in higher levels of accuracy with all other variables being equal.
The aluminum bedding blocks are arranged so both the front and rear of the action is supported and stabilized. It does come with sling mounting options which can be used for monopods, bipods, or other accessories.
The length of pull comes at a fixed 14 inches and there is no adjustment for comb height. Of course an aftermarket cheek riser could be easily added.
The trigger hand is accommodated with a vertical grip which is great for making a smooth consistent trigger pull
The stock is at the heavy end of the scale coming in at 3.8 lbs which makes it best suitable for stationary shooting and ultimate accuracy. You wouldn’t want to carry it for long distances especially if you equip it with a heavy bull barrel which it will accommodate. For it’s purpose it is highly ranked by those who purchased it on Amazon at 4.2
Promag Archangel Nomad
This is another tactical stock enhancement that has been around for some time because it works. With a folding polymer butt stock it can become ridiculously compact.
It has all of the tactical requirements such as aluminum reinforced picatinny rails on top and bottom of the barrel allowing attachment of whatever accessories you might need. The handguard is fitted slots to accommodate vertical accessories
It comes with 1 extended mag and open sights on top of the receiver which are completely adjustable for windage and elevation.
Take notice that this stock is designed for stock sporter barrels and not for the larger bull barrels. This is the to take your stock 10/22 to a battle ready condition quickly.
It sells for around $140 dollars at the present time. Check out the current price on Cabela’s
Hogue Overmold Standard for Heavy Barrel
There is nothing special about this stock until you start to look deeper. It is made up of a polymer frame that has been overmolded with a material that feels like a very durable rubber. Its features are traditional with a sleek straight comb, palm swells and a varminter style forend which is treated with a unique cobblestone texture.
Hunters especially will be attracted to the incredible quietness of these stocks. When coupled with a carbon barrel the overall weight is so light that it makes a perfect speed shooting gun for some of the metal target challenges.
I personally love the feel of this rifle. Even if wet your grip is solid with the textured rubber finish. The one I shot was equipped with a bushnell red dot making fast accurate shots easy. Even long range shots could be pulled off but not as accurately as with a scope.
With an overall customer satisfaction rating of 4 on Amazon, the vast majority of people who purchase them like them and I can see why. At around $85 or less, this is a lot of stock for the money. Check out the current price on Amazon here.
Wood stocks are gorgeous in most cases and certainly appeal to many shooters and gun enthusiasts, including me, but for shear dependability, durability, and consistency of performance a synthetic stock will out perform wood day to day.
Having owned both and having shot them in competitions at the local and regional level for 30 years, I feel I can honestly make that statement.
I still have beautiful solid wood and laminated stocks on many of my rifles but when accuracy under all conditions is a must, I reach for one of the polymer versions.