I don’t care what the younger generation says on this subject, nothing ends up a more beautiful rifle stock than a native piece of walnut. While I might own and, under bad weather conditions, be found hunting with a synthetic stocked rifle, it is the wood that I find desirable. The problem with the wood today is that there seems to be so little of it. Worse, even less has a good fiddle back or other figure in the wood.

For quite some time, we took the walnut stock for granted. But then birch came along, followed by the Remington Nylon 66. Actually, the Remington plastic stocked rifle wasn’t the first firearm that broke free from the traditional walnut use. I don’t remember the model number but somewhere in the 1950s, Stevens offered a semi-auto shotgun that utilized plastic stock. To say it wasn’t embraced by most hunters would be an understatement.

Looking for something other than walnut to lower the cost, many rifles were being produced in birch instead of the traditional walnut. A good example of a firearm with a birch stock would be the Ruger 10/22. Despite the drab plainness of the stock, the 10/22 would go on to be one of the very best and reliable semi-auto .22s ever produced. In the past, I would say of the Savage 110s and various other rifles, the stock they used is just plain ugly. Where looks are concerned, the use of the synthetic stock levels the playing field. Be it a Remington, a Winchester or a Savage, a synthetic stock is not a thing of beauty.

You may ask why walnut? Well, for one thing, walnut is a solid hardwood with figuring in certain spots. The hardness adds and yet is not excessively tough to inlet. Another plus with walnut is it is not overly heavy and yet isn’t weak or soft like some wood. But the thing I admire the most about walnut is the beauty it offers in certain places in the trunk or other large areas.

The figure we all admire comes from a root system or where there is a burl on the main trunk. Figure is one thing but there is also a chance of finding a piece of walnut with not only grain but a variation in color. But it seems we are in a state of scarceness when it comes to walnut. In that case, what other wood can be used to make a high grade outfit? Going back to pioneer days, we find cherry being used in the building of the Pennsylvania rifle. The physical attributes are there to make a fine stock from cherry but there is one caveat and that is a lack of figure and a color that is consistently the same.

Much has been made of using maple for a high grade rifle stock. Maple can be found with fiddle back all through it or sometimes, if one is lucky, Birdseye is present. While I lean to maple if I can’t get good walnut, I do seem to get tired of the bright yellowish color of maple. Roy Weatherby used Mesquite in his early years as a rifle manufacturer but this is a small tree that can make very few stocks. For a while, gun makers were using it.

Oregon myrtle has been used with some success. Two problems turn up when using myrtle. First, it is quite a bit heavier than walnut and second, it tends to change color as it ages. The rifle stock you thought was greenish yellow changes color through the years. The rifle stock you thought was greenish yellow might be all green or all yellow after a few years and it weighs a ton after assembly.

Gun stocks can be and have been made of many woods over the years and these were but a few. There is a beauty in a good wooden gunstock that synthetics can never have. I think I’ll take another look at the walnut stock on my Model 70.

George Block writes a weekly outdoors column for the Observer-Reporter

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