I have an affinity for older guns. For whatever reason, I simply enjoy shooting guns that have some historical significance, even if it is minor. But this leads to a problem: how do you balance the wear and tear that comes with shooting or carrying an old gun against keeping that gun in good shape? Enter Boyds Gunstocks.
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One of my favorite old guns is the Winchester Model 70, particularly pre-1964 production models. These “pre-64” guns carry a significant price premium today due to the controlled-feed action and old-school workmanship they exhibit. These rifles do not feature threaded muzzles, 20-MOA integral scope bases, or AICS magazines, but they are an undeniably classic American rifle. Some pre-64 Model 70 rifles chambered in 30-06 were notably used by Marine snipers in Vietnam, including Carlos Hathcock.
My introduction to the Model 70 came by way of a family heirloom Featherweight model in .308 Winchester. I had no idea what it was worth and thought it was a regular old hunting rifle, thus I took it hunting when I was in high school. One day I looked up similar rifles on Gunbroker and was floored by the prices they were selling for. Those prices have only continued to climb, and that Model 70 has stayed safely in the gun safe for many years.
But it just feels wrong to have a rifle that was meant to spend its days in the field relegated to the back row of a gun safe. It may be bordering on a collector’s item today, but back when it was purchased it was a quality rifle with a good scope that was carried regularly in the woods. Its original purchaser, now long deceased, would be very upset if he knew his rifle never even saw a shooting range, much less an actual hunt.
My main concern with taking the rifle out in the variable weather and steep hillsides of an elk hunt was the stock. The original wood was in great condition, and it would not remain in great condition as I scrambled over rocks and ducked through the trees. Then an opportunity came to review a Boyds stock and that seemed like the perfect solution to my dilemma.
Laminate stocks are not usually my thing. Many options on the market strike me as garish, and I wanted to stay true to the classic lines of the Model 70. After some review of the options from Boyds, I decided on the Classic stock in the color “Pepper.” It is a traditional shape with a slightly higher comb for optics use.
All pre-64 Model 70s are a “long action” so selecting the appropriate stock was simple. Boyds lists measurements for action screw spacing and barrel diameters, and I used those to double check. Installing the stock was very easy. I removed the action screws, trigger guard, and floorplate, dropped the barreled action in the Boyds stock, and reinstalled the small parts. Everything fit together perfectly with no fitting.
Many options are available from Boyds to customize a gunstock. I added aluminum pillar bedding and a Limbsaver recoil pad. The .308 is not a bruiser but I have always liked Limbsaver pads. The sling studs are the standard variety, and an older Blue Force Gear Hunting Sling from my parts bin fit perfectly.
The comb of the stock sits slightly higher than the factory stock. I had been concerned that this would place my head too high in relation to the scope, and iron sights. I was happy to find that was not the case. Eye position behind the scope was very comfortable, and I was still able to use the iron sights. Head position for the iron sights was not ideal, but in the unlikely situation where you have to take off the scope and use the irons, it would be workable.
The most noticeable performance improvement was in the accuracy. The fully free-floated barrel combined with the pillar bedding tightened up the groups substantially. This rifle has a tendency to throw the 3rd or 4th shot of each group, opening up decent groups to 2-3 MOA groups. I suspect that the barrel contacts the stock irregularly as the barrel warms, causing the thrown shot. That all stopped once it was in the Boyds stock. Groups stayed tight for 5 rounds, which is about the heat-imposed limit in a very thin barrel contour like a Featherweight. I have no reservations in stating that this stock made my rifle more accurate.
In The Field
I took this rifle on my annual elk hunt to see how I felt about the stock in all the other ways that matter on a hunting rifle. The short version: it is great. The stock carries well in the hand or on a sling. It feels like a classic rifle stock, which I prefer to a chassis system or some of the more modern long-range stock systems. Those are wonderful for PRS matches or slapping steel out in the desert, but they always annoy me in one way or another when I’m hiking.
The Boyds Classic stock handled the abuses of hunting life very well. We had a rather wet season this year and the moisture did not cause any swelling or deformation of the stock. The factory stock would not have retained its shape in those weather conditions. Laminate stocks are not made of one piece of wood, but out of many layers of wood bonded together into a block which is then shaped into a stock. This makes the stock impervious to moisture penetration, unlike a normal piece of wood.
The Boyds stock also held up well to the bumps and knocks that inevitably happen when moving through trees and rocks. At the end of the hunt it did not look perfectly new but it also hardly looked used. Any signs of wear or tear were moderate and only noticeable on closer inspection.
If you have a classic rifle that could benefit from a different stock, you should check out the offerings from Boyds. They have options for most rifles available and you can personalize them to your taste. And it may be just the ticket for getting one of your older guns back in the field.
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