Rifles: Stock Exchange

This stock shoots like a synthetic but looks like the real thing

David Lawrence

Chemistry never appealed to me except on those occasions when a student would screw up in the lab and produce such a godless and mephitic stench that we would get the rest of the afternoon off. I began to appreciate chemistry more when the first synthetic stocks appeared, because they revolutionized rifle making. For the very first time, shooters had absolutely stable, lightweight stocks that were stronger than wood. But there was and still is a minus side: Even with an imaginative paint job and a nice shape, a synthetic stock lacks the beauty and character of wood.

Then there are laminated wood stocks, which have been around for decades. They are strong and stable, but they look like what they are: thin slabs of wood glued together and stained in depressing colors.

THE ALTERNATIVE
But now, as former President Bubba used to say, there is a third way. Serengeti Stockworks in Kalispell, Montana (406-756-2399; serengetistockworks.com) builds laminated walnut stocks that are stable yet look like natural wood. Serengeti uses a proprietary process in which a solid-walnut blank is sawn into five unequal slabs. Before the five pieces are glued together, however, their grains are arranged so the direction of each opposes that of the next. You end up with three thin inner stabilizing layers that lie along the length of the barrel and action, and two thick outer layers that supply the stock with its natural looks. How natural? My gun dealer, who handles many high-grade firearms, didn't spot the laminations until I pointed them out.

CHOICES
There are eight Serengeti basic stock profiles and a choice of three woods (California English, California Claro, or Bastogne) available in four grades. Serengeti also offers a mind-boggling list of options: checkering, grip caps, glass bedding, and more.

You can restock as thrifty or as expensive as you please. For example, you can buy an A-grade blank for $195. Serengeti will semi-inlet and finish it for $200, and you or your gunsmith can do the rest of the work. Or you can have Serengeti do the whole job, which they did on my Weatherby Mark V Accumark in .300 Weatherby Magnum. That gun now has a Merlin-profile stock made from AAA-grade Claro walnut, custom oil-finished, ebony fore-end tip, reinforcing crossbolts with ebony plugs, Dakota steel grip cap, and shadowline cheekpiece. The total cost, with action bedding, was $2,240-not cheap, but this is first-class work.

BUT DOES IT SHOOT?
With its original factory stock, my Weatherby shot .828 inch with handloads using 180-grain Swift Scirocco bullets. It now groups the same load in .720 inch.

I shot the newly stocked rifle at the beginning of a tropical September, when it was so hot and humid that the targets wilted in my hand. A second session at the end of October, with the temperature 58 degrees lower and the humidity 62 points less, did not move the point of impact. I will keep shooting as the weather changes and let you know how it does.