Sturm, Ruger & Company is the latest manufacturer to offer a chassis-stocked rifle as part of its line, a competition/tactical bolt action called the Ruger Precision Rifle. Like most of its brethren (Savage makes one, and Bergara, and lots of other small gunbuilders) the RPR resembles an AR upper and lower with a bolt handle sticking out of it, an AR handguard, and in place of a conventional buttstock, a highly articulated framework with an adjustable comb and cheekpiece bolted on. Handsome, it ain’t. Light? At 10 pounds plus, sorry. Cheap? At a real world price of $1,100 or so, yes. Most such rifles cost a lot more. The future form of rifles? Probably, at least for some types.
Ever since the matchlock, our conventional stocking system has involved dropping various pieces of steel into a hunk or wood or fiberglass or Kevlar and attaching things so they hold together and shoot reasonably well. The problem is that a conventionally stocked rifle wants to torque, and does not recoil in a straight line. You can get it to behave, but only with very careful bedding, and it’s still doing things the hard way.
The Germans, with the STG-44 and Mikhail Kalashnikov with the AK-47, were the first to try to incorporate straight-line recoil, and Eugene Stoner followed with the AR-15. This was done to make the rifles more controllable on full-auto, rather than rising upward.
Straight-line design eventually made possible a radical improvement in bedding. There is no friction between parts, such as takes placed in the recoil-lug mortise; you screw a pipe into a frame and everything else hangs from the frame. Nothing moves; nothing loosens; nothing torques.
The next logical step was to make everything adjustable, so that a shooter could get a stock that truly fit him, as opposed to sort of fitting everyone else.
Are there flaws to chassis stocked rifles? Yes. The ones I’ve handled, in addition to being heavy, do not handle nearly as well as conventional guns. They’re slow, cumbersome, and awkward if you want to get a rifle into action quickly. Theirs is the tranquil and meditative world of deliberate shooting, where you get to set up first and then blaze away.
Also, chassis stocks are ugly, and as far as hunting goes, looks count for much. As Roger Caras, the late naturalist and eminent anti-hunter noted, if firearms looked like refrigerators, we would not have any need for gun control.
So, to answer my own question, if you’re purely a hunter, you’ll probably not have to deal with a chassis stock at any time in the foreseeable future. But if you’re interested in any phase of riflery where something will get you more hits than you’re currently getting and looks be damned, there’s a chassis in your future.