Deer Rifle Debate: Why Wood Stocks Are Better Than Synthetic
Sure, synthetic may be more weatherproof, and hunters don’t care if they put a few scuffs and scratches in a black plastic stock. But there will never be a replacement for a nicely done, hardwood-stocked hunting rifle.
For deer hunters, the warmth, nostalgia, and patina of fine furniture is part of the allure of old-school hunting. Yet, with each passing year, it gets harder to find timber furniture on deer rifles, at least at anything considered affordable prices. So Guns.com decided to dig deep to present more than a dozen such deer rifles to help you out.
The Case for Tree Furniture
There’s little arguing that synthetic furniture offers greater weather resistance. It’s less prone to cracking or splintering. It doesn’t absorb water, thus eliminating the natural swelling and shrinking dilemma. Heck, some composite stocks even look pretty darn good. But, alas, they’re not wood, and they never will be. If you can’t appreciate the distinctive feel of a quality hand-checkered timber stock against blued steel, we can’t help you.
Pound for pound, wood generally makes guns more expensive as the cost of quality, natural hardwood increases. Yet so many of us seek it out. There’s the lottery-like feel of finding guns stocked with exceptionally fine grains, feathering, burl, and other beautiful patterns. The incidental dings and dents add character. A rifle with wood stocks can become an heirloom to pass down to later generations, with its patina and markings defining its history.
That’s not to say modern synthetic stocks are not of high quality. In fact, there are some exceptionally crafted specimens, especially on the ultralight spectrum. While synthetics will better survive extreme conditions, a properly built – and bedded, in most cases – wood stock will be just as accurate as its polymer counterpart. There’s neither a hollow internal feel nor plastic-like rattle.
Add in the artwork of stock building along with all the types of checkering, engraving, scrollwork, inlays, etc., and there’s no replacement. Cheap, imitation pressed wood stocks that have been hydro-dipped to look like quality timber won’t cut it. So, here are 13 great options for those who love wood stocks as much as we do.
The “made in America or not made at all” company uses 100-percent USA parts, including American walnut. Whether seeking lever actions, single shots, brass, steel, Mare’s Legs, or anything in between, Henry offers those firearms with classy wood stocks. In fact, almost every model – except the blacked-out X-Model – wears domestic timber.
Here are a few of our favorites for deer hunters: All-Weather .45-70 Gov’t, Steel Wildlife .30-30 Win, Brass Side Gate .38-55 Win, any of the handgun-chambered Big Boys, Long Ranger in 6.5 Creedmoor, or a simple single shot like the .350 Legend. There are even a few Youth choices, too. They’re easily scoped yet retain quality iron sights. The guns are smooth, accurate, and capable hunting companions. Choosing just one Henry for hunting from the long list is almost like grabbing a single potato chip from the bag – you’ll surely crave more.
Most of the time, when talking wood stocks, the material of choice is walnut. The higher the grade, the more oohs and aahs. But every once in a while, another type of beautiful timber makes its way to the market. In this case, Winchester’s Model 70 Super Grade Maple is one of the most eye-catching production hunting rifles. That AAAA maple, ebony forend tip, and gloss bluing stop the show. The Super Grades, in general, are almost too beautiful to take afield – almost.
For those hunters seeking something a bit more affordable but still wooden, there are a number of other classic Model 70s. The Featherweight, Featherweight Compact, Alaskan, and Safari Express all exhibit varying grades and types of walnut finery. The Super Grade French Walnut, with its ebony tips, is also a work of art in hunting form.
Whether selecting the American-made premium Mark V line or the more pocketbook-friendly Japanese-made Vanguard, Weatherby remains true to its history of producing timber-dressed hunting rifles. The Mark V Deluxe, one of the finer-looking production rifles on the market, wears rich gloss AA walnut stocks with rosewood grip caps and maple spacers.
There’s also sharp, diamond-point checkering, a Pachmayr Decelerator recoil pad, and a standard six-lug bolt – nine lugs on the magnum actions. Today, many of the harder-hitting magnums come with the company’s Accubrake ST muzzle brake in place. The Mark V Deluxe is one of the most instantly recognizable Walnut-dressed rifles in the world.
While the majority of Savage’s bolt-action rifles wear some type of synthetic dress, the company hasn’t turned its backs on old-school wood. The 110 Classic offers walnut with a modern twist, including angular checkering and an adjustable comb and LOP.
It’s one of the more unique wood-stocked versions available with its generous amount of customizable adjustment. The 110 is fed by a detachable box magazine. The threaded muzzle is an especially welcome addition, making brake or suppressor mounting a snap. There are eight chamberings, each plenty capable on deer: .243 Win, .270 Win, .30-06 Spfld, .308 Win, 6.5 Creed, 7mm-08 Rem, and 7mm Rem Mag.
Smaller-framed or female shooters will also want to get their hands on Savage’s Model 11 Lady Hunter with its slimmer lines, shorter LOP, and oil-finished stock. The American walnut furniture features a highly raised comb intended to get the eye naturally in line with an optic. Barrel lengths are 20 inches with a shift in the point of balance for a lighter feel.
In the sea of more affordable deer rifles, Winchester’s Sporter from the XPR line of bolt-action rifles offers a solid option. It offers Grade 1 walnut against matte-blued metalwork. The button-rifled barrel is both free floated and finished with a target crown. The XPR uses Winchester’s MOA trigger system, and the bolt is coated with nickel Teflon.
There’s a long list of 16 chamberings to boot, from .223 Rem up to .338 Win Mag with interesting calibers like 6.8 Western, 6.5 PRC, .325 WSM, and .350 Legend. Winchester’s XPR Sporter is among the few truly affordable, walnut-dressed hunting rifles.
A few more traditional options sit at the bottom of a very extensive list of Browning X-Bolt centerfire rifles covered in composite, synthetic, and Cerakote. The Hunter, Medallion, and Micro Midas each come fitted with walnut. What’s more, they also offer a left-handed variant of each, marking some of the few current factory-production, wood-stocked hunting rifles for southpaws.
There’s a laundry list of chamberings covering everything a deer – or big game – hunter could need. For those who really want an eye-popper, check out the X-Bolt White Gold Medallion with its stunning Grade IV/V high-gloss walnut, polished stainless barrel and action, and sharp contrasting wood grip caps. Though the X-Bolt is the current production run, Browning’s A-Bolt Hunter and Medallion families long offered walnut-stocked rifles with a reputation for both looks and accuracy.
Not all hunters can dedicate the funds to the finery of Weatherby’s flagship Mark V Deluxe. For them, the Vanguard makes a ready and more affordable hunting companion. While still granting serious hunting features, the Vanguard Sporter comes adorned with wood for considerably less than the deluxe option.
The Vanguard Sporter offers a Monte Carlo-style walnut stock along with a three-shot sub-MOA accuracy guarantee. There’s matte bluing, a two-stage trigger, and three-position safety. The list of chamberings includes all the expected selections, along with a handful of Weatherby’s own zingers.
The lever-action market is as strong now as ever, though Marlin’s duo of offerings under its new Ruger control offer laminate furniture. Browning’s magazine-fed BLR rifles continue along the more classic trend with a gloss finish, Grade 1 walnut. That holds true for the Lightweight, Lightweight 81, and Lightweight Stainless.
Each rack-and-pinion-driven BLR is built with an aluminum-alloy receiver, folding hammer, and gold-plated trigger. Over the years, the BLR has been available in no fewer than 17 chamberings, from .22-250 Rem to .300 Win Mag, including oddballs like .358 Win, .450 Marlin, and the bigger WSMs. However, not all remain in current production.
Ruger’s long-revered single-shot No. 1 hunting rifles continue to this day in nothing other than wood-stocked delight. The No. 1 is a compact falling-block action operated with an under-lever mechanism. The robust design can handle all the most powerful cartridges. There are integral scope mounts with included rings, a sliding tang safety, and an ejector mechanism that can be adjusted to provide extraction only.
Though different, limited-edition models and chamberings are produced each year, the list stays strong and geared directly to deer and bigger game hunters. On the website, at the time of writing, there is an intriguing trio. But we’d gladly pursue deer with the .257 Weatherby, 7x57 (.275 Rigby), or 6.5 Creedmoor.
The vast majority of Bergara’s Spanish-built bolt-action rifles use the latest, lightest materials like carbon fiber and modern composites. However, the company still retains a single more traditional model in the B-14 Timber. It features a Monte Carlo-style and oil-finished walnut stock that is bedded with integral pillars.
Since it’s built on a B-14, it has a two-lug bolt system, 3-pound trigger, and hinged floorplate. The steel barrel is finished with graphite-black Cerakote. Calibers include .243 Win, 6.5 Creed, .270 Win, .308 Win, .30-06 Spfld, and .300 Win Mag. Regardless of the chambering, all B-14 rifles are guaranteed to produce MOA groups with match-grade ammunition.
There’s still no good reason why the Mossberg Patriot family of affordable bolt-action hunting rifles flies under the name-brand radar. Few rifles offer the killer blend of accuracy and features for such budget prices. The timber-stocked Patriot Walnut can be had as either a bare rifle or a Vortex scoped combo. There’s a dropbox magazine, fluted barrel, spiral-fluted bolt, recessed match barrel crown, and even a user-adjustable LBA trigger.
Chamberings run from .22-250 Rem up to .375 Ruger with interesting additions like .350 Legend, .25-06 Rem, .450 Bushmaster, and .338 Win Mag. For an extra degree of class, look to the Mossberg Patriot Revere with its added attention to detail, including a nicely upgraded stock with Premier Grade European walnut, rosewood grip caps with contrasting maple spacer, and monogrammed “M” adorning the cap.
Finnish-made Tikka bolt-action rifles offer a model for every hunter, from Varmint and Superlite to Tactical and Compact. But amidst all the selections in the T3x line, they have not neglected old-school cool. In addition to the Varmint Hunter, the company stocks lumber on the Forest, Hunter, and Hunter Stainless Fluted variants.
There’s a steel recoil lug, metallic bolt shroud, and MOA accuracy. A classic Forest model caters to hunters using larger optics in higher mounts by including a roll-over cheek piece. The Hunter Stainless Fluted represents one of the few current factory-production walnut and stainless bolt guns, especially with a fluted barrel. What’s more, the Hunter is also available as a left-hander.
Though Browning’s proven autoloading centerfire hunting rifle has added numerous camo, Cerakote, and synthetic options, several wood-stocked models still remain for those who shot and loved early original BARs. The Mk 3, Mk 2 Safari, and Mk 3 DBM – short for drop-box magazine – maintain the nostalgia with walnut. Each uses differing grades of Turkish walnut along with the alloy receiver and steel barrel.
There’s a hinged floorplate with a detachable box magazine in all models outside the newer DBM. Calibers reach from .243 Win up to .300 Win Mag with multiple hard-hitting deer chamberings in between. The allure of lower recoil and faster follow-up shots attracts hunters to the BAR to this day and for good reason. The design continues to stand the test of time.
While this list is living proof that there is still interest in the allure of rifles dressed in wood, there are some definite omissions – some now out of production. But we are hopeful a few may return. If the rebirth of Remington yields the Model 700 – which seems imminent as of this writing – traditional timber stocks will certainly be among them.
Likewise, it seems only a matter of time before the Ruger-renovated Marlins appear in wood. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping our finger on the pulse of available wood-stocked rifles.