In the firearms industry, there’s very little bad news to report. The enterprise is alive and thriving, not only in the U.S but around the world. Currently, the market niche posting the highest sale volumes are the manufacturers’ budget or economy lines.
Manufacturers of bargain rifles
Retailers report that Ruger is going ‘great guns’ with both its American Centerfire and the Rimfire lines. Winchester is actively trading its new XTR brand of bolt guns. Savage is running extra shifts to crank out their highly accurate Axis and budget 10/110 series. The word is that New Haven, Conn., manufacturer Mossberg is struggling to keep up with the demand for its marvelous Patriot rifles and carbines. And traditional American favorites, Remington and Thompson Center are selling all the Model 783s and Compass rifles and carbines that they can ship out. As I said, it is a heyday for the firearms industry and for the beleaguered shooting public.
Wanting to have a piece of this lucrative market, the carriage trade manufacturers, Browning and Weatherby (which recently fled anti-gun California for friendlier Wyoming) have also fashioned several lower-end models to put their name-brand products into the hands of those of us of more modest means. Browning is banking on the third generation iteration of its popular A-Bolt, the A-Bolt III, while Weatherby continues to impress with its ever-evolving line of wallet-friendly Vanguard rifles and carbines. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that all of these makers claim their most popular chambering is the ubiquitous 6.5 Creedmoor.
Reasons for purchasing a bargain gun
From my perspective, there are a number of very good reasons why ‘economy’ firearms are getting the lion’s share of attention. In a nutshell, these bargain firearms often produce accuracy matching the flagship models, but sell for substantially less — often hundreds of dollars less. So unless your heart is set on impressing your peers by having the fanciest gun at the club or hunting camp or you simply can’t afford to spend your kids’ college funds on a hunting, target, self-defense weapon, why wouldn’t you go with a high-performance bargain model?
How can bargain guns be so accurate?
With more than 100 years of experimentation and experience under their belts, today’s gun manufacturers have pretty much broken the code on how to produce finely accurate firearms. With modern metallurgy and manufacturing processes, such as CNC milling and precise investment casting, it’s possible for gun builders to machine and cast to tolerances never before attainable. Weapons’ design has also been simplified, facilitating the use of lower cost materials and improved mass production processes. In most cases, cylindrical steel bar stock has replaced expensive, complex forgings that required tons of labor-intensive milling. We’ve also learned the secrets of how to make uber-accurate barrels, carefully controlling the cartridge headspace, and solidly bedding the barreled action to the stock. The result: reasonably priced guns that generally hold their own against weapons costing much more. Again, what’s not to love?
Working the stock exchange
As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, the greatest cost-saving the factories achieve with their bargain guns is realized by replacing the traditional wood stocks with a synthetic cousin. The typical synthetic stock is inexpensively molded from a black or drab colored thermoplastic. They are usually rather crudely fashioned, shaped for ease of manufacture rather than any sort of ergonomic benefit. Tragically, unless they are given additional support in the fore end (like an aluminum bedding bar), they are overly flexible and unstable. This, of course, is a very bad thing if you expect consistent repeatable accuracy under varying field conditions.
While the typical synthetic stock will serve most casual shooters and hunters well enough, for those individuals that demand precise, repeatable bullet placement, the only real solution is to chuck that plastic monstrosity and replace it with a quality synthetic or wooden handle.
Boyd gunstocks to the rescue
I shy away from the many quality synthetic stocks primarily because of cost. Most synthetics — by the likes of Bell and Carlson, McMillan, Manners, Hogue, AG Composites, MPI, H.S. Precision to name a few — sell for many hundreds of dollars, completely eliminating the practicality of buying a budget gun over its higher-grade sibling.
I achieve the ‘best bang for my buck’ by purchasing hardwood laminate stocks from Boyd Gunstocks (www.boydsgunstocks.com) and firearms wholesaler, CDNN (www.cdnnsports.com). Boyds, in particular, carries an extensive inventory of walnut and multi-colored laminates milled to ‘drop-in fit’ dozens of foreign and domestic rifle/shotgun models. Currently, seven different color schemes and 21 different stock shapes are offered. In previous columns (Stock finishing parts 1 and 2, published in May and June of 2018), I outlined the methods and materials that I use to glass bed, stabilize, and finish my stock exchanges.
If you have a hankering to transform your bargain basement wonder from plastic to fantastic, why not exchange that thermoplastic nightmare with a genuine hardwood handle. You’ll love it, guaranteed.