Precision-Rifle Evolution: Today’s Modern Chassis Designs
This “Keeping Things Chassis” article originally appeared as a Rifles column in the September 2017 issue of Shooting Illustrated. To subscribe to the magazine, visit the NRA membership page here and select Shooting Illustrated as your member magazine.
The modern AR-15 sport rifle is not the only type of long gun that has developed significantly over the past decade. Bolt action rifles – especially their stocks – have also increased in functionality and flexibility in recent years. I started shooting wooden-trimmed bolt-action rifles at summer camp in the late 1970s, and things hadn’t changed much by the time I received my first Army sniper rifle in the mid-1990s. A no-frills stock worked fine back when I was learning the basics of gun safety, but with my sniper rifle, that was a different story. The only “customizability” was in the form of 100 mph tape and foam padding to change train length and comb height.
Despite a silky smooth action, my issued McMillan-tipped rifle had other serious limitations in the field. An internal five-round magazine was slow to reload and completely unsuitable for anything that resembled a modern combat environment. My hinged bottom plate would pop open if the rifle got a hard push, and the short toe of the butt stock made it difficult to raise or push the target point with my support hand. The glass bed action was prone to damage during the very rough infiltration methods we used. The only fastening points were a pair of old-school sling bolts, and there was no track space for additional equipment at the time. My rifle was accurate, but I usually opted for something that was better suited for quick movements. demanding environments – often with a loss in accuracy, range and bullet performance.
These weapons were eventually replaced with new ones from an allied manufacturer. The updated versions represented a quantum leap in the shooter / rifle interface. Thumbhole shafts enabled more natural wrist angles, while pull lengths and crest heights could be adjusted in seconds. Several sections of rail were positioned along the front end and the best part was that these rifles used detachable magazine magazines. The new platform also opened my eyes to the beauty of full-length aluminum chassis bed systems. The accuracy was fantastic and durability in the field was no longer an issue. We were suddenly in the 21st century, a few years earlier than planned.
These chassis rifle upgrades are pretty much standard fare today. Conventional stocks are still the cheapest entry-level option and remain appropriate wherever a reduced design is preferred. Most current bolt action rifle manufacturers, however, offer models with fully adjustable stocks, modular components, external magazines, and plenty of rail mount space. Special manufacturers and custom shops also expand the pool of options. Alloy blocks and chassis systems have put the need for conventional glass and column bedding on the pasture. Side folders are also becoming a common option for bolt action rifles. Rails can easily be added for all types of equipment as needed. Manufacturers may approach things differently – an AR-style free-floating tube versus a minimal profile, skeletonized forend, for example – but these are mostly well-thought and solidly built designs.
Perhaps the best news is that some companies these days have good aftermarket stocks available. Prices run from less than $ 200 for models from Magpul, Choate, and Archangel Manufacturing at more than $ 2,300 for shares of CADEX. There are a number of great options ranging from $ 400 to $ 800. While the Remington 700 Series stocks are the most common, the list of Actions Supported continues to grow. Whether your needs are for real world tactical work, predator control, meat in the pantry, or precision rifle competition, these stocks can breathe new life into a solid, old action that needs an upgrade.
Several years ago I rode a stripped down Savage Arms Model 10, left handed, with a 20 ” Shilen tube that I twisted and chambered in .308 Win. The only options for replacing the stem at the time were with cheap, injection-molded OEM stems or custom-made stems from high-end manufacturers. I couldn’t afford the custom option so I planned to stiffen and glaze an OEM inventory as I had successfully done in the past. The run action stayed in mothballs, however, because I apparently wasn’t motivated to rework another thermoplastic stock. My gamble that someone would at some point offer more aftermarket solutions for this decidedly less common southpaw campaign has finally paid off. I recently opted for a mid-range device from Modular Driven Technologies (MDT). The chassis of the MDT LSS model appealed to me because it allows for the use of AR grips and shafts, both of which I have in large numbers (and which happen to like).
At just over $ 400 after shipping, inventory was the most expensive component of this chassis rifle. But the product quality is excellent, installation was easy, and the fit is perfect. The barrel is free-floating and the action fits perfectly with an attractive, continuous aluminum chassis that uses the very popular AICS sample magazines. Three Magpul 10 tops cost me less than the price of a real Accuracy International magazine. I added a collapsible shaft, pistol grip, bipod, and scope. After eight years of rest, my rifle finally got a chance to dent some primers and the results were spectacular. The first five-round group shot fired during the break-in – prone, from a bipod – had an extreme dispersion of 0.342 inches at 100 yards. I couldn’t be happier with the final product, and the MDT chassis is a big part of it. Although I spend most of my time working on precision gas pistols, I have to admit that I still appreciate the sleek elegance of a good quarter turn.
There’s nothing wrong with a simple factory stock if it suits your needs and your rifle shoots well. But if the fit isn’t entirely right, or the stock is interfering with your accuracy or the way you use your rifle, there’s a good chance one of the latest bolt action chassis rifle stocks will give you the flexibility you need when It’s time to pull the shutter.