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August 11, 2008

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Petzal: Like Peas in a Pod

"This rifle is mine. There are many others like it, but this one is mine…." The Creed of a United States Marine, written by MG William H. Rupertus, just after Pearl Harbor

The United States Marines, who know more about motivating men than just about anyone else, know that to a marksman, his rifle is a living thing with a personality all its own. Rudyard Kipling said it in a poem, "The Young British Soldier"

"When arf o' yer bullets fly wide in the ditch
don't call your Martini a cross-eyed old bitch
she's as human as you are; you treat her as sich
an' she'll fight for the young British soldier"

Which brings us to the only problem I have with synthetic-stocked rifles--they lack personality. Even after you get to know their likes and dislikes, and put some history on them, one pretty much looks like another. You can put a memorable paint job on one, like the rifle Kenny Jarrett built for a former New York Yankee that was done in pinstripes, had a big baseball on the cheekpiece, and had YANKEES on the fore-end just in case you missed the point. I once had a rifle stock painted like vomit, and it was a very good rifle, but it's a lot of trouble to go to.

Even wood-stocked military rifles had personality. In basic training I once forgot I was supposed to be marching troops and stood gaping at an M-14 standing in the rack with a glorious piece of walnut for a stock. This caused SFC Kenneth Kane to say how disappointed he was in me, and how he very much hoped I would pay closer attention to what I was supposed to be doing in the future.

Wood ages with you. I have a .300 Weatherby stocked in walnut that has gone from blond to dark tan to golden brown in the 38 years I've used it. Fiberglass and graphite don't do that. They stay as they are…while you don't.


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There are a lot of things that can happen to a rifle that make memories and a wooden stock is like a record that records some of these memories. My father has a Browning BLR that was his baby. When his three sons started hunting we took our turn on it and it has shown through the years. The most memorable is when my brother got some blood on the stock and left it laying against the house one season (a rule breaker right there). Our dog took a turn "cleaning up" the stock and about a three inch square of that stock now looks like a squirrel tried to make the thing its nut. My dad was po'd beyond believe but now he takes that gun out every year and remembers that season. I recently purchased my first (and maybe last) new rifle. A rem 700 cdl. I remember the first scratch I put in it. The thing stuck out like a battle scar. After three two seasons the wood has mellowed a little and that scar has been lessened by a few others. It took a little bit to let go of the pristine newness of the rifle and finally look at it for what it is, a tool that will stay with me for life.


While I find this a good article, and understand fully the "character" a good rifle can build, I can't personally agree with it.

As a retired Gunny, I have never let myself be sidetracked by the one real important thing of any good rifle; when I pull the trigger, I want the round to impact where I'm aiming.

My Remington 700 has a synthetic stock, a coated barrel, open sights, and would generally be considered boring as dirt. But I am proud of the fact that it will put 3 rounds in a dime at 120 yds., as when I was teaching my nephew to sight in his new rifle.

Thanks, and I love your articles.

The Trout Underground

If this post is about aging (and I think it is), then what's the gun nut's mid-life crisis equivalent to a Corvette convertible?


I think dave is getting grumpy in his old age. He is probably yelling at the neighborhood kids "Get off my lawn" right now.

Mike Diehl

"then what's the gun nut's mid-life crisis equivalent to a Corvette convertible?"

A nice American style upland double with deep bluing, tasteful engraving, and an admirable piece of oak in the stock and forend. In 12 ga. With two triggers.

Dave Petzal

To The Trout Underground: No, this isn't about people aging, it's about rifles aging. And I am so far past mid-life that I want absolutely nothing in the way of material goods.

To Jay: I was born grumpy. It's not a recent development.

Jackson Landers

I used to feel the same way. And I still prefer the look and feel of a walnut stock.

However, I killed my first deer with a composite stocked Remington 700 in 30-06. And the next one, and the next couple after that. A funny thing happened during that process.

With apologies to the good Reverend Dr. Martin Luthor King, the rifle that was all cold and devoid of personality eventually managed to build a personality "not through the color of it's skin but by the content of it's character."

An accurate rifle that has cleanly killed game and done you proud time and again will eventually become just as beautiful to it's owner as a $1,000 piece of circassian walnut.

Now I know that you, David, are less interested in taking big game at this point in your life than you were many years ago. There's nothing wrong with that at all. But doesn't that tend to place a little more emphasis for you on the appearance of a rifle as opposed to the memories created by taking game with one?

mr. smith

Oak stock??? I think you'll get better mileage with walnut...


I have a .444 Marlin I bought used, sight unseen, from a friend in the business. I bought it because in the early 1970's .45- 70's were loaded down so as not to blow up Springfield trapdoors and I was thinking black bear. That stock has a burl in it I have never seen in production Marlins with their 1870- 1970 brass medallion in the middle. Doesn't make it shoot better but it gets a coat of linseed every so often and looks better to me every year. It has seen a lot of guns come and go beside it in the gun cabinet but that sweet old gun will be there when I am gone as well.

It's about time you got to the point about beautiful gunstocks and the "character lines" they pick up. I had begun to think no one understood what you were talking about.


I think that SFC Kane was obviously an extraordinarily polite, soft-spoken and tolerant gentleman. I'm sure you enjoyed your time working together.

Very funny.

Mike Diehl

"I think you'll get better mileage with walnut..."

Right you are. It was a mindslip.

Jim in Mo.

From day one I preached to the boys about caring for their rifles but don't cry and fret if you ding it during a hunt. Years later all those dings and dents will tell a better story than a diary.


"Better living through chemistry" I like synthetic stocks, but I'll see a wood one every now and then that will take my breath away. A good example is a prime tiger stripe, walnut, M-14 stock.

Bernie Kuntz

Carl Roth, Jr. is a crack stockmaker from Sheridan, WY who has done considerable work for me. He sat in my trophy room last fall and said, "Synthetic-stocked rifles have no soul." I couldn't have worded it more perfectly. Very functional indeed, but they lack soul.

Open up the website to Empirerifles.com. Urinate first so you don't pee your pants. You'll see what I mean about the lure of fine wood and blued metal.

Dr. Ralph

Weeeellllll.... our theme for today is personality or more importantly the lack thereof. While it may be true that you will never catch yourself gazing at a synthetic stock as if it were the buttocks of a fine young maiden I would disagree that they lack personality. Synthetic stocks that is, not fine young maidens's buttocks.

Case in point: If I were to go to the trouble to reproduce the color of vomit on a synthetic stock it would certainly not be a "pea in a pod". It would be as distinct and original as the vomit itself, telling a story about the producer's habits heroics and handicaps. That being said this rant IS about aging whether the author admits it or not.

Unfortunately, unlike this fine young maiden I have envisioned I am fairly confident that none of us here are getting any prettier. I can assure you I am aging about the same as the stock that was left outside and used as an outhouse by the dog. Not getting prettier also applies to my synthetic stocks. They just get uglier and uglier as the vomitpaint wears off and they accumulate scratches and dents. If you think you can't tear one up you need to meet my children. Wood, on the other hand often becomes more beautiful with age and is constantly changing.

The final analysis is that synthetic stocks are cold lifeless creatures that do a job and do it well, but wood is an organism in constant change much as we are. No reason not to have them all, in fact it may be a reason to go out and BUY MORE GUNS!!! That's what I'm talking about...

Jim in Mo.

Just got away from Empire site. Oh man, sat there dreaming for awhile.


I completely agree with DP on this one -- synthetics don't change and age along with the bumpy history that we share with them.

And the principle of the thing is why I also don't go for the half million dollar museum piece firearms. Their personality was stamped by the craftsman and heaven forbid that we ever add to it with a scratch or a ding. They stay as they are while we don't!


I love wood stocks for clays and synthetic stocks for hunting. I wonder what USA Olympians, Corey Cogdell, Jason Turner, Jason & Katerina Emmons (formerly Kurkova) shoot; Wood or Synthetics? What do the Chinese shoot; Does Anybody know?


Wow you people are getting long on the tooth reminiscing about the grand old wood stocks. I just like some of you started with a Model 94 Winchester 30-30, and loved it. The rifle passed through me to little brother and little sister. Both killed their fair share of whitetails with it. I also remember my first Browning BAR in 300 WIN MAG. Also I very good looking gun.

But here’s the deal as I move on with my life I developed a taste for the BIG MAGs I absolutely love the 300s and 338s my newest rifle is in the king of kings 338, the 338-378 Weatherby. And yes I'm sure some of you are gnashing teeth waiting to get to the end of this but here is my point. AT THIS PHASE in life I like the big ones, fast, loud and accurate rifles. I use them as tools in hunting not something that I would put on the wall. Maybe it speaks of my lack of personality? Who Knows? I have no doubt that I will eventually turn back to MR Petzal's view on transitions in life and look back with despair that I didn't stick with the wood BUT rest assured there will be plenty of fond memories and digital photos of me and those cold stainless and synthetic rifles that do the job day in and day out.

And in case you’re wondering that little thirty-thirty Trapper is sitting in a safe waiting for the oldest Grand Child to pull on a pair of boots and take up a family tradition along with my Grandfather's 1930's A-5 and my Grandmother's M1 Carbine from WW-II
So you can have it both ways efficiency and nostalgia standing side by side!

Bird Dog

Dr. Ralph,

You saved me a lot of typing and I could not have said it better. I think all of us have our preferences and that is what makes this such a great topic. There is a gun for everyone!!


IIRC somebody we know once penned a nice segment in an old Gun Digest entitled, "I Sold All of My Lovely Wood" or something like that. Anyway, wood for character, plastic for performance.


"To Jay: I was born grumpy. It's not a recent development."

Dave, I think we would have made great friend if we had ever met, or we would have killed each other, could go either way.


"What do the Chinese shoot; Does Anybody know?"

Mostly other Chinese from what I heard.


Dave P. I agree I prefer wood for the look. The few times that I have purchased a new gun, I alsways ask the man behind the counter to bring out 2 or 3 of the same model just so I can compare the differance in the Color & wood grain of each before I buy.

WA Mtnhunter

A wood stocked rifle free of dents, dings, and scratches probably hasn't taken too many elk (or deer). Too much time spent in the safe snuggled in a gunsock (Like my M70 Featherweight .257R).

My hunting buddies always ask when I'm going to fix the missing grip cap and refinish or replace the beat up BDL stock on my elk rifle. I usually reply, "Why? I put a new recoil pad on it 3 years ago. What's wrong with it?"

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