Published November 30, 2007, 12:00 AM

Fine wood still the best

Sometime in 1973 I bought a Remington Model 1100 in 16 gauge from the Coast to Coast store in Valley City. It may have been sitting on the shelf for some time, because I was able to buy it brand new for only $150. Remarkably, the gun has a highly figured buttstock that was most unusual for a factory shotgun at the time, and even more rare today. I would bet you could look at every new Model 1100 in every gun store in the state, and not see a piece of wood like it.

By: Bernie Kuntz, The Jamestown Sun

(Last of two parts)

Sometime in 1973 I bought a Remington Model 1100 in 16 gauge from the Coast to Coast store in Valley City. It may have been sitting on the shelf for some time, because I was able to buy it brand new for only $150. Remarkably, the gun has a highly figured buttstock that was most unusual for a factory shotgun at the time, and even more rare today. I would bet you could look at every new Model 1100 in every gun store in the state, and not see a piece of wood like it. (The 1100 is still in the family. I gave it to Laurie 25 years ago and she used it again this year to shoot pheasant roosters.)

Sadly, the lessening in wood quality has been a reality during the last three decades. For hundreds of years, walnut was the standard gunstock wood, yet today you can find many firearms that are stocked with “hardwood” — mahogany, beech, birch, sometimes even pine, which is a softwood, and stained in an attempt to resemble walnut.

In Colonial times and throughout most of the 19th Century, makers of Kentucky rifles used maple for gunstocks, whether it was curly, tiger-tail or birdseye. But the standard gunstock wood has long been American black walnut. A good piece of it will have hues of brown, deep chocolate and even some reddish and amber tones. The poorest of it is good for firewood, and that is about all. I have several rifles custom-stocked with AA to AAA black walnut, and have no complaints.

My favorite gunstock wood is French walnut, also known as Circassian or “California English.” The very best walnut grows in places with dry climates — Iran and Turkey produced some of the finest French walnut in the world. Decent French walnut still comes from France, Britain and California but it is extremely expensive. When Reinhart Fajen, the Warsaw, Mo., gunstock dealer, went out of business in the 1990s I bought a blank of Circassian for half price and had my old .243 Sako restocked with it. The stock is one of the finest I own, a marblecake figure with contrasting lines of color. I think the blank retailed for about $500. Today it would sell for twice that amount.

There are seven Sako rifles in my possession at this time, and all but one has been custom-stocked. The exception is a .22/250 deluxe grade with a wonderful piece of French walnut that I bought almost 40 years ago. I also have a AAA Fancy French walnut stock on a .25/06, circa 1972. (Take a look at the stocks on Sako’s otherwise fine Tikka rifles sometime and weep.)

Bastogne walnut is a hybrid that is relatively unknown. I own only one rifle stocked with Bastogne — a pre-war Model 70 Super Grade in .375 H & H Magnum. To me, Bastogne looks much like French — a tawny gold with dark brown streaks running the length of it. I like it very much.

California claro is native to America and is the favorite gunstock wood of Carl Roth, the stockmaker from Sheridan, Wyo. He built a 7 X 57 on a pre-’64 Model 70 action for me almost 30 years ago and stocked it with high-grade claro. The stock is wonderful to look at with its fingers of figure in orange, greys, browns and reddish tints. My .270 also has a stock of high-grade claro, feather crotch with golds, browns and yellows.

I carried around a French walnut blank for three decades, finally decided to have Carl build a .257 Roberts for me and stock it with the blank. But when I saw the semi-finished stock, I was very disappointed to see a knot on the buttstock, another on the fore-end! “I am not nearly as impressed with French walnut as you are,” Carl reminded.

“OK, find me a claro blank — a very good one.” Carl located and bought a $1,000 California claro blank, and the .257 will be stocked with that. I told him to give the stock with the knots in it to someone who might want it.

Other woods to consider — mesquite or laminates, both are very stable but heavy. They would be fine on a benchrest rifle or a dangerous game rifle. (Serengeti, Inc. in Montana produces some very fine-looking laminated stocks and also synthetics.)

I still prefer fine wood with plenty of figure, but then, as my wife would ask, “What kind of sound does a dinosaur make?”

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