A reader asked if scarred-up wood stocks have character while dinged-up synthetic stocks are just stocks in need of Bondo and paint. I believe he has hit the nail on the head, or the stock on the fore-end, as it were. To make his case, this gentleman sent along a photo of Warren Page’s .375 Weatherby which was Lefty’s dangerous-game rifle for the 25 years he was Shooting Editor at Field & Stream. The rifle had traveled all over the world, shot God knows how many head of God knows what, and looked it. I seem to remember Warren telling me he had shot out three barrels, which is simply a stupendous amount of shooting, but it’s possible.
Weatherby built the rifle for him around 1950, using a Remington 721 action as the basis and stocking it in mesquite, which you don’t hardly see no more because it’s the very devil to work and it weighs a ton. However, it makes a stupendously good stock for a heavy rifle. The rifle was chambered for the .375 Weatherby, which is a blown-out .375 H&H that has a lot more horsepower than the original but is still shootable, unlike the subdural-hematoma-inducing .378 Weatherby. Introduced in 1945, the .375 Weatherby was dropped in 1960, but people still liked it and it came back to life in 2001.
The round fires a 300-grain bullet at 2,800 fps, which gives it the same trajectory as the .30/06. When Warren got his rifle he was itching to use it and took it on a moose hunt to Quebec. He espied a bull moose standing in the shallows of a lake and let fly. Not only did the .375 kill the bull stone dead, it also killed the cow moose which was standing directly behind the bull and which he had not seen.
So Lefty called the game warden and the game warden took in the situation and said that the whole thing was obviously an honest mistake, eh, and that there was an orphanage nearby that would appreciate hundreds of pounds of moose meat, eh, and why don’t we forget the whole thing, eh? Needless to say, this would probably not happen today. And that was just the beginning…
So now the old rifle is worn completely silver with not a trace of bluing left, and the stock shows only the occasional ding because mesquite is as hard as rock, and it is a rifle with character.
This is because wood was once living stuff, and has personality, and whatever happens to a wood stock adds to that personality, sort of like what age does to a person’s face. Fiberglass, Kevlar, graphite, and epoxy are simply chemical compounds and will never be anything else or morph into something other than what they are.
The most battered rifle I’ve ever seen belonged to C.J. McElroy, a California business tycoon and force of nature who hunted all over the world for a half-century and amassed a trophy collection that defies belief. In McElroy’s trophy room (which was the size of the nave of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York) was displayed a .300 Weatherby Magnum, one of the early Mark Vs, whose condition is best described as indescribable. This was the only rifle McElroy used for a good part of his career. There’s no bluing left; there’s hardly any finish left on the stock, and if you’ve ever tried to get the finish off a Weatherby stock, you’ll have some idea what kind of abuse this rifle has endured.
Obviously, this is a rifle that could tell a thousand stories if only it could speak, an icon of big-game hunting. It is not a mass of dings and dents, it is simply one giant ding. But if it had a synthetic stock, all you could think of was where you last put the big can of Bondo.
So yes; if you love stability, go with synthetics, but for character, wood stands by itself.