Precision-Rifle Evolution: Today's Modern Chassis Designs

posted on August 9, 2019

This article, "Keeping Things Chassis," appeared originally 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 AR-15 modern sporting rifle is not the only type of long gun that has evolved significantly over the past decade. Bolt-action rifles—their stocks in particular—have likewise increased in functionality and flexibility in recent years. I started shooting wood-stocked bolt-actions at summer camp in the late ’70s and things had not changed much when I was issued my first Army sniper rifle in the mid-’90s. A no-frills stock worked fine back when I was learning the basics of firearm safety, but it was another story with my sniper rifle. The only “adjustability” came in the form of 100-mph tape and foam padding to change length-of-pull and comb height.

Despite a silky-smooth action, my issued McMillan-stocked rifle had other serious limitations in the field. An internal five-round magazine was slow to reload and completely ill-suited for anything resembling a modern combat environment. My hinged floorplate would pop open if the rifle got a hard bump, and the buttstock’s short toe made it difficult to raise or depress the point-of-aim with my support hand. The glass-bedded action was susceptible to damage during the very rough infiltration methods we employed. A pair of old-school sling studs provided the only points of attachment, and there was no such thing as rail space for ancillary devices in those days. My rifle was accurate, but I usually opted for something better suited for fast-moving, demanding environments—often sacrificing accuracy, range and bullet performance in the process.

Those guns were eventually replaced by new ones from an allied manufacturer. The upgraded versions represented a quantum leap in shooter/rifle interface. Thumbhole stocks allowed for more natural wrist angles, while lengths-of-pull and comb heights could be adjusted in seconds. Multiple rail sections were positioned along the fore-end and,best of all, these rifles used detachable-box magazines. The new platform opened my eyes to the beauty of full-length, aluminum-chassis-bedding systems, too. Accuracy was fantastic and durability in the field was no longer a problem. We suddenly found ourselves in the 21st century, a few years ahead of schedule.

Those chassis-rifle upgrades are pretty much standard-fare today. Conventional stocks are still the most affordable entry-level option and remain appropriate wherever a trimmed down design is preferred. But, most current bolt-action-rifle manufacturers offer models with fully adjustable stocks, modular components, external magazines and lots of rail-mounting space. Specialty manufacturers and custom shops further widen the pool of possibilities. Alloy-bedding blocks and chassis systems have put the need for conventional glass- and pillar-bedding out to pasture. Sidefolders are also becoming a common option for bolt-action rifles. Rails are easily added where needed for all manner of accoutrements. Manufacturers may tackle things differently—an AR-style freefloat tube versus a minimal profile, skeletonized fore-stock for example—but these are mostly well thought-out and solidly-built designs.

Perhaps the best news is that good aftermarket stocks are available from quite a few companies these days. Prices run from less than $200 for models from Magpul, Choate and Archangel Manufacturing to more than $2,300 for stocks from CADEX. A bunch of great options are available in the $400 to $800 range. While stocks for the Remington 700 series are most prevalent, the list of supported actions continues to grow. Whether your needs revolve around real-world tactical work, predator control, putting meat in the larder or precision-rifle competition, these stocks can give new life to a solid, old action in need of an upgrade.

Several years ago I barreled a stripped-down Savage Arms Model 10, left-hand action with a 20-inch Shilen tube that I had turned and chambered in .308 Win. The only options for replacing the stock at the time were cheap, injection-molded OEM stocks or special-order rigs from high-end makers. I could not afford the custom option, so I planned to stiffen and glass-bed an OEM stock as I had done successfully in the past. However, the barreled action remained in mothballs because I could not seem to get motivated about revamping another thermoplastic stock. My gamble that someone would eventually offer more aftermarket solutions for this decidedly less-common, southpaw action eventually paid off. I recently chose a mid-priced unit from Modular Driven Technologies (MDT). The MDT LSS model chassis appealed to me because it allows for use of AR grips and stocks, both of which I have in multitudes (and happen to like).

At a little more than $400 after shipping, the stock was the most expensive component of this chassis rifle. But, product quality is excellent, installation was simple and fit is perfect. The barrel is freefloated and the action mates perfectly to an attractive, full-length, aluminum chassis that uses the very popular AICS-pattern magazines. Three Magpul 10-rounders cost me less than the price of one genuine Accuracy International magazine. I added a collapsible stock, pistol grip, bipod and scope. After eight years of dormancy my rifle finally got a chance to dent some primers, and the results were spectacular. The first five-shot group shot fired during break-in—prone, off a bipod—had an extreme spread of .342-inch at 100 yards. I could not be more pleased with the final product, and the MDT chassis is a big part of that. Although most of my days are spent working on precision gas guns, I have to admit that I still appreciate the simple elegance of a good turnbolt.

There is nothing wrong with a basic factory stock if it suits your needs and your rifle shoots well. But if the fit is not quite right or if the stock is hamstringing your accuracy or the way you employ your rifle, there’s a good chance that one of the newest crop of bolt-action chassis rifle buttstocks will give you all the flexibility you need when it comes time to pull the trigger.


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