The case of the new antler deer shotguns

Let’s eliminate this part first: I’m not a Fudd. I own a lot of rifles and synthetic stock shotguns, have used smart scopes, and have hunted with AR type rifles. Plus, I’m a millennial, at least as defined by age. I know that new shooting technologies are useful and have their place. But I think those traditional wood stock bolt action shotguns have their place too.

In my opinion this place is a deer camp where tradition thrives. The gold standard here would be to hunt with Grandpa’s old shotgun (maybe a Savage 99 or a Marlin 336), but maybe you didn’t grow up in a deer hunting family, or maybe grandfather still hunts with his gun. Of course, you can buy an old used gun (maybe a classic Remington 700 or a Winchester Model 70), but the nicks and scratches on this rifle won’t be yours. I think it always helps to buy a new woodblock gun, mark it with your own memories, and then pass it on someday.

The good news is that there are still many quality shotguns made with wooden stocks. This fall I spent my deer hunting season with a new Winchester rifle model 70 Super Grade which is equipped with a beautiful maple stock. And, I plan to hunt with this gun for many deer seasons to come.

Nostalgia vs Performance

my 8 books Model 70 in .30-06 is not the most powerful rifle on the market. You’re not going to want to take it to the mountains on a sheep hunt and you certainly aren’t going to win a PRS match with it. But realistically, I don’t need a lot of performance on a stag rifle. In 22 years of deer hunting in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, I have never needed to shoot more than 200 yards.

Most of my shots are taken in the woods at close range. Anyone who has hunted Wisconsin’s hectic 9-day gun season knows that shots at males are generally quick, taken as the deer move through the woods. My shot is done from a tree, usually freehand, or propped up against a tree. For this kind of job, I want a rifle that comes to my shoulder quickly, points naturally, and performs well. The Winchester Super Grade and many other modern wooden shotguns are designed to do just that.

As far as accuracy goes, any rifle that shoots groups about 2 inches from the bench, along with hunting ammo, will do. It might sound like heresy in the age of sub-MOA guarantees, but it’s a realistic prospect. On any shot given in the Wisconsin deer antlers, I’m basically trying to hit an 8 inch oval that straddles a buck’s front shoulder at distances of 50-200 yards. I don’t need sub-MOA accuracy of my rifle and load to do this.

Beyond the performance requirements, I want the rifle to look like the rifles of my childhood. This means a good stock of wood. I remember when I was little my father first showed me his deer rifle – a beautiful Browning A-Bolt medallion my mother gave him as a wedding present – and taught me how to handle it. safe and avoid touching the metal of the barrel or the lenses of the scope with my dirty hands. Even when I was little, I could tell that the rifle was of imminent importance, although I didn’t know why. My dad loves this gun, and he still hunts with it today.

For the Wisconsin deer camp, I want to hunt with a gun that brings back that kind of respect.

snow day deer
The author’s Winchester Model 70 Super Grade and a white tailed doe taken on a snowy afternoon in Wisconsin. Alex robinson

Wood vs. Synthetic crosses

There are of course good reasons why hunters and shooters have turned to synthetic stocks. They are generally more durable, lighter, more consistent, and often more affordable.

“Wood is an organic material that reacts to its environment,” says Shooting Editor John B. Snow, who has seen the dramatic shift towards synthetic stocks during his long tenure at Outdoor living. “And the wood is also, well, spongy, which is a problem. There are ways to mitigate it and try to seal the wood against the environment. Done well, you can pretty much get the job done. But if you are talking about a basic wooden rifle, it will be environmentally sensitive compared to a well-made synthetic stock.

Since synthetic rifles started appearing decades ago, they have taken over the rifle market and now the most accurate custom rifles – and, on the other hand, many of the cheapest shotguns – are delivered with synthetic stocks.

“When I went to Outdoor livinga synthetic butt rifle was considered poop in a punch bowl, ”says Snow. “The feeling was, why would you want that ugly thing. But that has changed to the point where you can no longer find a custom weapon maker that makes a wood gun.

“What drove the trend was performance. When gun makers like Kenny Jarret or Ed Brown started making good synthetic rifles, precision was part of their promise. Then you have the Gunwerks and Georges gardner people, they never even thought of wood.

“Look at Melvin Forbes. Its synthetic stocks are a work of art. They only weigh a few ounces and they are just plain strong as hell. I wrote before that you can beat a Cape buffalo to death with one and it won’t break.

But a woodblock gun isn’t inherently less accurate than its ready-made synthetic counterpart, that’s a total mistake. The difference is that wood is more likely to warp over time, which can affect accuracy. So, if gunmakers aim for supreme and consistent precision, they turn to synthetic stocks with a few exceptions. Often there are other factors regarding wood guns that also contribute to the accuracy.

“These wood-fired guns tend to have sportier weights and lighter barrels, so there are other things that tip the scales against them in the area of ​​accuracy. But for the person who buys this gun, ultimate precision is not their priority.

None of Snow’s comments on wooden butt rifles are really relevant to me. Except maybe one: they are not made as before.

“The only thing I would regret is the loss of craftsmanship in modern wood-fired guns with hand-checkered grids and so on,” Snow said. “It is a dying, even dead art. And it’s part of evolution, you can see it in a lot of places. Just look at any old Model 70 or Mauser. Look closely at the metal and you can see the chatter of the hand filing marks and know that this rifle has been sharpened and tuned by someone, rather than just perfectly cut perfectly by a machine. And it comes down to the idea that the gun is a living object that breathes. I don’t know if today’s wood pistols have the same mystery. They might be made of wood, and they arguably have more soul than the synthetic pistols, but it’s not like the first Marlin I had, which clearly shows some handwork on it.

I admit that the fact that these rifles are not made with the same hand touches lessens their appeal, but only slightly. There is still a lot of care to be taken today to make the best wood guns.

Winchester super grade
The Winchester Super Grade hang out in a treestand. Alex robinson

Wood guns: meet modern classics

The Winchester Model 70 Super Grade I hunted with this fall is, in every way, magnificent. The AAAA grade stock is the red maple (although some sugar maples are also graded) of the Appalachians. Each log is individually inspected and purchased by Tech Woods USA, according to Glenn Hatt, Winchester Product Manager. The stock blank is heat treated, graded, certified, then sent to the Winchester factory in Portugal where they machine, check, finish, then place the stocks on the rifles.

“The heat treatment of the maple stocks also changes the color of the stocks, so that they are not so much white-blonde but rather have a yellow, antique look that really lets the flame or flame scratches pop. tiger, especially with our glossy finish, “says Hatt.” The added stiffness, stiffness and resistance to changes in humidity are also extreme advantages. Once Tech Woods USA has hand-selected each tree, we select manually each blank and mark it… This ensures that it meets our strict criteria for ambrosia (dark worm lines in stock), knots and any other defect and ensures that the stock meets our quality standards.

It was a bit surprising to me to learn that 70 percent of Winchester Model 70 sales are still wood rifles (however, only 13 percent of Winchester XPR sales are wood). But maybe he shouldn’t have been. There is still a bunch of quality rifles out there made with wooden stocks, showing that there is still a real demand. This listing includes:

Maybe next year I’ll add another one of these modern woodblock guns to our deer camp gun rack. Our antlerless deer season now ends in December and there are still many memories to be made.