There is something about the look and feel of a bolt action rifle with a walnut stock that pleases me. Call me old fashioned, but the character of the rifle I choose to own is equally as important to me as how that rifle performs.
I’ll be the first to admit that the lack of weight in a carbon fiber stock is awfully nice when chasing elk in high country and that any synthetic could help a bit when mother natured decides to rain on your parade. My own preference, however, is to feel the warmth of wood under my fingers and against my face, to enjoy the unique quality innate in each piece of walnut at night around the campfire and to admire the battle scars that come with age and that secure memories of past hunts.
Years of using walnut stocks has helped me develop a few techniques for ensuring my rifle is ready for hard field use and performs as it is expected to. Despite my insisting to use walnut stocks regardless of weather conditions or type of use, I’ve never missed a shot that could be blamed on the stock.
Seal the Stock
As useful as walnut is, it’s still wood and is subject to physical changes due to moisture. If the environment in which you will be hunting is more or less humid than the environment the rifle is normally in, the stock will naturally try to gain or release moisture to match its surroundings. If the stock is able to change moisture content, the physical dimensions of the stock can change. If the stock changes dimensions, it is very likely that accuracy problems will follow.
Most walnut stocked rifles come from the factory with a modified urethane coating of some sort, and often times this is all the protection the stock will ever need. It is, however, worth a little time to ensure that the stock is completely sealed against the elements. I have found that the easiest and most effective way to seal a stock is to apply a tung oil in the barrel channel, underneath the trigger guard, underneath the recoil pad, in the checkering and on any part of the inletting that is not bedded.
If it is clear that there is already a factory coating in these places, it is best to leave well enough alone. The point is to look for any area of the stock that does not have a protective barrier and put one there. Gun supply stores and catalogs offer numerous brands of tung oil and the type you use is up to you. Just be sure to follow manufacturer instructions to the letter.
Most of the time and in most hunting conditions ensuring a continuous protective barrier between the wood and the elements will maintain the performance you expect out of your rifle while in the field.
Mind your Beeswax
After I’ve ensured that my rifle is completely sealed, I add a topical wax coating as insurance. The wax coating acts as a first line of defense against moisture. I choose to use a wax that is comprised of White Carnauba and Beeswax. It is just like waxing your car. You rub it on, let if flash, and then wipe it off.
I typically remove the barreled action and wax the stock inside and out, making sure to stay away from bedded areas. A wax application will last up to six months and the results are impressive - water beads up and rolls right off. A word of caution; be sure to test the wax on a similar but separate surface first. Some of these waxes can be slippery when applied to wood and clearly that is not a good quality for a rifle stock.
Keep it Covered
Whenever it is practical, I keep the rifle physically protected while hunting. If I’m stand hunting during rainy weather I put a strap on umbrella over my tree stand. If I’m hunting in an environment that requires a good bit of hiking I keep my rifle in a Gun Kozy until game is spotted and it’s time to start stalking.
Not all hunting situations will accommodate keeping the rifle completely out of the elements. Truth is, if you’ve sealed your stock and added a wax coating, it’s hardly necessary. But when it is not likely to affect my ability to see game or my chances at getting a shot, I go the extra mile and do my best to keep the stock as physically dry as possible.
I own a CZ 550 in 6.5x55 Swedish Mauser that sports a walnut stock with nice grain and figure. I’ve used the rifle in West Virginia, Wyoming and Alaska in weather that has varied from horribly hot and dry to downright wet and nasty. The stock has never once let me down.
I have no plans to stop using walnut stocks on my rifles. To me, the benefits of walnut far outweigh any potential risks. I suppose that if I hunt with enough walnut-stocked rifles I may find one that lets me down in the field. Knock on wood; it hasn’t happened to me yet.