The following information on hunting rifle stocks and triggers comes from Rifles and Rifle Shooting by Charles Askins. Rifles & Rifle Shooting is also available to purchase in print.
Factory built rifles of standard dimensions, especially all the old models, are too short in the stock. There is no good reason why a man should use a fourteen-inch stock on his shotgun and but thirteen for the rifle. The rifle, being shot more deliberately as a rule, would, if anything, permit the longer stock. With a long stock the recoil is apparently less severe than with a short one, probably because the kick is caught by the shoulder rather than the face. Certain positions in rifle firing, as the hip and body rest, favor short stocks, but with arm extended, as a hunter should shoot, stocks should be of like length with those used on the shotgun.
In its drop the rifle stock would be dependent a good deal on the sights used; a telescope mounted high above the barrel necessitates a raised comb. Ordinarily the comb of a rifle will be higher in proportion to heel drop than we find on a shotgun.
A man doesn’t assume the same attitude in shooting the rifle as with the shotgun, standing erect in place of leaning over his gun. For this reason the rifleman requires a greater drop at heel in proportion to comb. The average marksman would be suited with a rifle having a stock fourteen inches long, comb one and one-half inches for open sights, one inch for telescope; heel three inches. More drop might be demanded in some instances; ease and grace of posture should always be studied, without any contortion of shoulder, neck, or face to make the stock fit. I believe the worst fault in the general run of stocks is a low and sharp comb. Then when the rear sight is elevated the face is carried quite away from the wood and when the rifle jumps with the shot the comb gets in an uppercut on the chin.
A cheekpiece is something that I particularly like in a rifle, and I think that every one of good grade or made to order should have it. It gives a firmer hold of the weapon, tends to confidence, and prevents flinching, and, moreover, resting the head takes a strain off the neck, which strain in turn affects the muscles of the eyes.
I must emphasize this eye-strain that comes from cramping the muscles of the neck and trying to hold the head still at the same time. Few men can throw the face forward and hold it there for any length of time, unsupported, without feeling a strain on the back of the neck which seems to have a pulling effect on the sighting eye. Keep this strain up long enough and the muscles of the eye begin to quiver. I have known instances in deliberate Schuetzen work where rolling sparkles of light seemed to pass before the eye. This strain on unsupported muscles is the main reason a telescope mounted on the side of a barrel is worse than none.
From the foregoing it may be inferred that a cheekpiece is absolutely essential to deliberate and accurate rifle firing in the off-hand position. With the face resting firmly on a cheekpiece of the right height and shape, all strain is taken from the neck and eye and the cheek is lifted by the recoil in place of being struck a blow. Very few people contract the fatal habit of flinching from shoulder punishment, but a blow in the face will cause any but a pugilist to bat his eye.
High Grade of Wood and Its Ornamentation
Beauty of wood is no less desirable in a rifle than in a shotgun. Of the two weapons the rifle will generally receive the less hard usage, and it is eminently fit that it should be an arm of both beauty and utility. A handsomely checkered and carved walnut stock of selected grain and fine finish is a fit source of pride for any sportsman. Further, in the carving and finish of their gunstocks, our great rifle building firms turn out an arm fully equal to the best hand-made shotguns of Continental Europe and superior to any built in England.
The prices, too, being moderate, there is no good reason, so far as the writer can perceive, why a rifleman should not give full rein to his esthetic tastes when purchasing his grooved arm. It is true that beauty of wood adds nothing to the actual utility of the arm, just as a darkey wench can bake as good pancakes as anybody if that were all you asked for in a wife.
What has been said of ornamenting stocks is emphatically true of the engraving to be had on our high grade factory rifles. The style of engraving which can be placed upon a rifle by our big factories is superior to the best found on American shotguns, and not excelled, if equaled, anywhere in the world. It is cleverly designed, beautifully executed, highly artistic—something in which every American citizen can take a patriotic pride. The fact that the standard rifle will shoot as well as any has little bearing, for so will a $25 shotgun perform fully up to one costing $500, yet few of us select the cheap gun if we can afford a better in finish.
Frames and Fitting
In repeating rifles no such hairlike fitting of steel to steel, characteristic of high grade shotguns, is possible. However, bolts and locking lugs, sears, springs, and other parts should be of the best material, highly polished and smoothly adjusted, while the frames should be skilfully and thoroughly casehardened. In the standard guns which sell from fifteen to twenty dollars we cannot expect much hand adjustment, but in the better grades we are entitled to this. Frequently a competent gunsmith can add to the smooth working of bolts and levers, and his services in touching up trigger-pulls, reducing springs that may be too stiff, etc., may render a new rifle much more satisfactory.
The thirteen-inch rifle stock and the crescent shaped butt-plate seem to be a survival from flint lock days. More and more a preference is being shown for shotgun butts. Undoubtedly in high-power or big bore rifles, where the recoil exceeds fifteen pounds, a shotgun butt is by all means to be preferred. It should be preferably broader and deeper than that of a shotgun so as to distribute the force over the shoulder, and where the recoil is above thirty pounds it would be well to fit a recoil pad. With a rifle shot deliberately, as at the target, recoil is always felt to twice the extent that it is in snap shooting, and few find it pleasant to have a sharp, narrow butt driven into the shoulder.
Nevertheless, with a repeating rifle of the lever-action type, which the marksman expects to function rapidly while the butt is at the shoulder, the crescent butt is the proper thing. It clings to the shoulder without the tendency to slip down that a straight plate would have, and the hunter can continue to fire rapidly without the necessity of readjusting the rifle to his shoulder for every shot. I think, too, that where snapshots are to be taken with a rifle the eye is more likely to take the sights instantly with the crescent butt, the stock coming more uniformly to shoulder and cheek. However, this is not important enough to warrant much consideration where the recoil of the arm is severe.
Schuetzen and Swiss butt-plates are quite out of place on a hunting rifle, or any other rifle that is to be shot with the left arm extended—they have their uses, but not on a game rifle. I do not like hard rubber butt-plates on a rifle; they wear too smooth and slip. Have the plate of steel, checkered rough. It is a simple job for the rifleman to do the checkering himself if he likes.
Pistol or Straight-Grip
Many prefer a pistol grip for the reason that they are accustomed to it—it is more homelike. However, when the weapon has a loop-lever or a finger lever, either of which is better than any pistol grip, I see no utility in the curved “hand.” The loop-lever is a splendid aid in pulling a heavy trigger, it being possible to give a backward pressure to the hand which can be transferred to the pulling finger without contracting it greatly. The finger lever is just about as good in this respect as the loop. Where the fingers are tightly clasping the grip, an effort to press the trigger may merely tighten the other fingers, thus affecting the holding, and at the same time delaying the let-off past the exact instant when the trigger should yield.
In double rifles and bolt-action guns the pistol grip might be of some advantage. But it should be of a decided sort, well curved in toward the guard, and not a mere ugly lump somewhere back of the actual grip, the kind we often see on lever-action rifles.
The slingstrap is not only the right thing for carrying a rifle on long tramps, but as a support for the forward arm it is nearly as good as the German “hand-hold.” It can be used in other positions as well as in the off-hand, and in any of them it assists in the steady holding of the piece while taking up considerable recoil. It might be in the way sometimes when traveling through brush or for quick shots, but its benefits quite outweigh its drawbacks. With any heavily charged rifle I should strongly advise a slingstrap.
Triggers and Trigger Pull
Rifle triggers may be plain of pull, as in a shotgun, single set trigger or double set. The single set trigger I have never liked on any rifle for any purpose. In its mechanism this trigger pushes well forward to set, and then, as it yields to pressure and releases the sear, returns to its original position, the trigger and finger movement being so great as to disturb the aim, I have never yet seen a single set trigger that did not have a variable pull, at one time yielding with half the pressure that it might on a second attempt. The result need not be dwelt upon; the marksman becomes afraid to touch his trigger, not being able to gauge the weight at which it will yield, and the consequence is a slower let-off than with a hard, plain trigger, as well as many premature pulls.
The double set trigger is admirably adapted to certain purposes, but should never be used on a heavily charged big game rifle; any arm with a pronounced recoil needs to be held, not tight but firmly, and it is a difficult task to put on a grip with the entire hand except the forefinger which is to barely touch a hair trigger. When the gun is swung rapidly for a snap-shot, or under excitement, the result is nearly certain to be disastrous. Nothing so rattles a hunter in moments of stress or danger as a premature discharge of his weapon; for dangerous game anything in the shape of a set trigger is not to be considered.
For small game rifles, single-shots, and those used exclusively at the target, by all means a double set trigger, but stop at that and never place it on your big game hunting rifle.
The trigger of a game rifle should be smooth, without drag, or any more “give” than is necessary to release the sear. The trigger pull should be from three to five pounds, depending upon the weight, caliber, and recoil of the arm. I have never seen the need of a trigger pull heavier than five pounds, even on a military rifle, and four pounds is enough. The trigger should yield to the ounce, though, time after time. Giving with a three pound pressure for one shot and five the next is a fatal defect.
No matter what quality a rifle may have, if the trigger pull is bad the arm is not fit to place faith in. I have noticed that plain triggers with a very light pull, say two and a half pounds and under, are more likely to be variable than those that are harder. A regular seven pound pull is odds better than one that lets go from two pounds up.
The marksman of a mechanical turn can generally improve his trigger pull by careful work with an oil stone, testing the let-off frequently while at work by attaching a weight to the trigger. Should he find either the sear or hammer soft, after adjusting the pull to his taste, take the pieces to a gunsmith and have them hardened. It not infrequently happens with cheap rifles that the parts will be found too soft to retain a perfect release, especially if it is light.