The weight of a high power rifle should be governed chiefly by the amount of free recoil set up by its cartridge. From seven and one-half to eight pounds is enough rifle weight for such a cartridge as the .30 U. S. A., '06, which gives a free recoil of fifteen foot-pounds, and six pounds is plenty for a .30-30 of seven pound recoil. However, it is here assumed that the weight is where it belongs—chiefly in action and breech end of barrel. A well made rifle has no superfluous wood or metal anywhere. A cheap one has a great deal of useless steel in the frame and elsewhere, that could be milled out to the betterment of the piece. I also assume that the best barrel steel is used, with no slots to weaken it, and that the piece has a shotgun butt to distribute recoil.
The fit of a rifle stock is not of so much consequence in firing deliberately with light charges, but a rifle that must be swung smartly into position for a shot on the jump should " come up " like a well proportioned shotgun. The stock of a sporting rifle, though, should be a little shorter than that of a shotgun, because the arm is sometimes used in prone position. Moreover, a rifleman's proper poise, when shooting offhand, is more erect and straight-necked than that of a gunner; hence the rifle stock needs more crook than a shotgun's. (Compare figures in Chapter IX).
The following dimensions for rifle stocks are copied, in the main, from the writings of Mr. E. C. Crossman, an expert whose judgment in everything pertaining to rifled firearms deserves close attention.
A rifle stock for a man of average build should measure about thirteen and three-fourths inches from trigger to hollow of butt; drop from line of sight to comb, one and seven-eighths inches; drop to heel, three inches. A short man, or one with short arm-reach, needs a shorter stock, say thirteen and one-half inches; a tall or long armed man, a longer one, fourteen or fourteen and one-fourth inches. A short neck requires a drop of one and three-fourths inches at comb and two and three-fourths inches at heel; long neck, two, and three and one-fourth inches, respectively.
If the stock is made to order, a cast-off (stock 97 bent away from face) of one-fourth inch at heel will help to bring the eye straight in line with the sights, without effort. A broad chested, full-faced man needs more. A well-shaped cheek piece also helps one to align quickly and naturally along the axis of the barrel, but adds weight to the gun.
A full pistol grip aids holding, provided it be close to the trigger and well curved (for an average hand, four inches from trigger to front of grip cap). A grip so shaped lessens the strain on the three grasping fingers and thereby leaves the trigger finger mobile for its proper work. A grip of four and three-fourths inches circumference fits a medium hand.
The conventional American rifle butt, slender, thin, and crescent shaped where it fits the arm, is a relic of the eighteenth century. It was properly designed for the rifles of that day, which had excessively long barrels and practically no recoil; hence were shot from the arm instead of from the shoulder. It is quite unsuitable for present-day weapons that use heavy charges and must often be handled quickly. A shotgun butt, slightly hollowed between heel and toe, comes promptly to the aim, does not catch in clothing, and its broad plate distributes recoil over a considerable area of the shoulder. A butt plate of hard rubber is too brittle; it is better of steel, checkered to prevent slipping when the shirt or coat is wet.
I like a trap in the plate, opening into a chamber within the butt where a jointed cleaning rod is kept, together with a spare striker or firing pin, spare springs (if flat), a folding screwdriver like that of our army, and a bullet jacket extractor. I much prefer a cleaning rod, even if many-jointed, to a pull-through thong. The latter is a poor excuse for cleaning and is liable to break, in which case it is a desperately hard thing to get rid of. Again, if a shell neck or a bullet jacket lodges in the barrel, the rifle is put out of action until a rod can be found.
Straight-grained walnut is stronger than figured wood. See that the grain runs lengthwise of the grip. Italian walnut is hardest and handsomest, but heavy. English walnut is next choice. A varnished stock is garish when new and shows every scratch and bruise thereafter. The most tasteful and durable finish is produced by several coats of linseed oil, each thoroughly rubbed in by hand.
The stock of a good rifle is improved by neat and sharp checkering on grip and forearm, to keep the hands from slipping. It is well, also, to checker the trigger, safety catch, under side of bolt head, and butt plate. All other metal parts should be left severely plain, the blueing being of a dull finish. Anything that glitters on a rifle disturbs aim and alarms game by flashing like a heliograph. Many a time, the first notice I have had that another hunter was in the field came from the glitter of his rifle barrel.
Plating and engraving are out of place on a weapon that is not meant for ballrooms or dress parade. They cheapen and vulgarize it, as diamonds do a street costume. The beauty of a rifle is in its symmetry, its graceful contours, its easy poise in the owner's hands, its evident fitness for stern and manlike work. Let it show in every line and on every surface that it is no plaything, but a weapon of precision.
When one gets a good rifle, by all means let him take thoughtful care of it. This means work at times when one is least inclined for it; but do it. Never leave a rifle fouled from the day's shooting. A few nights' neglect, or even one, can ruin the best gun a man ever put to his shoulder.
The corrosive residue of smokeless powder cannot be removed with a wet rag, like that of black powder. The black carbon fouling that you see when looking through the barrel may be swabbed out with a dry wiper, but that is not what does the mischief. There is left a sticky residue that you cannot see, but that you can feel adhering to the wiper as you run a rod through. This has an acid reaction and attacks steel virulently. Water will not dissolve it. You must use either a nitro-solvent oil or an alkali, preferably the former.