By Matthew B. Grice
In this modern era of high-performance synthetic materials, lifeless polymers, and uninspiring manufacturing components, we are facing a distinct lack of traditional hunting rifles adorned with American walnut stocks.
What’s the reason for the decline? Like most things in life, a variety of factors are to blame. Walnut stocks are harder to manufacture, source, and generally produce than synthetic materials. In other words, walnut requires a manufacturer to give a damn. That is unfortunately a tall order in our current climate.
There was a time in our nation when retailer’s shelves were lined with high-gloss walnut (often hand-checkered) and deep, polished bluing. Although, let the record reflect that select mass manufacturers including Browning and Winchester (among others) are producing some handsome walnut-stocked options.
The American buyer is also not without blame. The modern consumer runs from department store to department store in search of the cheapest offshore-produced wares, with manufactured obsolescence included as a feature, not a flaw.
Despite these factors the simple fact remains: a synthetic stock will never be as attractive, unequivocally American, or, frankly, desirable as straight-grained walnut. A brief visit to your local gun store will confirm this reality. Ask any salesman, and he’ll tell you that quality straight-grained walnut evaporates off his shelves as soon as it arrives.
These purchasing customers understand that walnut stocks offer a traditional and largely effective option for their hunting pursuits.
“But what about walnut’s performance limitations?” some ask, to which I respond: “Did Jack O’Connor or Carlos Hathcock suffer from performance limitations?”
For the vast majority of hunters’ needs, a walnut stock will offer a lifetime of enjoyment and proud ownership.
Despite the prevailing theories of most consumers, walnut does offer certain advantages. Those of us who hunt in the densely wooded Southeast are painfully aware of the rattling, scraping, and unnatural sounds produced when stalking through brush whilst holding a Tupperware rifle, thus announcing our unwelcome presence to all of Creation. Solid American walnut neither rattles nor scrapes when coming in contact with the outside elements.
Sure, walnut will pick up scars, scratches, nicks, chips, and dings along the way. These battle scars only serve as reminders of a life well-lived in the field, each scar reminding its owner of a different adventure. This process is not something to resist, but rather embrace. A rifle that ages with its owner produces an inseparable bond that cannot be replicated with modern materials. When its owner’s adventures are long-since complete, a walnut-stocked rifle serves as a tangible connection to a preceding generation.
As a fan of cast iron cooking, in my repertoire of preaching the cast iron gospel I always remind people that nobody fights over Grandma’s non-stick Teflon pans after her passing. Ask yourself, which rifle will your children fight over after your funeral? Those of us who are honest with ourselves already know the answer. If you haven’t already, get in the field and start making memories with a walnut-stocked rifle. You won’t regret it.