synthetic vs wood rifle stocks

Since the advent of synthetic stock materials for firearms, there’s been the age-old debate of whether wood or synthetic stocks are superior. This is less of a debate for handguns, so we’ll focus on rifles and shotguns.

The intention of this comparison is to help you figure out what kind of stock material is best for what you want to do with your gun. Aesthetics aside, there are some functional pros and cons to each material that you’ll need to consider.

Wood Rifle/Shotgun Stocks

Wood stocks have been around since the invention of the firearm. Wood is a plentiful and relatively durable material that serves its purpose as the building block for firearms of all kinds.

While the older generations swear by wood as the only option, their bias is somewhat founded, while at the same time flawed in many ways.

Pros of wood stocks

The biggest thing wood stocks have going for them is their aesthetic qualities. To me, nothing looks nicer than a beautifully stained and polished walnut stock. The intricacies of the wood grain and the different shades of amber and mahogany never cease to give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Additionally, wood is a heavier material than plastic, which actually helps absorb recoil. Wood stocks are great for youth guns and can give yourself a more comfortable shooting platform.

Cons of wood stocks

Interestingly, wood stocks being heavier is as much of a negative aspect as it is a positive one. If you’re going on extended hunting trips or carrying your wood stock rifle or shotgun for a long time, that extra weight will make you rethink your choice pretty quickly.

Secondly, even if finished with a polyurethane coating, wood is very susceptible to water damage. This makes them not last as long compared to synthetic stocks in wet environments.

double barrel shotguns with wood stock
It’s hard to argue against the classic look of wood. Top: Stevens 12 gauge. Bottom: Stevens 16 gauge

Best uses for wood stocks

The best uses for wood stocks include:

  • Display or firearms collecting
  • Youth guns
  • Short or local hunting trips
  • Vintage firearms
  • If you just prefer the look and feel of wood

Synthetic Stocks

While wood stocks have a storied past and are interesting to look at, synthetic stocks are purely utilitarian.

With improvements in plastics, synthetic stocks have become more and more common. The benefits of synthetic stocks are not to be understated though.

Pros of synthetic stocks

Synthetics stocks have a few added benefits that put them above wood. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Low cost
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Not affected by wet environments

These benefits make them useful for hard use in the field and at the range in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a nice wood stock.

Cons of synthetic stocks

Obviously, synthetic stocks aren’t as pretty or pleasing to the eye as wood stocks. While they can be painted or made in a variety of colors, they have a basic and practical look.

Compared to wood stocks, synthetic materials fall short because:

  • Higher felt recoil in some cases (die to reduced weight)
  • Less interesting appearance

Best uses for synthetic stocks

As a utilitarian material, synthetic stocks excel for:

  • Tactical platforms
  • Extended hunting trips (i.e., backcountry hunting)
  • Waterfowl hunting
  • Use in wet environments (i.e., PNW and Alaska)
rifle with wood stock vs rifle with synthetic stock
Two .30-06 hunting rifles, just with different stocks. Top: Savage 110L Bottom: Ruger American

Conclusion

I personally don’t have a preference either way, and that’s because both wood and synthetic stocks are great and work well in different situations.

Go ahead and decide for yourself, but I love wood stocks for their aesthetics, and I love synthetic stocks for their practicality. There’s no reason you can have rifles and shotguns of both kinds if you can’t decide, at least that’s what I’ve done.

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