Do I need to bed my new McMillan stock?
If I answered this question thoroughly and succinctly, the blog would be way too short. The answer is “NO”, and that is all that needs be said. But since this blog needs to be several hundred words and a few paragraphs, I will do my best to help you understand why the question ever gets asked in the first place. Of course that will require a history lesson. If you are not interested in the history lesson then you can skip down to the last two paragraphs.
If you didn’t know, McMillan Fiberglass Stocks, Inc started life as Gale McMillan Company. Gale, my father, was a competitive benchrest shooter. He grew up in Arizona and got his first rifle (22LR) at age 7. At age 17 he enlisted in the Air Force where he found many like-minded individuals that enjoyed shooting. He started out competing in the base holiday turkey shoots and then progressed to organized competition. Since his older brothers were competing in Benchrest matches it only seemed natural he gravitate toward that sport. In addition to competing and hunting he took some gun smithing classes at night. By the time he retired from the Air Force in 1968 he was not only a good shot (1960 State LV Benchrest Champion) he had become a very good gun builder. His desire was to try and figure out how to make a living working with guns. Almost immediately after he got out of the service, his brother Pat McMillan convinced him that if they worked together they could make rifle barrels. Pat at the time had developed quite a reputation for his bullet making dies. He also had designed and made a series of benchrest actions beginning in about 1963. In all, he made about 50 actions over a 10 years span.
Gale spent the next 9 months working with Pat making a deep hole drill, buttoning machine, and buttons & reamers for making match grade stainless steel barrels. They worked well together and Gale looked forward to being in the barrel making business with his brother. Then it happened, they actually made their first good barrel. Gale came home, told his wife Gloria that they had figured out how to make good barrels and things were going to really take off now. They celebrated and had a few drinks. Gale even dreamed he might be able to quit his job working the 2nd shift at Motorola pretty soon. The next morning Gale jumped in the car, drove to Pat’s house where the shop was, only to find his tool box on the front porch. Gale knew what that meant. He didn’t even go inside, he grabbed his tool box got back in the car and went home. He told Glo that he needed to find another way to make a living in the firearms industry.
Gale was starting to get a good reputation as a gun builder and had several orders going at a time. Some of his customers wanted him to build their guns on this brand new stock that had just come out. It was a fiberglass stock, and it was lighter than the wood that all of the competition benchrest rifles were using at the time. A guy named Chet Brown had this idea that he could make a stock out of fiberglass so he set out to make it happen. Gale ordered two of these stocks for his customers and when they arrived he began building the rifles. The stocks were very rough, large seem lines that ran down each side and around the barrel channel and over the top and bottom of the butt stock. They had no color and required painting to be finished. Gale sanded and filled and primered and sanded and primered and painted and sanded and painted and then finally clear coated them. And, they actually looked pretty good when he was all done. But it took him so long and so much work that he actually lost money on both rifles when it was all said and done. And then he said “I’ve got to be able to do better than this”. And that is when Gale McMillan Company actually was started.
Now here is the important stuff. When he first started making stocks, they had the radius of the receiver and barrel channel in them. Benchrest rifles were single shots with no magazines, with a simple trigger guard, and two guard (action) screws. It was really simple to inlet them. Cut the slot for the recoil lug and trigger, drill the holes for the guard screws and cut the port and grind the bolt notch. Anyone could do that so selling stocks to gun builders who were building benchrest rifles was pretty simple. No color because they all got painted a high polish custom type paint job and they were not inletted. But every benchrest rifle at that time was being bedded. Even when he started selling stocks to the Marine Corp a couple of years later, they were uninletted with a radius for the action and barrel molded in. Since “sniper rifles” were supposed to be as accurate as possible they also needed to be bedded, it was just the way it was. So as the stock company started to grow and progress, it was built on accuracy and Gale believed that in order to be absolutely as accurate as possible, a rifle needed to be bedded.
In 1983 Gale purchased a CNC (computerized numerical control) mill machine. That is when we started selling stocks that were completely inletted. No longer did a stock need to be sent to a gun builder to have them inlet them and install them for the end user, now we could sell directly to the guy who would put it on his rifle. But since Gale believed every rifle should be as accurate as possible which required them to be bedded, we inletted them with some clearance behind the recoil lug to allow room for the bedding material. As a result every customer still had to either bed them personally or have a gunsmith bed it for them. We started selling stocks to the manufactures, first Weatherby, and they bedded them. Then Remington and Winchester, and they each bedded the rifles. Then along came Sako who asked that game changing question “Can you send them to us so that we don’t have to bed them?”. So we began to experiment with the inletting and putting the recoil lug slot where it needed to be in order to support the recoil lug properly. And sure enough, we could sell stocks that didn’t technically need to be bedded.
So now we are at the point where we can sell Completely Finished Stocks to regular customers. We called them a “Custom Drop-In” because you got to order the stock the way you wanted it, and it did not have to be bedded. BUT!! And that is a big ‘BUT’, “if you want the gun to shoot as accurately as possible, it needs to be glass bedded”, or so we thought, and so that is what we told everyone. For almost 20 years we believed that what we were telling people was the absolute truth. And to a great extent we still believe that today. But from the thousands of customers over the years that have given us feed-back about how well the rifle shot un-bedded we have developed a little different suggestion. We started telling people, no it doesn’t need to be bedded, so we suggest you shoot it without bedding it and determine whether you are happy with the accuracy or not. If you think you can get a little more accuracy by bedding it, then go ahead and bed it.
And for the most part we have been comfortable with telling our customers that. But I always wondered and so I recently had a definitive test done. I gave two prone stocks to Carl Kovalchik, former National Highpower Champion and Secret Service Agent. He was someone I knew could test these stocks and be able to determine whether or not there was any decrease in accuracy from his match rifle (300 win mag) with his bedded stock and the unbedded stocks. And to make sure it was completely reliable, we did the test with not one, but two unbedded stocks. He shot 40 rounds with his match rifle to establish a base line. Then he let the rifle cool, changed the stock to the first unbedded sample and repeated the string, 40 rounds. He again let the rifle cool, switched to the second unbedded stock and shot another 40 rounds.
It was Carl’s conclusion that he could not distinguish any drop in accuracy in either of the unbedded stocks and that either stock would hold the accuracy of the rifle! And one other anecdote: I sponsored the Savage F Class F-TR shooting team and provided each of the team members with an Xit stock. At the Berger SWN, all members shot their new stocks and remarked how much they liked them. To my surprise one of the team members commented that he had not had time to bed the rifle so he shot it without bedding, and now wonders if he ever will, since it shot so well.
In conclusion, NO, you do not need to bed a McMillan stock.