When tinkering with the factory stock wasn’t enough, Becky McKenzie decided to bite the bullet and go for a full custom job
I have had a few custom stocks made for me over the 14 years or so that I’ve been shooting. I had three on my Zoli, all made in Italy. Then after some years of shooting a Zoli I switched to a Krieghoff K80 Super Sporter, fitted with the standard stock. For a while I struggled.
I had it cut down to size, had a large amount of toe removed, and so on – but it still wasn’t quite there. Eventually I decided the best course of action was to get a custom stock made.
This is the ultimate in fine tuning for a stock – and it can make a huge difference. Imagine your gun is just 2mm out of fitting perfectly at the stock end; how far off does that make it at the target?
The answer is a lot – and that means that you, the shooter, have to learn to compensate for the stock not fitting. Up to a point we can all do that, but I wanted to raise my game to the next level and get better, more consistent scores – and that meant getting a stock to fit me.
This time I wanted to be more involved in the process, so I spoke with Kristian Reilly at Midland Gun Services in Shrewsbury. It’s all very well driving down to Heathrow, jumping on a plane, flying to Milan or Bergamo and having a stock built in a day.
But what if the first time you go out and try it, you are not quite convinced it’s right, and it needs some minor alterations? If you want it fine tuning, it’s a long way to go back. I felt that using MGS, based in the UK, would solve those issues for me.
So we made an appointment to see Kristian and Robbie, and travelled to Shrewsbury for my first fitting. I took my gun with me of course, and I knew roughly what I wanted. Robbie and Kristian are masters of stock fitting.
These guys have a huge amount of talent and knowledge between them. Robbie previously worked at Perazzi as a stocker, and Kristian worked for Holland and Holland for many years before starting up Midland Gun Services.
Robbie first made me mount my gun, and took copious notes before taking the gun off me and fixing it to his measurement jig so he could take the current stock’s measurements.
Then we discussed what I needed. The current stock’s length was pretty good, but still needed a little more right hand cast and more off the toe. The neck on my stock was too long, so my hand had to ride up the neck to reach the trigger. Robbie took more notes, writing down all the measurements for the new stock.
Kristian then took me into the office to show me his Krieghoff blanks – blocks of different quality walnut, yet to be chiselled into shape. He dabbed a little water onto the blanks to darken them, bringing out the colour and grain to give me an idea of how they would look when finished. I had already spied the one I wanted, and typically it was the most expensive!
With my previous custom stocks I hadn’t actually chosen the wood, so it was nice for me to do it this time. The one I chose was a good looking bit of wood but still strong, and not too fancy. It’s a compromise between strength and beauty.
My stock is there to do a job for me, and having the best grade wood available wouldn’t make me shoot any better. Having chosen the wood and paid a deposit, I left it with them. I feel that with any stock makers it’s better to wait, rather than have them rush the job.
My second fitting at MGS came a month later. I took my K80 back and we put the new stock on. It looked big, but Robbie explained it’s better that way, as you can take wood away, but you can’t put it back on. Mounting the new stock to my shoulder, it came up quite nicely.
We were there for around two hours, taking off a bit of wood here and there until I was satisfied it felt right. This stage is something I couldn’t do in Italy, as there was just the one fitting before the finished stock was delivered.
MGS have a soundproofed tunnel where customers can pattern test their stocks. I’m not one for doing much pattern testing; I only ever do it if there’s a very glaring problem. This was different however, and I thought it would be worth trying.
It actually proved rather difficult for me as a clay shooter to have to aim at a target like you would with a rifle. My first three shots were high and right. Robbie took a little more off the stock and we pattern tested again. Still to the right.
At this point Kristian told me to shut my eyes and he would load my gun. Shooting at a static target, you feel the recoil much heavier than when shooting a moving target. He loaded me up, I opened my eyes and pulled the trigger… Click! I nearly fell forward! Kristian explained I was anticipating the recoil, and not keeping the barrel still.
We decided it would be best if I took the stock away and tried it – something else I couldn’t have done with previous custom stocks. At this point the stock wasn’t oiled and had no chequering, but I went to Doveridge and shot maybe 50 clays. The stock felt absolutely brilliant!
That was all I needed to know: the stock fitted me, exactly as it should. We went back the next day to drop it off to be finished. Kristian designed my chequering for me, all of which was done by hand, and not by laser.
I collected the stock a couple of weeks later, eager to see it and try it at the weekend competition. It looked great, but still needed to be balanced. Robbie and Kristian had offered to balance the gun for me, but it’s something I am very particular about; how you’d like your gun to feel and handle is a very personal choice.
So my husband John and myself did this at home with our balance tools. We took the lead out of some cartridges, jammed it into a bag, and put it inside the stock until I was happy with the result.
Later Robbie took out all the shot and weighed it, then melted down some lead and cast it into two long lead ingots. Then he drilled two long holes into my stock and fitted the lead tightly so it wouldn’t rattle around. He sealed the holes with walnut plugs, then fitted the butt plate back on, finishing the stock off nicely.
The result was perfect! The new stock comes up brilliantly. It’s actually difficult to mis-mount it now. I really can’t thank Kristian and Robbie enough for making me this stock. Out of all the custom stocks I’ve had, my new one from MGS is undoubtedly the best fitting.
I won’t knock other stock makers, as some of them are excellent at what they do. I will say this, however: If you live in the UK, save yourself the air fare and go visit the boys at Midland Gun Services.
They are exceptional at their job. Find them at www.midlandsgunservices.com