Evolution of the Tactical Stock - The McMillan A-5
Don Kakretz (USSR)
I was one of the fortunate ones, who were chosen to test and evaluate the new McMillan A-5 tactical stock. This stock design is the result of input of tactical rifle shooters who frequent the Sniper's Hide website (http://www.snipershide.com). That Kelly McMillan sought out this input BEFORE designing a new stock, is a credit to him and his company. As we all know, in too many cases, the creation of a new design comes from the top and the ultimate users are left with the choice of "take it or leave it". The choice of which rifle of mine to put the new stock on was a “no-brainer”, my FN SPR.
This was the 1st model SPR that came with the H-S Precision stock and the detachable magazine. The H-S Precision stock is an okay stock, but since I have a McMillan stock on another tactical rifle, I know the difference between okay and great. The other thing that I wanted to change on the FN was the detachable magazine. While the detachable magazine works (something that Remington could never say about their DM Model 700 PSS), I just like a floorplate better.
My A-5 arrived after everyone else’s, due to the rather circuitous route it took. Upon completion by Kelly McMillan, it made a trip to Matt Williams of Williams Firearms Company. The Williams Firearms Company uses state of the art CNC equipment to manufacture some of the finest bottom metal for tactical shooting, as well as providing triggerguards and floorplates for US Repeating Arms Corp. (Winchester). Again, having another rifle with Williams’ high quality bottom metal made the choice of their product an easy one. Since the bottom metal was going on a tactical rifle, Matt Williams suggested their Combat-Latch System. This Combat-Latch System incorporates a second button on the triggerguard, which must be depressed before the front catch can be released to drop the floorplate. This is the ultimate system for keeping your shells where they belong under the most extreme tactical situations. After Matt installed his bottom metal, I had him send everything on to George Gardner at GA Precision to have him pillar bed the stock and install a Badger Tactical bolt knob.
I think most of us have heard of George and the quality of his smithing work, and I can only say that everything we have heard is true. When I received the FN SPR in the new A-5 stock, it was everything that I had hoped it would be.
Something that I always worry about when designing a tactical rifle using various aftermarket components is the balance. A properly balanced rifle should have the balance point at or near the front end of the floorplate. With the spacer system buttplate I had specified for this stock adding needed weight at the backend of the rifle, I was very happy to see the rifle was perfectly balanced. The fit and finish of the stock is everything that we have come to expect from McMillan. Particular attention was paid to inletting and installing the flushmount swivels which were installed on the bottom and left side of the stock.
So how does the A-5 differ from the others in the A Series of stocks? Well, it retains the vertical grip of the A-2 thru A-4 stocks, but from there on, it is a completely new animal. What really sets the A-5 aside from all the other tactical stocks is the forearm. It has a relatively shallow forearm, flat on the bottom, but nicely rounded on the sides in the style of the Winchester Marksman stock.
Reprinted with permission from snipershide.com
Building The Dream With Mcmillan’s A-5 Tactical Rifle Stock
On 25 February 2003 I received the McMillan A-5 tactical rifle stock after a wait of approximately 4 months. I remember this day exactly not only because I took delivery of my first truly custom rifle stock but also because it was my 2nd daughter’s 11th birthday. Who would have thought I’d be celebrating right along with her for the gift I received!
A little history first: this stock is the culmination of roughly 2 months of input by the members of the Sniper’s Hide website and discussion forum. Kelly McMillan, owner and proprietor of McMillan Fiberglass Stocks in Phoenix, AZ, posed the question, “What would comprise the ultimate tactical rifle stock?” to the 1800+ membership. Literally hundreds of responses, suggestions, and wish lists under several different topics emerged, handing Mr. McMillan the Pandora’s Box he had asked for. Most of these were modifications to already existing McMillan rifle stocks – narrower palm swells, a reshaped fore end, change or eliminate the butt hook, etc. In general, discussion seemed to center around modifying the A-4, a current favorite among many, especially for prone shooting, and the newest USMC sniper stock. The three most requested changes, or improvements depending on your perspective, to currently available stocks were:
- A lighter weight version of the A-4.
- A rear bag friendly butt stock.
- A tapered fore end for elevation changes.
Based on this input, Mr. McMillan produced a brand new rifle stock, similar in appearance to the A-4 on one end, and the Winchester Marksman on the other. Mr. McMillan then asked for testers and evaluators for this creation. I expect he got 10 times the contacts for this as he got input to begin with. Amazingly, I was selected as one of 12 to do this “job.” In preparation for building this rifle, which, incidentally, is my first custom rifle, I contacted Boots Obermeyer and asked him to turn me a barrel. Boots’ barrels are legendary in the shooting world and his work in rifled barrels is evident in just about every custom barrel shop in the country. He is no stranger to the long range shooting community, both civilian and military. His turn around time is every bit as famous as his barrels; it is not uncommon to wait a year for one. I ordered an AMU contour, 11 twist .308 cal. barrel with a finished length of 24”. I asked him to flute it as well. Boots believes that fluting produces a more accurate barrel, helping not only to provide stiffness and control heat better but also manage harmonic vibrations more efficiently. The AMU contour begins at 1.250” at the breech and straight tapers to .950” at the muzzle. The barrel arrived on 2 April. As an unfinished blank, it tipped the scale at 5 lbs 6 ozs.
Ok, back to the stock and what happened next. My instructions to Mr. McMillan were for an adjustable cheek piece, adjustable LOP via spacer system, a fore end rail to use with a hand stop for competition shooting, and 3 sling swivel studs for a sling and bipod. I also asked for the finish in desert camo and full inletting to accommodate a Remington 700 SA, Badger steel floorplate and recoil lug, and the above-mentioned barrel. Upon receipt of the stock and prior to doing anything further, I took accurate measurements of everything I could think of. The stock alone came in at 4 lbs 4 ozs. Length with all LOP spacers installed is 32 7/8” (two 1/2” spacers and two ¼” spacers). The saddle type cheek piece has a total of 1 3/8” of vertical adjustment. It adjusts via twin knurled thumb screws on the off side of the stock and features a thin, rubber padding to anchor your cheek weld and ensure it doesn’t get frozen to the aluminum on some sub zero op. The finish is an even and durable 3-color molded-in desert pattern of tan, brown, and dark gray and the grip area and fore end are stippled with a subtle texture. The inletting is perfectly machined into the fiberglass, resembling an aircraft part in its accuracy and exactness. The butt stock incorporates a “butt hook” like the A-4. The idea behind this is to aid in holding the stock into the shoulder in the prone position with the support hand. It is a cutout in the bottom of the stock providing a “hook” several inches forward of the recoil pad to press the stock rearward. It also relieves the rear sling swivel and stud of this duty. The position of this feature was one of the key complaints in the A-4. Many felt it was too far back, hampering the use of a rear bag or sock for elevation. McMillan addressed this issue by moving it forward approximately one inch, relative to the A-4.
The fore end is tapered from rear to front allowing the shooter to make minor elevation adjustments by sliding the stock forward or backward on some kind of support. The sides of the fore end, from roughly the recoil lug forward, have been rounded or bulged outward to provide a more comfortable and ergonomic feel. Gone are the slab-sided, semi-truck dimensions of the A-4. In terms of simplistic, user-friendly “feel,” this should make a world of difference. Shooters using an offhand position, or simply carrying the rifle, will reap the benefits of this seemingly minor change.
As far as weight is concerned, an A-5 stock produced identically to an A-4 will come out within ounces of each other. “Configured the same, they weigh the same,” Kelly stated, “but there are options with how the A-5 can be equipped that allow us to make it lighter.”
The stock, barrel, floor plate, and receiver were sealed in a hard case and shipped to Norm Chandler Jr. at Iron Brigade Armory in Jacksonville, NC. Norm Jr. agreed to barrel and assemble my rifle as a favor; this is not his SOP for building rifles. For those unfamiliar, the Chandler Rifle is listed, complete with photos and sample targets, in Webster’s dictionary under the words, “Accurate,” and “Battle Hardened.” IBA is steeped in Marine Corps history and they turn out an M1 Abrams version of the M40A1 Marine sniper rifle. Norm admitted to almost no experience with an Obermeyer 5R and suggested that I have it barreled by George Gardner at GA Precision in North Kansas City, MO. George is an expert in the use and installation of both Obermeyer and Mike Rock 5R barrels having used a ton of them in his own business. I had been in contact with George several times over the last few months and he patiently answered every question I had during the research of this project. He offered more than a few recommendations with regard to the barrel and the procedures necessary to get it right. Interestingly, it was Norm who brought George’s name up, not me. I merely passed along George’s comments and suggestions but it was Norm who recognized who they came from. He graciously accepted the fact that George may be the better man for this step of the operation.
This is an example of the finest in this art and it speaks volumes for the professionalism, respect, and expertise of these gentlemen. George chambered the barrel at 1.630” headspace, crowned it perfectly, completely trued and lapped the action, cut the threads, finish-ground the exterior, and completed the installation, all in day or two. I previously asked George to install a Badger oversized bolt knob so that was already done. It was shipped back to IBA within days of receiving it.
After receiving my barreled action back, Norm and his armorers bedded the stock using their proprietary technique of Devcon Titanium to pillar bed the receiver. The bedding includes a barrel pad an inch and a quarter forward of the recoil lug. The stock is then skim bedded with MarineTex to ensure a perfect fit and cradle for the metal and the barrel channel sealed using Dupont Centauri paint. The action was modified, again using an IBA specific method of welding the magazine box to the action and modifying it to hold 5 rounds. The trigger was tuned to their standard 3¾ lbs. and the scope mounting holes resized to 8-40. There may be other minor actions performed that I am unaware of. Unfortunately, I was unable to actually stand over their collective shoulders and witness every step of the process. As much as I would love to see how the operation works in the IBA shop, I’m sure I’d get tossed out of the hooch in a heartbeat with all my questions and poking around!
Norm provided a 20 MOA Badger Ordinance scope rail and a set of Badger rings. The whole enchilada was then finished in the IBA Manowar tan metal coating. This is not a Teflon-based coating but rather a baked-on epoxy that provides salt and corrosion resistance as well as a fantastic base for camouflaging the rifle. Every metal part was treated to some extent in this process providing a complete blanket of protection for the entire rifle. Norm even sent me a coated magazine spring to make sure I liked the color prior to doing the whole rifle.
When completion of the rifle drew near, I shipped the scope out to Premier Reticles in Winchester, VA. Dick Thomas installed their Generation II mil-dot reticle in my scope. This reticle is an improvement over the regular mil-dot. Additional hash marks are provided between the mil dots and across the heavy post sections of the reticle. They are evenly spaced and precisely sized to allow finer range finding capabilities over the standard. Additionally, and of greater importance, the reticle is etched into the glass in the first focal plane of the scope. This means that regardless of the power setting on a variable power scope, the mil dots remain accurate. Ranging is now possible at all powers, not just at 10X.
I shipped the scope to Norm for him to mount and zero the stick. I received it back in my hot little hands in mid-August. After a barrel break-in procedure, I began shooting out to 500 yds. Later this year I will be attending an advanced sniper/observer school where I will be able to shoot out to 1K. I don’t expect to have any problems.
The rifle shoots like a dream, non-dry, 1 each. The action is smooth and effortless and the trigger breaks like glass. The Manowar finish is even and durable and coats every millimeter of metal on the rifle. It matches the stock almost perfectly. I shot from the prone to begin with and moved into sitting, kneeling, and off hand. I shot from a bipod, bench, pack, and sling. At 15 lbs. 12 oz. including scope, bipod, and sling, this rifle is considerably heavier than the standard PSS it is replacing and its weight took some getting used to. The trade off, however, is granite stability and much improved recoil absorption; I can easily keep eyes on target from one shot to the next. The stock easily fits into a bunny ear bag at the rear and recoil is a straight back push. I shot numerous groups after break in with factory loaded Federal GMM 168 gr. BTHP. The best group that first day was 5 rounds in 3/16”, measured center to center, at 100 yds. I have yet to shoot groups at extended ranges. My concentration has been on getting zeros out to 500. But with what I’ve seen thus far, I fully expect similar results. The consistency of the whole system is phenomenal.
Everything performed beyond my expectations, to some extent because I didn’t really know what to expect. Someone who’s built a custom rifle or 2, or 3, may find this normal and not quite as exciting. From my standpoint, I couldn’t be happier. From the offering of McMillan Fiberglass Stocks to the building and assembling that IBA and GA Precision did to the incredibly useful modification at Premier Reticles, I am thrilled to death with my rifle. My thanks go beyond words to men like Kelly McMillan for his selfless efforts to continue raising the bar; Norm Chandler Jr. and George Gardner for their perpetuation of an art and without whose services I could not have ever achieved such shooting Nirvana; and Dick Thomas for the innovation and willingness to listen and apply suggestions. The tools we have at our disposal in this day and age are truly remarkable. They are not cheap, however, and one can expect to spend a butt load. For those of us not fortunate enough to have our departments provide us with uncompromising equipment, this may represent our only option. To paraphrase the words of a timeless hero and legend in our craft, “…one, well-aimed shot,” is what we strive for, satisfaction in our every effort and its peace of mind, our reward. Endless training, mental and emotional maturity, and the finest equipment available achieve that. This rifle represents the latter. The rest is up to me.
Reprinted with permission from snipershide.com