by Terry Wieland
This week, I had the pleasure of visiting Lee Shaver in his single-shot temple in Lamar, Missouri, where I was able to paw through a collection of stock blanks he’d purchased from a gun craftsman who recently retired.
Among the wooden treasures was a piece of California mesquite suitable for stocking a bolt-action rifle. For those who associate mesquite with the scrubby brush on the endless rolling hills of Texas, there is a variation that grows into a tree. This is screwbean mesquite, found in California around waterholes, where it grows slowly to usable size.
This particular blank was from a tree cut near the Salton Sea, in 1965, sawn into blanks, buried in sand for seven years to season slowly, then air-dried for another decade before being offered for sale for a thousand bucks—big money for a stock blank in the 1980s. It was billed as “the last of its kind,” and that’s probably a fair assessment. Is it spectacular? No, just a nice mid-brown with dark streaks and perfect grain for a rifle.
I mention this simply to illustrate the effort and judgement—and patience—that goes into a fine wooden stock. And even after all this, a stockmaker could cut into that blank and find a flaw that renders it useless, or the grain might “go dead,” as they say, leaving a piece of wood with neither beauty nor color.
Weatherby, Inc., formerly of California and now in Wyoming, used mesquite almost as a trademark for its early rifles, especially the Mark V, through the 1960s. For various reasons, they moved away from mesquite to Claro walnut (another California tree).
In the 1960s, the Herter’s catalogue had a color section in which they illustrated different woods on offer, and their mesquite blanks were astonishing, as were the myrtlewood blanks. That, along with the Reinhard Fajen catalogue, made many of us hunger for a mesquite stock, but that was long ago.
Now consider carbon fibre.