Since its introduction several years ago, the Choate Ultimate Sniper Stock (U.S.S.) designed by Maj. John Plaster has stirred up quite a bit of interest among shooting enthusiasts. The U.S.S. seems to evoke really strong opinions from shooters who have seen, used or handled it. The people I've talked to either really like it or positively hate it.
When I first became aware of this stock I was skeptical and perhaps a little insulted that Choate had the gall to market any of its products as the "ultimate". I figured the stock's name to be a rather lame marketing ploy to capitalize on the successful book and video series by Plaster several years before.
Please, don't get me wrong. I have no gripes against Choate products. I've used some of their products before and have been satisfied with their performance. However, I wouldn't put Choate on the top of my list for companies who build the best gear in the marketplace.
In my opinion, by referring to its stock as the "ultimate" Choate set itself up for a lot of criticism if not outright failure. Effectively this stock's name implied a standard that Choate couldn't possibly expect to achieve or live up to.
Having said all this, the U.S.S. does have some merit. It offers some features and options that cannot be found on other manufacturers stocks for the same price.
For example, the U.S.S. comes equipped with not one but two interchangeable cheek pieces. One is for standard and medium height mounted scopes. The second one, which is 5/16" taller, is meant for higher mounted scopes.
Both cheek pieces are held in place by a single recessed screw that threads down into the stock. They can also be adjusted in three different positions, either one inch forward or backwards of the center mounting position.
As well, the butt pad can be adjusted for length of pull (lop) with available 1/4" spacers and also has no less than five different height adjustment positions. The lop feature is especially useful for those who will be shooting in various weather conditions as it allows the shooter to adjust for clothing changes.
Choate is to be commended on these very well thought out features. Its obvious that they have attempted to make this stock ergonomic for the many different shooters who will be looking to purchase this stock. Even if you don't like much anything else about this stock, these features alone make up for a lot of this stock's other shortcomings. As far as I'm concerned, these are the features that sold me on the stock to begin with. To get these in any other manufacturer's stock I would have had to spend much more than the $160 I spent on this stock.
When properly set up to fit the individual shooter's preferences, the U.S.S. is very comfortable to shoot from the prone position.
The U.S.S.'s aluminum bedding block is of the "V" type design (see photo #1). My Remington 700 long action fit the block fairly well without any bedding compound required. That is not to say that everyone's experience may be the same. One should always look for evidence of adequate contact between the action and the bedding block and add compound when necessary to ensure proper mating of the two surfaces. At some point in the future I may even add a little compound to mine to see if it makes any difference at all.
It is interesting to note that several of my best groups from my rifle came while mounted in this stock. My Sendero's parent stock is the high quality varmint type stock produced by H.S. Precision. I attribute the better groupings to being more comfortable in the prone position over the standard issue stock.
The U.S.S.'s barrel channel is very generous in size and will accommodate bull barrels up to 1.25" in diameter (see photo #1). Some slight trimming may be required around the chamber area. I had to trim back a very small amount of stock material to prevent barrel contact.
The U.S.S. also has two horizontal slots in the forearm to aid in barrel cooling and to be used for tying down camouflage material. I have no personal use for the tie-down feature, though the added cooling could be of some benefit.
The U.S.S. has a unique side-mounted swing swivel stud arrangement that is meant to be more comfortable than the standard under the stock mounting location. There are provisions on both sides of the stock to accommodate right and left-handed shooters. This arrangement allows the rifle to lay flat against the shooter's back and keeps the weapon in a more secure position.
Another convenient feature is the storage area found in the pistol grip. It can hold extra rounds or anything else you may wish to put there. The only drawback is that the storage cover is held in position by two small screws, making quick access to the area almost impossible in cases of dire emergency. It also means that you'll need to carry one more piece of gear (screwdriver) with you in the field if you plan to use the storage area.
Every screw used in the stock is of the cross-slotted Phillips type. A more convenient and practical flat blade type would have been a better choice. I know this sounds like nitpicking on my part, but let us be honest, we've all used other items to loosen screws of the flat blade type when we didn't have a screwdriver with us. That's why I think they would have been a better choice during field usage of this stock. In other words, one wouldn't have to be so dependent on having a screwdriver if one wasn't available. (Editors note: A hinged compartment would have been even better.)
While the U.S.S. does have its good points, there are some features and items that are inappropriate, useless or downright dangerous on a stock that is touted to be used for the application of sniping.
One of the biggest complaints I've heard people mention is regarding the weight of the stock. I didn't realize the validity of this point until I had a chance to use the stock. There is no doubt in my mind that this thing is overly heavy. Whether this is a problem or not depends on how the rifle is to be deployed in the field.
Like all of the other gear one uses, there should be some thought to the selection of a rifle stock that best suits the demands that will be placed on the weapon in the field. Selecting the wrong weapon for the job could lead to less than desired results. Selecting a rifle stock in many ways is no different.
If a shooter is going to be in a static shooting position with little or no movement, either to or from the firing position, the weight of the stock is of little consequence. The added weight may even have a positive benefit of helping reduce the amount of felt recoil, possibly allowing the shooter to make quicker follow-up shots due to a decrease in the amount of time to target re-acquisition.
The weight of the stock will be a problem for those who have to either move long distances or stalk to the firing position. The thought of humping this stock through the brush on my belly for 10 miles doesn't leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling. A more conventional lighter weight made by (insert your manufacturer of choice here) would be a better choice in this particular instance.
For sure, if weight is an important consideration in the selection of a rifle stock, there are plenty other quality made stocks which to choose from. For this reason I can say that the U.S.S. should be considered for basically fixed or prone shooting positions.
The size of the U.S.S. is also another area of complaint among shooters. There as well, I have to concur. This stock is relatively large and no doubt contributes to the stock's unusually heavy weight. For many shooters this stock is rather bulky feeling and is rather unwieldy. For larger shooters this stock may be the answer to their dreams. They can finally have a stock that is more comfortable to them because of their physical stature.
The pistol-grip area of the stock is really too large and would probably be of benefit only to those who have very large hands. Luckily there is a lot of material in the grip area, so sanding or grinding down the grip area to individual preferences shouldn't be a problem. I personally find the stippling in the grip and forearm areas to be too aggressive and very abrasive against the skin. On one occasion my rifle accidentally slipped from my hands and fell against my leg. I was wearing shorts at the time, and the stippling left a rather annoying abrasion on my leg that began to bleed. Once again, the shooter can sand this area down to his/her own preferences. I know I plan to do so in very short order!
The basic finish of the U.S.S. is what you would expect from a relatively inexpensive stock such as this. The finish is rough with evidence of the injection molding process used to form the stock. It is my opinion that the quality of manufacture is consistent with the rest of the stocks made by Choate and other low cost manufacturers.
Since most users will likely customize their stock to individual preferences by painting and other such modifications, I don't really see these aspects as necessarily negative. The Rained material the stock is made from is easily sanded and paints well. An acquaintance of mine recently painted his matte black and said only two light coats were all that were necessary.
The fine elevation adjustment knob located on the bottom of the butt stock sounds like a good idea on paper, however, it is basically useless and doesnt work well at all. Especially when a sandbag or similar rest supports the butt stock. Even on hard surfaces there isnt enough adjustment travel in the device to make it remotely useful. (Editors note: To be fully functional, this monopod would need to be at least twice as long if not longer.)
Perhaps the most tasteless aspect of the U.S.S. is the logo on the left side of the stock that says, "Ultimate Sniper Stock designed by Maj. John Plaster". Without going back into the name choice issue again I personally think doing this was in bad form.
I have respect for the dedication and professionalism that police and duty slotted snipers exhibit on a daily basis. I thought John Plaster did as well. In my opinion by flaunting and shamelessly marketing this stock in this manner for his own personal gain, Plaster is trying to glamorize a profession that by its very nature is not glamorous.
In a way I think this belittles the seriousness of the use of snipers and the equipment used to fulfill the sniper's mission. Passing this stock off as legitimate for the use of sniping is like saying that Formula 1 racing inspired the design of your Honda Civic. It's damn dear libelous. Perhaps it was Choate's and not Plaster's idea to do this. I have no idea. However, Plaster must have had some input regarding this before the stock went to market. That's why I feel this way.
If I were in charge of Choate I never would have let this stock go to market the way it was designed. My biggest personal complaint of the whole stock lies in the design of the stock's forearm. There are several issues that I will address here.
First of all, I believe Choate honestly tried to make this stock be too many things to too many different people. If you go to their web site they advertise this stock to "Sniper/Target" use. I believe this is the design philosophy that inspired them to design this aspect (forearm) of the stock. They have tried to combine several target and bench rest shooting features that work well individually, although combined neither work well nor even compliment each other.
For example, the forearm is 2.5" in width and squared off at the bottom similar to what a bench rest stock would resemble. The forearm is flat for only 1.5" and then angles abruptly upwards. While the width and design of the forearm is adequate for a bench rest rifle it is not adequate for a rifle that is being marketed as a sniper stock. It simply adds to the legitimate complaint that the stock is too cumbersome for the marketed usage. Keeping the width of the forearm at 2" or less would be preferable for a sniper stock.
Furthermore, the flat un-angled area of the forearm is just too small, in my opinion, to ensure that the stock will remain steady while using sandbags for example. There simply isn't enough surface area here to adequately support the heavy weight of the weapon while using the rifle in this manner. This is not only inadequate but may also be a safety concern as well.
The angled portion of the forearm is designed so that when a bipod is used with the U.S.S.'s accessory Anschutz type T-rail, the legs of the biped can swing forward in towards the stock for a more compact position under the barrel. This is assuming that you position the T-rail back far enough so that the biped's legs can remain folded up underneath the barrel. Beware that the position of the T-rail in the manner may not be the most comfortable or suitable position based on the shooter's needs.
This mounting rail is held in position underneath by a wing nut and stud arrangement that tightens into place against the rail's mating surface. A stud at the end of the rail can be used to mount accessories such as a bipod. While this all sounds good on paper, it is in no way suitable for the rigorous demands placed on equipment that a true sniper rifle is subjected to.
In my experience, this arrangement is prone to coming loose at regular intervals and must be constantly re-tightened if it is to stay in place. Frequent re-tightening will gaul the rail's mating surface (See photo #2).
This system is very seriously flawed and in no way should have ever been even considered on a sniper rifle stock. This is totally unacceptable and is downright dangerous. I'm amazed how Choate could market this type of mount on a stock for an application (sniping) that demands 100% reliability of equipment.
To clearly illustrate my point, place yourself in the position of a police sniper with this stock in a hostile hostage situation.
The SWAT commander gives his sniper the "green light" to take out the hostage taker holding a gun to his captive's chest. The first shot wounds the perpetrator and a follow up shot is necessary.
However, when the first shot is fired, the T-rail becomes loose and the recoil of the shot throws the weapon hopelessly out of position. The sniper cannot regain control of his weapon and re-acquire a sight picture fast enough. The perp then kills his hostage with a single gunshot to the chest. This is definitely not the position I would want to be in as either a sniper or a hostage. Having said this, the user can modify the existing arrangement to make it more suitable and less prone to loosening.
First, mount the bipod in the most desired position in the rail system. Then mark that location off. Then remove the wing nut and stud fastener and mark the position that it left. Proceed to modify the mount by drilling one extra hole through the rail so that another provision for a fastener can be made.
Once this has been achieved, continue to drill the two holes of the rail through the mating surface of the rail system and up through the stock itself.
Take (2) machine screws, (2) flat washers and (2) lock washers, (2) nuts and some Loctite and proceed to secure the rail in its new position.
Be careful not to have too long machine screws as to interfere with the rifle's barrel, while making sure that there is adequate threading for the nuts to fasten on.
In my humble opinion, this simple, yet necessary, modification should have been used by Choate to properly secure its rail mounting system. Simple directions such as these could have been supplied to the customer to make the mounting position as secure as possible.
Even if I seem highly critical of this stock, the blame clearly lies not with the stock but with the people who designed it. Choate and Plaster really made this stock more complicated than it had to be. By trying to squeeze so many features into one package and a grossly constructed marketing strategy, the Ultimate Sniper Stock comes across as being amateurish in design and function.
If you are a civilian looking for a stock that you can build a recreational sniper type rifle on for the purposes of target shooting or competition, then I would have no qualms in recommending this stock providing that the buyer was aware that some customizing was going to be necessary in order to make the stock a truly functional piece of equipment and that they could not afford to buy something better. Im satisfied with my stock even though I had to learn about its shortcomings the hard way.
For the law enforcement agency, I would recommend the stock but under the same conditions as above and providing that the stock fit the requirements, met the demands of the mission it was employed on, and the agency clearly without doubt, understood the limitations of this product. If an agencys budget would not permit the purchase of a more expensive and higher quality stock, the Choate Ultimate Sniper Stock may be a low cost alternative for that agency.>
Also, if the agency could accept the public relations nightmare and probable civil suit that would surely follow an incident should the press, civil libertarians and lawyers find out that you shot a perpetrator with such a killer sounding piece of equipment as the, Ultimate Sniper Stock. From a civilians point of view this thing has unreasonable use of force written all over it. Hey! That McMillan A3 or A4 doesnt sound so expensive after all!
If the required funds were available, I would suggest that the agency buy the best high quality durable equipment that it could reasonably afford and stay away from this stock.
As for the military, hell they can have anything they want so why would they bother with this stock?
Readers, also be aware that if you try to use a Harris Bipod without an adapter you will not be able to completely tighten the base of the bipod against the flat bottom of the forearm - the Harris requires a rounded bottom or an angular adapter. Doing away with the useless monopod leaves you with an additional problem if you shoot bench. The flat bottom of the buttstock makes it very hard to utilize a rear bag for effecting elevation changes. If you mount the pod on top of a small flat bag, it tends to kick the bag out from under it in recoil. Problems with the monopod also apply to field shooting. It is simply too short. The angled front of the stock is supposedly to allow you to effect elevation changes by moving the rifle forward or backward when the forearm is on top of a rest. This seems counter to common sense. If you are in position, the last thing you want to worry about is sliding the complete rifle away from your body in an attempt to raise the sight picture. With the abovementioned flat buttstock, you have very few options if you use a sand sock and precious little to no option if you use a balled fist to effect elevation changes.