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 to Kelly McMillan, owner and proprietor of McMillan Fiberglass Stocks in Phoenix, AZ. He asked what would comprise the ultimate tactical rifle stock and received literally hundreds of responses, suggestions, and wish lists under several different topics. Most of these were modifications to already existing McMillan rifle stocks and in general, discussion seemed to center around modifying the A-4. The three most requested changes, or improvements depending on your perspective, to currently available stocks were:
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 turnaround 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 1/4" 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. McMillan advertises all of their stocks as "drop in" units however, most if not all of those building a custom rifle will tell you that bedding the stock for your particular action is the only way to guarantee a perfect fit. I provided Kelly with the action model and barrel dimensions for the rifle I intended to build. With the stock factory inletted by McMillan Fiberglass, I still had to have the barrel channel relieved slightly at the breech end to eliminate some very minor contact. 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 3 3/4 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 ozs. 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.
As a post-script to the original writing of this article, I recently completed a 2 week advanced sniper school in Southern Indiana. The rifle saw real field use every single day of the course from rain to mud to vegetation jammed into areas never meant for such things. It was shot from every yard line between 100 and 1000 yds and never failed to amaze me. Accuracy was dead-nuts and the reliability and repeatability was simply amazing. It did what others failed to do shot after shot after shot and in the end it all came together to earn me the distinction of "High Shooter" in the class of 20.
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 to create a workable, practical solution to a problem. 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.
* About the author: Jeffrey Chang is a 14-year police veteran. He began in Los Angeles, CA with the LAPD until transferring to Ft Wayne, IN in '95. He served 12 years in the USMCR achieving the rank of Gunnery Sergeant before getting out in '98. Jeff has been a police sniper for 2.5 years.