The precision rifle market has absolutely exploded over the past several years. Growth and popularity have been rapid along with the product offerings. There are countless rabbit holes to dive into, but here we’ll focus on just one: the rifle chassis.
When buying or building a precision rifle we tend to start with the action, barrel, and caliber combo first. We imagine how well these will shoot once the construction is over. But having tested so many different rifle configurations over the years, maybe that approach isn’t ideal.
Maybe we should consider the rifle chassis as the central part of the build. The reason for this is simple: It’s the part of the rifle that allows every part of the build to “come together” in a final, comprehensive, and very important space. It’s where we pilot the rifle regardless of what bullet, optic, bolt handle, or bipod we use. When we move the rifle—whether from the truck to the shooting mat or bench, or from position to position on a barricade or prop—it happens because the chassis is there to keep everything unified.
Understanding the Rifle Chassis
My thoughts on the chassis are changing, especially as so many new models and brands are being introduced. It may be the single most important component of the rifle build. Our body basically surrounds the “rifle” when we shoot. The chassis is where our parts—shoulder, face, hands—make contact with the rifle, guiding it to where it needs to be, and upon it many of the fundamentals of shooting congregate.
Many times when a rifle isn’t shooting as we feel it should, we question the ammo or barrel. That isn’t wrong at all. However, once you learn the checklist of items in troubleshooting, you find the chassis may be just as likely a culprit as anything else. One loose action screw can wreak havoc, as I found out during my first PRS competition.
Sporadic accuracy issues had us looking at all sorts of possibilities. But it wasn’t until I put the butt of the chassis on the ground and the barrel and action moved that I realized what it was. While it’s not so much an issue with chassis as it is with stocks, sometimes the barrel makes contact with the stock, causing harmonics issues and thus accuracy anomalies. Ask me how I know.
Sometimes, it just comes down to how your physical make up works (or doesn’t work) with the chassis.
What Is the Rifle Chassis?
While we are familiar with a rifle stock, we may not all be familiar with a chassis. What is it exactly? They are basically the same thing with the same general function, but with differences in other areas such as materials, size, shape, and adjustability to name a few.
Just like a stock, the chassis holds the barreled action. This barreled action (which is your receiver and the barrel that is affixed to it) is held in the chassis by two screws called action screws. The are torqued down to a certain spec and, assuming you have an optic and trigger, the pieces all become a rifle. Once the action is in the chassis you are ready to shoot.
Chassis are typically made entirely of aluminum; that is always the case where the action mates to the chassis. Some chassis have polymer skins that surround much of the aluminum parts. Meanwhile, other finishes feature anodizing or Cerakote or a similar finish. The skins help alleviate some of the “harshness” of all metal construction. They make it feel more like a stock and also help protect it from being marred.
The advantages of a chassis, compared to a stock, include ease of use and installation. Why? Because you don’t need to bed the action in the chassis. Because of their design, chassis secure or support the action effectively without making unnecessary contact with the receiver. With a stock, you’ll need bottom metal so that you can feed ammo—that is unless you have a single feed receiver and the chassis has that incorporated into the design.
Giving What You Need
Chassis allow the manufacturer to provide a host of options for the end users. Manufacturers often design chassis with modularity to fit different parts and accessories. Manufacturers can also produce them with features specific to a particular style of shooting. For instance, in positional precision rifle type competition, the forend of the chassis is typically flat and has channels for the quick and direct fitment of bipods or tripods; people refer to this as RRS Standard Dovetail or Arca Swiss. With the inclusion of M-LOK attachment you can also add weights to your rifle to make it heavier. The chassis allows weight to be added to the front, mid portion, or even rear of your rifle.
Buttstocks tend to be highly adjustable as well for comb height and angle, length of pull, and cant. There are also folding and fixed options available. Some chassis allow you to change out your buttstock portion for AR or other types of stocks. There’s a whole host of possibilities with certain chassis systems.
Eeny, Meeny, Miny …
So how do you pick out a rifle chassis system that’s right for you? Firstly, you’ll need to consider what type of shooting you plan to do and how you intend to use it. If you plan to only shoot prone or from a bench with no desire or plans to do any positional type or competitive shooting, you won’t need a chassis with certain features. More features means more dollars and those dollars could probably be better-spent elsewhere. Maybe you want to hunt with it. If that’s the case, a light weight folder may be what you need.
You should also consider the caliber you plan to shoot. A magnum caliber in a long action will require a heavy duty chassis. Plus you may want to add weight to it. On the flip side, if you’re building a .223, you may want a light chassis. You get the point.
The price range of chassis is wide, ranging from the $300 mark all they way about $1,500. This is why you’ll want to choose wisely. If you are considering a chassis, you may want to start there before the rest of the rifle. Try as many as you can and understand the features that are essential for your personal needs.