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My Remington 788, now chambered in the highly underrated .221 Remington Fireball, has experienced a hectic existence. Originally a .222 Remington, someone bored it out to .223 Remington, and then changed their mind yet again, cutting it back and rethreading the barrel to create the present Fireball chambering. With 20 grains of Hodgdon CFE-BLK beneath a Hornady 40-grain V-Max, it has proven adequately accurate for small varmints, while also producing once-standard .222 Rem velocities with lower pressures than old-standard Remington Fireball powders.
The Remington 788 certainly has ardent fans. The rear bolt lugs produce an extremely strong action, so despite being released as a budget-priced option they are known for exceptional accuracy. I have heard some rifle loonies claim the 788 was discontinued because it was overshadowing the newer Model 700 in this regard. There is no arguing this rifle’s inherent accuracy, but the original factory stock left much to be desired. Even after glass bedding the action, fourth and fifth shots normally wandered outside the single-hole/cloverleaf groups of No.1 through No.3. The stock didn’t fit well (not uncommon, as I stand 6-foot, 5-inches tall and wear gorilla arms). Most of all, that original stock was ugly as homemade soap, even after a couple attempts to refinish the cheap wood. I liked this rifle, but did not love it.
Enter Boyds Gunstocks. My first false assumption was that no major rifle-stock company would produce a fully-inletted stock for such an obscure rifle model. Boyds does. My second false assumption is that whatever was available would be the usual one-size-fits-all option. Wrong again, Boyds offering multiple length-of-pull (LOP) options in each model, seven in the Featherweight Thumbhole I would ultimately choose for this project (12 ¾ through 13 ¾ inches, which I selected and that would fit me like a glove). I went with the standard ½-inch Boyds recoil pad, but four other 1-inch-thick options are offered for additional LOP tweaking. Boyds offers multiple color schemes created with impregnated/laminated hardwoods (13 options in Featherweight Thumbhole alone) and inletted to accommodate hundreds of major brands and models. Boyds’ web site includes a format that makes it easy to choose the options that appeal to you most, including contrasting fore-end caps and engraving options.
As my 788 is strictly a varmint rifle, directed largely at small varmints such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, I chose a “loud” Zombie Green version—lime green offset by grey laminates. Instillation was a snap and the action fit precisely without any necessary tooling. I did glass bed the recoil-lug area—a compulsion of mine—but whether this was even necessary is left to speculation. But one thing is certain: those fourth- and fifth-shot fliers (No. 4 normally ¼-inch outside single cloverleaf, No.5 normally straying around ½-inch) disappeared after the introduction of the more stable Boyds stock.
By the time my Boyds stock arrived our ground squirrel season was winding down quickly, a wet spring spawning excessive vegetation growth and keeping targets under cover. I shot a handful of local Columbia ground squirrels with the new rifle, but had not found the opportunity to really wring it out thoroughly. That would change when a mid-July foray was planned to eastern Montana. That’s the neat thing about prairie dogs; they emerge essentially year round, during the most sweltering days of summer or sunny winter months.
Eastern Montana proved scorching hot, humid and mosquito ridden after a wet spring and recent rains. But the dogs were up and the shooting just as hot as the atmospheric conditions. I’d arrived with 300 fresh rounds of .221 Remington Fireball handloads, and despite having six other varmint rifles along I was anxious to put my newly-refined Fireball through the paces. We discovered some lightly-hunted towns and targets were plentiful. I went to work with the Fireball with a new 4-16x44mm optic set in medium rings. The Featherweight Thumbhole’s wide, flat fore-end sat on a sandbag steadily, the perfectly-fitted stock and thumb-hole configuration allowed instant target acquisition, even at the highest magnification, and the rifle proved rock steady after touching off one of the mild-but-deadly FB rounds, easily allowing me to mark missed shots.
As I fell into the Zen of the moment those run-of-the-mill 150-200-yard shots began to become child’s play, so I sought volunteers at longer ranges, stretching the capabilities of the round. With the scope’s precision turrets I began sniping P-dogs at 300 to 350 yards, discovering the light 40-grain bullet’s maximum effective range in the 5-7 mph prairie breeze, though the bullet was still anchoring dogs with authority.
As mentioned, I had other varmint rifles along, including some long-range boomers and those threaded for suppressors, but I would return home with plenty of loaded ammunition for those rifles. At the end of the two-day foray I would have nary a loaded .221 FB round; having too much fun shooting the mild-mannered but effective cartridge (despite being unable to take advantage of the suppressor due to lack of threading). I had especially come to relish the feel and long-term comfort the Boyds’ stock afforded, even as I stayed on the stock over a portable bench for hours at a time. That snazzy Featherweight Thumbhole—in Zombie Green!—has turned a rifle I once liked into one I now love. When it comes to firearms, this is the best $188 I’ve ever spent!