Re: To stain, or not to stain...
I was in the same boat last winter with a shotgun I did. But I didn't want it too dark. I used the Birchwood stain because it is water based, and can be diluted. I cut the stain 4:1(or better), gave me the result I was looking for. Even if you go this route and don't get what you're looking for you can apply additional coats until you get the desired results.
Personally, I like this way. I'd rather build up to what I want then have the potential of putting something on that is way too dark.
Remember, shoot straight and shoot often.
Good... Bad... I'm the guy with the gun.