This is a primer for guys that are interested in getting into precision rifle shooting. For the sake of this article I am going to define precision rifle shooting as anything over 600 yards.
We will look at the options for all price ranges from $1,000-$10,000+. First off, don’t go broke buying gear. Regular training and quality instruction are more important than high end equipment.
I am going to break this down into 6 categories:
6. supporting equipment (spotting scope, range finder, etc…).
1) 7.62/ 308 Winchester
Every American man should own a 7.62/ 308 Winchester. It is not the best in any one area, but it does well at everything. Quality ammunition and inexpensive ammunition are both easy to find. It has relatively mild recoil and if you do not abuse it the barrel can last for 3000-5000 rounds. Realistic, repeatable engagement distances are going to be 800-1000 yards depending on the gun/ load/ shooter/ conditions. Have guys made further shots than I am listing here? Absolutely, but I am talking about something that is commonly repeatable.
2) 6.5 Creedmoor or a 260 Remington
If you already own a rifle in 308, or you are putting together a rifle specifically to be able to shoot distance, I would recommend a 6.5 Creedmoor or a 260 Remington. Both of these calibers are great, the 260 Remington will give you a little bit more case capacity which can result in a little higher velocities if you are a reloader, but ammo availability is not as good. The 6.5 Creedmoor will generally run a little slower than the 260 Remington, but quality ammo is widely available and is priced almost the same as 308 match ammo. With both of these cartridges you will be able to engage significantly further than the 308 Win. and with less recoil.
3) 300 Winmag or 300 Norma
If you want to reliably shoot further than the 6.5 Creedmoor or 260 Remington, or if you want to be able to have your rifle do double duty as an elk/ moose gun, you can look at the 300 Winmag or the 300 Norma. The Winmag has been the standard in military circles for years. With either of these calibers you are pushing between a 190 gr. and a 230 gr. bullet and you can do some pretty amazing things.
In the rifle category, there have been a ton of advancements. Recently I had students shooting beyond 1500 yards with rifle/ optic setups that were under $2000. This would have been unheard of 15 years ago. One of the first decisions you need to make is whether you want a chassis or a more traditionally stocked rifle. I personally prefer the look of a more traditional Manners or McMillan fiber glass stock, however, the more I am doing different non-standard shooting positions the more I appreciate a chassis rifle. With a chassis gun you can do all of the positional shooting that you can do with an AR without cranking on your barrel.
This is not meant to be an extensive review of each rifle, merely a starting point to guide you in the right direction. Here are some options:
Ruger Precision Rifle
Ruger changed the paradigm of what to expect in a production rifle when they came out with the Ruger Precision Rifle. Both the 308 Win. or the 6.5 Creedmoor are among the calibers available. It is a chasssis gun, has a folding stock, a decent trigger, 20 MOA base, AR style safety and uses either SR pattern or AI style magazines. Solid rifle.
Remington Model 700
The Remington 700 or its clones have probably been the most popular precision rifles to date. Almost every bolt gun I own is a model 700. Models worth considering include the 700 SPS Tactical, the 700 Magpul and the 700 PCR. These models 700s are available in 308 with some of them also available in 6.5 Creedmoor and 260 Rem.
Bergara is a newer entry into the US market, but has some strong contenders in the precision rifle category. The B-14 HMR, B-14BMP and the Premier Series rifles are all worth looking into.
Savage has been building very accurate rifles for many years. Check out their 10 Savage Ashbury Precesion rifle (around $1000). It is a fairly light weight chassis rifle available in both 308 Win. and 6.5 Creedmoor.
The Tikka T3X also looks like a great little chassis rifle. Tikka has one of the strongest reputations for accuracy in the market. The downside of this rifle is going to be the price point (around $1800) and their use of a proprietary magazine.
Custom Precision Rifles
Another option is a custom or semi-custom rifle. This is what my 260 bolt gun looks like. I started with a 26 inch Proof Research carbon wrapped barrel in 260. I sent the barrel off to Jon Beagle of jbeaglerifles.com. Jon trued a Remington model 700 action, cut the chamber into the barrel, threaded the muzzle and barreled the action for me. From there I installed a 20 MOA Picatinny base, Jewell trigger and dropped the barreled action into a XLR Evolution chassis. I finished it with a Area 419 Hellfire muzzle brake.
This is another area where the technology is advancing very quickly. Scopes are better and more affordable now than they have ever been. That being said they are still painfully expensive. First off, I have used Leopold, Nightforce and Vortex professionally. They all make good scopes. The majority of scopes that I now own and teach with are all Vortex scopes so that is going to be what I am most familiar with now. There are a couple of key things to look for in a scope:
1. First, the amount of magnification and whether the optic is a fixed power or variable power. Going through sniper school, all we had were Leopold fixed 10 power scopes. We were regularly shooting past 1000 yards with that setup. Now we have had some significant innovations since that time and while it was possible to make shots at distance with a fixed 10 power scope, it is a lot easier to do it with a 4.5-27. It is also a lot easier to self spot after a miss. So I recommend a variable power scope in the 5-25 ish range.
2. Next, the type of reticle and the type of adjustment units. The two common adjustment units are minute of angle (abbreviated as MOA) and milliradian (also known as Mil or MRAD). If you lived on an island and never trained with anyone else it wouldn’t matter which unit you picked. But you don’t live on an island and the vast majority of scope/ binocular/ spotting scope reticles are in Mils, so you should buy something in Mils. It is vitally important that you and your shooting buddy are speaking the same language. Using the same units of measure makes this communication easier. Now that we have agreed that you should buy a Mil scope, make sure that your reticle is also in Mils. I prefer a drop down reticle, it should have numbered full Mil hash marks, half Mil hash marks in between and .2 MRAD wind dots moving away laterally from the center. Almost every major scope manufacturer has their own version and there are a couple of versions that transcend brands. Popular reticles include the Tremor 2/3, Horus H59 and the Vortex EBR-2C.
3. Next in the long list of options is a first or second focal plane scope. In a first focal plane scope (some companies call them front focal plane or FFP), the units of measure in your scope are true regardless of your level of magnification. In a second focal plane scope (abbreviated as SFP), your units of measure are only true at a certain magnification. To keep this easy, if you can swing it financially, any scope that has a higher than 6 power magnification should be a first focal plane scope.
Here are some scope examples:
Let’s start with the budget scope. This is not even close to the best scope, but when guys ask me about getting into a rifle that will shoot 1000 yards for bottom dollar, this is the recommendation. Bushnell Elite LRS 10×40 This is a fixed 10 power scope with a basic Mil dot reticle. Unfortunately this scope has MOA adjustments and a Mil reticle, so it is not as user friendly, but it tracks well, holds up to recoil, and is relatively inexpensive ($240).
Next we will look at some midrange scopes (around $1000). At this price point it is going to be hard to beat the Vortex PST 2 line. The PST 2 5-25 mrad with the EBR-2C reticle would be my first choice in this category. You get decent glass, a solid drop down reticle (has illumination), side adjustable for parallax and zero stops. Other option in this category would include the Leopold VX-3i LRP 6.5-20 FFP with the CCH reticle or the Nightforce SHV 4-14 FFP with the Mil R reticle.
High End Scopes
High end glass ($2000 and up). All of these scopes are FFP scopes. Top overall pick is the Vortex Razor HD 2 4.5-27 mrad with the EBR-2C reticle. Very clear glass, built solidly (also heavy enough to use as a club if your rifle quits on you). All of my serious distance guns have this scope on it. They run around $2500.
Next would be the Nightforce ATACR 5-25 F1 with the Tremor 3 reticle. Simply put this is an amazing scope. Street price is around $3400.
The top one on the Leopold side is going to be the Mark 8 3.5-25 with the Tremor 3 reticle. Another solid scope coming in at around $4000.
Quality scope rings are a must. If you have a nice rifle and a good piece of glass and the two are not held together securely you will have nothing but frustration. The current top mount that I am aware of is the Spuhr mount. This is a one piece mount with a built-in level and you can get it with or without a cant (for a distance gun I recommend the model with a 6 Mil/20.6 MOA can’t). Of course all of this greatness in scope rings does not come cheap, they retail for just over $400.
The more reasonably priced and absolutely solid rings are going to be the Vortex Precision Matched Rings or the Nightforce Rings. I have used both of these and setups and they are solid. They will set you back between $120-180.
If you are going to be shooting past 600 yards it is important to have ammo that is optimized for that task. There are two overarching categories here, factory ammunition and hand loads. If you know what you are doing, you can absolutely make ammunition that is every bit as good if not better than factory ammo. If you want to go down the handloading road I recommend finding a mentor that can guide you through the process. The other category is factory ammunition. Fortunately there is a wider variety of quality factory ammunition than there ever has been. A lot of people get very fixated on velocity when shooting distance and while velocity is very important, matching the ammunition to your particular firearm is far more important. The right ammo is going to depend on what the intended purpose of your gun is and also the individual firearm itself.
This is how I would go about trying determine which factory load is right for you. Buy one box of inexpensive ammo. Use this to get a rough zero and break your rifle in. Then do a very short cleaning of the barrel, shoot three more of the inexpensive rounds and then start your accuracy testing. Shoot a minimum of two five shot groups with each ammo type. Go with the ammo that shoots the best group. If multiple loads are very close, go with the one that has the highest Ballistic Coefficient (BC) bullet, the lowest extreme spread in velocity and the highest overall velocity. In factory ammo I shoot Black Hills ammunition. There are a lot of companies that make quality ammo, but I have repeatedly relied on Black Hills ammo when my life was on the line overseas, so I know that their quality is second to none. For some basic guidelines, here is a list of the different calibers and ammo types that I use:
308 Win. – Black Hills 175 gr. TMK
260 Rem. – Black Hills 140 gr. ELD in my gas gun and a 140 gr. Berger Hybrid hand load in my bolt gun
5.56 – Black Hills 77 gr. SMK or 77 gr. TMK. If your gun likes both the same, shoot the TMK’s, they have a better BC
Black Hills factory ammo, left to right: 308 175 gr. SMK, 308 175 gr. TMK, 260 Rem. 140 gr. ELD, 5.56 77 gr. SMK, 5.56 77 gr. TMK
This category includes: spotting scopes, range finders, binoculars, ballistic calculators, weather stations and chronographs. Here is the list of what I have used or am currently using.
Range finders: In order to hit something at distance you have to know how far away your target is. The Vortex Fury binos/ range finder is my current favorite, the Sig Kilo 2200 MR is also a solid option. When my rangefinder will not give me a reading I use the LeaNav mapping app to determine my range.
Spotting Scope: I have a small Vortex 11-33 spotting scope. I honestly don’t use it that often though because it does not have a gridded reticle. I find that I do my best spotting with my Razor HD with the EBR-2C reticle.
Binoculars: I am currently using both the Vortex Viper HD 10×50 and the Fury HD range finding binos. Both are solid choices. In the past I have also used Swarovski and Steiner binoculars.
Weather station and ballistic software: Kestrel 5700 with the Applied Ballistics software is the only way to go if you want both atmospheric conditions and a ballistic computer (around $600). If you don’t want to spend that kind of money and your life does not depend on making the shot, buy the Applied Ballistics app ($30).
Chronograph: I am currently using the Magnetospeed V3. It is very accurate and is not affected by light conditions. Another chrono that I have not used, but have heard very good things about is the Labradar Ballistic Velocity Doppler Radar Chronograph.
In summary, knowledge and training are far more important than having the latest and greatest gear. Hopefully this will clarify the things that are worth spending money on versus the things that are not worth spending money on.
Now get out there and start training.
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