Precision Rifle Build on a Reasonable Budget – Part 1

My next series of articles are going to be covering the topic of building a precision rifle. I will be covering everything from putting together a relatively low cost budget build to having a high dollar custom rig built. There are many misconceptions in regards to precision shooting. One of the biggest errors I see is the idea of having to have a $6000.00 dollar large caliber rifle to be able to shoot long distances effectively and accurately. I’m here to tell you that is simply false. One of the most enjoyable things I like to see is a new shooter getting into the sport of precision marksmanship. It is disheartening to see a new shooter with the will and desire to learn but be derailed because of the misconception of the cost it takes to participate. Yes, we all want to have the sexiest rifle on the range but the bottom line is a rifle is only as good as the marksman driving it. The most important part of precision marksmanship isn’t the rifle or the optic attached to it. It’s the marksman and his knowledge of the fundamentals and how he applies them that will allow his equipment to shine.

If a shooter was to ask me what caliber he should choose to start learning the art of long range precision marksmanship I would tell him without a reasonable doubt a 308. There are many reasons I would select that caliber. The first would be that the Match grade 308 is an inherently accurate round out to 1000 yards which can be purchased off the shelf at a relatively low cost. The second reason is the 308 in my opinion is the best round for learning the effects of weather and how they affect the projectile in flight. This is also known as “external ballistics”. There is no cheating with the 308. The shooter must know all of the environmental conditions and be able to correctly judge range to target, wind direction and speed to be effective. This caliber is the perfect learning tool. The third reason is the 308 has relatively minor recoil. This is important because if a shooter is getting beat up behind the rifle he is less likely to concentrate on the correct fundamentals of placing a well-aimed shot and more likely to buck, flinch or jerk knowing he is about to feel some pain.

Remember it’s not how sexy or expensive the rifle is. The important thing is the marksman and what he can do with the rifle. I always have to laugh when I am competing against another shooter who’s wielding some high dollar big bore rifle that costs him $2.50 every time he pulls the trigger. Then there’s me with my little old 308 dinging the same steel he is and spending half the money. Now I’m not saying there aren’t advantages to shooting a custom rifle launching 220 grain pills down range. What I am saying is that a rifle is just a tool and the product it produces is only as good as the craftsman that uses it. The most important aspect to precision marksmanship is learning the art. After the fundamentals are mastered the shooter can make small gains by upgrading his equipment. The investment that will always yield the most returns for a shooter is learning the proper fundamentals of marksmanship.  In a nutshell that means your money is better spent on training and ammo first before all the bling of a sexy rifle.

The first rifle I will introduce is what I like to call a budget rifle. It isn’t the sexiest rifle in the world but it is still very capable of delivering precision rifle fire. It is also an affordable investment in comparison to some of the other rifles and equipment that I will talk about in part 2 and 3 of this article.

If a shooter has a limited budget and is looking to break into the game I would recommend a Remington 700 SPS Varmint. This rifle sells retail for $700.00. If you put forth the effort and do some digging you can find these rifles being sold used for as little as $450.00. Most of them are in like new condition and some are even outfitted with a decent optic. I recommend the Remington 700 SPS for a number of reasons. First out of the box the SPS Varmint is very accurate without any modifications. It’s outfitted with a decent stock and a heavy barrel. This rifle is capable of shooting sub “MOA” groups with factory match ammo right off the store room shelf.  The next reason is the Remington 700 action is a strong and reliable action. It is also very easy to true and modify. I don’t know of a custom rifle builder that does not work on Remington 700 actions. This is important because down the road if a shooter wants to start upgrading his rifle with custom parts like a new match grade barrel, stock, trigger etc… the parts are readily available and there are loads of gunsmiths that will be happy to do the work. Now there are rifles and actions on the market that some custom rifle builders will refuse to work on. The Remington 700 is typically not one of them. It is a solid investment that will grow with the shooter as he grows. The shooter can then tweak the rifle to his liking as he becomes more proficient and learns what he wants in a precision rifle.

The next item that needs to be addresses is optics or “glass”. The optic on a precision rifle is every bit as important as the rifle itself. There is nothing that disappoints me more than a shooter who drops big money on a rifle and then attaches a low quality pellet rifle scope to it. The bottom line is Glass is worth its weight in gold. You have to be able to see what you are shooting at to hit it. When you are looking at engaging targets at distances a half a mile or more, poor glass is not going to cut it. You will have a hard time identifying targets if your glass is of poor quality. Furthermore the adjustments that you dial on your scope with your turrets have to be precise. A poorly made scope will eventually not track true when you are dialing your turrets up and down and back and forth time and time again. If the internal parts of the optic are made of substandard parts they will wear out fast and fail. When you add recoil into the mix the problems get even bigger. There are enough variables that precision shooters have to take into consideration when engaging targets. An optic that doesn’t perform correctly should not be one of them.

The optics I’m going to suggest for our budget rifle are quality optics that will perform and be reasonably affordable for the task at hand. Make no mistake optics are every bit as expensive as a rifle. The optics our military snipers are running on their precision rigs are of the highest quality. These optics are in the price range of $2500.00 or more. With that being said they are built with the best components in the industry. They are extremely rugged and capable of taking a lot of abuse for obvious reasons. These will not be the type of optics I will be suggesting for our budget rifle. I will talk about these optics more in part 2 and 3 of this article.

There are a couple different scope options that I would suggest for our budget rifle. The optic should be at least a 10 power. It should have adjustable turrets for adding elevation and windage adjustments to the rifle. This is important because the precision shooter will need to be able to raise and lower his elevation when engaging targets at different ranges. The shooter will also need to be able to adjust for the different wind conditions he will surely be facing at the time of the shot.

The first optic that fits this bill is the Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 4.5-14X40mm. http://www.leupold.com/  This optic is durable and has good quality glass for the intended purpose. It is also outfitted with a duplex reticle. This scope can be purchased brand new for around $700.00. I’ve seen these purchased used for as little as $450.00.  Once again if you do some digging you can find some reasonable prices on used equipment.

The second optic I would suggest is the Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10x44mm. http://www.vortexoptics.com/ Vortex is a fairly new company to break onto the scene recently.  I’ve had the opportunity to get my hands on this scope and I have to say that for the money this piece of glass is hard to beat. It has good clear glass, exposed turrets that make dialing elevation and wind adjustments very easy. It is also outfitted with an MRAD or MOA reticle which aids in ranging unknown distance targets as well as using the holdover method for engaging targets. The “holdover method” is nothing more than using your reticle to add elevation and windage to the rifle instead of dialing your adjustments with your turrets. It is a more efficient way to engage targets when time is of the essence. I will discuss this topic more in depth in future articles. This scope is also outfitted with an illuminated reticle for engaging targets in low to no light situations. The bottom line is, for the price this scope is hard to beat. The Vortex Viper retails new for around $700.00 and I’ve seen it as low as $600.00. There are different variants of this scope that are higher powered but they will run you a little more money.

The final two items that will be needed to make your build complete is a scope base and rings. There are a ton of manufactures out there that produce quality rings and bases. When it comes to rings the price ranges vary from $15.00 to $300.00. Rings are important because they are what keep your scope firmly in place without damaging it. You want a set of rings that will keep your optic in its place even if you accidentally drop or bump your rifle. You don’t need a set of rings that will prevent Godzilla from ripping it off your rifle but you need good solid rings. I would recommend a set of GG&G Aluminum Sniper Grade rings for our budget build. They are a decent set of affordable rings retailing for $85.00. If you want to go a little higher end I would look at the Vortex Precision Matched rifle Scope Rings which retail for $114.00 http://www.vortexoptics.com/.  When selecting a base for our rifle I would recommend a 20 MOA base for added elevation. I would look at the Brownells Remington 700 Heavy Duty 20 MOA scope base. It retails for around $50.00.  http://www.brownells.com One more option but a little more costly would be the Nightforce Remington 700 scope Base which retails for $114.00. http://www.nightforceoptics.com/

There are many different options to take a look at when putting together a rifle on a budget. All of us have a different ideas of what a budget build is. This is my version and if you play your cards right you could put together a competitive rifle for around $1200.00 I hope you all gained something from my first of 3 articles on building a precision rifle. Be on the lookout for part 2 of this series of articles where I will be getting into upgrading our budget rifle with higher end components. I look forward to fielding any questions you all might have and once again feel free to add your thoughts on the subject.

Juliet 1

50 comments
eeegadd
eeegadd

First of all thanks! Questions: 1) why the sps vs a 700p? 2) Whats the best ammo for long range consistent shots? 3) Is it cheaper to build a slightly custom rifle from a 700p or buy new? My budget is no more than 3k for everything. If so, then what should I look for in a gunsmith to build for me living in Denver. I have been doing a ton of research and this is the best article bar none for newbies! Thanks again!

MpWall1
MpWall1

You want to shoot 1000 yards, the gun and optics are just one component. Time on trigger is the second. Third and most important is loading, precision hand loading will make many sub optimal platforms perform at distances greater than thought.

clarksterfish
clarksterfish

308 heavy stainless 26 inch barrel model ? 700 remington , ready to rock , want to reach out and touch something, elk, deer, gongs for beers at range, private, only toy not have as of now. What does a craz z gun nut to do, no where to be found due to b.s recalls. Hmmmmm not recall on new guns, just can't seem to locate as of 7 3 14. help or can i get used 308 and modify to heavy stainless barrels , 1000 yd accuracy ? ;-(

clarksterfish
clarksterfish

been looking for remington xsr ? 26 fluted 308 or xcr ? forgot all the bs alpha, why is remington taking such sweet time on a so call recall. a new rifle should not be in the mix of recall and available. Is this another part of government and taking away our rights to shoot, buy, etc. 


joker yankee
joker yankee

+1for the vortex scope. I have one mounted on my AR-10 style rifle. While it isn't a precision rifle, it was putting rounds on target consistently. 

clpphotog1
clpphotog1

Great article Juliet - thank you for taking the time to put it together. Did I miss the second two articles? I have looked around and did not see them. Also I started with a Savage .308 with accu-trigger - would like your thoughts on that. Also I am now looking (because this is about as addictive as can be for me...) a 300 WinMag - is the Rem 700 a good way to go for that? 

RAMC
RAMC

Hi J1, thanks for the article, its a good read.

Permit me to ask 2 questions. Other than the Remington 700, what other rifle would you consider as a 'base' to start off with? Personally i am thinking of the M1 or M14 semi auto

2) Gas guns arent exactly the first thing that most would consider a good base rifle for a precision shooting outing, though i would be interested in your thoughts of the use of an M14 dropped into a juggernaught chassis. 

USMC1
USMC1

Wow great article , To think after all these years I had Remy 700 varmint in 7mm Rem Mag , I played around with , hunted and then sold it , never thinking anything of it . Until Now , Im curious what you think of the 7mm Rem Mag round as opposed to the .308 ? I know that 7mm would shoot 500 yards and kill bucks without a problem , never tried much further , but I suppose it could . I also like the idea or the premise of quality optics , if your gonna put the money into the gun , your just wasting the guns potential by limiting the optics you use , if your finding at 7-10 you cant see too clear you just chucke 400 buck down the drain , dont skimp if your life depends on it , I dont mean that lightly either , take the time and buy quality optics , it will save your ass in the coming days!

BWGRP
BWGRP

Thanks for the great article. As I am looking around I see the Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle has a 26" barrel and the SPS Tactical has a 20" barrel. Does it matter which barrel length I should use? 

BWGRP
BWGRP

Thanks for the great article. As I am looking around I see the Model 700 SPS Varmint rifle has a 26" barrel and the SPS Tactical has a 20" barrel. Does it matter which barrel length I should use? 

wadea1974
wadea1974

Im a avid longrange shooter out to 1000 yds. i saved up my money, and called on a good friend of mine who is the 3 time world champion long range F class shooter, John Whidden, www.whiddengunworks.com On my 308 rifle we went with a rem 700 clone, stiller tac30 short action, hart match grade stainless barrel, seekins bottom metal w/ detachable AI bottom metal, jewel trigger (a whole 8 oz.) and a custom stock made by www.whiddencompositeworks.com for good glass i went with the nightforce nxs 5.5-20*50mm, and i must tell you, this platform, theses parts with this gunsmith will take you to the next phase downrange !

Old PH2
Old PH2 moderator

Long Action 700 or Short Action?  What are the advantages of the Short?  I know the long would allow caliber change up to .300 WinMag.  Is the Short action faster on lockup?

katgirl
katgirl

This was my foray into trying to build a reasonable 'pratical' oriented precision rifle on a budget.  It was a 25 yr project which I added to as I had the budget and using it to learn basic skills.  If I had the money, I would have wanted to start with a Rem 700 7.62NATO and build it up, but I didn't have the money and saw something pretty unbelievable.  I walked into a country sporting goods store on vacation once and there was a 1960 era Colt 30-06 rifle which was based on the Sako Finnbear sporter.  The barrel was totally shot out (which I proved to myself by seeing perfect sideways holes at 25 yds) but the Sako L61R long action was in beautiful shape as well as the stock.  It's now got pretty much everything I need except for a 20MOA rail or rings which will fit a Sako action and the length of my scope.  Douglas match barrel which had to be tapered because of the thinness of the forend, floated and bedded (not pillar), trigger work, bolt face/lugs refined, new recoil pad, and recently an AR-10 muzzle brake (since I just couldn't maintain a consistent hold and cheek weld because it was 9.5 lbs including scope) oh Harris bipod and Leupold 4.5-14x40 AO Mildot.  I'm still learning to get consistent but it sure taught me a lot along the way! 

 

http://twolftfeet.com/me/sako_cropcorr080511b_third.jpg

Breach
Breach

Awesome article, I'm actually looking to get into the precision game and have about a 3k budget. I'm definitely getting the r700 sps varmint, but I'm replacing the stock with a McMillan A5 stock! Vortext viper pst 4-16x50 Ffp. Obviously I'm accounting for the Harris stock and other accessories, but I'm thinking that should give me a good starter rig so that I can shoot the shit out of it while I learn. When I burn out that barrel then I'll look at the other short action calibers.

Juliet 1
Juliet 1

I'm glad you all liked the article. I am writing part 2 now and will be getting into higher end optics, stocks and triggers. In this first article I mostly wanted to cover low cost solutions. There are better options and we will be getting into them soon.

FormerSFMedic
FormerSFMedic

@JShepard @Juliet 1 - JShepard, I can't speak for the author, but I can speak from my experiences. There have been some significant advances in scope technology in the last 3 to 5 years that have really made a HUGE difference in the Long Range shooters capabilities. The trends we're seeing in the SOF community are carrying over to hunting and competition scopes. The sniper rifle and scope combination has seen more advancement than any other area of small arms. With all that said, the scope has made the most strides out of all the snipers kit. The Horus H58/59 is absolutely the best reticle for long range ever! It took me awhile to switch over and I was one of those people that wouldn't let go of my MilDot because the H58/59 was "too busy". Now I'm kicking myself in the ass because I didn't switch sooner. The Horus is NOT too busy as I found out. Our SOCOM Snipers have been using them for observation and hunters have been using them for hunting with great success. I would not be caught dead without a Horus! It is the fastest most intuitive reticle on the market and of makes shooting at long range much easier than with the MilDot. Second shot corrections can be made immediately, sniper and spotter can communicate much easier, and there's no need to dial. Combined with a .1 mil adjustment turret, the system simply can't be beat! With new scopes coming to the market, we'll soon have the perfect scope available to us. The Horus reticle in a 3x to 25x FFP and .1 mil locking turrets is going to be scope nirvana!

JShepard
JShepard

Great article!  I've been shooting off of a 700 SPS V  in .308 for the last couple of years.  It is an excellent rifle for a budget build.  The heavy contour barrel is extremely accurate, i.e. .5 to .75 MOA with match ammunition.  It will hold zero better once it goes in a free floating stock as the one it comes with is not very good.  However, this gives you a chance to find the style that's best for you.  Ask folks at your local range if you can get behind their rifles.  Most of us are more than happy to let you try on the stock for size to see what style your prefer and there are many styles for the 700.   

 

I noticed that there was some discussion on tube size so I thought I'd weigh in quick.  In addition to allowing more light to pass, which is generally a minor effect with good quality glass.  The light gathering ability depends on the objective size (weight and signature) and the glass quality, coatings, grinding etc. ($$$$).  Tube size mainly provides more range for internal adjustment (i.e. wind and elevation)  So, if you want to dial out to 600 yards on an SPS V shooting M-118LR (or the civilian SSA copy I'm running right now)  you will need about 18 MOA of internal adjustment.  A smaller tube size limits the internal adjustment to about 40 MOA of total adjustment whereas a expensive 30mm tube can have 110+MOA of adjustment.  On a flat base, supposing everything is concentric and the total travel is 60 MOA.  There will be 60MOA up and 60MOA down.  It never works out that way, and unless you're planning on shooting long range upside down, it's better to bias your rifle on a 20 MOA base to be 50 up 10 down which allows for some wiggle room for zeroing.  In other words pay for decent glass on a 30mm or larger tube.  You'll thank yourself later.  Also, if you can find one, the Remingtion 700 AAC edition is nice as it is a shorter barrel and has a faster twist rate than the standard Remington 700 1:12".  If I had to build again I might think about doing the AAC edition over the SPS-V.

FormerSFMedic
FormerSFMedic moderator

Great write up! Iam extremely glad to see precision shooting being covered here. As some may know, precision shooting is a big part of my training and a subject that I love discussing.

 

Eventhough I love the write up, I would probably make some changes to the setup. As far as scope rings, I would rather go with a 1 piece QD mount like the Larue mounts. If we're trying to build a rifle on a budget, then getting more for our buck is what we want. With a Larue QD mount, you get the absolute best quality mount on the market for a very similar price to a good set of Match rings. You'll pay a little more, but you'll have a mount that will allow you to move your scope from one rifle to the next when you please. With the rings you will be able to do the same thing, but it will take alot more time and effort to make it happen. Again, more for your money.

 

The other thing I would probably look at differently is the glass. Now, don't get me wrong, Vortex and Leupold  have some great glass and they're hard to beat for the money. However, I would rather buy something a little more on the high end so that I can make the most of my range time. Most scopes don't have really accurate turret adjustments. The last thing you want is to be learning a new shooting discipline (precision shooting) only to waste countless time and ammo trying to figure out why you aren't hitting. Holds are always more accurate than dialing. High dollar glass is going to have high dollar turret adjustments (in most cases). As a matter of fact, there are alot of $500 scopes out there with really clear/bright performance just like the expensive $3000 scopes. The difference is in the quality of the materials and the precision of the turret adjustments. Precision shooting is all about precision! A high dollar scope will allow your rifle to perform at it's best and you can use that scope on other rifles later on if you decide to upgrade. Again, more bang for the buck.

 

I totally agree about the .308. The .308 has some really great factory ammunition available and it's pretty fairly priced. Plus, you can easily find ammo pretty much anywhere it's sold. The most important part is that it can be very accurate BUT, it's not a heavy high BC round (not usually) which means you MUST do your part to hit at long range. It will challenge you and require you to learn the fundamentals and be consistent yet still have oustanding performance out to 1000M and beyond.

DavidKnuth
DavidKnuth

I'm not sure that upgrading the barrel is even necessary until you've put enough lead through it to kill the barrel. My 700 .300 Win Mag shoots .25 MOA with the stock factory barrel, and holds that out as far as I can hold that (650-700 yards. Beyond that, I'm still sub-MOA, but not nearly .25 MOA).

in2gr8
in2gr8

Great post. As I already planned on upgrading the barrel, I picked up the Rem 700 ADL in .308. cost was $379.

Old PH2
Old PH2 moderator

If given the choice between 30mm tubes and 34mm which would you prefer?  And Why?

DavidKnuth
DavidKnuth

Awesome article! I'd love to get you involved in my Marksmanship Fundamentals series.