It has come to my attention over the past couple of months that there are many new guys coming into the sport of long range hunting. This investigative reading starts to spark the question, “What do I need?” or “What caliber should I use?” These are the most common question that I see at least once or twice a month from site lurkers devouring our dry but informative conversations.
Plenty of questions regarding equipment, i.e: ammunition, optics, rifle, caliber, and effective range are common among the new. With all the terminology we throw around like, minute of angle (MOA), feet per second (fps), RL= Reloader powders, the letter “H” referring to Hodgdon powders, and a myriad of other terms that escape the mind at the moment, it can be confusing when trying to build that perfect rig. Though I am not an authority, nor do I claim to know it all in the realm of killing elk at 1000+yards, I have come to some basic thoughts as to where to start. These all stem from 2 years of consistent research and 25 years of firearms training (personal and military). Seeking knowledge for the betterment of my abilities as a shooter and using the best equipment I can afford is my number one priority.
Budget For That Perfect Rifle
So how much do I need to spend, or better yet… what can I afford? This, in my opinion, should be the first thing to consider. By knowing a budget, it helps to narrow down what it is that you can spend and the quality of equipment you can buy. Do you want a custom rig or a Wal-Mart special? Do you want a Tasco 3-9x32 or something of crystal clear quality in the upper end using a US Optics or Nightforce? How far do you want to shoot? Is it a target or hunting rifle? All these questions and more need to be included in your decision on how much to spend.
I know that it had taken me almost a year to settle on the caliber that I wanted and the rifle to start my climb into the long range shooting world. Choosing that perfect rifle will start with a click of the mouse or the turning of a shooting magazine page.
Factory package. Required trigger work and free floating the barrel. About 20 years old. Shoots sub MOA now.
Obviously the cheapest setup is going to be the factory option packages. What I mean by this is a package that offers a rifle with a scope, rings, base of some type (one piece or two), and a sling. These rifles can be very tempting when buying on a whim. They generally come with a price tag of $350 to $500 dollars respectively. When looking at it, our man hormones and Tim Taylor grunts come up out of our throats and out of the store we go. Was this the best purchase? The question of what did you want to do with it comes in to play. For a short range, (0 to 200, maybe 300 yards) it fits the bill depending on the quality of the scope. These rifles are put together for in woods hunters shooting much shorter distances where compensating and dialing elevation are not a factor. I will add that you can just re-scope some of these rifles and they are just as effective as a purpose built rifle. Savage and Howa offer packages using decent rifles. You can purchase a Savage with muzzle break and Accu-Trigger that will shoot Minute of Angle or less out of the box. Yes I know, there are other rifle packages out there that will do the same. Just an example!
For me it is not a good option. I know what I want and what I am trying to accomplish. What these rifles do not come with is the equipment to make you an effective long range shooter. The scopes are generally the cheapest thing in the cabinet and what the local store manager thought to be a good deal.
For me I would look at something like a varmint model rifle. The reason that I would choose this style is twofold. One, they usually come with a medium weight or heavy bull barrel that optimizes stability when shooting. Two, they are predominantly designed to be accurate out of the box.
With most rifles that are store bought a few things need to be considered to help make them reach their potential. Newer rifles, especially the varmint and target style rifles, are coming with adjustable triggers for the common shooter, and pillar bedding of some type. In my search for the ultimate out of the box performance I find the Savage to fit what I wanted. Is it the best? Many will argue that their rifle is better. I bought it because it fulfilled the requirements that I was looking for. I chose it over the Howa due to it having a 1:10 twist and a 26 inch barrel. Remington also offers a trigger that can be adjusted by the owner, and other companies are following suit. Howa offers a superb action. I know because I have shot one with great effect. These rifles fall in to a price range of from $399 up to and exceeding $1500 dollars. The upper end rifles are usually your target style, military tactical, or police tactical designed rifles. These rifles will come with bedding blocks, aftermarket stocks from factory, and more care in design and build.
The drawback to Winchester, Weatherby, Remington and Howa is that you need a gunsmith to adjust the trigger without voiding the warranty. But if that is the rifle you own or want to buy, it generally costs from $20 to $50 dollars for a trigger adjustment. I was able to adjust my Model 7 Remington .243 to 2 ¾ lbs., but I looked for instructions on the Net and I am comfortable working on my own rifles. This did however void any warranty that Remington would have offered for repair. These are your starting rifles and my opinionated suggestions.