I am somewhat the resident reloader and kitchen gunsmith for my shooting and hunting friends and live within close proximity to a rifle range where I can shoot from 50 to 1000yds. Whenever one of my buddies gets a new rifle or scope etc they drop the rifle off with me for scope mounting, trigger adjustment, custom load development and sometimes glass bedding.
I really enjoy this and it has given me the opportunity to shoot and test alot of rifles from the $400 budget rig to some nice customs. Over the years I have got to experiment with and shoot alot of different rifles for free.
One observation that I have made is some of these budget rifles, fed quaility ammo, given a decent scope and mounts, will flatout shoot. I feel the off the shelf rifle today that won't produce moa groups or better with quality handloads is the exception. Several that I have shot over the last couple years are capable of much more. A few noteworthy examples:
-Weatherby Vanguard 300WSM $399. This rifle came with a factory 3 shot group right at 3/8 inch. First group at the range with factory Winchester Supreme 150 ballistic tips, it shot a 3/8 in group. With tuned handloads it shot some groups in the .2's
-Savage 110 300 RUM approx $465. From a cold bore this monster would consistently put the first two rounds touching and the third less than 1/2 inch from the first two.
-Remington SPS .204 ruger $439. With tuned handloads, a 1/2 inch group from this rifle is a bad day on the range. It shot itty bitty groups.
-Remington 710 30-06 aprox $350. This one was a real sleeper! Adjusted the trigger to 2.5lbs and this Wal-Mart special shot one hole groups with factory Remington core lok ammo. With handloads it just shot smaller holes. I jokingly offered the owner $500 for it and he just smiled at his rifle and said it was the best money he ever spent.
-Howa 1500 7mmRM approx $399. Handloaded some Hornady 162SST'S, took it to the range and the first three rounds went sub 1/2 inch. Done! Loaded up a batch for the owner and said have a nice day.
I'm sure other fellow shooters and hunters have had spectacular results with budget rifles. My point is that if you are sniffing around this web site dreaming of having a rig capable of long range accuracy you don't have to break the bank to get started having some fun at the range or in the hunting fields. Heck, you probably have a rifle in the closet or gun safe right now that is perfectly capable of some fine long range accuracy.
A few helpful tips-
Invest in a decent scope with reliable target turrents. On these sporter weight rifles an 8x24x50mm scope looks stupid and is not needed for accurate shot placement to 1000 yds. A one inch tube, 40mm objective, in anything from 9x-14x will get the job done just fine.
When shooting an off the shelf rifle do not over heat the barrel. If you get alot of heat in the barrel, your groups will generally open up. Most off the shelf rifle barrels are not stress relieved and when they get too hot the pent up stress in the barrel will have you throwing bullets all over the place. Each rifle is different, some are more sensitive to heat than others.
Some of these rifles have decent triggers and most all of them are adjustable. If you are a little mechanically inclined and have a set of instructions, it is not rocket science to safely adjust your trigger pull. If you are not comfortable adjusting your trigger, it is cheap to have it done by a smith. I don't care who you are, it can be difficult to assess the true acurracy of a rifle with a 6lb trigger pull.
You can have good success with factory ammo, but it is expensive. Handloading is a huge advantage and will pay more dividends in accuracy and costs in the long run. With properly prepped brass, quality components, and some experimention with different loads, you can generally cut your group size in half. Bullets such as Hornady A-max and SST, Sierra match king and game king, Nosler ballistic tip and accubond, are all capable of guilt edge long range accuracy with out a lot of fuss. The Berger's are awesome, but sometimes they can require alot of tuning to shoot good in a given rifle.
In closing, beware of that humble old man at the range with the Remington 710 shooting one hole groups with Remington Cor loks. He has sent more than one custom rifle shooter strait from the range to the psychiatrist.