Well I will tell you that my rifles would come in well under the $5000 level you paid before, in fact youcould get an dedicated elk and deer rifle for that amount.
As far as what to use, I am a fan of the big 30's and 338's for elk and they work great on deer as well with the new controlled expansion bullets.
I am designing a family or extreme performance big game rounds right now but the three I am working on are mainly aimed at deer and pronghorn hunters as they are in 257, 6.5 and 270 calibers.
For elk I would recommend going to a 300 or 338 for best performance, espacially if your paying for hunts.
I would recommend a fully accurized Rem 700 action. I would then fit a Lilja or Pac-Nor Super-Match stainless barrel blank to the action.
A Holland Comp Recoil Lug would be fitted as well.
Barrel length would be a combination of your personal prefference and the type of terrain you would be hunting.
I like longer barrels personally in open country. I like the way they feel and balance.
A 26" long #5 contour barrel would be as light as I would recommend for a big 338 magnum and in 300, a #4 is as light as I would go to maintain good barrel rigidity but still be portable.
For a personal rifle of mine I would fit a 28" #6 contour for either caliber and flute it with heavy .312" wide flutes. In this barrel length, you will cut off 3/4 lb off the barrel weight alone without loosing any barrel stiffness or rigidity which is a key with these heavy bullets driven to high speeds. They produce alot of barrel torque so the barrels need this stiffness for consistant accuracy.
A barrel like this will weigh in the 3 3/4 lb range.
As far as stocks go, I like laminated wood simply for its stability, looks and also because it is alot warmer on the face then composite stocks when its real cold out.
Other then that I would recommend either a McMillan for the top end stock choice or an H-S for a more economical choice without any performance loss after they are bedded properly.
Triggers come pretty good from the factory on the Rem 700 rifles. Most can be tuned safely and consistantly down to the 2.5 lb range but I prefer to keep a factory trigger in the 2 3/4 to 3 lb range on a big game rifle.
An after market trigger can be fitted to lower the weight but I still do not recommend a trigger much under 2.5 lbs on a big game rifle. A properly tuned trigger with a release weight of 2.5 lbs feels much lighter then that and is much safer then a lighter trigger pull if that big bull happens to walk out of the bruch unexpected and you need to shoot quick. You actually need to pull this trigger weight a little which I feel is a good thing.
I like to pillar bed my laminated stock rifles as well as the McMillan stocks. The H-S stocks do not need to be pillared as they have the full length bedding block but I do recommend a bedding job which they say is not needed for 1/2 moa shooting.
I like my rifles to shoot a little better then 1/2 moa and these stocks do perform better with a bedding job.
Scope mounts are also a personal thing, I use Burris one piece bases simply to stiffen up the action a bit by bridging the large ejection port on the bolt rifles.
I also use Burris Signature rings which I feel are the best rings on the market for gripping a scope securely and for the money they are impossible to beat in performance.
For my big game rifles, I highly recommend the Weaver 4.5-14 Tactical scope. They are very high quality, most of my customers comment that they are noticalby brighter and clearer then their top end Leupold scopes and the best feature is that the mil-dot reticle is positioned on the first focal plane so it stays consistant through out the entire power range in relation to the target. This is an extremely useful feature and one I wish more US scopes would use.
A rifle lik ethis will weight in at around 9 lbs with the laminated stock and heavy fluted barrel. With a composite stock your looking at around 8.5 lbs.
As far as calibers go, I like the 300 RUM and 338 RUM or better yet the 338-300 RUM wildcat. Do not let the wildcat designation spook you on the 338-300 as factory 338 RUM dies can be used to load this round and 300 RUM brass is cheap and easy to neck up for the better(in my opinion) full length 338-300 RUM.
Of the two, for elk hunting I would go with the 338-300 loaed with 225 gr Accubonds. This makes a very dramatic long range hammer and accuracy of this bullet is near match grade in a properly built rifle.
One last feature I would recommend is to fit a Holland QD brake to a rifle like this, especially in the 338 RUM or 338-300 RUM.
They can easily be used with full effect without a brake but they do generate respectible amounts of recoil in rifles inthe 8.5 to 9 lb range.
Fitting a Holland QD will tame them to the recoil levels felt with rounds in the 30-06 class, very comfortable.
So there you have it, this is what I would build myself for the style of hunting you talked about.
Now for hunting in dark timber, this of course would not be the perfect weapon to use but it would in a pinch withthe scope turned down to 4.5x.
If hunting in heavy timber is possible, going with a 26" barrel would be worth considering.
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