Hello. I am hoping to obtain some knowledge and opinions from people having a better understanding and experience with ballistics, various bullets and long range hunting.
I am going to provide some detail as to help facilitate some enlightening information back to me. In advance I would like to thank everyone who takes the time to help me out.
What I want: I am considering a lightweight long range hunting rifle. I am mainly looking for input on a caliber, but open to suggestions on a rifle as well. Regarding the rifle, I am on a budget and intend on a quality scope, so price is a factor. With that said though, I am looking for that 1 rifle to be happy with for a long time, so I will save up to get what I need to get. My goal for a rifle alone would be under 1K. I hunt in the Southwest and have hikes in the 3-10 mile range in rough country each day. That is why weight is an issue to me.
My main game hunted is deer, both mule deer and coues deer. Although I would like to shoot them all as close as possible, I would like to be able to shoot to 800 yards and be lethal. A bonus to me would be able to kill black bear and large bull elk with this caliber/rifle as well. Another issue to throw into it would be the ability for my wife to use it on her occasional elk hunt as well, so recoil becomes an issue. I am not a fan of muzzle breaks, but would consider it if I had to for this purpose.
What I already have: I do have a few rifles already, but donít feel they fit the bill for me. Here is a list Ė
Remington 700 ADL 243. This rifle was given to me by my parents about 20 years ago. I consider it more of a keepsake than hunting rifle and is what my wife uses for deer in the past.
Remington 700 LSS 7mm mag. Awesome gun that shoots well but it is really heavy! I havenít shot it past 350 yards, but am sure it would be a good long range rifle. Again the problem is the weight and I get worn out with it after a few days. It also kicks too much for my wife and I am worried the accuracy would change if I had the local gunsmith put a break on it. Recoil is ok to me but on the upper limit of being something I want to shoot at the range much.
Browning A Bolt 308. Pretty gun and decent weight. It has a short barrel, maybe 21 or 22Ē. It has the BOSS system and traded for it years ago for my wife to hunt elk with. For some reason I am just not a fan of this set up and am thinking of selling to help finance the new set up.
Remington 700 SPS 257 Weatherby magnum w/ 26Ē barrel. This is my primary rifle now and I am learning the art of long range shooting with this. I really like it but have countless people advise me that the 115 grain bullet I shoot is too light for the winds of the southwest (too much drift)as well as questionable energy and killing power at longer ranges, especially for bigger game animals. This gun is a bit on the heavy side. I believe the stock rifle according to factory info was 7.75 lbs.
I donít reload, so ammo availability is somewhat of an issue but not a real deciding factor for me. I can plan appropriately and stock up and it also seems like there are some custom ammo makers out there that could develop a load for me and I could order what I need. Again I would like to go fairly lightweight with manageable recoil (I know this is a combination of opposites)but be able have confidence that once I can be confident of my bullet placement, it will do the job even at ranges that I actually hope I will never have to do other than the range for practice!
If you were a handloader, I would be recommending a non-magnum 6.5 or 7mm. Given what you want in terms of performance, I truly believe that those two caliber classes have the best overall balance of performance this side of the big .338's.
If you are truly serious about long range shooting, I strongly suggest that you re-think your position regarding loading your own ammo. For several reasons, that is the only way you will ever reliably obtain the performance you are after IMO.
Having said all of that, if you are going to limit yourself to factory ammo (and given your recoil and weight limits) I think the plain old .270 Winchester is your best bet. I don't know if the bc limits inherent in available factory ammo will get you to 800 or not, but I would think that at least 600 is achievable without a lot of trouble.
The variety of ammo available should also work in your favor when it comes to finding factory ammo that shoots well enough in your rifle to achieve your goals for range. It will also work in your favor when it comes to selecting the right ammo for heavier game (albeit at shorter ranges).
In addition, with Nosler coming out with higher bc accubonds in various calibers, it will not be long before some excellent high bc factory loads will be available in .270. That has always been the achilles heel for that chambering and it looks to me like that problem is soon to be a thing of the past.
If you want a production rifle to treasure for the rest of your life, buy one of the new production Winchester Model 70's. I just bought one in .264WM and it is the finest factory rifle I have ever owned.
At the other end of the spectrum is the Savage. It is a no-frills rifle, but has a very good reputation for accuracy.
IMO, your best solution is to start hand loading and build or buy a rifle in 6.5 or 7mm that suits your needs and tastes.
I've been kind of walking the same line with wanting a LRH rig but keeping weight down. But your wish list is a tall order, light weight, long range, low recoil, elk rifle....
I think at the end of the day light weight and long range don't exactly go hand in hand. Certainly not speaking for anyone, but think most, according to polls, etc, would want a 600-800 yard rifle coming in closer to 10-11 pounds. Just look at rifles for sale here, or custom builds too, not many rigs at 7 pounds being built specifically for LRH, and think its for a reason
Your current 7 mag most likely weighs less than this.
Guess what I'd do is focus on quality, take one of those rem700 you have and have that barrelled, trued by a good smith, (7 mag again in the long, for elk 308 in the short?) add custom trigger, stock. Think on the light side for 800, looking at 9.5lbs?
I'm shooting for 10-10.5 for a similar range/type build right now.
Im gonna Chime in a say look at the savage longrange hunter in 6.5x284, After reading the description of what you are looking to do, I think this rifle would fit the bill to a T and the Caliber will take all the animals you mentioned and there are several ammo manufactures that offer this in their line up using high BC bullets, IE Berger VLD's.
I will say that manufacture's specs may say the LSS weighs 7.5lbs, but it actually is 9.25 measured. Through in the scope, rings and bases it came in at 14.75 lbs. It would be great to come up with a full set up in the 9 lb range