deuce: You'll probably read the word "Savage" a lot in replies, and I can't argue with that, although they aren't my cup of tea. In .223, you can probably find a C-Z 527 American for a little over your limit if you shop around, try www.budsgunshop.com
. ; a Varmint model, or a 550 in .22-250 will be more. I also own a Remington SPSS (stainless action/jeweled bolt model of SPS Varmint sold only at Cabela's) in .22-250 that shoots well with factory ammo; think it wasn't over $550, maybe less on sale. One can add a better stock and/or trigger as funds allow. Also, a Howa might be worth loking at, although I've never owned one. FWIW: varmint rifles can sometimes be found at a discount this time of year. Good luck!