Reading the various facebook pages related to precision rifle shooting or long range shooting, one of the most common questions is, “How can I get into long range shooting on a budget?” This is closely followed by, “What’s a good cheap scope” and, “What’s a good cheap rifle?” We won’t even get into calibers in this article, except to say that there are at least three calibers with affordable factory match ammo.
First off, precision long range shooting and “cheap” do not go well together. Saying you want a 1,000 yard scope for $200-$300 is not realistic when the mounts alone could cost that. That said, cheap and affordable are two different animals. A new shooter can get into long range shooting with an affordable rig, but the trick is to know where to spend your money. Hint – the big investment will probably be the glass.
There are several consumer grade rifle companies that have developed models for the long range precision market with rifles in the $500-$1,200 range. Check out Remington, Ruger, Tikka, Howa, and Savage, but be sure you are looking at their precision models, not their lightweight hunting models. Then be prepared to spend at least $250-$300 on sturdy bases and rings, such as Badger Ordnance; at least a $100 for a Harris bi-pod (more for an Atlas), and $800+ for the scope.
Now there are serviceable scopes in the $600 range, but will they have the reliability to return to zero? Keep in mind that a significant part of long range shooting is dialing in ranges from 100 to over 1,000 yards in various atmospheric variables, plus dialing in cross wind. As you dial up and down, you have to be confident that the positive clicks will bring you back to zero.
So the general recommendation is, if you have $400 to spend, save until you have $600. If you have $600, save until you have $800 or $1,000. If you can afford $1,500 to $2,000 you will probably not be unhappy with a higher end Leupold, Night Force, Vortex, or Schmidt Bender. But whatever you can afford, do some online research and attend some matches to educate yourself on the limitations of the various models. Again, make sure you understand the difference between the less expensive hunting scopes and the more expensive precision shooting scopes.
Now, if you selected a .308 Win or .223 Rem., there is no shortage of affordable match grade ammunition that will get you into your first matches – PRS or mid-range F-TR. If you go with the 6.5 Creedmoor, you can also get affordable factory match ammo, but you will not be eligible for F-TR or PRS Tactical division. You will be in Open with the big boys, or you could shoot PRS Bolt Gun Production if your whole rig is under $4,000.
Tactical Rifle Shooters current project rifle – a stock Rem 700 in a McMillan A3-5 stock
The above rifle is a project that I am working on that began with a new factory Remington 700 SPS in .308 Winchester. New, out of the box at $650 this rifle would not consistently shoot sub-MOA, less than 1 inch at 100 yards. This is the first hurdle in evaluating a rifle.
Stock Remington 700 SPS with plastic molded stock
The problem with accuracy was the cheap plastic stock which would be okay for hunting but not for precision rifle shooting. The action was not bedded and the barrel not floated.
So I sent it off to McMillan Fiberglass Stocks for a new McMillan A3-5 Adjustable stock. Immediately after getting the rifle back, groups shrank to consistent sub-MOA with factory Federal Gold Medal Match 168 grain SMK ammo. There had been no change to the action, barrel or trigger. All were stone stock Remington factory. So just installing a more ridged stock, bedded and floated, instantly cut the group size in half with factory ammo. This rifle would not be considered suitable for entry level PRS competitions or F-Class F-TR, and since it is .308 Win, it can be used in the Tactical categories.
Groups after upgrading to the McMillan A3-5 stock
Caveat Emptor – Now be warned, when you start down the road that leads to improved long range accuracy, it can become addictive. Once you see and handle the $2,500 rifles with the $2,500 optics, you will be hooked. Then there are the thousands of dollars you will spend on ammo and the hundreds of hours reloading. Plus all your vacation time will go to traveling to training, seminars and competitions. I shoot about 3,000 rounds a year of precision rifle ammo, a similar amount for my gas guns, and another 5,000 for handgun training. So be warned!
Next article we will look at affordable scopes