If a shooter was to ask me what caliber he should choose to start learning the art of long-range precision marksmanship I would tell him without a reasonable doubt a 308. There are many reasons I would select that caliber. The first would be that the Match grade 308 is an inherently accurate round out to 1000 yards which can be purchased off the shelf at a relatively low-cost. The second reason is the 308 in my opinion is the best round for learning the effects of weather and how they affect the projectile in flight. This is also known as “external ballistics”. There is no cheating with the 308. The shooter must know all of the environmental conditions and be able to correctly judge range to target, wind direction and speed to be effective. This caliber is the perfect learning tool. The third reason is the 308 has relatively minor recoil. This is important because if a shooter is getting beat up behind the rifle he is less likely to concentrate on the correct fundamentals of placing a well-aimed shot and more likely to buck, flinch or jerk knowing he is about to feel some pain.
Remember it’s not how sexy or expensive the sniper rifle is. The important thing is the marksman and what he can do with the rifle. I always have to laugh when I am competing against another shooter who’s wielding some high dollar big bore rifle that costs him $2.50 every time he pulls the trigger. Then there’s me with my little old 308 ringing the same steel he is and spending half the money. Now I’m not saying there aren’t advantages to shooting a custom rifle launching 220 grain pills down range. What I am saying is that a sniper rifle is just a tool and the product it produces is only as good as the craftsman that uses it. The most important aspect to precision marksmanship is learning the art. After the fundamentals are mastered the shooter can make small gains by upgrading his equipment. The investment that will always yield the most returns for a shooter is learning the proper fundamentals of marksmanship. In a nutshell that means your money is better spent on training and ammo first before all the bling of a sexy sniper rifle.
The first rifle I will introduce is what I like to call a budget rifle. It isn’t the sexiest rifle in the world but it is still very capable of delivering precision rifle fire. It is also an affordable investment in comparison to some of the other rifles and equipment that I will talk about in part 2 and 3 of this article.
If a shooter has a limited budget and is looking to break into the game I would recommend a Remington 700 SPS Varmint. This rifle sells retail for $700.00. If you put forth the effort and do some digging you can find these rifles being sold used for as little as $450.00. Most of them are in like new condition and some are even outfitted with a decent optic. I recommend the Remington 700 SPS for a number of reasons. First out of the box the SPS Varmint is very accurate without any modifications. It’s outfitted with a decent stock and a heavy barrel. This rifle is capable of shooting sub “MOA” groups with factory match ammo right off the store-room shelf. The next reason is the Remington 700 action is a strong and reliable action. It is also very easy to true and modify. I don’t know of a custom rifle builder that does not work on Remington 700 actions. This is important because down the road if a shooter wants to start upgrading his rifle with custom parts like a new match grade barrel, stock, trigger etc… the parts are readily available and there are loads of gunsmiths that will be happy to do the work. Now there are rifles and actions on the market that some custom rifle builders will refuse to work on. The Remington 700 is typically not one of them. It is a solid investment that will grow with the shooter as he grows. The shooter can then tweak the rifle to his liking as he becomes more proficient and learns what he wants in a precision sniper rifle.
The next item that needs to be addresses is optics or “glass”. The optic on a precision sniper rifle is every bit as important as the rifle itself. There is nothing that disappoints me more than a shooter who drops big money on a rifle and then attaches a low quality pellet rifle scope to it. The bottom line is Glass is worth its weight in gold. You have to be able to see what you are shooting at to hit it. When you are looking at engaging targets at distances a half a mile or more, poor glass is not going to cut it. You will have a hard time identifying targets if your glass is of poor quality. Furthermore the adjustments that you dial on your scope with your turrets have to be precise. A poorly made scope will eventually not track true when you are dialing your turrets up and down and back and forth time and time again. If the internal parts of the optic are made of substandard parts they will wear out fast and fail. When you add recoil into the mix the problems get even bigger. There are enough variables that precision shooters have to take into consideration when engaging targets. An optic that doesn’t perform correctly should not be one of them.
The optics I’m going to suggest for our budget rifle are quality optics that will perform and be reasonably affordable for the task at hand. Make no mistake optics are every bit as expensive as a rifle. The optics our military snipers are running on their precision rigs are of the highest quality. These optics are in the price range of $2500.00 or more. With that being said they are built with the best components in the industry. They are extremely rugged and capable of taking a lot of abuse for obvious reasons. These will not be the type of optics I will be suggesting for our budget rifle. I will talk about these optics more in part 2 and 3 of this article.
There are a couple different scope options that I would suggest for our budget rifle. The optic should be at least a 10 power. It should have adjustable turrets for adding elevation and windage adjustments to the rifle. This is important because the precision shooter will need to be able to raise and lower his elevation when engaging targets at different ranges. The shooter will also need to be able to adjust for the different wind conditions he will surely be facing at the time of the shot.
The first optic that fits this bill is the Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 4.5-14X40mm. This optic is durable and has good quality glass for the intended purpose. It is also outfitted with a duplex reticle. This scope can be purchased brand new for around $700.00. I’ve seen these purchased used for as little as $450.00. Once again if you do some digging you can find some reasonable prices on used equipment.
The second optic I would suggest is the Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10x44mm. Vortex Optics is a fairly new company to break onto the scene recently. I’ve had the opportunity to get my hands on this scope and I have to say that for the money this piece of glass is hard to beat. It has good clear glass, exposed turrets that make dialing elevation and wind adjustments very easy. It is also outfitted with an MRAD or MOA reticle which aids in ranging unknown distance targets as well as using the holdover method for engaging targets. The “holdover method” is nothing more than using your reticle to add elevation and windage to the rifle instead of dialing your adjustments with your turrets. It is a more efficient way to engage targets when time is of the essence. I will discuss this topic more in-depth in future articles. This scope is also outfitted with an illuminated reticle for engaging targets in low to no light situations. The bottom line is, for the price this scope is hard to beat. The Vortex Viper retails new for around $700.00 and I’ve seen it as low as $600.00. There are different variants of this scope that are higher powered but they will run you a little more money.
The final two items that will be needed to make your build complete is a scope base and rings. There are a ton of manufactures out there that produce quality rings and bases. When it comes to rings the price ranges vary from $15.00 to $300.00. Rings are important because they are what keep your scope firmly in place without damaging it. You want a set of rings that will keep your optic in its place even if you accidentally drop or bump your rifle. You don’t need a set of rings that will prevent Godzilla from ripping it off your rifle but you need good solid rings. I would recommend a set of GG&G Aluminum Sniper Grade rings for our budget build. They are a decent set of affordable rings retailing for $85.00. If you want to go a little higher end I would look at the Vortex Precision Matched rifle Scope Rings which retail for $114.00. When selecting a base for our rifle I would recommend a 20 MOA base for added elevation. I would look at the Brownells Remington 700 Heavy Duty 20 MOA scope base. It retails for around $50.00. One more option but a little more costly would be the Nightforce Remington 700 scope Base which retails for $114.00.
There are many different options to take a look at when putting together a precision sniper rifle on a budget. All of us have a different ideas of what a budget build is. This is my version and if you play your cards right you could put together a competitive rifle for around $1200.00. Feel free to add your thoughts on the subject.