One of the most asked questions we get here at Sniper Central is “how should I build my rifle package?” That is actually a hard question to answer. I mean it would be easy if we were building a package specifically for us, but since it is the customers rifle we need to know a little more information before we can offer suggestions to help them along with their build. Most of our answers are pretty straight forward, but sometimes we do a little dancing around so we don’t allow our personal opinions to influence the buyer too much. In the course of this article we’ll discuss a few pros and cons to consider when building a rifle and we’ll also touch on the “Set Up” once you know what you want. This page is intended for any shooter putting together a rifle package, whether on their own, from us or any other high end rifle builder.
The first thing we will ask the customer is what the intended mission of this rifle is. Will it primarily be a benchrest rifle, never to be seen outside of a known distance range or does the customer have more of a tactical purpose in mind, or maybe it is just for hunting? They may just want an all purpose rifle that tries to do everything… One that is not designed around one particular purpose, but can get the job done in most applications of long range shooting. So with this in mind lets talk about a few factors that should be considered by anyone wanting to build a rifle and cover a few of the most common questions asked by our customers.
Let’s be honest. The Remington 700 is the go to brand for those that want to buy a rifle off the shelf and start customizing it. I can’t think of another rifle manufacturer with more custom parts or accessories on the market than the Remington 700. It’s my opinion that for out of the box accuracy, most of the well known manufactures such as Remington, Tikka, Savage, Howa, are very comparable in quality and competitive with function and accuracy. When choosing a rifle it basically come’s down to options or different preferred styles of manufacturing of certain parts that catch the customers eye and entices the purchase. But when it comes to customizing, with all the many options available, Remington is where it’s at.
So when choosing a brand, I suggest you take some time to do a little research, look at all the options, and find a rifle that fits your needs. Then if you desire, with some help from the internet, or an email to us here at Sniper Central, you can find some options you like that not only make it individually yours, but aid in the ability of the rifle for the shooter, which will also help make the shooter more consistent. Remember our motto “Consistency Equals Accuracy!”
The answer I’d often like to give is how deep is your pocket? Many of our followers have probably caught on by now that not all of our reviews are done on the highest quality and priced items, some of our product reviews are on items on the less expensive side. It’s not that we are looking for the cheapest product out there, but let’s face it -not everyone can afford top of the line equipment. We at SC are pretty passionate about sniping and shooting and we would like everyone who has the desire to get into long range shooting -no matter how deep their pockets are, to be able to buy a quality product and get out there on the range.
Regardless of your budget, this one is a hard question to answer… I think that the .308 Winchester would be considered by most in the field as “The Workhorse of the Sniper Community”. Is it the perfect caliber for snipers or long range shooting? Absolutely not. But because it was the military’s choice in the 1960’s and early 70’s it’s been adopted by most in law enforcement, federal and civilian communities as the go-to caliber. With the mass selection of manufactured match grade ammo and a good supply line, it makes the 308 one of the most available and least expensive rounds to purchase. With the proper bullet weight and design it is capable, and lethal beyond 1000 yards.
Are there better calibers? By all means YES! Even some of your smaller rounds such as the 260 Remington or 6.5 Creedmore (just to name a couple) will out perform the .308 at long ranges and they do it with less recoil. But some of you may have to take into account the availability of ammo in match grade quality and the price.
For those of you who want to reach out well beyond the 1000 yard line you may want to look at the .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Lapua, the CheyTac Family, or even the .50 BMG. What is the availability of match grade ammo, and will your local range even allow you to shoot the larger calibers? Are you ready for the recoil and the extreme dent on your pocket book? These larger calibers can be pretty punishing over long periods behind the rifle even with the best recoil pads and muzzlebrakes.
Those that reload have an advantage over those that do not, and are probably scoffing as I snivel about price and availability of match grade ammo. With some time and patience, reloaders can develop loads specific to their rifle that in many cases will out perform factory match ammo. All while achieving this for much less money than manufactured ammunition as well.
This is another area where we will ask -what’s the mission of the rifle? If you primarily going to use the rifle for benchrest then you want the barrel to be the max length to get the full burn of the powder. If you are going to use the rifle in the field you may want to sacrifice a little length and velocity for less weight and maneuverability. Our rule of thumb here is that if you plan to do most of your shooting at 600+ yards, then you will want to go with a 24″+ barrel to get the most velocity, even in the 308. If you are primarily going to be shooting below 600 yards, then a shorter barrel will be fine to make it easier to pack. Typically you will lose or gain about 20 fps per 2″ of barrel length change. Its more dramatic with higher powered cartridges. Do remember that the shorter the barrel, the more muzzle flip you’ll experience during recoil as well. The longer barrels are heavier and help tame recoil.
What about a Bull Barrel?
For the most rigidity a bull barrel is the way to go. What is a bull barrel? Technically a bull barrel is a barrel that has no taper what so ever, meaning its about 1.2″ in diameter from the action all the way to the muzzle. Of course, beyond ultra competition rifles, no one really uses a true bull barrel, but many people refer to heavy diameter barrels as being a bull, even if they have a taper to them. The down side is that these barrels can be extremely heavy, though very rigid.
If you are in the field where weight is important, a slightly tapered heavy barrel will still provide the rigidly required for your most accurate rifles but won’t be as heavy as a true bull barrel. Those worried about weight may want to go with a fluted barrel or even shortening their barrel. As you decide on these different options there is a little give and take. Shortening the barrel will generally aide in the rigidity and reduce muzzle whip, but you’ll loose some velocity. Fluting the barrel will lighten it a little but you lose some of the rigidity. How much weight will be saved with flutes or by shortening the barrel? In example: the difference in a Remington 700P with 26″ barrel and the Remington 700P LTR with a 20″ fluted barrel (and shorter stock) there is only about a 1.03 lb difference! But for those of you that are going to use this rifle in the field the 1 lb may be worth it as the pounds add up quickly when you add a scope and other accessories along with any gear you may be packing.
With our Sniper Central rifle packages, we typically use the standard Remington, Howa or Tikka heavy barrel profile depending on which package you order. But some stocks allow us to use alternate barrel contours if you want something different, contact us and ask, we may be able to do it. The same goes for fluting.
What about a muzzlebrake?
Muzzlebrakes can be well worth the money for those of you who choose the large caliber rifles. As stated before, the big boys can reach out a long ways, but they can be pretty brutal to shoot over long shooting sessions. Muzzlebrakes can cut the recoil to as much as one half, sometimes more. Even if you aren’t shooting a large caliber rifle a muzzlebrake can be helpful in controlling recoil assisting in muzzle flip and bipod jump, which allows for quicker follow up shots.
Even as a “semi-young guy”, you can call me old fashioned because I love the traditional stocks. Stocks have come a long way in the last ten years or so. It doesn’t take much research to see there are a lot of great stock manufactures out there that offer quality equipment with all sorts of different options from the traditional stock style to the popular AR styles. Choosing a stock that compliments your particular flavor with the options you want has never been easier, but often times becomes very overwhelming. The various shapes of the stocks are intended to help in various ways. A more vertical pistol grip helps align the trigger finger for a better trigger squeeze. A flat forearm area makes the rifle more stable when shooting on a rest and provides a stable area to attach a bipod if desired. The higher cheek comb area helps align the eye with the scope and also helps control muzzleflip during recoil.
As you get into your tactical stocks the first thing most people notice (other than appearance) is the weight differences. These heavier composite stocks are stiffer than traditional material and maintain consistency in all different environmental conditions. The added weight also has the benefit of helping control recoil, but you have to lug it around with you. The adjustable cheekpads and length of pull are newer accessories that don’t just add to the cool factor but more importantly aide in adjusting the rifle to fit the shooter perfect. The better the rifle fit’s, the more consistent the shooter will be, making them more accurate. A proper position will allow the rifle to recoil through the body and not just force the shoulder to take the brunt of the recoil. Many modern stocks also have a simple spacer system or various levers and dials that allows you to easily adjust the length of pull so the rifle fits properly. Again, these adjustments can be very beneficial for adjusting the rifle to fit the shooter perfectly.
A proper cheekweld is essential to achieving consistent eye relief and sight alignment/sight picture through the scope. If you’re constantly having issues with scope shadow an adjustment needs to be made with your cheekweld. This can be done either by lowering your scope or raising the cheekweld, or maybe both. If you don’t have an adjustable cheekpiece, all hope is not lost, a quality cheek pad can be used to raise your cheekweld. If the cheekpad is still not enough, you can add some additional padding between the cheek pad and stock to build it up. For those of you looking for a quick affordable fix you can use insulating pipe padding and some non adhesive COFLEX medical tape to raise the cheekweld as well. What ever your method make sure it’s solid so it doesn’t move around on you. There are aftermarket adjustable cheekpieces that can be added as well, such as the Karsten.
One thing to remember with stocks, they do not have to be the most fancy, some older style stocks still work great, such as the Winchester target stocks with a wide forearm and higher cheek comb. Its an older style, but works great and McMillan makes a version called the Winchester Marksman and is much more affordable than their A series tactical stocks and is pictured above.
Glass, Aluminum or Pillar bedding?
The better the fit of the stock to the action the better the accuracy. To achieve the best possible fit, glass bedding the stock with a high strength epoxy combined with aluminum pillars, is the way to go. This method can be done with wood, laminate, and synthetic stocks. If your crafty you could probably do an efficient glassbed job yourself, however if I was looking for the utmost accuracy and fit I’d leave it to an experienced gunsmith. Many modern stock manufactures have excellent results from aluminum bedding blocks and the performance is nearly as good, and the blocks are more durable than glass bedding. Both methods do a better job of mating the stock to the action improving fit and all around accuracy.
Factory or Custom Triggers?
Once again what is the mission of the rifle? With a steady, trained hand, much can be done to improve the feel of factory triggers, and some prefer them over a full custom drop in trigger systems. Besides allowing you the option of widths, surface texture and shape of the trigger shoe, custom triggers allow you to make fine tune adjustments to eliminate unwanted slack and provide that light, crisp trigger squeeze we all love and appreciate. Those custom triggers also, due to better design and manufacturing tolerances, allow for a crisper break and better overall feel than a normal factory trigger. But a super light target triggers that break under 1 lb may be difficult to keep functioning properly in the field. What ever you decide, keep it as clean and free of debris as possible. If you are doing the work on your own trigger be careful not to remove to much material or adjust it too light as none of us want to experience a negligent discharge or put others at risk.
I’m not going to provide much information on this one. A while back Mel wrote a fantastic article entitled “Too Much Scope” and I hope you will click to that link. So for this article, I’ll keep things simple. Though there has been huge advancements in glass quality, when it comes to buying a scope you typically get what you pay for. It’s not just the glass quality that’s important but the internal mechanics of the scope are critical as well. When your life depends on first shot hit’s, it becomes vital that your scope tracks perfectly every time no matter what kind of abuse it goes through. Fixed power scopes have fewer moving parts to break or wear out and they allow you to get better quality glass at a better price. When trying to decide on what power of scope, the rule of thumb we use for tactical field work is 1x of power for every 100y you expect to shoot. So if you plan to shoot 1000 yards, for a field rifle, a 10x will work. Target shooters will want scopes with a higher magnification, while tactical shooters should be satisfied with less magnification for more field of view and better light gathering. The large objective lens will help with better light gathering as well, but raises the scope higher causing issues with proper cheekweld. We like to see the scope as close to the same plane of the barrel as possible, meaning it needs to be as low as possible without touching the barrel.
In an effort to help sniper teams and shooters with their scope decision, we perform reviews on scopes that are suitable for sniping. We use a rating system on the scopes that takes into account various aspects of the scopes themselves which include optics, internal mechanics, features, and yes, value. For “value” we think of it in terms of how much you get for you money. So the overall star score found on our scope review page might be of use when looking at scopes. For more details you will want to read the full detailed review. Our reviews have changed over the years, hopefully for the better, and we are constantly adding new ones, so check back from time to time to see what is new.
Bipods are a fantastic accessory to the package. They can allow for quick stable support in the prone position, or even higher depending on the leg length. There are a couple of down falls as well such as they can be cumbersome in the field, they add weight, and they snag on vegetation and low limbs if your are not paying attention. Also, if you are shooting from a hard surface and haven’t pre-loaded the bipod, they will bounce, forcing you take a few precious moments getting back on target for a follow up shot. If the situation allows, a sand bag is going to be more stable and provide better support, but for field work, a bipod is a must. In conjunction with forward support we suggest you use a sand sock to support the buttstock. There are a lot of companies that make quality bags but if your looking for a suitable substitute, fill an old sock with popcorn kernels and tie a knot in the end. This will give you a pliable rear support to make minor elevation adjustments and improve stability.
When selecting a bipod, you will want to insure your selected bipod is durable enough. Usually steel is the preferred material, but we have used some carbon fiber ones that have been pretty good as well. You need to be careful with aluminum bipods. If they are properly designed and built using good aluminum, they can hold up. But most of the cheaper aluminum bipods that come from China just will not hold up and we have seen many of those fail. In terms of what height, another rule of thumb we use is if you are only going to shoot at the range, then a low 6-9″ unit will work good. But if you plan to be in the field, a taller 9-13″ height is helpful to accommodate uneven terrain and for shooting above bushes and rocks.
So in conclusion I know I have kept things pretty simple, but I hope the information provided has been helpful. An entire article could certainly be written on each point we’ve discussed. I’ll be the first one to admit that my suggestions are not THE WAY but A WAY. There are many things to consider when building a quality rifle and get the most out of it, and hopefully I have helped some, this is all a learning experience. Heck that’s what most of us are doing anyways -out there to learn and have a good time while doing it.