Budget Precision: The Hunt for a Rifle

Budget Precision: The Hunt for a Rifle

Back when I was first looking into a good bolt action, I was searching for something that would fulfill two important roles. One being mid to long range precision shooting and the other being an accurate hunting weapon.

Inspiration

Four years ago I had seen an article about building a budget “sniper” rifle. The cost of the actual rifle was supposed to be less than $500 with a total complete cost less than $1000. Now for most people back then, that was almost unheard of unless you went with something similar to a Mosin-Nagant or a heavily used “Pawn Shop Special”. There were several choices I could have gone with when it came to a well-used weapon, but I decided to go the new route. So then began my search.

The Line-Up

There were several rifles I had in mind already when I went into the search. They are listed:

Savage Axis
Ruger American
Remington 783
Marlin XL7
Mossberg Patriot

All five rifles that I listed were available from the $350-$550 range in pretty much any shop you happened to find them. The Savage Axis had been the first true budget bolt action to go on the market and the rest seemed to follow. Features tended to include a paddle style safety trigger, adjustable trigger pull weight, a polymer style stock, and a barrel that was secured to the receiver using a barrel nut instead of a direct threaded type. All of the rifles were accurate. The 783 was known for being a good shooting rifle, as was the Savage. I had recently owned a Mossberg MVP in 5.56 and found that at that time, my version wasn’t the most accurate. And finally the XL7. To this day almost five years later I’ve only seen one on a rifle rack for sale. I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Then my neighbor at the time bought a Ruger American in .243 Win and I got to shoot it. I liked how smooth the bolt was, the fit and feel of the rifle, how lightweight it was, and I definitely liked how accurate the .243 was. I decided I would go with a Ruger, especially since it was the 2014 Guns and Ammo Rifle of the Year

http://www.gunsandammo.com/ga-awards/2014-rifle-ruger-american-revolution/

Caliber Choice

During this period of time, then President Obama was leading the world in civilian gun sales. It seemed that everytime someone burped a word about gun control there was a mass buyout of anything gun related. Mass shootings, the threat of terrorism, and many other threats sent the gun community into panicked buying mode. Going to the local gun shops yielded high-priced weapons and scarce ammunition since no manufacturer was able to keep up with the demand. If you remember, even the stupidly cheap .22LR had gone the way of the do-do, and when it was found, was so expensive to make it unrealistic to buy. Calibers such as 5.56/.223, 9mm, .38 Special, .308 Win, and .22LR were so hard to find, that many people quit shooting altogether. What was on the shelves were the out of vogue calibers – .243 and .270 Win, .30-06 Springfield, and a spattering of other less popular rounds. With this in mind, I went with .30-06 Springfield. It had fought two World Wars, Korea, and was still one of the most popular hunting rounds in the world. Even today in 2017, the .30-06 remains a favorite amongst shooters. Surely it was good enough to do whatever I might ask it to.

A healthy 7 point buck I took using my Ruger. The .30-06 cartridge certainly does its job well.

The Purchase

Black Friday was coming up now… I had spent the better part of 6 months looking and researching rifles and finally shooting them. A trip to Walmart found me a Ruger in .30-06. It was on sale for $400 at the time so I was well within my projected budget. To layaway it went. Here in SC on Black Friday it’s a sales tax-free day so no matter what you buy it’s not taxed. So began an ordeal of trying to get my rifle. I went back to the Walmart to pick it up and the manager had misplaced it. To say I was angry was an understatement. Two hours later with me finally threatening to call the DM, he brings out my rifle. I asked about a discount for the trouble and He knocked $50 off of the price since the other’s in the cabinet were now on sale. Since all he did was bring it down to the sale price that wasn’t good enough. After some coaxing he gave a “manager’s special” and I picked up my .30-06 for $280!!! After all the BS and all the waiting and the run around I finally had my Ruger.

Scope

During the same time, I had been researching good rifle scopes that would fit in the $200 or less range. Nikon, Leupold, and Vortex all had great choices. Vortex was still relatively new on the scene So it came down to the Nikon Prostaff and a Leupold Rifleman. Both could be had in the range of $150-$180. When it came to features, I wanted a 3-9×40 variable zoom, positive click adjustments and a fast focus in case of other shooters. I decided to go with the Nikon. $180 after tax brought the total package of the Budget Sniper project to $480 after adding a set of Weaver medium height rings to mount the scope…

Looking through the scope…

Completing the Project

A rifle is a fine instrument for someone seeking to put food on the table or to protect the homestead. The only problem is carrying around an 8+ pound rifle all day gets tiring so I opted on a Blackhawk! sling at $20. Realizing that I would probably end up shooting from prone at the range or in certain hunting applications, another $40 got me a Harris type bipod. My rifle was now fully assembled with a total cost of less than $550 complete.

Shooting

The shooting was easy and smooth. With the Ruger’s light trigger pull, lack of creep, and the steadiness of my Harris style bipod, I was making good consistent shots every time as long as my marksmanship stayed on point. I’ve tried the three main bullet weights available for the .30-06 from 150-180 grain rounds. I found the bullet weights from 165-168 grains were the most accurate for my particular gun. Seeing as this was a budget build, I wanted budget ammunition. I went again to the local Walmart and picked up a box of Remington 165gr Core-Lokts and a box of Winchester 165gr Power Points. Both rounds shot great and were very consistent. The only difference I saw in performance was that the Winchesters printed about 1/4″ higher than the Remingtons. The cause I could only determine to be was due to a slightly higher velocity. There were no misfeeds or ejection issues.

Empty brass from shooting

Long Term…

I’ve had this rifle build now for over 4 years. It has remained my go to hunting platform and has continued to be highly accurate and extremely reliable. The bolt has a glass-like smoothness to it when cycled. The trigger has actually improved over the years of shooting it. All of that I guess should be expected considering the round count in the rifle. To my closest estimation, I’ve fired the Ruger almost 600 times. I practice with it often and typically shoot 40+ rounds every time I go to the range. Since purchasing the gun, I’ve since spray painted it a desert brown color. It was just the hardware store special rattle can treatment. After all…. It’s a budget rifle build.

Recent picture of my spray painted budget rifle with big money features



10 thoughts on “Budget Precision: The Hunt for a Rifle”

  • I have a little more in mine .. I bought a Remington 700 Synthetic BDL, at a gun show from an individual. And a scope 4×24 %0mm Objective.. for a few hundred .. Illuminated reticle. Used LC BTHP 175gr (LR). Now Sierra Match King BTHP 175gr, Federal.. same as Lake City .. minus the annealing marks being burnished off. (Milspec vs Commercial). sub MOA… 1.5 – 2inch groups at 600 maybe 3 at 800… I think it shoots better than I do .. and If I have had tons of coffee.. pffftt.. the group spreads out.
    I tried severaL AMMO(S) IN .308 Rem, Fed, Win .. off the shelf. Wildly different results for identical bullet weights. (hard nose, soft nose, nosler, and BYHP). 7.62 X 51 vs ,308 (10,000 PSI difference.) Same gun so same twist and barrel.
    BTHP was better by far at distance. At 100 yds it varied as much as 3 inches…
    Research showed Bullet shape and ballistics varied of course. The biggest reason was the speed of oxidation of the powder. Which changed the shape of the arc and POI on the end and during the shot. If the bullet was still rising, then you would shoot low early and high later then lower later potentially. So anyway I chose the best round that would be affordable and most available. Even different batches can vary on the powder, and be warmer or cooler than the previous or next batch.
    Bottom line if you don’t reload you re-zero. So buy a bunch of what works and don’t sweat it until I have to. Mean time save pennies for reloading efforts. AND save ALL my brass. No steel case for my bolt gun.
    my .02 GG58

    • I refuse to shoot steel in any of my weapons. I know that with good cleaning there SHOULDN’T be an issue, but why risk it? A 3″ shift in POA/POI is pretty significant. I’ve seen 2″ shifts in the various loads I shoot with the highest shift being in Winchester Xtreme Point at 150 gr. They make them in a .308 as well. If your weapon shoots a 150 gr well, I would give it a try. Though I shoot almost 2″ with it at 100 yards, here in the SC woodlands it doesn’t matter that much when speaking about “minute of deer”. Last two I’ve shot had massive hydrostatic damage and fell in their tracks. That’s something I wasn’t able to achieve in the soft-points so far.

  • “The Savage Axis had been the first true budget bolt action to go on the market…..” I don’t know if you forgot about, or never knew of the Stevens 200 (a disguised Savage 10/110). I got my first in ’06, long before the Axis was ever thought of. I now own 3 – .223, . 270 and .308. The are very accurate and were (no longer provided to us, you know, Axis) around $250.

    • In regards to the Axis… I was making reference to the paddle-style trigger, polymer stock, and barrel nut features used on budget guns today. The Stevens rifles from then were decent. I have shot several in the past and always liked them.

  • Thanks for the informative article. I myself have struggled with the long range rifle option, that for a while, was made more difficult because I’m left handed. Now about all the major rifle brands have left handed bolt actions. After a lot of research, for a lot of different reasons I’ve landed on the .308 Winchester as my ammo platform. While I still want a BA rifle, I think I’ve decided to try to build an AR-10 in .308 to keep the price a little closer to the range of a complete BA rifle. But your article does give me pause! Keep up the good work!

    • Thanks, Terry! My father is a left-hand shooter due to being blind in one eye. Whenever a left handed bolt gun comes up in a shop somewhere it always gives him pause. With the budget style rifles out now, it is hard to go for some of the more expensive options in lefties.

  • I chose the 783 in 300 winmag, it’s overkill… The rifle itself is fine, its accurate and had a decent trigger. A wiser choice would have been something (perhaps double the cost) in 6.5 Creedmoor. But what’s done is done, now to make it more user friendly. It desperately needs a new stock. If it was chambered in something….less…. It would be fine, but it’s not so it’s not. There aren’t a lot of options but there are some. One is this http://www.atonegunstocks.com

    It might be a serviceable option and at $190 it’s affordable…..

  • Great article Ralph! I picked up a Savage Model 110E 270 Win with a Simmons scope, and wood furniture for $280. The risk, it is a pawn shop special. For my first hunting rifle, I think this will work. The reason for the 270 is as you have said, it was an odd ammunition sitting on the shelf when all others disappeared during the ammo SHTF buyout. With patience, I have been able to purchase 270 WIN 130 gr interlok for $15.00 (Dick’s and Gun Show). A friend of mine is going to help me build it up. I have room for an improved scope and bi-pod. Barring any incident, I should be able to get this horse running for 500. Will keep you posted!

    • Outstanding! Share pics if you’d like. Sounds like a fun build. That .270 will serve you VERY well in the woods and out to distance. The cartridge itself is based on a necked down .30-06 casing. Looking forward to hearing more about the build so be sure to keep me updated.

      Btw… Thanks for stopping by and reading. I greatly appreciate it!

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