Building A Budget Precision Rifle
We often read about Tier-1 special teams and their high-dollar precision rifles and equipment.
Press releases and magazine articles regularly showcase products from various manufacturers touting the features of the latest-and-greatest rifles and optics. While many of these innovative products perform superbly, they usually come with substantial price tags that put them out of reach for the average shooter.
Is it possible to put together a somewhat customized rifle and scope combination that performs well, is totally reliable, and doesn’t break the bank?
With this goal in mind, I put a nominal budget of $1,000 on a “Budget Precision Rifle” project and began my search for components.
THE CONCEPT AND BASE RIFLE
My plan was to use a Remington M700 as the basis for the rifle. This is a tried and true platform, and many of these variants shoot very well right out of the box. Additionally, there are many qualified gunsmiths and aftermarket parts available for this popular rifle. It doesn’t hurt that law enforcement and various branches of the military have used Remington M700s for decades. A lot of cumulative knowledge on these weapons exists, and I have owned many over the years.
After a few weeks of perusing want ads and checking the used racks of local gun stores, I was happy to find a nearmint Remington M700 SPS heavy barrel in .308 caliber. It had a Bushnell Trophy 3-9X40mm scope on standard bases and rings and came with factory Bushnell scope covers. The salesman was unsure how many rounds the previous owner had put through it, but the bore was shiny and bright, and there were no other signs that indicated a high round count (bolt face wear, bluing wear on bolt lugs, etc).
Even though I am not too enamored of the factory stocks that adorn the SPS series, and knew I would want to change out the scope, I felt this would be a great start for the project. The package price of $450 made it even more attractive as the start of the base rifle!
The first steps after getting the rifle home were disassembly and cleaning. As I suspected, there were no signs of heavy use, and a light cleaning had everything looking pristine. The Bushnell scope, rings and bases were pulled off, as well as the stock, and went into the gunshow sale pile. The hope was that selling the Bushnell scope and factory stock would help fund some of the additions and upgrades for the project.
EXTREME RIFLE MAKEOVER
Stock Modifications/Replacement Being no big fan of the SPS stock, I knew it would require some modifications (at least), if not a complete replacement. If I could not sell the factory stock at an upcoming gun show, I wanted some modifications done to give the stock a better chance of producing good accuracy.
The SPS stock has two pressure points that touch the barrel up near the tip of the forend. Why Remington chose to do this, in light of the precision-shooting school of thought regarding “free-floated barrels” is beyond me, but being a free-float proponent, I broke out the rotary tool to clean up the barrel channel and pressure points.
I also filled the hollow butt of the stock with semi-rigid foam to give the stock a more substantial feel. These modifications to the factory stock improved the feel, balance and accuracy potential. If I had kept the factory stock due to budget concerns, I would have included a bedding job and would have been much happier with it post-modification.
All went according to the master plan, and the stock and scope sold for $50 each at the next gun show, real bargains for the purchasers and more money into the coffers for my project. Now to find a new stock!
I currently have several high-end aftermarket stocks (McMillan, Accuracy International, HS Precision) on various M700s. The reputation and quality of these stocks is very high. I also knew the price tags of these stocks would be a nogo for this capped-budget project.
While considering lesser-priced alternatives, I remembered putting a Bell & Carlson stock on an old .30-06 project many years ago and being very happy with the application. After doing some Internet research on pricing and shooter feedback, I ordered a Bell & Carlson Tactical Medalist A2 stock from Stocky’s Stocks for $220.99 plus shipping. I selected the Olive Web pattern and was pleasantly surprised with the fit, finish and appearance when it arrived. The fact that it arrived only five days after I placed the order was an added bonus.
The project was beginning to gel!
My version of the SPS came with a 26” barrel with a heavy varmint-type taper. This was too long for what I wanted for this rifle, so I contacted my local gunsmith (Roger’s Rifles) to do a quick trim to 20.5 inches. He also re-crowned the freshly cut barrel with a recessed match crown. I have to say that watching the saw cut off 5.5 inches of barrel made the hair on the back of my neck stand up!
I’d been reading good reviews on Sniper’s Hide about the new Weaver 3.5-10X40 Mil/Mil scope. Several reviews from knowledgeable sources rated it very high in optical clarity, repeatability and overall construction. The idea of having a mil-dot reticle with milradian turret adjustments was appealing, and the 25% discount through Midway was too good to resist.
I ordered one for $299.99 plus shipping.
I happened to have a +20 MOA IOR M1913 base I had taken off my duty rifle when we installed McCann rails for our NODs, so I figured that would be a great base for this project. Plus it would give me the extra distance for longer range shooting. I didn’t have any spare oneinch rings, so I picked up some Leupold PRW medium height rings.
SO, DOES IT SHOOT?
Over the course of several months, a total of 31 three-shot groups was recorded with a variety of ammo brands. All ammunition was match-grade, with a total of six factory and four handloads tested. Two of the factory loads were labeled plinkers, reportedly for cosmetic reasons. Average group size for all groups was .81 inch, with the smallest at .13 inch and the largest at 1.59 inches (without a doubt that was me and not the rifle/ load).
Three groups were fired at 200 yards with two different loads. The best group was 0.57 inch and the worst 2.45 inches.
A couple of trips to the West Desert ofUtah allowed me to stretch the range out a bit. It was very satisfying to get firstround hits and solid follow-up shots on 12”x12” steel plates at both 520 and 650 yards. The scope required 4.0 mils and 5.5 mils of elevation respectively, and consistently rang the steel all afternoon.
In the five to six months since starting and completing this project, I have found a total of three other used rifle packages (Remington M700s) for sale locally at excellent prices. I referred one to my brother, who picked it up for his sub- $1,000 project, and two of the packages are still out there as of this writing. Deals can be found if you watch for them.
Even with the Harris BRM bipod that I later found new for $79, the cost of this budget rifle project just barely topped the $1,000 target at $1,009.99.
The project rifle is compact and handy, has a custom aftermarket stock with good ergo-dynamics, repeatable scope with decent glass, and is without a doubt more accurate than I am. In my opinion, this project has been a complete success. With some patience, elbow grease, and a watchful eye for local bargains, you can duplicate this process and outcome.
Good (bargain) hunting!