Friday, October 17, 2008

The Thousand Yard Conspiracy - Part 1: Paper and Parts

So, on the way out of Reno Sunday morning; I was told in no uncertain terms (by my wife and Joe Huffman) that I would be attending Boomershoot next April.

Along with that, I'd be receiving a new rifle, as my combined Christmas and birthday presents, from all my friends together.

Apparently she'd been working behind the scenes for a few weeks getting all my friends in on the conspiracy etc...

Amazing woman my wife.

However this leaves me with a dilemma. I've been planning on building a long range rifle for a while, but I thought I'd have 18 months or so to do it... and even than that's pushing it. Usually a custom rifle project will take you at least two years, and I now have six months to build a 1000 yard rifle rig.

Whooo boy...

Honestly I don't know if it can be done that fast, but were surely gonna try.

Step One - Budget

First thing we need to do, is define what our limits are for this project. A fully built custom from a well known custom smith can run anywhere from just about $3,000 to north of $5,000 (no optics).

You can save some money by picking up a factory long range tactical model, like the FNH SPR, or Remington 700 SPS, or 700 PDM (which start around $700 and go up to about $2500); and then have it gone over by a top class rifle smith... and most likely have a re-barrel and a new trigger installed... and maybe a new stock... and...

Well, basically, by the time you get done with the factory rifles, you might as well have done a custom buildup. Factory rifles are perfectly adequate for 600-800 yards, but in the 1000 yard game, you just have to do everything right.

Then there's optics on top of that, where you MAY squeak by at $1,000 but $1,500 minimum is more like it... and it's no bother to run past $3000 with Schmidt and Bender, or U.S. Optics.

Unfortunately, we're thinking without some difficult stretching, a max budget of $3,000 to maybe $3,500... unless that is one of my friends gets stupidly generous.

Oh and I need a rangefinder, and a spotting scope that'll work at that range. That's another $700-$1300 for the rangefinder, and at least that much for a spotting scope that will resolve at 1000 yards.

So for now, I'm going to address the budget just to the rifle itself, and leave the optics and accessories for another post, and another budget.

Step Two - Objectives, Requirements, and Constraints

Decisions, decisions...

Alright, the first step in any project is to determine your objectives. Only when you'r objectives are clearly defined can you plan how best to meet them.

So, our overall objective is as follows:

Build or buy a field rifle (which means not a benchrest or target queen. Something suitable for lying in the dirt with), capable of consistently shooting into 1 minute of angle or under, at 1000 yards, with absolute reliability.

Tall order, but very doable with the right design and build.

Next what are our constraints and requirements within that objective
  1. Build or buy to the lowest cost possible while still achieving the objective
  2. Build or buy within six months
  3. Build or buy to the highest possible standard of reliability
  4. Choose a chambering capable of meeting the objective
  5. Choose a barrel capable of meeting the objective
  6. Choose an action capable of meeting the objective
  7. Choose a stock capable of meeting the objective

    (these next few will be covered in other posts)

  8. Choose optics capable of meeting the objective
  9. Choose ammunition, and supporting accessories capable of meeting the objective
  10. Train to meet the objective with the equipment, ammunition, and accessories chosen
Again, tall order, but doable.

The biggest decision is build or buy, but we need to analyze the technical requirements first, to understand if buying is an option, and if so, how much it will cost; vs. the cost of a ground up build.

Step Three - Plans, Parts, and Design

There are a lot of decisions to be made, as stated in the objectives above; technical, preferential, and economic.

1. Chambering

The single most important technical decision you can make when choosing or building a rifle, is the chambering. The chambering determines the size, the cost, the materials etc... for every other part of the rifle.

There are quite a few chamberings out there capable of making 1moa at 1000 yards. Any of the hot 6.5mm magnums or super 6.5 benchrest rounds; most of the 7mm magnums; and any of the .300 to .338 magnums can do it with the right loading and bullet selection.

Heck, even some of the big .350 to .420 magnums can do it, if they're loaded with high ballistic coefficient bullets instead of the low BC solid smashers generally chosen. Even the .378 Winchester magnum can be a 1000 yard round with the right bullet; and some of the MANY necked down variants using it as a parent case can reach over 1500 yards.

What you want for a 1000 yard tactical rifle, isn't cloverleafs at 1000... that's what the super 6's are for. You've got guys regularly shooting 3" and 4" groups from BR rifles at 1000 with super 6 and super 6.5 class cartridges, and that's amazing (the "light gun" record is 1.56"); but you don't need that kind of precision for tactical shooting and tactical shooting competitions.

What you need is 1moa, down to maybe .75 moa. Basically you want to keep into an 8-10" "kill zone"; and you want to retain at least 400 ftlbs doing it.

Why 400? That's the minimum threshold for a reliable kill shot. 600-800ftlbs would be better.

You also need a bullet that is resistant to changes in weather, and wind.

What you DON'T want though is excessive recoil.

Of course, you don't give up accuracy where you can get it; you just don't want to compromise the other factors too much to do so.

All of that means a high initial velocity, with a relatively high mass bullet, and a high ballistic coefficient; but not so high a mass or velocity, that you can't shoot 100 rounds of it in a day.

To me, that leaves the .300 to .338 class magnums and short magnums. Yes, you might be able to do the job with a heavy, high BC 6.5mm or 7mm (.257 or .284); but to my mind you really want the extra mass for crosswind resistance and retained energy.

Well, if you want the ultimate in killing power out to 1500 yards, the .338 Lapua was specifically designed for the job.

I'd love to own one; really I would; and I thought HARD about a .338 Lapua, but there are issues. First, I need 800 to 1000 yards, but not beyond; and the Lapua is overkill for that... Most importantly, it's over-recoil for that.

I can shoot most of the .300 class magnums all day in a medium weight gun, and still have a shoulder left at the end of the day. 20 rounds of .338 in a heavy gun, even with a muzzle brake, and I'm done. Without the brake, it's more like 5 rounds.

Honestly though, I could build a heavy gun with a thick pad and a brake, and deal with the recoil, if I wanted to pay for that performance.

And I don't.

Basically, the Lapua is too expensive.
  • It's expensive to shoot, with loaded match grade factory ammo going for $4-5 a round or more.
  • It's expensive to load for, with new brass at $2-3 a case, and case life on the order of 5 shots.
  • It's expensive, and often slow, to get barrels and actions for; since it's an extra long, very high pressure round, with an uncommon reamer (though this is changing)
The killer to me though, is that it's impossible to find ammo locally in an emergency. I have NEVER seen match grade .338 lapua on the shelf at a local gun shop unless they happened to have an owner who shot 1500 yards as a hobby; and I've never seen ANY kind of .338 load at a walmart, or target, or even bass pro (Cabelas usually has a box or two).

When it comes to firearms that will be used in the field, I'm a firm believer in the "walmart ammo" school: If you can't find at least some kind of acceptable ammo at a normal local retailer (i.e. Wal-Mart) anywhere you'd be traveling with a particular gun, you shouldn't have that particular gun.

.338 Lapua fails the walmart test miserably.

Leaving aside the .338 then, there are still quite a few options in the .300 to .325 class of magnums, ultramagnums, short magnums, and even supershort magnums.

Now again, this is a tactical rifle; and I think one should take into account the huge amount of data, accessories, and components available for long range tactical shooters, in well known chamberings.

Of course the best known chamberings for tactical shooters, are the ones that shoot .308 bullets... which is STILL a pretty big group, including the .308 winchester, .300 winchester magnum, .300 winchester short magnum, .300 Weatherby magnum, Lazzeroni patriot and warbird (short and long magnums respectively), .300 Remington ultramagnum, .300 Remington short action magnum... I think you get the point....

The king of tactical chamberings is of course the .308 winchester/ 7.62x51 nato; and it will reach out to 1000 yards, but it's VERY difficult to be consistent with at that range. It's not a flat shooter, it doesn't resist crosswinds well at range, and it doesn't retain a lot of energy out past 800 yards.

The step up option best known in the tactical shooting world, is the .308s big brother, the .300 Winchester magnum. It's been around since 1963, and tactical rifles have been chambered in the round since viet nam. More data is out there for .300 winmag than any other 1000 yard class chambering, and certainly more component selection.

Critically, there is also VERY good factory match grade ammo available in .300 win mag, in a number of different bullet weights from 135gr (used for long range varminting) all the way to 240gr; from Federal, Black Hills, Cor-Bon, RWS, Lapua, Norma, Remington, and Winchester.

You can even find match grade .300 win mag at Wal-Mart, in addition to white box type practice ammo.

Recently however, another option has become available, that is ballistically nearly identical to the .300 winmag; in fact so much so that the same bullets, and same external ballistics data as the .300 winmag, can generally be used.

That option, is the .300 winchester short magnum, or .300 WSM.

Basically, it's all the velocity of a .300 winmag, in a shorter, fatter, case, with a faster burning powder. The .300wsm fits into short action guns, as it is the same nominal length as the .308 win (actually, generally it's seated out to a little bit longer OAL, to max out potential case capacity).

In the process, it manages to use slightly less powder, and generally deliver slightly less recoil... and with some bullets, it can even be slightly more accurate (a very tiny amount).

Oh and because of that faster burning powder, the WSM is effective in 24" or even 22" barrels, while .300 winmag really works best in 26" to 28" barrels.

Needless to say it's made some solid inroads into the 1000 yard competitive shooting scene, and taken the 600 yard and under tactical shooters by storm; but it's having a little more difficulty penetrating the long range tactical shooting market.

Basically, 1000 yard tactical shooters are a conservative bunch, and they know what works and what doesn't, and what their priorities are, from long experience.

Yes, the WSM performs well at under 800 yards; but it works best with bullets in the 160gr to 180gr range; whereas best performance in the wind at 1000 yards is best with the 190gr to 210gr bullets that are too long to properly feed in a short action.

Also, the WSMs shorter, fatter case has feeding problems out of many actions; really requiring a center feed to be reliable, and even then with it's steep shoulder it has difficulty.

Finally, near as I can tell, none of the wsm/wssm/rum/rsaum etc... are commonly available in general sporting goods stores and sporting goods departments; though there are decent selections of loads available at many gun shops (this may change for the .300 wsm over time, as it seems to be gaining wider acceptance).

All that said, I'm willing to be convinced on the .300 wsm. The ability to use a standard length action opens up a lot of lower cost options. Also, using that standard length makes a detachable box magazine easier, and that's a big plus to me.

So, I talked with several rifle smiths, and I told them what I wanted to do, and every single one of them came to the same conclusion I did, it was either .300winmag, or .300 wsm.

I was leaning towards the .300 win mag for a combination of ballistic performance, and ammo availability. I plan to primarily handload, but it's nice to have the ability to get walmart ammo if necessary.

Every single one of the rifle smiths I talked to (and I ended up talking to eight well known names in the game) said that unless I was building a stalking rifle, or a primarily 600 yard rifle that would occasionally be fired at 1000 yards; that the feed reliability, and the heavy bullet selection of the .300 winmag, outweigh the advantages of the .300 WSM.

EVERY last one of them.

Well, I think that's my decision made for me.

2. Barrel

The next most important technical factor for a long range rifle is the barrel. More than the trigger or action, the barrel is the heart of a rifle. It is the first and last point of contact for the bullet when you're taking a shot.

There a few basic choices to make when selecting a barrel for long range shooting
  1. Maker
  2. Material
  3. Twist rate
  4. Length
  5. Contour
  6. Muzzle brake or not
Maker

There are a LOT of barrel makers out there... several hundred in fact... but it's not TOO hard a decision to make; because the enormous majority of all tactical competition, and long range competition rifle barrels are made by a half dozen companies:
Honestly, choose a top grade barrel from any of these makers and you can't go wrong. There are others out there who are just as good (maybe better, maybe not), but they're usually VERY small volume makers with waiting lists you have to be a friend to get on etc...

My advice here is to deal with whoever you are comfortable with. I personally happen to be a big fan of Kriegers barrels, and like dealing with them as a company; so I've decided to go with Krieger.

When you've chosen you maker, you can also decide whether to have them cut, crown, thread, chamber, and mount your barrel to your action; or to have your rifle smith do it.

Custom barrel blanks start out life as a straight cylinder; usually 1.250" in diameter from end to end, and from 28" to 32" long. Generally speaking, the first 1/2" and last 1" or so of a barrel blank are unusuble, and should be trimmed off; resulting in a max usable barrel length of 26" or 28" from most blanks.

A barrels contour is it's external profile; which is to a large extent what determines how rigid a barrel will be, and how much it weighs. Some riflesmiths prefer to cut their own contours on barrels; but most like to have the barrel maker do it, as it's a lot of work, and wear and tear on the lathe cutters.

After cutting and contouring, a barrel must be threaded in order to be mounted to the receiver. Barrel makes can supply blanks threaded and end faced, or unthreaded. Most riflesmiths prefer to cut their own threads and face the end so they can match the exact thread length to the receivers mating surfaces.

Finally, a barrel must have the chamber, and crown cut into them. These are the two most critical stages of barrel preparation, and understandably most riflesmiths prefer to do it themselves; though again, the barrel makers can do it for you to save time and gunsmithing cost.

Chambering, involves reaming out a chamber to accept the cartridge you intend to shoot, and is the single most important operation in the creation of your rifle.

The difference between a factory chamber, and a custom cut chamber, is this:
  • A factory chamber has to be cut intentionally loose, so as to accommodate just about any barely in spec or maybe a little out of spec ammo out there, no matter who it came from.

  • A custom cut chamber can match the exact ammunition and specification you want to use; even if it is a little bit tight, and wont feed the generic white box ammo very well.
This exact chamber dimensioning, allows for FAR greater precision shot over shot as compared to a loose factory chamber.

If you want the best possible accuracy, you can even load up a cartridge using the exact bullet you want to shoot, with the same dies you'll be using to load the cartridges; and have your gunsmith ream the chamber to the exact dimensions of that sample cartridge.

The final step in barrel preparation is cutting the crown; or the end of the muzzle where the bullet exists the barrel.

The crown is a critical operation, because it is the last contact the bullet will have with the weapon; and also because following the bullet out the barrel will be a cloud of supersonically expanding turbulent high temperature gas.

Also, the crown is hanging out there on the end of a two foot plus metal rod; and is susceptible to damage.

Cut the crown wrong, or ding the crown up with rough handling or improper cleaning; and instability will be imparted into the bullet as it leaves the barrel. Instability means inconsistency, and inconsistency means misses.

All of this is why I say even on a $2500 factory semi-custom rifle, you may need to re-barrel to get the results you want; because although the factories do a very good job with the materials they have, they are still starting with the same production barrel blanks, and using the same production tooling, as the 2moa at 300 yard rifles. Maybe you get a 1moa at 1000 rifle out of that, maybe you don't.

I'm personally going with Krieger for the whole thing, because they'll do it cheaper, and just as good if not better (and importantly, faster) as any riflesmith I'd care to use.

Material

At one point, the metallurgy of stainless alloys and their use in barrels; and the techniques for smoothly boring and rifling stainless without microchatter and microburrs; were not well understood. In that time, stainless barrels were considered poorer for best accuracy in comparison to chrome-molybdenum alloys (chromo or chromolly).

That time has passed.

Although you can get barrels in any number of materials and alloys, I see no reason to have a barrel for a field gun in anything other than a high grade stainless steel.

The ease of maintenance alone is worth it; and most custom barrel makers use some grade of stainless as their default metal... in fact some only offer stainless barrels.

The only reason I would choose a non-stainless barrel at this point, is if I were hot bluing a gun; because stainless doesn't take conventional bluing.

However, I would also not be bluding a field gun like this one. I'll save the hot blue for a fine safari rifle, if I ever choose to build one.

Twist

Twist rate is determined by how long a bullet you want to shoot... which is generally directly proportional to the weight of the bullet in question (I wrote extensively about twist rate and stabilization here, and here).

It should be noted however, that differences in bullet profile, and the construction of a bullet, can mean two bullets of the same weight, and even of the same length, might stabilize differently (Bergers VLD bullets are known for not needing as much stabilization as their length might otherwise suggest).

As I've said, I plan on shooting high ballistic coefficient, heavy, low drag design bullets; and that means long bullets, which means I need a fast twist rate.

.300winmag barrels are generally rifled to 1-12", 1-11", or 1-10".

1-12" is for those who want to shoot light weight bullets for long range varminting.

I still haven't decided whether I'm going to get my barrel 1-11" or 1-10"; mostly because I haven't decided if I want to shoot primarily the 190gr Sierra Match King, the 190gr Berger VLD, the 210gr Match King, or the 210gr Berger VLD.

Length and Contour

The length and contour of a barrel come down to a tradeoff between ballistic performance, and weight.

The thicker the contour, the more rigid the barrel, which means better performance; but also more weight.

The longer the barrel the more powder can be burned in the barrel, which means the less recoil, and more velocity (and maybe slightly more accuracy), but again, more weight.

Additionally, longer barrels are less rigid then shorter barrels of the same contour (a longer beam to vibrate); so once you've reached a certain point (and it's different with every bullet weight, and charge, so there's no hard and fast rules) you're actually losing precision as you go longer.

Finally, more length means the barrel is more likely to hang up on terrain, be spotted, or have the crown damaged.

Since this is a field rifle, I don't want a full cylinder contour, as is on some benchrest rifles, and I don't want a 30" length; but It's not a stalking rifle either, so I don't want a 24" 12lb gun.

This rifle is going to be primarily used either off a bench, off a rest, or prone from a prepared shooting position. That means, while I don't want a 40lb gun, I don't mind a little weight.

Also, a heavy gun, is a gun with less felt recoil. That means less shooter fatigue, thus better accuracy and precision as the day wears on.

The minimum barrel length for .300 winmag is 24". Any shorter than that and you don't see enough velocity gains over .308 to make it worth the extra noise and recoil. Also, with most commercial loadings of winmag, a 24" barrel will end up with a tremendous muzzle blast and flash from all the unburned powder.

If you're going to suppress a winmag, 24" barrels are generally preferred, simply because the 8" to 10" of a can hanging off the end of a barrel works better with a shorter beam. In fact, cans tend to improve the accuracy of short barrels, because they act as harmonic dampeners, and they eliminate the turbulent muzzle blast such a short barrel engenders.

Generally speaking though, 26" and 28" barrels are preferred for winmag; 28" for guns with no muzzle brake, and 26" for guns with a muzzle brake. Not because a brake magically allows you to have a 2" shorter barrel; but because a brake adds another 2" or 3" (or more) to the barrel, and as we said above, too long isn't a good thing.

The weight difference between 24" and 28" is generally going to be around 1/2-3/4lb for the heavy contour target barrels we're dealing with; and for most isn't worth the tradeoff.

The only reason to really consider the shorter barrel for a gun primarily fired off the bench or prone from prepared positions, is if you do a lot of airline travel with the gun; because long cases can be very unwieldy, and can incur extra baggage charges.

Do remember, a 28" barrel, on a magnum action and a target stock, can be quite long.

A "typical" non magnum or short magnum hunting rifle may only be 42" long; with a 13.5" length of pull, 6" from the breech face to the trigger face, and a 22" barrel.

The standard length of pull for a tactical target stock for a tall guy like me is 14.5". 14.5" LOP plus 28" barrel, plus 3" of muzzlebrake, plus almost 8" of action between the breech face and the trigger face in a .300 win mag; that's 53.5" OAL. Add in at least an inch on either end for the case itself, and it's more like 56".

That by the way is the main reason why .300WSM is becoming so popular. It allows you to use a shorter action, and a shorter barrel; which saves length and weight. A .300wsm built for 600 yards or less, can be a full 4lbs lighter than an equivalent performing .300 win mag.

If weight IS a big concern, but you want to maintain rigidity, and barrel length, you may want to consider fluting. Fluting is when relief cuts, or "flutes" are made in the barrel, either along the long axis, or in a spiral. These cuts can be made to various depths, and in various shapes; for weight reduction as well as style.

Fluting has been very popular over the past few years; and it does provide certain advantages. For a given weight of metal, a fluted barrel can be of a greater diameter; which means greater rigidity for weight. Also, a fluted barrel increases the surface area of a barrel, aiding in heat dissipation. Properly done, a fluted barrel can also help in reliving uneven barrel stresses.

Of course there is a flip side to this.

Fluting does not increase rigidity over an unfluted barrel of the same profile... no matter what the guys at the gunshop... or even some riflesmiths who should know better, will tell you.

A rifle barrel is a solid beam, not a piece of sheetmetal, where flutes DO increase rigidity. Anyone who has taken a class in solids or dynamics (engineering physics) will understand this. In a cylinder, even if it is a modified cylinder, mass equals vibration resistance and diameter increases vibration resistance, and fluting reduces mass.

So you can have a fluted barrel be more rigid than a smaller diameter barrel with the same weight; or you can have it be less rigid than the same diameter barrel, but weight less; you don't get both.

And yes, fluting does increase surface area, which improves cooling of the barrel; but as it removes mass, it means the barrel heats up more in the first place.

Finally, although properly machined, fluting CAN reduce uneven stresses in the barrel; it can also INDUCE them, or exacerbate pre-existing stresses; and there is really no way to tell until you shoot the thing.

All in all, I personally recommend against fluting, unless weight is a primary concern; in which case you are better off shortening the barrel a couple inches first; then slightly reducing the countour; and then only finally going to fluting if you still need to trim the weight.

Given these tradeoffs, I've decided to go with a 26" barrel. I'm thinking a fairly heavy contour, at least a #7 and maybe as much as a #10; and of course unfluted.

Of course, I understand that with a field target/tactical stock (like a McMillan A5 or HS Precision pro 2000), heavy high magnification optics, and accessories; such a barrel will result in a rifle with a weight around 20lbs.

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with that weight. I think I'd rather see a weight in the 17lb range; so I may end up going with a slightly lighter contour barrel, and even a slightly lighter stock. What I won't be doing is reducing the barrel length any, or fluting it.

Of course that has a direct impact on the final question...

To brake, or not to brake

This is kind of a controversial question. On the one hand, there is no question that muzzle brakes can dramatically reduce felt recoil. Even a basic brake can often reduce felt recoil by 40%, and some of the best by as much as 55%. On the other hand, muzzle brakes make rifles MUCH MUCH LOUDER.

Less felt recoil means less shooter fatigue, less flinch, and better accuracy. These are all very good things.

Unfortunately, more muzzle report means MORE shooter fatigue, more flinch, and worse accuracy. All bad things.

The fact is, for the .300 winmag, whether you use a muzzle brake or not is really dependent on your personal tolerance for recoil, for muzzle blast, and for the weight of your gun.

Anything harder shooting than .300 winmag, you definitely want a brake; anything softer shooting you probably don't need one, unless it's in a lighter weight gun, or the rifle has a barrel of 24" or less.

Personally, I haven't decided whether I'm going to have a brake or not. The gun is going to be heavy enough that it probably doesn't need one; but I think I'd like to have the option.

What I think I'm going to do, is have Krieger thread and install a brake, but also make me a thread cap so I can use the barrel without it if I so choose.

3. Action

The action (and trigger and bottom metal) are next on the list.

Production factory actions and triggers, are really designed to shoot into 2moa at 300 yards; and of course to protect the factories from liability lawsuits. They may do much better than that, but there's no guarantees.

Given this, we can't really go with a stock factory action.

Also, we have to keep the price down as far as possible, and build the rifle as fast as possible; which means going with an action that has commonly available parts and accessories, suitable for a 1000 yard rifle.

For the most part, that leaves out full custom design actions; as well as actions from Howa, and Savage, which produce excellent rifles at quite low cost.

Either option would make great rifles; but they don't have the common, high quality parts and accessories available for them at short notice, that is necessary for a project like this.

We really have four options
  1. Trued up Winchester Model 70 Classic/FN Police action (factory or custom smithwork)
  2. Trued up Remington 700 action (factory or custom smithwork)
  3. Factory custom Remington 40x action
  4. One of the many custom target/tactical actions based on the Rem 700
We could buy an off the shelf rifle based on actions 1-3 for around $2500-$3500 and be done with it; but at that point, we wouldn't have any control over the barrel or stock; so I don't think we want to go that route.

Besides, with careful parts selection (and the right riflesmith) we can beat both that price, and that quality

There are some other parameters for the action that will influence my decision. First among them is the availability of high quality triggers, from vendors like Jewell, Timney, and Shilen.

Thankfully, all three make good triggers for the 700, and Model 70 actions.

Another question is whether you want a blind magazine, a drop plate magazine, or a detachable box.

Personally, I'd love a 5 or even 10 round detachable box magazine, but I don't know of anyone making a non-custom action anymore that supports it, in .300 winmag. There are however plenty of custom actions that do, as well as modifications to the Remington 700 and Winchester model 70 that do (HS precision and Badger ordnance spring to mind immediately). Otherwise, a 3-5 round drop plate mag is fine.

I know blind mags will give me more rigidity, but I'm not convinced they're a good idea in a field/tactical repeater. On a benchrest rifle sure; but I want to be able to clean out and replace my mags without taking the action out of the stock.

That still leaves us the four main options; and what it comes down to really is price, and availability.

You can get a factory FNH or Rem 700 action for around $400-$800 (depending on exact features), then have them trued up for another $600-$800 or so; or just buy trued up versions for around $1000-$1400.

On the custom side of things, you can get into a full custom action for as little as $1100; or one of the many Remington 700 custom clones, for as little as $750; and have them be better than the trued factory actions you're paying as much or more for when the labor is accounted for.

Given this, I've chosen to go with a Remginton 700 clone action; and believe me, you're spoiled for choice.

Among the reputable manufacturers offering actions that work with Rem 700 stocks and parts, are the following commonly used in long range tactical, and 1000 yard benchrest shooting:
  • BAT machine works
  • Nesika (formerly Nesika Bay)
  • Barnard
  • Lawton
  • Pierce
  • Bordon
  • Surgeon
  • Stiller
There are many others, but those are probably the strongest competitors in the Rem 700 clone market. Again, you can't really go wrong choosing any of them.

I spent several hours talking with various riflesmiths; and then calling the action makers directly; and eventually narrowed my decision to two, Surgeon, and Stiller.

Both manufacturers offered all the features I wanted in an action; but at a reasonable price.

Surgeon had the additional advantage of milling a built in rail into all their receivers; but Stiller actions are a few hundred dollars cheaper, and near as I can see, every bit the quality of Surgeon.

So, I called them both up, and talked with them about options, cost, their experience and advice etc... After talking with both Surgeon and Stiller, I've made a decision on the action.

I ended up talking with Curtis over at Stiller for about a half hour, and I was so impressed with him personally, that he convinced me that they were the way to go. I think what sold me the most was that he wasn't trying to sell me.

Honestly, he didn't need my business; they sell as many actions as they can make, and more; but he took the time to talk with me about exactly what I was trying to do, and how he thought he could best help me out.

I also had a discussion with a few folks, including Curtis, about feed reliability of the shortmag cartridges in these actions; as well the performance of the heavy bullets at 800-1000 vs. the lighter bullets; and tactical performance in wind vs groupings etc... and that was what finally convinced me to stick with the full .300 win mag over the .300wsm.

So, I'm now on the list for a Stiller Tac 300, with the heavy recoil lug. Delivery will be between 6 and 12 weeks depending.

That leaves the trigger and bottom metal to deal with on the action side of things.

There are a LOT of triggers available for the Remington 700; but to my mind, none of them are as good as the Jewell HVR. It's nearly infinitely adjustable, reliable, and reasonably priced at around $225; and it's a bolt in right from the factory, no expensive hand stoning required.

There are both cheaper, and more expensive options; but really, why bother. I think you'll find probably half the folks out there running a Rem 700 action have a Jewell trigger... maybe more.

The bottom metal is a little trickier. As I said, I want a detachable box magazine; and there are several companies out there that do bottom metal for box mags.

The two leaders are probably HS Precision, and Badger Ordnance. Near as I can tell both are as good as the other, and both cost about the same.

I'm still trying to figure out which one I want to go with; but at least I can budget properly, since both run around $350.

Stock

More than any of the other parts of the rifle, the stock is the most subjective piece. So much is based on personal preferences and comfort that it can be very hard to give, or get advice or recommendations.

A stock should be suited to the shooting you are going to do with it, and to the scope and mounting system you will be using on the rifle.

Why is the scope important to the stock choice??

In a word: Consistency

You need to have proper optical alignment and a good cheek weld, to ensure consistency in your shooting.

A scope with 50mm or larger objective lens will generally require extra high rings (on most guns); and therefore a high comb, Monte Carlo, or adjustable target type stock and cheekpiece, to get a proper cheek weld.

One of the reasons I say even a factory tactical rifle may need to have the stock replaced, is that most of the factory tactical rifles have what is essentially a modified sporter stock.

For example the factory Remington stocks on their tactical rifles are actually quite good; they're a stable composite, free floated and pillar bedded; in fact they're designed by HS precision, so they're about as good as you can get without going to a hand fitted custom stock; but in all but the sniper system models, they are still basically a slightly modified standard sporter stock.

So why is that a bad thing?

Well, it isn't if you're out hunting in the field; but for tactical and long range target shooting, you'll generally be either seated or prone.

If you're doing any long range shooting at small targets (or small circles on paper); a sporter stock isn't the best choice, because it is optimized for fast mounting and fast followup shots, preferably offhand (standing up). When you are holding a sporter stock in shooting position, you are putting a fair bit of opposing tension on the stock to hold it steady, by design.

These are all good things for a rifle out in the field; but on the bench, or from prone, they induce a slight wobble, and are fatiguing over time.

A proper target or varmint stock is designed to minimize errors induced by the shooter, and reduce shooter fatigue during long shooting sessions. They are designed to be shot from a stable rest, and to keep the shooters hand, forearm, shoulder, neck, and head, all in as neutral a position as possible; with just enough body contact to ensure consistent sight picture and trigger pull.

Importantly to this specific situation, high comb target/tactical stocks allow for better cheek weld and optical alignment, with large objective lens scopes. Larger objective lenses need higher rings, and higher rings need higher combs to get that good cheek weld.

Target tactical stocks are also optimized for use with bipods, target rests, and sandbags; all of which help you steady your long range shooting for long sessions.

In the tactical shooting field, there are two unquestioned dominant players: McMillan, and H.S. Precision. Both produce excellent stocks, at a similar price point, and with similar strengths and weaknesses.

The primary difference between the two companies, is that all McMillan stocks are made to order; whereas HS precision are more production oriented (though they also make to order on request).

From a technical standpoint, the only major difference is in the bedding.

Many H.S. precision stocks use a monolithic aluminum bedding block, and do not require glass bedding at all (though some shooters and riflesmiths still do so; most of the time it produces no noticeable difference in results).

McMillan stocks are either fully glass bedded; or pillar glass bedded with two metal pillars that are glassed into the stock. Best performance is achieved with pillar glass bedding; though it is only very slightly better than straight pillar bedding, or bedding blocks (as used by HS precision).

Technically, the absolute maximum accuracy possible is very slightly higher out of the McMillan; but the difference is so small as to likely be inconsequential. On the other hand, the HS precision system requires slightly less skilled work to make very accurate.

Generally speaking, I prefer McMillan very slightly over HS precisions; though I'd be happy with either.

Unfortunately, McMillan has very long delivery times (since all stocks are custom made to order). I spoke with them, and I wont be able to get a stock from them in time to get the rifle built and tested before boomershoot.

I won't have that same problem with HS precision, and in fact with the HS Precision bedding block system, I don't need to have a highly skilled smith bed the action (you just use consistent torque on the action screws, and ensure even contact with the bedding block).

So, I'm going to go with the HS precision Pro 2000, extended length of pull (14.5").

Oh and since I'm going with the HS precision stock, I'll probably go with their bottom metal, and have them custom fit it for me (which they do for a nominal fee).

Step Three - Taping Out

So, the decisions that have to be made right now, have been made. Let's total things up and see where we are.

First thing, is to account for labor. I'm going to be using an HS precision stock, and I'm a skilled enough smith; that I don't need to pay for final assembly or bedding.

Stiller is going to mount the toprail, and mount and lap the rings for me; and I'm having Krieger crown, chamber, and mount the barrel to the action.

The costs are looking something like this:
  1. Stiller Tac 300 action, complete, lapped, with pinned, oversized recoil lug - $775
  2. 20moa base, custom fitted for action, with custom high rings, lapped - $125
  3. Jewell HVR trigger, fitted - $225
  4. HS precision bottom metal, and mag - $350
  5. Krieger 26" barrel, mounted, lapped, crowned, and chambered, with brake - $700
  6. HS Precision pro 2000 stock - $600
  7. Harris bipod, swivels, fittings, and small parts - $150
Total $2925

Ouch... that's a lot... but it's actually a much better rifle than any of the factory custom tactical rifles; and for less money too.

Of course with that price, I don't have much if anything left for optics or accessories... I'm going to need to get creative, and to find some more money somewhere.

I've also totaled up the weights,
  1. Action - 2lb
  2. Barrel - 7lb
  3. Bottom metal and mag - 1lb
  4. Scope - 2lb
  5. Stock - 6lb
  6. Bipod - 1lb
  7. Mounting hardware etc... - 1lb
Total = about 20lbs

At 20lbs, and with a muzzle brake, this thing should be a VERY soft shooter; in fact it should have less felt recoil than most .308 rifles.

Of course it'd be a stone ass bitch to hump the thing; but it should get the job done all day every day, at 1000 yards; and that's the important thing.

The Next Step

So we've got the plan done for the rifle, the action is ordered, I'm in the queue for a barrel and stock; and we're getting the money together.

Over the next couple posts in this series, lets talk about the other big part of a 1000 yard rig*: the optics and supporting gear

*Well, one of the other two parts; the final part being the shooter; and believe me we'll talk about that later as well.