This is the final installment in a series of articles designed to introduce a new or novice firearm owner to the weapons they should have and be comfortable using for a SHTF scenario. The other installments covered carbine, shotgun, handgun, and plinker platforms…and now with precision rifle, we finish out the five guns that should be in every preppers arsenal. Of the 5 platforms, I would consider this one (as I suggest it be set up) optional… partly because it will be expensive and partly because its more gun than most people can ever use. At the very minimum, every prepper should have a bolt action, hunting caliber rifle… but if you’re curious what I mean by a precision rifle, read on. As with the other articles, what you are about to read is by no means comprehensive, it is written as an introduction and I encourage further research, test firing, and professional training.
What is a Precision Rifle?
For a precision rifle, I prefer bolt action firearms and will discuss those exclusively here. But bear in mind a bolt action can be chambered in many calibers and other action types can be chambered in the specific calibers I will be talking about. The type of rifle this article will discuss is a bolt action, scoped rifle capable of lethal hits on large game as far away as 600 yards. I hesitate to use a term such as sniper rifle, but in some circles that term would be used to describe the type of rifle I’m talking about (I will not debate the use of the term sniper here, just understand I avoid using it for anyone who is not military or law enforcement). A bolt gun with 600 yard accuracy does not need to be a custom-made firearm, they can be purchased at many sporting goods stores across the nation. Below you will find desireable characteristics and a few recommended firearms as well as other accessories you should use
The perfect off the rack precision rifle…
- Has a heavy barrel. Most hunting rifles are equipped with a featherweight barrel, and for accuracy to 300 yards that type of barrel is adequate. For accuracy at long range however a heavier barrel (or bull barrel) is required. A bull barrel dissipates heat differently, it oscillates differently during firing, and diminishes felt recoil differently than a featherweight barrel. While a heavy barrel increases weight of the rifle, it is negligible since it is normally fired from a fixed position, not shot from an offhand or hasty position. Barrel length depends upon the chambering of the rifle but also is a matter of preference for the shooter. A barrel in the 20 inch range is a good match for most applications.
- Has a quality scope. A scope should cost as much, if not more, then the rifle itself. For most hunting applications, a variable power 3 –9 x 40 mm scope is a perfect addition to a rifle. But for reaching ranges past 300 yards, a scope should have a magnification factor of at least 12 and a 50 mm objective lens (and preferably a mil dot reticle but use of a mil dot or other range finding reticle requires special training). The greater magnification factor allows for better target identification, and the larger millimeter objective lens allows for more light gathering. Choose a quality manufacturer like Leupold, Zeiss, or Nightforce. Whatever scope you choose should be mounted solidly to the rifle with quality scope rings and mounts… with locktite to keep it in place.
- Has a quality trigger. The trigger on a shotgun or handgun or even most carbines should have a very different feel than a precision rifle. A precision rifle trigger should be crisp with no slack and not so heavy that pressing it could force the operator to move the rifle off line. Most production triggers are fine and well matched to the rifle but bear in mind there is a reason many competition shooters change from a stock trigger to an aftermarket trigger. Every shooter is different and has a preference for trigger pull… but most will agree a precision rifle should have a trigger pull somewhere around 4 pounds. If possible buy a rifle with an adjustable trigger so you can fine tune the trigger for the pound pull that is most comfortable and safe for you. I do not advise home gunsmithing for beginning shooter, if you desire to have your trigger changed or adjusted in any way, consult a gunsmith at your local gun shop.
- Is chambered with a round capable of killing large game. The debate about the perfect hunting round has raged for years and I will not rehash it here. I will simply state that common rounds such as .308 (or 7.62 NATO), 30 – 06, 7 mm mag, and 300 Win mag have proven to be very effective at taking large game at long distances…they are also widely available. I would advise buying a rifle chambered in one of those four rounds… although some will argue the virtue of other calibers. Small rounds such as .243, .223, .270, etc and larger rounds such as the 45 – 70, .338 lapua, .375, etc. have either poor terminal ballistics past 300 yards, highly priced or hard to find ammunition, excessive recoil, or poor trajectory so they are less desirable for this type of weapon. My favorite is the 30-06 but if you talk to five different experienced shooters, you may get five different answers, as with anything it’s a matter of opinion. Try to find a gun and caliber combination that has good exterior ballistics (what the bullet does after it leaves the barrel) and terminal ballistics (what the bullet does when it hits its target) for shots to 600 yards without creating excessive recoil.
Here are several rifles that are a good starting point.
The Remington 700 has been the “go to” rifle for military and law enforcement snipers for years. It has great out of the box accuracy and has many aftermarket accessories available. The most common chamber you’ll find off the rack is .308 but others are available from the factory (no customization necessary). The 700 is balanced well because of a well made and well matched stock. Admittedly, Remington’s quality control has gone downhill in recent years but the 700 remains one of the best-selling precision rifles in the nation. At under $1000 it wont break the bank either.
The Savage 110 was at one time one of the most underrated rifles on the market. Savage historically has not been known for their quality products, but when their accutirgger hit the market about 10 years ago that reputation change. The Accu trigger is by far the best production trigger on the market and coupled with the unique barrel nut system Savage pioneered, Savage rifles suddenly became a sought-after item. As a result many aftermarket parts are on the market, which is a good thing because many Savage factory stocks are atrocious (with the exception of the higher end 110AB models). The stock is made of light material and when coupled with a heavy barrel, it simply is not balance well (I actually loaded my stock with almost a pound of lead balance it and absorb recoil). Despite the stock design, I have used my Savage 110 chambered and 30-06 to make thousand yard hits on man hole sized steel plates in practice and routinely make 600+ yard cold bore hits on steel silhouettes. Savage generally is priced comparable to Remington and come in under $1000.
Tikka is not known for their tactical rifles but are very well known for their accuracy and reliability in the hunting world. They have very good factory triggers, quality barrels, and strong smooth actions. Their tactical models are available with adjustable cheek rests and detachable box magazines from the factory. They tend to be of a higher quality than both Remington and Savage but the accuracy gains over either are minimal. Because they are well-known manufacturer and a sought-after gun by hunters there are many aftermarket parts available. The T3 tends to be priced around $1500 for a factory rifle without a scope.
Hopefully the information above including the recommended rifles has helped some firearm challenged readers look in the right direction for a precision rifle. In closing I would like to add a few thoughts… 1. Other items that should be part of a precision rifle are a bipod, a sling, and an adjustable cheek rest. All three items, if used properly, increase the accuracy of the rifle. 2. I advised trying several different manufacturers and grain weight of ammunition to find what your particular rifle shoots best. Rifles of the same make will shoot differently and there is no hard and fast rule for ammunition choice….trial and error is the best method. 3. Get professionally trained and practice with your rifle often and at long range. If you have any questions, sound off in the comments and I will be glad to answer them.