How to Select Your Next rifle.
So you are getting into the Precision Rifle game or you are wanting to purchase your next Precision Rifle. Congratulations! New equipment and new cartridges is always an exciting time in the process. There are so many options for rifles, ammunition, optics, and accessories. Wading through all of the opinions on the market.
Be realistic with your budget and planning for your build. Make sure to count the cost of evering thing you will need to get your rifle up and running. Don’t forget things like a scope mount rail, muzzle brake, scope, scope rings, bipod, bipod mount, or custom chassis. The sentiment of “you get what you pay for” is often true when considering precision rifle equipment. When the price of an item is double the cost of a more “budget” option, there is probably a reason! Often quality pieces of equipment cost more money because of higher quality materials and design that requires more labor/specialized equipment that costs more to manufacturer!
If you can, spend more to get higher quality parts. Quality optics will pay dividends while shooting because of the optical clarity, turret tracking, good reticle design, and general reliability. As a shooter progresses, budget gear can cause a skill plateau because the shooter’s capability has surpassed the equipment’s capacity. Buying quality equipment that is far superior to the shooters capability will reduce costs over the long term and will cause less frustration.
Factory vs Custom Build
Precision Rifles builds come in many different variants, to include full factory built, full custom, or drop in barreled action. Each has pros and cons when deciding which rifle to select. A factory rifle will have specific cartridge offerings that are popular on the market, which means there are factory ammunition offerings. Drop in barreled actions have the same advantages as the factory rifle but a custom chassis/stock can be selected and when it’s time for a new barrel, a custom action/barrel combo can be installed. A large massive benefit of doing a drop-in Action or a factor rifle is product availability. A custom action can take 3-12 months depending on the rifle builder. A factory rifle is ready to go as long as they are in stock at a dealer.
A full custom rifle allows the user to select every single aspect of the rifle. Custom actions offer many advantages because they are not mass produced so they have tighter tolerances and higher quality manufacturing. Custom barrels can be customized for cartridges that are only available through hand reloading. The chamber can be customized to the needs of the shooter and designed to shoot specific brass/bullet combinations.
A custom build, done with high quality parts, will outperform a factory rifle, but will cost 2-4 times the cost. With a custom shooting system, it should outperform the shooter’s ability and will allow the shooter to know it is a lack of skill rather than a lack of equipment. This peace of mind costs more money. Current factory options or a more budget build are still quite capable of getting the job done, but will have limitations.
If you are new to the game, don’t try to learn too many aspects of the process at once. Look at what factory ammunition is available and which cartridges have a long tradition of being high performers. Boutique cartridges are great but they don't have a wide assortment of factory ammunition available. The newest cartridge looks great, but lacks a track record of reliability.
The four main bullet calibers are .308 cal, 6.5mm (.264 cal), 6mm (.243 cal) and .224 cal. As a general rule, heavier bullets cause more recoil and light bullets don’t carry their velocity/energy over long distances. 6.5mm and 6mm seem to be a sweet spot for competition, while .308 and .224 are used for training. The heavier recoiling rifle will teach better recoil management and the .224 calibers are typically less expensive to shoot. Proven cartridges like 6.5mm Creedmoor and 6mm Creedmoor have both a quality source of factory ammo and a long tradition of ballistic performance.
Bullet selection has a huge impact on down range ballistics. Each caliber has many different bullet weights to select. A lighter bullet will travel faster, but will often lose energy at distance and has a lower Ballistic Coefficient (BC). A heavier bullet will travel slower but will carry more energy and has a higher BC. The BC of a bullet how efficiently a bullet pushes through the air and how much drag it creates.
Reloading custom cartridges may be an option in the future once a commitment to the sport is established and getting every bit of performance from the firearm is desired. The process of creating a custom load is a process that requires two honed skills; shooting and reloading.
The rifle that you select to purchase or build is all up to your circumstances and your shooting needs. If you are set on getting into competition and you have the budget, a full custom will serve you well, but if you want to compete a budget friendly rig will get you going. Learning what works by going to competition and seeing what other competitors are using can save lots of time and money. So either go be a Range Safety Officer at a match, or grab your current rifle and go shoot.