I want to tell you right from the start that I dislike the term “best”. There is no best anything, only different. The difference between each thing may make it more or less suitable to a specific task or person. Having said that, there is plenty of stuff out there that is total junk and not fit for any purpose. I hope to steer you away from the veneered turds and towards kit that will last you a lifetime if you treat it well.
Reasons people choose their first rifle.
1. It looks appealing/cool. We are all guilty of being drawn in by the shiny stuff. You might have seen a rifle in a film or a game and thought “I need me one of those”. No harm in that. What is important is that it ends up being useable in your chosen shooting discipline. I think the belt fed M60 looks pretty awesome but I shouldn’t try to shoot clays with it! You also have to consider that the firearms industry is a huge, multi million £ industry. The companies involved are primarily there to make money. As with any business they will market their products to be sexy, cool, desirable, the best ect… Care must be taken here as many “must have” items only become must haves because the seller says so.
shout out to www.opticstalk.com for the image
2. It is cheap. I totally understand this one. I have an average paid job, an average price car and home. I do not have thousands of pounds to spend at leisure. Very few of us do. I am a bargain hunter. However I think it is vital we differentiate between a bargain or plain old cheap crap. If good quality kit goes out on sale then fantastic, if it starts off cheap in the first place, there is a reason for that, it was cheap to produce. Things that are cheap to produce lack precision of engineering and longevity. Success in rifle shooting is down to many factors. Equipment built to high spec produces CONSISTENT results and consistency is a requisite factor.
3. Because someone else has one… This is a double edged sword. It requires a little thought from the reader. Is the info from some guy at a bar or several excellent shooters at your local gun club? The internet can be a fantastic source of information, it can equally serve as a place for computer gamers to offer advice on real firearms based on their virtual experiences. In short there is a ton of BS out there as well as some excellent information.
Join a club first..
This is a legal requirement for some of us (in the UK firearms can be purchased with a licence which in general requires a club membership to either target or hunting clubs). Some of you will live in countries where you can purchase a gun without any legal restrictions. I would give the same advice – join a club first.. The club gives you an opportunity to gather opinions from experienced shooters. They can advise on different shooting disciplines and equipment. You also have the chance to watch the shooters and kit in action and possibly try it yourself. I was overwhelmed with the helpful generous attitude of club members who offered a go on their rifles/kit. Care must be taken when “having a go” with someone else’s firearm. In some countries certain types of firearms can only be used by the permit holder. The list of laws in this area is extensive and complex so double check with a police officer in the firearms unit to bring you up to date on what you can and can’t do at the range.
Select a Discipline
There are many types of shooting to get involved in. First and foremost is to give some a go. I shoot targets in a variety of ways – long distance scoped rifle, medium and short distance service rifle (timed stages requiring movement and transition) and target shotgun (reactive steel targets at close range). There is no one rifle which covers every niche. I won’t talk about hunting use too much here as I no longer hunt and haven’t done so for many years. Some of the target shooting discussion will still be relevant though as we will deal with all the shooting basics in time.
There are so many types of shooting to choose that I think its wise to stick with what the majority will likely select. Short range plinking though to medium/long range target shooting.
A rifle for short to long range target shooting
Remember this advice is for the first time shooter. So before anyone sends an email saying rifle xxxx is the best option, let’s try to keep this fairly simple. There are thousands of viable options, it would be impossible to list them all.
Which Calibre? This should be the first thing you consider after selecting your shooting discipline. Some competitions or disciplines have strict calibre regulations. Obviously you should research the rules first to find that out.
Based on the new shooter who is simply looking to hit targets from 100-1000yds I would suggest they go with a .308 for the following reasons.
1. Ammunition is plentiful and relatively cheap compared to other calibres. Reloading supplies are also freely available as is the load data
2. .308 calibre rifles are also plentiful.
3. Many comps and disciplines cater for .308 as it is so popular.
4. A .308 is not a high velocity “wind beater” so it encourages the user to learn about wind calls instead of trying to dominate the elements with ballistics. You have to learn to read wind if you want to hit targets and the .308 forces you to do just that.
5. Reloading your own ammunition is fairly straight forward with .308 and there is a ton of tuition pages and videos dedicated to it on the net.
6. The barrel of a .308 has incredible longevity when compared to other calibres. Expect several thousand round to pass through it without a hitch. Some calibres will burn a barrel out after a few HUNDRED shots. Barrels are EXPENSIVE.
7. Did I mention ammunition is widely available!
8. It is a calibre which is capable of great accuracy. Not all calibres are.
9. It will knock down pretty much anything in Europe and the USA. For those of you who like to hunt the .308 has a long history of being a game stopper.
10. There is no ten, I just get irked by odd numbers.
So let’s pretend we select the .308.. Which rifle do we choose there are literally thousands of options. One of the main considerations along side being suitable for the chosen discipline is the price. If you can afford to drop thousands of £s on a custom built target rifle then go ahead. But bear one thing in mind. As your shooting begins to improve you will find yourself thinking “I wish I would have selected option X” or “option Y really bugs the hell out of me”. If you gain that early experience on something a little lower in price then you can shell out the big money later on and get what suits you.
I spent several months of research selecting my first target rifle. My primary goals were..
A rifle which could reach out to 1000yds accurately
Which cost below £1500
Has widely available spare parts and upgrades
Has a proven track record for reliability
Is a popular rifle thus likely to have information available online.
With all those factors in mind I decided upon the Remington 700.
Now I want to be clear on this. I am not a Remington fanboy. I try to deal with kit selection methodically, the brand is of little importance. It helps that some popular brands have a plethora of available parts but other than that I’m not fussy. I own a Turkish shotgun that most people cock there noses at. It ticked my boxes so I bought it.
The Remington 700 and other similar bolt action rifles
Selecting a factory produced bolt action makes sense to me. There are many other options available but the bolt action is arguably the most dependable. It is also the most accurate bang you will get for your buck due to its comparative simplicity. Bolt action rifles are widely accepted in a number of target competitions including – F class, Service Rifle, Precision rifle, Target Rifle, the list goes on… If you learn how to handle a bolt action, it provides you with a solid base to learn the shooting fundamentals such as safety, range procedure and technique.
The bolt can easily be removed. This is a boon in terms of safe storage in transit and safety at the range. It also allows you to bore sight a new scope in with little hassle (I will cover bore sighting in a later post). Bolt removal also makes cleaning an absolute breeze.
There were other factory built bolt action rifles I considered. Tikka, Blaser, Winchester, Steyr and a few lesser known brands. For one reason or another they all scored lower in my requirements list than the Remington. They are all fantastic, capable rifles, but for my needs at the time the Remington ticked every box.
So How accurate is it?
The Remington 700 I picked up had a couple of major changes from standard. It has a different stock and mini chassis fitted. I had tried the standard stock before buying and disliked it. There was noticeable flex through it and in my experience that will throw accuracy way off. I opted for a Manners stock as I like the contour and the composite material is rugged and very rigid. The mini chassis has two benefits. It mates the stock and action very securely eliminating movement which would cause inconsistency. It also allows for higher capacity magazines to be used which maybe a comp requirement.
That came to around £1500 all in. I ran a variety of factory and hand loads through the rifle. It shot groups measuring between .5moa and 1.5moa depending on ammunition choice. For those that are not sure what moa means (minute of angle) it equates to roughly 1″ = 1moa @ 100yds. Bottom line was that it could shoot half inch groups all day long with my hand loads. For a mass produced rifle that is pretty damn good!
A target from a “smallest group comp” that I shot with the Remington.
It didn’t end there though. I noticed a point on the stock which was almost touching the barrel. Given that under recoil the barrel flexes considerably on all firearms then it was safe to assume contact would be made. Anything touching the barrel inconsistently is bad for accuracy. We will discuss barrel harmonics in depth at a later date. Now all one needs to know is the barrel should be free floating (not touching any other parts of the gun). I took the stock off and sanded the area of concern which gave more clearance. Took it back out for load testing and put in 3 shot groups down to .374 moa. Very impressive for a budget factory rifle…
I hope this has been of help to some new shooters. There will be plenty more to come. Feel free to ask anything you like. The next entry will be on Scope selection..