Which rifle is ideal for your needs?
One of the most frequently asked questions be it among starters or the experienced shooter is shall I go for a factory rifle of a custom rifle? Shall I go for a high end factory rifle or a semi custom rifle? I spent months scrolling through articles on popular sites like longrangehunting, snipershide, ukfullboreshooting, ukvarminting, longrangeshootersofutah and similar forums seeking to gather data while I saved up for my first one.
I also spent considerable time on Quickload working up the load i had in mind and the ballistics I was after. The more time I spent at this, the more i realised that I wanted specific goals out of my rifle often also dictated by the discipline I shoot.
This brings me to point 1) Are you building a rifle for a specific discipline?
If yes 2) determine what are the ‘must haves’ of this rifle and the ‘would be nice to have’
Here I shall share the following thoughts why I have gone with custom for all my rifle needs in the last years. I have owned 4 rifles all of which were custom built. Let me explain my thought process and you may then use this for your own needs too.
If you are into a specific discipline, nothing is going to cut it quite tailored like a custom rifle does.
Weight: total rifle weight excl. scope. How much can you carry or are you limited by discipline specific limit?
Budget: The golden question and the ultimate one in deciding what you’re after. What can you spend on your rifle? This will dictate the components below. Custom rifles start at £2800 for a basic setup and can easily end up costing you 3x that but so will high end factory rifles like AI, Steyr, Victrix, Sako TRG, Blaser R8
Action: Do you want a bench rest action, a field usable action, a tactical action that can endure real world abuse, a magazine fed action, single shot action, long action, short action? Are you using a donor action of an existing rifle and truing it and adding a new barrel to it? Do you want it finished in a specific coating? Some actions don’t lend themselves well to cerakoting for example due to their tight tolerances. Also remember, the action is the component that is going to remain with you. The barrel will need to be replaced eventually but the action will last a life time if cared for so choose wisely.
Barrel: Before you go to the barrel, ask your self which bullet do you want to shoot? This will dictate your barrel choice, contour, twist rate and length of barrel. Once you know the bullet, work your way through those details including whether you will shoot from a magazine which will dictate your Cartridge overall length or whether you are single feeding rounds into the rifle. If it’s a hunting rifle you probably want a magazine fed rifle and hence chances are you have to stick to magazine length. This also narrows down your choice of cartridge and caliber.
Likewise if you are shooting a PRS rifle. You will be cycling through a 10 round magazine under pressure in all sorts of weather. reliability and ease of handling is very important to you. Too much recoil will mean harder follow through and follow up shot as well as additional barrel wear possibly. Heavy barrels take longer to heat up and soak up recoil better but they still get burnt as fast as thing ones. The barrel is the most important component of the actual rifle build per se.
Bullet: Often highly overlooked in shooter’s decision in building a rifle but this is the most important part. This is what connects your expensive rifle and scope to the target down range. It’s all about the bullet. Which bullet is most suited to what you want to do? I often run a few trials on Quickload ( i love it!) to see if a particular bullet is worth a rifle build around it or at least if it’s worth a new barrel.
In the section Ballistics by @rifletalks I want to delve deeper into this exercise to show you how it’s done. Once I run the data for that bullet on quickload to see what is possible to do with that bullet, I will then plug that data into JBM ballistics to run a few external ballistics trials with that bullet and create some wind drift graphs… Would I be happy with that performance? At this stage, I still have not spent a single penny. This brain storming will tell me where I need to go rather than the other way round. I build my rifle around the needs that I am after. everything else is cosmetic.
Round count: How many rounds do you plan on shooting with this rifle at any one time? This will dictate the cartridge and possibly the propellant being used as well as the weight of the rifle. Example. You can easily shoot a 300 Norma mag on a hunt in a 8lb (4kg) rifle (think blaser r8 factory rifle) if you’re only taking one or two shots with it. The moment you take it to the range for a session, it’s gonna beat you down and probably compromise your shooting technique in the long term. If you’re shooting a light weight bullet such as a 180grain, then this may effect you less however it’s still not a range gun if you’re launching heavy bullets from a light hunting rifle. Taking the same 300 Norma Mag (i shoot this round- it’s spectacular!) in a long range rifle platform in a 10kg rifle, it’s a different beast altogether.
The rifle barely moves when I shoot my RPA range master with a heavy 30inch barrel, with muzzlebreak and using a heavy 6.5kg barrel. However it is still not a high volume shooter. After 3-5 rounds you have to let this rifle cool a couple of minutes. It is overbore and I load it hot so If i wanted to shoot many rounds, this rifle is not ideal but it hits hard, it flies beautifully (9.7 MOA wind to 1 mile) and ultra accurate. It’s barrel life is about 1000 rounds. That sounds short to some but 1000 rounds shot at ELR properly calculated is about 20 outings. I take this rifle out about 10x a year so that’s 2 years for me to wear out that barrel past it’s match/peak performance. I took some snapshots with a borescope after 120rounds to have an idea of how the throat wears out.
Barrel life: barrel life or barrel wear is the number of shots that typically would wear out the barrel beyond the performance level you expect from it. Numerous factors effect barrel wear such as: i) Powder being used and pressure levels to which a cartridge is loaded, ii) rate of fire iii) how the barrel is cleaned – generally speaking in that order. To give you a practical example. a standard 308 win chambered rifle shooting factory ammo with a practical accuracy of 3/4inch at 100m may have 4000 rounds of barrel life no problem. On the other hand, take an FTR competition rifle chambered in 308win loaded hot to push 155bergers at 3100ft/s instead of the standard 2800ft/s. This would be burning about 49-50 grains of powder with a bullet seated further out to accomodate more powder. That barrel will shoot 22 round strings in 40 min and is expected to shoot under 10inches at 1000 yards. That barrel may wear out in less than 1400 rounds when loaded and shot in that manner. If you’re happy with your rifle shooting 15inch groups at 1000yards, then you’re not competitive anymore but you can say that your barrel life is 2000 rounds. A prs shooter aiming at fig 11 plates needs less precision out of his rifle than say an Fclass or benchrest shooter.
Cartridge: You can get in debates longer than the bible about cartridges however the most important considerations are these:
i) Do you hand load your ammo or do you shoot factory?
ii) Are you planning trips with this rifle to remote areas where ammo sourcing can be an issue? In some forsaken reserve, finding your 300Norma Mag factory ammo is not gonna happen but you will likely find 308win ammo and probably 303 british as well.
iii) Do you shoot high volumes with it? If you want to shoot 70 plus rounds in a shooting session, stick to medium capacity cartridges under 65 grains of powder such as 284win, 308w, 6.5CM, 6.5×47, 30-06 etc, 6,5x284N
iv) Is cost an issue? Some cartridges can be very expensive to shoot and harder to tune (£3-8 a shot on magnum factory cartridges). If you’re limited in your skills and time to develop a load, stick to mainstream cartridges.
V) neck turn VS no neck turn chamber: I have both but in short, if you don’t really have to, don’t mess with your chamber and brass. You will need to make sure all your brass is then neck turned equally and to the same exact dimensions to ensure that the neck tension is the same across all your brass if you’re using bushing dies. Slight changes may mean that your brass doesn’t chamber. Been there done that with a rifle that was expecting me for a competition 3 hours flight away and I had to pull the ammo apart again to neck turn another 0.0005 to ensure it would chamber in my rifle in any circumstance.
Scope: I will leave this to another article… for the moment think about what you have just read.
Are you closer to making a decision about your custom rifle? Leave us a comment and let us know how you feel.