My first precision rifle

Part 1 of the journey into building a long range precision rifle

custom surgeon rifles XL action
My first custom rifle: 308Win rifle built on surgeon XL action with Accuracy intl. 300win magazine, Bartlein 30inch barrel, bedded in Manners A4 stock seen here with Nightforce 8-32×56 BR Scope.

Brain storming

The first rifle is always a little bit of a hit and miss, just like your first proper date even if you know what you are after. I had tried a few rifles by the time I got to purchase my first custom rifle and I knew I didn’t want to get a factory rifle. Nothing wrong with a factory rifle, I would have probably pulled the trigger on a high end factory but if you are specific about what you want to do with it, nothing beats a custom rifle for that specific requirement. If you are still making up your mind, read Factory rifle Vs Custom precision rifle

While in Switzerland I had shot a few K31s, swiss famous brunig and elmiger match rifles, rem 700, tikka t3 tactical (it is superb!), sauer, blaser straight pull rifle in 338, a few sako trg 22& 42 a few sig in semi auto. I also had the chance to play with a keppeler match rifle and a bullpup version followed by the French PGM precision in 308 win, 284win, 338lapua and 50bmg thanks to one of the guys at the Swiss FCSA. All these were very fine factory rifles and would do the job generally.

Here’s some results attained while shooting a factory rem700 at 300m indoor range in Switzerland. These guns can shoot well to about 800yds.

But what if you wanted a 308win to be competitive at 1000yards FTR discipline? 

Here’s where things get more specific. We need to maintain our 155.5gr berger bullet reliably supersonic at 1000yards. If we launch it at a conservative 2800ft/s or 853m/s we would be just above supersonic at 1000yds in 70% humidity, 59F and 29.92inhg of station pressure. My aim is to have it going close to 3000ft/s where instead of having 9.8MOA of wind, I would have 8.8MOA of wind in a 10mph wind full value. (3 or 9 oclock wind) Notice that a 200ft/s increase in velocity only cut our wind dope by 1MOA.

155.5berger supersonic to 1050yards

155.5berger supersonic to 1050yards when launched at 2800ft/s

Now take a look at the same bullet going 2970ft/s or 905m/s in the table below.

155.5 berger at 2970 ft/s from 308win

quickload for 155.5 berger 308win at 2970ft/s


Quickload view for 155.5 berger 308win at 2970ft/s

I then went to Quickload internal ballistics software which will help me get an idea of what pressure i need to be loading at to achieve those velocities with a 30 inch barrel. Notice Cartridge overall length is not the CIP/Saami 2.800″ but 2.970″. We have increased the overall length to push the bullet further out and enable a larger powder capacity of 48.2 grains of N540. All these dimensions will be communicated to the gunsmith so that he can throat my barrel adequately for a cartridge with these specifications. This is what you don’t get with a factory rifle. With this data in hand and a few checks with some fellow shooters, I knew we should be good for the build. Although only real world load development will tell the tale, Quickload is pretty spot on with the data in my experience.

The actual build

Meanwhile I got in touch with the amazing guy that runs Targetshooter Magazine, Vince Bottomley. Vince is a walking encyclopaedia and reference point for precision and benchrest rifles. He knows more about them than many would care to forget about. He can really guide you in building a great custom rifle without breaking the bank. He has been the most helpful person in my precision rifle shooting journey and has gone out of his way many times to help me get my custom rifles built and dialled in. I also owe a lot of my ammunition loading skills to him. Thanks a bunch Vince!

Given that unlike many our of US readers that acquired their first rifle at a very young age, I got my first rifle when I was in my 20s, my budget was a little bit more generous. I had read many posts on snipershide forum, longrangehunting forum, accurateshooter, 6mmbr, Ukvarminting and fullbore UK in order to prepare myself for what I needed to get this rifle and optics package together. I knew there were many actions available although at that time, US manufactured actions had been experiencing some issues.

Putting components together.


Meanwhile I called SYSS of south Yorkshire to see what actions they had in stock. I read on UKV that they had a Surgeon XL action in repeater format. I knew this was a fantastic action although maybe a little too heavy for a 308win FTR rifle. I knew this had the possibility of a switch barrel/bolt feature as this action can be had with 2 bolts. The one SYSS had in stock was a beautiful 308w version with 300winmag AI magazines. By making this decision on this action, I knew it was not going to be a 100% FTR rifle because this action is heavy and with an unnecessary magazine which adds weight. Remember you can change everything about your rifle later but not the action. It has a serial number and is stuck to your name unless you sell it, atleast in Europe this is the reality.

Surgeon XL action in 308win
This is the Surgeon XL action as mounted with a Schmidt bender 5-25×56 scope on it. it was massive.I would carry it dismantled as it was too long to fit in a pelicase 1750.

I called a gunsmith based in the Yorkshire area to see what I would require and how long it would take. I knew I wanted a 30inch bartlein barrel but wasn’t yet sure on twist rate. He told me he had available a manners stock, with non-adjustable cheekpiece but he could always fit a choate stock cheekpiece onto the butt stock for added cheek weld height. With Berger 155.5gr, I was looking at 2950-3000ft/s with handloads and a generous but safe load of vihtavouri N540 powder. The smith agreed he would throat the chamber for the berger 155.5. That means the lead or jump would be optimised for shooting the 155.5 berger bullet when seated to an overall cartridge length of 2.970”. We went with a 1.12 twist for this rifle.

After a lengthy call with the gunsmith I thought all was good, I followed up with an email to confirm what we had discussed in the build sheet and he confirmed the gun would be just under the FTR rifle weight of 8.25kgs if I used a Nightforce BR scope 8-32×56 in tierone rings and a harris bipod. That time that is what I had and before I spent more money on the bipod, I wanted to get my ammunition components sorted. I had attended an ammunition handloading course with GB and European Champion Russell Simmonds a few months back. This had given me the opportunity to chat with a world class shooter and precision ammo hand loader to identify what I would need to do for the best tailor-made ammo. So far we were looking at just shy of £3300 for the rifle alone, still less than a comparable sako trg22 factory rifle, Keppeler or Accuracy international which would not reach my objective anyhow as non of these come with barrels this long!

This rifle could have been lighter had we chosen a smaller action which would not force us to use a barrel which starts at about 1.75 inch at the chamber area. This action was meant to accommodate a 338 lapua cartridge. If you want to build a strict FTR rifle, stick with Nesika, BAT, Stolle, Barnard, Defiant or any of the other discipline specific action. I learnt it the hard way that all rounders never work as well as specific purpose built rifles. I don’t have this rifle anymore but If I did and wanted to use my Seb Joy Pod Fclass Bipod, I would need to shave off a few grams off the barrel by fluting it and stick to a light weight carbon fibre stock. The action is a permanent fixture of any rifle build, it’s got your serial number on it so if you pick a heavy action, you won’t be able to change this like a barrel, stock or optics so pick your ACTION WISELY and specifically for the discipline you are after.

It would take a few weeks to get the paperwork sorted from the UK authorities so until then, I got in touch with Vince to have a chat about my reloading kit. I had reviewed the notes I made when I visited Russell Simmonds in the south of England and wanted a refresher.

Eventually I ordered the following: This is not an all-inclusive list but a highlight of the main items.

Target master trickler setup
Target master trickler setup to drop the desired charge after initial base charge is weighed with a powder measure

harrell sizing press with gauge

  • Harrell press,
  • Forster FL die
  • Wilson 308 match competition seater
  • K&M arbor press with pressure gage indicator (gauge not really needed)
  • Sinclair neck tension mandrel in .3065 to give just one and half though neck tension
  • Hornady modified case gauge
  • Sinclair chamber length gauge (used for trimming brass to chamber length rather than reloader’s handbook dimensions
  • Targetmaster trickler
  • Harrell powder measure (doesn’t matter which one since we’re using the powder trickler)
  • Wilson trimmer and case holder (fired/unfired)
  • Berger 155.5, Fed GM210M primers, lapua brass, VVN540 powder
  • Nightforce 12-42×56 (1/8MOA) scope with NP-R2 reticle in 2nd Focal plane
  • K&M neck-turning tool (I didn’t plan to neck turn but merely skim the necks to make them all uniform unlike in a dedicated neck turn chamber)

This list keeps going on an on with lots of bits and bobs like micrometre, ball micrometer for measuring neck diameter, ohaus scales etc. This is why you should not spend all your budget on the rifle, you still need about £1k to spend on your basic reloading kit and powder/bullets. The latter being the ongoing cost of running your rifle. If you want to keep it on a budget, buy the full length sizing dies and wilson seating dies and get a membership to one of the clubs at bisley that have access to a reloading room such as the NLRC. You will need to get certified as a handloader through one of their courses. Once you do, you’re sorted. They have a beautifully setup room and you can spend your money on powder, bullets and brass. This will keep your entry cost low.

North london rifle club reloading room with Tim stewart

Reloading room at the NLRC. Here you get to learn alot from

some of the best long range rifle shooters and truly expert hand

loaders. Invest in your handloading skills if you want to win competitions.





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