TTAG Project: 1,000 Yard Rifle for $500

To many shooters, hitting something from the 1,000 yard line is like putting a man on the moon. It can be done, but it takes a smart person, specialized gear, and a lot of money. Of the two happiest moments of my shooting career, one took place on the 1,000 yard line at USMC Base Quantico with the ArmaLite AR-50 (the other was a few weeks ago, firing this thing). And the happiness didn’t come from the fiddy cal, the happiness came from the distance. With .50 BMG being just a bit expensive I decided to set out on a mission to see if $500 would buy enough gun to get rounds the full 1,000 yards and actually hit something at that distance, putting long range joy within reach of the average American shooter.

When reaching for distance, the smaller calibers are typically discarded. That’s not to say this shot couldn’t be made by a 5.56x45mm NATO gun (the guys I shoot with do it regularly, with IRON SIGHTS even!), but that takes a lot more skill than the average shooter has on tap and the 5.56x45mm NATO trajectory tends to drop pretty steeply at long distances. For our gun we want a flatter trajectory, which means a larger bullet with more momentum.

The round of choice for cheap bastards at distance is 7.62x51mm NATO (or .308 Winchester for you civvies). There are a variety of offerings, from 110 grain hollow point bullets to 180 grain full metal jacket bullets, but the “standard” weight round seems to be about 150 grains. 150 grain 7.62x51mm NATO ammo is cheap and plentiful, two adjectives which cannot describe the more typical 1,000 yard rounds (like .338 LaPua or .50 BMG). Looking back over the consistency testing we did a few weeks back and using that data, that puts the drop at 1,000 yards (with a 50 yard zero) at just about 34 MoA (34 inches @ 100 yards). Large, but manageable.

Luckily I already purchased a “value priced” rifle in .308 Winchester / 7.62x51mm NATO: the Mossberg 100 ATR. Designed and produced in the good ol’ U.S.A. (despite what the Sweedish flag draped box may have you think), this rifle is the poor man’s answer to the Remington 700 and in some ways may even be better than the latest run. It’s a no-frills bolt action that comes with pre-installed Weaver rails for a scope, all for far less than the magic $500 number.

Now that we have our rifle and some money to burn, it’s time to turn to the glass.

Whenever I need a cheap optic, Primary Arms is my first stop. While their stuff isn’t the best in the world it’s definitely worth every penny. I just did a review of this model so I’m not going to completely rehash it here, suffice it to say that it’s a scope that works. Tack on a couple of scope rings and onto the rifle it slips.

At this point, we have a functioning rifle with a pretty good optic on it. Add in a couple of shooting bags or sand bags to rest it on and you could probably make it to 1,000 yards without a problem. But I had some money left over (as the rifle + scope was still well under $500) and so I decided to splurge on a nice cheap bipod.

Why a bipod? Mostly because it looks cool, but also because it helps stabilize the rifle. Three solid points of contact with the ground makes a stable shooting position (bipod legs and butt support), meaning the crosshairs won’t dance all around the target when you start aiming at it. The same effect can be achieved with a sandbag or standalone shooting rest, but a bipod just means that there’s one less thing to forget on the way to the range.

What we end up with is something that looks damn close to a respectable long range rifle. Let me put on my best Johnny Dollar impression and tally up the receipts (not including tax, shipping or transfers)…

  • Mossberg 100 ATR in .308 Win – $310
  • Primary Arms 3-9×40 Scope and Rings – $105
  • Winchester 6″-9″ Bipod – $40
  • TOTAL: $455

A complete rifle with money to spare, which is something like a small miracle in an age where being under budget isn’t cool anymore. But how does it shoot? I trucked it out to the NRA Range and used some of the Birchwood Casey Shoot-N-C targets that they generously provided to us writers to find out.

Ignoring the flier (avoiding flinching is damn near impossible with a Mosin Nagant M44 in the next stall), that’s 5 rounds in a 1 inch circle at 50 yards. 1 inch at 50 is 2 inches at 100, or 2 MoA. That translates into a roughly 20 inch cone of uncertainty at 1,000 yards. Which, in the scheme of things, isn’t that bad.

I’ve got a rifle that shoots pretty well, a range at my disposal, and about $50. Let’s see if we can squeeze just a touch more accuracy out of this baby, and then the final test: a 1,000 yard shot by an average shooter (not me). Stay tuned…