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…

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

52 Responses to TTAG Project: 1,000 Yard Rifle for $500

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Great idea, I’ve always liked the concept of “doing more with less.”

    One question: Why .308? .30-06 is more common and the longer case allows for a bit more velocity. I can understand why the military uses that caliber (A/K/A 7.62 NATO) as the M14/M21, M60/M240 machine guns are chambered for it but if you’re starting from scratch, it seems to me that .30-06 would be a better round. I’ve also had difficulty finding rifles chambered in .308, again .30-06 being by far more common (and thus less pricey.)

    • There’s two very good reasons I went with .308.

      The first reason is a range restriction at USMC Base Quantico. .30-06 is only authorized on one range (the 1,000 yard range), with the others limited to .308 or less. I figured that .308 was ballistically “good enough” for 1,000 while still giving me the opportunity to practice at the other ranges (300 and 600 yards).

      The second reason was price and availability. Around here .30-06 is available, but in limited quantities and relatively expensive. The cheapest I can find is $0.60/round for .30-06, but .308 can be had for nearly half that ($0.32/round) and it’s available everywhere I turn. I’m pretty sure even the kebab truck outside sells it. If we’re truly trying to be cheap bastards then what’s the point in picking an expensive and elusive round?

      I agree, though. If I was going for a 30 cal round, .30-06 would be my choice. The 100 ATR does come in .30-06 for the exact same price, so if you’re following along at home you can substitute in your caliber of choice.

  2. avatareggyknap says:

    Isn’t 7.62x54R cheaper? I mean, if you’re really going for a budget rifle… :)

  3. avatarPT says:

    Match grade ammo or handloads will tighten up those groups, especially at 1,000 yards. Find what it likes to eat.

    Also, why not go with 7.62x54R? The Mosin-Nagant’s iron sights go all the way to 2,000 meters! That’s way beyond 1,000 yards! Hell, you’d even save $400 and it comes with a cool oil bottle and ammo pouches. Now that’s below budget!

    • I considered it, but here’s the main reason I didn’t go with a Mosin:

      USMC Base Quantico specifically bans the use of rifles using 7.62x54mmR ammunition on their ranges. USMC Base Quantico is the only place that has a 1,000 yard range near me.

      They also ban 9×18, 7.62×39, 7.62 Tokarev, 7.62 Nagant, 5.45×39, and just about anything once produced in Rodina Mat.

  4. avatarRoy Hill says:

    For Martin Albright. Lots of folks argue that the .308 is inherently more consistent than the .30-06, and thus more accurate.

    The .308 has a shorter case, and thus a shorter powder column than the 06. The shorter case helps powder burn to be more consistent than in a longer case. Fewer spikes or lags means not many variations in velocity shot to shot.

    Check out cartridges like 6mm Benchrest with its stubby fat casing.
    The .308 is inherently more consistent and isn’t that much slower than the 06.

    And no snark or sarcasm intended, but where do you live that .30-06 rifles and ammo are more common and cheaper than .308?

    Here, the local Academy Sports has low-end .308 for aroun $9 per 20. They have just as many loads in .308 as 30-06, if not more. At my local gun store there are probably 11 or 12 .308 rifles in various actions compared to one .30-06 semi and four or five .30-06 bolts guns.

    Again, I’m not intending any negative tone. Just curious where .30-06 is still more plentiful and cheaper than .308.

    • avatarMartin Albright says:

      Again, I’m not intending any negative tone. Just curious where .30-06 is still more plentiful and cheaper than .308.

      Colorado. Dad and brother both have .308 rifles and I went searching for one for ammo compatibility. What I discovered was that for the same type of rifle, there were at least 10 .30-06s for each .308 I could find. In fact, .308 is really an “oddball” caliber out here, other than Dad and brother I don’t know anybody who hunts with it.

      From what I’ve seen both here in Colorado and in Wyoming, .30-06 ammo is probably one of the most common if not the most common centerfire rifle caliber on the shelves (with .30-30 and .270 being 2nd and 3rd.) Any bulk ammo store will have multiple loads of .30-06, everything from 140gr up to 180 or bigger, while .308 choices are limited to one or two, typically 150gr loads.

      As a handloader, I load both .308 and .30-06 and I sometimes have problems with my .308 cases being too small to hold a full charge of H4895. In my .30-06 loads I typically use a 60gr charge to push a 125gr Nosler ballistic tip which is about as flat-shooting a round as you can get (I call it my “antelope load” because I like to hunt speed goats on the Wyoming plains.)

      • I wish I lived where 06 was cheaper and more plentiful than .308. I don’t know about burn or inconsistency – to me, the 06 is consistent and very accurate at long range.

  5. German Salazar’s excellent series of articles on .308 for 1000 yard palma matches begins here:
    http://riflemansjournal.blogspot.com/2010/10/cartridges-308-palma-preparation-and.html

    At a minimum, you may want to make sure your choice of factory loads will keep you supersonic the whole way. Also that the twist rate of your barrel and the weight of the bullets are a good match. If your barrel is 1/10, you might be happiest with the heaviest factory bullets you can find.

  6. avatarJason says:

    Swiss K31. Done.

    • avatarA. Lee says:

      Agreed. The K31 is very accurate, the problem is mounting a good scope to take advantage of that accuracy, without rails.

      The 7.5 Swiss is an inherently accurate long-range round, and the Swiss Army issue GP11 is match-grade.

  7. avatarChris Dumm says:

    The USMC range’s caliber restrictions are baffling, to say the least. Bulk brass processors (like the contractors that clean up military firing ranges) have no problem sorting Soviet calibers from NATO, or stell cases from brass.

    I dig the Mosin, but the ammo choice is limited to cheap so-so surplus and pricier commercial ammo. True match-grade 7.62x54r ammo doesn’t really exist outside of Russia.

  8. avatarRalph says:

    “The Mosin-Nagant’s iron sights go all the way to 2,000 meters!”

    That rifle (which I love) was developed for mass fire, where accuracy past “battle distance” of 300 meters was not required. The battle plan was to launch as much lead as possible in the general direction of the enemy, not to sight and squeeze. Unless the 91/30 in question is a bona fide sniper model with a rechromed barrell, long distance shots will be measured in minutes of barn door. But damn, they are so much fun to shoot!

  9. avatarsdog says:

    how would the mossberg atr compare to the savage arms axis

    • The Savage is about $8 cheaper on Bud’s Gun Shop, and comes with a scope already mounted.

      I handled a Savage Axis, but I have yet to fire one. To me it felt a little bit more flimsy than the Mossberg, but I will happily request one for some T&E and get back to you on that.

  10. avatarOman says:

    I love the Mosin Nagant reference lol.

  11. avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    Very nice, Foghorn. Now I want to see my dream carbine. A simple M1 carbine design, Hi Viz sights, parkerized, with a blackened alloy heat shield and steel butt, 20 shot magazines and in .357 magnum or .44 magnum. The one tactical attachment would be a small Sure Fire flashlight under the barrel. It would be the Ruger .44 carbine-the way it should have been made. I think for all the trouble it should be .44. Now who do we get to make it?

    • avatarMartin Albright says:

      Somewhere in my archives I have a flyer I got from a company that was doing M1 Carbine conversions back around 1992-94 or so. IIRC they would rechamber your M1 to .45 Win Mag or .357 Win Mag (both being rimless cartridges.) I think the cost for the conversion was something around $400 back then, plus of course you had to supply your own M1 Carbine.

      .357 Magnum, being a rimmed revolver cartridge, would require an extremely curved magazine and would not function well in a semi auto. There were several .357 semi auto pistols made, including at least one version of the Desert Eagle, and I think they all struggled to feed the rimmed cartridge.

      I believe Ruger got around the rimmed-cartridge-in-a-semi-auto issue on their .44 carbine by having it feed from a tubular magazine like you’d find on a lever-action Winchester or Marlin.

      • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

        Yes, that was the only thing with the Ruger-that 4 shot capacity. But, Coonan found a way to mag feed successfully, I think.

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          Couldn’t find a picture of a Coonan magazine of feed lips yet, not giving up! Because we’re gonna find a way to make it work and then go for the Safari grade of the Cujo Carbine, the .45-70 model! Work with me here! I’m having a Busey moment! Now the .45-70 model, I’d be willing to go tube fed with it, but we need at least 6-8 rounds. More power!

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          Or, we go with 10 mm and .458 SOCOM! .458 SOCOM, imagine-now my nipples are hard…

      • avatarmiforest says:

        using soft point or federal hollow points in the 30 carb makes it as effective as the 357. Evans ans marshal data show this cartridge as a surprisingly good stopper . 110 gr bullet is great at 1990 fps.

        • avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

          I agree, I just love the excitement of making it more and more powerful. Imagine .458 SOCOM, wow!

  12. avatarDavid says:

    Not to get really picky, but 7.62mm NATO and .308 Winchester are not the same cartridge. Using a .308 in a 7.62mm weapon could potentially be dangerous. 7.62mm NATO milsurp ammo is supposed to be loaded up to a pressure of 50,000 psi. .308 Winchester rounds are loaded up to 62,000psi. Using a .308 in a weakened milsurp chamber designed for 7.62mm NATO could lead to issues with the weapon. I have run both through my Century CETME and had no problems with either type, but that animal will eat anything that it is fed.

    I believe that there may also be minor dimensional differences between the size of the two cartridges.

    • avatar"Slip"- the dog of war says:

      The 7.62 NATO has a thicker casing for multiple reloads and a hardened primer to prevent slam-fire from a automatic loading mechanism. The semi-auto rifles for the civilian market, such as the Springfield M1A have taken this into consideration and have made them specifically for .308 Win, while stating they should use military surplus ammo because of the primer issue. Check in a Springfield manual to see if I am correct, but I believe I am.

  13. avatarCUJO THE DOG OF WAR says:

    The Coonan magazine doesn’t seem that complex. It has a lot of lift at the nose end and looks like it tilts the cartridge to one side. Sooo, could it work? After peusing the .458 SOCOM stat’s though, it looks awesome. The question would be could an M1 carbine receiver handle such pressure? It COULD be the Alaskan model of an M1. My fevered mind wonders…

  14. avatarRoy Hill says:

    Ah, Colorado.

    I reckon I understand now. I lived in northern Wyoming for two years, and it was really hard to find .30 Carbine ammo or 7.62X39 in the local gun stores up there.

    They had every kind of 300-whatever-magnum-ultra-whomper-stomper you could name, however.

  15. avatarBrian E. Dunn says:

    For your consideration:

    No doubt factory 150 grain bullets will travel way beyond 1000 yards, but the question
    is are they still stable 1000 yards from the muzzle? If they go subsonic short of the target they lose stability and accuracy is in the dumpster. That’s why Sierra developed the175 Match King, but a .308W has to be loaded near max to keep it supersonic out to a thousand yards.

    Do you have enough “UP” in your scope to get yourself on target? I’ve seen a lot of
    first timers try to go the distance with hunting scopes only to find out too late they were forty clicks short of what it took to get there. If you can’t go up at least
    120 quarter minute clicks from a 300 yard zero, you need a better scope, some
    Burris rings and inserts, or long range blocks. Hope this doesn’t bust your budget.

    Your rifle’s poorly “set up.” Your scope is mounted way too high for a steady cheek weld on the stock. You can’t get into a steady firing position with your head waving
    around in the air. Aiming with your chin on the stock comb is not a viable alternative
    to a well fitting rifle.

    Lastly, your sporter weight barrel is going to get hotter than Hell after the first five shots if you shoot more than one shot a minute. Light weight barrels warp all over the place when they heat up, so don’t expect the bullets to go where you aimed them
    after shot number five. You’re going to need a heat shield on the barrel too or the target’s going to look like a gelatinous blob of quivering protoplasm. Make one out of an old metal venetian blind and some velcro. It’ll cost you about a dime.

    So, if you get some target ammo, get a scope that’ll go the distance, get your rifle
    set up to conform to your body and shoot at a slooow… rate, I have absolutely no doubt
    whatsoever that you’ll be able to shoot 160 or better (probably much better) at a thousand yards with twenty shots – IF YOU CAN PLAY THE ATMOSPHERIC CONDITIONS.

    Good luck and let me know how you make out.

    • I completely agree with everything you said, and I was hoping to eke out a second “prep” post worth of material fixing those items and testing everything out. Look for a post covering everything once I’ve exhausted my budget and had some 300 yard range time (a few weeks at most).

  16. avatarMIG says:

    Very interested in the outcome, can’t wait for the rest of the story.

  17. avatarHomer says:

    Where’s the rest of the story? It’s been 7 months. Seems kind of bush league to me.

  18. avatarred says:

    im just wondering if you have taken this out to 1000, i want a low cost 1000 yard rifle (just for fun), like this one but i think id rather get it in 06 (simply due to Availability). would you recomend this set up for this?

    • avatarJames says:

      I have a atr 100 in 308 and have put about $600 into it all together. It came with a scope for about $400 and then I added a good muzzle break about $150. Even with the cheap scope I get my 143 g hornady ballistic tips with about 59.7 g of h337 to 1000 yards. A bit over loaded but the atr 100 shoots it like a champ. Very pleased with this cheep and accurate gun

    • avatarJames says:

      I have a atr 100 in 308 and have gotten consistent accuracy at 1000 yards with my hand loads.

      • avatarRight! says:

        I have a stevens 200 308 w/SWAFA SS. I had to replace that horrid plastic stock with a wooden Savage stock $467.00
        My old Savage 110 in 270win shoots rings around the Stevens but I have $1500 in that ($900 in glass and rings vs $140 in the SS).

  19. avatarMickeymotto says:

    I am really looking forward to your findings.

    I am a relatively new center fire shooter myself, having shot .22 most of my life. I have just taken up hunting within the past 6 years.(at the age of 30) I started with a used bow then upgraded to a new one.

    However in 2008 I set out on a similar quest, a decent hunting rifle for under $500. I too selected a Mossberg ATR100, but in .30-06 ($235) then mounted a Nikon Prostaff 3-9×50 ($199). And after 6 months and over 500 rounds of shooting shrinking groups to 3 MOA at 100-200yds(and about 2 out of 5 shots on an 18″ steel target at 300yds) I found I had a lot to learn. I started asking and reading and found the two main things that could be made better were the shooter and the rifle. Obviously I practiced, so this is about the rifle.

    First up was a trigger job that cost about $5 for the 1000 grit sandpaper and about 5 hours of sanding, testing, sanding, testing… resulting in a crisp clean SAFE trigger. ( I still however do not loan out my project rifle) That improved the group some. (on certain days) So another year and 800rnds a slight improvement, mostly in my fundamentals I think.

    Next with all of this brass lying around, I took the $500 plunge and got into reloading. (not included in the price of the rifle as I have several different rifles now) I did more reading than trying of different bullet manufacturers, and after several successful hunts (5 deer, 8 feral hogs, and one coyote over 3 years) have settled on Sierra bullets.

    Finally after 3 years of wondering I got fed up at the range one day (1.75″ group @ 250 yds, then 2 days later couldn’t get within 2.5 MOA) I went straight to the local boat shop and asked for some Marine Tex. “We won’t have any until tomorrow.”, said the shop mechanic. I found an industrial size box of JB Weld at a local auto parts store. So $14 for bedding compound, the brown kiwi polish that I don’t use out of my shine kit, some long 1/4-28 screws I had lying around and several hours after work over the next week. Wah-lah, one almost professional bedded synthetic stock.

    And to date I have since upgraded my scope to a Leaper’s UTG 4-16×56 SWAT MILDOT. ($179 transferred Nikon to another rifle so not added to cost) Last trip to the range to play with scope I made a 6 spot target on a piece of 20×30 foam board and moved target down the range shooting 3 shot groups at 150,200,250,300,350 yards then pulling it all the way back up and returning to my 100yd zero. Repeatable 1.4 MOA with some wind drift, at 350yds was hitting 8″ to the right, guessed an 8MPH wind DOPEd the scope and back to center. I was impressed.

    Now I have spent well over $500 shooting these past 4 years. However as the rifle sits, here’s the tally (no taxes) if you are a little adventurous.

    Rifle-$235
    Scope (rings included)- $179
    Sandpaper-$5
    JB Weld- $14

    Time tinkering and learning my rifle to be comfortable to shoot out to 400 yards- priceless. (just had to throw that in)

    My original goal was 500yds but I’m hoping to do a little landscaping out in one of the fields and set up an 800yd shooting lane (that’s about all the farther I can go without knocking down trees on this private property)

    Anyway looking forward to your results. Maybe I’ll try a 1000 yd poke someday, just at paper though. I have no interest at the moment in trying to harvest an animal at that range.

  20. avatarCicero says:

    Around here (S. Carolina-Georgia area), .30-06 is extremely common, while .308 is harder to find. For example, at the local Wal-Mart (before the buying craze started) there were about 12 boxes of .30-06 soft-point hunting ammo and only one box of the same type in .308. In the local gun shop it was about the same. From what Ive seen, .30-06 and .308 are the same price. (Of course when you’re talking about surplus FMJ, .308 is certainly more prevalent.)

  21. avatarcaptain says:

    Wait a second! First you claim it was a Mosin that threw off your “flier” on your target, then you claim that Mosins aren’t allowed at the range you were shooting on. :-/

    Anyway, these days about the ONLY ammo you can get is 7.62x54R. Your range must be damn quiet or full of Russkies! :-P

  22. avatarNate says:

    I picked up a Remington 770 (.300 win mag) to attempt almost the exact same thing. I was surprised, it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to my 700 (also .300 win mag) but I’m only a little over $400 into it, including scope, and I can hit targets out past 600 yards all day long.

    The action is a little rough on the 770, like everyone says, but otherwise, I’m very pleased, I’m going to go against the grain and say it’s not the junk rifle the internet has claimed.

    However, I don’t see making out past 750, I think I have squeezed all the performance out of the 770 I’m going to get. Keep in mind, I tossed a cheapo Tasco 2.5-10x 42mm varmint scope on the thing. A better scope would get me out a bit further, but at the end of the day, I’m thinking that I’ve bumped up against what the rifle is capable of, even with a better than average shooter.

  23. avatargabriel says:

    i have this gun i love it ive put in about $544 but did something other stuff to it but i freakin love this thing. ive gotten about 500 yrds at a grouping of an inch free hand (no bi pod ) it handles great best gun ive bought in a long time

  24. i own both .308 an 30-06 mossberg atr 150gr. put any 150gr.bullet in 30-06 either hits hole of 1st bullet fired or eigth inch higher. mossberg atr great in my book .308 is stevens 200 yes it shoots great but not like mossberg , getting ready to buy .308 in mossberg atr ill let you know if it hits same. but if you are looking for long distance an less drop get 7mm rem. mag. in savage its got it all. put it against any gun in from 300 win. mag. down. with 150gr. bullet. but thinking hard on 165gr. hope tis helps. 7mm the gun look at drop an compare. but the main thing is the man behind the gun that counts.

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  26. avatarDan says:

    I think you all have this completely wrong. You cannot measure the long range performance of a rifle by shooting it at 50 yrds because ANY rifle is capable of putting 5 rounds through the SAME hole at 50yrds, bench clamp one and see. If it doesn’t there is something very wrong with it, like a burr on the barrel for example. When I was a kid my dad let me have his old .22 rifle it had a martini breech I used to lay out there in the yard target shooting with that rifles for hours I everntually got so good with it, I could take out quarters at the end of our yard every time (I measured that at 125 yards) my dad didn’t believe I could until I proved it to him, by shooting candy mints off the tree stumps just short of the end of the yard, (about 115yds) The long range (1000yd) performance of a rifle cannot possibly be measured by shooting a 50yrd target because the factors that govern long range accuracy are mostly in the ballistics of the round used. The stability of a round at 1000yds is affected by its spin rate, its velocity at long ranges, and the quality of manufacture of the round. There is only one way to test your rifle’s accuracy at 1000yrds, that is to bench clamp it on the 1000 yeard range.

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