Ask Foghorn: Best Rifle for New Long Distance Shooters

Daniel asks:

I recently read an article about the mosin nagant, and found it a very interesting article. I’m currently learning as much as I can about rifles and am looking to purchase one soon, though I’m on a highly restricted budget. What attracts me toward the mosin nagant is that its incredibly cheap at $90, and I can get 440 rounds of it for $70!! In the article, Chris mentions that a modified mosin costs around 300, but better more accurate guns can be had for the same or less. I was wondering which firearms he was speaking of? The main purpose of the gun is not home defense, I want to learn basics of long distance marksmanship and use it for hunting as well. The chambers had in mind were the 7.62x54r and .308 as I believe these rounds are the cheapest for the purpose I’m trying to accomplish. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

So what you’re looking for is a 1,000 yard rifle for $300? Well, let’s see what we can do…

First we need to define the characteristics of a good long distance rifle, and then we can see what’s out there that matches our specifications. Keep in mind that these are MY criteria for a good rifle and not THE criteria for a good rifle, so feel free to improvise to suit your own standards. They are, in order…

  • Bolt Action — There are some people who claim a semi-auto can be just as accurate as a bolt gun, but even they admit that it isn’t cheap. It’s easier to make an accurate bolt gun than an accurate semi-auto, and so even with the resources of TTAG available to me I still prefer my bolt action rifle for distance shots.
  • Free Floating Barrel — This is probably the most important feature of the rifle. I’ve known men to make 1,000 yard shots with iron sights on an AR-15, but I’ve never known a man to do it without a free floated barrel. Any contact between the stock and the barrel screws up the barrel harmonics and throws the shot off, so make sure Mr. Washington can slide all the way down your barrel.
  • Thirty Cal — I’m a huge fan of the 7.62×51 / .308 Winchester cartridge. It’s one of the most heavily studied and well understood cartridges produced today and provides excellent ballistic properties especially at long range. Plus, it’s widely available and relatively cheap.
  • Bull or Target Profile Barrel — The profile of the barrel describes how thick the material surrounding the bore is. The thicker the material the less likely it is to move between shots and be affected by heat. It’s not so important if you don’t mind waiting 5 minutes between shots, but it’s nice.
  • Scope Mounts — Usually a bolt action rifle will come with some holes drilled into the receiver so you can get your own rings and mount your scope. Some guns (like the vintrovka Mosina Nagant) don’t have this feature and it makes mounting a scope near impossible. Just make sure your gun checks this box.

That’s basically my ideal long range rifle. And, oddly enough, I’m testing out that exact setup (well, minus the bull barrel) right now for my 1,000 yard rifle for $500 project. But what other options are out there?

The best option available is to scour your local classified ads for someone selling their used rifles and buy one that way. It may be used, but rifles have a long lifespan and buying an older model will let you get a better rifle for your money than you would if you were buying a new one. Plus, the seller will probably be nice enough to let you know how well the rifle works and if it has any quirks you need to know about.

If you’ve got your heart set on a new rifle, however, there are a few things to be aware of. First is that the most expensive part of the rifle is the barrel profile, and the heavier the profile the more expensive it will be. Short and light barrels are cheap and will work, but they heat up and move quickly. Second, if you buy a new rifle chances are you’re going to want a new stock for it fairly soon, so keep in mind that you could be shortly looking at another $100-$200 expense. Just keep those in mind when you’re flipping through the gun catalogs.

Here are some rifles I recommend you take a peek at that are right around your price range.

  • Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 — We had our first peek at these rifles at SHOT this year, and despite the slightly out of your price range for MSRP they’re going to be my pick for the best choice in bolt action rifles for new long distance shooters. Good enough quality to do the job while still being cheap enough to make some mistakes.
  • Weatherby Vanguard (Old Model) — Believe it or not there are some new Vanguard rifles still kicking around, despite being a discontinued line. It’s actually a benefit now as the price has been decreased to flush them out of the stockrooms, so you can have one for around $300.
  • Ruger American Rifle — They’re a little over your budget, but they’re the “new thing” from Ruger and it looks like they’ve done it properly. I fired one at SHOT and, while not quite a Weatherby, it was definitely head and shoulders above the usual plastic stock bolt gun.
  • Savage Axis — I’ve heard good things about the Savage series of rifles, so I’m going to pop it in the list as a recommendation for something to look at. It’s a solid gun with a large aftermarket assortment of upgrades should you ever need them.
  • Remington 700 — The Rem 700 is the gold standard for bolt action firearms, and while the quality of manufacturing has gone downhill since Freedom Group took over they still are very accurate rifles.
  • Mossberg 100 ATR — I briefly owned one and it worked just fine, but I sold it and bought a Weatherby Vanguard in less than 3 months. Just FYI. Still, it’s a <2 MoA gun under $300.

Naturally someone will point out that I’ve cocked this up and have missed the ONE TRUE RIFLE which they have relied on since their youth and magically makes tiny holes in the bullseye no matter where they point it, so make sure to thumb through the comments that will inevitably be attached to this post as well. But I think I pretty much hit the nail on the head.

IN SHORT, buy a .308 bolt action firearm. Preferably used and locally sourced. It’s greener that way.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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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!

46 Responses to Ask Foghorn: Best Rifle for New Long Distance Shooters

  1. avatarDon says:

    Foghorn, what do you think about the Savage 10 series/how do they compare to other options? I remember when they came out they were supposed to be cheaper because they found a new way to machine the bolt which was easier but equally as effective as traditional methods. (now that I look at them again they’ve climbed in price quite a bit so maybe no good for a $500 long range project!)

    -D

    • The 10 series is pretty darned good, and actually I think I’d prefer a good model 10 over an equally priced Rem 700. The only issue is that they tend to be on the expensive side, but if you’ve got a tax refund burning a hole in your pocket I don’t see any reason not to take the plunge.

  2. avatarBen Eli says:

    Used Weatherby Vanguard seems the way to go. I was flipping through gunbroker and I saw some that could be had for less than $500. This one here comes with a scope, sling, and what looks like an aftermarket stock. If you’re interested, contact the seller to see if free-floated. http://www.gunbroker.com/Auction/ViewItem.aspx?Item=277977992
    *disclaimer-I’m not the seller, I don’t know the seller, and the sale of this firearm doesn’t benefit me in any way. I just found what looks like a good deal.

  3. avatarMoonshine7102 says:

    Used Ruger M77′s can usually be had at this price, too, particularly the older tang-safety models.

  4. avatarStant says:

    You can get a Mossberg ATR in .308 for $274 and it has the great LBA trigger on it.

    http://www.budsgunshop.com/catalog/product_info.php/cPath/36_758/products_id/61827

  5. avatarTyler says:

    I’m surprised the Marlin XS7 is not on your list. Or the XT. The .308 is around $300. I was able to mount a nice Simmons whitetail classic 6-20x and a bipod for under the $500 mark. It’s a very accurate rifle and has a trigger similar to the Savage Accutrigger.

  6. avatarJoe Grine says:

    Howa 1500 – you can get them on sale for $450-ish or less – with Hogue overmolded stock and a decent Nikko Sterling scope.

  7. avatarAharon says:

    Nick, great post. I’m keeping it for long-term reference.

  8. avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    At 1,000 yards, the .308/7.62×51 is running out of gas if one is using 150gr ball ammo. Depending on altitude, barrel length, barrel drag, etc… the bullet might have transitioned to sub-sonic before 1,000 yards is reached.

    Folks shooting .308′s at 1,000 yards need to consider loading their own ammo with heavier bullets with higher Bc’s. Suggestions would include the 175gr Sierra MatchKing and the 155gr Lapua Scenar.

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      Check out the Hornady Superperformance Match 178 grain BTHP. It’s got a .530 BC, and is rated at 2775 FPS. It exits my 20″ barrel Rem 700 LTR at an average speed of nearly 2750 FPS (at 78 degrees). It’s the best long – range .308 load I’ve seen. YMMV…

  9. avatarIdahoPete says:

    Daniel, if you can stand a bit of OFWG advice (read the book, saw the movie, got the T-shirt), I would recommend saving up a bit more and going for the upgrade first, rather than buying a cheaper rifle now, shooting it for a few months/years, then deciding you need the better one anyway. All of the above advice on barrel profile, stock fit, actions, etc. is great – I would just add “wait a bit longer, save some more money, and start with the better rifle”. It’s the same with hand tools. When I was a lot younger, I started my tool collection by getting cheap tools. After I had bent/broken several, or ruined the workpiece involved, I started buying the higher quality stuff – Sears Craftsman (40 years ago), Snap-on, etc. When I bought a cheap tool, I generally ended up unhappy with the results and had to buy a better one eventually. Same thing applies to firearms. Wait a bit, save some extra money, and then buy the best you can afford.

    That said, .308 is a great choice. Accurate, wide range of bullet weights and designs available, LOTS of good rifles chambered for it, and pretty non-picky about powder selection if you reload.

    The Savage Accu-trigger is a great invention. It provides a very good trigger for a fairly low price (compared to adding a Timney or some other after-market precision trigger). A really good trigger probably contributes as much to practical accuracy as the barrel/action/stock.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      It’s the same with hand tools. When I was a lot younger, I started my tool collection by getting cheap tools. After I had bent/broken several, or ruined the workpiece involved, I started buying the higher quality stuff – Sears Craftsman (40 years ago), Snap-on, etc.

      My dad taught me this as, “Buy it right the first time.” Every hand tool he has owned since I was a child has been Craftsman. Guess what’s in my toolbox now? It really does apply to anything you’re looking at, whether it be tools, cars, computer parts, or pots and pans.

      For anything you buy, there is a certain price level you generally have to reach to get an expected level of quality. I recently discovered that while shopping for a spotting scope. I bought, tried and returned a $150 scope, then a $250 scope, and now I’m stacking my pennies to get to the $450-ish scope that has, for me, the ideal combination of quality, features, and price. It has a significantly, noticeably better quality image than the $350 one, which in turn has a significantly, noticeably better quality image than the $250 one. It seems, to me, that $400-450 is the “sweet spot.” Above that you start to pay $100-150 for a 10% increase in performance, as opposed to the great leaps I saw between the lower price points. Where I could see an obvious difference between the $350 and $450 scopes, I honestly could not see any difference between that $450 Leupold and the $1600 Swarovski sitting next to it.

      • avatarKevin T says:

        Thats what i did. (I’m in college btw) first i bought a mosin nagant and ruger 10/22 to get me accustomed to high power rifle shooting and get some cheap range time in practicing the basics. Then i save up a little over $1000 and bought a rem 700 tactical .308 less than a week ago for about $800. Im in Ca, so I’m excited to pick it up in the next week or so!

        • avatarTodd S says:

          When I was in college I could barely afford gas after paying tuition. That being said, I admire the fact that you take the time and keep your resolve.

        • avatarAccur81 says:

          My prediction: you’ll love it!

          If you see a guy with a desert camo boonie hat shooting the same thing, stop in and say hello.

  10. avatarI_Like_Pie says:

    If you are going for cheap…the 30/06 really is more versatile from a reloading standpoint. More case capacity really does make things that much better if you are making those long shots.

    If you are doing that then you need the heaviest bullet available. 220 grain or so gives you the best sectional density if you are restricting yourself to .30 for some silly reason. You would need a pretty fast twist to stabilize that far. Savage design makes a target barrel a relatively easy task for a better barrel than stock with a faster twist.

    Has anyone ruled out a T/C or H&R rifle as a cheap base? I know that they don’t appeal to the G.I Joe idiots, but a good barrel is an easy fix for one of these. If you are handy with tools/lathe you can make them shoot CHEAP.

    I don’t know why you are taking a retail price approach to this exercise. A grassroots motorsports $500 challenge type exercise is more fun and allows for more creativity.

    • avatarMontesa_VR says:

      “If you are doing that then you need the heaviest bullet available. 220 grain or so gives you the best sectional density if you are restricting yourself to .30 for some silly reason. ”

      Yeah, I’ve never understood why the .308 is considered the standard for long range accuracy. The case capacity is too small for the bullet diameter, so you have a relatively slow moving bullet with resulting rainbow trajectory. Something like a .270 WSM would shoot much flatter with equal accuracy.

      • avatarKevin T says:

        has the most predictable loads for it, for accuracy. why its used for 1000 yds? idk, I’m planning on getting a 300 win mag for that kind of stuff.

  11. avatarMartin Albright says:

    If you are going for cheap…the 30/06 really is more versatile from a reloading standpoint. More case capacity really does make things that much better if you are making those long shots.

    I second this. Don’t know about other parts of the country but here in CO, bolt-action .308 rifles are not common. .30-06, OTOH, is probably the most common caliber found anywhere (even though most of the hunters I see now seem to be using .300 Win Mag, which IMO is overkill.)

    As a reloader the extra case capacity of the .30-06 gives me a little more leeway with powder charges, where .308 (which I also reload) can be a bit difficult to charge and still seat a bullet at the correct depth.

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      I ‘third’ this….

      • avatarMark N. says:

        I have been wondering about this quite a bit lately. Why is the long cased 30-06 so popular for hunting compared to the .308? Yet it seems that until replaced by the .50s and .338 lapuas, the .308 was an incredibly popular target/sniper round. Why is that?
        The rifle on my “I want that” list is the new 11 series Savage witha Nikon BDC scope factory mounted. Nice package, good price, but more than our OP wants to pay. Go over to the GunsAmerica blog. they did a test of accuracy using three modestly priced rifles, a Savage Axis, a Sako A, and a Tompson Venture–and got subMOA accuracy out of all three.
        And Matt is right about the scope. Without a good scope is doesn’t matter how good the rifle is.

        • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Because if you wish, you can launch 210 or 220 grain hunting bullets much better with the -06 than with the .308.

          The .308 is entirely sufficient to launch 155 to 175 gr target projectiles, and the paper target cares not a whit about the 300 fps deficit in muzzle velocity from the .30-06. The entire reason for the choice of the .308/7.62×51 was that the .30-06 wasn’t controllable in a post-WWII “assault” rifle, what we now know as the M-14. It is easily controlled in a much heavier weapon, such as the BAR (about 21 lbs) or a belt-fed weapon, but the DOD wanted to split the difference and try to come up with a “nearly full power” .30 cal cartridge that could be controlled when they were seeking a full-auto successor to the Garand.

          In a .308-like power level, the .300 Savage was very popular in the days before the .308.

          The other thing that people need to remember is that once a guy has a hunting rifle that works, (and “works” means keeping all the rounds in a group under 5″ at 300 yards for most hunting), many hunters will just stick with it. It works, there’s no reason to change. Starting with the post-WWI era and the wave of change in the US shooting public from lever action rifles to bolt-action rifles after many men in the military had seen the superiority of the bolt action’s accuracy, the .30-06′s popularity has been cemented.

          The .30-06 has been the most (not “one of the most” – but THE most) popular high powered rifle round for hunting in the US for decades now, and I’d expect it to remain that way for a long time to come.

        • avatarPatrick Carrube says:

          I’ve brought this up before and will say it again – when handloaded, the .308 can do everything a .30-06 will do… well, almost. Sure, you can eek out more velocity from a .30-06, but I have never known a rifle to be most accurate when loaded to the max. However, for hunting purposes the 30-06 is probably the best all-around gun in North America, especially when using factory ammo and where shots made are often below 300 yards.

          With that being said, the .308 and its shorter, fatter case have proven to be more consistent than a .30-06 in terms of accuracy. Look at the 6BR, 6mm PPC, and other benchrest cartridges for proof – all of these rounds have short, fat cases. The long, slender shape of the .30-06 brass tends to suffer from powder surge and pressure spikes, leading to inconsistent velocities and irregular barrel/action impulses. I read a good article on this recently and will post it when I get back home and can find it.

          The .308 Win case has proven to be effective and accurate even when necked down, the .243 and .260 for examples. As a matter of fact, the .260 Rem has the same ballistics as a .300 Win Mag, but with less recoil than a .308. The .30-06 generally has more recoil than a .308. This isn’t a problem shooting 10-20 rounds at the range sighting in a hunting rifle, but when competing/practicing the round count usually exceeds 60 rounds. This can lead to flinching and ultimately poor shooting.

          I’m not sure what Martin meant about “leeway” when reloading .30-06 vs .308. As a matter of fact, the .308 is probably one of the easiest rounds to reload. Most charges of the commonly used powders completely fill the case. Some of which get ever-so-slightly compressed – which often adds to accuracy (because the powder is being burned and not “surged” forward during ignition).

          As I’m getting more and more into F-T/R and F-Class shooting, I’ve come to realize that velocity isn’t king, even at 1000-yards… accuracy is. As long as a bullet stays supersonic at the intended range, there isn’t a need to “jack up” the speed any more. While a faster bullet will buck the wind better, you quickly hit a point of diminishing returns. When all is said and done, a supersonic hit at 1000-yards is better than a super-supersonic miss any day of the week!

        • avatarI_Like_Pie says:

          Sectional density, bullet consistency, and weight are more important than velocity for accuracy to a certain extent. That is why those 50 and 338 rounds do so well….Look at the sd on a 700 grain 50 caliber It is crazy.

          Once you get out to the really long distances that 308 simply doesn’t have the capacity to push those 220+ bullets at the speeds you need. 308 and it’s 6mm cousins are king under 1000, but once you slow down a bit so does the spin on those bullets and they start to wobble and destabilize at greater distances…it just isn’t about the passing though the shockwave at the sound barrier.

        • avatarPatrick Carrube says:

          Agreed – Nick was talking about getting out to 1000-yards with a .30-cal and I was responding to the above comments about the .30-06 vs .308. For 1000+ yard shoots, even the velocity of a .30-06 leaves a lot to be desired. At these ranges, you’re in 30-cal magnum and up territory.

          For the .308, there is little need for anything greater than 175/178-gr bullet. There have been hundreds, perhaps even thousands of “Wins” earned at the national lever by the 168-gr and 175-gr Sierra Match Kings, although the 175-gr is probably better suited for 1000-yard shoots. A 175-grain SMK pushed at a modest 2650 fps still has 1250 fps at 1000-yards. Not a .50-cal or .338 Lapua, but dozens of shooters year in and year out show how effective this round can be.

          The 750-gr AMAX has a >1.0 B.C. – it actually flys better than it should and is certainly an amazing bullet.

        • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          Absolutely. Mach-holy-crap muzzle velocities don’t mean jack at long distances if you’re pushing a pill with .2xx G1 Bc’s and you bleed off all your mach-holy-crap velocity in the first 400 yards.

          IMO, the new place to look for long distance shooting is the 7mm (.284) bullet diameter. Look at some of the latest projectiles coming out in the 165 to 180gr area – Bc’s way up there that cannot be duplicated in .30 until you’re over 200 to 210 grains. In effect, you run out of throat in a .308/.30-06 chamber before you can get into a bullet long enough to give the sort of Bc’s you’re seeing in 7mm and 6.5mm now.

          With a high Bc, you retain more of your initial velocity downrange, which means you don’t need to start with such a ferocious load of powder to launch the pill in the first place, which means the recoil comes down, the barrel life increases, etc. All wins, IMO.

        • avatarPatrick Carrube says:

          Another reason I scratched my last project and am working on building a 260 Rem (maybe an AI) off of a Surgeon Action and Lawton barrel. Less recoil, faster bullets, better B.C.s – win/win!

        • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

          I don’t think the AI gives you enough extra to bother with it, quite frankly. In Ye Olde Days, with the more limited selection of powders and lower Bc pills, perhaps it was worth the effort. But now? I don’t think it is. I think you can get more bang for your bucks (and time) by playing with the newer powders vs. your barrel length.

          6.5mm – good choice. Check out the Lapua Scenar pills.

        • avatarPatrick Carrube says:

          http://www.6mmbr.com/260aiforming.html

          these guys seem to think so…

        • avatarAPBTFan says:

          The 6.5 Creedmoor may be worth a look.

  12. avatarborekfk says:

    One True Rifle: Whatever the shooter finds they can handle the best.

  13. avatarJohn says:

    What about a Tikka?

  14. Personally I love the Mosin Nagant. If I ever tap it and throw a scope on it I am sure I will outshoot it. If all you want is to practice the basics with a full power load you can’t beat it’s price. That and you can upgrade it easily and without fear of messing up! :D

    • avatarMark N. says:

      But with the Moisins, you run the risk of a really crappy barrel vs a new rifle. I’ve also heard they kick like mules–and boy are they LOUD (guy was shooting one next to me in an indoor 25 yd range one day )What do you guys think about the Mausers? There are still factory fresh Serbian made ones for $300 that I see advertised in Guns.

  15. avatarUncle Lar says:

    As big bore plinkers Mosins are a great value. My boys and I each have one and shoot them regularly. Just remember that cheap mil surp ammo is corrosive so a good cleaning after every range trip is mandatory. They will also serve with proper hunting ammo to take any North American game, though I’d want something a tad larger for the big bears.
    What everyone seems to neglect except in passing is that to get the true potential of any long range rifle a shooter needs four things: a decent gun, good optics, quality ammo, and a lot of practice. Even used you’d be incredibly lucky to find a rifle/scope combo for the stated budget. I’d say $500 would be bare bones and a grand much more realistic. Then there’s the ammo. A long range target shooter simply must reload, or have a good friend that does. You can still put together a basic single stage reloading setup for around $200 with another Benjamin for a starter set of components (and that’s with saved brass). It’s not uncommon for my shooting companions and I to fire upwards of 200 rounds in any given range trip. If we were shooting factory stuff easily $100 out of pocket. With quality reloads it’s more like $35.
    Bottom line, yes you can get there frugally, but cheaping out will just give you cheap results.

  16. avatarDaniel says:

    “Naturally someone will point out that I’ve cocked this up and have missed the ONE TRUE RIFLE”

    Tikka T3 Hunter.
    Stacking shots upon each other at 100 yards = nirvana. Next step up from that requires that you chamber in .338 Lapua magnum.

  17. avatarWayne says:

    I am extremely satisfied with my SAVAGE AXIS. Bragging/comparing MOA and penile data are much the same, so I will spare the bragging.

    The Axis gets sweeter each time I shoot it, currently after about 1200 rounds the bolt cycles very smoothly. I use case-sized .223 reloads and 50 to 60 grain bullets. The ergonomics are near perfect, my shoulder placement and cheek weld place the scope in perfect alignment with my vision. My only aftermarket installment is a bipod.

    I highly recommend the Axis.

  18. avatarphillip says:

    just putting it out there … ther mosin has an 11mm dove tail underneath the rear sight … so you can mount rings and a scope on it.

  19. avatarJohn says:

    Hi,
    I’m looking at the Weatherby Vangard 2 currently, but it doesn’t say it has a free floating barrel. Does it have one?
    Also the Remington 873 is looking interesting
    Any opinions yet?

  20. avatarjames says:

    and can you please tell me where you think the Kimber .308 Montana fits in this list?
    thanks!

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