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]