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Those of you who have been following TTAG for a while may remember my “1,00o yard rifle for $500” project, and for those who don’t here’s the previous post. I’ve been trying to squeeze every last ounce of long range accuracy out of a budget bolt action setup, and I finally put the thing to the test this weekend. And while the results were pretty good for a budget gun, they weren’t quite what I was hoping for…

The Weatherby Vanguard I’ve been working with has proven deadly accurate at close range, scoring four headshots on various forms of delicious wildlife at Tyler’s ranch. But the point of the exercise was to see if I could put together a true long range rifle for less than the price of a Glock. And to do it right, I needed a range. Specifically a big range.

Best of the West Shooting Range just west of Austin has some of the nicest facilities I’ve seen. Skeet and trap fields, private shooting bays, COVERED firing lines and a 1,000 yard range with steel targets every 250 yards. The only catch is that in order to be allowed to use the long range you first need to qualify — three rounds in a row on a steel plate at each distance. While the Weatherby may not have been quite up to the task, the McMillian definitely was.

Having passed with flying colors, I brought the Weatherby out and tried to replicate my earlier success. The 250 yard targets were ringing with ease, but 500 was a lot tougher than I expected. I scored a few hits, but since my calculations weren’t matching up with reality for the bullet’s trajectory, it was very difficult. Of course, it might have something to do with the fact that I calculated for 70 degrees and low humidity and then tried to use that in the 108 degree heat and humidity of south Texas….

After a few hits at 500, I moved on to 750 and promptly had no bloody idea where I was hitting. I dialed the elevation correctly, but through the scope I couldn’t get any feedback as to where I was. There was no way to walk the shots in. I was lost, and finally gave up.

I still believe I can push a .308 round out of this gun and have it connect with the gong at the end of the range, but it looks like I might need a little more leeway in the budget department for a better scope. Something with slightly higher magnification might be in order, something with range markings on the reticle (for when the scope bottoms out as it inevitably will).

So the result: for $500 you get about 500 yards worth of range out of it. Let’s see what $750 gets….

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  1. Humm, a $500 rifle that didn’t work well out at 1000 yards?

    In other news, water is still wet…. more updates at 6 PM 🙂

  2. the 500 dollar rifle will work for most people’s shooting needs. but at a 1000 yards you truly do need the best in gear. and that costs.

  3. Funny coincidence… I was flipping through old bookmarks last night and ran across and read the previous post on this rifle.

    Thanks for the update.

  4. I think this effort is fantastic and I applaud you for trying. This puts so much more emphasis on the shooter and less on the hardware. I think you are going to have to shoot this gun a lot more to establish useful DOPE.

    Please keep trying!

  5. I can’t even see the flag stick from the tee on a par 5, so … anyways, whether guns or golf, my observable universe is 300 yards.

  6. There’s a reason why quality optics cost big bucks. It’s a business where the quality starts with the quality of the glass. If you want the best optical glass, you have to go to Germany/Austria.

  7. 8-32x Sightron. Japanese glass, perfect tracking. Not a dollar wasted on BS. Have used it with great success on a 6.5CM out to 1k at BotW through all that mirage.

  8. This was a valiant effort, Nick, not a failed experiment. Kudos for trying. And let’s face it, a 500 yard gun for $500 is not a bad deal.

  9. The scope might of been a slight issue, but how much time did you spend at the 100 yard and 500 yard ranges establishing the DOPE on your rifle? For me it take about 20 rounds to establish my data if I want to run my .308 out to the edges.Granted my long distance skills leave much to be desired, but it helps is you have data on target.

  10. Way to go Nick! Sure I admit, $500 is a hard shot to achieve, pun intended. Keep going, it would be awesome to know how things turn out over time.
    In all honesty, for hunting purposes, if you know you are dead on at 500 yards, and you only spent $500, that is great in and of itself. The 308 should work on most deer, and even some larger game, and 500 yards is pretty far to begin with.
    Unless you are doing long range hunting I would guess most shots take place within 200 yards, so you should be fine.
    I still want to know how you do with upgrades etc. It is a neat project as maybe upgrading the scope solves the issue, maybe a better trigger solves it. Don’t throw anything away, as lets say you upgrade the glass, and still no luck, then you upgrade the trigger and blammo! So go back to the original glass and see what happens.
    If anything this process will pin point areas you shouldn’t skimp on and areas where you need to splurge a bit.
    Hey maybe when you are done, TTAG could auction it off or something, that would be neat..

  11. Out beyond 500 yards is where all manner of insanity begins to take place with regards to ballistic performance. There’s more than a few possibilities.

    1: Your scope does not have evenly graduated adjustment. Cheap glass can’t be pushed the way a good Leupold can.

    2: Air temperature. Hotter temps mean higher velocities due to less air resistance (hot air molecules are farther apart). I had this issue more than once in desert climates where the night temperature is often 60 degrees lower than daytime. You wouldn’t even notice this at 100 yards, but at 500, it can be a three foot miss.

    3: Altitude can do similar things to temperature, and combined with temp can truly screw a zero.

    4: Could be the barrel just won’t hold the group at that range. This is the least likely, but could be the case. If I were you, I’d check the group sizes starting at 300 yards. If you’re seeing your accuracy drop off markedly under identical conditions, it might be the gun. Some guns will hold half minute of angle at a hundred, minute at 3, and then just go to pot after 5. A MOA gun should hold 5-inch groups at 500 yards.

    • It’s the little, technical details like these that make the science geek in me really want to get into long-distance shooting.

      The responsible financial accountant in me (hogtied and drugged though he might be) wants to run away screaming, but that’s why I really appreciate Leghorn’s experiment. 😀

      • It’s certainly not a cheap thing to get into, lucky for me I was able to get into it on the taxpayer dime. Also to consider, it’s not significantly worse than most other shooting sports. Yeah, you’re looking at 1-3 grand for a good rifle, another 500 for a good scope, and accessories from there, but I know trap shooters who have ten thousand dollar guns. It is not for the inattentive nor the ADHD -afflicted. It is an exercise in minutiae, for the detail-oriented.

        • If you are spending 1000-3000 dollars on a gun, you should prepare to spend the same amount, if not more, on quality optics. A good quality $500 hunting scope is NOT up to the task of long-range use. I love my Nikon Monarch’s but they will not hold up to the repeated turret twisting that my NXS or S&B will. You want a scope that can get back to zero each and every time and a scope that has repeatable, measureable, and solid adjustments. No $500 scope that I know of is up to that task. This isn’t to say that a $500 tactical scope isn’t a good deal, but for serious turret twisting, you’ll simply be buying another one soon. At the lowest end of the “quality” tactical scopes would be the Leupold Mark IV 10X (great scope and relatively affordable), the Trijicon Accupoint 5-20x (too thick for 1000-yards, but good at 600), or the Vortex Viper line. All are at or around $1k and will certainly hold up to repeated, heavy usage.

        • Heh, it’s funny you mention ADHD since I’ve got it in spades, but I’m finding that shooting handguns at the range is a bit of a meditative exercise for me. Eyes and ears help tune out distractions (well, maybe not all of them…), and the focus on tiny movements and breath control require all my attention. I’ve joked that marksmanship is ranged tai chi.

        • “… on the taxpayer dime.” Oh, great. Maybe we need to start paying for different stuff. Just down the highway from where I live (rural route next to a highway), there’s a deadly curve that kills at least one driver (or car-full) every year. It would be nice to see some federal money going to things like fixing that.

  12. Good try, buddy! A valiant effort, technically akin to building a 200mph motorcycle with a lawnmower engine.

    At 100 yards any gun/scope/bullet will hit the target because the only critical variables are proper zeroing, aiming and trigger control. At 300 yards lots of variables like barrel harmonics, wind, bullet type, case length and neck tension start to really matter, and cheap optics start to reach their limits.

    At 600-1000 yards *every* variable becomes crucial, and only the most carefully built (i.e., expensive) rifles, optics and ammunition will suffice. Your $500 went a long way.

  13. Which .308 ammo were you using? The Hornady Superperformance Match .308 in 178 grain has been the flattest – shooting .308 ammo I’ve used. YMMV

  14. I applaud your efforts. Edison built alot of light bulbs before he found the right formula. I would be interested to learn where the real sweet spot is for performance to $$ ratio. We all know there are very accurate rifles out there at $1,000 and up, and the need for quality glass is a prerequisite for long range shooting, particularly if you expect the scope to hold up for any significant period of time. Your $500 goal is really pushing it (again, I applaud), so I am really curious if a DIY build could be identified that really delivers the highest “bang for the buck” at price points from $700 to $1000, possibly without glass. I would suspect that exploiting the finer details of ammunition, stock and bedding selections could garner the last bits of performance from these configurations, possibly pushing a lower $$ option up a notch in performance. Great idea, and I’m very interested in this concept at this point. Great comments as well.

    • I hope to pull it off this summer with a tikka t3 lite and a bushnell fixed 10 power with a ton of practice, a little bit of luck, and some good advice from more experienced shooters at the range. Total spent will be around 800. I plan on really getting tight groups at 250 though before I make the jump.

  15. I think you went for name recognition over quality was your fault (several years ago). You should have went with a savage a 1 in 12 barrel twist won’t cut it at extreme distances.

  16. “…west of Austin…south Texas…”

    So, someone has finally mastered being in two places at once? 😉

  17. Don’t stop the exercise, please. Next, try better optics? So what if you can’t quite make 1000 yards, but you are able to reliably come in at 750? That’s still very welcome to many of us on limited budgets. Sure, it would be nice to spend three grand (or more) on a long-range rifle (1000 yards +), but many of us simply can’t do that.

    We are the ones who really appreciate your work on this.

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