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By Thomas Conroy. Republished from

Midwest –-( Like any other sport or hobby, shooting can be done on the cheap. While cheap plinking is certainly possible, frugality is not always the best policy when it comes to the shooting sports. I have learned, many times over, the truth and wisdom of the old saying “You get what you pay for.” If you’re serious about shooting, then it is probably better to “cry only once” when you buy, and lay down some long green for really nice things that will make your shooting that much more enjoyable. So here’s my list of the Top 5 Really Expensive Things that every serious shooter should try to own at least once in a lifetime . . .

5. Moving Target Systems

I like printing groups on paper with an accurate rifle, but that gets stale after a while. Moving targets can make almost any kind of shooting a lot more fun in a hurry.

For shotgunners, there’s nothing quite like the Crazy Quail ( ) system. It’s a carnival ride for clay target machines that spins and whirls, flinging up to 1,632 clay pigeons at every direction, angle and speed imaginable. The Big Quad, equipped with 4 clay-target machines will cost around $18,000. Sounds pricey, but I know people willing to spend more than that on a used bass boat. I have fished off many bass boats, and shot Crazy Quail once. I know which one I’d rather plunk down 18 Grand for – Crazy Quail!  And I don’t consider myself to be much of a shotgun guy, either.

If you’re a rifle or pistol shooter, you can have a moving target for a lot less than the Crazy Quail Big Quad. Action Target’s Portable Runner ( ) will cost around $1,500 from retailers like Brownells. It can be set up anywhere it’s safe to shoot, and runs on a rechargeable battery system.

For even more flexibility, you can also get remote-control targets that can move in any direction at different speeds, like the Target Tracker, available in several models for right around $2,000.

4. Expensive Optics

I’m a rifle guy, and I cannot tell you how much it annoys me to see a good, accurate rifle topped with a nasty cheap scope. It annoys me even more to hear some shooters brag about how they spent $100 to scope their $1,000-dollar rifle.

With optical devices, you really do get what you pay for. And if you enjoy shooting, you need to own some serious glass, on at least one of your guns. One example would be the $3,000 scopes from US Optics ( ) . For rifle shooters, these babies have every bell and whistle, and can help you reach the absolute maximum ranges.

What? You’re not a spec ops sniper engaging insurgents in the mountains? Even if you’re just shooting paper targets at the range and hunting deer once a season, a high-quality, lower-power scope like a Swarovski Z6I ( ) can really improve the experience.

I used to think that the $300 scope at the department store was just as a good as the fancy-schmancy scopes with prices of at least 4 digits. I realized my error the second I picked up a Swarovski and looked through it. There is simply no comparison in the optical quality and clarity of a high-end scope alongside a bargain basement scope. And that’s not considering durability, toughness, and the repeatability and precision of the click adjustments, either.

The same goes for any other shooting-related optics, like spotting scopes ( ) or night vision or even thermal imaging sights ( ) that can cost more than $10,000.

If you’re trying to shoot in the dark, or hunt varmints at night, nothing beats having top-notch gear that actually works well.

Swarovski Z6I Rifle Scope
Swarovski Z6I Rifle Scope

3. Large Amounts Of High-Quality Ammo

We’ve all either seen it or done it. Somebody saves up for a nice gun, and then ends up shooting the cheapest ammo possible through it. Sure, that imported steel case stuff costs less, goes bang, and functions well enough, but it’s not always the most accurate, and can leave your gun downright filthy after a long shooting session.

And don’t get me started about using those cheapo handloads you bought out of the back of a van at a gun show. That’s a great way to turn your gun into a very expensive pile of scrap metal and wood splinters.

Then there’s the guy who buys only one or two boxes of really good ammo, and shoots only four or five rounds on the rare occasions he actually takes his gun out of the safe, because he thinks the ammunition is just too expensive. That’s no way to improve your shooting skills, much less enjoy owning and shooting a nice firearm.

Ideally, we all should find ways to afford lots really good ammo and shoot it up, frequently. I’ve fired tons of cheap ammo, and slightly smaller amounts of really good ammo. I find good ammo to usually be more than worth the cost. Good ammo is more consistent and made with better-quality components, improving repeatability and precision.

Does it sound a little kooky to run your AR-15 with ammo that costs over $1.00 a round, or shoot your .308 with ammo that costs around $2.00 a round, like Winchester ASYM Precision Ammunition? How much do you like hitting targets and having your gun run reliabliy and smoothly at the range? How about at a shooting match?

And when it comes to hunting ammo, you really do need to get more-expensive, high-quality ammo made for hunting, and practice frequently with it. You owe it to the game you hunt to have the skill to make ethical shots, and to use good ammo that will quickly and efficiently put the animals down.

ASYM's National Match 45 ACP Target Ammunition
ASYM’s National Match 45 ACP Target Ammunition

2. Truly Custom Guns

If you are into guns at all, and find any sort of pleasure or fun in target shooting, competition shooting or just backyard plinking, you owe it to yourself at some point to own a custom gun.

Because there are so many types of guns, and so many types of shooting, here’s how I’ll define “custom gun” in this case.

For this article, a custom gun is one built to your personal specifications, with the accessories and upgrades you want to help you perform better at your favorite type of shooting. Maybe that custom gun is a $20,000 Perazzi Shotgun with the length of pull and cast set just for you? Or is it a $6,000 contemporary Pennsylvania flintlock crafted by a known artisan? Or maybe it’s a $5,000 handbuilt 1911?

Williams Flintlocks British-Style Fowler
Williams Flintlocks British-Style Fowler

And I want to be clear. I’m not talking about guns that are merely expensive. If you really want, you can drop close to a cool million on a rifle from VO Vapen. And I don’t mean rare, museum-grade collector pieces either, like an original Colt Walker or one of the .45 ACP Lugers from the U.S. Army tests of 1907.

VO Vapen Viking Edition One of One Rifle
VO Vapen Viking Edition One of One Rifle

The gun I’m talking about is not supposed to be the Mother of All Safe Queens, and won’t be displayed under glass that’s surrounded by state of the art security systems. The gun I’m talking about may cost quite a bit, but it is built and designed to be shot, a lot, by you, at whatever type of shooting you like best. The gun I’m talking about is going to be fired, and most certainly will get some scratches and dings on it.

My personal favorite custom gun is a professionally-accurized Remington 700 that cost me more than $2,000 about 16 years ago, and would probably cost me around twice that if I bought it brand new today. I have taken that rifle to shooting classes, and competed in matches with it. I’ve spent hours upon hours shooting long-range targets, both by myself and with buddies.

Over the years, that rifle has brought me way more than $2,000 worth of fun and enjoyment, and is still running strong.

That’s what I mean by a custom gun – one that you will shoot and shoot and enjoy for years, perhaps a lifetime. And getting that much enjoyment over a lifetime of shooting is easily worth a few thousand dollars.

Remington Custom Shop
Remington Custom Shop is a good place to start. :

1. Land To Shoot On

This is, by far, the most expensive thing on the list. More and more urbanites are getting into shooting, and owning their own piece of rural land that’s safe to shoot on may seem like a dream. But if you can ever make that dream happen, it can provide freedom and fun beyond anything you may experience at a formal, commercial range or organized gun club.

Before I moved to my present home, I used to live on about 30 very rural acres in a gun-friendly state. In one spot, I made a berm out of old tires completely covered with several feet of rock-free river bottom soil I had trucked in. That became my pistol and short rifle range, where I could back up to about 50 yards. On another section, I had a large hill that served as a natural backstop for my 200-yard rifle range. And so long as I kept my shots pointed to the west, I could shoot aerial shotgun targets pretty much anywhere on the property.

Private Shooting Range
I was very safe on all my ranges, and insisted that anyone else who shot with me also followed all the standard safety rules.

Whenever I wanted to shoot, I just grabbed a gun, ammo, and eye and ear protection, and sauntered out the door. If I wanted to test a new batch of handloads, the range was only 45 seconds away at a slow walk.

I was very safe on all my ranges, and insisted that anyone else who shot with me also followed all the standard safety rules.

But so long as we practiced safe gun handling, we were free, totally free to shoot whatever and however we wanted.

We shot cans of shaving cream and cheap two-liter sodas by the cart load. We secured an axe to a log and tried to split soft lead bullets on the edge. We tried to light strike-anywhere matches with .22s. One year, I gathered up about 20 leftover Halloween pumpkins and invited a bunch of friends over for the Great Pumpkin Massacre.

I was so free on my own personal ranges that I hated going to official gun clubs or commercial ranges that had all sorts of rules about approved targets and ammo, set shooting positions and prohibitions against “rapid fire” shooting. Now that I live inside city limits, I really miss the freedom of my personal backyard range.

Private Shooting Range
Private Shooting Range

Land is expensive, and a big commitment, and you need to do your homework before you buy a piece of property to shoot on. Are the people in that area accepting of backyard target practice? What are the laws regarding shooting in that locale? Can you actually shoot safely on the property without endangering anyone else? Do you plan to live on the property, or just use it as a range, and maybe a hunting area? These are all questions that must be answered before you get your own place to shoot on.

But if you find that perfect piece of land to shoot on, you’ll have a place to put your moving target system, get the most out of your high-quality optics, and burn all the really good ammo you want through your favorite custom gun. It’s your own little slice of ballistic heaven on earth.

Thomas Conroy is a firearms aficionado and writer who lives in the Midwest.

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    • Doesn’t fit the ‘really expensive’ title. you can get into reloading cheap, and sure you can drop a pretty big chunk of money on a hydraulic or electric progressive setup that does nearly everything for you, but even the biggest of those isn’t going to set you back like anything else on this list.

      • Ironically, a friend of mine who is newly into firearms and also a newly minted State Trooper was just trying to convince me that a BAR would be a good idea. I tried the size and weight argument. I tried the cost argument. He doesn’t seem to understand what he will be getting into.

    • Completely agree, I figured this would have been on the list for #2 instead and was kind of disappointed.

      • Meh… where are you going to shoot it? Like the article said, unless you own your own land or live by a rare type of range, most ranges prohibit rapid firing.

        • In a lot of rural places, you can legally discharge a firearm anywhere on national forest land, provided you are being safe. Not everyone has national forest land nearby, obviously, but it is something to be aware of if you live any reasonable distance away from some. And since it’s not a formal range, there’s no dumb rules that exist solely to limit liability.

  1. Is Remington Custom (aka Remington Arms Company, Inc.) not the same Remington (Remington PMPD, Remington Defense, Remington Law Enforcement & Remington 1816) that is owned by the Freedom Group being slowly or quickly ran into the ground? (And who has already ran Marlin underground)

    If this is so then…

    If you can’t trust them to make you a run-of-the-mill firearm, why would you give them a king’s ransom in cash to create a custom made firearm?

    • I was thinking that same thing. After the R51 debacle (according to a TTaG report from a source inside Remington, the top brass ordered the R51 [ostensibly a gun people are going to be trusting their lives with] into full production, even AFTER the engineers had informed them of the many large issues with the weapon), I wouldn’t trust ANYTHING from Remington. Not even cheap plinking ammo, let alone an expensive, custom made gun.

  2. I like building my own custom guns. Sure, it’s expensive to buy a mill, lathe and tooling, and to find the shop space to set it up. But for that investment, you can build not only your own complete custom pieces, but have the freedom to do those little one-off jobs (like customize a scope mount, etc.) that will cost a fortune at the gunsmith’s shop. In the process, you’ll learn a lot more about guns, machining, welding, and other very useful skills.

  3. #1, this so many times my fingers would fall off. I was livin the dream until my buddy’s grandma sold half their family farm and told no one until after the check was cashed but not before the new owner politely told us we were trespassing. Now its time to pay off my loans and get a ranch of my own.

    • 3 years and the mortgage is paid, will be looking for land this summer. I am stuck in CT for now, but the plan is to find land and to build on what will be where I want to retire.

  4. #6 have a high paying job, low/no bills to be able to even think about affording any of this crap.

    • Spot on. I’m pretty sure most of these are on just about every shooters “maybe if I win the lotto” list.

  5. I am very fortunate. Almost 200 acres that have been handed down to me from the 1800s. Five ponds on it and the backside of the pond levees make for great backstops to shoot against.

  6. This is an “elephant in the room” list. Very obvious – and we would all like to have these items on the list. Don’t even understand why they are mentioned. I would be more than happy to acquire all the items on this list if the author would like to subsidize them.

    • Make that a walk-in gun vault with a bank vault door.

      (In the cabin by the lake near hunting grounds. And throw in a hanger with a Pilatus Porter on floats. Turbine!)

  7. 5 Inexpensive things you should (and I do own).
    Marlin 60 and or 795
    Mosin Nagant
    Pardner Pump Protector
    Lots of inexpensive ammo. Blazer 22 bricks, Wolf 7.62X39

    Honorable mentions TRS-25 Red Dot Site, Saiga variant AK rifle, J Fame Smith Airweight

      • Good idea.

        #5: I’m thinking of a large off-road type remote control toy car with a dowel and frame stuck in it that can hold a clay pigeon or two. Maybe $25 bucks total. If you make the dowel 3′ or so, you probably won’t even shoot the car. The jug behind the truck idea is pretty solid as well.

        #4: Serviceable rimfire scopes exist in the $150 range, centerfire in the $400 range. I’m partial to Nikon.

        #3: For .223, Federal American Eagle varmint tip at $.55 a round in some ways shoots better than the $1.25 a round stuff. PMC makes some acceptable higher caliber stuff. I shot some Monarch .308 over the weekend at less than $.50 a round that was fairly accurate, even if you had to strike the primers twice to get some of them to go.

        #2: Build an AR yourself (or a 1911). Get comfortable changing out triggers, messing with stocks, etc.

        #1: Learn the applicable laws and scout your nearest national forest.

        All the stuff on the author’s list is cool, but not many people are in the position to responsibly spend the kind of money required for these things. 1 is the only one that won’t depreciate over time.

        • I’ve thought a lot about that remote control vehicle option as well. I had considered using balloons instead of clay pigeons. I guess it depends how good of a shot you are, and what range as well. It would be helpful in developing the skill of hitting moving targets with a rifle.

      • I just spent my lunch hour looking at scopes ranging from a $150 Weaver to a $4,000 Schmidt & Bender. I had never looked through a really high end scope before. There’s a real difference especially at high magnification (this was a 25x). It’s also a game of diminishing returns, like with most everything else . If I was surprised at anything, it was that I could not tell much, if any, difference between the $150 weaver and a $300 Leupold. The first jump up seemed to come in at about the $400 price point. Granted, you can’t tell a whole lot in a store, but the experience was interesting nonetheless.

    • UPLULA magazine loader (best thing ever)
      a bucket full of sand
      small gunsmith driver set
      dremel flex-shaft
      table-clamp vice
      Primary arms optics (great value)

  8. As soon as I can afford new tires for the truck and new siding for the trailer, and have those old washing machines in the back yard hauled off, I am gonna get right on this list. (I did have a moving target system at one time, but the gf has gotten too old to run very fast anymore………, she was dragging a cardboard box.)

  9. Most incomes prohibit owning ANYTHING on that list! How about practice and get really good with what you can afford? If all you can afford is crappy steel ammo then get good shooting that. You dont HAVE to buy a $5000 hand gun to have fun shooting. And why would ANYONE put $10k scope on a $1000 rifle?

    I will NEVER be able to afford anything on this list. And Im ok with that. I know my limits.

  10. I’ll dispute most of these 5 items EXCEPT land. Undeveloped land land land. That’s way up on my list. Nice read.

    • Yup. My problem is I’ve got money saved up, but I can’t find any land that meets the requirements (laws OK with shooting, large enough area for shooting safely, etc…) within a reasonable drive (3-4 hrs) from me.

  11. I would rather have a beyond massive amount of inexpensive-mid grade ammo than a large amount of overpriced ammo. Ooops did I say that? I meant high quality ammo that will make every shot perfect.

  12. Unfortunately most of us have to work hard for whatever meager wage we can get. I don’t have the spare cash for any of this stuff, nor am I ever likely to. I’d especially like to have a plot of land to set up my own targets, but in this area and with my income it just isn’t going to happen

  13. In terms of shooting at moving targets, the best practice system I’ve ever seen involved a pickup, a short couch, fifty feet of rope, and a gallon jug with a quart of water in it, and a road on private land.

    The couch goes in the pickup, facing backwards. The jug goes on the end of the rope; the other end of the rope ties onto the tow ball. Someone drives the pickup along at ten or so MPH; the jug bounces along in random directions; the daring marksmen sit on the couch and shoot at the jug.
    When you get good at that, forget the couch, and just stand in the bed of the truck (but be sure your route is free of low-hanging branches!).

  14. My great grandma had 300 acres near the Oregon coast. Unfortunately she wouldn’t let us do anything on it. but it would have been perfect for shooting and hunting. Just watch out for the poachers!

  15. “That’s what I mean by a custom gun – one that you will shoot and shoot and enjoy for years, perhaps a lifetime.”

    If that’s all you mean, does that mean my $120, unmodified Mosin-Nagant 91/30 qualifies? ^_^

    Seriously, though, if I’m spending that much on a rifle, I’m not looking for a bunch of custom features that I’m not skilled enough to take advantage of. I’d rather have something like a M1941 Johnson, or some other unique piece of history.

  16. That’s a great idea, a few comments up – cheapest things you should have, even if you are rich! Here is my list that I spend all of 3 minutes on;
    1) Used Marlin 60 tube-fed 22LR, $100, some of the best money sever spent. Take it anywhere, in any weather, forget to clean it after shooting it in the rain, let the kids use it, no mags to lose, and this thing actually shoots well, still.
    2) Fobus paddle holster, $12 from amazon, don’t need to thread my $200 leather Milt Sparks holster on a belt, when I need to run up to the store in sweatpants!
    3) Cheap bulk 22LR ammo that works well in your pistol/rifle, and load up on it. Yes right now that’s a little difficult, but this just highlights why this is important. I still have thousands of rounds Winchester M-22 purchased for 4 cents per round from four years ago.
    4) Make a friend(s) with a guy who works at a gun store, easy and cheap to make happen, and can prove invaluable!
    5) Taurus model 65, $205 + new Hogue rubber grip. Scratched up, and 30 years old? Yes, but the 4″ revolver can handle the stoutest 357 loads, and everybody needs a revolver (or else you run the risk of being a 40 year old adult playing GI Joe with AR15’s in your mom’s basement). So we have now established that any true gun guy has a couple revolvers, and if you buy a cheap one then you won’t be “forced” to sell it when it is time to buy your 8th 1911. Lastly, if you get lucky & end up with a diamond in the rough, you can have it Cerakoted with some cool contrasting colors / finishes, and have an instant heirloom gun to hand down to your kids / grandkids.
    Good luck to you all. Now, you may laugh at my list, but my “cheap list” has a much better chance of helping somebody out than “go ahead and consider buying your own range”!

  17. RE#4 – > I’m the guy with the Trijicon ($700) on a Marlin bolt action ($289). I ran one on a CVA Hunter ($169 form Academy on Black Friday) for 2 hunting seasons.

    Cheap Gun, Expensive glass!! WHOOP!!

    The only left on that list for me is the Custom Gun. Prolly gonna be a Gary Reeder piece.

  18. there is only one thing in that list that is actually valid: Land to shoot on. everything else is just crap to brag about.

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