We do spend a fair bit of time fielding emails and even phone calls asking about what rifle or scope or cartridge or particular ammo is best for long range shooting. Many calls come in from folks who probably have no intention of attending one of our courses, but who still want to assemble a “sniper” rifle. The voice mails (or emails) go something like “uh, yeah, I’m going to be coming to a shooting class at BangSteel here in a few weeks maybe, and I wanted to know what kind of rifle I should buy, and what kind of scope…” So, it would seem useful to construct a short treatise that will serve the purpose of directing potential clients toward what we have found to be the best choices in rifles, scopes, and ammunition for doing the kind of work we do here.
Please note that we actually do see a *lot* of rifles come through our general and private classes, as well as our rifle matches that we host. While most long range shooting schools hold one or two classes per month, we have been blessed with steady business throughout the week–even in the “off season.” This is not to boast (boasting is foolish 🙂 )… this is rather to help the reader understand that the opinions being offered here are based on a larger body of information than the average shooting school will have amassed.
This body of information will be subject to change from time to time. This recommended equipment list will added to, or taken away from–or otherwise modified based on our latest experiences with various rifle, scope, and ammo brands. We will only recommend what we *know* for a fact will work. Just because a particular piece of equipment is expensive, we cannot give it a pass and include it here. What you’ll find here are items that we know for certain, based on actual experience and multiple examples will work.
If you do not see your favorite brand of rifle or optic listed here, that does not mean that it will be unsatisfactory. It simply means that we’ve had either limited, or -zero- experience with that item. So we will not recommend it until we’ve seen multiple examples perform well in use.
This list is not meant to imply that these recommended items are bullet proof. 😉 It is possible that we’ve seen very limited failures of the rifles or optics mentioned here, but feel that the product is still a good choice. Nothing is perfect; things can malfunction. We saw a 6000 dollar rifle which boasts a proprietary action with the Winchester model 70 style safety fail when the safety lever locked up like Fort Knox, rendering the rifle inoperative. Some fiddling and finagling and some RemOil got it running again, so we chalked that up to a very rare occurrence. Other rifles costing more than 5000 dollars have shown issues, especially esoteric AR based designs built around cartridges that the AR was never meant to work with. Let that be enough of that, however… just suffice it to say that spending big money on a rifle does not necessarily mean that it won’t have problems.
Tried and true designs with widely available parts sources are usually a good bet. If you simply must have something odd, or well off the beaten path because you just can’t bring yourself to shoot a “pedestrian” Remington 700 or Savage 10 action–you’ll be in for disappointment if that system fails, as it’ll likely need to be shipped back to the builder. Not so long ago we delayed a private class for 90 minutes while waiting on a Fed Ex shipment to arrive with an extractor for a very expensive semi-auto 300 Winchester Magnum. Two out of three of those rifles which have come to our classes and matches have failed to the point that a back up rifle had to be used.
So without further ramble, let’s get into the list. Remember–this list will change from time to time, so check back here for potential changes. Please don’t email asking why a particular rifle or optic is not mentioned. We do not wish to impugn any particular brand here; our aim is to direct you to equipment that we strongly believe you can rely on. If the equipment is not listed, it’s either because we have not seen a large enough sample of those items, or we have noted higher than average problems with those items.
As far as commonly fielded rifles that we’ve seen, the top two performers based on sheer numbers are Remington 700’s and Savage 10 (or 110) model rifles. Our range rifles are generally Savage builds, but we must admit that the Remington 700 action seems to give fewer problems. The Remington 700 trigger leaves a lot to be desired when compared to the Savage Accutrigger, but replacement triggers are widely available. Savage rifles will at times need the Accutrigger adjusted, and can have very tight chambers that allow factory rounds to actually hit the rifling. Not altogether a bad thing for accuracy and velocity, but a recent Savage LE 308 would hold onto the bullet so tight you couldn’t extract a loaded round (factory Federal Gold Medal match). With ample break-in such a situation will normally resolve, but I mention that just as an example of what can be seen at times. Another thing we’ve seen with some Savage rifles is that the front action screw when properly torqued protrudes into the bolt lug channel, obstructing the bolt’s movement. The rifle normally has shipped with a loose front action screw to accommodate the anomaly–no kidding.
Not to inflate the Remington lover’s heads too much here though… the average Savage has proven to be a bit more accurate. This isn’t to say Remington’s wont shoot. Let’s just say that when a Savage is right, “bring on the custom guns“… they really can be that good.
Ruger… the new Ruger Precision rifle is very good. Other than some minor issues with the adjustment of the cheek riser that comes on the rifle, these really work. The trigger is very good, the rifle comes with a 20 MOA scope base installed, and is very “tactical” friendly if you’re after that sort of thing. We’ve seen 6 of these rifles as of this writing, and they’re fast becoming a favorite.
Tikka… no problems here, these work very well. The replacement parts may not be as easily found as with more popular models, but the rifles are well made, and we’ve not seen a single Tikka give trouble. Get a heavy barreled version and it’ll serve you well. If you’re after a hunting weight rig, the T3 Light shoots well.
Browning… no problems to report, but we have only a modest number of examples as of now. The quality of the Browning product seems to be top notch. It’s likely a good choice. We’ve even been impressed with the consistency of the Browning BAR (semi-automatic rifle).
Semi-auto AR-10 platforms. As odd as it may sound, the DPMS seems to give less trouble than the more expensive versions. While you wouldn’t think this would be the case, it nonetheless (in our experience) is. Heavy barreled DPMS rifles generally give excellent long range accuracy. We don’t at this time have any recommendations for other brands of AR-10 (308 win chambered) rifles. There are obviously a lot of high end AR-10’s available out there, so if you plan to buy one please check online reviews before you drop a lot of cash.
This will get a bit controversial, but we need to call it like we see it. If the scope of your choice is not listed here, and you’re fairly confident it’s a popular model, the odds are that we’ve seen too many crashes to recommend it. That does not mean that your scope is bad; it just means that odds of a new buyer getting a bad one are too high for us to recommend that scope model. There are brands that have both bad and good and “mediocre” models, all under the same company name. So keep that in mind also.
One other thing: There are no doubt thousands of anecdotal mentions on the internet and elsewhere of “XYZ” scope breaking. Very often (perhaps most of the time) these scope “failures” were not failures at all. Improper installation, or ignorance of scope function and design capabilities can place the blame on a perfectly good scope, when it in fact belongs on the person who installed the scope, and/or the user. Many shooters in high level competition matches may blame the scope when they do poorly–but the real culprit may have simply been a good shooter having a bad day. Just sayin’ 😉
Athlon Optics. For high end optics, the Athlon Cronus is going to be very difficult to beat. If you can spring for the reasonable price (compared to other scopes costing over 2000 dollars) you’ll be very impressed, as we have been.
Leupold… The Mark 4 Leupold scopes seem to be tough performers. These may have to be obtained on the used market as of 2017, as word is Leupold is going to limit sales of these scopes to military and LE only. Other than needing the usual “break in” of the turrets so that they’ll track true, these work well. Glass is more than adequate, and overall design is proven in use over many years. Unlike what is being mentioned by many, we’ve not seen (at this point) any marked difference in quality between older and newer Mark 4 Leupolds. At this writing, we’ve seen dozens of Mark 4 Leupolds, and none have broken.
For a general use hunting scope that utilizes the coin dial style turrets, you can really get a lot for your money in the 3 to 9 power VX-1 or “Rifleman” Leupold scope. These are tough, and seem to work well. It’s a fairly old, tried and true design. Not the best choice for long range shooting–but they can and do work! The Leupold CDS versions of the VX2 and VX3, especially with the Wind-Plex reticle are OUTSTANDING scopes for not a lot of cash.
Vortex… We can without question recommend the Vortex Gen-II Razor scopes. These are reliable, solid performers.
Bushnell… One of our favorites is the Bushnell Elite 10X (fixed power) mildot scope. These things are built well, and we’ve not seen a failure at this point. And for 200 to 250 dollars, they top our list of value priced scopes. Tracking is excellent. These will beat the living daylights out of many scopes costing 3 times as much–so don’t overlook them.
Nikon… these scopes can work well for a budget priced hunting rig. The Prostaff and Buckmaster line seems to give good service. We do not like the “12 MOA” revolution count on the turrets, however. (Ten MOA revs are best, unless you get to the higher end 20 MOA rev turrets).
SWFA… Probably our favorite scope to recommend below 1000 dollars, especially the fixed 10, 12, and 16 power models. For 300 dollars, these scopes are an INCREDIBLE value, easily beating nearly every scope you can mention this side of 1000 dollars when it comes to precision of turret dialing, and overall robust construction. The 12x “milquad” SWFA is one of our favorite scopes period. We’ve never seen an SWFA scope fail, and we’ve seen a lot of them. The SWFA’s are approved for use on the 50 BMG–so they can take a real beating and stay on zero.
Burris… the XTR series tactical scopes are priced around the 1100 dollar a copy mark, and are very good scopes from what we’ve seen. The 3.5 to 15x, or the 5 to 20x will be excellent choices, both. One particular XTR I reviewed has the odd distinction of being the crispest, clearest, most beautifully contrasted glass I’ve seen in *any* rifle scope at *any* price. Not sure where Burris got that glass, but it was stunning. I’ve not looked through a lot of other XTR’s, so won’t say this one speaks for all of them, but that particular scope still haunts me once in a while… 😮 🙂
Schmidt & Bender… they’re one of the very best, and the price reflects it. Quality is second to none. The PM line is the one you’d want. Other than perhaps the tiny turret clicks which can make getting the exact setting something you’ll have to practice at, we can say nothing bad about the S&B scopes.
Nightforce… in our opinion, one of the very best. Not that they have anything over the Schmidt & Bender product–but we’ve seen five Nightforce optics for every one S&B, and can attest that Nightforce scopes seem not to break. (!) They just work. Turret design and ease of use (remember, we get to watch a lot of different clients and competitors adjust and use their scopes) is a Nightforce standard. If you don’t mind spending over 2000 dollars on a scope, a Nightforce scope is a very safe investment. We’ve not seen a Nightforce scope break in use, or fail to track correctly.
US Optics… Friend and seasoned competition shooter Lynn Houck is a dedicated US Optics scope user, and he assures me that these scopes are as tough and reliable as any on the market. They’re pricey, as very good scopes will tend to be, but they’re worth the investment.
Not a lot to say here, other than you should avoid most general hunting ammo; it rarely does well at long range work. Federal Gold Medal Match is pretty much always good, if they make it for your rifle. Hornady match (standard grade) has been very good. We’ve also become acquainted with BlackWater Precision ammo lately, and noted great performance and great prices. Check out Creedmoor Sports on their ammo selection, it has all been good stuff. Most big maker “match grade” ammo is good to go. Do not buy Remington Core-lokt stuff; it’s good short range hunting ammo but is not designed for long range work. Avoid ammunition with flat based bullets for long range work. ALWAYS get your ammo in the same lot number (by the case is best).
Handloads… please make sure you’ve contacted us with your exact handload recipe before you load up a bunch in anticipation of a class. We need to be sure that it will be safe and effective for the course.
For your 20 MOA scope base, you’ll want to invest in a good one. Unfortunately, the lower cost options are often not really 20 MOA bases; they’re merely flat bases repackaged and sold as 20’s. This is a fact; we see it all too often. If you’re shooting a fast 6mm or 6.5mm, you can probably get by without a 20 MOA base. With the 308 Winchester or 6.5 Grendel, you will definitely need a 20 MOA base. Faster magnums with high BC bullets can get by without a 20 MOA base. This all said, it’s best to go on and install a 20 MOA lift of some sort for your scope if you plan to do much long range shooting.
Ken Farrell, Warne, Nightforce, Leupold Mark 4 and Badger are all good. Obviously Spuhr is good. 🙂 If you don’t want to spend the cash on a better name 20 MOA base, you should check out Burris Signature rings with the offset inserts for your 20 MOA lift.
Bipods… the Harris 9 to 13 inch SLM models remain our favorite. You can get two of these for the cost of the Atlas models, and the Harris SLM (watch folks use them) are normally easier to use. That said, the Atlas is fine–it’s just that the return on investment doesn’t seem justified in our studied opinion.
Again, check back on this list from time to time. We will add, remove, or modify the data here based on future developments. Many good shooters with considerable experience may take exception to inclusions, exclusions, or commentary shown here. We do understand that, and don’t intend any offense at all. This list represents our experiences and observations, nothing more–nothing less. 🙂