After finding out certain areas of New York allow rifles for deer hunting, I decided it was time to get started building a decent hunting rifle. I wanted something that could drop any game in my area without costing too much practicing at the range.
If you’re in the same boat, this was my solution.
The largest factor in finding the right hunting cartridge is what you will be hunting and where you will be hunting it. Hunting grizzly requires different hardware than prairie dogs.
Where I am in New York, we don’t have anything bigger than black bear. This makes a .223 too small and a 300 Win Mag unnecessary as much as I’d love one.
Dense forests make up most of the area due to heavy logging years ago. This prohibits most longer range shots. A shot across the field may be 400 yards, but any shots made in the woods will generally be under 100.
The two calibers I was having a hard time choosing between were the flatter shooting 6.5 Creedmoor or the harder hitting 308 Winchester.
The 6.5 Creedmoor has a lot of great options for factory ammo, and prices have been dropping. This cartridge is excellent for reaching out to 1300 yards with a very flat trajectory. The ballistic coefficient helps the slimmer bullet in the wind as well. As great as the cartridge is, it was designed as a target round.
The 308 Winchester allows for purchasing bulk military ammo for plinking and cheaper hand loads when more accuracy is required. Hand-loading my ammunition allows me to pay less than 50 cents per round for very high quality, sub-moa results. The 308 Winchester has the added benefit of being designed for hitting hard and getting the job done.
I ended up going with the 308 because of distance. Most hunting shots in my area are within 75 yards in the woods and even a big field is rarely 400 yards across. At these distances, the 6.5 shooting flatter won’t effect me, but the 308 will deliver a lot more energy.
Any rifle I own sees more than 5-10 rounds for a hunting zero. If I shoot a rifle I clean it, so I make it worth the extra work. I’ll put at least 100 rounds through a rifle in a single range trip, so reliability is a necessity.
There are a ton of budget friendly and accurate rifles out today. While there is no right choice, you can certainly make a wrong one. Choosing the right platform out of the gate can change the entire customizing experience.
When I went to my local gun store, I originally went looking for the newer Savage 10 FCP-SR with a 20” bull barrel and the Savage Accu-Trigger. This rifle has a threaded barrel and a 10 round drop magazine from the factory.
This rifle has a beautiful snakeskin camo finish on the synthetic stock. The tactical bolt knob gives plenty of real-estate to work the bolt even with a scope mounted.
The fluted barrel helps to prevent overheating the barrel during long sessions, while reducing weight. The threaded muzzle allows the mounting of a suppressor or muzzle brake.
The only problem? When I ran the bolt on the rifle and it bound instantly. Any pressure on the outer portion of the bolt handle caused it to bind. This may have been because of the extra length on the tactical bolt knob. This was a no-go.
Next up was the Ruger American ‘Go Wild’ edition. This rifle had a 22” threaded bull barrel, muzzle brake, aluminum bedded chassis, and a free floated barrel. The AICS pattern magazine that comes with the rifle only holds 3 rounds, but has a great low profile for going through the wooded areas.
The action has a durable bronze Cerakote finish shared with the cold hammer forged barrel and muzzle brake with a camouflage stock. The synthetic stock has the Ruger Power Bedding system which ensures a solid platform for the action as well as free-floating the barrel.
This rifle, like the Savage comes with a very nice factory adjustable trigger. The only problem I found with the rifle I felt was a gritty action. This was upsetting with the Ruger Americans one piece, three lug bolt.
Running out of options at the local gun store, the last rifle that caught my eye was the Remington 700 ADL Tactical. When I was younger, Remington had a great reputation as a company that produced quality farm rifles that got the job done. Newer Remington’s have had questionable quality control over the last few years.
The price on this rifle is what caught my eye. This rifle was nothing special. Non-bedded synthetic stock that flexed in your hands. It didn’t even have the X-Mark Pro trigger.
The ADL Tactical had a threaded barrel, but no muzzle brake installed like the Ruger. It did, however, have a 20” bull barrel and an action as smooth as glass.
For the price of buying a better rifle and making it what I wanted, I might as well start with a well known platform with a ton of aftermarket options for any issues I may come to down the line. And so began the build for $250.
Before I started throwing money at the rifle, I wanted to see how it shot out of the box. Before I test a factory barrel, I always like to do a proper barrel break-in.
I don’t know for a fact that barrel break-in makes any difference at all. The thought process of smoothing out imperfections without overheating the barrel just seems like a very logical start to a new barrel’s life. My process could be very different from yours; I just use what I was taught 20 years ago.
I start with sending three rounds down the barrel and give it a good clean. Then I double it to six rounds and give it another good clean.
Repeat this process for 12 rounds and 24 rounds, cleaning each time with a good copper solvent until you stop seeing the green on your cloth. The green is the ammonia reacting with the copper inside the grooves and imperfections of your barrel.
If you want to see if barrel break-in makes a difference then you should start by shooting groups with your first 5 and last 5 rounds. At this time I had not ordered my scope yet, so I was just firing at a backstop for my break-in.
The scope you put on your rifle is a critical component. You don’t want a long range precision scope on the shotgun you use for trap shooting. Not enough magnification and you won’t be able to reach out, too much and you may have a hard time locating a closer target while hunting.
Deciding on a purpose and a budget before you build the rifle can save you a big headache down the road. If you have $1000 to spend, you would be much better off with a $800 scope on a $200 rifle than the other way around.
The cheapest rifle you can find will benefit from good glass, but putting a $200 scope on top of a $5000 rifle wont let the rifle perform at it’s peak. Always use the best glass you can afford for the build.
Another important decision to make is if you want a first or second focal plane on your scope. Second focal plane is the most common and means you can zoom in on the target without your reticle changing sizes on you. The target gets bigger, but your reticle stays the same size.
The issue with this system is that your subtensions change as your magnification does. This results in your subtensions only being correct at a specific magnification. This isn’t a problem at longer distances when under high zoom most of the time, however you can’t hold the same place at 6x that you would at 14x.
With a first focal plane system, as you zoom in on the target, you zoom in on your reticle as well. This allows the subtensions in the reticle to stay consistent at any magnification level. This causes thin lines at low power, but under higher zoom settings the reticle may block out small targets.
Constantly changing ranges within 400 yards pushed my decision towards the first focal plane option. Every build is different and you should think about what you really expect out of the rifle before you spend hard earned money on something that isn’t exactly what you’re looking for.
With the barrel broken in, it was time to do a preliminary accuracy test. By now my scope had arrived.
I went with Vortex Diamondback Tactical 6-24x50mm for the task at hand. I decided to go with Vortex mainly because of their lifetime warranty. For a hunting rifle, I thought their VIP warranty would be perfect for a scope that would be going up and down trees as well as through brush.
I have a Chinese manufactured CVLIFE scope on my .223 and my 22LR. For being $35, they work great, but I would not trust them on top of a 308 Winchester when I need reliability and accuracy during hunting season. A fogged lens or bumped zero can mean missing the animal entirely, or even worse, wounding it.
The CVLIFE scope is also second focal plane, and I have missed a few crows because I didn’t check my magnifications and my holds were off. I know at 24x magnification, I can hold 1 Mil high and hit a crow at 100 yards. However, at ANY other magnification, this is not true.
This is why I went with the Vortex in first focal plane. The FFP setup is much better for hunting in closer ranges considering I never know what magnification I might be using at what distance.
The Diamondback Tactical comes with side parallax adjustment, exposed tactical style turrets, and some pretty clear glass for the price point. Yes, you can spend $5,000 on a scope and it will no doubt be much better. This is a hunting rifle, not an ELR build.
The clarity doesn’t really become an issue unless you’re at the higher end of the zoom range and at a farther distance. Over 20x magnification is about where the chromatic aberration starts getting noticeable. This likely won’t affect a 400-yard shot. However, if you’re building for longer ranges or a competition rifle, you may want to spend a bit more on the glass.
The turrets track very well and return to zero easily. There is no zero stop, but there are clear markings on the turrets to give you an idea of what revolution you are on. Count the lines showing and just return it there when dialing down after your shot.
Vortex does a great job with any of their scopes. You get what you pay for every time. They offer scopes under $200 to scopes over $3000 and any price in between, and all of their optics have the VIP warranty.
If you pick the right scope for the rifle, your marksmanship can only get better.
After a quick 50 yard zero, I was grouping just under 2 inches with factory ammo. This isn’t terrible for the cheapest Remington 700 I could get my hands on. The factory stock was not bedded in any way and the factory trigger was horrible.
The pull out of the box could have just about lifted the bull barrel rifle. When the trigger pull is just as heavy as the rifle, it makes it very difficult to make a shot without moving the rifle.
For this task, I turned to the TriggerTech Primary trigger. There were a lot of reviews on Timney and Jewell triggers on the market, but I didn’t like what I heard about their repeatability and break-in due to their sear engagement.
The TriggerTech Primary trigger solves this problem with their FRT technology, which is their friction-less roller system. This design allows the pull weight to start at zero during manufacturing. They then engineer the required tension into the system.
This is what keeps their clean, crisp break and the consistent pull weight shot after shot, even when exposed to dust. The FRT system also helps keep the trigger system safer by not sacrificing sear surface area for trigger pull weight.
With a Timney trigger, I have had the weight change over the break in period. This has not been true with the TriggerTech Primary. Over 500 rounds through the rifle so far with zero malfunctions and every shot as crisp and clean as the first.
Even with their budget-minded Primary model, I have heard nothing but “wow” from my range buddies. I have tried several times to get a malfunction on an empty chamber and the safety mechanism with these triggers just works.
Installing this trigger was a breeze. The install took less than 15 minutes with nothing but a hammer, my punches, and an Allen wrench for adjustments. I knocked out the two pins holding in the factory trigger and left one pin partially in to hold the bolt stop and spring in place.
Next, take the old one out and put the new one in. Tap the pins back in place and do a function and safety test, then you’re good to go. If you would like to read more about the process or the trigger, I did a full write-up here.
Now it came time to find a stock for the rifle. Since the factory stock had so much flex, this decision was almost as important as the scope. There are many options from MDT, Hogue, MAGPUL, and McMillan. Any of these aftermarket options will likely be much better than the factory synthetic.
Some stocks are designed for PRS matches, others are designed for hunting. Some are simply made to look pretty. You may want something with a rail that you can add weights to, or the lightest carbon fiber has to offer. Whatever your purpose, there are plenty of aftermarket stock options for the Remington 700 platform.
I decided to go with the MAGPUL Hunter 700 because of the mlok rails and adjustable length of pull, as well as the adjustable cheek piece. I prefer a hunting rifle style grip over a pistol grip when hunting or even shooting from a bench. A pistol grip allows you to control the rifle, but we want to let the rifle shoot.
The v-style aluminum bedding block makes sure the action is planted firmly, with no need for a glass bedding job. There is plenty of room for an aftermarket recoil lug as well, but the factory lug sits firmly against the bedding block.
The TriggerTech trigger dropped right in with no clearance issues. There is a spot for a QD cup, but I went with just putting my sling in the slot on the side of the butt-stock
A screw on the butt-stock releases the pad so you can add or remove spacers to fit your length of pull. After removing the butt-stock, you’re also able to swap out the cheek riser to the height of your liking. There is a tab on the riser locking it into the butt, so you don’t have to worry about that falling out when you’re walking through the woods.
I always follow the old trick for sizing a rifles length of pull. Hold your forearm and bicep at 90 degrees while holding the rifle. The butt of the stock should rest just against your bicep with your hand on the gun comfortably.
This is an easy way to know if the gun is still just too big for your youngin’ or your wife to shoot. MAGPUL has made the Hunter 700 adjustable for this exact reason. You can adjust the length of pull from shooting in the summer to your layered hunting clothes as well. Only downside is it’s not a quick adjust, but it’s a much more solid system than most buffer tube style chassis.
This stock is a bit hefty for those deep-hills elk hunts. With the bull barrel and Vortex scope, the rifle weighs in at just over 10 lbs. That adds up quick on a long hunt when you’re looking for a rifle that weighs less than 7 lbs scoped. On a long trip ounces make pounds and pounds make pain.
This didn’t discourage me considering that we don’t do week long, 5 man elk hunts in New York. This chassis is perfect for a day hunt or time at the range. The extra weight makes the rifle a blast to burn through ammo with when compared to a carbon fiber 300 Win Mag that weighs just 5 lbs.
The bedding and free-floating that this stock provides cut my group size to ¼ what they were before. When I purchased the rifle, the best group I could get with hand loads was just under an inch.
Any factory loaded ammunition I used was closer to a 2” group. This chassis brought a 10 round group under 1 moa including the fliers. A 5 shot group of hand loads was consistently under a half inch at 100 yards.
I may not be the best shot in the world, but I like to know my rifle can perform better than me. At least if I miss a shot, I know the rifle and ammo are not to blame.
They also offer a bottom metal that allows the use of AICS pattern magazines. This allowed me to turn my cheap internal magazine ADL into a drop mag style for a very reasonable price. More on this stock here.
The 308 doesn’t really kick like a mule, but 100+ rounds was leaving me sore the next day. I knew finding and installing a muzzle brake was the next step, especially if I wanted to convince my girlfriend to shoot this baby.
Installation was pretty simple. I tried using a crush washer to begin with, but wasn’t a fan of the one time use. I got a lock nut for the brake and used that in place of the crush washer.
The first step is to make sure your rifle is level in the vise. You can generally place a level on the scope rail as long as it is true on the action.
Thread the lock nut onto the threads at the end of the muzzle, all the way down. Next, thread on the muzzle brake. The lock nut should be at the bottom of the threads. You want as much engagement as possible here.
Most brakes have a flat spot on the top for timing. This makes sure the gases are expelled in the right directions. A brake not timed properly could result in the rifle pulling left or right during recoil.
Run the muzzle brake down to the lock nut and back it off to level. Use the flat area on the top of the brake to level your brake true to your action.
I went with the JP Recoil Eliminator Muzzle Brake. When looking for muzzle brakes, I noticed there were a lot of negative reviews about this brake because of the size, but there are smaller options if that’s what you’re looking for.
The Recoil Eliminator brake is big for a reason. It cuts the recoil of the 308 to right around what the .223 is. The muzzle rise is cut considerably as well.
The shape is what really makes the Recoil Eliminator interesting. It has a triangle shape vertically and horizontally. Wider at the bottom than the top, and wider at the front than the back.
The large surface area to the front helps soften the recoil, while the smaller surface at the top allows for more gasses to be vented in that direction. The gasses expanding up help reduce the muzzle rise.
Due to the effectiveness of this brake, it tends to be very loud. It is not really suggested for hunting situations if you hunt with anyone else. Using their shoulder as a rest may destroy their hearing and your friendship irreparably.
The muzzle blast doesn’t kick any gasses or debris in your direction, but stay clear of the sides.
The Recoil Eliminator is build like a rock. The only marking is the JP logo engraved on the front at the top. They offer this brake in Stainless and a matte black coating.
The installation was pretty simple as well. I used a vice and leveled my action, then leveled the muzzle brake to the now level action. I went with using a nut instead of a crush washer. I can remove it for hunting season without needing to replace any pieces.
Overall, this is a great brake that really does the job well. The round is still going to kick, but it removed any harsh recoil feel.
This is the rifle I’ll break out at a party when my buddies and I want to have some fun ringing steel. If your wife is comfortable with a bit of kick, take her to the range and let her have it.
My lady was scared to shoot the rifle because of the volume. After she built her confidence with smaller rifles and even a few pistols, she decided it was time to try the 308. She sat down and emptied the magazine, ringing the 8” steel every time at over 200 yards. The JP Recoil Eliminator Muzzle Brake turned a rifle I wouldn’t let her shoot into a rifle she’s already asking me to shoot again.
Total Cost – $1,084 to $1,185
To have a reliable ½ moa rifle that should fit all the requirements, this seems like a steal. It may be more than necessary for a hunting rifle, but when you build it yourself, you can turn it into anything you want. This was an excellent building experience and I hope to do it again in the future.
If you do everything right, you might even be able to talk the Mrs. into “getting one for herself” in a different caliber.