When sending bullets into the next ZIP code, which rifle style will meet your shooting needs? Will a conventional rifle do the trick, or should you step up to a modern chassis rifle? Fortunately, this article will help with your decision.
It was 1972, and I found myself high in the Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming. I was laying prone across a rock ledge with my old tried-and-true Model 70 Winchester Feather Weight chambered in .30-06 Springfield. In the rifle’s chamber was a handloaded Hornady Spire Point 150-gain pill, powered by 60 grains of IMR 4895. At my side was my lifelong partner Ross Metzger, a knowledgeable deer hunter and one of the engineers who put the first satellites into orbit for the USA.
Ross was on his field glasses — spotting scopes were not all the rage in those days. Sighting down the deep draw, I had my crosshairs set on a nice, adult mule deer buck. The big guy was bedded down among no less than seven does. He was situated dead center on a flat section of rock flats and nestled in about six inches of fresh snowfall from the previous night.
Ross muttered, “400 yards.” In those days, it was all guesswork. I took his word for it and held over the buck’s front shoulders using gut-level windage and an open gap between the ridge of his shoulder and the crosshairs on my 3×9 Leupold Gold Ring scope.
At the shot, the 21-inch quick-tapered barrel’s muzzle turned bright red in the scope. The buck stood up — after what seemed like an eternity for the bullet to reach him. Working the bolt for another round, I got back on the scope only to see him drop out of my crosshairs. The veteran of many hard-fought battles for mating rights was piled up, stone dead in the fresh snow.
One year after making that shot, I had built a Springfield 03-A3 from a handmade beaver-tailed forend, glassed the receiver, free-floated the barrel, and had a local gunsmith rework the trigger. The old military Springfield started taking on anything and everything that presented a challenge to me. I did everything I could with it to stretch the effective range of a rifle.
That mule deer lit a fuse in my soul you could say, and from that day on, I become intensely interested in all types of long-range shooting pursuits. Now, about four decades later, I have written three books on the subject and hunted from Canada to Australia stretching the working range of many different rifles and cartridges.
One thing that stands out here is that for almost all that time, I shot the basic conventional turn bolt, walnut-stocked, sporting rifle in the field. It was only within the past 10 years or so that the new age chassis rifle emerged. However, for the most part, chassis rifles have taken over the long-range rifle market.
As a gun writer, professional hunter, and ballistics research evaluator, I have had the opportunity to shoot just about everything that goes bang! As a result, I feel I can shed some light on which way to go when selecting a rifle for use in the long-range shooting game.
The Standard Bolt-Action Rifle
I have used the word “standard” here because it involves everything from the basic wood-stocked sporter, old-school military conversion rifle, and current plastic and carbon-fiber materials used in many other rifle stocks today. When selecting a long-range rifle, the standard-stocked rifle is a reasonable option because it works and works well.
I have owned and shot a Kimber Advanced Tactical sniper rifle for years. The stock is a McMillan fiberglass stock that is pillar bedded with aluminum material against the glass. The barrel is free-floated to the barrel receiver ring. Chambered in .308, it is flat out deadly to 800 yards.
With the 175-grain Sierra bullet, it can be pushed a bit to 1,100 yards when required. As a second example, another stud in my long-range stable is a Ruger Hawkeye in .300 Win. Mag that retains a target sniper-style wood forend, adjustable buttstock system, is light enough for field carry, and accurate enough to shoot target steel to 1,500 yards or hunt trophy whitetail to 500 yards — with ease.
Wood or glass stocks are lighter than some of the new entries in the long-range rifle market and can be adapted to real-time field conditions by hunters as well as target shooters. In large calibers, they are workable to ranges that are difficult to take on in terms of accurate long-range shooting. What I like about the wood-stocked rifles is in cold weather, the stock surfaces are much warmer to the hand than some other systems in current use today.
Even the slimline sporter stocks return good results, if the barrel is free-floated to the receiver ring (very important), and the action is glass or pillar bedded for a solid anchor to the stocks receiver. I will put a CZ American in .300 Win. Mag up as an example. It is a rifle that I hunted with for many years.
The rifle has recorded some outstanding long-range trophy bucks as one-shot harvested animals. The second and the most used in my arsenal is a Weatherby Back Country built by Howa that has an aluminum bedded, fiberglass stock with a free-floated barrel. Again, this rifle has recorded kills to almost 500 yards.
It is not necessary to spend the family fortune on a rifle. Winchester’s new Model 70 by example is not the venerable pre-1964 Mauser, but it is very reasonable in terms of cost and well built. Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor, it has taken whitetail and coyotes — by this writer — to an excess of 540 yards.
If you want to make a conversion to a better grade rifle with a target-style stock many brands can offer you this service. Your choice will be directed by personal preferences and the nuances of intended use.
The Chassis Rifle
Part two of this discussion centers around the current craze in the development of the modern chassis-rifle design. What is this rifle? Chassis rifles were developed a decade or two ago around the bench rest accuracy shooting crowd. In effect, they are much like an AR-15 or AR-10 all-metal platform but lack the autoloading ability. Instead, they feature a bolt-action receiver. The rifles are all metal in terms of construction. At times, these rifles are built from three or four different types of metal in the same rifle.
Recently, I checked out a new chassis rifle that was made of the same stainless steel throughout the rifle save for the barrel. The idea was to reduce the chance of materials expansion as it got warm or contraction when it got cold.
Changes in materials affect accuracy and in this case, the manufacturers’ chassis rifles are built with full free-floating barrels, and that is to say from the receiver ring to the muzzle these barrels are only surrounded by a heat shield designed to retain sighting rails, bipod lock points, and other related tack-on stuff.
The shield never touches the barrel running through it. These are solid block steel and ridged receiver and trigger group systems, and about the only thing that flexes is the buttstock that is an AR-style or some other configuration as in a folding or solid fixed model, etc. From the receiver to the muzzle, this design will not move at all save for normal vibration and barrel whip as a round goes off and travels down the pipe.
These chassis rifles are built for one purpose and that is accuracy and long-range shooting that is taken to its absolute maximum limit. Bench rest shooters want one-hole groups and will do anything to gain that level of performance. Long-range shooters seeing this performance upgrade in some cases got the bug to use the chassis rifle for ‘next ZIP code’ shooting, and as such, the all-metal rifle has caught on big across the world as an ultra-long-range target rifle, or in terms of the military, a sniper supplied man hunter.
Advantages when shooting the chassis rifle are first and foremost, there is little need to make zero checks when the rifle has been stored for periods of time. It has been my experience over the ownership of several chassis rifles that these rifles don’t suffer changes to zero because of time. The scope can be damaged, or the mounts can fail, but the rifle being an almost one piece of stiff steel is not about to go very far off its mark, regardless of time spent in storage.
I shoot an ArmaLite chassis-designed .300 Win. Mag that has never been touched based on its standard 100-yard zero settings. Another chassis rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor, as offered by the T/C Smith Wesson custom shop, is also moving into the record zero-holding position. The pair of Ruger chassis rifles used for ammunition accuracy testing which includes the first generation 6.5 Creedmoor in the Ruger Precision, and the Ruger .300 PRC in a third-generation Ruger have held zero until a new test scope or varied load type was taken out onto the test range.
Currently, Ruger has sent me a new competition chassis Precision rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor designed for 1,000-yard competitive match shooting. Like the other earlier rifles and this being a gen four model, it has been totally failing safe and dependable as a first round, down-range target. As of late, it has also proven itself as a worthy and reliable varmint harvesting system.
During Shot Show 2022, I spent a considerable amount of time shooting long-range at 1,000 yards with four of five selected rifles in the new chassis style. Why would I make this choice? Because the trend for long-range today is the all-metal rifle. In this case, I got behind the new U.S. Army’s MRAD .300 Norma set up with a Nightforce advanced sniper optics — price tag: About $18,000 apiece as built by Barrett.
Built to allow changing out the bolt and barrel, this chassis rifle can accept the massive .338 Lapua, and that makes it an area weapon that is effective to well over one-mile down range. Based on a quick look at this new chassis rifle, you can see that the possibilities here are almost endless in terms of flexible application regarding the new and complete rifle design.
Much like the previous standard-stocked rifles, you can build a chassis rifle from a weapon now standing in the gun vault at your home. The barreled action is no different than those found on the factory assembled rifles. You can take a barreled action and order a complete chassis stock as a drop in. Then, you are up and running in no time with the steel, aluminum, or mixed carbon fiber and stainless-steel models.
When checking out the pricing of the current chassis rifles you can expect to pay for a complete rifle in the range of about $2,000. These prices have jumped double in the past three years, based on my rifles — and what I have invested in them to date.
Conclusion: Long-Range Rifles
As a suggestion, when selecting a long-range rifle base, your choice on exactly what range you are thinking about for most of your shooting, and what you can afford. In the conventional stocked rifle, you can’t beat the Ruger wood-stocked Hawkeye, Remington 700 tactical or target, Bergara B-14, or the Mossberg MVP series — depending on chambered cartridge selection.
Chassis rifles come down to two rifles in my opinion. The first is the Ruger Precision, and the second is the T/C Smith & Wesson Performance Center rifle. These rifles are just about the best bang for the buck you are ever going to find nowadays. If you want to advance your hardware by parting with several thousand dollars, well that is an easy task.
Cadex Defense offers its CDX-R7 LCP folding-stock chassis rifle, as well as three others in the basic chassis line. An added note, the company also offers conventional high-grade poly-stocked hunting rifles that chamber some outstanding long-range rounds and shoot like a tack driver to boot.
Last, but not least, is the new Savage Arms. I have been shooting Savage rifles down range to 1,500-plus yards or more for years, and the chassis rifle being offered by this company is still one of the most accurate you are going to find today.
When selecting a new rifle for long-range shooting, take your time, think the whole process through, and then make your choice.