How To Buy Or Build A Custom Precision Rifle
You’re going to spend serious money on a custom precision rifle, make certain you get what you pay for.
What Features Do You Need To Consider On A Custom Precision Rifle:
- Gain-Twist Barrels
Production, semi-production, custom shop. We have several choices when it comes to purchasing a firearm. Most of the time, I speak about production- or semi-production-class rifles—products you’ll find on the shelf locally. Shooters like to be hands on, so buying rifles sight unseen can be a daunting task.
I’ve been very fortunate in my shooting career to work with some of the very best custom gunsmiths. The custom rifles in my collection have a lot of personality and some deep connections behind them.
Today, I still start with a barreled action—it’s the heart of every rifle. My first step is to decide what caliber I want. Then, I look to Bartlein barrels to customize the twist rate. Today, I’m entirely sold on this company’s gain-twist barrels.
Bartlein, because of its computer-controlled rifling machines, can do gain-twist barrels correctly—which is about a three-quarters transition. This means that for my 6.5-caliber barrels, I use an 8.25 twist at the chamber and finish at 7.5 as my exit twist rate. This small transition puts less pressure on the bullet while enabling on overspin of the twist rate.
Why a gain-twist? Bullets are the weak link: They’re mass-produced from two dissimilar metals. As a result, the lead can slip under the jacket, thereby deforming it. In most cases, you take this shot to be a flier; in the worst-case scenario, the bullet will come apart midflight. Gain-twist barrels fix this problem.
The other benefit I’ve found is that when it comes to changes in bullet weight, they’re more forgiving. We want to balance the twist rate with the bullet weight. This is where the heavy-versus-light-bullet debate comes into play. I’ve found that the gain-twist barrels end this debate.
For instance, I can shoot 130-grain Prime ammo or use my 136-grain Scenar handload with my 260 gain-twist barrel for my Accuracy International AX. They’re two completely different loads that just happen to zero in the exact same place. And the accuracy? Sub-½ MOA. They only start to deviate from each other after 400 yards, when the weight and BC kick into gear.
This is the benefit of a custom barrel. I can decide every factor—from twist rate to profile or contour all the way to length. In most cases, I feel that 22 inches is optimal for me; in other cases, I might choose 25 inches.
The caliber and barrel are my first considerations in a custom precision rifle. I then pick an action. I can go super-expensive custom or a little-less-expensive custom. Today, my main go-to custom action is Zermatt Arms’ Origin. The Bighorn action started locally here, in Colorado. It features a floating bolt head that’s also interchangeable. That feature, alone, is worth the $850 price of admission.
I see actions as a delivery device and not something I get overly obsessed with. The best case for me? A three-lug action, because those tend to be beefy (and yes, they also cost more). I also like shorter bolt throws when I can get them.
Triggers are the main point of human contact with the rifle, so make sure to spend some time understanding the different options and features of the triggers out there.
Two-stage triggers are my preferred style; I like to marry-up to my trigger shoe so I can’t have it fire with just a look: I want to feel it take up the slack of the first stage, balance against the wall of the second and break on my command. I’m a tactical shooter who’s out in the field a lot. I need a trigger that can handle a certain amount of dirt and debris. Today, I run Trigger Tech or even Elfmann triggers.
There are a lot of choices in triggers, so explore them all and decide which one meets your needs. I’d rather use a 3-pound, two-stage Accuracy International trigger as opposed to an 8-ounce Jewell, but that’s me; it’s what I want.
Think of a stock as being the same as your car’s seats, steering wheel and mirrors. How comfortable would you be driving eight hours in a vehicle in which the seat was stuck out of position? Imagine not being able to adjust your mirrors to your needs. Picking the wrong stock for a custom precision rifle is the same thing.
Chassis offer off-the-shelf adjustability, whereas fiberglass stocks have to be made to order. Yes, this process takes a lot longer. It’s one of the reasons I think we’ve seen a decline in custom orders from companies that focus on semi-production rifles. This semi-production model is designed to be in the buyer’s hand quickly. Why wait four weeks or longer for a part when the entire rifle can be in your hands in half the time?
The reason is that custom-fit products are comfortable and have a value that transcends money. For instance, the McMillan A10 stock has been designed with smaller-statured shooters in mind; it’s meant to fit me better. I can choose the style and colors. I can add options and accessories that fit my needs.
Make it All Your Own
The point is that you don’t have to take what manufacturers offer. Instead, you can make your rifle all your own.
Custom precision rifles give us a mission and a goal. We research, we compare, and we’re forced to provide an objective to our decisions—what we’re looking to accomplish and how much we’re willing to pay to get it. And, when your custom-designed rifle is done, the sense of pride never goes away.