A Precision Project

This Remington .308 is bone stock except for facing the action, lapping lugs and setting the barrel back a thread. Four 5-shot groups averaged well under an inch.

In the course of teaching law enforcement classes, I've learned many things. For instance, the amount of property confiscated when raiding drug houses can be staggering. One class I taught had an entire departmental SWAT team using confiscated AR-15s and shooting cases of confiscated ammo. The ammo was good quality, the rifles were brand new, and the offenders had been convicted. There was no point in simply destroying otherwise suitable equipment. After all, if the department used the rifles and ammo, they could stretch their tight budget.

A tactical rifle can be a very expensive piece of equipment. Need it be so pricey? Not really, and going all-out can lead to unexpected disappointments, as I'll explain. One option for an entirely suitable tactical rifle involves an existing one. For a police department with a tight budget, or an individual who doesn't want to spend megabucks, consider an existing rifle. A very suitable candidate would be a Remington 700 in .308 Winchester with a medium or heavy barrel. In other words, a hunting rifle. A rifle in .30-06 would work too, as there are plenty of choices for match-quality ammo.

If your rifle candidate is chambered in some caliber other than .308 or .30-06, resist the temptation to build it up in that caliber. The headaches of ammunition supply, performance and the potential confusion of mixed calibers between rifles aren't worth it.

Start by having a gunsmith pull the barrel and inspect the bore. If it isn't in good shape, there is no point in using the existing barrel. If it is, then have your gunsmith true the action and reinstall the barrel. Have him face the action, lap the locking lugs, chase the threads of the barrel and action, then set the barrel shoulder back a thread. As a last step, have him re-cut the crown before reinstalling the barrel.

It's a tack-driver, but I goofed and went too heavy on the barrel, which made for more work on bedding the stock. The next one will be lighter, by at least four pounds.

Next, he should glass-bed the action, install a rigid scope mount and adjust the trigger pull to a clean four pounds. If you don't have someone nearby, then send the rifle off with a copy of this column. I've had good luck with several gunsmiths, who are listed here.

Can you get by without the most expensive parts and labor? Yes, but there is economy and then there is cheap. A proper glass-bedding job won't set you or your department back that much and will preclude weather changing your accuracy or zero. If the rifle already has a decent set of hunting scope rings on it, and testing proves the accuracy is up to snuff, then keep them. Otherwise, spend an extra few dollars and get good ones. If they aren't bored in place like the Badger Ordnance rings, have the gunsmith lap the rings.

Do you need a black synthetic stock? No. They are nice but not an absolute must. The existing wood stock will do. If later the department budget allows it, you can have the stock swapped, but to get one on the cheap, leave the wood alone. If you simply must have something other than the look of wood, a careful application of flat-black paint will turn any stock into a tactical stock. Add a bipod, and send the operator to a precision rifle class. The savings over buying an expensive tactical rifle will almost pay for the class, depending on where you go.

For individuals, you can save more by doing the steps you feel comfortable with. This might include the glass bedding, scope installation and painting the stock. How accurate can such a rig be? You'd be surprised. Remington makes pretty good barrels, for a company that makes them by the trainload. Let me rephrase that. Remington makes excellent barrels, and its barrels would be among the best except that its customers expect the firm to make 300,000 of them a year, instead of the 1,000 or fewer that some custom barrelmakers produce. If you take a low-mileage Remington barrel and reinstall it with its action trued, you can easily produce a sub-MOA rifle.

A police department or individual officer can do all of this for well under $1,000, including labor and parts, on a confiscated rifle. If you have an otherwise suitable rifle with a shot-out or rusted bore, or in the wrong caliber, add a couple of hundred dollars for a new barrel. As a further economy alternative, query your gunsmith for "take off" barrels. Many custom gunsmiths have a bin of barrels that came off of customer's guns. An unfired factory medium-weight barrel in .308 can be yours for 50 bucks or less.

But won't you end up with a better rifle if you have one custom made? Often you will but not always. Sometimes things can go astray, and my latest tactical rifle project is a good example. I had a few ideas in mind when I started, but I let some of the details run away from me. I used a Shilen barrel (a beautiful example of the barrelmaker's art), but instead of letting them profile it I told them to leave it full diameter. I figured I could handle the weight. At six-foot-four and 205 pounds, I'm in really good shape. I figured that the heavier barrel would be stiffer, have softer recoil, be less prone to overheat and packing the extra weight would not be a problem.

Well, the barreled action alone ended up tipping the scales at just over eight pounds. The complete rifle, with scope, sling, bipod and five rounds of ammo, comes to a bit over 15 pounds. A day of hauling that beast around is real labor. I'd hate to think of carrying it in a high, rocky desert wasteland while packing a rucksack. Even getting it from a patrol car to an urban hide for a SWAT callout would be a lot of work. The sole advantage is that it doesn't kick much.

The heavy barrel caused other problems, too. After Andy Manson fitted the barrel to the action (not easy, as big as it was), then Terry Cross found I had created problems for him to fit it into the stock. He had to remove a lot of material to fit that great big tube into the barrel channel, so much so that combined with the thicker recoil lug I insisted on using, he found the stock needed reinforcement on the sides (the sidewalls were too thin).

So, my insistence on a heavy barrel led to extra stock work. I later found an additional problem; the forearm ended up so thin from the huge barrel channel that it flexed. I had to drill the forearm and install stiffening rods to keep the flex under control.

One good decision I made was the scope mount. I

selected a Badger Ordnance tactical mount in 30mm from Iron Brigade Armory. The rings are silver-soldered to the base and then bored and lapped. With a 30mm ring set, I can use larger scopes or a one-inch scope using bushings to fill the gap. Initial testing and break-in of the bore produced three-shot cloverleafs of just over half an MOA.

Lesson learned: There is a reason gunsmiths all do things a certain way, and it isn't just because they're conservative and follow the herd. If you want to do something a particular way on a project and your gunsmith seems hesitant, pay attention. In this case I'd have been better off having Shilen profile the barrel blank for me.

I now have a dilemma: I have to make the rifle lighter, and the weight has to come out of the barrel. If I simply lathe-turn it, the barrel channel will end up with a huge gap. So I'm doing the research on barrel fluting. Having jumped in with great enthusiasm before, I'm now taking things at a deliberate pace. After all, it may be heavy, but it certainly is accurate, and I don't want to destroy the accuracy just because I'm in a hurry.

How accurate? At the Manual Rifle Match at the 2002 USPSA 3-Gun Nationals, I had no problem knocking down all the steel plates on the 600-yard stage. Even without a muzzlebrake I could see the bullet strike through the scope (the barrel weight helped) and correct for the wind. My time was not so good, but I attribute that to a kidney stone I was wrestling with at the time, and not the rifle.

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