Poor People Have Poor Ways! That’s pretty much been the story of my life…especially when it comes to my shooting. It seems that any time I get the urge to shoot something different, something new … I first have to go through the guns I have and decide which one I am most willing to sacrifice in order to come up with the $$$ needed to finance my latest whim. For some time now, like for the past ten years, I have wanted a deadly accurate heavy-barreled .308 Winchester bolt-action rifle – for which I could craft some precision handloads for shooting out around 800 to 1,000 yards. Over the years, I have shot a number of such rifles, often weighing 12 to 14 pounds, that could be shot all day without ever feeling any recoil – and hitting steel silhouettes at long range with ease. But…I had never owned one!
Late this past summer, a local shooter (Missoula, MT) contacted me in regard to a comment I had made to a mutual friend. What I said was, something to the effect of…“I think I’ll sell my AR10 in order to buy or build a bolt-action long range .308 Winchester rifle.” It seems the interested shooter had once put together a heavy barreled rig like I looked to own and shoot, but several years earlier had sold the composite tactical stock off the rifle…and had just never gotten around to buying another stock. Long story short…the very next day I had his barreled action (with trigger) and $400 of his $$$. I immediately put out some feelers with shooters I knew around the country…that I was looking for a nice laminated tactical/target/varmint style stock for a Savage Model 10 action and heavy 26-inch Shilen barrel. Two days later I got an e-mail from a shooter I have long known back in Missouri. Seems he had bought one of the Boyd tactical/target stocks for his Savage heavy barreled varmint rifles a couple of years back…and had just never gotten around to doing the fitting and finishing. For $100, and $20 shipping, I owned the stock.
Actually, everything fit together fairly nicely. The Shilen barrel was apparently a bit heavier (larger in diameter) than the barrel of the Savage Varmint rifle. I spent about two hours cleaning out a bit more of the barrel channel, so the barrel would be free floating…and another couple of hours glass bedding the action. The stock still needed quite a bit of sanding…and by the time I completed the fitting and finishing, I had invested close to 20 hours of “sweat equity” in the rifle. And, I was very, very pleased with the look and feel of the rifle when shooting from a bench. At most, I had around $300 in the barreled action and trigger (which breaks at around 2 1/2 pounds) … and maybe $150 in the stock by the time I glass bedded the action and finished the nicely colored hunk of laminated woods. To buy even a stock Savage heavy barreled .308 Winchester rifle with a wood/laminated stock would set me back $1,000 to $1,200. I have, maybe, 40% of that amount invested in this Savage action based heavy barreled long-range rifle – and it features a premium Shilen Match Grade barrel!
So…How Does It Shoot?
Before firing the first shot out of the rifle, I had a local gunsmith check to make sure the head space was right. His report was that it was “Perfect”. At one time or another, I have owned at least a dozen other rifles chambered for .308 Winchester. I had been loading for the AR10 I sold/traded to get the build started on the rifle featured here. One primary reason for this rifle is to test shoot with new Hi-Lux Optics scopes. For my initial shooting, to find a very precise load for the rifle, I mounted one of the Hi-Lux machined steel Max-Tac one-piece Picatinny/Weaver style rails on the receiver, then slipped on one of the 7-30x50mm Top-Angle Focus 30mm tube scopes – using a set of the all steel Max-Tac rings for a very solid mounting job.
I called on my good friends at Western Powders, of Miles City, MT, for some advice on what might be considered “The Best Powder For The .308 Winchester”. They recommended that I start with their Accurate 2520. This is a medium burn rate double-base spherical propellant that had actually been designed around the .308 Winchester. Accurate powder .308 Winchester loading data for a 168-grain Hornady .308″ diameter A-MAX poly-tipped spire point shows a starting load of 41.5 grains of 2520, for a muzzle velocity of 2,567 f.p.s. Their maximum charge behind a bullet of that diameter and weight is 46.2 grains, for 2,777 f.p.s. For my initial shooting, I was going with the 168-grain Hornady .308″ diameter MATCH BTHP. The shooter from whom I had gotten the barreled action shared that the barrel had tended to prefer the loads a little more on the hot side. So, I elected to start with an even 45-grain charge of Accurate 2520. I wanted a load that would shoot very close to 2,700 f.p.s.
Prior to being mounted on the heavy barreled .308 Winchester rifle, I had the scope mounted on a medium sporter weight barreled Model 70 Winchester chambered for the .300 Winchester Short Magnum cartridge … out of which I had also shot both the 168-grain A-MAX and MATCH BTHP bullets. Out of that rifle the velocity with 65-grains of Accurate 4350 was 3,037 f.p.s. I had placed a new 3’x3′ piece of cardboard on my 100 yard target board … with a fresh Caldwell “Orange Peel” 12″ target stapled right in the center of it. I was feeling pretty good, and lucky, so took my first shot at 100 yards. To my amazement, the shot printed just 2 inches above the bullseye…and about an inch to the right. Thinking that perhaps that was just a fluke…I chambered another round and touched off shot number two. That one practically cut the first. So I just went ahead and put “four clicks” of left adjustment on the scope…let the rifle cool in the shade for about 5 minutes…then touched off the next shot. It cut the vertical target line approximately 2 inches directly above the bull. Letting the rifle cool again, then firing the next round…I was a bit astonished when that hole cut the top of the hole punched by the previous round.
Again, the rifle was allowed to cool in the shade…and the next shot cut the bottom of the first shot fired for this group. Center-to-center, the three hits on the target measure just .400″ on the nose. (The first two shots…and the following three-shot group can be seen on the target above left.) A bit amazed at this degree of accuracy, I stapled up a new target while the rifle fully cooled in the shade. My next three shots managed to nearly wallow out kind of an oblong hole that measures .286″ center-to-center. That group can be seen at right…and, yes, two shots went through that slightly oblong left hole.
I think I’m really going to like this rifle! This next week, I’ll be loading the same 45-grain charge of Accurate 2520 behind some of the 168-grain A-MAX bullets…to see if they perform as well. I’ll also do some shooting to determine bullet drop at 300…400…500 yards. In two weeks, the Montana deer and elk season opens, and my first hunt will be for mule deer…or whitetails…in the Missouri Breaks. There’s one river-bottom hay field on the ranch that can call for shooting to 700 or 800 yards. Once I know my “hold over” to 500 yards, I most definitely would have no problem taking the shot with this rig out to that distance. I’ll then refine my hold over for still longer ranges through the winter.
As I begin to wring out some of the newer Hi-Lux long-range scope models, you are sure to see more of this rifle on this blog. – Toby Bridges, Hi-Lux Optics