Our Tactical Rifles .308 is very much like the U.S. Army M24 Sniper Rifle like Ben carried in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is modeled after the M40 marine rifle and has a shorter action than the M24.
The official product shot of the 3-12 power model. Note that it has a parallax adjustment knob that the others in the line do not have.
This rifle was built on a Remington 700 action, but Tactical Rifles will be creating their own “Chimera” actions soon that will even surpass what they can do on the 700s.
This 3 inch group with Hornady Superformance Match was the best that came out that day at 1000 yards.
We don’t know how many rounds went through this ragged hole at 100 yards while Ben was waiting for the range to go cold. Officially it is 5 rounds into .51 inches.
One of the most misunderstood subjects in all of shooting sports is the issue of long range accuracy. What does an “accurate” rifle consist of, and how do you measure accuracy, accurately? Is extreme accuracy even possible? A cantaloupe at 1000 yards? That is better than ½ a mile away. Can one of these super accurate, $3,000+ rifle platforms really make these numbers, or do they just advertise them?
To answer that question we commissioned a custom rifle from Tactical Rifles Inc., just to see what you get, and if the accuracy claims could actually be proven out, not just at 100 yards, not at 500 yards, but actually shooting at 1000 yards. These rifles are advertised at “gauranteed ½ MOA” so the expectations were extremely high. With our resident U.S. Army Sniper Ben Becker at the helm, though, the Tactical Rifles gun not only proved out ½ MOA. It actually came out to ¼ or so, the size of a cantaloupe at 1000 yards. This is amazing stuff .
If you haven’t been following our discussion in GunsAmerica Magazine and Blog about MOA, and overall accuracy, I’ll re-cover some basics about what we are talking about.
Accuracy is sometimes incorrectly defined as whether a rifle shoots to point of aim. I have been at the range several times where someone commented that a rifle was “accurate” because it could hit the bullseye on the target, once.
Accuracy, when we talk about it in the context of a rifle, is not whether it shoots to point of aim. That is just a measure of sight adjustment. Accuracy is how close to the same impact the rifle will shoot shot after shot after shot. Without a vice type of shooting rest, human error is a factor in most testing, so we try to use an established, good shooter who we know can make consistent shots time after time after time. How close they get those shots together is the accuracy measurement for the gun at that time and in those circumstances.
Generally you measure accuracy in “groups,” which are groups of shots, and what you are measuring is the spread from center to center of the outermost reaching shots in the groups. The more shots in the group, the more likely they are to spread out, either through human error or the variation of the platform you are testing, or even simply via a gust of wind you didn’t see coming.
When you see the term “minute of angle” or MOA, this is the comparison term we use to describe the accuracy that a rifle is capable of. MOA is an angle or radius measurement that measures 1/60th of one degree in a circle. If you slice a circle into 360 slices of pie, then each slice into 60 slices, each slice is then one MOA.
My high school physics teacher (Mr. Nugent and no it wasn’t Ted) used to use the analogy of a “butter gun.” I don’t know where he got it, but it still works for me today. “If you have a gun that shoots exactly wide enough to cover one piece of toast, and you move the butter gun twice the distance away, it will cover 4 pieces of toast, or 2 x 2.”
This is the way we think about accuracy. If we know that five shots out of a rifle will all fall within 1 inch at 100 yards (actual 1.047 inches), we say that this is one 3600th of a circle in radius from the muzzle of the gun, or one “minute of angle.” At 200 yards this opens up to 2” (x 2” to follow the butter gun approach). At 300 yards it is 3” and so on.
That measure of angle that we can get the bullets to fall into is what we consider the accuracy of the gun. Tactical Rifles guarantees ½ MOA. That is ½ inch at 100 yards, and 2 ½ inches at 500 yards, and 5 inches at 1000 yards. As you get further away with your target, and again, we are talking better than half a mile at 1000 yards, environment factors will get in your way of shooting small groups, but all you can do is try, and try Ben did with this Tactical Rifles .308 built on a Remington 700 action.
Here are some of the things that come into play when you are trying to shoot small groups at long distances.
The Rifle Itself
This is the most important thing, and the hardest to fix if it doesn’t work like it should. Just like in cooking where if you don’t start with great ingredients you can’t ever become a great chef, with long range rifle shooting you will never get anywhere if you don’t have a rifle that is capable of performing.
The accuracy of the rifle depends on many factors. One is the quality of the barrel itself. A high quality match grade barrel has been cut slowly so the cutting tool doesn’t wobble and make the cut inconsistent. A custom rifle maker like Tactical Rifles uses barrels that are hand lapped and fitted with a match chamber that is exactly the dimensions of the SAAMI cartridge specification. That way the match grade rounds don’t have room to cant themselves from shot to shot. To a a precision of a thousandth of an inch the barrels and chambers are cut to exacting specifications, to achieve accuracy in the ¼ to ½ MOA range.
The action of the rifle is also tuned to the specific barrel that it is mated to. This includes custom bolts and extracting systems. This rifle was built on a Remington 700 action, but Tactical Rifles has now begun making their own “Chimera” actions which are patterned on the Remington 700 but are somewhat different.
Experience and expertise go a long way at this stage of the game, and it is why you can’t just hire any gunsmith fresh out of gunsmithing school to build you a custom rifle. Companies like Tactical Rifles have been doing this for a generation, and the machining techniques they have developed are not something you can pick up or read in a book. Most good custom rifle makers have several month wait times and are never caught up to their wait list, and that is the case with Tactical Rifles. If you want a gun for summer, you should order it in early spring. Even now is late for an expectation of summer competition shooting.
Barrels on super accurate rifles are generally free floated in the stock these days as opposed to fiberglass bedded. The action itself will sit down into the stock bedded, but the barrel floats free, so that nothing touches it causing harmonic distortion, which can throw accuracy off by quite a bit.
The trigger on this rifle is match grade, adjustable, set at 2.8lbs. What that means is that it takes 2.8 lbs of pressure to drop the hammer. This is extremely sensitive and is much lighter than the standard hunting triggers you may have experienced. A match grade trigger also has no drag or takeup. It breaks clean and light.
We try to disclose as much as possible that Hornady is the ammunition sponsor at GunsAmerica for all of our editorial including the Magazine and Blog. But as we have explained in other articles about accuracy, consistent ammunition is as important as the rifle, and it was Hornady that revolutionized this field in America.
Hornady’s entry into the ammunition field brought a whole new perspective to the way we think about rifle ammunition and how consistent it should be. Not that long ago you either hand loaded, or you didn’t have a chance to compete in competition. It was a big score to find some U.S. Military surplus match ammunition, stamped LC (for Lake City) Match. Rifles shooting into 2 and 3 inches was the norm, not the exception, or problem, and the whole idea of consistent factory ammunition was not something that anyone even discussed, let alone expected.
Now we have several brands of excellent accurate ammo on the shelf, but I still consider the leader to be Hornady. Ben shot several lines of Hornady on the same day through this and two other rifles and all of them shined beyond what the rifle maker promised. The other two articles, on the CZ 550 heavy barrel .308 and the Armalite AR-10 are yet to come and you will be equally surprised. All of these I consider the product of unparalleled Hornady ammunition.
Optics and Rings
You may have already read our review of the Vortex Razor HD Riflescope, and it was used for these tests. There is no substitute for a good optic when it comes to long range shooting.
Something many people don’t realize is that the scope rings can be as important to your shooting as the scope itself. Rings that are not perfectly concentric will bend the tube of the scope slightly, even though you won’t be able to see this, and throw off your ability to make the impossible groups at 1000 yards. We use the Vortex rings that you can get with the scope from Vortex and, though I have no idea what it would be like without them, with them it feels as if we have eliminated yet another variable that can throw off our shooting.
The groups that you see here in the pictures were shot in front of several witnesses Manatee Gun & Archery Club in Myakka City FL. Just about everyone who went there to shoot that day ended up watching Ben to see just how he was going to do with that $3,500 rifle, $2000 scope, a $200 Lead Sled, and box after box of factory Hornady ammo.
The rifle itself came with a test target showing 3 shots into .21 inches at 100 yards. This translates to roughly ¼ MOA, so Ben had his job cut out for him to compete with the guy who shot the test target.
I should describe the methodology first, because you would probably think we are cherry picking targets here from among many that were far worse. That is not the case. In fact with the time constraints of the day and a busy range on Sunday, where calling the range “cold” only happens several times a day, there was no cherry picking possible. Ben’s methodology was to get the particular round on target that he was using (all Hornady but different lines), then shoot the test target, then move on. A total of three guns were shot that day at ranges of 100, 500 and 1000 yards, and one was also shot at 300 yards. Each of the targets you see here were mostly one of a kind, with varying ammo at the given distances. This is how the rifle shot, period, and any minor human error incorporated into these groups were what happened at the time. There was not enough time to shoot a bunch and pick the best.
First we had to test the gun at 100 yards, since we had that test target. The problem is, on a busy range you can’t just go downrange every three rounds, so Ben, getting bored waiting, kept putting rounds through the same hole. The target we have for this rifle at 100 yards was officially 5 rounds, but we have no idea how many rounds actually went through that hole. The hole measures .51 inches, double the test target, but the test target was 3 rounds, and we have no idea if that was in fact cherry picked. Ben proved the ¼ MOA out at 500 and 1000 yards regardless.
At 500 yards, one and quarter inch would be exactly ¼ MOA. Don’t forget, Tactical Rifles guarantees a ½ MOA, not ¼, but Ben’s groups of roughly 1.5 inches were well in the tolerances of ¼ MOA. ½ MOA would be 2.5 inches.
At 1000 yards, where a small gust of wind can throw your group off entirely, Ben had several groups in the 3” range with all three types of Hornady ammunition he used in the test. The best came from Superformance Match at almost exactly 3 inches. For a five shot group this isn’t world record territory, but the world records are shot at 44 inch targets, Ben did this on a standard 12” Dirty Bird. The 500 yard shots were done on even smaller Winchester targets you find at Wal-Mart. We had no idea going in that Ben would be shooting world class groups and next time we go out with this rifle we will be be shooting the official NRA 1000 yard targets.
We hope to see Ben to go Camp Perry this year with this rifle and scope just to see how he can do against the guys who do this as an obsession. For this outing we were impressed enough to want to try it again.
Ordering a Rifle:
The biggest complaint that I hear from our friends at Tactical Rifles is that they have to deal with vacillating wannabes who wish they could order a custom rifle but don’t follow through with actually ordering one. Don’t tell them I told you that! They might get upset.
Therefore, if you really are interested in a custom rifle that can actually perform at 1000 yards the way most of of wish we could, please consider if you really are committed to spending at least $3,500 for the purchase of a lifetime. Nobody can tell you if it is the right choice for you, but the guys over there have been doing this long enough that they can walk you through the process of the choices you need to make before committing your order.
If you are in a hurry, I have been told that rifles made on Remington 700 actions can be ready for competition during the summer. The new Chimera action from Tactical Rifles is going to be a while yet in the waiting, and I’m not sure I would hold up your order for something that most people won’t be able to tell the difference in, and that will add a substantial cost to your rifle.
The good news is that it’s all possible. Extreme accuracy at 1000 yards isn’t a dream, or an impossibility, or something reserved for guys with 30 lb. rifles they needed a second mortgage to build. These are custom rifles less expensive than a used Honda motorcycle and probably less than your property taxes you get nothing for. You may even eat 1000 Big Macs in your lifetime and pay more for those. If you dream of shooting for real at 1000 yards, treat yourself to a custom rifle. You won’t regret it.
Whether you can actually shoot like Ben remains to be seen. The boy has talent that’s for sure. But you won’t know until you have the proper tool for the job. Stay tuned for more on Ben and the Tactical Rifles .308. It is going to be an interesting summer. Next time expect actual cantaloupes!