The Sniper Central Entry Level Sniper Rifle
Article by T-Bone
A CUSTOM SNIPER RIFLE
I have dreamed of having a custom sniper rifle for a while now which should have a custom barrel and some gunsmithing to tune the action. It should also have top quality components and often has a guarantee of accuracy. I initially looked at a Les Baer Tactical Recon (LBTR) which has some attractive components and is a fully custom rifle with a custom barrel and tuned custom action. However, dream or no I can't possibly afford such an expensive rifle at over $3,400 for their .308 model without the scope!
The LBTR has some nice options like:
* Bell & Carlson Medalist fully adjustable stock
* Timney match trigger
* Picatinny 1-piece rail
* Non-reflective finish (Les Baer custom option)
* Harris swivel bi-pod
* Custom Stiller bolt and oversize bolt handle
The LBTR is guaranteed to shoot better than .5 MOA with match ammo. It also has some features like a custom action loosely based on the Remington 700, and custom barrel, glass bedding, and a Wyatt box magazine. It also has a price tag of $3,500!
Is it possible to put together a semi-custom rifle using off the shelf components and make a functional sniper rifle? This is precisely what is offered by SniperCentral.com in their Sniper Central Entry Level Sniper Rifle (SCELSR). They have 2 rifles to choose from using standard barrelled actions: Howa 1500 and Remington 700 SPS-V based rifles. They are put together from quality components, assembled, the scope mounted and zeroed, not just bore-sighted, so it is ready to shoot right out of the box. I chose the Remington 700 model and I figured that if it doesn't perform as well as I hope I could always customize it later since the 700 is a popular custom rifle action.
SniperCentral.com has a customization page for the SCELSR and I was able to configure a rifle that was much to my liking and also very similar to much that I liked in the LBTR custom. Many people choose the minimum for a first sniper rifle, but I was trying to make an inexpensive custom rifle, so I took the 'nicely loaded' approach. You can see the options page here:
The SCELSR has a Remington SPS varmint action with 26" bull barrel. They offer several options like:
* Bell & Carlson Medalist fully adjustable stock
* Timney match trigger (ask Mel at SC about this)
* Picatinny 1-piece rail and some high quality rings
* Non-reflective, oxide finish from Remington
* Harris swivel bi-pod
* TAC-Ops oversize bolt handle.
Sniper Central does include a scope in price of the SCELSR, but the price without the scope and these options would be around $1500. As far as accuracy goes they do not guarantee the accuracy, however most customers report getting .5 to .75 MOA, and if you glass bed the stock later, you may be able to improve that. With the scope I ordered the price came up about $1,800 which is still about half the price of the LBTR without one.
The rifle comes in a basic two rifle case, nothing to write home about, but you can upgrade to a Storm case that is very nice. I didn't get this however. The fit and finish of the rifle is very good especially the stock, although I'm not overly impressed with the non-glare coating on the metal. It is the same oxide finish that the 870 express shotguns receive and some people have complained that it doesn't resist rust very well.
The bolt is very smooth and working it about 20-30 times with a bit of oil made it even better. One of my upgrades was the TAC-Ops over-size bolt handle. The extra weight contributes to the ease of operation and it chambers and ejects rounds smoothly.
One of my favorite upgrades is the Timney trigger. It has absolutely no creep and is set to a crisp 3 pounds. The vertical grooves in the trigger make for a firm grip while shooting. It was absolutely a pleasure to use when doing a break-in. The weight of the rifle (about 14 pounds with the scope and bipod) makes shooting very comfortable, although it will be a chore to lug in the field, but that is common for sniper rifles and some weigh even more when you count the scope. The scope is an SWFA SS 10x 42mm rear focus model and it is reviewed here http://www.snipercentral.com/ss1042.phtml so I won't repeat that here. Other options include an EGW picatinny rail and Burris XTR rings. In addition to being a very solid base for the scope, the rings attach to the rail with some serious nuts that are torqued to 65 lbs.
Image from Buzillions.com
The stock is by far the most noticeable feature and another of my favorite upgrades. It is a very solid, massive affair that has an attractive, nicely textured finish. I particularly like the pistol grip when shooting. I opted for the fully adjustable model because I can be a bit tough to fit. The cheek piece can raise and the very solid butt pad extends as well as rotates somewhat for a very comfortable fit. Everything can be tightened down to keep your setup. I know a lot of people consider skim bedding this stock but I will wait until I get some more 100 yards groups before making that decision. The front sling swivel is in a rail that is adjustable, so adjusting the placement of the Harris bipod is possible. The barreled action is free floated up to the receiver.
The rifle comes with the standard Remington internal 5 round magazine. This is fine for a hunting rifle, but I would like to see a detachable box magazine. I priced the Wyatt box magazine and bottom metal at about $244 from MidwayUSA.com. From what I've read it should be a drop in installation in the B&C medalist stock. If I choose to skim bed it myself it could be done relatively cheaply.
My first outing was to break in the barrel. There are various opinions about the necessity of this, but I opted to do it anyway. My plan was to shoot progressively larger groups and clean the barrel in between. My cleaning wasn't too intense, just a nylon brush with a mixture of Hoppes #9 and Kroil pushed thru a few times, followed by two dry patches. I shot 1 bullet then clean; 2 bullets, clean, and so on until I shot a group of 5 (15 total bullets). First shot was 2" high and a 1/4" to the right of the rest of the shots. All shots for this were at 50 yards using Hornady A-Amax ammo. The 2 and 3 shot groups were at the same target @ 50 yds. Taking the widest outside edge and subtracting .308 I got .136 (.272 MOA). The 4 shot group was .183 (.366 MOA). And the 5 shot group was .236 (.472 MOA). Average of groups was .185 (.370 MOA). At this point I was pretty excited.
Now my 100 yards groups (about 4 of various match ammo) have all been just under an inch. It may be a matter of learning to shoot this new rifle, but I am finding that no matter the situation I am averaging about .95 MOA with a best group of .82. This is perfectly acceptable for a military sniper rifle and I can do this fairly consistently. However, I think I will definitely skim bed the stock. I think I can shrink these groups a bit and hopefully get them down to around .75 or better. This is exactly why people get full custom rifles, and pay the premium prices. Other observations: The scope is amazing! I did find that some allen screws were loose on the windage turret and now after tightening, it works exactly like the elevation turret. I continue to be blown away by the Timney trigger.
My question was, "Is it possible to put together a semi-custom rifle using off the shelf components and make a functional sniper rifle?" I think the answer is an enthusiastic yes, however with a warning about the metal finish. To really be a rifle for field use I think it should have a more durable finish as in parkerization. Some might question the $300 scope, but reports from actual snipers and from training programs that use the SWFA SS scopes are that it is a very rugged and dependable scope. The SCELSR is very solid from top to bottom using top quality add-on parts and the accuracy is acceptable for the job. Granted the SCELSR is not a true custom rifle, and some further customization will be necessary to improve the accuracy, but for about half the price of a LBTR without the scope, I don't think I will miss the custom barrel and action - at least not for a while anyway.