OFFGRID|Issue 47
Building a Precision Bolt- Action Rifle on a Budget
Tom Marshall

Having a dedicated precision rifle in the safe can be an invaluable addition to a well-rounded preparedness plan. The ability to project firepower to 500 yards and beyond is a capability that can be directed to both game-getting and property protection. For those who are interested in building a skillset, the proliferation of the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) has made competing at these ranges more accessible than ever.

The flipside of that coin is that the popularity of precision shooting and the purpose-built rifles that go with it has driven a market expansion that, on the surface, seems to have significantly raised the cost of entry. It’s frighteningly easy to spend five figures on a long-range rifle, quality scope, and ancillary equipment. While this may be a worthwhile investment for dedicated competition shooters (or those who are professionally sponsored), prepared citizens who are simply interested in expanding or rounding out their long-range firepower capabilities may be left in the dust. The temptation to dismiss a long-range rifle as simply too expensive to consider is great.

So, we wanted to see exactly what kind of performance we could get for a fraction of that price. Notice we didn’t say “cheap” or even “inexpensive.” We set an all-inclusive project budget of $2,000, and came in pretty much right on the money, with some optional go-fast parts that could be sacrificed to pinch pennies if needed. That’s still a lot of money for most of us. But because we built our test rifle part by part, it’s easy to spread the cost over a period of months — or even a year or two — and make a project like this more attainable. The payoff for us was a dedicated long-gun capable of nearly 900 yards on a regular basis, and 800 yards consistently with just a little bit of training and practice.

How We Built It

ACTION: The heart of any precision bolt gun is the barrel and action. While it’s possible to purchase an action and barrel separately, we wanted to reduce time, effort, and cost by using a barreled action with a good reputation. We settled on the Howa 1500 for this purpose. While not quite as popular as Remington 700 actions, the Howa is a diamond in the rough, capable of great results for its price point. It’s manufactured in Japan, imported by Legacy Sports International, and distributed through Brownells in a number of barrel lengths and calibers. We chose a .308 action, for availability and variety of ammunition, in a 20-inch heavy-barreled configuration. This barrel length is reasonably compact without sacrificing too much velocity. The barrel is rifled to a 1-in-10 twist, which is a solid middle ground to accommodate a variety of .308 bullet weights.

The biggest shortcoming we perceived with the Howa action is that, out of the box, it’s configured with a five-round internal box magazine. That means to reload the rifle, the breech must be open, and then the five rounds fed in by hand one at a time. Legacy Sports does have versions that are fed from detachable mags, but they use a proprietary pattern. So, instead, we picked up a detachable bottom metal conversion from Pacific Tool & Gauge. This unit converts the Howa’s feeding chute to run off Accuracy International Chassis System (AICS) short-action magazines. While factory metal mags from AICS can run three-digits apiece, Magpul produces a PMAG in this form that costs less than $40, so we got a few of them, courtesy of GunMag Warehouse.

The other change we made to the action was a trigger swap. To give all parties fair credit, the OEM trigger on the Howa 1500 action we received was absolutely up to the task. But since we had some room in our assigned budget, we wanted to push this build a little further and went with a Timney Triggers replacement unit. For less than $150, the Timney unit is available in black or nickel-plated finish in a variety of pull weights ranging from 1 1/2 pounds up to 4 pounds. We selected the 3-pound option in black.

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