#1. Dig really, really deep and research:
- Buying a new rifle is a lot like buying a new car – it’s costly, nerve racking and you want to bring home the rifle that’ll serve every purpose. According to Derrick Ratliff, President and Founder of Horizon Firearms, there has been a slight change in rifle purchases and how buyers use them. Derrick elaborates by explaining how in the past Baby Boomers had a tendency to own several medium grade hunting rifles, one for small game and predators, a decent deer, antelope, elk rifle and possibly one caliber intended for larger game like bear. Conversely, he’s now seeing a trend where younger shooters/hunters opt for just one premium grade rifle that’ll do everything – hunting and increasingly, recreational shooting. This can be partly attributed to better rifle construction as a whole, precision machining, high quality optics and the availability of a vast array of quality ammunition designed specifically for high performance based on the caliber and species of game you are pursuing or the type of shooting you’ll be doing.
#2. Choose the right caliber:
- Selecting the ultimate caliber for you is 90% of the rifle purchasing battle. Ultimately, there is no one-size fits all cartridge. To navigate this complex question, it takes knowledge and understanding and sometimes seeking out an expert that shows no bias. I recently had a custom rifle built by Derrick at Horizon Firearms and after hours of Derrick hearing me whine about calibers, bullet performance, and how I didn’t want to lug around a big heavy caliber, he illustrated how the 6.5 Creedmoor would kill, with ease, the game I generally pursue. And while some still insist that the 6.5 Creedmoor is the new kid on the block, it’s far from that and its versatility will only continue to shine with time. Federal Premium Ammunition, alone, has an expansive line of 6.5 Creedmoor rounds that offer high ballistic coefficients, less wind drift and drop and world-class long-range accuracy, which all stack up to more ethical kills. Think outside the box – one caliber to consider is the 28 Nosler which sits loosely between the 7mm Mag and 7mm Ultra Mag. The 28 Nosler is an incredibly fast 7mm and legitimate long-distance gun favored by many. If forced to choose, Derrick says he’d go with the 7mm Rem Mag. This caliber offers a wonderful long-range component and would be effective on big game like deer but could also be used on smaller game with appropriately smaller loads. To summarize, in terms of calibers, let your mind explore all the options and be open to new adventures. If you aren’t sure, seek the guidance of a pro, there are a lot of calibers to choose from.
#3. Take action:
- The action is the heart of your rifle and in the field, you want it to perform. Spending a little extra coin on a good action is money well spent. My custom 6.5 Creedmoor is outfitted with a Horizon Series Stiller Action that can work through rough conditions but still deliver on accuracy. Picking a good action that’s right for you and your needs all boils down to personal preference and whether you’re wanting to have the ability for quick follow up shots, or if you’re a single shot hunter. Single shots come in a variety of flavors from rolling-block, break-open, trapdoor and falling-block. Repeating actions include pump-action to bolt-action, lever-action and automatic rifles. Landing on the action that fits you will be determined by revisiting your past hunting trips and trying several actions to see how they pair with the caliber you’re considering. I am a die-hard bolt-action guy. I’ve used darn near every action that is out there and I enjoy them all, no doubt. Call me nostalgic, but I’m not one to change, so it’s likely I will always gravitate towards bolt-actions.
#4. Consider all components and materials:
- Today, mass produced rifles and even custom, one-off rifles, come at all price points, shapes and sizes. Like aforementioned, though, not all rifles are created equal. Get a baseline and educate yourself on the essentials and what sets a $1000 rifle apart from a $5000 rifle. Barrel selection is huge and an essential factor, much like the action, it is worth spending a little extra for quality. My custom 6.5 Creedmoor sports a Benchmark Barrel, which, as most know, Benchmark’s are tried and true and will never disappoint. Most barrels today are made of stainless steel or carbon steel. Some indicate carbon steel is prone to rust, but if properly handled and treated by the maker, that will never be an issue. Of course, if you fail to do proper maintenance and regular cleaning, it is not your rifle or rifle manufacturer’s fault if decay happens. Also, when perusing barrel options and configurations, remember that barrel length doesn’t determine accuracy, it determines velocity. My 6.5 Creedmoor has a 22’’ barrel that sends lead screaming down range. Even with my suppressor, it’s still fairly compact, perfect for spot and stalk all-day carry hunts. In addition, give thought to how your barrel will pair with your action and marry with your stock? You can’t drop a wad of cash on a superior action then choose a mediocre barrel and stock and expect a guaranteed 0.5 MOA rifle, that’s not how it works.
#5. Stocks and triggers:
- Avoid bad, costly, mistakes by considering scenarios that you’ve never dreamt of before. Are you contemplating a wood or composite stock? Most of my hunts are inundated with inclement weather and I’ve had previous experiences where those wet sloppy conditions affected my stock and screwed my hunts. Thus, I weighed the pros and cons and went with an iota KREMLIN composite stock that has a complete fill. Hollow, foam filled composite socks are touted for their lightweight durability, but that’s not entirely true. Manufacturers of those stocks cut weight and their own costs by doing foam filled and as a result, you, the purchaser, aren't getting the best bang for your buck. When selecting a stock, wood or composite, you want one that affords you the opportunity, if needed, to customize it. You also want it to be durable enough to handle torture afield. Furthermore, wood or solid filled composite stocks greatly reduce felt recoil, which is a win-win for any shooter. Triggers are integral, too. I like to be surprised when my rifle fires and I prefer a crisp firm trigger. The TriggerTech trigger on my rifle, set for 2 Ibs., is phenomenal and a breeze to adjust myself.
#6. Scope mounts:
- Scope mounts are like shoes, everyone has a pair or several, but they don’t get the props they deserve. Poorly designed and crafted scope mounts can slip and crack under duress from large calibers and heavy optics. Plus, all too often they don’t seat well on your action. When I stumbled upon iota Outdoors I learned they made not only rifle stocks but custom scope mounts, too. On their Nomad ZL ring-base combo, which I have, they feature a wider base that grips the action far better and their design utilizes an angled platform so that the scope doesn’t roll as you tighten the screws. Plus, their bottom or under angled screws reduce corrosion from dirt and moisture. They are topnotch!
Of course, we barely touched the tip of the rifle purchasing iceberg, but this is an excellent jumping off point. I strongly advocate that you first find a custom rifle builder you trust, like Derrick Ratliff at Horizon Firearms, or a rifle manufacturer that you believe in, before you start making big decisions on calibers, stocks, etc. If you play your cards right and do your due diligence, you should walk away from your next rifle purchase with a priceless experience and a rifle that’ll be passed down for generations to come.
Big bores and lots of bullets,