Choosing your first long-range rifle can be tough. Much of the content surrounding rifles is geared towards competitive shooters and is loaded with jargon and technical data.
Sharpshooting attracts a lot of dedicated hobbyists who’ll happily pay a small fortune for their rifles.
Shopping around for a beginner’s rifle can be an overwhelming experience when every top-rated piece starts at $4,000.
Fortunately, you don’t actually have to be rich to buy an accurate sharpshooting rifle. Whether you’re looking to get into sharpshooting or you just want a decent long-range hunting rifle, this guide will help you get the most out of your money.
First Things First: Choose a Balanced Caliber
There are a lot of solid long-range cartridges on the market, like the .30-06 Springfield, the .300 Win-Mag, and the .338 Lapua.
But when you’re a beginner, bigger isn’t necessarily better. You want a cartridge that’s affordable, widely available, and strikes the perfect balance between accuracy and distance.
We recommend going with the .308 Win for the following reasons:
- It’s one of the most commonly used rounds on the market.
- Affordable. Prices average around $0.75 a round, and can be found even cheaper in bulk sales.
- Gives lower recoil than large rounds, making it easier to practice your sharpshooting technique.
- Provides precision and accuracy up to 800 yards.
Another popular choice is the 6.5 Creedmoor, which some argue is the better choice in terms of performance. The problem with the 6.5 Creedmoor, however, is that it’s a much more expensive round and doesn’t have the overwhelming support that the .308 Win does at the moment.
The Free-Floating Barrel: Is It Really Important?
Good sniper and precision rifles usually have a free-floating barrel.
This type of barrel configuration elevates the barrel slightly so that it doesn’t make direct contact with your gun’s stock. Since free-floating barrels don’t make contact with the stock, they vibrate naturally when fired, allowing for the bullet to exit the barrel uninhibited.
Moreover, your stock’s shape and condition can change over time depending on usage and weather conditions.
This change in weight could influence your barrel’s harmonics even further, which could reduce your long-range accuracy. In fact, tests have shown that free-floating barrels can reduce your shot grouping by as much as half its overall size.
Does It Really Matter Whether My Gun is Bolt-Action of Semi-Auto?
In case you haven’t noticed, the overwhelming majority of long-range rifles are bolt-action, including the M40 and M24 models used by the USMC and US Army.
With that said, semi-automatic sniper rifles are growing in popularity due to improvements in semi-auto technology. The ever-popular AR-10 platform offers a growing number of semi-automatic builds alongside their bolt-action classics, and even the US Military has demonstrated an interest in semi-automatic sniper rifles.
As you may have guessed, the biggest advantage of using a semi-automatic sniper rifle is its increased rate of fire. For tactical situations, not having to manually cycle the round could make the difference between hitting an important follow-up shot or missing your target completely.
Bolt-action rifles, on the other hand, tend to be more dependable and accurate than their semi-auto counterparts. Since you’re manually cycling the ammo, you’re far less likely to experience malfunctions like failure to feed or extract your ammunition.
Also, bolt-action rifles have one stage of recoil, as opposed to the three stages present in semi-auto sniper rifles. This translates into less rifle movement, making it easier to switch your aim from target to target (called “driving the rifle”).
We personally recommend going with a bolt-action rifle if you’re a beginner. While there are some reliable semi-automatic sniper rifles out there, they’re expensive and just don’t guarantee the same level of dependability that you’ll get from cycling manually.
Every Precision Rifle Needs a Good Scope
You’ve heard the expression, “you get what you pay for.” This saying has never been truer than when it comes time to shop around for a long-range scope.
Scopes come in a number of different prices, everywhere from $60 all the way to $4000. While you don’t necessarily have to go out and buy the first expensive scope you find, we don’t recommend cutting corners and buying a cheap one from your local sporting goods store.
A good scope is probably going to cost you around the ballpark as your rifle itself. In fact, if you’re buying a budget rifle for around $350 – $400, we recommend looking for a 1:1 price ratio between your scope and rifle. That way, you don’t spend too much money on your first long-range scope, but don’t buy a cheap, unreliable piece as well.
But if you do decide to invest your money on a premium scope, the good news is that you can always attach it to any new, improved rifles you buy in the future.
Scope Recommendations for Beginners in Every Price Range
1. Vortex Optics Crossfire II 6-24×50 AO, Second Focal Plane Riflescope – Dead-Hold BDC Reticle (MOA)
For the price, this is one of the best in it’s class. It can be generally hard to find any scope with x24 zoom for $300, let alone one backed by Vortex’s amazing warranty.
2. Nightforce Optics Illuminated Riflescope 5.5-22×56
This high-end scope may cost as much as some of your premium sniper rifles, but it delivers a crisp picture that guarantees maximum precision and accuracy.
Mounting Your Scope
Another thing to consider when shopping around for a good scope is your mounting options.
We don’t recommend trying to save any extra money by buying cheap scope rings. After all, the purpose of a scope is to help you shoot accurate at further distances – and the more your scope wobbles around because of cheap rings, the less likely you’ll be able to hit your target.
There are two common types of scope mounts: one-piece and two-piece mounts. We suggest all beginners choose a one-piece mount because they’re easier to attach and you don’t need to properly align your rings.
If you’re trying to reduce weight in your gun, we recommend going with an Ultralight Scope Mount by Aero Precision. They usually cost around $80 and weigh approximately 3oz.
Another good choice is the Burris PEPR mount, which costs around $60. It’s just as solid as the Aero Precision mount but weighs roughly twice as much.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s look at some good long-range rifles to practice sniping with.
Looking for a Semi-Auto Recommendations?
Most beginners aren’t going to spend $2500 or more on their first precision rife. And unfortunately, most of the top-performing semi-automatic rifles tend to be in the higher price range.
However, there are a number of good semi-automatic rifles built on the AR-10 platform that perform well and have a menacing, tactical look. Here are some of our favorites:
1. Aero Precision M5E1
The M5E1 is a well-rounded, semi-automatic precision rifle that looks great and shoots even better. It’s reliable, comfortable and easy to operate, and delivers hair-splitting accuracy. But it’s no longer a complete setup, so that means you’ll have to piece things together. No biggie if you like that sort of thing though!
2. DPMS Oracle (.308)
The .308 Oracle is a solid tactical rifle that’s perfect for hunting and target shooting up to 800 yards. While it doesn’t look like much in terms of appearance, the Oracle is a well-rounded rifle that’s dependable, accurate, and easy to shoot.
3. Palmetto State Armory PA-10
With PSA, you can choose between purchasing one of their ready-assembled AR-10 rifles or you can buy the parts and build it yourself.
Even though the PA-10 is one of the cheaper builds out there, it’s a reliable gun that’s perfect for any aspiring sharpshooter.
Our Recommendations for Bolt-Action Precision Rifles
The best thing about choosing a bolt-action sniper rifle is that there’s no shortage of top-quality gun on the market. Along with increased dependability, bolt-action rifles also tend to be a bit cheaper than the semi-automatic variants – and that’s another reason why we recommend them to beginners.
Here are some of our favorite long-range rifles that are perfect for beginners and experts alike:
1. Savage AXIS
The AXIS is a great precision rifle that provides expert-level marksmanship with an entry-level price. Optimized for hunting and distance shooting, the AXIS combines comfort, accuracy, and maximum shootability.
2. Remington 700
The Model 700 is one of the most iconic bolt-action rifles of all time. It’s also one of the most versatile, with countless variations made over the year to fit the specific needs of the shooter. It’s the same gun used by USMC and Army snipers, after all.
From law enforcement to military operations, the Remington 700 delivers precision and accuracy with every trigger pull.
3. Tikka T3 Lite
The T3 Lite is a lightweight Finnish sniper rifle that delivers pinpoint accuracy straight out of the box, making it a cheaper rival to the Remington 700. While the T3X Lite is its basic model, Tikka offers plenty of upgraded precision rifles with enhanced features for $100 – $200 more.
Finding the Right Gun for You Takes Time
As you can see, finding a good beginner’s rifle doesn’t require spending a small fortune.
When you’re shopping around for a precision rifle, remember one thing: we all have different preferences. What works for someone else might not necessarily work for you, so make sure to examine and test all scopes and guns before buying a new sniper rifle.
And with a little practice, you’ll become a sharpshooter in no time.