Best Sniper/Precision Rifle for Beginners

Want to find the best sniper/precision rifle for you as a beginner?

You’ve come to the right place.  We’ve already covered our best recommendations for pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and now we dive into the world of long distance shooting.

Let’s get started!

Caliber

More Common Bullet Calibers
More Common Bullet Calibers

For the introductory long distance rifle, we recommend going with the 7.62x51mm / .308 Winchester cartridge.

It is one of the most widely used rounds so you’ll be sure to find tons of information and it is available for a reasonable price (starting at ~75 cents a round).

Plus it’s good up to 800 yards and beyond.

Bolt Action vs Semi-Automatic

They are the go-to for accuracy’s sake since there’s less movement going on when the round is fired.  They are also easier to make accurate than with a semi-automatic.

However, there’s been a lot of progress in semi-autos that are getting them on-par with bolt guns.  The ability to rapidly re-engage a target without working the bolt might push you towards this route instead.

Free Floating Barrel

You want to reduce the contact between the stock and the barrel for two main reasons.

First is that the stock can change with outside influences such as weather or use.  This would alter the alignment with the barrel over time.

Second, you want the barrel to be able to vibrate at its natural frequency.

In normal rifles, the barrel rests on the stock, but in free floating barrels there is no touching of the barrel with the stock.  The standard test is to see if you can slide a dollar bill between the barrel and stock.

Free Float Barrel Dollar Bill, Gunsamerica
Free Float Barrel Dollar Bill, Gunsamerica

Price

Since it’s a beginner rifle, we’re looking to keep the whole package around $1000 including the scope.

Ammo is also more expensive for precision rifles (with Match ammo running up to $1.50 per round and standard ammo at around 75 cents per round).  But check out our recommendations in our online ammo buying guide.

Ready for some recommendations of the best?

Bolt Action Contestants

Remington 700

Remington 700 SPS Bolt Action
Remington 700 SPS Bolt Action

The Remington 700 (all) series will always come up in a list of the best beginner rifles as the gold standard.  They start off accurate and there’s endless upgrades.  You can’t go wrong with any of the models but be sure to look at the entry-level 700 SPS Tactical (~$700) or the highest end Sendero SF II (~$1200) which Remington calls their “most accurate over-the-counter rifle.”

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Tikka T3X Lite

Tikka T3X Black
Tikka T3X Lite (Black)

A Finnish rifle that weighs in at 6.5 lbs and can shoot 1 MOA (1″ at 100 yards) out of the box.  Again, there’s tons of upgrades for this sweet gun which clocks in at about $700.  Also available in south paw for you lefties out there.

Savage AXIS

Savage AXIS II XP
Savage AXIS II XP

The AXIS is great value for the money (~$400) and tons of upgrades available.  Also take a look at the law enforcement models which have an upgraded trigger and a heavy barrel.

Semi-Auto Contestants

AR-10

AR-10 vs AR-15
AR-10 vs AR-15

You might have heard of the AR-15 which fires the .223/5.56 round, but it was originally designed to fire the .308/7.62 round as the AR-10.

At a side glance you might not be able to tell the difference between an AR-10 and an AR-15, but the AR-10 is slightly larger over for both the lower and upper receiver.  However, most of the lower receiver internals and furniture are interchangeable.

As an AR platform, many manufactures make an AR-10 style rifle for precision shooting.

Our go-to is with Aero Precision’s M5E1 line ($1300-1600) which will push your budget a little higher to almost $2000 with a good scope, but now you are ready to send a lot of (accurate) lead downrange.

Aero M5E1
Aero M5E1

Scope Rings/Mounts

Once you have your rifle, don’t cheap out on the scope rings.  An accurate rifle is pretty useless if the thing holding your scope to it is wobbling around.

Leupold Quick Release Rings
Leupold Quick Release Rings

We actually recommend going with a one-piece mount so you don’t have to deal with the potential headache of aligning rings shown above.

For a cheaper (but heavier) option, we love the Burris PEPR mount ($65) or for slightly more you can shave 5 oz off your rifle with Aero Precision mounts ($80).

I would suggest the “extended” version and remember to match the mount with your scope (either 30mm or 1 inch typically.

Aero Precision Extended Mount
Aero Precision Extended Mount

 

Scopes

Nikon ProStaff 3-9x
Nikon ProStaff 3-9x

Another thing where you don’t want to skimp.  You’ll always hear the adage “Buy Once, Cry Once” with scopes since if you have a quality scope, you can always put it on a better rifle.

A good rule of thumb is to match it up with your rifle in an almost 1:1 ratio.  It’s better to get the cheapest AXIS we mentioned above but pair it with a decent $300 scope.

And scopes do get really expensive…our favorite is Schmidt and Bender’s PMII which retails for around $4000.

You’ll also want to pair up the power of the scope with your purpose.

Do you want more zoom to hit really far targets, shoot competition where just 1-4x is needed, or a more middle of the road 3-9x?

Check out our Optics and Scope Guide for the AR-15.  Since you’re going precision/sniper rifle, you’ll want to disregard the 1x optics and focus on magnified scopes.

What precision/sniper rifle did you end up getting?

4 Comments

  1. I have an Aero Precision AR-15 assembled upper and stripped lower that I want to build a target/varmint, long-range shooter with. I was thinking of a 20″ to 24″ barrel, chambered in 223 Wylde for a little extra precision. My 1st question is: Can a 5.56 mil-spec or .223 Rem bolt with its carrier group be used, or does it need to be in 223 Wylde? 2nd question: Can you recommend a manufacturer(s) who makes good barrels with a supplied head-spaced bolt and carrier?
    Thank you,
    Vince

  2. Wise choice including the Tikka in the list above! Put mine in a laminated stock (bedding, etc.) and installed a muzzle break, ‘cuz it kicked like a mule……..and am enjoying outstanding accuracy and groupings out to 300 yards (so far). I’ll do better once I’m comfortable with its new Millet scope (had a Vortex, didn’t like that much).

    But…………you were right!! Merry Christmas.

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