Building a modern hunting rifle can seem daunting with a wide variety of cartridges, actions, barrels, chassis, stocks, triggers, etc. The list continues, and every component selection is a significant decision on its own. In this article, we will walk you through some of the important attributes to consider when choosing rifle components. Whether you are looking to build your next ultralight hunting rifle or the best PRS rifle around, these steps will point you in the right direction.
The first decision that needs to be made is cartridge selection. With the big push on cartridges at this time, it can be a tough decision to make. You need to ask yourself:
Each of those questions should be asked in that order and will give you a good starting point for your custom rifle needs. If you are planning on hunting deer or smaller animals, then you probably do not need to be carrying 300 PRC around. However, if you are planning on shooting a deer at 1000 yards, then maybe it's a viable option. If you have a youth shooter or someone who does not handle recoil well, then perhaps you should pick a smaller cartridge like a 6.5 PRC so the shooter can be more comfortable behind the rifle. Cartridges like the 6.5 PRC, 7mm PRC, 300 WSM, and 7 Saum are all fantastic choices for shooters who want less recoil but still need the energy to shoot animals at extended distances.
The first component we should look at is the action. Custom actions tend to have the longest lead times, so get your order started as soon as possible. With the precision rifle market booming over the past ten years, we have seen a lot of awesome features hit the market in this category. Some features to consider while scrolling through custom actions are:
All of these custom action features will give you a distinct feel and price point for the action. A Terminus Zeus has a 60-degree bolt, which will not be as smooth as a Lone Peak Fuzion with a 90-degree bolt throw, but you can run the bolt faster. A raw stainless action like the Defiance Tenacity is not going to be as smooth as a nitrided action like an Impact 737, but it's going to be cheaper. A quick change system like the Terminus Zeus features will allow you to change the barrel on your rifle quickly, but it is not as bulletproof as a torqued barrel. An integrated recoil lug and scope base won't come loose, but it adds cost and weight to the action. Those are just a few of the many options you will have to choose between when building a custom rifle.
The next decision you need to make is the barrel you want to use. The barrel can arguably be the most important decision to achieve accuracy and weight goals. When looking at a barrel, you have to choose:
Each of these decisions will determine the overall outcome of your rifle. There are a ton of different barrel manufacturers right now, so choose one that is very reputable and stands behind their product. When selecting your barrel twist, you will need to choose the bullet that you will be running and base the twist on that information. Call the barrel manufacturer, and they will point you in the right direction for your build. Barrel length is where the overall vision of your rifle starts to come into play. If you are doing backcountry long-range hunting, then a nice and compact barrel will make your overall rifle a little lighter and easier to handle. The contour will also determine the finished weight of your rifle. A 3B contour from Bartlein barrels will be a small contour that's nice and lightweight, but a Medium Palma will be heavier and could give you the ability to shoot a little better. The barrel material will also determine the weight of your rifle. If you want a larger contour barrel that is lightweight, then you might select a carbon fiber barrel. If you want the lightest accurate rifle possible, a small contoured steel barrel will allow you to cut more weight.
An experienced gunsmith can make the rifle-building experience stress-free. Start by looking at the reputable custom rifle builders nationwide and the rifles they build. I would recommend finding a gunsmith who:
Those criteria seem personal, but gunsmiths typically love to talk, so give them a call. In the first few minutes of the conversation, you will most likely discern whether he is the right fit or if you need to continue your search. Smiths, who guarantee accuracy and have good customer reviews, typically produce quality work. When customers spend $5000+ on a rifle, they are vocal about their satisfaction, often taking pride in their purchase. A gunsmith who has built custom rifles similar to your desired design will know the pros and cons of those components and cartridges. A gunsmith who shoots frequently can assist with not only rifle concerns but also common reloading and ammo issues. Such issues are frequent among active shooters, and they can guide you through troubleshooting. Furthermore, a gunsmith who is an avid hunter often has insights into your requirements. They might even suggest components that are more suited to your specific hunting needs.
A chassis or stock is going to be the foundation for your rifle. It ensures your rifle stays secure and repeatable for every shot. The chassis or stock is what allows you, as a shooter, to be comfortable and confident behind the rifle. When selecting your chassis or stock, look for:
Finding a stock or chassis that checks all these boxes can be challenging. Often, you might find one with the desired length of pull and cheekpiece height, but the weight could be better. Or perhaps the top four categories meet your criteria, but the stock or chassis doesn't accommodate the accessories crucial for accurate shots. We prefer chassis for this exact reason! An XLR chassis offers the flexibility needed to suit everyone in your family while maintaining a lightweight and packable profile.
Picking the perfect trigger for your rifle is one of the most important steps in the process. Companies like Triggertech, Timney, Bix N Andy, and Jewell have all been heavy hitters in the precision rifle market. When choosing a trigger, you need to consider:
Each of these attributes is going to deliver a different trigger feel. Start with the pull weight you're considering. If you're building a hunting rifle, then a 1.5-3 lb pull weight is a good range to stick with. If you're primarily shooting off a bench, you might consider a lighter weight. After determining the weight range, consider the trigger shoe style you prefer. While most shooters are accustomed to a curved trigger, flat or adjustable triggers are also great options. Lastly, decide between a single-stage or two-stage trigger. A two-stage trigger allows you to pull and hit a second "wall" before the rifle fires, whereas a single-stage fires as soon as the trigger is pulled. Both are excellent choices, and the best depends on personal preference.
The final step in building your rifle should be the muzzle device. Both a muzzle brake and a suppressor are great options, depending on your specific goals. Each has its pros and cons, which should be considered before purchasing.
Your choice will largely depend on your rifle's intended use. For instance, sheep hunters counting every ounce might favor a muzzle brake over a suppressor for the sake of weight savings, whereas an elk hunter might opt for a suppressor to minimize noise. Different hunting styles, physiques, and budgets will influence your decision. If the suppressor's wait time is a concern, consider reaching out to companies like Silencer Central, which have streamlined the suppressor purchasing process compared to past years.
Building a modern hunting rifle is both an art and a science, a blend of personal preference and technical expertise. With the myriad of options available today, every hunter has the tools at their disposal to craft a firearm tailored to their needs and aspirations. By making informed decisions about cartridges, components, and craftsmanship, one can create not just a tool but an extension of the hunter's skill and passion. As you embark on this journey of customization, remember that the goal is a balanced fusion of performance, comfort, and aesthetics. The right rifle not only enhances your hunting experience but also becomes a cherished companion in the great outdoors.