DIY Sniper System: Precision Shooting for the Working Man

Combination of factory Remington 700 AAC-SD rifle with Archangel stock, Gemtech Tracker suppressor, and top-notch Lucid glass makes for a modestly priced precision rifle that requires only a little basic assembly. Completed rig performs great on the range.


Apparently all Army officers are supposed to play golf. Back when I wore the uniform, it was what all the cool kids did, so I bought myself a cheap set of used golf clubs from a disreputable establishment called Speedee Pawn that had been through a fire.

The truly committed golf worshippers with whom I played toted custom-built clubs that looked like space-station components and cost as much as my car. But even with my fire-surplus Speedee Pawn specials, I held my own on the links. Methinks there might be a message there, perhaps something deep and timeless.

Have you priced a hand-built precision rifle lately? I am part owner of a small company that builds them, and I cannot yet afford one of my own. A tricked-out top-end minute-of-gnat’s-butt precision rifle costs as much as a family vacation to Australia. But for those willing to sacrifice maybe a quarter inch downrange, markedly cheaper options exist.

Precision riflery is indeed a storied art, and those who have mas-tered the craft are rightfully revered as artisans. The holy melding of flesh and steel that conspires to drop a high-velocity rifle bullet precisely on target as much as a kilometer or more distant requires superlative equipment, world-class dedication, and untold hours of practice.

Such stuff as this sells quite a lot of gun-related swag and instills well-founded fear in the enemies of our great republic. American military snipers are out there plying their trade downrange as I sit comfortably in my living room typing these words. May they reap a bountiful harvest.

Lucid riflescopes cost about half what the big names might and render superlative quality and fea-tures.


MISSION ESSENTIAL NEEDS STATEMENT

To maximize downrange effectiveness with a precision rifle does indeed require a boatload of cash. Tuned triggers, bedded stocks, hand-fitted bar-rels, and printed actions don’t just happen. They all reflect pricey raw mate-rials, expensive machine time, and attention from folks who master their craft meticulously over decades.

But advances in CNC milling technology and materials science have conspired to render some surprisingly fine performance out of equip-ment that might otherwise be considered mass-produced. What might a proper suppressed precision rifle look like if we built it at home from Infor-mation Age COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) components? The answer to that question is, remarkably effective.

It’s a rare situation in which a private citizen would take a justifia-ble shot at a hostile two-legged target at more than about 20 meters. We call them defensive firearms because we use them for defensive purposes. It would be tough to convince a judge that you were feeling threatened by a Bad Guy five football fields away.

But not unlike base jumping, Dancing With the Stars, the Demo-cratic Party or Twitter, sometimes there need not be any real–world practi-cality to our pursuits. Frequently folks do things just because they can. As a result, the capacity to print tiny clusters of holes with a precision rifle at simply ludicrous distances can become a splendid challenge for its own sake.

AA700 buttstock is a drop-in fit for the Remington 700 rifle and easily adjustable for comb height and length of pull via large thumbwheels.


FOUNDATIONS

The Remington 700 is the world’s most successful mass-produced preci-sion rifle. More Remington 700 rifles have been manufactured than any oth-er commercial bolt-action rifle in history. Originally marketed by Remington in 1962, the classic Model 700 action is available from the factory in 30 dif-ferent calibers.

The same basic Model 700 serves as the M24 in U.S. Army service and the M40 with the Marines. Short, standard, and long action versions ac-commodate various cartridge sizes, and the gun is available with a wide va-riety of finish, magazine, and barrel length options. The sheer tonnage of venison this classic sporting rifle has put on American tables in the last half-century boggles the mind.

My Remington 700 AAC-SD Tactical rifle came with a 5/8×24 threaded 20-inch 1:10 twist heavy barrel and a robust dull tactical finish. The standard X-Mark Pro externally adjustable trigger is set to a nice and crisp 3.5 pounds out of the box. It can be tweaked down to 2.5 pounds if de-sired. The Remington 700 AAC-SD is affordable, with a suggested retail price starting at $842, but street prices are often several hundred dollars less.

AA700 comes with proprietary detachable 10-round box magazine.


Lots of folks make aftermarket stocks for rifles, but Archangel has established a reputation for producing quality stock systems with innovative features at reasonable prices. Their AA700 fits the Remington short-action receiver and is available in both .223 and .308 versions. The AA700 sports a removable proprietary ten-round box magazine and comes with either alu-minum pillar bedding or aluminum bed block bedding systems. The stock alone weighs 5.6 pounds and is impervious to weather or moisture. The AA700 is designed to free float any commercial barrel profile.

The Archangel AA700 stock is made from a carbon-fiber filled pol-ymer and is easy to install. The gooseneck-style pistol grip is fully ambidex-trous and includes a prominent bilateral palm swell. Both the cheek riser and buttplate are click adjustable for cheek weld and length of pull without tools. A built-in secure grip storage compartment holds a couple of last-ditch rounds or some compact range snacks. The stock includes an integral flush-fit bipod that deploys one-handed and sports a fixed command height. The AA700 stock is available in Black, Desert Tan and Olive Drab.

Archangel AA700 buttstock includes integral bipod that snaps into place one-handed. Bipod sports fixed command height and posi-tive operation.


TAMING THE BEAST

In 1934, when the government first got into the business of regulating firearms, the $200 transfer tax on a sound suppressor was the modern-day equivalent of about $3,500. To put that in perspective, at that time, a brand-new V8 Ford automobile cost $535 right off the dealer’s lot.

These heady sums effectively banned the purchase of sound sup-pressors and machine guns by the American public. As sneaky and un-American as such legislative antics might seem, you’ve got to credit the law’s authors for their ingenuity in maliciously circumventing the Constitu-tion’s original intent. But nowadays, inflation has turned that same $200 transfer tax into something markedly more manageable.

Sound suppressors are legal to own in all but eight U.S. states. Oddly, these same states invariably vote Democrat in national elections and typically suffer disproportionately high crime rates. Forty of the U.S. states allow sound suppressors for hunting. This practice is imminently sensible.

I recall sitting on a frigid deer stand with my Dad on a brisk winter morning in the Mississippi Delta back when I was about six years old. A modest eight-point had the poor judgment to wander nearby, and my Dad put him on the ground with a single shot from his bolt-action 7mm Magnum rifle. That round going off right next to my head had me answering the phone for a week when it wasn’t ringing. As a result of that experience, I have little interest in shooting that rifle even today, four and a half decades later.

Our politicians would have us believe that sound suppressors are the sole purview of terrorists and hitmen. This flawed presumption emerges directly from the rarefied bowels of Hollywood.

Fully ambidextrous pistol grip on Archangel AA700 stock features palm swells appropriate for any shooter regardless of their handed-ness.


Between 1995 and 2005, there were 15 documented cases of sound suppressors being used in the commission of crimes nationwide. You are 275 times more likely to be killed by a stepladder and 33 times more likely to be struck by lightning. Sound suppressors should be sold over the counter at American bait shops alongside Slim Jims and night crawlers.

One of the biggest names in sound suppressors in America is Gemtech. Their new Tracker sound suppressor is purpose designed for use on precision rifles. Weighing in at only 11 ounces, the Tracker is rated for .300 Win Mag rifles and does a superb job of suppressing a weapon’s muzzle noise. As this can is made from 7075 aluminum and designed for bolt-action rifles, it should be allowed to cool to ambient temperature every 10 rounds.

If you want a can to hang onto the end of your fully automatic belt-fed machine gun, the Tracker is not for you, but Gemtech makes other cans that do that just fine.

Caldwell Lead Sled DFT revolutionized author’s precision shooting. With meticulous controls and robust construction, Lead Sled DFT excises most of the human error from the equa-tion.


ACCESSORIZING

The glass came from Lucid, which makes remarkably capable, top-quality riflescopes at less than half what big-name optics of comparable ca-pability cost. Their 4-16X44 scope is rated up to .338 Lapua and includes an L5 etched glass reticle nestled within a 30mm aluminum matte black ano-dized tube.

This reticle allows the shooter to estimate bullet drop for subsonic and supersonic loads and adjust on the fly without a lot of ancillary clicking. There are easily accessed 1/8 MOA adjustments and superb optical quality, all at a suggested retail price of $419. You can spend more on a nice rifle-scope, but you could also put your money in a tidy pile and set fire to it.

I’m man enough to admit I’m not the world’s greatest shot with a precision rifle. With half a century under my belt, my eyesight and general fortitude are not what they were back when I flew helicopters for Uncle Sam. But as with many things, technology has a solution when physiology lets us down.

When running homebuilt subsonic ammo, this gun really is ear safe without muffs.


The Lead Sled DFT (Dual Frame Technology) from Caldwell Shoot-ing Supplies puts the precision back into precision shooting even when we don’t do our part. The Lead Sled DFT rests securely on any firm surface and accepts lead shot or weight plates for stability.

The system fits most any rifle or shotgun chassis and allows pre-cise adjustments via fingertip wheels. The dual-frame design accommodates Modern Sporting Rifles with long magazines as well. I am privileged to shoot for fun and money, and the Lead Sled DFT legitimately revolutionized my precision shooting game. I can’t believe I waited so long to get one.

The rifle nestles securely within the padded cradles on the Lead Sled. The shooter then adjusts the lay of the crosshairs using the Sled’s pre-cise adjustment wheels. Take care to squeeze the trigger smoothly, and you can really find out what sort of accuracy a rifle is mechanically capable of producing. Once I got mine set up, I tried out several different guns from my collection just to assess what they could do when human error is taken out of the equation. The exercise was great fun.

At only 11 ounces, Gemtech Tracker suppressor is re-markably lightweight yet manages guns up to .300 Win Mag. When running home-rolled subsonic ammo, this rig is just stupid qui-et.


PRACTICAL MAGIC

With some well-crafted ammo and a little patience, I can indeed print those stupid tiny groups with my homebuilt precision rifle. Getting the rig in-to action required nothing more than some simple assembly, and the result-ing heavy-barreled sniper rifle shoots markedly better than I do. The rig is fairly heavy but makes a superbly stable shooting platform and looks thor-oughly awesome.

For hunting applications, this rifle in .308 is proof against any rea-sonable North American game animal. With the sound suppressor in place, my COTS precision rifle is a superb deer gun. Particularly when run from within a proper shoot house with a firm rest, this rifle allows me to take shots during deer season out significantly farther than I might with a more conventional thin-barreled weapon. While not exactly chicken feed, the package is also not nearly as expensive as a hand-built custom gun.

You can easily spend as much on a hand-built precision rifle as you would for a nice used car. Squeezing that last quarter inch out of your groups downrange does indeed demand a premium.

But for those of us who just like turning ammo into noise and have not yet made precision shooting into some kind of bizarre religious ex-ercise, COTS equipment is plenty serviceable.

You might be surprised at what kind of performance you can wring out of some basic Information Age precision shooting gear.

Key to loading your own inexpensive subsonic rounds at home is Hodgdon Trail Boss powder. Individual powder grains are shaped like little doughnuts so take up a lot of volume, making for uniform ignition and better safety than short-loaded rounds that use more conventional pro-pellants.


ROLLING YOUR OWN

Loading Subsonic Ammo Without Hocking a Kidney A proper sound suppressor can do a superb job of masking gun noise, but if that bullet is travelling faster than 1,126 feet-per-second (fps) at 68 degrees F in dry air, it will produce a vigorous sonic crack no matter what whiz-bang super stuff you hang off your muzzle.

The answer to this quandary is subsonic ammo. Commercial sub-sonic ammo is available but expensive. The key to affordable subsonic am-mo is Hodgdon Trail Boss powder.

My friend and boss Denny Hansen could literally write a textbook on the subject. This guy even makes his own bullet jackets out of spent .22 LR cases. In contrast, I’m a Luddite and living proof that you need not be Yoda the reloading Jedi to produce an effective, inexpensive product.

Heavy bullets make for slower velocities, but be forewarned. I loaded some really heavy 77-grain subsonic loads that came out of my sup-pressed .223 bolt gun sideways and sounding like a hornet on crack.

Be attentive to whether or not your barrel twist will adequately stabilize these heavy projectiles. I typically get better service loading stand-ard-weight bullets and titrating down powder charges until the velocity is subsonic.

Hodgdon Trail Boss powder was designed specifically for low-pressure cowboy action loads. The individual powder particles look like little doughnuts with a hole in the center, so they take up a lot of space for a giv-en charge weight.

As a result, this particular powder works perfectly for reduced-charge subsonic rifle loads. Short-charged loads with conventional powders can result in inconsistent ignition, poor performance and, in extreme cases, catastrophic results. With Trail Boss, it is also all but impossible to over-charge your cases.

I started out with ten grains of Trail Boss behind a Speer Match King 168-grain HPBT (Hollow Point Boat Tail) bullet. This produced about 1,075 fps and a modest sonic crack. The intensity of the perceived noise is a function of exposure. Shoot a supersonic round through a suppressed weap-on into the ground ahead of your firing point, and it makes very little noise. Launch that same round out across the countryside, and it makes a great deal of racket.

For transonic loads, the bullet slows to subsonic speeds quickly, and the crack is less pronounced, as exposure to the supersonic phase is brief. I tweaked my powder charges down until I consistently got about 1,015 fps. This took 9.0 grains of Trail Boss. The resulting load is thoroughly ear safe with a suppressor and just stupid quiet. No kidding: These loads through this suppressed rifle are all but noiseless, and they don’t cost any-thing more than the basic components. They also retain enough downrange horsepower for practical use.

After a hard day at the clinic stamping out disease, nothing is more cathartic than settling in behind my trusty reloading machine and churning out a few rounds. The activity is soothing on a visceral level and doesn’t require a great deal of mental capital. It’ll save your hearing, make you a more neighborly shooter, and cure what ails you after a long day at work.

SOURCES

REMINGTON ARMS COMPANY, INC.
(800) 243-9700
www.remington.com

ARCHANGEL MANUFACTURING
(800) 438-2547
www.archangelmanufacturing.com

BATTENFELD TECHNOLOGIES INC.
(Caldwell Shooting Supplies)
(877) 509-9160
www.btibrands.com

GEMTECH
(208) 939-7222
www.gemtech.com

HORNADY MFG. CO.
(800) 338-3220
www.hornady.com

LUCID
(307) 840-2160
www.mylucidgear.com

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