October 28, 2023
Affiliate Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. We earn from qualifying purchases.
When I hear “budget gun,” my mind typically drifts to the realm of sub-$500 bolt guns. However, when top-tier actions for custom rifles cost $1,200.00+, I wondered if I could build a match-ready rifle, minus the optic, for right around that. Optic added, I wanted to stay around $2,000.00. I started with minimal expectations. I only knew I wanted a competition-ready rifle that I could build at home with readily available tools. Do I expect this rifle to shoot one-hole groups with factory ammo? No. Sub-half-inch groups would be great, but I am expecting closer to one inch. Do I expect a perfectly crisp trigger adjustable below two pounds? Also no, but I want minimal creep and overtravel and a consistent pull. Do I expect the most customizable chassis? No. I’d be happy with length-of-pull(LOP) adjustment, and some cheek riser adjustability. Do I expect the best clarity from a budget optic? No. I’ll be happy to clearly see bullet holes in paper at 100 yards, and hopefully see splash at 1,000+.
I wanted to source as many parts as possible from one place. I went to the Amazon of gun parts: Brownells. I knew I could get most every part I’d need from them, so I called and talked to one of their employees to formulated a plan.
Barrel, Action, Trigger: Howa 1500 6.5 Creedmoor barreled action. ($429)
Brownells has many caliber options to choose from, and I needed a readily available, accurate cartridge with low recoil. I chose the venerable 6.5 Creedmoor with the 24-inch heavy varmint barrel. Most barreled actions only include the barrel and action. Howa also includes an adjustable two-stage trigger, action screws, and a bottom metal with hinged-floorplate. The barrel and action are already torqued and headspace. They are made of forged and blued steel, offering a clean yet classic appearance. The muzzle is threaded ⅝-24 and sports a thread protector.
The action arrived with a Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (HACT). Total weight for the two-stage trigger was four pounds, but I adjusted it as low as it would go to around 3.5 pounds. While I’d like it lower a lower pull weight, I like the consistency I get from each shot. My trigger gauge registered swings of only a couple ounces up or down. The action features a two-lug, 90-degree bolt throw. While it isn’t the polished surface offered in the higher-dollar actions, bolt cycling was still a worry-free, smooth operation, and the fit and finish impressed me, especially considering the price.
Chassis: Kinetic Research Group Bravo, Howa 1500 Short Action ($440)
The KRG Bravo chassis is a great option that melds features with modularity. In its base configuration, it included length of pull spacers, a toolless adjustable cheek riser, a rear quick-detach (QD) swivel cup, and a Picatinny accessory rail. At the core of the chassis is a high-strength aluminum backbone spanning from just behind the action to the tip of the forend. The backbone is machined specifically to accept the flat-bottomed Howa 1500 action and features a slot to back the action’s recoil lug. KRG also uses a steel plate in conjunction with the front action screw to wedge against the recoil lug while tightening the screws to spec.
Budget friendly at its base, the KRG Bravo offers user adjustability I’d expect in any precision chassis. The length of pull adjustments, while not toolless, do offer a better fit for me as a shooter. The toolless cheek riser adjustment is both appreciated and necessary, as it must be fully removed to separate the bolt from the action. This is a slight inconvenience but is acceptable for a budget chassis.
Scope Base: Evolution Gun Works 20 MOA HOWA ($63)
The Evolution Gun Works 7075-T6 Aluminum base is a sufficiently rigid and budget friendly option. I opted for 20 MOA version, maximizing reticle travel. It mounts quick and easy with four included screws.
Optic: Vortex Strike Eagle 3-18x44 FFP, EBR-7C MRAD ($750)
With an MSRP of $850, Brownells offers this Vortex Strike Eagle optic at a cool $750. That puts it more in the low-to-mid-range cost as far as optics go. I was impressed with the glass quality on this option, even more so when you factor in the first focal plane (ffp) reticle at that price-point. The magnification throw lever included in the box is a huge plus, offering rapid adjustments for faster target acquisition. The included scope adjustment tool makes setting turrets to zero a breeze. Thanks to its stout dimensions, the 34mm tube offers substantial elevation travel for the locking turret. Once zeroed and installed, The REVSTOP ring offers 18.9 Mils of travel and guarantees a return to zero. The illuminated EBR-7C Reticle offers precise aiming points at any magnification, while the adjustable parallax keeps both reticle and targets on the same focal plane. A capped windage turret offers protection from accidental bumps in the field, and texturing on all the turrets provide exceptional grip in any conditions.
Scope Rings: Vortex Pro Rings ($80)
The most recent ring offering from Vortex comes in the form of their 34mm Pro series rings. With an MSRP of $120, the Pro rings come in the middle of the pack for cost, between their Hunter rings and the top of the line Precision Matched Rings. Brownells offers them for a budget-friendly price of $80. Machined from 6061 aluminum, these rings are lightweight with integrated recoil lugs for a secure mounting interface for your optic. Laser engraved torque specs give quick reference when tightening the torx-headed screws.
Bubble Level: Vortex 34mm Bubble Level ($40)
The further you shoot, the more imperative it is that your rifle is perfectly level. The bubble level from Vortex was easy to install, and the most budget-friendly option. The large vial offers high visibility, even in peripheral vision.
Magazine: Magpul AICS Pattern .308/7.62 – 5 rds. ($34)
Magpul offers the most budget friendly and reliable magazines on the market. I went with the five-round magazine for its lower price and profile. It fit snugly into the KRG Chassis and fed every round consistently through the entire testing process of this rifle.
Oversized Bolt Knob: LSI Howa Tactical Bolt Knob ($13)
This was the only part I couldn’t source through Brownells. The small Howa bolt knob is machined as part of the bolt handle. I wanted a bit more leverage and purchase. I found the Howa Tactical Bolt Knob, made by Howa’s parent company, Legacy Sports International. The two-part, bolt-on knob features rubber O-rings to ensure a snug fit and installs quickly.
My rifle assembled, and accessories torqued to spec, I went to the range to complete Howa’s recommended 20-round break-in process. This process burnishes slight imperfections in the rifling, and ensures shot consistency, even as the barrel warms up. The break-in complete, it was time to zero and begin accuracy testing. My ammunition came from Hornady in the form of their 140- and 147-grain ELD-Match cartridges. Both bullets produced multiple five-shot .4-inch groups at 100 yards. My expectation for a half-inch gun had been exceeded! I chronographed five rounds from each bullet weight. The 140s averaged 2,673 fps, while the 147s averaged 2,669 fps.
Initial impressions showed promise, but 100-yard groups mean nothing if it can’t perform out to distance. I drove to Rock Lake Rifle Range, a first-class shooting facility that offers a target-rich environment. Hosting multiple long-range matches throughout the year, the owner Doug Glorfield knows how to set up a range. Shots can be taken from 100 to well beyond 1,100 yards. I couldn’t ask for a better location. I confirmed zero and environmental conditions before shooting. I shot my way from berms at 440 yards out to 1109 yards. Each berm featured various target shapes and sizes, allowing me to be as precise as I wanted.
Recoil was light, and keeping the gun on target was a simple task. The scope provided more than sufficient clarity to confirm bullet impacts. The wind was favorable most of the time, but even when it picked up, I could clearly watch the mirage through my scope. I adjusted my holds on the fly to account for the shifting winds. Shot after shot, I learned more about my new rifle. Each round fed reliably, and the trigger broke clean. For the first time in my life, I had a first-round impact beyond 1,000 yards on a full-size IPSC target. I hardly believed it myself, so I sent a couple more rounds to be sure. No question about it, the rifle had exceeded my expectations. The more time I spent behind the rifle, the more confident I became. This indeed was what I’d hoped for: a competition-ready precision rifle built on a budget with my own two hands.
Custom Long-Range PRS Rifle Cost Breakdown
- Barrel/Action/Trigger: $429
- Chassis: $440
- Scope Base: $63
- Scope: $750
- Rings: $80
- Bubble Level: $40
- Magazine: $34
- Bolt Knob: $13
- 6% Sales Tax: $110.94
- Total: $1,959.94
- Total Weight: 11.7 lbs. (unloaded)
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.