Factory vs. Custom Rifles

Factory vs. Custom Rifles
by Lucas Beitner

When getting involved in long range shooting, rifle selection can be difficult. There are so many different manufactures, cartridges, and configurations available. Many would like a custom built rifle, but wonder if it’s worth the extra time and cost. The answer depends mostly on your priorities, and needs. There are advantages for each. Here’s a quick overview.

Factory Rifles

Factory rifles can be anything from the awesome Sako TRG to the cheap Savage Stevens. Factory rifles can be purchased in many different cartridges and calibers. The accuracy ranges from excellent to unacceptable (for long range). If you have the ability to do a little research, you can avoid any that have a high probability of poor accuracy. You can also find some where good accuracy is the rule rather than the exception. Factory rifles come ready to fire. You can get them from a local shop in minuets or have one shipped in days. You’ll have little down time especially if you have optics ready to go. There are custom rifles that will take over a year to get once you order!

A reasonably priced factory rifle can have good accuracy even for long range. I’ve  owned a factory rifle that shot with accuracy above the level of many customs. This is the exception and not the rule, but it’s a joy to find and shoot such a rifle. Some factory rifles come with accuracy guarantees, but most do not. If you purchase a rifle that shoots poorly there are modifications (at relatively little cost) that you can make to increase accuracy. It is possible to get one that cannot be made to shoot with acceptable accuracy. The worst case scenario, would have you ordering a new barrel and action work from your gun smith. This extreme would be very rare, and one should not be worried. I’ve heard of plenty who get the factory to fix rifles that shot poorly  even when no guarantee of accuracy was made.

There are many options available for factory rifles. They will often have different magazine configurations (or lack thereof). Different barrel contours and lengths… heavy barrels for varmint and tactical models, helping dissipate heat and maintain accuracy for extended strings of shooting. Light barrels are most popular for hunting models, keeping weight to a minimum. They can be made  from different materials including chromoly, stainless, even titanium. Some will have synthetic stocks, some wood. Even factory rifles designed for accuracy will often have aluminum pillars or bedding blocks. Some will have stocks that are adjustable, but most will not. The choices you will have to make for selecting a factory rifle are generally very straight forward.

Factory rifles are generally less expensive than customs. Good shooting rifles will sell for as little as $400. The used market can be great way to save even more. Make sure you know what a rifle goes for new. Just because it’s at a pawn shop doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. If you order a rifle off the internet keep in mind you’ll have to pay a local FFL for transfer. This usually runs about $40 in my area. A budget minded shooter will often purchase a factory rifle and slowly make modifications over time. Doing this can be enjoyable especially if you see better accuracy as a result of your own work. When a barrel is shot out on a factory rifle, a custom can be built from it.

Custom Rifles

Custom rifles can be had in every configuration imaginable. Any cartridge can be used from a standard 308 to a custom wild cat. You can build a single shot or repeater. Left hand, Right hand, left port, right port. It can be built from a factory action you are familiar with, or a custom action of extremely close tolerances. It can take a great deal of time and research to decide what suits you.

The accuracy of custom rifles is generally much better than factory. Accuracy guarantees are not uncommon. Not all custom rifles are created equally. If you’re going to spend the money, make sure you know what you’re getting. Find out what experiences others are having with customs from the same smith or company. Amazingly there are custom rifle makers who consider MOA accuracy to be excellent.

Custom rifles will require some decision making not necessary with factory rifles. Perhaps you will be selecting each component individually and paying a smith you know is good to assemble a rifle you’ve designed. If you allow your smith to decide what’s best, make sure you know what you’re getting. If you have any concerns let them know before your rifle is built. If you have questions….ask, this is part of what you’re paying for. With the advise of your smith, it’s probably best that you make most of the decisions. You’ll have to decide what cartridge, action, barrel, stock, trigger, etc. It’s best to keep in mind the purposes of this rifle.

When you decide what cartridge and caliber best suit your purposes it would also be good to decide what bullets you would be using. Find out what twist rate is required to stabilize the bullets you plan to use and order your barrel accordingly. If your rifle will be a repeater make sure the reamer is throated so you can seat the bullets into the lands without exceeding the   mag length. By the same token if you have room in the mag, a reamer that allows you to seat the bullets near maximum mag length will give maximum capacity for powder. This can net a little more muzzle velocity which is generally a good thing!

Length of barrel is another consideration. For large magnums shooting heavy bullets long barrels will allow best velocities with slow burning powders. Some cartridges suffer little loss of velocity when used with short barrels, particularly those using relatively fast burning powders. Of course, if you will be dragging this rifle through the hills a long barrel may be out of the question. How about your trigger? Even a good rifle’s accuracy can be spoiled by a poor trigger. The trigger on a custom rifle should be tuned for a crisp brake and minimal over-travel. The weight of the trigger is up to the shooter. If the cross-hairs routinely move when you pull the trigger it may be to heavy (or poor shooting technique).Only you can decide whats best for you… that’s why you’re building a custom in first place.

Make sure the components come together in a rifle that will be comfortable for you. You’ll likely be spending more money than most “off the shelf” rifles require and you want to get your money’s worth. If at all possible handle the stock you want to use before you purchase. If the stock does not fit you correctly (and cannot be adjusted), shooting your rifle could be frustrating. Don’t leave anything out. With careful research and consideration you can build a custom rifle that will meet your needs and expectations. Such a rifle is always a pleasure to shoot.


  • jordan

    this is sweet stuff

  • Lucas

    Glad you liked it Jordan.

  • jordan

    thanks man great stuff!

  • Kevin

    Hmm.. I still don’t know enough to go the route of a custom rifle. If I did I think that is the way I would go. In no hurry to buy a rifle yet.

  • Lucas

    If you want to go the custom rifle route the smith that you decide to use should provide you with all the necessary information to make any and all decisions. If you have any specific questions feel free to send an e-mail, pm, etc.

  • Kur

    i recently got a remington M700 tactical in a .308 thus far with factory loads i have it grouping 5 shots at one MOA at 100 yrds i feel that i can do better. would a lighter trigger help and what else could i do to make myself a tack driver?

  • http://longrangeshooter.com Sean

    A lighter trigger would help. If it was like my M700 it was a tank to pull the trigger. I lighted mine up to just under 2 lbs. Most gun smiths wont lighten a factor M700 trigger under 2 lbs because it starts to get a bit iffy on the safety side of things. I would say the next step for you would probably be to start reloading if you want to get the best accuracy. Remember to that if this is a new gun your group should start to get better after you get the barrel broke in.

  • Brad

    I’m buying A factory used Remington 700 7mm Sendero that has hardly been shot (per seller on Gunbroker.com) How do I approach this barrel for A break in ?
    Do I treat it as new ? Or is there something I should check before attempting to break it in ? Or is it already broke in ? And how do you tell if it was done properly ?
    I will be building this rifle for Long Range, I would like to have this gun at it’s peak performance before I start making modifications.

  • http://longrangeshooter.com/2009/01/factory-vs-custom-rifles/ Lock and Load

    Depending on how many rounds are through the barrel. it may be already broken in. I consider a barrel with 30 to 40 rounds fired to be broken in. It’s still pretty fresh though. On my custom builts, I break in a barrel by:
    fire one, clean
    fire 2, clean
    fire 5, clean
    fire 10, clean
    fire 20, clean
    barrel is broken in.

    Here’s how to clean a rifle:
    -run a wet patch of Shooter’s Choice (SC) through the barrel
    -using a wet (SC), brass brush and a plastic coated rod, do 25 strokes.
    (push the rod through and pull back into the action. This is one stroke)
    -use 2 or 3 more wet patches. If they’re clean, you’re done. If not, 10 more with a wet brush and 3 wet patches. Continue till clean. Pull bolt and only clean from receiver end. Always use a cleaning rod guide in the receiver. It keeps excessive fluids from dripping into the action and prevents knicks from the cleaning rod. Store your weapons with the bore slightly damp with Shooter’s Choice. Carbon steel or stainless…it won;t hurt the barrel. Fire one cleaning round and you’re Locked and Loaded

  • mike kasper

    I have a model 700 rem. in a 7mm.mag.and i would like to make a long ranger out of it.where would i start? or should i start with a diferant rifle?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sean-Pomerinke/1584012465 Sean Pomerinke

    I think the rifle you have would work just fine.
    As far as the first place to start I would say start on a new barrel, scope or start reloading. One of those three would be a good place to start. You need a good barrel to shoot accurate but the best rifle in the world wont shoot good with out a good scope. Reloading is one of those things you can start with cheaper then a barrel or scope and it gives you time to develop some loads while you work on the rest of the gun.

  • http://http://http://http://http://http://http://shoot-farther.com Lucas

    Brad, I’m not completely sold on barrel break in procedures, I’ve tried it both ways, “proper break in” for my 243, and nothing for my 7wsm and both rifles will shoot as good as 1/4 MOA to 500yds. I recently tested a rifle for a company and I did proper break in, since I will not ultimately own the rifle (this rifle shot better than 3/8 MOA at 500yds). If it makes you sleep good at night then do it, I honestly don’t think there would be any noticable difference. If proof comes out to the contrary, I’ll jump on board too, haven’t seen any as of yet.

    Mike, listen to Sean’s advise, You will need a good scope (one that tracks reliably and hopefully won’t fail). A match grade barrel is beneficial but, expensive. You’ll definately want to start reloading if you don’t already. For long range accuracy reloading is very beneficial! One area that usually requries immediate attention on factory rifle is the trigger, if the rifle moves when you pull the trigger accuracy will suffer!

  • Sam

    I’m new to all these, I just recently got a Weatherby Vanguard sub MOA 308.heavy barrel…would like to modify it into a long range shooter, where do I begin…….educate me… thanks in advance

  • http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://shoot-farther.com Lucas

    That rifle is likely very capable at long range. The only way to know for sure would be to test it. I would start by tuning the trigger and bedding the action. If you prefer a different stock, check into bell and carlson. If the stock is to your liking you may consider adding an adjustable cheek peice to give you a proper cheek weld (Karsten is the most popular but you can also make these yourself).

    If you’re not already hand loading you’re going to want to start for the best results especially at long range.

  • http://longrangeshooter.com Sean P.

    I agree 100 percent with Lucas.
    I can still remember the first time I was shooting targets beyond 500 yards and that feeling is a rush.
    I think that is why I keep pushing to shoot farther so I can get that feeling back LOL

  • Kevin

    As I am about to finally buy my first bolt action hunting rifle, it was good to read this thread again. One issue I wasn’t even thinking about is how long it will take to get a Nosler Custom Model 48 TGR .300 Win Mag once I place the order.

  • http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://shoot-farther.com Lucas

    Give them a call, I’m sure they’ll let you know approximately. Some custom shops do limited production runs.

  • carey

    Not so much a comment as a question as a comment. I was wondering if any body had any idea of how well the new stevens rifles chambered in 22-250 remington shoot as I have found 1 and really like the feel of it but am a little concerned as to how far they will accuratly shood I do plan on reloading but to start I will be using factory ammo somewhere around 45 to 55 grain rounds The gun is selling for $335 and Any information would help?

  • http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://shoot-farther.com Lucas

    Accuracy can vary quite a bit for factory rifles. I would expect that you should see groups arround MOA with your out of the box stevens with a little trigger tuning and decent hand loads. If you got a Savage varmint rifle you could expect arround 1/2 MOA in general, with hand loads (I saw one recently holding arround 1/2 MOA at 975yds, probably not typical). Another buddy got a Savage (basically same as stevens) in 300wsm it didn’t shoot well at all. I free floated the barrel, bedded the action, tuned the trigger, and developed some handloads…. when finished the rifle would consistantly shoot 3.5″ groups at 500yds. This was not a heavy barrel version either. The point is, even if you don’t get the accuracy you’d like to see out of the box, don’t give up. A little work goes a long way.

  • brian

    i have spent 40yrs as a duck guide and have grown very sensitive to recoil(heavy 3.5 inch 12 gauge). i am using a 25-06 on whitetail deer. i have been pretty good to 350 yds. is this enough gun for any longer shots? i am using barnes tsx 100gr at 3300fps. but i am passing on longer shots because i am not confident in a clean kill. any ideas for a mild recoil rifle that would be good to 550yds?

  • http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://http://shoot-farther.com Lucas

    Yes you would have enough energy for deer size game to 550yds with your setup, but I wouldn’t recommend going much farther (you have 700 ft/lbs of energy at 550yds). You could use the 115gr Berger VLD and get a little more energy with your current cartridge. For a low recoil high energy cartridges (high energy for long range) the 260 rem and similar cartridges (6.5 creedmoor, 6.5×47 Lapua etc.) are excellent in this respect when using the heavier high BC bullets. I think you’d be supprised at how little recoil there is. To give you an idea… a 260 rem with a 140gr Berger VLD at 2800fps (my buddies are getting higher MV’s with 26″ barrels) you’d have 700 ft/lbs of energy (same energy level your 25-06 produces at 550yds) at 925yds! I’m not recommending you run a 260 and shoot dear at 900yds, but extra energy don’t hurt.