Building My First Custom Bolt Action Precision Rifle (Part 2) | Barrel Blank, Caliber, and Reamer Selection: Brux Barrels, 6.5 Creedmoor, Reamer Specs
This is Part Duex in my installment of my Precision Rifle Build series that I started last week. At the time, we went over the thought process of what role the rifle would fill and the selection of an action for the basis of the build. As the day gets closer that the completed rifle will show up on my door step fully assembled and begging for a range trip, I’ll take you a few steps farther along my journey. First up today, caliber selection.
This is a tough one for most newbies, including myself. The sheer number of cartridges and wildcats can be mind-boggling, and often causes paralysis by over-analysis. In 6mm alone someone is looking at 243 Win, 243 AI, 6XC, 6BR, 6PPC, 6 Remington, 6/284, 6mm-06, 6mm-06 AI, and on and on and on. Choices can be difficult.
Continue reading after the break.
The key to this choice, the same as most, is to fall back on your decisions you made while determining the purpose of your rifle and what you want to get out of it when it is complete. I was originally drawn to the 300 Win Mag, probably for no greater reason then it is big and manly. With a little research though, I found it wasn’t the best fit for the rifle I was looking for. It was simply overkill.
I started to look at other calibers that fit the role of a 600-1000 yard paper puncher more closely. The ‘checklist’ to be met for this rifle included: Good to great 1000 yard ballistics, limit wind drift, reduced recoil if possible, lower cost per round. Although I listed it last, for good reason, cost per round is an important factor to consider if you want to keep yourself shooting. Many people scoff at the idea of spending $3000- $5000 on a rifle, but won’t think twice about putting 5000 rounds, over the course of time, down the tube of a $700 gun with $300 optics. But when you do the math, the $1000 on the rifle/scope combo pales in comparison to the $7500 that will be spent on quality ammo at $30 a box. The math changes some with cheap ammo (but so does your accuracy) and if you reload, but the point remains the same: you will be spending a lot more of your money on ammunition than you will be on the rifle by the time you’ve shot out the barrel.
Cartridges like 308 Win, 243 Win, 6.5 Creedmoor, 260 Remington, 6.5-284, and others were considered. I, quite snottily, dismissed the 308 Win early as it just didn’t have the uniqueness I desired in this rifle, and, quite frankly, is a bit lacking at 1000 yards. Sure, ‘uniqueness’ is a poor reason to dismiss it, but who wants to build a rifle for this kind of cash that they aren’t excited about anyways?
In finalizing my decision, I came across a great resource on the forums on Sniper’s Hide. It is a ‘stickied’ post titled Tactical Shooter’s Equipment: What the Pros Use. The author gathered information from all the top shooters at a recent precision tactical rifle competition and tallied it all up for the masses to see. Everything from their caliber choice to barrel manufacturer, action brand, bullet choice, rear bag, powder brand, stock choice, scope choice, and so on. This proved to be a great inside look into the minds of those that stake their reputation on their equipment. I was starting to close in on a 6.5mm based short action caliber. I may have looked at the 6mm rounds a bit closer if I didn’t think I might want to use the rifle on big(ger) game at some point in the future. I wanted to keep the option open, and the heavier bullets available in the slightly bigger 6.5mm pills allowed me to do that. In the end, I settled on Hornady’s 6.5 Creedmoor Chambering.
The 6.5 Creedmoor, 260 Remington, and 6.5×47 Lapua are all very similar cartridges. They all fit in a short action and shoot the same 6.5mm projectiles. The 260 and the Creedmoor have a little more case capacity than the 6.5×47 and allow for slightly higher velocities. The way I saw it, the big decision to make was between the 260 and the 6.5 Creedmoor. The pros and cons of each kinda play out like this.
260 Remington: Tried and true with great Lapua Brass available but there can be issues of rounds being too long for use in box magazines when loaded with certain long, heavy bullets.
6.5 Creedmoor: Newer chambering with good results, only one source of brass (Hornady), slightly more efficient cartridge design since it is ‘shorter and fatter,’ rounds fit in detachable magazines with virtually any loading.
In the end, due to an unexplained draw to Berger VLD bullets, which can cause length issues in certain 260’s, I chose the 6.5 Creedmoor. Heck, I like the name too.
When building a rifle from the ground up, picking a cartridge is only part of the process. You have the ability to customize your reamer specs. Do you want a tight neck that allows (forces?) you to turn necks and results in longer brass life and increased accuracy from consistent neck tension? How do you want the chamber throated? for a specific bullet?
I decided that I did not want to neck turn brass, this rifle was to have a ‘tactical rifle’ purpose to it and neck turning brass and tight neck chamber fight took a back seat to reliable feeding. The reamer will have minimum SAAMI specs for all dimensions including neck diameter. This should allow all rounds to chamber reliably, without careful checking and without being ‘over-sized’ like factory necks that in turn reduce brass life. I also chose to have the chamber cut with a specific reamer with a shorter freebore designed for optimum seating of Berger VLD’s. I’ll cover the bullet selection in a (much) later installment on my cartridge component selection and load development. Hopefully the Berger’s shoot well and I haven’t limited my bullet choices with this chambering.
Next up is choosing the barrel for your build. Truth be told, I believe it is hard to go wrong with any match grade barrel manufacturer with a following in the competitive circuit. It is tough to say anyone went wrong with a barrel from Bartlien, Brux, Rock Creek, Krieger, and Benchmark.
Krieger, Bartlien, and Brux were the three most popular barrels in the What the Pros Use segment referenced above. In the end, I bought a Brux because it was in stock in the twist rate and contour I desired.
In the 6.5mm rounds, an 8.5 Twist barrel is pretty standard for shooting 120 to 140 grain pills. Since this range covers almost all of the match grade bullets used at long-range, I also chose a 1 in 8.5″ twist barrel. As far as contour choice, I went back to the purpose of my rifle. I did not intend to carry this rifle much at all, so I settled on the heavy M24 contour which has a 4″ cylinder at straight tapers to .9″ at the muzzle, which is built to finish at 26″.
If I had planned to carry the rifle much beyond going ‘to the line’ I would have settled on the lighter and very popular Remington Varmint Contour. You can see an array of barrel contours at this link.
The Brux cost $315 from the folks at Southern Precision Rifles, and was in stock, ready to ship. If you are looking for a barrel for a build of your own, I would recommend them for their large and frequently stocked inventory and their customer service. Another place to look is at Grizzly. That is the same Grizzly that makes the shop equipment such as lathes and table saws, apparantly the owner is also a fan of quality rifles and stocks many barrels from Bartlien and others.
As you can see the build is starting to come together now. We have a barreled action pretty much spec’d out. In future posts I’ll dive into my choices for this build in regards to the stock/chassis, trigger, and probably the most important: who will be the gunsmith to trust to put it all together as close to perfectly as possible.
Stay Tuned, and as always, I’d love to hear any comments out there. Let me know what you’d have done differently.
As always folks, if you enjoyed the read, or have anything else to say, please let me know in the comments, if you would like to read the rest of the series as it is published, on the right hand side of this page, please type in your email to follow the blog, or like the Facebook page for updates as posts become available.