The first rule in picking a rifle to be used at long range, whether it’s for animals or people, is that a hunting-weight gun will not do. Seven or 8 pounds may be fine for lugging up a mountain and taking a shot at 150 yards, but for shooting at four times that distance, it’s not steady enough. The little tics, jerks, and twitches that make no difference at the length of a football field are disasters at five or six football fields.
Three years ago I was shooting a hunting-weight .30/06 in an Any-Any match and I jerked the trigger. I thought I’d shot a 6 instead of a 10, but what I had done was miss the 5- x 5-foot target altogether. I never forgot that.
You will also need a scope with some Xs in it. My guess is that the average hunting scope goes up to 9X or 10X. At long range you can’t get by with much less than 12X, and I know shooters who use 50X. Magnifications like these and light rifles do not mix.
About caliber. It may seem counterintuitive, but very powerful, flat-shooting cartridges work against you if you’re interested in precision. The reason is that these cartridges are fired by human beings, and human beings don’t shoot well when they know that pulling the trigger results in a thunderclap and a smack in the chops. Right now, the number-one long-range cartridge in competition is probably the 6.5/284, a mild-mannered round whose recoil could scarcely nudge a finch off a thistle.
In the military, the Number One sniper round is still the 7.62. There are sniper rifles in .300 Win Mag and .338 Lapua and .50 BMG, but in terms of sheer numbers, the little 7.62 is the champ. It’s considered effective out to 1,000 yards, and that should do you nicely unless you want to buy a 105mm howitzer.
So, in picking my gun, I wanted something that was heavy and either a .308 or a 6.5/284, and not costly. This took me to the wonderful world of tactical (law enforcement) rifles. They’re built with some poundage to them, and while none that I know of are chambered for the 6.5/284, just about all of them come in .308. They’re also priced right, since few police departments have thousands of dollars to spend on sniper guns when they’re through paying for Apache attack helicopters ($8 million), M-1 tanks ($4.3 million) and colossal jury awards from shooting the wrong people (Fill in your own figure).
This led me to the Savage Model 10 FCP-SR, a tactical rifle of breathtaking unattractiveness that you can have in any caliber as long as it’s .308.
Weight is 9 pounds without scope; there is a 20 MoA Picatinny rail included, a very good tactical bolt knob, and it feeds from a detachable 10-round steel magazine, about which you will have to do something if you want to hunt with it*. The 24-inch barrel** is roughly a #5 contour, fluted, and threaded at the muzzle for the usual accessories. The real-world price is $680.
Savage takes a kind of perverse pride in how ugly and how accurate their rifles are, and this one is true to the breed. It’s a roughly finished black blob with an excellent 2-pound, 4-ounce, dead-clean trigger pull that will place five shots in .780-inch at 100 yards. That will not suffice for a first-rate competition gun, where .500 or a lot less is what you need, but for animals, where an inch one way or another does not make a bit of difference, it will do just fine.
Next, the scope.
*In some states, if the carp cops catch you with more than 3 rounds, or 5 rounds, in the magazine, they will throw you in jail and beat you twice a day until you die. Savage makes a very nice 3-shot magazine that works in this rifle, and you need one before you go hunting.
_**There is also a 20-inch-barreled version, which you don’t want because you lose too much velocity. _