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Building a Boomershooter


I briefly flirted with the idea of putting together something based on the AR platform. As it turned out I'm glad I didn't; I'm not very familiar with that platform and trying to learn it rather than an already-familiar bolt-action would have probably interfered with actually learning to shoot accurately. I may try it for a future event, though -- but I'll make sure I have a lot of time for familiarization first.
Eventually I ended up at .308 sort of by default.  Just about every source I found indicated that .308 could perform very well for accuracy and consistency; there's a good summary in this guide to practical long-range rifle shooting.  Few places would call it the best option but almost all of them listed it as a "good" choice.  There were reasonably-priced sources for match-quality ammunition (and by reasonably priced, I mean about $1.30 / rnd, as opposed to $2 or more for some of the "best" loads).  Most sources indicated it would perform well out to 300 or 400 yards, but beyond that would start to drop rapidly -- requiring more scope adjustment and better range estimation. 

By this time I was watching the calendar advance with some trepidation, as it was already early january; there were only about 3 months of preparation time left.  I figured good performance to 400 with the option of shooting farther was the best I could reasonably ask for at this point and started looking for rifles.

February, 2008:

The "standard" option for accurate long-distance shooting in .308 seemed to be the Remington M700 (in many variations).  The many various options available in that action was actually a disadvantage; there were at least three or four different models labeled as the "most accurate production rifle we make", with no way for a novice to make an intelligent choice between them.  I was more than willing to spend the money on the best they had... if I could only figure out what it was.

I was vacillating between the Sendero SF II ("the most accurate rifles we produce for over-the-counter sale" but not available in .308) and the VSF ("well known for being our most accurate standard production rifles") when Eugene suggested I take a look at the Savage 12 F-class in 6.5x284 NORMA and 6 Norma BR.  That threw the ammunition question back into the fray, but I short-circuited the problem when I discovered the Savage 12F/TR, very similar to the F-class but in .308.  I quickly settled on that as the rifle of choice, with one of the Remingtons in the back of my mind as an emergency backup choice if there were problems.

There were problems.

I stopped by my local FFL to ask them to look for the 12F/TR for me.  I assume they had no luck... despite several inquiries I never heard anything back from them.  Waiting for something to happen there wasted a month.  Oh well.

March, 2008:

I called another local dealer and while he didn't stock any, he did have a link to his distributor's inventory and was able to tell me they had two in stock.  Great -- I figured I'd call around the local dealers to see if anyone had them actually in the store, since I was definitely starting to feel the time pressure... but no one did, and when I called back to order the rifles it was too late.  Someone else had already ordered both of them.

Following the "rapid escalation" theory of problem solving, I called every listed Savage dealer in Austin.  No one had anything in stock, nor anything available from their distributor, at least not that they were willing to look for.  I was down to about five weeks away from the shoot, and I still didn't have a rifle.  It was time for drastic measures. 

I called up the list of Savage dealers for the entire state of Texas, conveniently arranged alphabetically, and begin calling them.  All two-hundred-and-change of them, one by one, not just checking stock but also checking with their distributor.  Eventually, on the second day of searching, someone admitted to being able to order them and said his distributor showed several in stock.  Two deposits later, and I had rifles on the way.  (It would be another two weeks before I had a chance to actually pick them up, from a gun store only about 75 miles away).

April, 2008:

But I still needed a scope.  I had heard a lot of good things about the NightForce scopes, and nothing at all bad about them, but they were very pricy.  Of course, so were other highly-recommended scopes; it seemed that spending at least as much on the scope as on the rifle was going to be necessary.  Worse, the delay in picking up the rifles meant I had only about a two weeks left before I would need to get on an airplane for Idaho. 

I was able to locate a local shop that carries the NightForce scopes and had, luckily, the exact model I was looking for: a NightForce Benchrest in 42x with the NP-R2 reticle.  It's a little surprising to find a store that would stock a $1300 scope, but I wasn't going to complain.  The shop itself was a fairly interesting discovery; it has all sorts of interesting and expensive things.  The neighborhood should probably have clued me in to this; it's some of the most expensive real estate in Austin.

I stopped by to pick up the scope on the Friday before Boomershoot weekend, and asked about getting the scope mounted on my rifle -- I had talked with the store's gunsmith about doing that in a hurry on the phone earlier, since I had never done a scope mount myself.  Unfortunately their gunsmith doesn't work Fridays... but they would be happy to sell me the scope I had reserved anyway, along with scope rings for it, and I could come back Monday...

That conversation generated a quick order for a NightForce scope base (20 MOA), plus a lapping kit from Midway.  Maybe I hadn't done it before but damned if I would let that stop me.  Of course, the soonest I could possibly get the rings, base, and lapping kit together with the rifle and scope was Monday anyway... so a quick call to the store Monday morning saved me from the "interesting" (also known as "risky") course of doing it myself, but cost a potential day of shooting practice with the finished rifle.

Practice?  Who needs it?  I had already figured out by this time that I wasn't getting any worth mentioning.

I did, however, get the rifle back from the gunsmith Tuesday evening, and immediately went to the range.  In all fairness he mentioned that the scope was misaligned off to one side, but any potential fixes would take longer than I had available.  I took the rifle as-is and drove straight to my local range. 

With only perhaps 2 hours before closing, I had time to verify the boresighting that the gunsmith had done and get myself onto the paper at 100 yards, but not much else.  I did run into some issues with the action; basically, the trigger is so light on this model that Savage has set up an equally sensitive safety mechanism.  Closing the bolt "forcefully" (their terminology) engages the safety and prevents the rifle from firing -- but does not always block the trigger from being pulled.  The result sounds disturbingly like a misfire.  The first day at the range I spent more time struggling with that issue than anything else; in those two hours I fired maybe 10 shots at most.  I was also breaking in the gun by running patches down the barrel after each round, so not all of the delay can be blamed on the mechanism.

The end of the day came too quickly.  Tuesday was over, I was getting on a plane Thursday, and I hadn't even sighted the rifle in properly.  Boresighted, yes, but the 10 rounds or so I had fired on Tuesday were break-in rounds and not really trustworthy.  Wednesday was going to be busy.

May 2008:

Got back from Boomershoot and have been busy getting caught up.  I did however get the chance to take the rifle out to the local range to make sure it still worked.  It was in the context of tempting someone else into possibly attending Boomershoot as well, so we'll see how that goes.  At any rate, I was able to shoot the rifle again for a few hours. 

I basically had all my earlier impressions reinforced.  The mechanism is very finicky, and I still have occasional problems with the safety engaging incorrectly when I close the bolt.  Definitely the most delicate mechanism I've ever shot.  When it shoots, it shoots very well.  The scope is still misaligned (note to self: call the gunsmith and get stuff moving!) but so long as the wind is only coming from the right direction, it's all fine.

The target below was shot at 200 yards, after a few rounds to bring the rifle's zero back to conditions in Texas rather than conditions in Idaho and adjust for the correct range.  Each square is an inch.



It should be obvious from the cluster of three that the other two were my fault.  Counting just that cluster, the rifle seems to be capable of quarter-minute accuracy.  If you use the cluster of four, it's still half a minute, and only a little worse if you count all five shots.

A very nice rifle, and as I've said several times already, it shoots better than I do.

By coincidence there was someone there with one of the 6.5mmBR models of the same gun.  Perhaps not by coincidence, his scope mount was also misaligned badly off to one side by his account.  I may have to mention this to Savage if I need to send the gun back.  According to him, he had already sent his back and gotten it returned with snarky comments -- well, ok, a snarky target.  (To paraphrase, "The gun shoots fine for us!  Here, look!")  I don't know if that's the whole story, and I certainly didn't see any of the actual correspondence, but I found it interesting in light of my own experiences.  For the record, my spotter's rifle (same model) does not have the misalignment issue.

I have some images of the rifle itself.  They won't be great quality as I'm using a cell phone camera.  I had a much better camera along, but haven't been able to get the pictures downloaded yet -- technical problems. 

The first is a close-up packed in its case for the trip.



Still in the case, but a shot of the whole rifle.  I figured it would be safest to bring my ammunition with the gun rather than rely on other means.  You can't really see it clearly, but there is also a Harris bipod on the front of the rifle.



Why the bipod rather than the traditional benchrest swivel?  Well, the design of the rifle makes it easy to pull off the bipod, so it's easy to have both. 

The stock on the rifle is very nice and the pictures definitely do not do it justice.  It has a very nice finish and, while it doesn't glow in blue or red like many of the other rifles at Boomershoot, it's still a very nicely done piece of work.  More subdued than attention-getting, which is the way I prefer it.

On the whole I was very impressed with the rifle.  I had only two significant concerns.  With any luck I should be able to correct both of them before too long.  I'll be back with some better pictures when I can get them out of the camera...

This entry was published 2008-05-27 01:33:02.0 by TriggerFinger and last updated 2016-08-12 12:26:02.0. [Tweet]

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