Setting up your rifle

  1. Editor
    Once you have your rifle and scope picked out, you have other considerations to make and other options to take when it comes to outfitting the final package.

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    -Stock
    Ideally, your rifle should fit you as perfectly as if it was made for you by the god of war and handed down via a procession of his imps who laid it gently at your feet. Unfortunately, unless you go to a custom rifle maker and have it made to spec you are most likely left with having to work with what you have.

    However, do not despair as your length of pull can be adjusted by adding either butt pads or plates, removing them, or (consult a local gunsmith) trimming the stock back. You can have better luck by swapping out the stock for a decent aftermarket one-- that includes a bedding block, which will make or keep your barrel free-floating.

    -Glass

    Next, your glass needs to be properly mounted and sighted in for your own eye relief-- not an arbitrary number of inches. This is all-important and comes in your scope mounting process. First, let us start with making sure your scope is level.

    We live on a round planet that is constantly spinning. This means that balance is the secret to making anything travel strait here. To make sure your scope is actually aiming your rounds in a straight line, it has to be indexed and level with the rifle. If it is not, then you got beaucoup problems. Your scope cross hairs could be pointed diagonally away from your muzzle. Even an ever so slight degree of misalignment with your muzzle crown can translate into inches and even yards off target the farther you get from the bench. Remember, a truly level reticle often does not look exactly level when you look through the scope because of the slight tilt of your head against the stock.

    This simple $5 torpedo level is somewhere in most homes. The best way to use it is to set your rifle up on a table, set a gun vise up on said table (or sandbags, or phone books and pillows if you have to improvise) and make sure the rifle is level. Use the torpedo level on the 12 o'clock position atop of the bare rifle to make sure. Then mount your scope bases and test with the level. (Tip: When going with your Consider lapping the inside of your rings before you mount the scope so that the metal to metal contact is as strong as possible.) Mount your ring lower halves and test with the level. Set your scope in the rings and add your scope ring uppers-- making sure your eye-relief is good-- then test with the level. After each stage tighten your screws and finish with Loctite to keep em that way. Then take your rifle to the range and use your manual adjustments on the turret to dial it in the rest of the way.

    Some hunters use what's available around the house such as popping a level plumb line against the garage wall or using a (verified to be level) kitchen grout line with various results.

    A number of products are out there made specifically for this task. One of the better ones in the Wheeler Level-Level-Level. You can find them at most sporting goods stores (even big boxes like Dicks) and online for less than $20. It's a simple series of small bubble levels with magnets and sighting marks. It allows you to rapidly level the reticle of your scope to the axis of the barrel in just a few minutes.

    -Ammo.

    Do not skimp and buy a ton of cheap bulk ammo. This stuff is fine for banging away at close range but if you are intending to make those long range shots, every round you fire should be in the same load that you intend for that distance so that you can get your dope info amassed. While careful reloaders and distance shooters go hand in hand, there are also many decent factory options out there.

    If you are a Marlin bolt gun owner and use standard caliber centerfire ammo, the CMP has recently began stocking Creedmoor Match ammo in 30.06, 5.56 and .308. Federal's Gold Medal Match as well as Hornady's Match brings good results while Sierra and Black Hills bullets are seen at every range that has a gong far off in the weeds. Then of course, there is HSM ammunition loaded with Berger bullets-- they make an excellent 30.06 loading. This is by no means an all-inclusive list.

    If you use more traditional straight-walled cartridges such as .35 Remington and .444 Marlin, handloading may be preferential.

    -Putting it all together

    If you have a new rifle, you have to smooth out the throat from where the chamber was reamed out in the factory. This is easy enough to do with a box of ammo, and a cleaning kit. Simply head to the range, get that muzzle on a safe target, get three rounds in and then let cool and proceed to clean while unloaded and safe. Each time you clean the barrel out during the process you will notice copper shaved off your rounds and you can expect a variation in accuracy for each of these initial break-in shots until the throat is worn in enough to remain consistent without working those jackets too hard.

    For this initial break in and scope setting process, a shooting rest/vice is a big help. Remember to bring your measuring tape or rule to accurately figure your spread and how much to adjust your zero.

    While your gun and glass are all you absolutely have to have to make a shot, there are a lot of things that can help you when the ranges and days get long.

    -Bipods/monopods

    Going back to the Savage Axis shown above, the use of bipods on the fore grip and monopods on the rear buttstock can level out your rifle in the prone position and make comfortable, accurate shooting easy without having to wear your arms out.

    The good news is these items are also comparatively cheap with a decent adjustable spring-loaded Harris bipod running $50-$80 (shop around, the internet in your friend). Accu-Shot has made a name for themselves with a quick-detach rear monopod that fits on the rifle's sling swivel (as the Harris does on the fore grip) and runs about $75. CTK's P-3 monopod is CNC Machined from billet 6061 aluminum and fully adjustable but runs closer to $150.

    -Shooting Bags

    A multifunctional alternative to bipods are shooting packs and rucksacks. The old military standby works well, provided the ruck is not too high. On the downside, they are nowhere near as adjustable as a bipod.

    -Sand bags and socks

    Starting with shot bags filled with sand and moving up from there, bench rest sandbags and purpose made beanbags for forearm support are available from just about every shooting parts house you can search on the internet.

    Tab, Weibad, and a number of accessory makers have really responded to the sand sock concept and make a wide array of "tactical bean bags" for use to hold up that buttstock. Badger ordinance makes a sweet bone-shaped sand sock that they call the Badger Bone that work great as rear bags while Str8 Laced sells one that is adjustable to three different heights and is very popular. Shop around as going prices vary but they typically run a good bit cheaper than bipods and monopods.

    -Cheek rests

    These help elevate your eyes to the proper level with your scope and keep it there for long periods. A properly fitted rest can help you obtain a fast and reliable sight picture, which can be extremely important in hunting. Bradley, Blackhawk, Voodoo Tactical, and others produce ready-made adjustable cheek rests/pads for a decent price.

    You can also experiment with your own DIY cheek rests made with yoga mat or sleeping mat foam and compression bandages which can always come in handy for other uses in field conditions if needed.

    While of course all you really need in the field is the rifle and one round of ammunition, whatever you pick from the above is up to you.

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