November 21, 2023
How to Build a PRS Rifle on a Budget
Build An Affordable PRS Rifle for Less Than $2,000, Including Optics
When the term "budget gun" comes to mind, I typically associate it with bolt guns priced under $500. However, when premium custom rifle actions can cost $1,200.00 or more, I began to wonder if I could assemble a competition-ready rifle, excluding optics, for a budget of around $2,000.00.
With optics included, my goal was to remain within the $2,000.00 range. My expectations were modest; I simply wanted a competition-ready rifle that I could build at home using readily available tools. Did I anticipate this rifle to shoot one-hole groups with factory ammo? Not really.
I would be content with sub-half-inch groups, but I was expecting closer to one inch. Did I expect a perfectly crisp trigger adjustable below two pounds? Also not really, but I desired minimal creep and overtravel, along with a consistent pull. Did I expect the most customizable chassis? Not particularly.
I would be satisfied with length-of-pull (LOP) adjustment and some cheek riser adjustability. As for the optic, did I expect the best clarity from a budget option? No, but I would be pleased as long as I could clearly see bullet holes in paper at 100 yards and hopefully spot impacts at 1,000 yards and beyond.
Assembling the Components
To streamline the parts acquisition process, I aimed to source as many components as possible from a single supplier. I turned to Brownells, often dubbed the "Amazon of gun parts," as my primary source. Brownells offered a variety of caliber options, and I needed an accurate cartridge with low recoil that was readily available.
I opted for the trusted 6.5 Creedmoor with a 24-inch heavy varmint barrel. Unlike most barreled actions, the Howa package included not only the barrel and action but also an adjustable two-stage trigger, action screws, and a bottom metal with a hinged-floorplate.
The barrel and action came pre-torqued and headspaced, constructed from forged and blued steel, boasting a clean yet classic appearance. The threaded muzzle accommodated 5/8-24 threading and included a thread protector.
The package featured a Howa Actuator Controlled Trigger (HACT), with the two-stage trigger weighing in at a total of four pounds. I made adjustments to reduce it to approximately 3.5 pounds. While I would have preferred a lighter pull weight, the trigger delivered remarkable consistency with each shot.
The action sported a two-lug, 90-degree bolt throw, not as polished as higher-priced actions but still provided smooth, hassle-free bolt cycling. The fit and finish, especially considering the cost, left a positive impression.
For the chassis, I opted for the KRG Bravo, which combined features with modularity. In its base configuration, it included length of pull spacers, a toolless adjustable cheek riser, a rear quick-detach (QD) swivel cup, and a Picatinny accessory rail.
The high-strength aluminum backbone of the chassis was meticulously machined to accommodate the flat-bottomed Howa 1500 action, featuring a slot to back the action's recoil lug. A steel plate worked in conjunction with the front action screw to press against the recoil lug while tightening the screws to specification.
While not toolless, the length of pull adjustments provided a better fit for me as a shooter, and the toolless cheek riser adjustment was both appreciated and necessary, although it had to be fully removed to separate the bolt from the action. A minor inconvenience but acceptable for a budget chassis.
For the optic base, I chose the Evolution Gun Works 7075-T6 Aluminum base, a rigid and budget-friendly option. Opting for the 20 MOA version maximized reticle travel, and it attached quickly and securely with four included screws.
As for the optic, I selected the Vortex Strike Eagle, which had an MSRP of $850 but was available from Brownells for $750. It placed it within the low-to-mid-range category for optics. I was impressed with the glass quality, especially considering the inclusion of a first focal plane (FFP) reticle at that price point.
The magnification throw lever that came in the package was a valuable addition, offering rapid adjustments for quicker target acquisition. Setting turrets to zero was a breeze thanks to the included scope adjustment tool. The 34mm tube was substantial, providing ample elevation travel for the locking turret.
After zeroing and installation, the REVSTOP ring offered 18.9 Mils of travel and ensured a return to zero. The illuminated EBR-7C Reticle provided precise aiming points at any magnification, and the adjustable parallax kept both reticle and targets on the same focal plane. A capped windage turret added protection against accidental adjustments, and the textured turrets offered exceptional grip in various conditions.
The most recent addition to the Vortex lineup was the 34mm Pro series rings, available at an MSRP of $120. These rings fell in the middle range of costs, between their Hunter rings and the top-tier Precision Matched Rings. Constructed from lightweight 6061 aluminum, these rings featured integrated recoil lugs for a secure optic mounting interface. The laser-engraved torque specs provided quick reference for tightening the torx-headed screws.
For ensuring the rifle's level alignment, I opted for the budget-friendly bubble level from Vortex. It was easy to install, and the large vial ensured high visibility, even in peripheral vision.
Magpul came through with the most budget-friendly and dependable magazines on the market. I selected the five-round magazine due to its lower price and profile, and it snugly fit into the KRG Chassis while consistently feeding every round during testing.
The one part I couldn't acquire through Brownells was the oversized bolt knob. The small Howa bolt knob is integrated into the bolt handle, but I desired more leverage and grip. I found the Howa Tactical Bolt Knob from Legacy Sports International, Howa's parent company. This two-part, bolt-on knob featured rubber O-rings for a secure fit and quick installation.
With the rifle assembled and accessories tightened to the specified torque, I headed to the range to complete Howa's recommended 20-round break-in procedure. This process helped smooth out minor imperfections in the rifling and ensured consistent shot placement even as the barrel heated up.
Following the break-in, it was time to zero the rifle and commence accuracy testing. I chose Hornady ammunition, specifically their 140- and 147-grain ELD-Match cartridges. Both bullet weights consistently produced sub-half-inch five-shot groups at 100 yards, surpassing my expectations. I also chronographed the rounds, with the 140-grain averaging 2,673 fps and the 147-grain averaging 2,669 fps.
While promising at 100 yards, true performance was determined by long-range capabilities. I journeyed to the Rock Lake Rifle Range, a top-tier facility offering diverse long-range targets. The range extended from 100 to well over 1,100 yards, with a variety of target shapes and sizes placed on berms. Conditions were confirmed before shooting, and I engaged targets from 440 yards out to 1,109 yards.
Recoil remained manageable, and maintaining target acquisition was straightforward. The scope's clarity allowed for precise observation of bullet impacts. Wind conditions were generally favorable, and even when the wind picked up, I could clearly monitor the mirage through the scope. On-the-fly adjustments were made to compensate for shifting winds.
Shot after shot, I gained more confidence in my new rifle. It delivered reliable feeding, and the trigger consistently broke cleanly. I achieved my first-round impact beyond 1,000 yards on a full-size IPSC target for the first time, a remarkable accomplishment. The rifle exceeded my expectations, and the more time I spent with it, the more confident I became.
This was precisely what I had hoped for: a competition-ready precision rifle assembled on a budget with my own hands.
Cost Breakdown for Custom Long-Range PRS Rifle
- Barrel/Action/Trigger: $429
- Chassis: $440
- Scope Base: $63
- Scope: $750
- Rings: $80
- Bubble Level: $40
- Magazine: $34
- Bolt Knob: $13
- Sales Tax: $110.94
- Total: $1,959.94
- Total Weight (unloaded): 11.7 lbs.
Thanks for reading