Designing Custom Rifles

A quick guide to selecting components and building custom rifles

For the individual who is new to the sport, selecting the proper components and building their first custom rifle can be very confusing. This is intended as a short guide to explain the process in selecting the components and working with a gunsmith to build custom rifles.

A quick guide to selecting components and building custom rifles

Step 1 - What is the intended use

The first and most important decision to make when building a custom rifle is to decide on what its intended use will be once the rifle is complete. There is no such thing as one magic rifle that competes successfully in 1,000 yard F-class competition, 600 yard BR, serves hunters equally well, has long barrel life, low recoil, and light weight. The intended use of the rifle will necessitate a compromise of a mix of these attributes to satisfy the shooter’s end goals.

Most benchrest and F-class competitors maintain several custom rifles, each built for a specific function. To illustrate the required compromises think about the “average” 600 yard benchrest gun. It is usually in the neighborhood of 16-17 lbs total weight in order to qualify for the light class, has a 30 inch barrel, is designed with a specific stock to ride the bags, and will usually be based on a custom action with extremely tight tolerances (no dirt allowed). Contrast this to the requirements for a hunting rifle. Who wants to lug around a 17 lb rifle that is over 4 feet in total length with an action that has to be kept very clean in potentially very messy conditions. Just the overall length of the rifle itself will make maneuvering through thick woods a much more difficult (not to mention noisy) task. .

Step 2 - Pick the cartridge

The choice in cartridge will be influenced heavily by the intended use of the rifle. For instance, if the intended use of the rifle is for large game hunting (bear, moose, elk) then you should shy away from small caliber cartridges. If the intended use of the rifle is for varminting / target practice then another range of cartridges may be more appropriate. Research and understanding come into play a great deal when selecting the cartridge. It is advisable to talk to people with real world experience (the gunsmith is a great source) as well as doing research on the internet.

There are several sites such as that have a wealth of information. Please be aware that any information gathered from the internet should be validated before being accepted as true. Some time should be spent considering which bullets will be used in the new custom rifle. Bullet manufacturers such as Berger offer many bullet types in each caliber. There is a big difference between a .308 Winchester setup to shoot a 115 gr flat based bullet and a .308 Winchester designed to shoot a 230 gr hybrid. Knowing your cartridge and which bullet you want to use are two of the most important decisions to be made in the process of building custom rifles.

Step 3 - Select your action

There are many fine actions from which to select for your new custom rifle. The amount of time required to obtain the action, cost, and intended purpose will all play into which action you select. Your gunsmith can pretty much work with any action, but may have preferences.

Step 4 - Select the barrel

Most gunsmiths can usually obtain any custom barrel you would like to use on your rifle. Talk with the gunsmith to see which one they recommend, and have had the best results with. Also discuss chamberings for your intended cartridge and any options which may improve the overall performance of the rifle.

Step 5 - Select the stock

Now that you have selected the core components of the rifle it is time to select a stock. Based on the intended use of the rifle you will want to select a stock designed for the gun’s overall purpose, as well as compatibility with the rifles components. Your gunsmith should be able to recommend several manufacturers to choose from and help you determine that the selected stock is compatible with the other components of the rifle.

Step 6 - Wait

Once all the decisions are made it’s time to wait for the gunsmith to work their magic. Hopefully at the end you will have a brand new custom rifle with a high quality action, custom barrel, and purpose designed stock to meet your intended goals.