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The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle - in 2009 (Part One)

Discussion in 'General Firearm Discussion' started by raindog, Sep 30, 2009.

  1. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    Thought you guys might enjoy this. I posed it over at surplusrifleforum.com, but thought I'd also post it here "at home":

    The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle - 14 Years Later

    Below is a chapter-by-chapter summary of a book I picked up in 1995 titled "The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle". Upon seeing it, I was immediately attracted to the idea: take an old military surplus rifle and accurize it.

    To quote the book:

    "Highly accurate rifles are commercially available in the United States at the present time, but they typically come at a very high price (frequently over a thousand dollars). It is my belief that most people in the US do not have a couple of thousand dollars to lay out for a highly accurate rifle system, but many would like to have one. This m****cript describes how such a highly accurate weapon might be produced at a nominal cost."

    After 14 years of kicking the idea around, I find I still like it and think I'll undertake the project. Below is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the author's concept.

    Is it still a viable idea in 2009? Yes and no. A lot of the cheap surplus has dried up, so you're not going to buy any more $60 SMLEs. But if your budget is a few hundred dollars, then this is still a viable idea. However, the main reason to do a project like this is the fun of building up an accurate rifle, not to save money. Even if the rifle was free, the gunsmithing supplies, scope, mount, etc. put you at $500 or more.

    Thre are a few problems with the book to discuss up front...

    (1) The author does not define "sniper rifle", which is a key failing ;-) Is a sniper rifle sub-MOA? Simply something better than the typical battle rifle? By some definitions, Lee Harvey Oswald's Carcano was a "sniper rifle" (the shot was 88Y, btw), but I think most people think of something more accurate when they hear the term. The author doesn't discuss his shooting results - another key failing. We're talking
    about bolt-action rifles and they certainly have potential, but unfortunately there's no data in the book. How accurate CAN you get a Mosin-Nagant?

    (2) I think if you are looking for a true "sniper rifle" in the definition of "sub MOA," then you'd be better off buying a new commercial rifle. For example, you can get a nice sniper rifle package for less than $1000:

    (No affiliation, just something I googled).

    (3) The economics were more compelling in 1995. Most of the rifles the author discusses are no longer available to "poor men" (e.g., the 1903). On the other hand, he was writing at a time when 7.62x54R was not domestically produced and was under an import ban. Today it is plentiful.

    (4) The ballistics inherently limit you. The rifles he discusses fire 7.62x54R, 6.5x55, .303 Brit, 7x57mm, and 8mm (I'm leaving .30-06 out, because the rifles involved are no longer for poor men). Those are reasonable cartridges out to 200Y, but we're not talking .338 Lapua here. 8mm loses power very quickly and drops like a rock at distance ;-) In fact, looking at Winchester's ballistic tables, I see they zero .303 Brit and 8mm at 150Y instead of 200Y.

    And now on to a summary of the book...

    The Poor Man's Sniper Rifle
    by Daniel Boone

    Copyright 1995
    135 pages

    Desert Publications
    ISBN 0-87947-098-4


    Surplus military sniper rifles are available but very expensive due to their rarity. Commercial, accurized rifles are expensive because they're brand new and someone has already done the work. This book
    is designed to demonstrate the conversion of a military surplus rifle - the hand-building of a sniper rifle.


    - Barrel quality. Milsup rifles typically do not have match-grade barrels, however some rifles have extremely high-grade barrels that approach match-grade.

    - Barrel length. 25-26" is ideal. Below that is not desirable, beyond that doesn't add much.

    - Caliber. The author opines that .223 isn't big enough, and very large calibers aren't desirable due to their rainbow-shaped trajectories.

    Rifles to avoid:

    - Blackpowder, such as the 1873 trapdoor Sprinfields, British Martinis, rolling block Remingtons, old Sharps, etc.

    - Italian Carcano, both 1891 and 38. Inappropriate caliber, barrels too short, crude action, etc. Those converted to 8mm are dangerous.

    - Austrian Steyr-Mannlicher model 95. Obsolete ammo, typically short-barreled when found as surplus.

    - Type 54 Chinese or type 44 Russian. Carbines and barrels too short for use. Author state that 7.62x54R is hard to find. It probably was in 1995; obviously, not the case today.

    - French 1936 MAS. 8mm Lebel is not common and its bolt action has poor ergonomics and poor accuracy.

    - French 1886 Lebel. Barrels are innately not accurate, "inappropriate ammunition"

    - Model 93 and 95 Mausers. Manufactured without gas vents machined into the bolts, so gas from ruptured primers will come back into the shooter's face. Author says these are not safe to shoot.

    - Mannlicher-Berthier: Obsolete ammunition.


    These rifles would normally be qualified out because of their small caliber, but because of extraordinary accuracy, might be considered:

    - Japanese Arisaka type 38 in 6.5mm Japanese. Author tells some interesting stories and goes into detail about how to select an Arisaka.

    - Model 1896 Swedish Mauer in 6.5x55mm

    - Mosin-Nagants: Russia 91, Finish 91, 27, 28, 28/30. Author mentions the difficulty of getting 7.62x54R. I suspect he'd write differently today. He highly recommends the Sako-barreled Finns (in reality any of the Finns are good). Avoid .30-06 rebarrels.

    Rifles recommended:

    - Springfield 1903-A1 and 1903-A3, and 1903 (without the A) if Springield s/n > 800000 or Rock Island s/n > 285507.

    - Enfield Pattern 17 in .30-06

    - Mauser in 7mm or 8mm, generally the 1898s. Israeli K98k, Venezuelan FN 7mm target, Brazilian 1908 7mm.

    - Pattern 14 British Enfields in .303 Brit. Author notes the commercial Remington model 30, 30S, and
    720A are essentially the same gun.

    - SMLEs in .303 Brit.

    Bolt-action is what you want, so he won't be discussing guns like the Dragunov (not that they're cheap anyway ;-)

    2009 Thoughts

    Most of these rifles are no longer available at anything like what you could buy them in 1995. The author mentions he bought a SMLE #4 for $61 in 1995 and passed on a $35 Mosin-Nagant ;-) I looked through a recent Shotgun News and the only SMLE #4 I saw went for $350. Pattern 17 Enfields are $800+. Ditto for 1903s.

    Also, consider the ammo. In 1995, .303 British could still be found in surplus. Today? Not so much. 6.5x55, 8mm, 7x57, etc. is all a lot more expensive now.

    Of course, the flip side is that the Mosin-Nagant is still pretty cheap and 7.62x54R is now plentiful and cheap
    (by 2009 standards).

    I think if the author was putting a project together today, his short list would probably be:

    Mosin-Nagant (7.62x54R) - $80-130, though the Finnish M-Ns that the author likes are $300+. I'm not sure this is really the best rifle for this project. They don't take a scope naturally, and the ammo generally can't be reloaded from milsurp. There's a limited range of ammo choices, though that's true for a lot of these calibers.

    Czech vz24 (8mm) - $210

    Brazilian Mausers (7x57mm) - $160

    Yugo 24/47s (8mm) - $150

    Turk Mausers (8mm) - $150

    Those are prices from a bit of googling. GunBroker, etc.

    The Arisaka 38s have climbed in price, but the 99s are still reasonably priced, though you're dealing with
    late war last ditch production.

    The Russian Type 44 is another possibility.

    The Swiss K-31 (25" barrel, 7.5mm Swiss) are unfortunately in the $300 range already. If you accept $300 as "poor man's" territory, then you can probably add the SMLE to the short list.

    Springfields, Pattern 14, Pattern 17 - sorry, the window has closed.
  2. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    How to Find a Rifle:

    He discusses buying a milsurp - normal Shotgun News-type procedures. Stuff you all know ;-) Interestingly, he doesn't discuss antique guns - there are plenty of guns whose receivers were made in the 1890s that are even less hassle than a C&R.

    You're looking for a hand-select milsup. Once you receive it, perform the following steps:

    (1) check the barrel. Some of this info is given later in the book

    (2) check headspacing - he talks about the general procedure, but there is better info on the net today. (i.e., he doesn't mention no-go, go, and field gauges but instead talks about a shim procedure).

    (3) strip it down completely and get the cosmoline out. Books such Gun Digest's Firearms Assembly/Disassembly can help.

    If the gun has problematic headspacing or the barrel is pitted or the rifling is shot, it's best to return it and select another, as the cost of fixing these problems is high.


    The author describes pushing a lead plug through the barrel and measuring lands and grooves (alas, no illustrations). If there is not good rifling, send the rifle back. Ditto if the bore is pitted.

    Next, check the muzzle crown. If necessary, recrown. The procedure is described...in 1995, I might have tried to follow the directions. Today I'd look for a video on the net to see the procedure ;-) The author also discusses cutting the barrel length and crowning it.


    This is out of place, but the author now jumps to ammo selection. The author discusses things quite a bit, but it boils down to using ammo in this order of prefence: match, handloaded, milsurp, commercial hunting.

    Conversion, Con't

    The author is using a SMLE #4 as his example weapon. In 1995, he bought it for $60, and passed on Mosin-Nagants for $35 ;-)

    The author discusses the excentricities of the SMLE at length - the British groove diameters, the excessively large chamber diameters, etc. He notes solutions for handloaders.

    I wish the author had provided this depth of information on all rifles, but his example SMLE is described in much greater detail than anything else in the book. You could learn a few interesting gunsmithy things about the SMLE by reading this book.

    Now on to the wooden stock and problems of warping, vertical stringing, etc. The author describes three solutions: synthetic stock, free floating the barrel, and glass bedding. Changing to a synthetic stock adds costs (opposite of his concept). He favors glass bedding over free floating, though notes the latter is
    obviously cheaper.

    He discusses two methods of free floating - one being the typical stock scraping, the other putting rubber scrap over the recoil lugs to create space.

    Glass bedding is described for many pages with illustrations.

    I didn't see anything in either the free floating or glass bedding sections that wasn't common gunsmithing info, though it is well-described. Again, I'd probably look for info on the net or buy a book with color photograph illustrations.

    Next up is the trigger. Generally, he recommends a trigger between 2# and 4#. Discussion of trigger and accuracy, then a look at options. His main recommendation is a Timney for some models, or a bit of gunsmithing for others. For the SMLE, he goes into the gunsmithing details to reduce trigger pull.


    Six types of sights: iron, peep, electronic floating dot, laser, night, and telescopic. Floating dot, laser, and night are dismissed for cost/effectiveness reasons. Iron and peep are discussed, including info for adding them, using the SMLE as an example.

    The author goes into depth on scopes and seems to really love the Shepherd's Scope. But at the end of his discussion, he admits they cost $500-600! He discusses getting scopes cheaply at garage sales, Wal-mart, milsup shops, and pawnshops. Ultimately, this is the weakest part of his concept - a good scope is going to
    cost no matter what you do.

    He discusses military mounts (e.g., S&K Instamount). He has some interesting ideas for a Mosin-Nagant scope mount - there are other ideas available today for googling. He also briefly mentions "scout rifle" configs - this could have been fleshed out a little bit more.

    He discusses scope rings, and then describes the scope system he chose for his SMLE.

    Final Touches

    He discusses laser rangefinders, lace-on-cheek pads, and recoil pads.


    Overall, the procedure is:

    - buy a milsurp from a list of good candidates
    - examine bore carefully to make sure it promises accuracy
    - examine headspace
    - degunk
    - recrown if necessary
    - free float or glass bed
    - improve trigger
    - mount a scope

    Not rocket science. I plan to buy a milsurp (haven't chosen which one yet) and go through these steps. I'll record my pre- and post-accurizing results.
  3. dario541

    dario541 medford, or 97504 Member

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    This is very interesting. One thing I would add. The 8MM Mauser is downloaded in the U.S. because of the many junk guns (Chinese Mausers, for example) that have been imported. American made 8MM is about the same power as a 30-30. However, European made ammo is loaded to near 30-06 power. That would bring it into consideration as a sniper gun.
  4. RVNvet

    RVNvet Beaverton Member

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    Good timing for this thread...I just finished most of my 'poor man's sniper rifle' conversion. It's an Arisaka Type 99, 7.7mm. My uncle was a quartermaster in Japan during the occupation, and sent home barrels of the best he could find of rifles, pistols, Samurai swords, etc. He gave it to me not too long ago, just before he died.

    Conversion...'Spoon' bolt handle, scope mount, and barrel threading (for muzzle brake/suppressor), by Roger at Revelation Arms, Aloha, OR. (http://www.revelationarms.com/). Bushnell 'Yardage Pro' 4-12x42 scope with built in laser rangefinder...30 to 800 yards, +-1 yard...(remote switch for rangefinder just under front of scope in below picture). Stud for bipod. Harris HBRM bipod. Repro sling. LimbSaver slip-on recoil pad.


    Rifle (?)
    Gunsmithing $150.00
    Scope 500.00
    Stud 2.50
    Bipod 72.00
    Sling 20.00
    Recoil pad 30.00
    Total $774.45

    I haven't had the chance to fire it again since the conversion, but have high hopes! I still need to tune up the trigger, a bit. If it does as well as I hope, the below stock (with the front trimmed flat) may be a later addition (about $250.00 more). I'll be reloading my own ammo, as soon as I shoot up the last of my factory rounds.



  5. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    How accurate does a rifle of this home built type have to be to be considered a "sniper" rifle?
  6. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    Well, that's the problem - the author didn't specify.

    Assuming the bore is in good shape, glass bedding/free floating, lightening the trigger, and adding a scope will certainly improve accuracy, but to what extent, I don't know.

    The undefined variables are:

    - how good does the milsurp shoot before conversion
    - how good after?

    I can't answer...yet ;-)
  7. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    OK, so I have a Ruger M77 .270 Win that will shoot 200 yard groups all day long that you can cover with a quarter. I bought it new in 1974 for about $250 m/l. It's maybe worth $400 today ?? without the scope? ??

    This project must be more for fun and challenge than anything else (which I admire and could get into myself.) ??

    Heck, Bi-Mart had Weatherby Vanguard rifles on sale last weekend for $349 and you get a demo target with them showing how they grouped at the factory.

    Again, have fun. I'd enjoy it too. :thumbup:
  8. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    Well, first of all no matter what rifle you buy, a good scope, mount, and rings is probably $300-400 all by itself, so it depends how poor the poor man is.

    IF you free float (instead of glass bed) and gunsmith the trigger (instead of replacing), maybe you could have put together something for less than $400-500 in 1995. Might still be possible with a Mosin-Nagant or old Turk Mauser today.

    However, the author doesn't provide typical shooting results before/after conversion.

    But yes...I'm doing it mostly for fun.
  9. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    Since the operative word is "sniper," I'll be interested to see how accurate it is.

    Have fun. :thumbup:
  10. RVNvet

    RVNvet Beaverton Member

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    Me too, plus a bit of sentiment as regards my late uncle. He loved to shoot, but was too poor to do all the 'modifying' he would have liked to do. He'd be very pleased to see the mods I've done so far.

    How good does it have to be? Only as good as I can make it. And then there's the enjoyment of playing with reloads: different powders and loads, different bullets by weight and type, different primers (just in case), etc., and comparing them to standard factory loads.

    Of course, none of the above means as much as the skill of the shooter. (Which is why I have a 'lead-sled' to see how good the rifle and ammo are...):)

  11. RVNvet

    RVNvet Beaverton Member

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    I'll post the results when I get them.

  12. dario541

    dario541 medford, or 97504 Member

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    This is a very interesting thread. My experience has been that most guns are more accurate than most shooters. But this does give all of us shooters something to work for. If ammo ever becomes available as it was before Obama Bin Laden (OBL), we can get out and practice again.
  13. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    I picked up Paul Scarlata's book, "Collecting Classic Bolt Action Military Rifles" and was pleased to find a chapter that evaluates the accuracy of surplus rifles. On the heels of the discussion about the "Poor Man's Sniper Rifle," I thought I would share the info.

    Note that Scarlata and company are firing these rifles unmodified (i.e., no accurizing like glass bedding or trigger modification), and using surplus ammo. The included a couple modern rifles for comparison.

    Rifles tested:

    Colt AR-15A2 Sporter
    Chinese MAC-90
    M1898 Krag-Jorgensen
    Polish-made obr. 1944g Mosin-Nagant
    Swedish M/1938 Mauser
    US M1917 Enfield
    Argentine Mo. 1909 Mauser
    British #4 Mk2 SMLE


    Greek surplus .303 Mk VII
    US-made .30 M2 ball
    Swedish 6.5x55
    Argentine 7.65x53
    South Korean 5.56 M193
    Czech 7.62x54R

    All shooting was done at 100 yards.

    Best groups, in order of accuracy:

    AR-15: 2.25"
    M1898 Krag-Jorgensen: 2.25"
    British #4 Mk2 SMLE: 2.25"
    Argentine Mo. 1909 Mauser: 2.75"
    US M1917 Enfield: 3.25"
    Swedish M/1938 Mauser: 3.25"
    Polish-made obr. 1944g Mosin-Nagant: 3.5"
    MAC-90: 3.75"

    I'd be interested to see a better example of the Mosin-Nagant, since the Polish 1944 is a 20" carbine. A Finnish M39 or something might perform better.

    Looks like a stock early 20th century bolt-action rifle is around 2-3MOA.
  14. tac

    tac UK, Oregon and Ontario. Well-Known Member

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    Swiss K31s, including my own, will shoot 1.5 MOA or better all day long.

    Without doing anything else other than mounting a reasonably good scope on them.

    Problem solved.

    K31-actioned .308Win target rifle
  15. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    Does 1.5 MOA qualify as a sniper rifle? Every center fire rifle I own will beat that, including my Del-Ton AR-15.

    I'm not intending to bash anything here, just curious.

  16. jquirit

    jquirit Forest Grove, OR Member

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    Guess that depends on what you define as a "sniper rifle". The definition I usually hear bantered about to define a "sniper rifle" is as being able to hit a man-sized silhouette at range.

    A 1.5 MOA rifle could get it done, that's just knowing the limitations of the given rifle and what it can do at a known range. Assuming the rule of hand of 1" per MOA (it's more like 1.05" per MOA) , a 1.5 MOA rifle @ 600 yards would put all of it's rounds, ideally with no outside influencing conditions (ie - wind), within a 9" circle. Aiming dead center mass of a man-sized silhouette at 600 yards, it'd probably hit it no problem.

    So would that work for a "sniper rifle" by that definition? Yes. Change the variables (range), and it could be viewed otherwise. So I suppose the biggest issue is what do we define a "sniper rifle" as?
  17. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    There is no universally accepted definition of "sniper rifle", so it's a subjective judgment.
  18. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    Ah, so good for horizontal aim, but what about the vertical based on bullet drop? If I found a 1.5 MOA 30-30 Marlin carbine, it still wouldn't be worth much at 600 yards. It would not "put all of its rounds in a 9" circle" if we're talking about bulls eye. I don't know a conventional rifle which would.

    PLEASE understand. I can't smile or seem friendly when I say these things in writing. I'm not trying to be a troublemaker. I'm just trying to ask about ballistics. :thumbup:

    Doesn't a "sniper" rifle need to be pretty flat shooting at, say, 600 yards? I'm not thinking of fantastic, just something like the .223, .270 Win, .308 or 30-06 and so on... ??
  19. raindog

    raindog Portland, OR Active Member

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    True, but not for the reason you're thinking. At muzzle, a .30-30 (I'm looking at Federal's Triple-Shock) delivers 1641 ft lbs of energy. At 500Y, that's down to 281. The ballistics chart doesn't go out to 600Y, but already at 500Y you're at .38 Special energy levels, so after another 100Y, I suspect you're dipping below a lethal threshold. (I mean, yes, you can be killed by a .22LR, but you see what I mean).

    On the other hand, a Federal American Eagle .308 FMJ will hit with nearly 1100 ft lbs at 500Y.

    Federal .300 WinMag Sierra MatchKing BTHP? 1800+ ft lbs at 500Y, which is more power than the .30-30 has pressed against your chest ;-)

    So when evaluating sniper calibers, you want to first look to see how much energy the round delivers at range.

    Next, look to see how flat it shoots.

    .300 WinMag is a fine sniping round, but at 500Y (same MatchKing BTHP) it'll drop 39.8 inches. That .308 I mentioned drops 47.2 inches. Even .50 BMG will drop a foot.

    Which explains why snipers carry or memorize ballistics tables ;-) Extreme distance shooting (and the 600Y you mention certainly qualifies) requires compensating for both distance and wind drift, as well as high-quality optics and a highly skilled shooter. Military snipers know the ballistics for the particular round they're shooting in the particular gun they're shooting out of, and under what conditions (wind, distance, barrel temperature, how many shots out of the barrel, etc.)

    Nothing shoots "flat" at 500 yards. You always have to compensate. Whether it's through fancy bullet-drop-compensator scopes, adjusting due to published tables, or kentucky windage, bullet drop is ALWAYS a consideration at ranges beyond, say, 100 yards. And it would be at 100Y, too, except that most people zero their rifles at 100Y (which means often they're shooting slightly high at 50Y).

    Ideally, the bullet always drops exactly 39.8 inches or whatever at 500Y. In reality, there is elevation, air temp, wind, ammunition variances, the human factor, etc. But if you did have a gun that fired exactly as the ballistics tables indicate, then you could simply plot range and hit a bullseye at 500Y every time.

    Because you're not shooting in a laboratory, less bullet drop is better.

    People can and do shoot .308 at 1000Y. If you have a 1MOA rifle, you're going to get shots in a 10" group at 1000Y, assuming you are highly skilled, bench rest shooting, etc. The military's M21 (an accurized .308 M14) had a published effective range of 800Y, as I recall...an 8" spread at that range.

    BTW, in comparison, 8mm Mauser is not competitive. At muzzle it has 1911 ft lbs of energy, which drops to 630 at 500Y. The bullet drop at 86.1, however! It's a rainbow trajectory. .303 is a little better, but the drop is still around 57 inches (and 842 ft lbs).
  20. Gunner3456

    Gunner3456 Salem Well-Known Member

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    I agree with all you said, and stand by my belief that bullet speed, retained energy and drop are all important in a "sniper" rifle. MOA is just one component which might prove to be unimportant or at least not helpful (up to a point) at long range.

    Oh, and I sight my rifles (my flatter shooting high speed rifles) at 200 yards. That puts the bullet about a case-length high at 100 yards and a case-length low at 300 yards, more or less. With my .270 Win, it just happens that if I sight it dead on at 25 yards, it will be back on at 200 yards.