December 2013

308 Win. Bolt-Action Rifles: Should You Buy New or Used?

Is a brand-new Ruger American Rifle a better bargain than a used Weatherby Vanguard? When we took them to the range to find out, we came back with mostly positive impressions of both.

The quest for value is never ending in the hunting rifle market. Hunters traverse fields and mountains in search of deer, elk, moose, and other game, and they likewise amble through aisles of gun stores searching for the best game-getter for the lowest dollar possible. However, they may be overlooking the best deals by not considering used firearms available at gun shows, in online auctions, at pawn shops, and, yes, at those selfsame gun stores. But what is a good deal? Definitions vary. But most of us would agree that finding a secondhand, good-shooting gun for a couple of hundred dollars is a treat, so knowing what to look for is important.

We recently stumbled across a Weatherby Vanguard Series 1 308 Winchester for only $300, and online searches showed many more of this older model are available for that plus another $50 to $75. At the same time, we also came into possession of a Ruger American Rifle No. 6903, also in 308, which has an MSRP of $449 but can sell at $50 to $75 off that, making the pricing of an individual gun pretty close between the two. Both rifles are hunting models fitted with synthetic stocks, blued barrels, sling studs front and rear, and rubber buttpads. We wanted to know which is the better buy ó a used gun thatís basically selling half-off its original price, or a brand-new gun that comes with the confidence that only the buyer has shot it? We endeavored to find out in a head-to-head match-up.

We tested an American chambered in 243 Winchester in the February 2013 issue, and we said then that the pricing might make it a popular choice for deer stands. Also, it had a well-made stock with integral bedding blocks, a precise single-stage trigger, and was a generally well-thought-out, smoothly assembled rifle. Five years ago we tested a then-new Weatherby Vanguard Series 1 Stainless in 270 Winchester and found that gun lived up to its guarantee of three-shot groups of 1.5 inches or better fired from a cold barrel with premium ammunition.

To get things going this time, we mounted a 30mm Leupold VX-R 3-9x40mm Matte FireDot Duplex scope (Leupold #110686, $456.24) on the Weatherby using Leupold 30mm medium-height rings (Leupold #49957, $35.30) and Leupold Dual Dovetail Weatherby Mark V 2-piece bases (Leupold #51706, $17.78.) The FireDot scope has an illuminated dot right in the center of the duplex reticle. Its intensity can be stepped down by a switch on the left side of the scope ó a useful setup for low-light conditions. For the Rugerís optic, we selected a Sightmark 3-9x42 Triple Duty Riflescope SM13016. Made in China, the Triple Duty is equipped with an illuminated red/green Mil-Dot reticle, which aids in range estimation and shooting in low light conditions. We liked the bright and crisp picture the fully multi-coated optics transmitted. The 3-9x42 features a one-piece 30mm tube that is O-ring sealed and nitrogen purged, making it fog proof and water resistant. This scope features oversized, locking windage and elevation turrets with ľ-inch-MOA clicks. It came with a set of 30mm rings, but we used some Weaver Tactical Rings (No. 48351) mounted to Weaver bases to put the Sightmark on and rotated it 90 degrees counterclockwise so we could reach the illumination dial more easily with the left hand.

To determine the accuracy of standard hunting ammunition, we selected the following test rounds: Federal Premium 308 Winchester 168-grain Matchking BTHP GM308M; Winchester Super-X 308 Winchester 150-grain Power Point X3085; and Freedom Munitions 308 Winchester 150-grain FMJ. As the accompanying accuracy table shows, the Vanguard shot within its 1.5-inch guarantee with two rounds, the Freedom Munitions FMJs and Federal Premium Matchking boattails, with the Ruger trailing in accuracy performance across the board. As we wrung them out, we noticed other pros and cons with both rifles, which we report below:

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