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Best Gunsmiths – Who The Pros Use

I recently surveyed the top 100 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), and this post reviews the rifle gunsmiths who built their rifles in 2015. The PRS tracks how top competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. These are the major leagues of sniper-style competitions, with targets typically from 300 to 1200 yards. These world-class shooters represent the best of the best in terms of long-range shooting in field conditions. For more info on the Precision Rifle Series and who these guys are, or to view what other gear they’re running scroll to the bottom of this article.

This is one of several posts based on that gear survey of the top PRS shooters. Want to be the first to know when the next set of results is posted? Sign-up to receive new posts via email.

Top Rifle Gunsmiths

Here is a look at the most popular gunsmiths used by these elite shooters:

Gunsmiths of the Top 100 Precision Rifle Shooters

GA PrecisionGA Precision claimed the top spot for the 3rd year in a row! GA Precision (GAP) is legendary in the precision rifle world, and known for consistently turning out some of the most accurate rifles in the world. In fact, for a few models, GAP guarantees your rifle will shoot 3/8 MOA or better using match-grade factory ammo. There aren’t many gunsmiths out there with the confidence to put that in print. GA Precision has a lot of shooters representing them in this group, including their President/Senior Rifle Builder, George Gardner, who has personally finished in the top 25 four years in a row. There are only a handful of guys who could claim that honor. You know when the man running the company shoots competitively and is out testing his own product in the field, you can expect great things.

Accuracy InternationalAccuracy International and Stuteville Precision were also represented in large numbers among these top shooters. Accuracy International (AI) is a household name among precision riflemen. Their rifles are military tough and extremely precise. AI works differently than many companies. On an AI-built rifle, you can’t choose what brand barrel you want used, or other options you might get with a full-custom builder. But, if AI is willing to stamp their brand on it … you know it represents one of the best rifles money can buy. Their goal is to identify the absolute best components for each part of the rifle, and then assemble a team of world-class experts that specialize in key aspects of each rifle. AI’s core competency could be their intense focus on advanced manufacturing processes and continuous improvement. That’s why AI sniper rifles are deployed by some of the most prestigious and influential military and law enforcement agencies in the world, including 60+ countries. In fact, the longest confirmed kill in military history was fired from an AI rifle (2707 yards from a 338 Lapua Mag).

Stuteville PrecisionStuteville Precision is a new name, but familiar face. Wade Stuteville was involved with Surgeon Rifles since its inception, including roles in product development, testing and evaluation, a gunsmithing process advisor, and eventually General Manager of the whole operation. But when Surgeon relocated to Arizona in 2014 Wade decided to stay behind in Oklahoma and open Stuteville Precision. Here is a brief description of Wade written by a guy who knows him well: “Anyone who knows Wade or has run into him at any match, knows that he is a walking encyclopedia of anything guns. He not only knows all of the technicalities and mechanics of things that make rifles tick, he also knows real world information that comes from having put tens of thousands of rounds down range, in practice and competitions all around the US. Affectionately called E.F. Hutton by his friends, he is always able to give the answer to most any question, and can explain it like ‘a 5 year old could understand.’” Wade has competed with precision rifles for 15+ years, and there aren’t many that have been at this that long.

Short Action CustomsShort Action Customs (SAC) also had several rifles represented among the top 100 shooters. That included 3 shooters in the top 20 … including the guy who took 1st overall this year, David Preston. David won 4 PRS matches in 2015, including the PRS Season Championship which is a head-to-head competition against the best shooters in the country. He was the first PRS shooter ever to finish the season with a perfect 400 score. David did all that with a rifle built by Short Action Customs. SAC is headed up by Mark Gordon, and American Shooting Journal recently asked him about that partnership with David. Here is what Mark said:

We started our first rifle build for David Preston in early 2014 after developing a relationship with him from previous PRS matches. At that time, Preston was familiar with our rifles and what they were capable of. Luckily for me he wasn’t shooting for a team at the time. We spoke on a few occasions, and I offered him a position on our team. After many rounds fired, rifles rebarreled and matches shot, Preston really started shooting to his potential. We do our very best to keep reliable and accurate rifles in the hands of PRS shooters so they can do their job. – Mark Gordon, SAC Owner/Founder

Those four companies were the only ones with more than 3 shooters represented among the top 100, and they were clearly separated from the rest of the pack … because all of them had at least 7. 1 out of 3 shooters in the top 100 were using a rifle built by one of those four companies!

But there is a long list of other gunsmiths who had rifles represented in the top 100, and each of them build world-class rifles capable of shooting at the highest levels. If you’re thinking about building a precision rifle, you should have confidence in any of these guys.

Gunsmiths with Multiple Rifles Among Top 100Gunsmiths with 1 Rifle Among Top 100
Accuracy International
American Precision Arms (APA)
Beanland Custom Rifles
Butch’s Reloading
Crescent Customs (aka Tim “Moon” Roberts)
GA Precision
Hawk Hill Custom
Kelbly Rifles
Parry Custom Gun
Proof Research
Roberts Precision Rifles
Short Action Customs
Southern Indiana Precision
Stark Industries
Stuteville Precision
Sure Shot Precision Rifles
Surgeon Rifles
Accuracy Addiction
Ashbury Precision Ordnance
Center Shot Rifles
Dane Miller Rifles (DMR)
DMFJ
Gradous Rifles
John Harris
Louisiana Precision Rifles
Master Piece Arms Rifle
Patriot Valley Arms
Ployhar Precision
R Bros Rifles
Spartan Precision Rifles
TJ’s Gunsmithing
TS Customs
XX Rifles

Also, 10 shooters within the top 100 built their own rifles. How hard can it be, right?! 😉

Trends in Gunsmiths Among Top 50

In 2015, I surveyed the top 100 shooters, but in previous years that only included the top 50. So when we look at historical trends, we can only compare those among the top 50 shooters. Here is what those have looked like since the inception of the PRS in 2012.

Custom Rifle Gunsmiths

You can see GA Precision has had a large number of shooters represented every year. Stuteville Precision was founded less than two years ago, and they already have a sizable representation among this crowd. Short Action Customs had another strong representation, following their debut on the scene last year. Accuracy International is making steady ground in popularity among the top PRS competitors.

One other fact sticks out on this chart, and that is the decline of Surgeon-built rifles among these shooters. While many shooters still build their rifles on Surgeon actions (as we’ll see in the next post), there has been a steady decline in the number of full rifle builds from Surgeon. There seems to have been some turbulence surrounding the Surgeon Rifles sponsored PRS team in recent years, and that may explain part of this change. But for whatever reason, there were less Surgeon-built rifles among this group than ever before.

Other “What The Pros Use” Articles

This post was one of a series of posts that look at the equipment the top PRS shooters use. Check out these other posts:

Meet The Pros

You know NASCAR? Yes, I’m talking about the racing-cars-in-a-circle NASCAR. Before NASCAR, there were just a bunch of unaffiliated, regional car races. NASCAR brought structure by unifying those races, and created the idea of a season … and an overall champion. NASCAR identified the top races across the country (that were similar in nature), then combined results and ranked competitors. The Precision Rifle Series (PRS) is like NASCAR, but for rifle matches.

Watch PRS In ActionThe PRS is a championship style point series race based on the best precision rifle matches nationwide. PRS matches are recognized as the major league of sniper-style rifle matches. These matches aren’t shot from a bench or even on a square range. They feature practical, real-world field conditions, and even some improvised barricades and obstacles to increase the difficulty from hard to you-have-to-be-kidding-me. You won’t be able to take all shots from a prone position, and time stressors keep you from getting to comfortable. Typical target ranges are from 300 to 1200 yards, but each PRS match has a unique personality with creative stages that challenge different aspects of precision shooting. You might start off the day with a single cold bore shot on a small target at 400 yards, then at the next stage make a 1400 yard shot through 3 distinct winds across a canyon, then try to hit a golf ball on a string at 164 yards with no backstop to help you spot misses (can’t make that up), then see how many times you can ring an small 6” target at 1000 yards in 30 seconds, next shoot off a roof top at 10”, 8”, and 6” targets at 600 yards, followed by a speed drill on 1” targets at 200 yards and repeated at 7 yards … plus 10 other stages, and then come back tomorrow and do some more! Many stages involve some type of gaming strategy, and physical fitness can also come into play. For a shooter to place well in multiple matches, they must be an extremely well-rounded shooter who is capable of getting rounds on target in virtually any circumstance.

There are about 15 national-level PRS matches each year. At the end of the year the match scores are evaluated and the top ranked shooters are invited to compete head-to-head in the PRS Championship Match. We surveyed the shooters who qualified for the championship, asking all kinds of questions about the equipment they ran that season. This is a great set of data, because 100 shooters is a significant sample size, and this particular group are experts among experts. It includes guys like George Gardner (President/Senior Rifle Builder of GA Precision), Wade Stuteville of Stuteville Precision, Jim See of Center Shot Rifles, Matt Parry of Parry Custom Gun, Aaron Roberts of Roberts Precision Rifles, shooters from the US Army Marksmanship Unit, and many other world-class shooters.

Think of the best shooter you know … it’s actually very unlikely that person is good enough to break into the top 100. I know I’m not! I competed against a few of these guys for the first time earlier this year, and I was humbled. It’s incredible what these guys can do with a rifle. For example, the match in Oklahoma I was in had a station that required you to engage 4 steel targets scattered at random distances from 300 to 800 yards, and you only had 15 seconds! I think I hit 2, and rushed my 3rd shot. I didn’t even get the 4th shot off! But, one of these guys cleaned that stage with 4 seconds to spare! Yep, he got 4 rounds on target at distance in 11 seconds. That’s the caliber of shooter we’re talking about. It’s very different from benchrest or F-class competitions, but make no mistake … these guys are serious marksmen.

Thanks to Rich Emmons for allowing me to share this info. To find out more about the PRS, check out What Is The Precision Rifle Series? or watch this video to see it in action.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. Cal has an engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and the ability to present technical information in an unbiased and straight-forward fashion. For more info, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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21 comments

  1. Ask GAP what they use to clean their rifles??? Another good article! Thanks for the read!

    • Ha! Patrick, I’m going to guess by the website you listed that GAP must use Bore Tech. Hey, I’m a fan! I personally use Bore Tech Eliminator all the time. The best article on rifle cleaning I’ve ever read suggested using it, and I’ve been using it for a couple years at this point. I recommend it to anyone who asks. It’s great with carbon and copper fouling, and it doesn’t contain ammonia like most other copper solvents … so you won’t risk wrecking your barrel if you accidentally leave some in the bore. Good stuff!

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Cal, the cleaning article you linked, yea, that guy is way off the mark on multiple points. His hosery may not hurt a factory 2 moa barrel but what he is advising is the things I would completely avoid in a custom barrel.

        Here is a link to an article I wrote while that guy was wondering how to clean his red ryder 8 years ago.

        http://www.longrangehunting.com/articles/rifle-barrel-break-in-1.php

        I have changed some of whet I do from when I wrote this but the bulk of it is solid advice to keep a barrel shooting for it’s ENTIRE usable life.

      • Awesome, Jim. I always appreciate any feedback from you. That looks like a great resource, and I hadn’t seen it before. Thanks for sharing!

        Thanks,
        Cal

  2. It’s interesting that HS Precision is not even listed here. They make their own patented stocks, actions and barrels. 20 years ago their integral aluminum bedding block was an big advance and the US Army bought them for its M 24 rifle.

    Next year we might see Ruger as one of the “gunsmiths” listed once their Precision Rifle gets into more PSR shooters’ hands. Supposedly they make only 12 RPRs a day, which is very limited production for Ruger. Sorta semi-custom production?

    • Thanks for the comments, Eric! Funny you mention that about HS Precision, but now that I think about it I haven’t ever seen anyone using a HS Precision rifle. Not at a match, not at the range … never. That seems funny. They just don’t seem very popular among the precision rifle crowd, at least not these shooters or the guys I shoot next to. Not sure why that is. They seem to make a quality rifle.

      And I’d be surprised if you see guys at this level using a Ruger Precision Rifle. From all accounts I’ve heard, they produce groups around 0.7 MOA … and that is likely not precise enough for these demanding shooters. If you really want to compete at the highest level of the PRS, you’d prefer to have a rifle that consistently shoots under 0.5 MOA. You might could rebarrel a RPR with a custom barrel, and get it to tighten up some. I talked to one reader who was doing exactly that, and I’m anxious to hear how it turns out. The Ruger Precision Rifle seems targeted at the entry-level precision rifle shooter, and these guys may be more demanding than what it can provide. I’d bet it could provide roughly 70% of the benefit for 20% of the cost, so it’s still a screaming deal. If they’re turning out over 3,000 rifles annually (12 per day * 5 days per week * 52 weeks per year) that are virtually identical, then I’d still classify it as a production rifle … but it shoots better than most production rifles for sure! I hope to have time to test one at some point.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  3. Interesting that not a single person in the top 100 was using Desert Tech this year. Maybe 2014 was a one hit wonder kind of year?

    • Sam, there were two guys using a Desert Tech receiver/chassis, but on the question where I asked about what gunsmith built their rifle but they both said someone other than Desert Tech. One said it was Beanland Custom Rifles, and the other said it was Dane Miller Rifles (DMR). I assume they are referring to who did the barrel work (chamber, thread, etc.). So I guess modified Desert Tech rifles are still represented. But that’s a great question! When you asked it, it actually made me wonder about that. I had to go back to the data to see what happened. But this makes sense.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Thanks for clarifying! As always, I’m curious whether customized Desert Tech rifles perform better than stock, but I doubt that can be answered here. And as they are way above my price range anyways, it is purely a question derived from curiosity, not practical concerns.

  4. Great article just wondering if you have any of the stats if they got guns free for a sponsorship or that they personally Buy them because that’s what they like to shoot.

    • Great question, Doug. Last year, I had a survey question that asked what equipment guys paid out-of-pocket for, and that turned out to be a very offensive question to a few guys. In fact, some guys refused to take the survey because of that. I honestly didn’t know it’d offend anyone … but it was clearly seen as taboo and struck a nerve. So I deleted the question within a few minutes of it being sent out, and I’ll never ask that question again.

      I feel like I’m trying to strike the balance between getting useful info from these guys to help the rest of us, and at the same time not piss off the best shooters in the country by asking too many questions. It’s a balancing act, and it seems like some of the shooters already find it invasive, and hundreds of my readers always asking why I didn’t gather some other piece of info that they really wanted to see. I’m just trying to provide what I can.

      So I totally get you … but I’m afraid it looks like I can’t help.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Have you done an article on military and law enforcement gunsmiths. I , myself am a retired Marine from precision weapons shop in Quantico, VA where we manufacture, build and customize Sniper rifles (Remington 70 actions) for combat that shoot under .5 MOA, we also build national match M14’s, International Match Remington 700’s, These matches have been going on a lot longer at CMP and other bases. Also how could you compare military and law enforcement sniper rifles to competition rifles, just a thought since I have been doing Gunsmithing for over 39 years and I am not looking to get my name out there, just stating there are many more great gunsmiths then what you are posting and most of my customers cannot post their names for obvious reasons and they to do not get the same notoriety. Great article, just think there could be more to it!

      • I haven’t done on article on military gunsmiths. I’m not sure how I’d be able to compile a list of those. I agree there are a lot of great gunsmiths out there besides these that I’m posting, but there are a lot of bad gunsmiths out there too. This is a list of ones that are clearly proven to be able to produce top performing rifles. I don’t claim it’s comprehensive. I’m just trying to report what these guys are using. These guys don’t seem less demanding than your military customers, although the stakes are obviously much different in this game. These guys are some of the most demanding shooters in the world, so I’d bet these gunsmiths are on par with top military gunsmiths. I’d be shocked if any of these rifles weren’t able to group under 0.5 MOA, and I’d be many of them are less than 1/2 of that. Ultimately, I’m just reporting on the survey of the top PRS shooters. I don’t add gunsmiths that aren’t in that list, because that wouldn’t be objective reporting. I’m not making this stuff up. Just reporting on the data. This represents what the data said … nothing more and nothing less.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  5. Just wanted to say Thank You for all the efforts you put into these evaluations.
    Top Notch analytics and processing!

  6. “MOVIN’ ON UP”
    Cal,
    You mentioned re-barreling an RPR for better accuracy. I plan to do just that with a Bartlein barrel when my factory barrel is opening up groups too much. And I think other new competitive shooters will do the same on Savage and Remington actions. After we learn the ropes in positional shooting, reloading and other basic skills we will want to get the accuracy we’ll be needing by that time.

    If one has a decent action a re-barrel and action truing plus a bit of trigger work usually are enough to compete with the most expensive action/chassis rifles. Yeah, an AI or custom rifle is nice and a bit smoother to work but if accuracy is the goal it can be accomplished on “lesser” (i.e more affordable) actions and stocks/chassis. Bell and Carlson has some excellent stocks with moulded-in aluminum bedding.
    But, as your article implies, the bottom line is a good barrel mated to that decent action and a good smith to do the final fitting and truing.

  7. Ive republished the www and am taking orders again. Just letting you know in case you were interested.

    • That’s great, William! I updated the post to include the link to your website, and went back and updated the previous year’s post to reflect that as well. Good to hear your back in the business! We need more gunsmiths of your caliber!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  8. Just stumbled across your blog. Great content! I’ve only been interested in precision rifle for a couple of years so I really appreciate all your work putting these articles together. Informative!