I think .308 is the right caliber for your number one goto rifle.
My favorite in this caliber is a DPMS LR308 bull barrel with ACOG optic. Incredible accuracy. The optic cost more than the rifle so this may be a bit pricy. My only objection to this rifle is heavy weight so I also have the DPMS AP4 in .308 Only a slight reduction in accuracy and much easier to carry.
Also take a look at the FAL. Durable battle rifle that has proven the test of time. Pretty sure Sarco still have like new Argenitine kits for $525. Add a Coonan receiver and you have a real great rifle at a very reasonable price.
Don't know why, but the VEPR just don't trip my trigger. For this design class, I'd stay with the orginal - the AK47. The AK is in a class of its own if you want a weapon that goes bang EVERY time.
Just my 2 cents.