There are many definitions of what sniping is. A google search results in 242,000 hits. What one writer calls sniping, another may call precision marksmanship, counter-sniping, or just plain shooting. For the purpose of this article, we will look at rifles capable of acceptable accuracy and sufficient stopping power at distances beyond those of a typical 5.56 or 7.62×39 modern sporting rifle. I’ll compare several budget rifles to a couple that are quite a bit more expensive. Shooting will be done at both 100 and 550 yards, both cold barrel and warm barrel.
Honestly, I am not convinced that a prepper will engage much in sniping. I know there are scenarios with armed roving bands of bad guys laying waste to the countryside and others where survivalists band together to overthrow an unjust post-apocalypse government and their Quislings; however, I am not sure I believe those scenarios are the most likely ones to prepare for, maybe after all your other preps are in place but not as a high priority.
I am a self-professed gun nut as well as a bargain hunter; that’s a bad combination. I have accumulated too many guns and am in the process of getting rid of some of the excess. However, I figured before I do I’d satisfy myself about the accuracy of the lower end guns. When I began getting interested in guns and shooting back in the 1960s, minute of angle (MOA) accuracy– approximately one inch at 100 yards– was uncommon. It was something that you could only expect on expensive custom guns or on guns that were finely tuned. Today, if a gun (even an inexpensive one) doesn’t shoot MOA out of the box, many consider it a “junker”. Even low end Steven’s bolt actions, retailing for well under $300 with scope, shoot MOA.
The budget guns I will be using and the price I paid for them is as follows:
- Remington 700 BDL 7mm Magnum- Walmart $250 (clearance)
- Remington 700 BDL .243 Winchester- Walmart $245 (clearance)
- Remington 770 .308 Winchester- Gun Show $155 (used)
- Remington 710 30-06- Gun Show $200 (used)
- Ishapore 2a .308 Winchester- Pawn Shop $125 (sporterized)
- Remington 742 Gamemaster 30-06- Gun Broker $225 (used)
For comparison purposes, I’ll use the following higher end guns. I’m not going to list the price, in case my wife might read this. These follow:
- Remington 700 .308 custom, blueprinted with 16 ¼ inch bull barrel and folding stock 10x scope
- State Arms Rebel custom 50 BMG 20x scope
- Custom Springfield 1903 heavy barrel target rifle 30-06 (target sights)
The budget guns will all use a Nikon, Burris, or Leupold mid-price variable power scopes, and I’ll use Hornady Precision Hunter factory ammunition for all the guns except the 50 BMG, which will use Hornady A-max match. I am sure that I could try quite a few different types of factory or hand-loaded ammunition to find the ammunition that each rifle prefers, but finding the best load for all of these could take months, and that is not the focus of this article.
I have seen a number of references to something like the Remington 710 or 770 in .300 Win Mag as being a starter or budget sniper’s rifle for preppers. If you already have one, fine. Maybe I’ll pick one up sometime to see how they perform but given my experience with the 300 Win Mag (I have had several over the years) it has too much recoil for a casual shooter, and I don’t think a scenario where preppers will engage targets beyond 1000 yards (where the cartridge has an advantage over the .308 and the 30-06) is at all likely. Barrel life, muzzle blast, and ammunition availability are also concerns.
I have read a quote that “anyone can be a sniper once”. I am not sure where I read it, but the focus of the article was that shooting someone in cold blood when you can see their face in the scope and watch their movement is something anyone can do one time; it is the second time that people have trouble with. To give you more to think about when it comes to what it takes to be a sniper, please read the excellent article by P.A, a Marine Corps scout sniper section leader, on SurvivalBlog.
Before we get to the numbers, let’s talk a bit about sniping. The verb “to snipe” has been attributed to British soldiers in India in the 1770s, who used it to describe snipe hunters, the snipe being a small fast bird that was a hard target to hit. The actual use of the term “sniper” came into use in the 1820s. This is something to remember when you read historical novels talking about “snipers” in the revolutionary war or before. It’s not to say that sniping didn’t take place before that time; it’s just that it was not called sniping.
There is a famous quote attributed to Union Major General John Sedgwick who was berating his soldiers during the battle of Spotsylvania Court House for dodging bullets from Confederate sharpshooters by saying “They can’t hit an elephant at this distance.” Shortly after that, he was proved wrong when he was shot in the head at a distance of 500 yards by a Confederate sniper using a British Whitworth target rifle. (Obviously, I can’t personally attest to this; however, enough reliable sources exist that I believe it to be true.)
Let’s compare police and military sniping to highlight the differences. For in depth reading about snipers, I would strongly suggest The Ultimate Sniper by Maj John Plaster.
Police sniping/counter sniping
Police snipers are employed to kill a bad guy. They do this at ranges they are certain of a kill without danger to bystanders. Although there are famous (or infamous) examples where innocent bystanders are hit, I will not get into that. A study conducted by The American Snipers Association analyzed 219 engagements over the span of 20 years. It found that the average range of a police sniper shot was fifty one yards, with the longest shot being 187 yards and the shortest being less than five yards. If you think about it, the flight time of a bullet at 100 yards is one tenth of a second. Add to that another tenth of a second (minimum) between the time a sniper makes the decision to shoot and the actual shot, and you realize that the target or an innocent bystander can move a significant distance in that time. Someone at a normal walking speed of about three miles per hour moves about five and a half inches in a tenth of a second. This can make a positive shot into a miss (or a hit of an innocent bystander). At longer distances, such as 500 yards, the flight time approaches half a second. It makes you wonder whether police snipers at large public gatherings such as football games, political rallies, and demonstrations would actually shoot someone who was a threat, or if they are only there for security theater purposes.
Military Sniping Snipers are force multipliers. A military sniper is as interested in killing their target as they are in neutralizing them. As a Combat Engineer, I went through the transition from M14 anti-personnel mines to the M25 Elsie mine. Both are intended to freeze enemy troops in place and to injure a soldier, requiring two other soldiers to carry the wounded and one to provide medical treatment, although the shaped charge in the M25 does prove to be fatal more often than not after the casualty is evacuated. Likewise, the military sniper does not always care about a kill shot. He takes out command and control targets and concentrates on torso shots, not the head shots you always see in the movies. The military sniper operates as a member of a team, with the shooter and spotter trading roles to extend their effectiveness time. They often provide overwatch and security for other operations (at least in the typical MOUT operations we see today in the Middle East).
Military Designated Marksman
The Designated Marksman, unlike a sniper, operates as a part of a squad. His or her role is to engage individual targets at longer ranges (up to 800 meters) than the infantry squad is equipped or trained to do. Typically the DM will have a rifle in .308 (7.62×51) caliber and will have additional training in quick, precise shooting. The DM role came about because of the real world experience with the 5.56mm round lacking effectiveness beyond 300 meters, especially when fired from the shorter 14.5-inch barrel of the M4 carbine.
I guess a final sniper role is the DIP (Die In Place) sniper. This is a sniper who works to pin down or distract an enemy force to allow for the escape or movement of the remainder of the force. Please see JWRs novel Patriots for a very good fictional account of a prepper who makes this choice. You can also read another account in JWRs Expatriates about a sniper who is able to draw a patrol away from its intended course.
The Rifle Test
Back to the test. I wanted to test cold bore consistency, since that is probably the most likely scenario for a shoot and scoot sniper situation.
To test cold bore accuracy, I set up a separate target for each rifle at 100 yards. I fired one round, then went to the next rifle, and fired it. By the time I got done with one round from each of the nine rifles, the first one had cooled, and it was ready for the next shot. The shooting was done first thing in the morning, to avoid wind. Three rounds were fired from each rifle.
The results at 100 yards were:
- Remington 700 BDL 7mm Magnum- 7.5 inches
- Remington 700 BDL .243 Winchester- 1.25 inches
- Remington 770 .308 Winchester- .90 inches
- Remington 710 30-06- 2.25 inches
- Ishapore 2a .308 Winchester- 3.5 inches
- Remington 742 Gamemaster 30-06- 3.25 inches
- Remington 700 .308 custom- .35 inches
- State Arms Rebel custom 50- BMG- .75 inches
- Custom Springfield 1903 heavy barrel target 30-06- .55 inches
Now, from these results, you can see that the custom guns have a definite advantage, although the Remington 770 did pretty well. You can also see that there is something wrong with the 7mm magnum. I checked the mounts and rings, changed the scopes, and still got bad results. Well, that gun was bought as a project gun anyway, so I am not worried, but this poor accuracy is unusual for a Remington 700 with less than 20 rounds fired.
Next, I drove out to the 550 yard berm and set up some more targets, again following the same procedure with one target per rifle. I had some leftover 1000 yard target centers; that gave me a large enough bullseye for the scopes with the lower magnification.
The results at this range were as follows:
- Remington 700 BDL 7mm Magnum Could not stay on target- dropped from test
- Remington 700 BDL .243 Winchester- 7.0 inches
- Remington 770 .308 Winchester- .4.25 inches
- Remington 710 30-06- 8.75 inches
- Ishapore 2a .308 Winchester- 12.5 inches
- Remington 742 Gamemaster 30-06- 9.25 inches
- Remington 700 .308 custom- 2.75 inches
- State Arms Rebel custom 50 BMG- 3.0 inches
- Custom Springfield 1903 heavy barrel target- 2.25 inches
A couple of years ago, I did have a chance to shoot at 1000 yards during a vacation with my son at the NRAs Whittington Center outside of Raton, New Mexico. I had a few of these guns with me. I don’t recall the ammunition used, except for the two Remington .308s, which used Black Hills 168 grain HPBT match.
The results at 1000 yards were the following:
- Remington 770 .308 Winchester, 24 inches
- Remington 700 .308 custom, 18.75 inches (the short barrel really hurt its long range performance)
- State Arms Rebel custom 50 BMG 20x scope, 8.25 inches
- Custom Springfield 1903 heavy barrel target 30-06, 11.50 inches
So what conclusions can we draw from this exercise? First, it is not necessary to spend big dollars on custom or high end sniper rifles to have a gun that will make an adequate sniper rifle. With the exception of the Remington 7mm magnum, they were all accurate enough for a torso shot at 550 yards.
Second, 1000 yards is a long way off, even with expensive guns shot in the still air just after sun rise, as the groups open up quite a bit. A 1000 yard shot is probably not practical for most of us, especially in a life or death situation.
Finally, real sniping is about much more than just being able to put a round on paper from a bench. If you look at the curriculum at any of the military sniper schools, shooting is a small part of what is being taught. While it may not be a bad idea for you to own and practice with an accurate high powered rifle, true sniping capability will take more time than most of us have to invest in learning that skill.