Selecting a Sniper Rifle and Components
The military sniper can change the flow of battle and have a disproportionate effect on the conflict. When someone says sniper the first thing that generally comes to mind is the gullie suit and the long rifle. We are going to explore some of the characteristics of the long rifle as well as the specific requirements one should consider when purchasing a rifle designed to engage targets at long-range. Obviously as a military member only a handful of operators have a choice as to which weapon system they use and as such this is not meant as guide for the military sniper to use as a sole source of information but, for the civilian target shooter or freelance zombie apocalypse survivalist hopefully it will shed some light on the subject.
The first questions one must ask is: What distance do I plan to engage? What caliber makes sense for my application? The sniper should generally be expected to engage with first round hits at 200 meters with +99% accuracy. The sniper should also be able to interdict targets at 600 meters with 90% accuracy as well as engage targets at 800 meters with 50% accuracy. With the aforementioned constraints two of the more common calibers that fill this requirement would be the .308 Winchester (7.62mm x 51mm NATO) and .300 Winchester magnum rounds. The debate on the perfect round will certainly not be solved in this discussion but either of these two rounds should fulfill the normal mission requirements. These calibers are prefered by a large cadre of shooters due to their relative affordability and wide applicability.
Once the caliber is decided the action type of the rifle should be considered. As a rule of thumb all but the most exotic sniper rifles utilize a bolt-action. Typically the bolt-action provides the highest consistency and accuracy with the least maintenance requirements. As is the case with the M-24 sniper system a Remington 700 bolt-action is integrated and rated to a maximum effective range of 800 meters. Many sniper variant rifles have been manufactured with a gas operated system and other semi-automatic configurations such as the SPR and M-107 but, the standard and most time-tested system is the bolt-action.
As a rule a sniper weapon system must be consistent, which necessitates the use of a "heavy" barrel. The heavy barrel can be made of a myriad of metals and alloys. For example the Mk-13 .300 win mag sniper system has a stainless steel barrel which was all but unheard of until SOF (Special Operations Forces) adopted it's use in the mid 2000's. A heavy barrel will add considerable weight to the weapon system though there are some fluted barrel designs that provide much of the performance in a lighter package.
As the heavy barrel helps offer consistency the stock can play an important role in accuracy. In the modern sniper system the wood stock has been all but abandoned, as the polymer stock can provide a simpler manufacturing process and more reliable tolerances. The stock and barrel should give a pleasant feel to the operator with applicable mounting hardware for the optic as well as proper length of pull for the individual. The grip will preferably be a pistol grip type making it more ergonomic for long surveillance operations. An ideal stock and barrel combination should provide a "cold bore" shot that does not vary considerably with warm barrel operation.
Once the basic rifle is selected an optic is as important as any other component. The formula most often cited is to spend about 50% the cost of the rifle system on appropriate "glass" (optic), it would be a real waste to build a 5K race rifle and use a cheap $100.00 optic that will not maintain zero or lacks the ability to be used for judging distance. The reticle or cross hair pattern should either be a Mil dot design or have some other measurement feature built in, a simple hunter cross hair will not give you the ability to judge distance to the target nor will it give you specific windage compensation metrics. A sniper optic will have an adjustable elevation and windage knob so the operator can quickly change the zero to compensate for changing wind or target distance. A focus knob will help adjust for parallax to provide a crisp sight picture. Adjustable magnification should give the operator the ability to customize the field of view to meet various target solution requirements. The far lens end of the scope should be large enough to gather the appropriate amount of light to give the operator a good sight picture. The lens should not be so large as to be too cumbersome or give a large reflective signature that may signal to the target the presence of the military sniper or civilian game hunter.
A steady position is an integral part of accurate engagement as such a bipod should be readily attached for firing in the prone position. other accessories to be considered are the feeding mechanism, such as detachable box or internal; as well as a crisp consistent trigger pull.
In the end the choice is up to the personal preference of the operator but will not supersede mission requirements. The more information analyzed the more prudent the choice the operator will make. Gear will never make up for a deficit of training; make sure the weapon system you choose, you are familiar with and can handle safely with respect given to the capability of the system.