Choosing a Long Range Rifle

In spite of the recent trend to small-caliber carbines, there’s still a place for heavier weapons that can reach out past the 300 yard limit of the 5.56mm NATO round. In fact they’ve been making a comeback in Afghanistan as the open terrain forces engagement ranges out to 800 yards and beyond. Military and law enforcement both have a requirement for long range engagements and there are even civilian applications for them. So what should you look for in a long range rifle?

Caliber

The first thing you need to decide on is the caliber. For a long time 7.62mm NATO, or .308, was the standard for sniper rifles. It’s still popular, and most US military sniper systems use this round. Some ballistics experts criticize it but it does deliver a lot of long-range punch without excessive recoil. It’s definitely the round to choose for a DMR; the only real alternative in that class of weapon is 5.56mm, and its range limitations defeat the whole point of a DMR. For sniping there are alternatives though. The US Army has modernized its inventory of M24 rifles to the new M2010 standard, and that takes the .300 Winchester Magnum round. This fires a similar bullet at higher velocity, giving a flatter trajectory and up to 50% more range. The German Army also uses the .300 cartridge, fired from the G22. The G22 is Germany’s name for the British AI Arctic Warfare Magnum, and the UK also uses it as the L115A3. They’ve passed over the .300, however, opting for the truly terrifying .338 Lapua Magnum. The L115A3 currently holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kills, two Taliban killed seconds apart at 2,707 yards. The .338 is probably the most powerful military round that’s practical for most purposes; the various .50BMG weapons are too heavy.

Bolt Action vs. Semi

One of the big debates right now is whether the traditional bolt action is most appropriate, or if semi-automatic weapons are now accurate enough to do the job. DMRs are exclusively semi or select fire, but for sniping, bolt guns still dominate. There are self-loading sniper weapons, the most famous being the Russian Dragunov series, but western armies generally prefer the greater stability of a bolt action. The exception is the US Army, which is looking to buy the M110 to replace many of its older weapons. That aside, if your main priority is long-range accuracy, it’s probably best to stick with a quality bolt action. On the other hand if you anticipate a secondary CQB role, pick an AR10-style weapon or a modernized FN FAL like the DSA58.

Add Ons

Finally let’s look at accessories. At the range these weapons can engage to, a decent optic is essential. Trijicon makes some excellent 6x ACOG models which are ideal for DMRs, but for sniping they don’t really have the precision required, so a good zoom scope is the way to go. Look for 1913 rails instead of traditional scope rails; that will let you quickly change to a night vision device when required. There’s no point in fitting lasers or white light illuminators to a long range rifle but a good adjustable bipod is a must-have. Also look for a sling that can be used for firing as well as carriage.

Carbines are light and handy and give a lot of close-range firepower in a compact package, but the ability to dominate the area out to a half mile or more will give you a lot more protection and freedom of movement. The most economical way to achieve that is with a good long range rifle, so choosing the right one can be a winning move.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.

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