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?


M24 Sniper RifleThe 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.
Fergus Mason

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7 thoughts on “Choosing a Long Range Rifle

  1. In my opinion, there is no reason to go for a bolt gun anymore unless you are looking for a sub $1,500 (new) gun. Semi-autos are easier on the shooter, they can be VERY accurate, they usually have standard sizes/shapes/magazines, 1913 rails for standardized optics mounting, greater options for aftermarket triggers (which might be desirable with guns costing less than $2000), and the list goes on.

    The S&W MP10 and DPMS G2 are excellent .308 options that will get you out 700 and beyond in the one MOA or less category. If you have the money to feed a gun expensive ammo like .300 win mag and .338 LM (I don’t have that kind of money) then there are a lot of good options. The Noreen Bad News in .338 LM got the seal of approval from TiborasaurusRex, and he is a source I trust when it comes to hitting beer cans at 1236 yard and demanding go to war durability.

  2. Ammunition being equal, a bolt gun should give you 100 plus yards of killing distance over a semi-auto rifle with the same length barrel. The bolt gun will give you greater muzzle velocity and muzzle energy that translates to a longer kill range.

    1. Jim, it might be true that a bolt gun will give the boost you claim, but practically I see a couple problems if you are going to use that as an argument as to why a semi-auto would not be the right tool for the job. First, most people cant make first round hits past 500 yards or 600 yards (400 is pushing it for a lot of people), and just about every round will do that; everything from 6.5 Grendel, .243, .270, .308, to 30-06 and a whole bunch of others, have enough juice to do the job right. Since most of the rounds I just listed run out of gas in the 800 yards to 1100 yards range, lets go ahead and assume that means I am only going to get 700 yards of good clean killing out of my 6.5 Grendel semi-auto. How many would turn that down? How many would turn down 900-1000 out of a semi-auto vs 1000-1100 from a bolt gun?

      Second if we want to talk about killing distance vs enough juice to do the job PROPERLY, then you changed the argument set by Fergus Mason, who said 300 yards for 5.56mm. Anyone who has been around a while will tell you 5.56 is both accurate and lethal way past 500, it just may not be up to par past 300.

  3. “Anyone who has been around a while will tell you 5.56 is both accurate and lethal way past 500”

    Accurate, yes. Lethal? I wouldn’t rely on it beyond 300 from a rifle or 150 from a carbine.

  4. I’d like to add, Fergus Mason’s write up is valid and relevant—great introductory read for this community especially shooters interested in long range precision work. I also would like to add to this discourse, the choice of auto-loading or bolt actions is more a function of department, agency, or mission requirements or equipment standards. Since, I believe, the context of Mr. Mason’s article is civilian or enthusiast selection and use of precision rifles—shooter skill, knowledge, and needs should determine the action. Shooters who do not understand the relationship between the sighting system, rifle, and the selected cartridge ballistics/trajectories (for either bolt or self-loading actions) cannot employ the rifle for the intended purpose of precision engagement; therefore, the action selection is moot. To add to David’s comment on first round hits past 500-600 yards, I add, many new shooters also do not know the change of impact differences from the first shot/clean barrel to subsequent following shots with increased barrel fouling or barrel heating, variables in atmospheric or metrological conditions, or the differences between milliradian and minute of angle and how these two measurements are applied. My point of all my blather? Operator skill and knowledge is the first and foremost consideration, then comes the equipment selection—otherwise the shooter is just someone operating an appliance and hoping to hit an area-target. Mr. Fergus Mason, I look forward to your future contributions and perspectives—thank you.

  5. I am staying with the tried and true .30-06. Its 1000 yard kill range is more than most situations require and the round can be found almost anywhere.

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