Spec Ops Shooting

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The single greatest contribution to a sniper rifle's weight is the barrel, and some shooters would argue that the heavier the barrel, the better for long-distance shooting. True enough, but sniping is not benchrest plinking, and a sniper cannot effectively stalk and low-crawl all day dragging a 20-pound rifle behind him.

Moderate weight isn't bad. It's useful for stability and can absorb considerable recoil, making even the .300 Winchester Magnum comfortable to shoot. Right off the bat, therefore, I think we can agree that untapered, heavyweight "stovepipe" barrels are not suitable for sniper rifles, but there are advantages to moderately heavy barrels.

The introduction of lightweight assault rifles such as the M16 has unfortunately given a misleading idea of a rifle's proper weight. Our excellent World War II Ml Garand, don't forget, was a hefty 9.5 pounds, but it proved handy and popular among infantrymen. And, coincidentally, it's this approximate weight— about 9 to 11 pounds—that I think is appro priate for a sniper rifle minus scope, bipod, mounts, and sling. Adding these accoutrements results in a total sniping system weight of perhaps 13 to 15 pounds, an approximation of the weight for all the weapons in this chapter. My personal preference is a medium-heavy barrel such as found on the Remington Police rifle, the Army's M24, or the Robar SR-90, so 1 have the accuracy, stability, and recoil absorption I want but a total system weight of about 13 or 14 pounds.

The impetus for ever-heavier barrels seems to me to be a product of the "bigger is better" school of thought. Not only do these heavy, clumsy rifles make stalking much more difficult but the weapons become so barrel-heavy that firing from the standing position becomes difficult and therefore inaccurate. A few years back, while talking to the Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Chargc (NCOIC) of the Army Sniper School, MSgt. Ed Nelson, I asked his opinion on barrel weight. He chuckled and said, "Shucks, sir, if I had my way it'd be as light as the .22 I carried as a kid—then I could stalk all day long, no sweat." I couldn't have said it better. As technology and our understanding of what makes a rifle accurate improve, I think we'll see lighter rifles as accurate and capable— maybe more capable—than those of today.

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