Snipers are highly trained marksmen who are experts in shooting targets from concealed positions over extremely long ranges. Their primary role is to provide accurate long-range fire to support military operations. To successfully engage targets, snipers require specialized training, tactics, and equipment – especially when it comes to their weapons. So what kind of weapons do modern snipers use?
Bolt Action Rifles
The most common weapons used by snipers are high-precision bolt action rifles. These manually-operated rifles have been used by snipers for over a century due to their unmatched accuracy and reliability. Here are some of the most popular bolt action sniper rifles:
The Remington 700 is one of the most popular sniper rifles ever made. It was introduced in 1962 and continues to serve as the basis for many modern sniper rifles used by militaries and law enforcement agencies today. The Model 700 is renowned for its out-of-the-box accuracy and smooth bolt action. It can be fitted with a wide range of scopes and stocks to fulfill different operational requirements. Various variants of the Remington 700 serve as standard issue sniper rifles for the US Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard.
Accuracy International Arctic Warfare (AW)
The British-made Arctic Warfare (AW) sniper rifle has gained immense popularity worldwide since its introduction in the 1980s. Its high level of accuracy and reliability have made it the choice of various military and law enforcement organizations, including the British Army and German Bundeswehr. The AW is built to withstand extreme weather conditions and requires minimal maintenance. It comes in a variety of magnum chamberings like .338 Lapua Magnum for extra long-range performance.
M24 Sniper Weapon System
The M24 is the standard sniper weapon system of the US Army. It is a military version of the Remington 700 built by Remington Arms. The M24 is designed to deliver precision fire on targets out to 800 meters. It is fitted with a Leupold telescopic sight and can utilize a range of 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition. The M24 has seen combat service in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. An upgrade program in the 2010s has extended the service life of these rifles.
M40 Sniper Rifle
The M40 is the standard sniper rifle for the United States Marine Corps. It is another variant of the Remington 700 tailored to the needs of Marine snipers. Originally chambered in .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm NATO), newer M40A5 and M40A6 models use the .300 Winchester Magnum round for extra range and hitting power. The M40 has an effective range of up to 1,000 meters in the hands of a skilled sniper. It has seen extensive combat use in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
SIG Sauer SSG 3000
The SSG 3000 is a precision bolt action rifle built by SIG Sauer used by snipers across the world. It has a cold hammer-forged barrel which provides superior accuracy and a heavier contour for sustained fire. The SSG 3000 is designed for use with .300 Winchester Magnum and .338 Lapua Magnum ammunition. It is popular among European military and police forces, including elite counterterrorism units like Germany’s GSG 9.
Desert Tech SRS-A1
The SRS-A1 is a bullpup rifle designed by Desert Tech that places the bolt action mechanism behind the trigger to allow for a more compact overall length. The SRS-A1 is configurable for multiple calibers from .260 Remington up to .375 CheyTac. Special purpose rifles are also offered in calibers like .50 BMG. The SRS-A1 has been adopted by special operations forces due to its accuracy and portability.
Semi-Automatic Sniper Rifles
While bolt action rifles are highly prevalent, semi-automatic sniper rifles have been gaining ground with military and law enforcement snipers in recent years. Semi-auto rifles allow for quick follow up shots – an advantage in multiple target scenarios. Here are some notable semi-auto sniper rifles:
M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System
The M110 entered service in 2008 as the standard semi-auto sniper rifle for the US Army. Built by Knight’s Armament Company, the M110 is based on the AR-10 platform and fires 7.62x51mm NATO ammunition. It significantly extends the effective range of individual soldiers compared to standard M4 carbines. The M110 has an effective range of 800 meters and comes equipped with a suppressor to reduce muzzle flash and noise.
Mk 20 Sniper Support Rifle (SSR)
Developed by FN Herstal, the Mk 20 SSR gives snipers in the US Special Operations Command the ability to engage multiple targets rapidly while maintaining accuracy and stopping power. This 7.62x51mm semi-auto rifle has an effective range of 1,100 meters. It is designed to be lighter weight to improve mobility for special operations units. The Mk 20 was used notably by Navy SEAL snipers during counter-piracy operations.
Heckler & Koch PSG1
The PSG1 has been a premier semi-auto sniper rifle since its debut in the 1980s. This 7.62x51mm NATO rifle was built specifically to meet the requirements of German police and military snipers. It features a low-profile scope rail, adjustable stock, and fluted barrel for accuracy. The PSG1 has an effective range of 800 meters and a 20 round detachable box magazine. H&K continues to upgrade the system to extend its lifetime.
FN SCAR Mk 20 SSR
The FN SCAR Mk 20 SSR is FN Herstal’s entry into the US Special Operations Command’s Precision Sniper Rifle program to replace the Mk 11 Mod 0. Built as a modular semi-auto sniper system, the Mk 20 provides 7.62x51mm caliber precision fire. It has a free-floating barrel for accuracy and a modular rail system to allow mounting of optics and accessories. The Mk 20 has deployable with Army Rangers and Navy SEALs in Afghanistan.
The M110A1 CSASS (Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System) is an upgraded version of the original M110 SASS. It was type-classified by the Army in 2016 to provide snipers with improved capabilities. The CSASS is lighter weight, has increased accuracy through a free-floating barrel, an adjustable folding stock, and is designed to support mounting of sound and flash suppressors.
Anti-materiel rifles are heavy sniper weapon systems designed to destroy military equipment like vehicles, radar systems and parked aircraft at very long ranges. Here are some key anti-materiel rifles:
The Barrett M82 was the first notable anti-materiel rifle adopted by the US military in the 1980s. It gained fame during the Gulf War by neutralizing Iraqi armored vehicles, radars and personnel from over 1 mile away. Weighing over 30 pounds, the M82 fires the .50 BMG (12.7x99mm) cartridge capable of disintegrating sensitive enemy equipment. It uses a recoil-dampening muzzle brake to reduce felt recoil. An updated M107 variant with a longer barrel and picatinny rails is now used.
The South African NTW-20 is a 20mm caliber anti-materiel rifle designed to be a mobile and portable weapon. Firing massive 20x110mm ammunition based on an anti-aircraft gun cartridge, the NTW-20 can disable armored vehicles and even low-flying helicopters. It also uses a double action firing system and hydraulic recoil dampening technology to minimize felt recoil despite its massive cartridge. The NTW-20 has an effective range of 1,500 meters.
Accuracy International AX50
British manufacturer Accuracy International produces the AX50 long range anti-materiel and sniper rifle. The AX50 has an overall length of 57 inches and weighs over 30 pounds. It provides devastating accuracy hitting targets out to 2,000 meters with its .50 BMG chambering. The AX50 can be fitted with a muzzle brake to reduce recoil and a folding chassis for paratrooper operations. The rifle’s accuracy and 5 round detachable magazine magazine make it well suited for sniper missions.
Specialized Sniper Rifles
In addition to standard sniper rifles, there are a number of specialized designs tailored to specific mission requirements:
Accuracy International AXMC
The multi-caliber Accuracy International AXMC rifle allows a single receiver to be user configurable between .338 Lapua Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum calibers. This provides greater flexibility to snipers without requiring them to change rifles. The AXMC features a stainless steel, fluted barrel for precision and has a folding chassis stock.
TrackingPoint Sniper Rifle
TrackingPoint makes electronically integrated sniper rifle systems featuring advanced optics and sensors that enable shots up to 1 mile with extreme accuracy. The rifle virtually eliminates in-scope corrections through an integrated laser rangefinder, ballistics computer, and heads-up display which accounts for environmental conditions.
The Intervention is a specialized sniper rifle made by CheyTac LLC. It was designed from the ground up to fire the company’s signature .408 Chey Tac cartridge for ranges up to 2,500 meters. Versions of the Intervention are also offered in .375 CheyTac. The Intervention holds the world record for best group at a distance, placing 3 rounds within 16 inches at 2,321 yards.
The Australian DSR-50 sniper rifle was designed to fulfill an Australian military requirement for an anti-materiel rifle firing 12.7x99mm ammunition that could be carried by a 2-man team. The bullpup configured DSR-50 uses a purpose-built bolt action to handle the .50 BMG cartridge. It has an empty weight of 26.5 lbs making it one of the lighter .50 caliber rifles.
The McMillan Tac-50 is a .50 caliber anti-materiel and sniper weapon purpose-designed for military and law enforcement applications. It can achieve accuracy of 1 MOA or better using match grade ammunition. The Tac-50 uses a 5 round detachable box magazine and an integral bipod to stabilize the rifle during firing. It holds the record for the longest confirmed sniper kill at 3,540 meters set by a Canadian sniper in Iraq.
Snipers rely on specialized accessories to enhance the capabilities of their rifle systems:
Scopes are essential tools that allow snipers to visualize targets at extreme distances. Snipers often use variable magnification scopes with magnification ranges from 3x all the way to 25x power or greater. These scopes have fine reticles for precision aiming and turrets for adjusting bullet impact. Popular brands include Leupold, Nightforce, and Schmidt & Bender.
Laser rangefinders enable snipers to determine exact distance to a target with the push of a button by bouncing an infrared laser off the target. Having exact range data allows the sniper to dial in elevation adjustments to compensate for bullet drop. Rangefinders like the Leica Rangemaster allow ranges out to 2km or more.
Spotting scopes are small portable telescopes used by snipers for observing distant targets and verifying shot placement after taking a shot. Spotting scopes generally have magnification from 15x to 60x. Popular models include those made by Swarovski and Zeiss.
Muzzle brakes redirect propellant gases to counteract recoil during firing. By diverting gases sideways and backwards, muzzle rise is reduced allowing for faster follow up shots. Muzzle brakes are commonly fitted to larger caliber rifles like .50 BMGs to increase shooter comfort.
Suppressors (or silencers) reduce the noise signature of a sniper rifle when firing by slowing down and cooling exhaust gases before they exit the muzzle. They enable snipers to maintain concealment after taking a shot. Suppressors may slightly reduce muzzle velocity and accuracy.
Precision match grade ammunition is tailored to maximize the accuracy potential of sniper rifles. Here are some of the most common ammunition types used by snipers:
The 7.62x51mm NATO round is the standard caliber for military sniper rifles like the M24, M40, and M110. Match grade loads use Sierra MatchKing hollow point boat tail projectiles which provide increased accuracy and lethality. The .308 Winchester sporting cartridge is nearly identical to 7.62x51mm.
.300 Winchester Magnum
The .300 Winchester Magnum has seen increased use in sniper rifles in recent years. Its heavier 190 grain bullets have 30% greater energy than 7.62x51mm NATO, resulting in less wind drift and better performance at extreme distances.
.338 Lapua Magnum
The .338 Lapua Magnum is an exceptionally accurate cartridge designed for long range shooting. Its 250 grain projectiles offer minimal wind deflection combined with excellent stopping power. It has become popular with military and police special operations units for urban counter-sniper operations out to 1 mile.
The massive .50 BMG (12.7x99mm) cartridge provides superior anti-materiel performance and extra long range capabilities in specialized sniper rifles like the Barrett M82A1 and McMillan Tac-50. Match grade loads propel 750 grain projectiles over a mile with devastating terminal effects.
|Caliber||Effective Range||Muzzle Velocity||Muzzle Energy|
|7.62x51mm NATO||800+ meters||2,700 fps||2,500 ft-lbs|
|.300 Winchester Magnum||1,200+ meters||2,950 fps||4,300 ft-lbs|
|.338 Lapua Magnum||1,600+ meters||2,950 fps||4,900 ft-lbs|
|.50 BMG||2,000+ meters||3,050 fps||12,500 ft-lbs|
In addition to their equipment, a sniper’s extensive training is crucial to their effectiveness on the battlefield. Snipers require expert marksmanship skills honed through constant practice. This includes range estimation, wind reading, mirage interpretation, and disciplined shooting positions. Tactics for complex scenarios with multiple targets are also trained. Mental conditioning, camouflage techniques, and stalking help snipers get into concealed firing positions within range of targets. Technology training is critical as well to master the various optics and ancillary gear. Countless hours on the range under realistic conditions ensures snipers can perform when lives are on the line.
Modern snipers utilize a variety of highly specialized bolt action and semi-automatic rifles tailored for accuracy and reliability. Typical rifles include venerable platforms like the Remington 700 and M24 or more modern semi-auto designs like the M110 and Mk20. Extra long range anti-materiel rifles firing the .50 BMG cartridge extend the reach of snipers even further. A host of precision scopes, laser rangefinders, and match grade ammunition complement these rifles. Ultimately, it is the sniper’s intensive training that enables mastery of these tools to accomplish missions on the battlefield that demand the highest levels of marksmanship. With equipment and skills finely honed, snipers provide indispensable precision fire capability to achieve military objectives and save lives.