Over the past 10 years I have been exposed to a number of different manufactures products. Some are cutting edge while others are built off tried and true systems that are decades old. In recent years I have been privy to some of the US Government’s long-range sniping programs and the technology that’s going into them. When asked for opinions, I provide people with my thoughts based on what I’ve seen and used and also on the science behind the technological developments that have been incorporated into the weapons systems. So here’s my answer to the guys who have recently asked me what they should look at when making their next purchase.
There are a number of good semi-auto rifles out there. The company that has some of the best features out there is Hogan Manufacturing. I spent a few days this past year with Mr. Bob Davies and Robert Hogan. They were kind enough to show me how and why M16 based semi-autos fail, what makes them inaccurate, and the steps they took to drastically improve them. Have you ever seen a 14” 7.62mm semi stay @ ½ MOA out to 600yds? Or a 12” version hitting chest plates at 900yds? The Hogan rifles will do this all day long. If you look closely at them you will notice the massive barrel-but / cooling block. It’s the same system that HK copied and put into their 417 (Bob Davies is the one who holds that patent). Sure there are others out there…. But they don’t take the AR-10 platform to the level of the AK-47’s reliability! If you think that’s an overstatement then go get a Hogan and take it for a run.
Customized Conventional Bolt Rifle (Rem 700 etc.):
There must be thousands of custom gunsmiths out there taking old Remington 700’s, truing the actions, and putting on premium barrels. That’s pretty much the recipe for taking a standard rifle to the next level. I have seen lots of rifles built by dozens of smiths shoot great groups; there is no shortage of them. What separates them is ruggedness. Will that rifle that just shot 1/2 MOA today take a beating, bounce around a truck bed all day, get dropped and banged, and still be able to hold zero? Most can’t. Therefore my choice here would be Iron Brigade Armory and the Chandler Sniper rifle. These rifles are built like Russian brick shithouses. There is no detail overlooked and they are constantly checked during each stage of the build. I have seen other big-name gunsmiths build some great looking rifles, yet upon further inspection you see things like: unsealed stocks, bedding compound that has bubbles in it, trigger screws not sealed, scope mounts not fit to the receiver, etc. Do these things matter much to the weekend warrior? No, but if you’re going to demand max performance in any condition from your rifle you bet your ass these things matter. I have seen Chandler Sniper rifles tossed off 3 story buildings, hit by IED’s, and bounced out of truck beds. Once dusted off the users confirmed zero and guess what… NO SHIFT. It should not be any surprise the IBA was contracted by DARPA to build 52 next generation sniper rifles for the Marines. These were not standard 700’s, they had titanium receivers and recoil lugs, came with Surefire suppressors, 18” barrels, In-line night vision, and Nightforce scopes with zero stops. Oh and the McMillian A1-3 stocks were custom made for this project also! They built the XM3 rifles in 2006 and now 6 years later the rifles are still in service. They might be more expensive, but its money well spent.
Custom Bolt Rifle (Customized action):
This is a category where something other than a standard mass produced actions are used as the base of the rifle build. The guys who put the most thought into their actions so far have been Surgeon Rifles. All Surgeon Actions start from a single chunk of 4140 chrome moly and are machined to their final dimension to ensure an accurate part. After finish machining the outside dimensions of each action they are then wire EDM’d. Surgeon uses the wire EDM to cut the bolt bore and race ways. There are other ways to do this, but none offer the same level of accuracy or consistency you get from the EDM process. Another great feature is the anti-jam rail, the purpose of this rail is to prevent a round from lodging in the raceway when single loading the rifle through the ejection/loading port. The raceway on the right hand side has an anti-bind rail just below the ejection/loading port; the purpose of this rail is to insure smooth bolt operation as the locking lug passes through the loading port. The recoil lug and the scope rail are built into the receiver, not as an add-on… it’s all one big chunk of steel. When working the bolt you can instantly feel the quality that went into machining the action. Bolt operation is smooth as silk and there is no binding. The barrels they use are of the highest quality and produce results. Take a Surgeon action and toss it in an AIAX stock and you have one bad-ass system.
The options here are limited, and expensive. The basic concept includes a receiver that allows for the rapid removal and replacement of the barrel and a bolt, along with a magazine. The big name companies have their own versions they built for the PSR program, but upon further review you will see that all they did was add more parts to a basic system…. and maybe a folding stock. The one company who is way outside the box is Desert Tactical Arms. Their bull-pup SRS rifles are very accurate and the system is very simple to use. What makes the system so accurate? A full 6” of the barrel is supported by the receiver. Your conventional systems only support ½” to 1”. There is a lot less of a diving board effect by supporting more of the barrel. I have shot Desert’s .338LM out to a mile with ease. Their Covert model with a 16” barrel is as long as an MP5A2. With 7” groups at 1500m, shorter length than an M16A1, and the ability to switch calibers in 50 seconds or less, the DTA system has a lot going for it.
There are a few great rounds out there for long distance work. You have the .375CT, .408CT and the old .50 BMG. There is only one rifle that can use all three, again the Desert Tactical Arms HTI. It’s the bigger brother of the SRS.
Extreme Distance Rifles:
What is an extreme distance? To me it would be a distance/situation where a skilled shooter has a very little chance of hitting the target with the 1st or 2nd shots. For some this distance could be 200yds. The distances I’m referring to are a mile or more. At that distance if you can accurately measure multiple winds, and have done the math so you can accurately project the bullets trajectory, your chances of a 1st round hit drastically increase. But if you miss the target (winds shifted, target moved, trajectory miscalculated) the target will probably run away along with other potential targets in the area. I’m fortunate enough to be involved in two DARPA programs that address this problem. One program has focused on the ability to measure the wind all the way to the target and thus provide a correction. Great idea, but it still doesn’t fix trajectory problems or help with moving targets. The other program will fly the bullet right up an insurgent’s ass while he’s on the run…. and will do so out of existing M107’s. With this program the target could walk, run, sprint or DRIVE and he’s still toast. It’s a truly great program.
There’s my 2 cents on rifles. If you agree, great, if you disagree I hope you have as much experience and exposure as I do so you have a credible argument!