Colonel Townsend Whelen famously said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting.” If that’s true, then here are five of the most interesting rifles you can purchase right now. Notice I said interesting, not inexpensive. Precision costs money—how precise do you want to get?
About 10 years ago the U.S. Army held a competition to replace its aging M24 bolt action sniper rifles. Trials were held pitting several designs of “Semi Automatic Sniper System” rifles against each other, and the eventual winner was the Knight’s Armament SR-25. We sell the SR-25 and it’s a fantastic rifle—I’ve also owned good cars that cost me much less. For about half the price of the Knight’s, you can get one of the other SASS trial rifles, the Armalite SASS. In case you’re wondering why anyone would pay two grand for a gun that lost the competition, the Armalites were quickly adopted by the Canadians, who brought them over to Afghanistan and used them to kick wholesale Taliban butt from very far away. Good enough for you now?
Sometimes I worry that the word “tactical” has no meaning anymore. We have tactical .22 LR plinker rifles equipped with $40 tactical red dot scopes made in China. Many gunmakers throw a goofy plastic stock on one of their regular guns and charge extra for the “tactical” version. Springfield Armory remembers what Tactical truly means—their M21 Tactical has a walnut stock, with an adjustable height cheek piece also made of walnut. Tactical means that Springfield used their amazing M1A Super Match as a starting point, then added a 22-inch Douglas custom air-gauged heavy match barrel, match grade trigger, and the adjustable stock. Tactical means precision sustained fire shot after shot. Tactical means accuracy doesn’t come at the cost of reliability, because your agency paid enough money to guarantee a whole lot of both.
Precise rifles need to use precise calibers. You can take the world’s most precise rifle design and if you chamber it in 7.62×39 you’re just wasting a lot of money. So what is the most precise caliber? Well, in 2002 a nice fellow named Rich DeSimone broke the 1,000 yard IBS world record with the group I’ve posted underneath this article. That’s a one and a half inch group, at a thousand yards. He used a then-experimental caliber called 6.5 Super, which has since been renamed 6.5-284 Norma. Savage makes a Model 12 “F Class” competition rifle in this caliber that “only” costs a thousand bucks! Seriously, for a rifle capable of thousand-yard shots right out of the box, that’s a screaming deal. Just make sure you have enough room at the range to stretch its legs, because shooting the Savage 12 F Class at a hundred yards is like driving a Ferrari at 25mph. You know it wants to do much more.
Steyr of Austria makes some of the coolest firearms in the world, and then completely fails to market them properly. That’s bad news for Steyr’s sales, and good news for those few of us who actually know how awesome their products can be. Take the HS-50. Everyone knows the Barrett .50 cal, but which gun costs less AND completely schools the Barrett for accuracy? That’s right. The HS-50 is a single shot rifle, mounting a free-floated 33-inch cold hammer forged barrel, one of the longest barrels mounted on any production .50 bmg rifle. This means the HS-50 gets more velocity out of the same cartridge compared to other fifties, meaning that the round stays supersonic longer, meaning that its effective range is extended. This velocity and accuracy comes with a penalty though—the HS-50 is an enormous monster, just shy of 30 pounds and four and a half feet long. If I got one I would be tempted to just weld up a mount for it in the back of a pickup truck, Libyan-style, rather than try to carry it around.
The barrel is the heart of any precision rifle. To achieve the level of accuracy needed by police and military snipers, the barrel must be perfect—the fun part comes when manufacturers have different ideas about what “perfect” means. Because nobody uses a belt-fed machine gun to snipe with, for a long time only FN knew that the barrels they built for the military’s M240B were super accurate. When they wanted to build a police sniper rifle, FN took M240B barrel blanks and profiled them as heavy barrels instead of turning them down to be thinner LMG barrels. They put the barrels on the proven Winchester 70 action, stuck the action in a top notch McMillan stock, and presto-change-o! One sub-MOA “Special Police Rifle” featuring an indestructible chrome lined mil-spec barrel . So, if you’re a Navy SEAL and you have to swim through ten miles of salt water before sneaking across a sandy beach to snipe an enemy 800 yards away, this just might be your weapon of choice.