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Proclaiming a particular long gun as the best sniper rifle is a surefire way to make 20 people angry for every one person who nods in agreement. That’s one reason for this lengthy list. The other is that the definition of a sniper rifle is fluid. Here’s my take—the best sniper rifle is the one that is most capable of fulfilling the mission that whoever is carrying it is tasked with.
Given that we live in a complex, uncertain, and dangerous world, those missions can take on staggering variety. The environments can range from snow covered mountains, to vine choked jungle, to crowded cities, to searing desert. The operator might be dealing with a hostage situation, engaged in overwatch for an assault team, targeting enemy materiel, or simply on patrol with his squad when contact is made.
Golden Age of the Long Gun
The significant advancements in the last 20 years with how rifles are made, the integration of electronics into our optics and ballistic support systems, the impressive quality and variety of available bullets and ammunition, have given us more capable sniper rifles—and more capable general precision rifles for hunting, competition and recreational shooting—than at any other point in history.
The result has been an explosion over the last couple decades in the number of sniper rifle systems being field by military and law enforcement around the globe. Some classic platforms—such as the USMC M40 and Soviet-Era SVD, which have both been around for more than half a century—have withstood the test of time. But we also have a large number of newer systems that have quickly established good reputations on the battlefield, or that seem poised to do so in the near future.
Picking The Best Sniper Rifles
When pulling together this list of the best sniper rifles, I considered a few different criteria. The list highlights modern rifles with proven track records that are currently in use. It includes some newly approved rifles that coming online right now. It has a couple sniper rifles that are not very well known but serve an interesting niche. And I gave weight to rifles that have commercially available versions, which, happily, most of them do. I also wanted to showcase rifles that cover the spectrum of missions that today’s snipers face—which as we’ve seen, covers a lot of ground.
Lastly, to narrow the scope of this, I focused on rifles used by the U.S. military and our allies, with a couple exceptions.
Best Sniper Rifles Currently In Use
Accuracy International AXSR
Accuracy International AT308
Barrett Mk22 MRAD
Mk 13 Mod 0/5/7
M24 Sniper Weapon System (SWS)
B&T USA 300SPR Pro
FN SCAR Mk 20 SSR
Sako TRG M10
Sako TRG 22/42
Desert Tech SRS A2
Sniper Rifle With A Tragic Tale: Remington MSR / Mk21
Among the world’s best sniper rifles, the AI AXSR has a legitimate claim as top dog. The engineering behind the AXSR created an unparalleled blend of toughness, innovation, and accuracy that is carrying on the legacy of AI’s sniper rifles. Without a doubt it is one of the best long-range rifles in the world.
The AXSR is a multi-caliber rifle that uses AI’s signature flat-bottomed, six-lug magnum-length action mated to their newest chassis. The rifle features integral ARCA rail on the handguard—which is machined to the more exacting RRS specs—and the lower portion of the magazine section, a 20 MOA NATO Stanag 4694/Mil Std 1913 rail on the action that indexes perfectly with the 20 MOA rail on the handguard, toolless adjustments for critical dimensions, and AI’s proprietary Keyslot mounting system.
The AXSR evolved from AI’s AXMC, which is still in production as a law enforcement product, and from the legendary AI AWM which has seen extensive service around the globe and has accounted for some of the longest verified sniper shots in history—including consecutive hits at 2,707 yards by a British Army sniper in 2009 killing two Taliban combatants manning a machine gun. (Some of the other names that variants of the AWM go by include the AWM-F, G22-A2, L115A2 and L115A3, which are designations from the British Army.)
By swapping bolts and barrels the AXSR can quickly convert from heavy-hitting cartridges like the .338 Lapua, .300 Norma Mag., .300 PRC and .300 Win. Mag., to shorter cartridges such as .308 Win. and 6.5 PRC.
This versatility was one of the reasons the Australian Defense Force just adopted the AXSR after a two-year trial to replace the Accuracy International SR98 and Blaser Tactical 2 they had been using.
I’ve shot mine in .300 Norma Mag. out to 2,000 meters and beyond and the accuracy of the platform is nothing short of jaw-dropping. During a multi-day event at Gunsite Academy, for instance, we set up a full-sized IPSC silhouette hostage target at one mile (1,760 yards). The goal was to hit the 10-inch circular plate just behind target—the hostage taker—without hitting the silhouette. My rifle was able to put shot after shot on the plate without dinging the hostage, demonstrating the practical field accuracy of the system.
How many other rifles can do that chambered in .300 Norma Mag. while being built tough enough to survive a fall out of a helicopter? It’s a damn short list.
Much of the AXSR’s ruggedness comes from how the rifle and chassis attach. A standard Remington 700 clone has two screws that hold the stock and action together and if you look closely at the receiver you’ll notice that the amount of thread engagement isn’t very much. The AI AXSR, in contrast, has five action screws—four in front of the magazine well, and one behind the trigger. Each of those screws has approximately three times the amount of thread engagement of a standard 700 clone.
If you go through the AI AXSR from front to back you’ll find numerous similar examples of how the rifle is beefed to survive the rigors of combat. Its next-level toughness is also why the rifle performs so well in two-day extreme long range (ELR) matches, where a competitor might put 150 to 200 rounds down range. Rifles that aren’t as rugged struggle to maintain their accuracy when run that hard.
The little brother to the AXSR and AXMC rifles, the AI AT308 is a favorite among police snipers. It is a short-action rifle chambered in .308 Win. that can be configured many different ways. Options include barrel lengths of 16.5, 20, and 24 inches, a folding stock, various color finishes, and changing the barrel for other short-action cartridges that have a .308 bolt face.
The base model, with a 20- or 24-inch barrel and fixed stock, is the most affordable, but still has the majority of features that put AI on the map. That includes AI’s flat bottomed, six-lug action which is epoxied to the chassis for incredible stiffness; AI’s own two-stage trigger and three-position safety; quick-detach barrel; and the 10-round double-stack AW magazine, which is easy to load, has a low profile, feeds flawlessly and is nearly indestructible.
It also has AI’s signature oversized bolt handle and 60-degree throw for fast, positive cycling that minimizes disturbance of the sight picture, allowing the shooter to keep the target in the scope.
I shot an AT308 during a four-day sniper course in the California desert some years back. That was my first introduction to Accuracy International’s rifles, and like pretty much everyone else who gets behind one, the AT308 impressed the hell out of me.
We dragged the rifles through rocks and sand, shooting them from Conex boxes and from inside vehicles and were able to easily engage targets out to 800 yards from complex shooting positions while being physically stressed and under time constraints.
The scenarios were challenging to the point where you had no time to think about or baby the rifle. And the AI AT308’s handled it all in stride, which is why they are one of the best sniper rifles for shooting out to 1,000 yards.
The Barrett Mk22 MRAD is one of the newest sniper rifles in the U.S. military arsenal. MRAD stands for multi-role adaptive design, a fancy way of saying the rifle is a modular switch-caliber platform.
The Mk22’s claim to fame is that it can easily switch barrels and cartridges while delivering excellent accuracy. The program that the MRAD won— the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) ASR (Advanced Sniper Rifle) trial—specified that the winning entry demonstrate 1/2 MOA precision out to 1,500 meters in addition to having multi-caliber capability.
The full Mk22 kit includes barrels in 7.62×51 NATO (.308 Win.), .300 Norma Mag. and .338 Norma Mag. The SOCOM Mk22s are outfitted with Barrett’s AML 338 suppressor and Nightforce scopes, while the ones purchased by the Army use Leopold optics.
Being able to shoot tight groups at 9/10ths of a mile is one reason the Mk22 and other MRAD’s in Barrett’s product line have cropped up at ELR matches around the country.
While being the new kid on the block is reason enough to land on the list of best sniper rifles, the Barrett Mk22 MRAD is more than just the latest shiny toy. It is a very cleverly engineered rifle that is ideal —as one of my friends who is well known in the sniper community put it—for government work.
That’s because it is built so that even an 18-year-old private, arguably the most destructive force on earth, would have a hard time messing one up. The barrel-change system doesn’t incorporate any threaded parts. The barrel is held in place by two retaining fasteners that once loosened allow you to slide the barrel free from the receiver. MRAD barrels have an indexing notch at the 12 o’clock position, so orienting them during installation is easy.
Once the barrel is in place you close the bolt, which sets the headspace, and tighten down the screws. Easy-peasy.
Swapping bolt heads when converting to a different caliber is equally idiot proof. The pin that holds the bolt head in placed only goes in one way so that it can’t be put in backwards. And reassembling the bolt is accomplished by reinserting the bolt shroud and firing pin assembly into the bolt body and twisting it back together.
Likewise, the trigger is held in place by a single drift pin so servicing it is a snap. And the stock itself consists of two pieces, an upper and lower, that are pinned together not unlike an AR rifle, making it easy to open for cleaning and maintenance.
The army tapped Sig Sauer to produce ammunition for the ASR earlier this year, ordering up to $157.3 million worth of 215-grain M1163 ball ammo in .300 Norma Mag. and 300-grain armor piercing M1162 ammo in .338 Norma Mag.
The Mk 22 was approved in 2019 when USSOCOM selected it over competing submissions from Accuracy International and others. The Mk22 replaces the M2010 ESR (Enhanced Sniper Rifle) and Mk21 MSR (Modular Sniper Rifle) that had been produced by Remington since 2011 and 2013, respectively.
Mk 13 Mod 0/5/7
The Mk 13 sniper rifle is synonymous with the Navy SEALs. Not only is it one of the coolest looking sniper rifles used by U.S. Military forces, but it has been carried by some of our best-known snipers, including SEALs Chris Kyle—of American Sniper fame—and Robert O’Neill, the man credited with killing Osama Bin Laden. For these reasons alone it merits recognition as one of our best sniper rifles.
The Mk 13 has gone through several iterations over the years, including the Mod 0, Mod 5 and Mod 7. But essentially it is a Remington 700 long action mated to an Accuracy International AICS chassis or, earlier in its life in Mod 0 trim, to a McMillian A2 stock with its distinctive bulbous fore-end. The Mk 13 was chambered in .300 Win. Mag., giving the rifle an official effective range of 1,200 yards, though in truth it was capable of making longer shots.
The most famous example of this was Chris Kyle’s verified kill at 1,600 yards with a Mk 13 shooting Mk248 Mod 0 ammo loaded with 190-grain Sierra Matchkings. This ammo, now known as A191, had a published effective range of 1,200 yards, but was accurate and lethal at greater distances, as Kyle demonstrated.
The Mk 13 Mod 0 was never produced in great numbers but was significant for being a .300 Win. Mag. at a time when the .308 was dominant. This was a tip-of-the-spear weapon carried by our elite warriors, and much of its early history is shrouded in the same mystery that defined the SEALs of that time, but the first of these rifles were built in the 1990s. Very few images of the original Mod 0 even exist, and when a supply of original military-issue McMillian A2 surplus stocks became available a couple years ago, they commanded premium prices for collectors looking to build Mk 13 Mod 0 clones.
The most common configuration for the Mk 13 Mod 5 is with Accuracy International’s thumbhole folder AICS stock, which was also carried by SEALs in combat. Among our best sniper rifles, I don’t think there is one that has a more iconic look.
The Mk 13 continues to serve, and a Mod 7 version, with a newer AI chassis and upgrades to the suppressor, was adopted by the USMC in 2018. The Marines plan to eventually replace these rifles Mk 22 MRADs, but for now this .300 Win. Mag. sniper rifle lives on.
What the Barret M82 lacks in pin-point accuracy, it makes up for in its Hulk-like ability to smash. This semi-auto .50-cal. monster has been on the scene since 1989 and is primarily employed as an anti-material rifle against cars, trucks, boats, planes, lightly-armored vehicles, concrete walls and anything else that needs big holes punched in it.
As anyone who’s ever operated one knows, the M82 gives the shooter a ride they won’t soon forget. That goes for both the feeling of pulling the trigger and seeing the effect of the shot downrange. The first time I cut loose with one it felt like the fist of some vengeful god smiting my steel targets at 800 and 1,000 yards. I highly recommend the experience.
The rifle does a great job soaking up the substantial recoil generated by the .50 BMG. The M82 has as short-recoil operating system where the barrel moves to the rear about one inch with the bolt still locked inside the chamber. After that initial travel, the bolt rotates out of battery and continues its way rearward to eject the empty and feed a new round.
The size and weight of the components, along with the long bolt travel, produce a distinctive cha-chunk sound and feel when firing the M82. The rifles come with either a beefy muzzle brake or a suppressor that looks like someone screwed a mortar tube on to the barrel. Combined with the ample recoil pad, this adds up to very manageable felt recoil as the shooter works through the 10-round magazine.
Even though the rifle has been around since the late 80s, the Army didn’t officially adopt it as the M107 until 2002, when the need for such a beast became apparent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those M107s were topped with Leupold Mark 4 4.5-14×50 scopes.
If you decide to go down the M107 rabbit hole, you’ll quickly see that the rifle has been offered in no less than a half-dozen configurations, including the M82A1, A1A, A1M, A2 and A3 variants. And if you don’t want to be left out of the fun, you can jump online and order an M82A1 yourself right now.
Scores of countries around the world have hopped on the M82 bandwagon, so even though the Mk 22 MRAD will take over some of the duties that the M107 currently serves for U.S. Military forces, the big Barrett .50 is going to be booming for years to come, cementing its legacy as one of the best sniper rifles ever.
I’d be shocked if I could find a Marine Scout/Sniper who wouldn’t be willing to throw hands if you argued that the M40 wasn’t the best sniper rifle of all time. And they’d have a point. The M40 is a true OG, having been in service since the Ballistic Dark Ages (circa 1966).
The heart of the M40 is a Remington 700/40X bolt action, as you probably know, but in order for it to earn the M40 designation it is reworked by armorers at the Weapons Training Battalion located at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
I’ve toured the facility in the past and met the Marines who build the rifles and do load development for various projects and can attest to the fact that they are true masters of the craft.
The original M40s were wood-stocked Remington 40Xs that held five .308 Win. rounds in an internal box magazine. The majority wore Redfield Accurange 3-9X scopes. Though accurate under normal conditions, it didn’t take long for the Marines in Viet Nam to learn that wood stocks didn’t do well in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
In the early 1970s, the Weapons Training Battalion, with the help of Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Hathcock, the most storied sniper in American history, designed the M40A1, which was the Corps’ first purpose-built sniper rifle.
To protect the rifle from the elements, the M40 A1 was built with a McMillian fiberglass stock and fitted with a fixed 10X Unertl optic. The A1 served for a long time, and it wasn’t until the mid-90s that the Marines developed the next variant.
Next in line was the A3, followed by the A5, and, lastly, the A6/A7 model. Over the M40’s evolution, the rifle has had upgrades to the optics, went to a detachable box magazine system and threaded barrel (both introduced on the A5), and has had tweaks to the stock to be able to mount night vision equipment. The final A6/A7 iteration sports the RACS (Remington Arms Chassis System) stock that debuted on the ill-fated Remington MSR Mk 21.
M24 Sniper Weapon System (SWS)
The Marines have their beloved M40 on the best sniper rifle list, while the Army rocks the M24 SWS. Though the M24 arrived on the scene much later than the M40—it debuted in 1988, while the M40 was first deployed in 1966—these rifles are kissing cousins, both bolt-action .308s based off the Remington 700, but with one key difference. (Insert your favorite inter-service rivalry crayon-eating joke here.) The Army’s M24 is built on a long-action 700 receiver, while the USMC M40 is a short-action .308.
Now you might wonder why the Army would select a long-action 700 to run the .308, when a smaller, lighter, stiffer, and theoretically more accurate short-action receiver would do the job. Good question. The lore surrounding that decision said the Army originally considered the .30/06 and needed rifles that could chamber that round. That’s what I had heard, at any rate.
My good friend Tom Beckstrand, a former Army Special Forces Captain and Sniper Team Leader and the most knowledgeable gun writer on modern military precision rifles, corrected me on this common misconception.
The full tale is beyond the scope of this article, but the short version is that the when the M24 project was getting off the ground in the 80s the driving force behind it was a small cadre of Special Forces (SF) NCOs who had been tasked with creating the SF Sniper School, known as the as the Special Operations Target Interdiction Course (SOTIC). The creation of this course was prompted by threat of a full-scale Soviet attack on the U.S. and NATO and the corresponding need to send SF Snipers behind enemy lines where they would have little, if any, support.
The NCOs wanted a rifle that could withstand the rigors of the course and that theoretical mission, and the Army’s M21, which was an accurized M14, didn’t cut it. These NCOs and others in the SF community also decided that any rifle in .308 Win. was insufficient as well, so they spec-ed out the M24 as the answer and, as ordinally conceived, it was to be chambered in .300 Win. Mag.
Well Big Army was helping pay for the rifle and they insisted that it be chambered in .308, because that’s the round they were already using, and, well because they said so. The compromise that the SF guys managed to negotiate was to get the rifles built with long-action receivers so that they could be converted to .300 Win. Mag. at some future time. And that’s the origin story of the Army’s long-action M24 .308 SWS.
Those M24s were built with HS Precision stocks with an aluminum bedding block, an adjustable length of pull, and a hinged floor-plate magazine that could hold five rounds. They were first topped with fixed-power Leupold 10X scopes and had 24-inch barrels with a 1:11.25 twist. Variants of the M24 included the A1, A2 and A3 models that incorporated changes such as stocks with greater adjustability, detachable magazines, the addition of sound suppressors, and—in the case of the A3—being rebarreled in .338 Lapua.
Did the SF guys ever get the .300 Win. Mag. M24 they wanted? Happily, yes. It took a while, but with the approval of the M2010 ESR, which is also on the best sniper rifle list, those .308 M24s got converted to .300 Win. Mag. and swapped their HS stocks for the Remington Arms Chassis System (RACS).
The B&T USA 300SPR Pro is the best sniper rifle for minimizing noise while maximizing fun. This integrally suppressed take-down is chambered in .300 BLK and, as we’ve written before, it is exactly what you’d picture Jason Bourne using in pursuit of truth, justice and giant box office returns.
Though the 300SPR Pro costs a pretty penny (and requires an ATF stamp for both the suppressor and the rifle’s 9.8-inch barrel) it delivers the goods. The precision of the sample I tested was really impressive with Black Hill’s 220-grain subsonic loads. The .300 BLK isn’t known for stellar accuracy but through the 300SPR Pro the five-shot groups averaged 1.036 inches.
For a more complete rundown on the rifle, check out this video on it from last year’s gun test:
The rifle is Swiss made, wonderfully engineered, and for a discrete urban sniper setup it is the cat’s pajamas. While no government agency is officially using the B&T USA 300SPR Pro, I have it on good authority that some of our more secretive trigger pullers have it in their arsenal.
This semiauto 7.62xs51 NATO (.308 Win.) rifle is an interesting blend of old and new trends in sniper rifles. This rifle hit the scene around 2011 when it first started being fielded by the U.S. military.
It is a short-stroke gas piston-driven rifle with a fixed stock, 20-inch barrel, and an effective range of 1000 meters, according to FN. The base weight of the rifle is 10.69 pounds, and it ships with either 10- or 20-round magazines.
The “SSR” stands for sniper support rifle and hints at the Mk 20’s ability to engage targets at long distances while still being a viable option for close-up fighting. To improve the accuracy of the platform, FN designed it with a longer trunnion—which is the component that secures the barrel to the receiver—as a sturdier way to support the barrel.
The quad rail configuration is a bit dated, but offers multiple attachment points for lights, lasers, night vision and other accessories the operator might want to employ. Fortunately, the side rails at 3 and 9 o’clock can be removed from the handguard if they aren’t needed, eliminating some of the Mk 20’s bulk.
The lack of a folding stock is also a bit anachronistic compared to some more recently fielded systems, such as the M2010 ESR. The stock can adjust for cheek height and length of pull without any special tools, however.
One nice ergonomic touch on the platform is that the safety and magazine release are ambidextrous and the charging handle can be mounted on either side of the rifle as well.
Curiously, the rifle comes with a 1:12 twist, rather than a 1:10 twist, which is standard for .308s. The slower twist is a nod to our NATO allies, some of whom are running lighter .308 bullets (150 grains or less) which will do better in the 1:12. The 1:12 will still work with 168-grain projectiles, but from the perspective of the U.S. military, a 1:10 would make more sense.
FN released a commercial version of the rifle, the FN 20S, which is nearly an identical copy of the Mk 20, except that it doesn’t ship with any sights, has a different muzzle device (a three-prong flash hider rather than the Surefire flash hider/suppressor attachment), comes with one trigger module rather than two, and is marked “20S” as opposed to “Mk20.” The best difference, however, is that the twist on the .308 is 1:10.
One cool option with the FN 20S is that it is now available in 6.5 Creedmoor—with a 1:8 twist—as well as .308 Win.
No list of the best sniper rifles would be complete without including the SVD, the preeminent sniper rifle of the Soviet Union and its allies. It was designed by Yevgeny Dragunov in the late 50s and came into service in 1963, making it the oldest rifle on this list.
Though the controls on the SVD mimic those of an AK-47/74 it is not an AK derivative. But like the AK, the SVD has been produced by so many countries in so many variants that it is hard to keep track of them all, let alone synthesize the platform in a short article like this. But we’ll try anyway.
The cartridge the SVD uses is the 7.62×54 Rimmed, which isn’t well known by most American shooters and hunters, but has an iconic status among military and sniper nerds since it is among the top 2 or 3 most deadly sniper cartridges in history, and arguably belongs at the top of the list. It is the second oldest cartridge that is still in active military service. The .303 British predates it by a few years—the .303 was introduced in 1889 while the 7.62x54R started its military career with the Russian Empire in 1891. The 7.62x54R’s unsurpassed longevity, coupled with the scope of military conflicts it has been a part of is why it is considered the most deadly sniper round of all time.
After the SVD came on line the Soviets worked to create more accurate ammunition for the rifle, and over the decades there have been numerous loads developed by the Russians and other users of the SVD.
I’ve never had a chance to shoot an SVD, but the published accuracy standards for the rifle and its purpose-built sniper ammunition are pretty impressive given the age of the design. Depending on the ammo and number of shots in the group, the SVD is expected to be no more than 3 MOA on the upper end, while most of the higher-quality loads are expected to group from just over 1 MOA to around 2 MOA.
The rifle is a gas-operated short-stroke piston design, with a gas port that can be toggled between two settings. Standard issue magazines hold 10 or 20 rounds, and the modern versions of the SVD are able to mount different optics and night vision sights. Originally the SVDs were equipped with PSO-1 fixed 4X scopes, which were attached to the rifle with a mount that positioned them high above the barrel and offset slightly from the bore axis.
These interesting optics had a range-finding reticle and a BDC elevation turret. The way they were positioned on the SVD allowed the shooter to use the rifle’s backup iron sights without dismounting the scope.
The most modern variants of the SVD, such as the SVDM which was introduced in 2014, have synthetic folding stocks that adjust for critical dimensions to the fit the shooter, a Picatinny rail on top to mount optics, sport high magnification variable power scopes, employ a quick-detach bipod, and use a much heavier barrel.
In terms of pure accuracy, the SVD can’t compete with our best modern sniper rifles, but in the DMR role for which it was originally designed it is still a highly effective system. While the Russian military has indicated that they plan to move away from the SVD in the near future, the rifle’s widespread use in Africa, Asia and the Middle East means it will be a fixture on the battlefield for decades to come.
The Heckler & Koch 417, a gas-operated short-stroke piston rifle in 7.62×51 (.308 Win.) with selective-fire capability, is the foundation for the G28 and M110A1 sniper systems being fielded by the U.S. military, German military and police (GSG 9), and by military and police units in another dozen countries or so.
G28 is the designation of the rifle in the German Bundeswehr, while in the U.S. Army and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), it is called the M110A1. Though similar, the specs of the G28 and M110A1 are not identical.
The M110A1 comes in two flavors, CSASS and SDMR designations, both of which are semiautos. The CSASS (Compact Semi-Automatic Sniper System) was announced in 2016 when H&K won the Army contract for the program. The SDMR (Squad Designated Marksman Rifle) version was announced by the Army in 2018. The two rifles are equipped differently, though they both fall under the DMR umbrella and have some overlap in their missions. The Army started fielding the CSASS in 2019 and the SDMR in 2020.
In CSASS trim, the rifle comes with a Schmidt & Bender 3–20×50 PM II Ultra Short sight, OSS SRM6 suppressor, adjustable Geissele two-stage trigger, Geissele scope mount, Geissele M-Lok handguard, Harris bipod and has a collapsible stock with an adjustable comb.
The SDMR sports a Sig Sauer Tango 6 1–6×24 first-focal plane scope with a BDC reticle, has its own style buttstock and the barrel comes in a different twist rate, reflecting the different types of ammo the SDMR and CSASS operators will mostly use. Like the CSASS rifle, the SDMR is equipped with an OSS suppressor.
Both types of rifles have 16.3-inch barrels and ambidextrous safety, mag release and bolt lock controls.
Not to be confused with the M110A1, which is also on the best sniper rifle list, the M110 SASS is a slightly larger .308 Win. semiautomatic, which is built for the U.S. Army by Knights Armament Corp (KAC). The commercial version, the SR-25 is similar, though not identical.
This rifle is the Army’s main .308 sniper system and is in use around the globe. The M110 SASS’s standard kit includes a Leupold 3.5-10x scope, a Harris bipod, and a night vision scope. It was developed to replace the M24 SWS (Sniper Weapon System), the notion being that a semiautomatic is more versatile and relevant than the classic Remington 700-based bolt action on the modern battlefield. It launched in 2007.
The M110 SASS’s size and weight is one reason the Army started the CSASS and SDMR programs, and an advantage of the H&K M110A1 CSASS is that it is more compact and portable.
Knights Armament responded by developing the M110A2 to address these issues. It is shorter and significantly lighter than the original. Empty, the M110 SASS is 13.8 pounds, while the A2 is 10.5 pounds.
There’s also an A3 version, which is a 6.5 Creedmoor conversion kit for SOCOM, with uppers that have both 14.5- and 22-inch barrels.
If this sounds a bit messy, that’s because it is. Even more so because the Marine Corps and Navy are mulling over these platforms and variants, and both KAC and H&K are doing what they can to get a slice of the pie.
Eventually the dust will settle in the battle of the M110s, and there’s no doubt that the prevailing rifles will look very different than the M110 SASS. But that doesn’t change the fact that the M110 SASS is still the dominant, and most widely used, .308 sniper rifle currently in the field with the U.S. Army.
If there’s one sniper rifle on this list that doesn’t get the love it deserves, it is the Sako TRG M10. This drop-dead beauty is the rifle that was spurned by USSOCOM during the PSR trials that led to the military adopting the Remington MSR Mk 21, which later flopped.
The Sako TRG M10 was the runner-up in the PSR program and was by many accounts the better rifle.
As with the other submissions in the PSR trial, the Sako TRG M10 is a quick-barrel change system, and is built on a chassis stock with perhaps the best ergonomics of any rifle in its peer group.
The M10’s ergonomic refinements become apparent as soon as you lay down behind one and start shooting. The way the stock adjusts for length of pull and cheek height are elegant and able to be done without any tools. The rifle includes an integrated tool kit contained within the stock itself so you can perform full maintenance on the rifle in the field if necessary.
The ambidextrous safety is housed within the trigger guard and can be operated with gloves on. The same goes for the rifle’s magazine release, which is located just in front of the trigger guard.
Sako smartly machined the different caliber barrels with different numbers of grooves just behind the muzzle break so you can determine a barrel’s chambering by feel alone. The three calibers the M10 is offered in are .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Lapua Mag.
Of course, the rifle also shoots like a house on fire, which should hardly come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Sako’s history and the Finn’s reputation as snipers. I spent two days shooting one at a training facility in North Carolina when it was first introduced and was smitten. Despite the prohibitive price tag, I left determined to own one eventually.
Though the U.S. Military passed on fielding the TRG M10, Canada’s Army just adopted it, joining countries such as France and Israel who use it as well. Domestically, the M10 is being used by Maryland State Police—a selection that confirms the state has good taste, beyond just crab cakes.
The Sako TRG 22s and 42s are rifles with one foot in the military world and another in the hunting and competition realm. Of all the entries on the best sniper rifle list, the TRGs are an ideal crossover gun for civilian and military use. The TRG 22 A1 is also one of the best long-range rifles I’ve ever tested.
The difference between the 22 and 42 is the length of the action. The TRG 22 is chambered in short action calibers—currently .308 Win., .260 Rem., and 6.5 Creedmoor—while the TRG 42 is a long-action rifle that’s chambered in .300 Win. Mag. and .338 Lapua.
The base TRG is a fixed-stock design with adjustments for comb position (both laterally and vertically) and length of pull. The butt plate angle, height and pitch also adjusts. The fore-end includes an integral rail for mounting a bipod as well.
The TRG is nothing if not beefy and its burly looks are a testament to the rifle’s rugged build. I’m not saying the rifle is impossible to damage—but you’d have to really try to mess one up before inflicting any meaningful harm. The base 20-inch .308 weighs about 10.25 pounds and with a 26-inch barrel that goes to 10.75 pounds. The long-action 42s weigh about a pound more.
It uses a three-lug bolt with a 60-degree throw that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has shouldered a Sako 75 or 85, and runs off a detachable magazine. The .308/.260/6.5 Creed magazine holds 10 rounds, while the .300 Win. Mag. holds seven and the .338 Lapua holds five.
In 2013, Sako upgraded the platform in the form of a better trigger and the addition of an extra plunger ejector in the bolt face. The safety is nestled within the trigger guard and is easy to use while being well-protected from getting accidentally bumped.
The newer TRG 22A1 and 42A1 models, introduced in 2018, borrow elements from the TRG M10 multi-caliber system. The stocks on these versions fold and adjust in the same way as the M10 and have an M-Lok compatible fore-end, though they lack the M10’s barrel-swapping feature. It is a lovely system with amazing ergonomics. This dive into the Sako TRG 22A1 in 6.5 Creedmoor provides a thorough look at the rifle’s capabilities.
No surprise that Finnish military snipers have used the TRG 22 and 42 since it was developed, as well as the TRG 21/41 series that preceded it. Many European special forces units and snipers also shoot the TRG 22 and 42, as do various armies throughout Asia and the Middle East.
The M2010 isn’t an original, stand-alone rifle. Rather it is a conversion kit. The Army wanted to upgrade their standard-issue .308 Win. M24 SWS rifles, which they had been using since 1988, to something with more reach because of the distances that confronted our soldiers in the mountains of Afghanistan. Since the M24s were built on Remington 700 long actions, they could be rechambered in .300 Win. Mag., which brings a lot more punch to the party.
The M2010 ESR—for enhanced sniper rifle—was outfitted with a folding chassis stock fully adjustable for cheek height and length of pull, allowing it to be fit to the user more precisely and folded down for easier transport and storage. The stock goes by the acronym RACS, for Remington Arms Chassis System.
The rifles came with quick detach AAC suppressors that mated up with a muzzle brake. And they were topped with Leupold Mark 4 6.5–20×50mm ER/T M5A2 first-focal plane scopes running Horus H58 reticles.
The rifles shipped with a 5-round detachable box magazine and were deemed effective to 1,500 yards when shooting Mk248 Mod1 .300 Win. Mag. ammo, which is loaded with 220-grain Sierra Matchking HPBT bullets. In truth, however, the ammo is capable beyond that distance.
From the 24-inch free-floating barrels, the ammo had a muzzle velocity of 2850 fps and would remain supersonic out to about 1,400 yards at sea level. The M2010s were also tested with older Mk248 Mod 0 ammo (aka A191) loaded with 190-grain Sierra Matchkings at 2975 fps or so.
The M2010s, which were first fielded in 2011, had a relatively short shelf life, however. Not long after the final batch was delivered by Remington in 2014, the Army pivoted away from it and from the Mk21, which was also made by Big Green.
The reason the M2010 made the best sniper rifle list is that it marked the move away from the old-school M24 system, which was functionally similar to what Marine snipers had been using since Viet Nam, and ushered in the era of the modern space-gun sniper rifle. In total, 2,558 M2010s were made.
This bullpup bolt-action brings a lot of versatility in a compact package. It is a switch-barrel platform that can handle both short- and long-action cartridges depending on the shooter’s needs. Its modular design makes configuring the rifle for various uses a snap.
While it isn’t as common as some of the other sniper rifles on this list, it is in service with a number of militaries around the globe and has been adopted by numerous law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
I recently did an in-depth review of the Desert Tech SRS A2, but the highlights of the rifle include the following:
- Smart ergonomics, especially for a bullpup
- Excellent trigger, again especially for a bullpup
- Very good accuracy
- Ease of swapping barrels and cartridges
- Fun as hell to shoot
The last point might be the most relevant. For recreational shooters the Desert Tech SRS A2 is a really appealing platform. With the various conversion kits a shooter can optimize the SRS for long range targets, predator control and suburban hunting with subsonic ammo, or general hunting duties, as long as you don’t mind the rifle’s weight.
The Tragedy of the Remington MSR / Mk21
One rifle not included in the best sniper rifle list is the Remington MSR / Mk 21. The reason for that is that not long after the rifle won the PSR (Precision Sniper Rifle) trial in 2013 it crashed and burned.
The reasons for that are complex, and a full telling of the tale would require a bottle of bourbon and several hours. But if you had to settle on two main factors one was that Remington didn’t deliver the same ammunition and rifle that they used to win the contract. Secondly, the requirements that SOCOM had specified for the PSR trials were unrealistic and after the MSR was chosen internal conflicts and delays at SOCOM created a situation where Remington had run out of time to fix the issues that cropped up.
That second factor is where the story gets really tangled, but the point is SOCOM played a role in the MSR (Modular Sniper Rifle) program going off the rails as well. But for the sake of brevity we’ll just look at the issues with the rifle and ammunition.
The first MSRs that were built employed excellent quality barrels made by a highly regarded supplier—and it was with that company’s barrels that the MSR won the PSR contract. Not long after, however, Remington’s management took issue when the barrel maker demanded to be paid before delivering the next batch. To spite that company and cut cost from the MSR, Remington switched to their own hammer-forged barrels. That kind of arrogance and heavy-handed behavior was common with respect to how Remington treated their suppliers.
A compounding issue was the .338 Lapua ammunition that Barnes delivered at the beginning of the contract. During the selection and evaluation phase, that ammo was loaded to hit a specific velocity—2700 fps with a 300-grain Sierra Matchking. That is a very hot load, but those MVs were needed in order for the ammunition to get close to the performance standards SOCOM demanded for accuracy at 1500 meters. The system also was designed to be capable of operating at higher than normal SAAMI pressures. I say get close to, because what SOCOM was asking for—fifty 10-shot groups at distance with at least 80 percent of them demonstrating no more than 1 MOA vertical dispersion—was pure fantasy. No rifle or shooter on earth is capable of meeting that requirement.
That said, when Barnes started fulfilling the contract, as a result of an issue SOCOM discovered while testing the .300 WM MK248 Mod 1 ammunition for an unrelated contract, they switched up the load for the 338 LM and began loading to a target pressure rather than velocity. That lost them about 150 fps, which isn’t a big deal at 100 yards, but caused a significant degradation in accuracy at 1,640 yards (1,500 meters) even before factoring in the cheaper barrels.
This loss of performance, coupled with some other small issues, soured SOCOM on the MSR.
Adding to the bitterness of the Mk 21 pill was the fact that the PSR program was a really big deal for our snipers. The goal was for the first time to issue a bolt-action rifle that was capable of changing calibers quickly in the field, was accurate at extended ranges, that incorporated all the modern ergonomic adjustability of a top-tier chassis stock, and help reduce the number of sniper rifles we’re fielsding by having the capacity to fulfill multiple missions.
What was meant to be the U.S. military’s sniper rifle of the future was shelved after just a few years, and using “lessons learned’ in 2018 SOCOM “re-competed” the program—to use government speak—with the ASR (Advanced Sniper Rifle) trials leading to the adoption of the Barrett Mk 22 MRAD.