Intermediate Sniper Weapons for Law Enforcement

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SWAT-officer-sniper-uses-Leupold-system-on-his-M4-during-tactical-
SWAT officer/sniper uses Leupold system on his M4 during tacticalfirearms training.

Comparisons are often drawn between law enforcement (LE) and military snipers. LE snipers deal with significantly shorter ranges compared to their military counterparts. Although trained to do rural operations, most LE sniper ops are urban in nature.

LE snipers operate almost exclusively with their tactical entry teams directly supporting them. Military snipers will often conduct standalone missions seeking out particular targets or focusing on known enemy areas of concentration. Furthermore, not all LE snipers are dedicated solely to that role. Many pull double duty as entry team members and only as snipers when the mission dictates. Not an ideal situation, but with smaller departments and limited budgets, it’s often a necessity.

A strong argument can be made for separate teams of entry team members and snipers, but if the money and manpower aren’t there, it simply isn’t going to happen. I’m not saying military snipers don’t fulfill various roles, but generally other tasks are an offshoot of their long-gun job, such as reconnaissance and overwatch.

The limited engagement ranges and multitasking of LE snipers are reflected in the weapons they use. The ideal weapon for an LE sniper is a gun that can double as an entry weapon as well as a long-range engagement weapon and have the optics and other accessories to accomplish this. This is where things can get difficult.

.308 AR IN MULTIPLE ROLES

An ideal platform would most likely be a .308 AR. The .308 round has proven to be successful at long ranges and has been the primary sniping round for many years. The .308 is a good barrier penetrating round when using TAP ammo and is effective on windshields (or as effective as a round can be given the unpredictable nature of bullets when they hit tempered automobile glass). By sheer size and bullet weight, it is superior to .223 in that regard.

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A few issues with using a .308 AR as a multi-role platform in LE operations exist. First, interoperability. Most teams use .223 ARs and M4s for entry weapons. On a bad tactical day when a .308 operator runs low on ammo in a protracted gunfight, he can’t use ammo from any of the .223 gunners. Albeit an unlikely occurrence, but it is still a tactical concern.

The second issue is price. Quality .308 ARs are expensive—anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000. This doesn’t include items like scopes, bipods, and other sniper gear. These price tags are out of reach of most agencies.

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M4 with Leupold 1-4X variable optic.

THE OPTICS ISSUE

Another issue related to .308 ARs is optics. To maximize the potential of the round, most are equipped with high-power scopes. An ideal sniper optic makes a lousy entry optic and vice versa. A 3-12X scope is pretty much useless when clearing rooms, even on the lowest setting.

Optics are available that can mount on top of scopes, but there can be a significant offset from where the optic is mounted and where the bullet exits the barrel. This offset can be three inches or more. On the flip side, a non-magnified red dot optic doesn’t do a sniper much good at distance.

Enter the multi-power red dot scope. These scopes are often in the 1-4 or 1-6 category. These optics allow operators to put it on a low power setting while conducting a tactical entry and to crank it up for scouting or sniping missions.

As with everything, there are drawbacks. A 4 or even 6X scope doesn’t provide the same level of clarity or detail as a 12X or higher. This can be important during scouting operations, when more detail is necessary. Conversely, some optics’ lowest settings are actually 1.25 or 1.5X, making it slightly slower to engage targets.

The tactical team I currently serve on has our snipers in dual roles (entry team members and snipers). We have traditionally used only Remington 700s as our primary sniping gun. When we put on our “entry hats,” we use M4s with standard optics like EOTechs and Aimpoint PROs, both unmagnified. Both are good weapons, but both fill specific roles and can’t be used interchangeably (try clearing a house with a bolt-action rifle with a 24-inch barrel).

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IN-BETWEEN SOLUTION

As an in-between solution, we purchased Leupold 1.25-4X scopes with the FireDot reticle. We have mounted these on our M4s, which has given us the ability to use the weapon for entries when set on 1.25X and for sniper and perimeter missions when set at 4X. Granted the 4X is a little anemic when doing sniper-related scouting, but it is good enough for ad-hoc sniper missions, especially when paired with a good set of binoculars.

To further enhance the functionality, we used American Defense Recon quick-release mounts. If the operator chooses not to use the optic, he can remove it and use iron sights or mount an Aimpoint PRO, which has a built-in quick release. American Defense guarantees the scope will return to zero when remounted. We’ve tested these mounts by shooting with them, taking them off, remounting them, and shooting again. The mount maintained its zero with no notable shift at 25 yards. Given that we’re not taking 1,000-yard shots, I feel comfortable with that.

This is in many ways similar to the United States Army’s Designated Marksman Program. DMs receive special training at the Army Marksmanship unit at Fort Benning in extended engagements. They may receive an accurized M4 or other weapon with enhanced (magnified) optics. Their purpose is to fill the gap between infantrymen and snipers dealing with threats beyond the range of traditional weapons operated by soldiers who lack specialized training.

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Group at 100 yards with M4 with optic set on 4X.
Group-at-100-yards-with-Remington-700-on-12X
Group at 100 yards with Remington 700 on 12X.

MULTIPURPOSE OPTICS

A lot of really good multipurpose optics exist today. Companies such as Vortex, Trijicon and others make excellent optics that serve as both red dot optics and scopes. You pay more for a true 1X, but the complete lack of magnification makes it easier to acquire targets. That being said, with a little training, an operator can pick up close targets about as quickly with a 1.5X.

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If we deploy on a dedicated sniper mission, we still use the Remington 700s with a Leupold 3-12X. We recently acquired Nightforce 3-22X scopes for added magnification. Snipers generally deploy as teams, one with a 700 and the other with an M4 with its variable red dot optic.

I’m the first to admit the “golf bag” approach isn’t always ideal (one gun for getting off the green, another for putting). It would be better if one gun could fit every mission.

Arguably, a .308 AR comes pretty close to being a multi-role gun (except for the aforementioned ammunition/ cost issues), especially with multiple optics with quick attach/detach capability like a high-power long-range scope, 1-6X optic and pure red dot sight. But unless you are assigned to SEAL Team 6, this probably won’t be part of your kit.

I conducted a comparison of my Remington 700 and my M4 with variable optic. I did a rapid fire drill at 50 yards, which I chose because it’s a typical LE long-gun engagement range. Obviously the .308 on 12X shot tighter groups, but the M4 on 4X definitely held its own.

CONCLUSION

No weapon works perfectly in every situation. What we carry is dictated by everything from the mission at hand to the amount of money available to buy what we need. In the case of the .223 AR with variable optic, it comes pretty close to meeting most requirements for LE long-gun applications.