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The Best Cartridge for Military Sniping

Defense • 15th May, 14 • 0 Comments


Over the years, long before we became Northwest Magnum, one of the favorite over-the-counter subjects brought up by customers was "what's the best sniper round?" Most of the time in the 1960s through perhaps most of the 1980s, the discussion boiled down to the 30-06 and the 308. Carlos Hathcock's success with the 30-06, during a period when the 308 was supposed to be in charge, convinced a lot of WW II vets that the slightly more powerful 30-06 had made the difference. Probably not. The reason for Hathcock's remarkable record in such adverse conditions was due to his extraordinary fortitude and amazing shooting ability.


Since the mid- to late-1980, the 300 Winchester Magnum has entered into the mix. Desert warfare, longer shot opportunities. Armchair cartridge experts will find some things they don't like about the 300 Win Mag, such as the short neck, but ordinance guys work around that issue very well, and the round performs beautifully at ranges extending far beyond the capability of the 308. At its extended best, 240-grain bullets can be used with fast-twist (9-inch or tighter) barrels. 


At about that time, the 338 Lapua Magnum surfaced. All kinds of bright stories about its capability came with it, sort of like providing someone with a coveted award because you think they will deserve it someday. I think the accolades were premature. The 338 Lapua is indeed a large-capacity cartridge that can move bullets of up to 300 grains across the terrain in a hurry, but my personal testing has found that the 338 Remington Ultra Mag can do it just as far and as fast with consistently better accuracy. So my question is, "Why not have the best?" 


In practical terms (which you cannot even get to in a casual discussion of opinions, you must resort to mathematics at some point), there is not much of an advantage in using a 338 Lapua over a 300 Win Mag set up for extended distances. Of the two, I would rather carry the 300, as it is usually configured in a much lighter and easier-to-handle rifle. Getting the shot off is a required part of the process.


Rifles used for military sniping operations certainly aren't babied in the field, but they do get superb care and the utmost attention between missions. Therefore, long-term barrel life considerations can be set aside as a secondary factor, as re-barreling will occur when necessary. Anyone reading this will already know that I believe a good handling rifle is very important, which makes me wonder about what's going on in the minds of some of the folks who come up with such weird stock designs. And who approves them?! Come on, people... Tactical field shooting is not like competition from the bench! Okay. Past that. We need effectiveness out to about 1200 yards. You were hoping I'd say 1500 meters? Ain't gona happen! The math isn't there. No, not even with a 338 Lapua. Yeah, I heard about longer shots. What we're talking here is reality, not about slinging enough rounds in a direction to finally hit something.


The right cartridge for the practical military field sniping rifle may already exist. Two comparative 7mm rounds without an apparent long-term future are possibilities; the 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum, and the 7mm Winchester Short Magnum. Both are extremely accurate, produce surprisingly tight standard deviation numbers regarding velocity, have modest enough recoil to package in a better handling rifle, and long 7mm bullets produce wonderful performance. Think about it.


The purpose in publishing these thoughts is to open a discussion on this subject. We hope to get responses from many of you.



I read your assessment of potential rounds for military sniping, and am in agreement with the 7mm SAUM. Brass for the 300 SAUM is available from Nosler, which can be easily sized down, giving the reloader a choice of Remington or Nosler. I have had good luck with Remington brass, but it has to be sorted down to develop match-accuracy ammunition. The longer neck of the 7mm SAUM is an advantage over the 7mm WSM. Bullets in that 160-grain territory seem to be about right, but some shooters are using the heavier stuff and a tighter twist. A 160-grain 7mm has about the same b.c. as a 190-grain 30 caliber in similar bullet design, which is the regular load for the 300 Win Mag. The 7mm SAUM should be very capable out to at least 1000 yards; and, having been there, I can tell you that shots required at that distance are very rare. However, reports of them make good press back home.


Jim, California

Thank you for your input. Your remarks about potential trajectory, comparing the ballistic coefficients of the two bullets, is spot on. But, here's a couple of other factors: The accuracy of the 300 Winchester Magnum is very good; I've had excellent results for decades. However, the accuracy of Remington's 7mm SAUM is quite astounding. It just plain kicks butt on the 300 Win Mag. So, that means additional effective range. And secondly, the 7mm SAUM is a real pussycat in comparative recoil; something that can be a psychological as well as a physical advantage to a fatigued shooter who has just gotten into position.



I guess I'm surprised that you'd pick a 7mm over a 6.5mm. I think I'd opt for the smaller bore.


Steve, Texas

When you go that direction, you'll likely be trading a 9-inch twist for an 8, which can be an issue right off the bat when it comes to bore fouling with a relatively high-capacity cartridge case. Not a problem for match competition, where there's plenty of time to provide thorough cleaning; but the smaller bore, chubby case, faster twist will pile up problems quicker in the field. Also, I think there's an advantage with 160 or so grains of 7mm over 140 grains of 6.5. We appreciate your input. If you would like to add to it, which 6.5 cartridge were you thinking? My personal favorite doesn't show up on the regular menu of today's lineup, but it sure does perform! it's the 6.5-06 (basic 30-06 family of cartridge cases, necked to 6.5mm). When going about making a 6.5-06, plan well ahead on whether you will be necking up 25-06 cases, necking down 270 Winchester, an so on. There are some small dimensional differences that must be thought through before ordering the reamer and dies. Possibly the more conservative route to take would be to neck up 25-06 cases. Even though it's not much of a step, a neck reamer will eliminate any possibility of thicker brass at the base of the neck.



Do you seriously think that the U.S. military would consider getting rid of the 308, 300 Win Mag, or 338 Lapua?


Michael, Montana

Absolutely not. The subject was opened for discussion so those of us who think through these things, perhaps better than those in government positions who have to deal with assigned parameters, could express our views and relate our experiences. Besides, there are no limits to our collective expertise, as anyone can pile on with their thoughts at any time. It is unlikely that the government is going to come asking folks like you or me what we think about this or that. However, if they had, do you think that we would have gone along with sending the inadequately tested and developed M16, complete with rounds packed with 1960s-technology ball powder, into the steaming hot jungles of Vietnam? Maybe some government guy who likes shooting will come across this site. If he has enough power in the right place to suggest it, a thorough comparison test ought to be made between the 338 Lapua and the 338 Remington Ultra Mag. Wouldn't cost much to do this. If the honest results of that trial won't attract some attention and make for some head scratching, then we're obviously only talking among ourselves. Then there's the political side... Some allies have also adopted the 338 Lapua, which could throw a wrench into the gears. Regardless of the unlikely probability of the military services seriously investigating new long-range tactical cartridges anytime soon, let me ask this: Are you satisfied that the three current cartridges are the best that can be had? If not, do you think that the U.S. military should have the best?



Where were you guys 30 years ago? The 7mm idea sounds like cake and eat it too. What would be the stock configuration? I might sign up again. (Oops, too old now.)


Gunny B., Oklahoma

Are you familiar with the Remington 700 XCR Tactical Long-Range Rifle? It's stainless with black TriNyte PVD coating, stiff three-flute barrel, and olive drab green thumb-hook stock. For several reasons, I really like that rifle. Weight is just 8.5 pounds with its 26-inch barrel. Look it up on Remington's tactical site. I have had them in all three chamberings; 223 (9 twist), 308 (12 twist), and 300 Win Mag (10 twist), but have pared myself down to just three of them in 300 Magnum. I have only one of them scoped; the other two are still in the box. This is a rifle I never want to be without. It's a natural for holding plumb in awkward positions, and the relatively slim stock makes for quick and easy handling and carry. I prefer that simple stock over any of what I call the gimmick sniper stocks being marketed these days with more adjustments than the driver's seat of an Escalade. One problem many shooters have is their perceived need for a very large scope objective. It's nonsense. Give me 40mm and medium height rings any day. Another problem is a scope with too much magnification. My experience has been that peak power in the range of 14 to 16 magnifications is about all that can be used effectively in all but a few situations, regardless of the size of the imagination of the shooter. More power than that and it can look like you're shooting through a swimming pool. If you have to turn the scope up to the top magnification to utilize the range-estimating features in the reticle, how are you going to do it? My 700 Tactical is equipped with a Leupold 3.5-10x40mm Mark 4 with the aluminum Mark 4 Rings. It's all I need.



Just curious as to how you got onto the 7mm SAUM in the first place.


Frank, Montana

Shortly after the two SAUM cartridges were introduced, the Remington Custom Shop made up a short run of Model Seven AWRs (the first version of the Alaskan Wilderness Rifle) in both the 7mm and the 300. I managed to get in on this, but all they had available by the time I found out about it were a few 7mms. I didn't give it much thought for awhile, but eventually mounted a Leupold 2.5-8x36mm. The first trip to the range was all it took to realize this was something special; very tight groups with factory ammunition, and very uniform velocity spread. A short time later, I ordered a Custom Shop 40-XB with the thumbhole stock. The regular 40-Xs have a 27 1/4-inch barrel, as did this one. There is a choice of twist rates, but I went with the usual 9 1/4 inches. I have had other 7mms in 40-X Rifles, including 280s, 280 AIs, and 7mm Remington Magnums, but none that performed like that one. Clearly, this was a very different kind of 7mm cartridge. As the miles keep adding up on these two rifles, I wonder when I'm going to start seeing some evidence of a drop-off in accuracy. They certainly have gone far beyond the point of where I would have seen that with the old 7mm Rem Mag. There may be others who have a different story about barrel wear, but remember, I'm one who does not push to the max. I just don't think that an additional 50 or 75 feet per second is worth the huge increase in chamber pressure and the resultant problems (flame temperature, throat erosion, fouling, etc.).



What is it that you like so much about the stock on the Remington 700 XCR Tactical Long-Range Rifle? It doesn't look like much to me (on their web site), so I guess I must be missing something.


Ronnie, Minnesota

Note the front of the forend; how it slopes back. That's ideal for crawling along. The stock is a Bell & Carlson with excellent construction. It's slim for a tactical rifle, and without protrusions to catch on much of anything you're moving through. The thumb notch is great for snugging the rifle up to your shoulder properly without having to depend so much on your trigger hand wrapped around the pistol grip. I call this "good bundling," as it allows the trigger hand to go about the most important job it has; controlling the trigger. I regard the "lumpy" tactical stocks to be an attempt at one size fits all. I've always favored cars with exceptional handling, and I like my rifles the same way. For example, I would choose a BMW M5 over a Lincoln Town Car. To me, the big, ugly, angular, adjustable tactical stocks feel like I'm next up and am holding the fat end of the baseball bat. Yes, "ugly" is subjective. To some they may look okay, or even "cool."




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